Edward Weech
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Why did Thomas Manning want to learn about China?
in Chinese dreams in Romantic England
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The conclusion explains the hidden purpose of Manning’s Chinese project for the first time. Using new archival sources, it reveals that Manning believed China was one of the world’s most advanced civilizations, and that he thought the study of its social life, manners, and customs could furnish material to advance moral reform in Britain itself. He also thought that a comparative study of Chinese with ancient Greek could explain ‘the metaphysics of mind’. In the context of late Enlightenment Europe, this would provide an empirical basis for establishing the common nature of humankind that did not rely on the story of humans’ descent from Noah. The chapter discusses the significance of Manning’s goals within the context of Romantic Britain, and ongoing movements for religious, political, and social reform. It shows how Manning’s religious ideas and personal psychology helped drive his ambition to synthesize the wisdom of East and West. In his youth, Manning was a freethinking religious sceptic, who sometimes considered himself an atheist or Deist. He had a special interest in Neoplatonism, an ancient syncretic religious and philosophical system which also inspired other leading Romantics. The chapter considers Manning’s vision of intercultural exchange in conversation with the ideas of other leading thinkers of his day, notably Coleridge and the American Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson. It concludes by suggesting that Manning’s story is significant not just for the history of Romanticism and Anglo-Chinese exchange, but for the modern construction of how we think about our shared past.

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Chinese dreams in Romantic England

The life and times of Thomas Manning


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