Spotlight on China – An Analysis of L’Empire Chinois Illustrated by Thomas Allom and Described by Clément Pellé

  • Charline Monseur


In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the Western world living in (the aftermath of) the age of Enlightenment, was highly intrigued by China. Although it had already been discovered in the past, its image was still unclear in the West. Not only did the latter develop interest for this new country but it was also fascinated by the Chinese culture; a true admiration for Chinese notions became the vogue at that time (Yetts, 1926). This is illustrated by Pellé’s first sentence of the preface in L’Empire Chinois: “Si les regards se tournent vers la Chine maintenant, c’est parce qu’elle n’a pas été bien explorée auparavant… Son refus pour tout changement a donné un aspect original à la population Chinoise qui la rendu unique”. Consequently, this book is contextualized against the background of the rising interest in ‘other’ countries and ‘other’ cultures. In this line, it is interesting to have a look at the cultural process explaining how Western identities were formed in opposition to an image of the East, a process that Edward Said - professor of English literature and literary theorist - called ‘orientalism’. The second part of the chapter is devoted to the analysis of the depiction of the Chinese. In L’ Empire Chinois, the illustrations of Thomas Allom are sumptuously drawn and they present an undeniable romantic image of China. So, I will try to answer the research question: how to interpret this romanticized perspective on China evoked by Allom and Pellé? Therefore, the historical context, with the specific factors which influenced the authors, isnof the utmost importance. It will be clear that the idyllic image of China in L’ Empire Chinois and the representation of the other are inextricably bound to Pellé and Allom themselves.


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