‘What does anyone here know of China?' asked Macaulay in a rare confession of ignorance in the House of Commons in 1840. 'Everything is covered by a veil, through which a glimpse of what is within may occasionally be caught, a glimpse just sufficient to set the imagination to work and more likely to mislead than to inform.'
The veil is still there; and the imagination is still at work. The West never ceases inventing and reinventing China, recreating it, each generation in its own image, very much as we regularly recreate our own past and call it history. The result has been a series of Chinas, each