Transmission, Writing, and Imagination: The West in Late Imperial Chinese Culture

Grant Data
Project Title
Transmission, Writing, and Imagination: The West in Late Imperial Chinese Culture
Principal Investigator
Dr Song, Gang   (Principal investigator)
Start Date
Completion Date
Conference Title
Presentation Title
China-West, Ming-Qing culture, Imagology
Other projects
Grant Type
Louis Cha Fund
Funding Year
Studies on Sino-Western cultural exchanges in history have undergone several major methodological shifts in the past few decades, and the more recent ones adopt "interaction" and "encounter" approaches to handle a wider range of interrelated subjects. However, few collaborative efforts have been made to examine the diverse Chinese perceptions/representations of the West and explore the changing Chinese cultural/national identities mirrored by the Western other(s) as an alternative approach to understand China’s difficult transition from an imperial society to a modern nation. The proposed Chinese volume, which consists of nine (or possibly ten in the later stage) advanced research essays by leading scholars from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the U.S., is intended to achieve a monumental leap forward in this respect. The following key issues and problems have been in one way or another addressed by the contributors in their individual case studies: 1. What could be the major prototype images of the West in a late imperial Chinese mind? Among them, can we make a clear-cut division between the positive (or idealistic) ones from the negative (or ideological) ones, or can we develop a broad spectrum with more subtle variations? 2. Is there any coherence or discrepancy in textual/visual representations of the same Western subject over time? Can it be called a stereotype due to coherence, or a nuance due to discrepancy? How can they be contextualized in the midst of fluctuating historical and cultural milieus in late imperial China and the modern West? 3. Can we identify a Sinocentric or a Eurocentric undertone in any specific cultural representation of the West? To what extent can the term "ethnocentrism" be applied to the late imperial Chinese experiences of the West? 4. Are there hybrid concepts, perceptions, and representations emerging from the Sino-Western cultural encounters? In what sense can the term "hybridization" be justified in comparison with those previous ones such as "adaptation" and "syncretism", and does this term provide a different channel to tackle the increasing involvement of the West in China’s long march toward modernity? 5. How can the case studies in this volume reinforce, or challenge, some influential theoretical approaches, such as the "impact and reaction" thesis in history studies, orientalism/occidentalism in cultural studies, and "social imagination" in Imagology of comparative literature? Or, do they instead point to a distinctive feature of "in-betweenness," embedded in various boundary-crossing ideas, beliefs, and experiences, that resists any simple alignment with the established theories? To respond to the above key issues, the contributors in this volume adopt a number of different approaches and make extensive use of textual and visual sources. Through such scholarly collaboration, they can accomplish the following shared objectives: 1. To publish a monumental work, in the form of an edited volume, to display and reflect upon the complex evolvement of Chinese understandings of the West in early modern history; 2. To unravel the intriguing mirror effect in changing Chinese perceptions of the West, and explore how it has affected Chinese self-perceptions and cultural identities during a transition period; 3. To critically assess the values and limitations of some established theories in history, literature, cultural studies, religious studies, and other related fields; 4. To attract more scholarly attention to such underexplored or controversial concepts as "in-betweenness" and "hybridization", and offer new insights to interpret a dynamic and composite Chinese culture towards its early modernity.