torsdag 12. januar 2023

The Forgotten Romantic Who Became Britain’s First Sinologist

When we think of great early Western scholars of Asia, Thomas Manning’s name does not come up in the same sentence as William Jones or Jean Francois Champollion. Yet Thomas Manning pursued fame with relentless self-confidence and energy. In the end, fame didn’t so much elude him as cease to interest him.

As a young man, Manning set himself an especially challenging life goal, to become Britain’s first Sinologist. No one in Britain spoke Chinese, nor were any books or manuals available. The Macartney embassy of 1793 to the Qianlong emperor had relied on Chinese Catholics from the Vatican for interpretation, requiring the English to speak Latin. The Continent, at the time, seemed to be the seat of sciences. So, taking advantage of the short-lived peace between Britain and Napoleon’s France, Manning traveled to Paris, where he reveled in the intellectual and social brilliance of French society. He met Chateaubriand, but no one who could teach him Chinese. Finally, he convinced the East India Company to send him to Guangzhou.