This book examines egalitarian social ideals and institutions that arose in preindustrial China and England, and in the process, uncovers China’s forgotten role in the history of social justice debate and legislation during the eighteenth century. Drawing on a wide range of visual and documentary evidence, the author shows that many prominent individuals in both England and China adopted comparable strategies as a logical response to excesses of privilege and arbitrary power, with educated but non-noble persons taking advantage of print culture, a more literate population, an expanded art market, public spaces and other familiar ‘early modern’ developments to interrogate the system of inherited privilege and promote a more meritocratic society. This shared experience created common ground for transformative exchange between the two great traditions during the eighteenth century. By providing a more global account of what we call Western values, the book shows that early modern China and England had far more in common than is normally supposed, and thus challenges claims on the right and the left that the people of China lacked a concept of social justice and that China’s cultural legacy should be treated as exceptional in regard to human rights.
Routeledge Publishing, 2018