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Listening to ChinaSound and the Sino-Western Encounter, 1770-1839$
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Thomas Irvine

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780226667126

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: January 2021

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226667263.001.0001

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Charles Burney Discovers China

Charles Burney Discovers China

(p.87) Three Charles Burney Discovers China
Listening to China

Thomas Irvine

University of Chicago Press

This chapter explores Charles Burney’s long en­gagement with China, which scholars have mostly overlooked. Burney ap­proached Chinese music in his usual eclectic fashion. When he began his China project in the early 1770s, knowledge about Chinese music in the West was limited to descriptions in encyclopedias and dictionaries based on reports from Catholic missionaries. In addition, as discussed in chapter 1, some materials originating from the French Jesuit Joseph Amiot had circulated in French musical circles. In fact, Burney owed his introduction to the subject to this Franco­-Chinese network. He soon began a program of independent research. He talked with British travelers who had been to China and corresponded with musical Europeans there via a contact in Canton, soon acquiring more empirical information than any previous Eu­ropean writer on Chinese music working outside the country. As a result, he realized that the General History would not offer enough space to ad­dress Chinese music adequately. Burney reserved a place for it in a separate project on “national music” that he never completed.

Keywords:   Charles Burney, Chinese music, Catholic missionaries, Franco-Chinese network, national music

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