by Henrietta Harrison
An impressive new history of China’s relations with the West—told through the lives of two language interpreters who participated in the famed Macartney embassy in 1793
The 1793 British embassy to China, which led to Lord George Macartney’s fraught encounter with the Qianlong emperor, has often been viewed as a clash of cultures fueled by the East’s disinterest in the West. In The Perils of Interpreting, Henrietta Harrison presents a more nuanced picture, ingeniously shifting the historical lens to focus on Macartney’s two interpreters at that meeting—Li Zibiao and George Thomas Staunton. Who were these two men? How did they intervene in the exchanges that they mediated?