<em>The Problem of China</em>: Orientalism, "Young China", and Russell's Western Audience


  • Charles Argon Princeton University




Bertrand Russell’s trip to China (1920–21) led him to write numerous articles about China culminating in The Problem of China. This paper reconsiders The Problem of China using Edward Said’s discussion of Orientalism and contextualizes it with Russell’s other published and unpublished writings on China and the reactions of his Chinese contemporaries. I argue that Russell’s views reflect his prior philosophy and Western influences more than an analysis of his trip and reveal that this was what his Western readers wanted. Moreover, his reliance on the research of other scholars and popular writers was unusual, even at the time. He was an intellectually honest but relatively unqualified and imprecise interpreter, not a Said-style Orientalist. He recognized Orientalism, but was unable to avoid reproducing Orientalist stereotypes. These findings help us understand both how Russell processed foreign phenomena and the origins of Western perceptions of China in the 1920s.