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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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Sound and the Sino-Western Encounter

Sound and the Sino-Western Encounter

(p.182) Epilogue Sound and the Sino-Western Encounter
Listening to China

Thomas Irvine

University of Chicago Press

The author argues that the sonic history of the Sino-Western encounter in the decades around 1800 can be read as a hardening of Western imperial desire to dominate China, in part because the economic conditions became more favorable to such desire. The (literal) blocking out of China’s music signals a new kind of thinking about “music,” under the sign of increased hegemonic ambition. To Western ears, it seems, Chinese music was no longer just another instance of a universal human activity. From now on “music” was something that they, as elite Westerners, owned exclusively and that empowered them to feel superior. The Chinese—and Western subalterns too—were left to make do with “folklore.” Just as China became an object of new European economic and political empires, this “racialized music” became a sovereign subject of a new imperial music history.

Keywords:   sonic history, Sino-Western encounter, imperialism, hegemonic ambition, universal human activity, Western ears, Chinese music, imperial music, racialized music

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