The author of this source is writing for the specific purpose of explaining to many Chinese what is going on in Europe, and in fact, what Europe is. At this source shows, back when the world was smaller, people just did not know much about their neighbors. There was no Internet, and knowledge about places could not be spread through popular travel books. Rather, people like the author had to sit down in order to answer questions. This particular author both thought up the questions and constructed the answers. The goal of the author was to provide a picture of Europe for China and the Chinese, and this effort was not entirely neutral.
One of the critical elements of this work stems from the fact that the author is, apparently, setting out to write a neutral profile of the European continent so that people in China can come to understand. Given this purpose, one would expect in some ways that the work would be neutral. As it turns out, the work is far from being neutral. As all authors do, this one had some biases that shined through in the work. He even attempted in some respects to speak down to the people reading, though it is unclear whether this was or was not his intention. For instance, when explaining the nature of governance in Europe to the Chinese, the author has a part on kings that is purely propaganda. It is not actual analysis on what life is like in Europe. Rather, it is just designed to provide a picture of governance that is friendly toward the people doing the governing. The author appears to just be laying out facts when in reality he is actually making arguments for the efficacy of Europe as a concept.
One of the things that the author focuses time and effort on if the idea of both explaining and justifying some of the cultural traditions of Europe. While he does not come out and suggest that Europe is a superior place with a superior plan in comparison to China and the rest of Asia, he does do some chipping away at the standard traditions of Asia while also providing some arguments for why European traditions are very good ones. This decision to do so was based in the idea that the Europeans had gotten some things right and had moved along in their evolutionary path, while the world around them had missed out on this growth. It was, at its very core, a paternalistic type of idea that would continue to power much of this writing on and on.
One of the strange weaknesses about this writing is that while the author is trying to be an authority on the world at large, he missed out on some elements in the writing. For instance, he claims that Africa is just the country of Libya and fails to understand the size differences between and among nations. This is demonstrative of the difficulty that people had during this time with the context around them.
Question for the class/speaker:
How does the author’s attempt to justify his own existence impact the experience of the reader? Given that the author called Italy his homeland, and given that he is basically mounting a defense of Europe under the auspices of an objective writing, how does this impact the way a reader receives this message? Does the reader at this time have any independent source to which he can compare what he is reading? Whether this stood as the only source on the matter would be an important element in its acceptability on the part of the reader.
- Mish, J. L. (1964). Creating an Image of Europe for China: Aleni’s Hsi-Fang Ta-Wen 西方答罔: Introduction, Translation, and Notes. Monumenta Serica, 23(1), 1-87.