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The Clash of Empires

The Clash of Empires

The Invention of China in Modern World Making

Lydia H. Liu

ISBN 9780674019959

Publication date: 04/15/2006

What is lost in translation may be a war, a world, a way of life. A unique look into the nineteenth-century clash of empires from both sides of the earthshaking encounter, this book reveals the connections between international law, modern warfare, and comparative grammar--and their influence on the shaping of the modern world in Eastern and Western terms.

The Clash of Empires brings to light the cultural legacy of sovereign thinking that emerged in the course of the violent meetings between the British Empire and the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Lydia Liu demonstrates how the collision of imperial will and competing interests, rather than the civilizational attributes of existing nations and cultures, led to the invention of "China," "the East," "the West," and the modern notion of "the world" in recent history. Drawing on her archival research and comparative analyses of English--and Chinese--language texts, as well as their respective translations, she explores how the rhetoric of barbarity and civilization, friend and enemy, and discourses on sovereign rights, injury, and dignity were a central part of British imperial warfare. Exposing the military and philological--and almost always translingual--nature of the clash of empires, this book provides a startlingly new interpretation of modern imperial history.


  • Extending the investigations begun in her Translingual Practice, Lydia Liu here scrutinizes the linguistic and semiotic perturbations that accompanied the rise of one empire and the tottering of another. Words here function as gifts, as missiles and as mirrors-- and sometimes as all three at once. In law, grammar, religion, diplomacy, media, and other domains, Lydia Liu uncovers the mutual implication of Asian modernity and a colonial ideal of sovereignty, the better to enable us to imagine a future that might be different.

    —Haun Saussy, author of Great Walls of Discourse and Other Adventures in Cultural China


  • Lydia H. Liu is Helmut F. Stern Professor of Chinese Studies, University of Michigan.

Book Details

  • 334 pages
  • 0-3/4 x 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press