China and England : The Preindustrial Struggle for Justice in Word and Image book cover
1st Edition

China and England
The Preindustrial Struggle for Justice in Word and Image

ISBN 9781138504035
Published October 1, 2018 by Routledge
268 Pages 31 Color & 49 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

This book examines egalitarian social ideals and institutions that arose in preindustrial China and England, and in the process, uncovers China’s forgotten role in the history of social justice debate and legislation during the eighteenth century. Drawing on a wide range of visual and documentary evidence, the author shows that many prominent individuals in both England and China adopted comparable strategies as a logical response to excesses of privilege and arbitrary power, with educated but non-noble persons taking advantage of print culture, a more literate population, an expanded art market, public spaces and other familiar ‘early modern’ developments to interrogate the system of inherited privilege and promote a more meritocratic society. This shared experience created common ground for transformative exchange between the two great traditions during the eighteenth century. By providing a more global account of what we call Western values, the book shows that early modern China and England had far more in common than is normally supposed, and thus challenges claims on the right and the left that the people of China lacked a concept of social justice and that China’s cultural legacy should be treated as exceptional in regard to human rights.

Table of Contents



1. Introduction

2. Cultural Politics

3. Political Authority

4. The Polity

5. The People: China

6. The People: England

7. Equality: China

8. Equality: England

9. Speech: China

10. Speech: England

11. Envisioning Speech

12. A Common Struggle

Selected Bibliography


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Martin Powers is Sally Michelson Davidson Professor of Chinese Arts and Cultures at the University of Michigan, USA. He is the author of Art and Political Expression in Early China and Pattern and Person: Ornament, Society, and Self in Classical China, both books winners of the Levenson Prize for the best book in pre-twentieth century Chinese studies. He is the co-editor of The Blackwell Companion to Chinese Art and Looking at Asian Art.


"Powers has written an extraordinary meditation on the labyrinths of thought, both European and Chinese, that have brought us to our present place in history. The great strength of the book lies in demonstrating that the history of liberty is not a closed Western project, but an aspect of human experience that can be calmly and logically approached as much from China as from anywhere else." - Timothy Brook, The University of British Columbia, Canada.