Speaker: Morris Kaplan (BIH Visiting Fellow)
"A Queer Orientalism" traces the intersections among sex, power and cultural difference in the memoirs of Sir Edmund Trelawny Backhouse. Born in 1873, Backhouse lived in China from 1898 until his death in 1944; he co-authored two important, controversial studies of Chinese politics during and after the Boxer Rebellion. His two book-length manuscripts, “The Dead Past” and “Manchu Decadence,” tell the story of erotic and political adventures in fin du siecle Europe and in Beijing during the last decade of the Manchu dynasty. He places himself near the center of the court of the Dowager Empress during the years 1989-1908 and claims extensive interaction with her and with her most important advisors. Backhouse is virulently anti-British and positions himself as an anti-imperialist. Very learned in Chinese history and culture, he attempts to appropriate an indigenous tradition of same-sex love while holding onto a certain erotic privilege as a “foreign devil”. More fantasy than history, Backhouse’s “memoirs” display vicissitudes of desire and cultural interaction in a distinctively queer and oriental(ist) context.