Chinese dreams in Romantic England

The life and times of Thomas Manning

Author:
Edward Weech
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Chinese dreams in Romantic England tells the extraordinary story of Thomas Manning (1772–1840), a brilliant polymath who risked everything to discover the secrets of Chinese language and culture. A young idealist whose imagination was fired by the French Revolution and ambitious plans for making a better world, Manning participated in the ‘first wave’ of British Romanticism alongside famous friends such as Charles Lamb and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Disillusionment with events in France encouraged other Romantics to seek inspiration in the poetic imagination and the English countryside, but Manning looked further afield – to China, one of the world’s most ancient and sophisticated civilizations. In 1790s Britain, China was terra incognita, and Manning’s quest led him first to the salons of Napoleonic Paris, then to the sealed borders of the vast Chinese Qing Empire, and finally to Tibet’s holy city of Lhasa. There, on the ‘roof of the world’, Manning became the first Englishman to meet the Dalai Lama. When he finally returned to England, he confronted an increasingly Sinophobic climate, and his outward-looking vision was neglected and later forgotten. This book uses newly discovered archival sources to tell Manning’s story in full for the first time. In doing so, it not only helps us understand the bold and forward-looking vision of this remarkable man. It also provides a surprising new perspective on China’s contribution to the Romantic imagination, and the wider course of cultural exchange between Britain and Asia at the dawn of the nineteenth century.

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