One chinoiserie, two series : a comparative study of the French L'histoire de l’empereur de la Chine and the English Indian Manner tapestries

Student thesis: MPhil Thesis (Lingnan)


This thesis investigates two chinoiserie tapestries that appeared in Europe in the 1680s and 1690s to discuss the relationship between the diversity of early chinoiserie artistic styles and the Eurasian cross-cultural interaction, as well as the general interest of Europeans in China and Asia. Both produced by French weavers, chinoiserie tapestries appeared in France and England, namely L’histoire de l’empereur de la Chine (The Story of the Emperor of China), manufactured by the Royal Factory in Beauvais, France, around 1685, and Indian Manner, manufactured by the tapestry workshops in Soho, England, around 1690. The former has received greater attention in scholarship, whilst the latter remains largely unstudied. This study addresses a research gap by comparing these two chinoiserie sets. A comparison reveals that they are distinct in style and very different in all aspects of themes, compositions, motifs, sources of reference, production, sales, and customer reception; the former is more closely associated with the European pictorial tradition, the latter with the Asian visual idiom. Further digging into the historical and material cultural contexts, I found that the reason why these two series of chinoiserie tapestries have different visual styles is that they actually represent different views and interpretations of China in France and England, which are determined by the different political systems, religious beliefs, and trade relations with China in the two countries. France saw China more as a political and cultural equivalent, getting to know it through missionary work, while England mainly regarded China as a profitable trading destination and obtained information about it through commercial activities. It was their different ways of interacting with China and their different expectations of the Asian countries that led to vastly different interpretations of the same chinoiserie theme in almost the same period. Therefore, I argue that chinoiserie, with its rich variety of forms and contents, was not born out of European ignorance or pure imagination of China and Chinese culture but was directly related to a specific cultural and historical context. It is evident that chinoiserie tapestries had to adapt to the cultural environment of their birthplaces but were also constrained by the degree of knowledge and acceptance of China or Asia. Chinoiserie is not only Europeans’ fascination with Chinese objects but also a localized adjustment, and in the process, it reflects cross-cultural hybridity and creativity.
Date of Award2 Mar 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Lingnan University
SupervisorFong Fong CHEN (Supervisor)

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