Chinese Novices, Jesuit Missionaries, and the Accidental Construction of Sinophobia in Enlightenment France

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French History




This article contextualizes French perceptions of Chinese culture during the Enlightenment by examining not just significant eighteenth-centurygens des lettres, but the unintended consequences of widely appropriated Jesuit texts and works on China by a still largely unstudied cadre of Chinese travellers and intellectuals: the Chinese-born Jesuit novices who travelled between Europe and China, and often briefly resided as expatriate scholars in Europe during the eighteenth century. Contrary to much existing work on the Jesuits in China that focuses on ways in which the early and middle eighteenth-century Enlightenment was a time of Sinophilia, this article notes that some Jesuits, and a tiny but significant cadre of Jesuit-educated Chinese literati who lived or travelled extensively in Europe, were also contributors to a French reading public that became relatively more critical of China, thus transforming the late Enlightenment in the process.