Making Curiosities of the Chinese

Predictably, A Pictorial Geography of the World (1840, S,G. Goodrich, Boston; via Googlebooks) is more than a little bit racist in its studies of non-Western peoples. As the animal welfare movement became an important marker of “civilization,” the nineteenth century also saw an intensification of the use of human-animal relationships as a way to critique other cultures.  

Framing this image is the following: “The principal article of food is rice, which is eaten with almost every sort of victuals, but in the north corn is more used. The Manchoos eat horse-flesh, and the lower classes, who are miserably poor, and often suffer from famine, do not refuse the most loathsome vermin…. Edible bird’s nests, which consist of some sort of gelatinous matter, tripang or sea slug, shark fins, and fish maws are among the luxuries of the Chinese table;opium, although forbidden by law, is much used. Dogs, cats, and rats are eagerly sought after by the poorer classes, and puppies are constantly hawked about the streets, to be eaten….

And well, what would a fine Englishman, swept up with the idea that his country was to be thanked as the pioneer of the humane movement, possibly expect from a dog-eater?

“When China was first explored by European travelers, it was believed to be a nation that had alone found out the true secret of government; where the virtues were developed by the operation of the laws. A greater familiarity with the Chinese has destroyed the delusion, and their virtues are the last subject for which they can claim any praise. Few nations, it is now agreed, have so little honor or feeling, or so much duplicity and mendacity. Their affected gravity is as far from wisdom, as their ceremonies are from politeness….”

 Last year, when Obama was linked to the despicable heathen practice of dog eating, his opponents were tapping into a long history of vilifying The Orient through their relationships with animals.

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