Synopses & Reviews
In Liberal Barbarism, Erik Ringmar sets out to explain the 1860 destruction of Yuanmingyuan - the Chinese imperial palace north-west of Beijing - at the hands of British and French armies. Yuanmingyuan was the emperor's own theme-park, a perfect world, a vision of paradise, which housed one of the greatest collections of works of art ever assembled. The intellectual puzzle which the book addresses concerns why the Europeans, bent on "civilizing" the Chinese, engaged in this act of barbarism. The answer is provided through an analysis of the performative aspect of the confrontation between Europe and China, focusing on the differences in the way their respective international systems were conceptualized. Ringmar reveals that the destruction of Yuanmingyuan represented the Europeans' campaign to "shock and awe" the Chinese, thereby forcing them to give up their way of organizing international relations. The contradictions which the events of 1860 exemplify - the contradiction between civilization and barbarism - is a theme running through all European (and North American) relations with the rest of the world since, including, most recently, the US war in Iraq.
"A fascinating, eminently readable and important study of a key moment in the West's relationship with China: the plunder and burning of Yuanmingyuan Palace in 1860 by French and British troops. The immediate causes were expressions of European incomprehension and insecurity when face-to-face with Chinese civilization. The systemic cause was a clash of incompatible conceptions of order, between European sovereignty and Chinese hierarchy. The two conceptions could not be combined and the Chinese were compelled to give way to the Europeans. By focusing on performance, on how the occupying forces sought to present themselves to Chinese and Europeans back home, Ringmar teases out the motives behind their barbaric behavior and some of its longer-term effects on China." - Ned Lebow, James O. Freedman Presidential Professor of Government, Emeritus, Dartmouth College, USA
"In this probing and deeply engaging account of the conflagration that brought an end to the Opium Wars, Erik Ringmar invites us to consider the origins and implications of a defining moment of liberal barbarism. In a refreshingly original move, he positions both the legendary glory of the imperial gardens and the orgy of violence that attended their destruction as critical elements in the increasingly fraught and consequential stories Europeans came to tell themselves about China over the course of the nineteenth century. Drawing on a wealth of literary and historical sources and attending carefully to the performative and ritualistic aspects of international relations, Erik Ringmar argues compellingly that the pillaging of the emperor's paradise in 1860 marks a turning point, real and symbolic, in Western Europe's relation to the rest of the world and to its own modernity. This book will be essential reading for students of the history of empire and of China's place on the world stage." â€“ David Porter, Professor, Department of English Language and Literature, University of Michigan, USA
"With globalisation comes a decentering of analytical perspectives, and with new perspectives come unpleasant insights. Real, existing liberalism appears rather different than the disembodied ideological version." - Iver Neumann, Montague Burton Professor of International Relations, London School of Economics, UK
"If performance is the cultural idiom through which political personages on the stage of diplomacy create history, then history is the ongoing spectacle of such actions. Erik Ringmar's study follows paradigms set forth by Bernard Cohn's ritual analysis of Lafayette' visit to America and Marshall Sahlins' mythic deconstruction of the arrival of stranger kings to Hawaii. He shows how meanings frame narratives and events in ways that not only explain the course of history, but also elucidate the subtle 'clash of civilizations' that is still at the competitive crux of international relations today." - Allen Chun, Research Fellow, Institute of Ethnology, Academia Sinica, Taiwan
Erik Ringmar elucidates how Europeans spread "civilization" by barbarian means in the 1860 destruction of the palace of the emperor of China.
In 1860 a combined Anglo-French army destroyed Yuanmingyuan, the palaces and gardens of the emperor of China northwest of Beijing. Yuanmingyuan was the emperor's own theme-park, a perfect world, a vision of paradise on earth which housed one of the greatest collections of works of art ever assembled. The reason for the destruction, the Europeans explained, was that they wanted to 'civilize' the Chinese. In this volume Erik Ringmar elucidates how this "civilization" came to be spread by barbarian means.
About the Author
Erik Ringmar is Zhiyuan Chair in International Relations at Shanghai Jiaotong University, Shanghai, China. He received his PhD in political science at Yale University in 1993 and for 12 years worked in the Government Department at the London School of Economics. Previous books include Identity, Interest and Action (CUP, 2008) and The Mechanics of Modernity in Europe and East Asia (Routledge, 2005).
Table of Contents
PART I: INTRODUCTION
Liberals and Barbarians
An Awesome Performance
PART II: THE DESTRUCTION OF YUANMINGYUAN
An Imperial Theme Park
The North China Campaign of 1860
Enter the Barbarians
PART III: LIBERAL BARBARIANS
Assembling the Liberal Script
Performing the Liberal Script
War in the Age of Sensation
Striking the Chinese with Awe
PART IV: CONCLUSION
An Eternal Object