This paper examines two sites of eighteenth-century architecture, The Great Pagoda in London’s Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, commissioned for King George III, and the Qianlong Emperor’s Western Palace complex at Yuanming Yuan 圆明园 in Beijing. By looking at architecture that transports the beholder through nonnative modeling, this paper investigates the virtual realities constructed in the foreign imagination. Methodologically based upon the architect’s, Sir William Chambers, own architectural treatises (On the Art of Laying out Gardens Among the Chinese and Dissertation on Oriental Gardening), and Jonathan Hay’s book Sensuous Surfaces: the Decorative Object in Early Modern China, this paper finds that The Great Pagoda intended to craft an entirely Sinicized experience for the King in which the sights, sounds, smells, and especially the views of Chinese gardens were replicated to engender the site as a theatrical set. Likewise, the Qianlong Emperor could personify his British equivalent through European modes of viewing, artificially ruling over a European city, particularly at Hudong xianfahua 湖东线法 画 (Perspective Painting East of the Lake), a series of stage flats painted in trompe l’oeil to conjure a convincing street view.
The findings of this paper complicate the traditional scholarly narrative which tends to simplify the colonizer/colonized relationship, restoring agency to China’s fetishistic gaze towards the West. King George III collected nonnative architecture, using structures as conduits for personal fetishization and diplomatic strategizing through a performance within the choreography of a Chinese garden space. Concurrently, the Qianlong Emperor held a mutually exotic gaze towards Europe, particularly at the site of pictorial and scopic techniques allowing him to revel in his comprehension of such nonnative visual tricks as trompe l’oeil. This mutual understanding of elite garden spaces obviates the need to hierarchically define Great Britain and China’s relationship, but instead insists upon their equivalency in navigating the ‘other.’
Fernacz, Nicholas P.
"THE THEATRICS OF PLACE: 18TH C. FANTASY AND GEORGE III AT THE GREAT PAGODA AT KEW,"
University of Massachusetts Undergraduate History Journal: Vol. 4, Article 2.
Available at: https://scholarworks.umass.edu/umuhj/vol4/iss1/2