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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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Reading Burney Listening to China

Reading Burney Listening to China

(p.139) Five Reading Burney Listening to China
Listening to China

Thomas Irvine

University of Chicago Press

This chapter fleshes out the author's account, earlier in the book, regarding Burney's engagement with Chinese music and song and Chinese music history more generally. Burney listened intently to China, or tried to, across four decades. His search for Chinese sounds was a journey with twists and turns. There were some dead ends, such as his fixation with Sino-Scots musical affinities. The wide impact of this speculation obscures Burney’s considerable contribution to the Western literature on Chinese music. Taken together, the materials he collected from James Lind and Matthew Raper in Canton, his detailed correspondence through Raper with Western observers in Beijing, the instruments he received, the experiments with Chinese listeners he organized as part of the Macartney mission, and his attempt at synthesis in the Cyclopaedia article amount to the most significant attempt by any eighteenth-century European outside China to come to terms with Chinese music and musical practice. Although in the end Burney remained immune to China’s sonic enchantments, the fruits of his decades-long China project surpass anything attempted by the Paris-based French historians he originally depended on.

Keywords:   Burney, Chinese music, Chinese music history, James Lind, Matthew Raper, Canton, Cyclopaedia

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