This article exploits the concepts of emulation and "heterotopia" in order to answer an important question: what kind of constitutional arrangement did Antonio Genovesi and his pupils have in mind? While previous literature underlined how the commercial states of north-western Europe offered the Neapolitans a model to imitate, the article highlights the paradigmatic role of China. In the works of Paolo Mattia Doria and Antonio Genovesi we find the origins in Naples of the enduring myth of China’s perfect administration and political economy. Such a positive image of China survived among Genovesi’s pupils until the last decades of the century. The idea that China was ruled in agreement with the laws of nature, originating in Jesuist sources, became part of Genovesi attack on Montesquieu’s and feudalism; but it also provided the Neapolitan reformers with the model of a ruling elite of mandarins whose only title to power was their knowledge of political economy. The Supreme Council of Finance, created in 1782, seemed for a while to embody certain proposals derived from alleged Chinese models.
Keywords: Antonio Genovesi, China, Enlightenment, Physiocracy, Absolutism, Political Economy