This chapter sets the stage for the book by examining the role of cultural politics in scholarship on China since the seventeenth century. Area Studies specialists have long recognized a Eurocentric bias in China Studies, but this chapter traces to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the origins of misleading arguments still current in China scholarship today. These arguments should not be dismissed as mere bias; they have their origin in a conception of authority based on group membership – “tribalism” in modern terms. In early modern Europe, as in Medieval China, authority was a function of privilege, and privilege was distributed among ranked groups, such as nobility and commoners, Anglicans and Muslims, or Europeans and Chinese. In every case one category was viewed as having more “dignity” or “honour” than the other, and therefore was more deserving of privilege. But seeing as China was a large empire, the hierarchies Europeans viewed as natural could not be forced upon China as they had been forced upon commoners or women. As a result Chinese achievements, such as large, bustling cities and global trade success, were viewed as insults to European dignity. However, by the eighteenth century European writers began to accept large cities and trade success as signs of “civility” and, by the end of that century, the values espoused by radical English and European writers began to converge with those of mainstream writers in China. This gave rise to vehement denials that China had had anything to do with the significant achievements of the Enlightenment era. The chapter closes with a review of the legacy of preindustrial cultural politics in twentieth-century China scholarship.