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Asian Revolutions in European Public Discourse 1644-1800


The project focuses on early modern European concepts and perceptions of Asia. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the political landscape of Asia changed dramatically. From the Ottoman Empire to Persia, from North India and Southeast Asia to China and Japan, Asian monarchies underwent processes of dynastic decline, experiencing radical and pervasive changes in society and culture. These events attracted the attention of a wide array of European commentators.

The central question of this project is why Europeans devoted such care and attention to Asian political events and upheavals, the ideological purposes and orientations of their reports and discussions, and the narrative of revolution as implied allegory. During this period, the imagination of the reading public and more especially of historians was captivated by political events in China, Persia, Southeast Asia and India. Beforehand, these countries had often existed in a nebulous realm of fantasy. Narratives of political revolution transformed t hem into dynamic societies experiencing rapid change. What is more, the timeless 'despotism' later associated with the East in nineteenth-century European political thought was contradicted by coups and uprisings which had a fascination in their own right but which were also read implicitly as allegory by a European audience.

The project focuses on three important cases in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries: the Manchurian conquest of China (1644); the exchange of diplomatic missions between Siam and France and the execution of Siam's minister of trade, Constantine Phaulcon (a Greek national) after the death of King Narai (1680-88); and the rise and fall of Nadir Shah in Persia (r. 1736-47).

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