Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

Periodic Report Summary 1 - NATURE ENTANGLED (Entangled histories of 'Nature' in the landscape discourses of early modern China and Europe)

"The project defines three scientific objectives:
To reveal how imitations of Nature in the English landscape movement assimilated 17th and 18th-century European discourses on Nature in: 1) moral philosophy (nature as moral natural law) and governance (nature as natural authority); 2) geology (nature as the earth) and physiology (nature as the vital, human body), and 3) landscape urbanism; to reveal how these imitations interacted or were ‘entangled’ with flows of knowledge from China.

Regarding the three scientific objectives, the fellow has achieved the following main results:

Objective 1 Landscape imitating Nature as a discourse on moral philosophy and governance:
The project reveals that the idea of landscape (art) imitating nature existed in both the European classical rhetoric tradition and the Confucian aesthetic tradition, in which Nature was not understood as an external object or resource, but represented the physical processes of the cosmos, which was regarded as a model of human nature. Based on this idea, both European classical tradition and Chinese Confucian tradition considered art as a means of cultivating moral philosophy. Ideas of moral cultivation being an aid to governance also existed in both cultures—the Aristotelian/Scholastic tradition and the (Neo-)Confucian tradition. The intellectual contacts between China and Europe created opportunities for the inter-crossing of these two traditions in the realms of moral philosophy and governance. Studying Matteo Ripa's journals of 1712-14, we showed that the 'Term question' of the Rites Controversy (whether Chinese Tian and Christian God are equivalent) underpinned Ripa's reproducing of the landscape engravings, 'Thirty-six Views of Jehol'. In Sir William Temple’s landscape concept of sharawadgi and Sir William Chambers’ Dissertation on Oriental Gardening (1772), we showed that the Confucian moral philosophy of moderation regulated by art provided for both Temple and Chambers examples for envisioning an irregular English landscape gardening style. Their landscape visions were proposed as a means of cultivating moral human nature and of restraining the excessive liberalism in English society.

Objective 2 Landscape imitating Nature as a discourse in geology and physiology:
Focusing on the image of ‘ruin-strata’ in both John Soane’s house-museum and his manuscript of ‘Crude Hints’ (1812), the project reveals a little explored aspect of 18th-century English fascination with the picturesque as continuing European classical, organismic thinking in which the movement of the earth is linked with movement of the imagination. This finding is further strengthened by a case study of Edmund Burke’s sublime as embodied in the ‘Oriental’ landscape theory of William Chambers, Soane’s master at the Royal Academy of Art. Unlike the English gardening represented by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, whose landscapes evoked plain pleasures, Chambers insisted that landscape should be designed in such a manner as being capable of stimulating a variety of contrary emotions of contraries (such as cheerful and fear), which relax and contract the fibres of the nervous system, thus maintaining health. Chambers’ landscape theory, as revealed in the project, like Burke’s sublime, cohered with the ‘sentient principle’ of the Edinburgh Medical School which, operating within the natural law, maintained that the body’s responses were purposeful and not merely the result of a blind mechanism, as Lockean theory indicated.

Objective 3 Landscape imitating Nature as a discourse on vital urbanism
Through studying Chambers’ landscape theory in relation to the French Jesuit J.-B. Du Halde’s A Description of the Empire of China, the project reveals that the Jesuit imagery of China, with its associative values such as socio-political stability based on Confucian moderation, as well as China’s progressive commerce, industry and advanced urbanism, provided Chambers with a referent and a source of inspiration to flesh out Burke’s theory in the fields of landscape, transport, and urban planning, and to build a vision of the British Empire where both national improvement as David Hume and Adam Smith envisioned were ensured.

For career integration/ development, the objectives/ goals are as the follows:
To become a Senior Lecturer by 2017 at the University of Exeter (UoE) from where the fellow's research will focus on ‘interrelations between 18th century China and Europe through landscape discourses.’ In the long run, she will be a successful senior academic based at a European centre of excellence such as the University of Exeter, leading a EU network of excellence on ‘Nature and Modernity: landscapes between China and Europe,’ promoting collaboration among European and Chinese institutions to strengthen the scientific excellence of the European centre and to promote greater trans-cultural understanding between Europe and China.

At the end of reporting period, the fellow has achieved the following:

Following an appointment of Director of Chinese in March 2014, she was promoted to Senior Lecturer in Chinese in October 2015, two years ahead of the initial aim. She is on the Management Board of Global China Centre of the university. Working closely with scholars across disciplines both within the university and internationally, she not only advanced both her multidisciplinary knowledge regarding the concept of Nature and her interdisciplinary approach in Chinese-European landscape studies which she has established, but also she is bringing a new perspective to Chinese-European cultural relations study. She was selected into the Peer Review College of UK’s government funding body—Art and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) from September 2015."


Sarah Hill, (European Research Manager)
Tel.: +44 1392 726206
Fax: +44 1392 723686


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