This is the story of the interpreters for the first British embassy to China in 1793: Li Zibiao and George Thomas Staunton. Both grew up between Europe and China and gained a deep knowledge of the other’s languages, society and culture. The focus is on the importance of their work as spoken interpreters and the dangers they faced mediating between two increasingly hostile power. I also argue that some Chinese people knew much more about the West than is usually acknowledged and we should look instead at the reasons why that knowledge did not reach senior decision makers.
Henrietta Harrison is Professor of Modern Chinese Studies at the University of Oxford and a fellow of Pembroke College. Before Oxford she taught at the University of Leeds and then at Harvard. Her books include The Man Awakened from Dreams: One Man’s Life in a North China Village, 1857–1942 (Stanford University Press, 2005) and The Missionary’s Curse and Other Tales from a Chinese Catholic Village (University of California Press, 2013).
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