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Research Postgraduate Seminar

Not Just An “Exotic Other”: China in The Illustrated London News, 1842-1873

Date: 24 May 2022 (Tuesday)
Time: 7:30-9:00pm
Zoom Link: https://hku.zoom.us/j/92184176367?pwd=ZmdDZ0pibkZ0c0U3TmFqb3JPMWtRZz09
Zoom Meeting ID: 921 8417 6367 | Password: 954699
Speaker: Zhu Wenqi, PhD candidate, HKU


In the early nineteenth century, the rise of newspapers and magazines established a transnational network of circulation for data, information, and ideas within the Western world. Illustrated periodicals—such as The Illustrated London News (Britain, 1842), L’Illustration (France, 1843), and Illustrirte Zeitung (Germany, 1843)—fostered a mass visual culture that impacted the ways in which people from the far-flung corners of empires were depicted and imagined. This seminar will examine China-related coverage published in the most popular Victorian news magazine, The Illustrated London News, from 1842 to 1873, by focusing on war, travel, diplomatic encounters, and cultural exchanges. Marked by the First and Second Opium War (1839-42; 1856-1860), this period was a crucial phase for Anglo-Chinese relations when British perceptions of China were dramatically transforming in various domains. Western soldiers, journalists, artists, and photographers travelled across the country to new treaty ports as well as previously closed areas. They produced legions of images and texts that encompassed a wide range of information, from dramatic battle scenes to ethnographic portraits of indigenous types. With the rapid development of transport and new communication technologies, the ILN was able to deliver these frontline reports to a burgeoning middle-class readership at home on a weekly basis. In my presentation, I will demonstrate that though inevitably succumbing to a colonial ideology which demonized China as a country of oriental despotism, the ILN created a multi-vocal channel where the nuances and particulars of China, its land, culture, and people, were mediated through different narratives and parallel discourses.


Zhu Wenqi is a PhD candidate supervised by Prof. G. M. Thomas in the Department of Art History. Her project collects and categorizes images of China, Japan, South Korea, and Greater East Asia in the European pictorial press during the Long Nineteenth Century. She completed her MPhil thesis, titled “Negotiating Art and Commerce in William Alexander’s Illustrated Books on China,” in 2021 and received several grants during her study, including the Hong Kong Museum Society’s travel grant (2020), the Pilot Scheme for International Experience (2019), and the Andrew Wyld Research Support Grants (2018).

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