Tools of Measurement for European Travelers – George Staunton’s An Authentic Account of an Embassy from the King of Great Britain to the Emperor of China (1797)


  • Philipp Kürten



Today the Macartney mission and the account of it written down by George Staunton is being widely regarded as a milestone in the way how the west viewed China and its people. However, such a travel report did not necessarily give an ‘objective’ account on another country or culture. Therefore it is important to consider the mindset of the travelers. The Europeans had specific knowledge about China already prior to their departure and especially what they believed to know about the attitude of the Chinese towards science and technology was important. The travelers of the embassy othered the Chinese, based on assumptions made by Enlightenment thinkers and philosophers who wrote extensively about China. This chapter will analyze the way that the Europeans othered the Chinese in that context. Two hundred years after the embassy, in 1992, the British Association for Chinese Studies presented several papers on the Macartney embassy. While the travel account has been object of studies in many different fields and papers from many disciplines were presented, none of them focuses on the underlying agenda of the Europeans; that is their approach towards science and technology. The embassy is correctly considered a collision of fundamentally different civilizations and ideologies. However, the question of in how far the approach towards science, technology and the relation that they share towards progress is responsible for this collision remains unanswered. In fact many science and technology studies focused on the advances of the sciences within a culture; the attitude of a culture towards science in general was on the other hand rarely an object of study.


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