Faking Origins: Imitating China in Eighteenth-Century English Literature

Visiting Scholar Talks

Nov 30, 2022 | 11:00 AM - 12:30 PM

Common Room (#136), 2 Divinity Avenue, Cambridge, MA,


Jane Lim | Associate Professor, Department of English Language and Literature, Seoul National University; HYI Visiting Scholar, 2022-23


Deidre Shauna Lynch | Harvard College Professor; Ernest Bernbaum Professor of Literature, Harvard University

Co-sponsored with the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies

In-person talk – Seating is limited. Masks are required for all audience members.

In this talk, I attend to the imaginary narrative traffic between Britain and China in the long eighteenth century with specific attention to pseudo narratives that display the cultural penchant for pretending, posing, and counterfeiting textual origins. George Psalmanazar was a European impostor who pretended to be a native of Formosa, or modern-day Taiwan. His publication of An Historical and Geographical Description of Formosa (1704), replete with Oriental fantasy that was “not-quite-China, not-quite-Japan, but at the same time not quite not China or Japan,” celebrates, appropriates, and imitates what must be real or imaginary about East Asia. His fake biography, or pseudo ethnography, helps the English readers envision a community different from their own that in turn demarcates boundaries of the English religion, cultural values, and the novel form. By examining how England actively reimagined and reinvented China as both an antithesis and model of English prose fiction, I attempt to reconsider the history of the English novel as translational and transnational.