Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

A term used to imply the deployment of Oriental (primarily Chinese) motifs and images in fiction and art. It is a distinct subgenre of Oriental Fantasy, in that it relies predominantly on the mythic, recreating the iconography of an Oriental past that never was, but which is firmly implanted in occidental minds (see Land of Fable). The willow pattern design in porcelain is a common example. In fiction, the influence lingered on in fantasy, where the imagery of an ersatz East was an ideal vehicle for creating an atmosphere of distant worlds and times. But it was also used to intrude the mythic into the modern world. Chinoiserie thus works in both fantasy and Supernatural Fiction; much of it today is Dark Fantasy. In fantasy its initial use derived from the popularity of the stories of the Arabian Nights (see Arabian Fantasy), which heavily influenced much fiction in the 18th century; Horace Walpole's "Mi Li: A Chinese Fairy Tale" (1785) is one of the earliest examples of Chinoiserie. Its use faded during the 19th century, though one small example is "The Dragon Fang" (Harper's 1856) by Fitz-James O'Brien (1828-1862). Its popularity re-emerged strongly at the end of the Victorian era, influenced to some degree by the rediscovery of Oriental Fairytales. Its impact manifested itself in all artforms, including Opera, with The Mikado (1885) by W S Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan and Madame Butterfly (1904) by Giacomo Puccini, and heavily influenced the writings of Lafcadio Hearn and Laurence Housman and the artwork of Aubrey Beardsley and others. It continued into the 20th century through the work of Kenneth Morris and Lord Dunsany, but generally faded in literature after WWI. Its surviving champion in the UK was Ernest Bramah, with his Kai Lung stories and, to some extent, Sax Rohmer and Thomas Burke (1886-1945). In the USA, Frank Owen sustained the motif in his many stories for Weird Tales, as did E Hoffmann Price, who returned to the subgenre in the 1970s with The Devil Wives of Li Fong (1979). Charles G Finney used chinoiserie to significant effect in "The Magician Out of Manchuria" (1968) and, in a way, in The Circus of Dr Lao (1935), filmed as 7 Faces of Dr Lao (1964). By the 1980s, however, the effects of chinoiserie had been rediscovered by a new generation of fantasists, and the field came alive in the creative imaginations of M Lucie Chin, Jessica Amanda Salmonson, Stephen Marley and in particular Barry Hughart. [MA]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.