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orientalism

  1. 1. The humanities in the digital ageIss. 10 I May 2008 DOSSIEROrientalismCarles Prado-Fonts (coord.)Lecturer, Department of Languages and Cultures, UOCCONTENTS Orientalism: thirty years on. Introduction .............................................................................. 1 Carles Prado-Fonts The Western Representation of Modern China: Orientalism, Culturalism and Historiographical Criticism............................................................................................... 7 David Martínez-Robles Instrumentalisation of Passions, Social Regulation and Transcendence of Power in the Hanfeizi 韓非子 ......................................................................................................... 17 Albert Galvany On Monkeys and Japanese: Mimicry and Anastrophe in Orientalist Representation ............. 26 Blai Guarné Against besieged literature: fictions, obsessions and globalisations of Chinese literature ....... 37 Carles Prado-Fonts ReCommeNded CITaTIoN PRADO-FONTS, C. (coord.) (2008). “Orientalism” [online dossier]. Digithum. Iss. 10. UOC. [Retrieved on: dd/mm/yy]. <http://www.uoc.edu/digithum/9/dt/eng/orientalism.pdf> ISSN 1575-2275Iss. 10 | May 2008 ISSN 1575-2275 Journal of the UOC’s Humanities Department and Languages and Cultures Department
  2. 2. Universitat Oberta de Catalunya the humanities in the digital agehttp://digithum.uoc.edu “Orientalism” Dossier Orientalism: thirty years on* Introduction Carles Prado-Fonts Lecturer, Department of Languages and Cultures, UOC cprado@uoc.edu Submission date: November 2007 Accepted in: December 2007 Published in: May 2008 ReCommended CitAtion: PRADO-FONTS, Carles (2008). “Orientalism: thirty years on. Introduction“. In: “Orientalism“ [online dossier]. Digithum. Iss. 10. UOC. [Retrieved on: dd/mm/yy]. <http://www.uoc.edu/digithum/10/dt/eng/introduction.pdf> ISSN 1575-2275AbstractThis dossier contains a series of articles inspired by Edward Said’s concept of Orientalism. Together, the articles in the dossiershow the importance of Said’s contribution and defend the need to continue working to make it even more important andvalid, both in the academic context and in terms of the social diffusion it deserves. With a common thematic thread –the per-ception of the Other (“the Orient”) from our perspective (“the West”)– these articles shun the conception of East Asia as anindependent “discipline“ and treat it, on the contrary, as an ob�ect of study that must be tackled with methodological rigour “from specific disciplines: history, philosophy, anthropology and literature. This should facilitate, on one hand, the possibility ofputting forward arguments and observations that enrich already existing debates in each discipline by shedding new light onthem and, on the other, the social diffusion of these ideas on East Asia beyond limited circles.KeywordsOrientalism, Said, East Asian Studies, Area StudiesResumAquest dossier aplega un seguit d’articles inspirats en el concepte d’orientalisme d’Edward Said. En con�unt, els articles deldossier demostren la importància de l’aportació de Said i defensen la necessitat de continuar treballant per a fer-la encara mésrellevant i vigent, tant dins del context acadèmic com en la difusió social que hi hauria d’estar inevitablement connectada. Ambun fil temàtic comú –la percepció de l’Altre (“l’Orient”) des de la nostra perspectiva (“l’Occident”)– aquests articles defugen* The text of this introduction is the result of the MEC I+D (HUM2005-08151) Interculturalidad de Asia oriental en la era de la globalización research pro�ect. The main ideas presented below were commented on and debated in the seminar East Asia: Orientalisms, Approaches and Disciplines organised by the Inter-Asia research group at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. I am grateful for the comments of those who attended the seminar.Iss. 10 | May 2008 iSSn 1575-2275 Journal of the UOC’s Humanities Department and Languages and Cultures Department Els estudis que impulsen la revista només s’indiquen a la primera pàgina. Carles Prado-Fonts Federico Borges Sáiz Original title: Orientalisme: a trenta anys vista. Introducció
  3. 3. Universitat Oberta de Catalunya the humanities in the digital agehttp://digithum.uoc.edu Orientalism: thirty years on. Introductionla concepció de l’Àsia oriental com a «disciplina» independent i la tracten, en canvi, com a ob�ecte d’estudi que cal abordaramb rigor metodològic des de disciplines concretes: història, pensament, antropologia, literatura. Això hauria de facilitar, d’unabanda, la possibilitat de pro�ectar arguments i observacions que enriqueixin debats �a existents a cada disciplina aportant-hi unanova llum i, de l’altra, la difusió social d’aquestes idees sobre l’Àsia oriental més enllà de cercles restringits.Paraules clauorientalisme, Said, Estudis de l’Àsia Oriental, Estudis d’Àrea is progressively less singular and more visible –not only on1 paper or on the screen of the press and the media, but also inIf the reader opens The Asian Mystique: Dragon Ladies, Geisha the daily realities and routines of almost everyone: in schools,Girls Our Fantasies of the Exotic Orient, they will immediately neighbourhoods, at work or in the supermarket. Paradoxically,come upon the following anecdote, involving the book’s author, however, this greater presence and familiarity has (still) notthe American �ournalist Sheridan Prasso: banished the ma�ority of myths, stereotypes and beliefs concerning the other –stranger, distant, exotic, incomprehensible– that, as In 1990, shortly after I had moved from Chicago to Asia we said, tinges our assumptions and slants our perceptions in as a news correspondent, I became intrigued by a frequent a predetermined direction.1 Thirty years after the publishing visitor to my Mid-levels neighbourhood of Hong Kong, a man of a ma�or work in the humanities and social sciences such as who shouted in a sing-songy voice the same words over and Orientalism, by Edward Said (1978), which precisely exposes over as he traversed the winding, hilly streets. I lived in an and denounces these representational mechanisms, the paradox apartment block in front of a concrete wall holding back the deserves, we believe, a brief review. mountainside, and to me this mass of concrete seemed an affront to nature. I knew that the Cantonese people of Hong Kong believe that there are gods everywhere and in everything 2 –in the kitchen, the trees, the water, and the landscape. Could In Orientalism, Said dissects the way in which, from the West, a this man be chanting to appease the mountain god who certain image of the Orient has been constructed that has marked might be angered by this man-made desecration? I wanted our way of understanding it, representing it and approaching it. to indulge the fantasy that I was witnessing the mystical Asia By now, the three dimensions, which, according to Said, channel out the window of my concrete apartment block. I told my these representations of the Oriental Other are well-known: the Chinese-speaking roommate about the man, and one day as I academic study that has as its ob�ect of analysis the East or the heard his cries I went running to get her. She stepped onto our Middle East; a discourse within which East and West are opposite small balcony, listened to his chant, and turned to me laughing, concepts and where one represents the other and performs as “I believe he is collecting scrap metal”. I was never able to see such; and the Western style to dominate, restructure and spread its Asia in the same way again. (Prasso, 2005, pp. xi-xii) authority over the Orient with the �ustification that Western culture and values, assumed as opposite to Oriental ones, are superior. This �ournalist’s anecdote is likely to have caused an Said shows how these dimensions, in an interrelated way, haveuncomfortable smile in more than one reader: we have all been constructed and continue to construct the concept of the Orientvictims of some similar situation, to a greater or lesser degree. It through a process that labels, defines and �ustifies this geographicalmay seem to us, therefore, that the anecdote exposes the shame area and acts in it. In other words, Said explains to us that ourof our ignorance. In addition –something that may be even more visions of the Orient are nothing more than re-presentations,important– it betrays us and makes obvious the assumptions we ideological constructions anchored in a specific perspective –instart from when we try to understand an Other who is distant from our case, Eurocentric– and with an inherent agenda.us and quite different. As a result of the representational systems As the author himself acknowledges, Said’s Orientalism drawsthat inevitably surround us in the West, frequently our perception inspiration from the work of Michel Foucault and is fully in keepingof cultures and societies such as the Chinese, Japanese or Korean with the effervescence of poststructuralism –a group of intellectualis tinged, often unconsciously, by an exotic veil. movements born around the decade of the 1970s that questioned In recent decades, globalisation of capitalism has made it ideas, concepts and approaches that had been assumed as central orsuch that the presence of these cultures in Catalonia and Spain “universal“ in theory, knowledge and language. Said’s contribution 1. On stereotypes and other questions related to otherness, difference and meaning, see �uarné (200�).Iss. 10 | May 2008 iSSn 1575-2275 Carles Prado-Fonts
  4. 4. Universitat Oberta de Catalunya the humanities in the digital agehttp://digithum.uoc.edu Orientalism: thirty years on. Introductionis fully identified with the poststructuralist will to “decentre the 2000), we can state that, in a very complex historical moment,universe“ and, in the words of Derrida (1966), question “the Said was capable of raising the correct questions relating to thestructurality of the structure“. This is how various movements or comparison of cultures, although perhaps he did not providebranches of poststructuralism construct a critical pro�ect meant to proper answers –or, maybe, as suggested by Josep Maria Fraderaundo, contradict or endow with complexity assumptions that had (200�), that he had the merit to lay “the problem of comparison“not been placed in doubt until that time. Feminism and gender on the table but was unable to provide a solution.studies, for example, criticised patriarchal and phallocentric Thirty years have gone by since the publication of Orientalismideology. Derridian deconstruction, for its part, questioned the and we now find ourselves in a very different historical context.centrality and transparency of language, text and meaning per From our position, we consider it appropriate to make a couplese. In the case that concerns us, Said’s contribution made it easier of observations regarding the validity of Said’s contribution forfor postcolonial studies to study in depth the multiple implications our social and academic reality. First, the anecdote from Sheridanderived from the historical complicity between Eurocentrism and Prasso with which we began this introduction, or the many similarWestern imperialism. personal anecdotes that probably came to mind as we read it, Indeed, Said’s work was not the first to critically reveal these suggests that the translation of Said’s ideas beyond the academictypes of mechanisms of colonialism. More than two decades earlier, world is, still, inadequate. The representation of the Otherfor example, Frantz Fanon had already published the important implicit in diverse contexts and in technologies of generationBlack Skin, White Masks (1952) and, years later, The Wretched of and circulation of knowledge –the press and the media, cinemathe Earth (1961), in which, from his experience as a psychoanalyst, and literature, etc.– does not seem to indicate that the criticalhe made an analysis of the psychological effects of colonialism on approaches of Said have spread through the various socialthe identity of those being colonised.2 Said, instead of centring his spheres and taken root widely or firmly. It is probably not veryanalysis on the oppressed, focused on the oppressors –and this new adventurous to affirm that this situation shows the difficulty inangle made his contribution paramount. Aside from generating finding bridges or meeting points between the academic worldan important academic debate, there were at least two other and social diffusion of knowledge –especially in minority academicmain consequences to his work. First, Said’s contribution paved fields. Second, in the institutional field related to the study of Eastthe way for postcolonial criticism in the poststructuralist magma. Asia, the development and the validity of Said’s contributionsFollowing Said’s Orientalism, other analyses appeared that were have not had the same repercussion in the United States –wheremore sophisticated than the Orientalist discourse, including that Orientalism was first published and where study and researchof Homi Bhabha, as well as more direct criticisms of this same on East Asia have undergone an important transformation overdiscourse, such as that of �ayatri Spivak –to mention only two of the past twenty years– as in academic contexts of Cataloniathe various representatives of these two tendencies that, together or Spain. Indeed, the thirtieth anniversary of the publication ofwith Said, comprise the so-called Holy Trinity of postcolonialism. Said’s work coincides with another modest anniversary –in 2008,Second, from an institutional perspective, Said’s work and the the official programme in Asian Studies in Catalonia and Spaindebate it engendered helped to develop postcolonial studies as celebrate their first five years of existence–, and it is pertinent,a legitimate academic framework –with the establishment of also, to reconsider the validity of Said’s work in our more localcourses, academic programmes, centres and lines of research, academic context.profiles and professional associations and other “technologies ofrecognition“ (Shih, 200�). It goes without saying that Said’s work has also received 3numerous criticisms from various sources: both from those who, The creation of the degree in East Asian Studies represented afeeling that they were being directly alluded to as “Orientalists“ remarkable milestone that, apart from finally bringing to fruitionand in disagreement with Said’s approaches, attack him, offended, that which a small group of university professors had demandedfrom the neighbouring trench (Lewis, 1983), as from those who, for years, began to put us on the level of the ma�ority of Europeanimmersed in the same poststructuralist paradigm that helped to countries. The academic and institutional legitimisation madeconceive and disseminate Said’s reflection, question several aspects it easier to make a degree available to society that, until thatfrom the inside (Ahmad, 1992). At any rate, the importance of time, had been surprisingly absent from the catalogue of officialSaid’s contribution to the academic community and to knowledge degrees in Spain and that, without a doubt, was needed for ain humanities and social sciences is, by now, indisputable. Drawing more rigorous and profound understanding of the global worldinspiration from defences of postmodern anthropology (Fabian, that surrounds us –a world in which the role of countries such as 2. English translations of the original French: F. Fanon (1967) Black Skin, White Masks. New York: �rove Press; F. Fanon (1963) The Wretched of the Earth. New York: �rove Weidenfeld.Iss. 10 | May 2008 iSSn 1575-2275 Carles Prado-Fonts
  5. 5. Universitat Oberta de Catalunya the humanities in the digital agehttp://digithum.uoc.edu Orientalism: thirty years on. IntroductionChina, Japan or Korea is increasingly visible and important. After are even more important. As a result of this kind of frameworkfive years of existence, however, it is important to also examine and ob�ectives, Area Studies are in keeping with –more or lesssome of the dangers derived from the creation of a specific and explicitly– a policy that reinforces differences between cultures,“isolated“ educational field for the study of East Asia. more than one that searches for similarities between a distant Taking a closer look at this point it is interesting to return to culture and one’s own –as denounced by the Swiss sinologistthe first of the dimensions of Orientalism that Said denounced Jean-François Billeter (2006) when he wisely criticises the approachsome three decades ago: inherent to “star“ sinologists like François Jullien who base their success in the West precisely on the strategic accentuation of The most readily accepted designation for Orientalism is these differences, without a broad, profound and academically an academic one, and indeed the label still serves in a number rigorous historicism. of academic institutions. Anyone who teaches, writes about or Picking up Said’s contribution again, Rey Chow describes the researches the Orient –and this applies whether this person is criticism of theorist Harry Harootunian, who regrets the missed an anthropologist, sociologist, historian or philologist– either opportunity whereby Area Studies were unable to produce in its specific or general aspects, is an Orientalist, and what he an alternative form of knowledge given the opening that the or she says or does is Orientalism. Compared with Oriental publication of Orientalism provided: studies or Area studies, it is true that the term Orientalism is less preferred by specialists nowadays, both because it is As Harootunian goes on to argue, for all its investment in too vague and general and because it connotes the high- the study of other languages and other cultures, area studies handed executive attitude of nineteenth-century and early missed the opportunity, so aptly provided by Said’s criticism of twentieth-century European colonialism. Nevertheless, books Orientalism, to become the site where a genuinely alternative are written and congresses held with “the Orient” as their form of knowledge production might have been possible. main focus, with the Orientalist in his new or old guise as their (Chow, 2006, p. �1-�2) main authority. The point is that even if it does not survive as it once did, Orientalism lives on academically through its Thus, the delay in the implantation of an official degree in Asian doctrines and theses about the Orient and the Oriental. (Said, Studies in Catalonia and Spain has resulted in the fact that, when 1978, p.2) in America, the birthplace of Area Studies, the problems inherent in them have now been reconsidered, in our academic context Thirty years on, this description is not totally invalid –especially we have simply reproduced this same questionable structure. Inin terms of East Asian Studies in our country. In order to understand contrast to America –where the different university departmentsthe reasons for this stagnation, it is perhaps worthwhile to go back (Linguistics, History, Comparative Literature, Anthropology,to the origin of these studies as academic concepts or programmes, Sociology, Archaeology, etc.) have professors specialising in thatwhich is nothing more than Area Studies. Originating in America discipline as applied to a certain region of East Asia and in which,during the Cold War, Area Studies were organised into teaching despite in some cases teaching still being carried out from Areanodes centred on a geographical area that the student was Studies programmes, the approaches are markedly disciplinary–, inrequired to tackle from different disciplines: language, history, an academic context such as ours, there are not enough specialists,literature, society, politics, international relations, etc. The aim from the different university disciplines and departments, withof these programmes was, originally, to promote the training of experience in East Asia. There is the risk, then, that the teachingspecialists in the countries and regions they were interested in context for East Asian Studies could end up converting a degreestrategically, to “get to know“ the Other –the enemy on the other into an isolated “discipline“, closed within itself and withoutside of the Iron Curtain, for example. interaction with the other spheres of knowledge that should Although today the context is certainly another and, since the shape it.fall of the Berlin Wall, the geopolitical dynamic is very different, It is important to understand my line of argument: I am notpresent-day Area Studies have inherited several characteristics trying to negate the validity and the potential of East Asian Studies.intrinsic in their origin. Some of these traits are still quite tangible: On the contrary, I strongly believe that they can be of value as thein America, PhD students who are US citizens and who study setting which, taking East Asia or one of its regions as a commonlanguages and cultures “of strategic importance to the country“ ob�ect of study, allows for a critical and enriching interdisciplinary(such as Arabic or Chinese) can receive government funding dialogue in various directions. From my point of view, however,through FLAS (Foreign Language and Area Studies) grants, a it is essential that this dialogue be carried out between specialistsremnant of the famous Title VI, National Defense Education Act with solid methodological training in some specific discipline.of 1958. However, beyond these more lucrative implications, there It is also essential that this dialogue have the predisposition ofare numerous consequences that, from a discursive viewpoint, all parties: on one hand, of the disciplines themselves and theIss. 10 | May 2008 iSSn 1575-2275 Carles Prado-Fonts
  6. 6. Universitat Oberta de Catalunya the humanities in the digital agehttp://digithum.uoc.edu Orientalism: thirty years on. Introductionmechanisms that articulate them (schools, departments, publishers, Said’s work so that, in the future, cultures can come together in aprofessional associations, etc.), where there is still great reluctance more ethically balanced way and that all of us may be more awareto accept an ob�ect of study such as East Asia as being serious of the determining factors that predetermine this coming together.and legitimate and that are beset by markedly, and more or less In other words, and returning to anecdote from Sheridan Prassoconcealed, Orientalist pre�udices. And, on the other hand, of the with which we began this introduction, so that in the future thesemany professors who specifically promote Orientalist isolation anecdotes do not cause us such an uncomfortable smile. To revisitand the ghettoisation of East Asian Studies with various excuses Orientalism, published thirty years ago, also means to reconsiderand for diverse reasons –from the very incapacity to maintain it, today, for thirty years hence.this intradisciplinary and interdisciplinary dialogue, to the ma�orbenefits (of all kinds) that academic isolation may yield. We must,therefore, foster an interdisciplinarity that is both well understood References:and constructive, without falling into the trap that, as stressed byNéstor �arcía Canclini (200�, pp.122-123) in reference to the case AHMAD, A. (1992). In Theory: Classes, Nations, Literatures.of cultural studies, may end up setting this very interdisciplinarity: London: Verso.it is imperative that research and analysis on East Asia be well- BILLETER, J. F. (2006). Contre François Jullien. Paris: �ditionsanchored in a discipline of specific knowledge that contributes Allia. .rigorous methodologies of analysis and that guarantees the CHOW, R. (2006). The Age of the World Target: Self-Referentialitycirculation of results beyond “Orientalist“ circles. in War, Theory, and Comparative Work. Durham / London: Duke University Press. DERRIDA, J. (1966). “Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of4 the Human Sciences”. Writing and Difference. Chicago: TheThus, the dossier contains a series of articles inspired, in one University of Chicago Press, 1978.way or another, both by Said’s concept of Orientalism and by FABIAN, J. (April 2000). “To Whom It May Concern”. Anthropologyconcerns about the state of East Asian studies in this country. News. No. 9.Together they show the importance of Said’s contribution, of the FANON, F. (1952). Peau noire, masques blancs. Paris: �ditionsreflection he inspired and, at the same time, defend the need du Seuil..to continue working to make it even more important and valid, FANON, F. (1961). Les damnés de la terre. Paris: �ditionsboth in our academic context and beyond –in the social diffusion Maspero. .that it should inevitably inspire. With a common thematic thread FRADERA, J. M. (Spring 200�,). “Edward Said i el problema dethat is in keeping with the reflections we have made throughout la comparació”. Illes i Imperis. No. 7, pp. 5-7.this introduction and that may be synthesised as the perception �ARCÍA CANCLINI, N. (200�). Diferentes, desiguales yof the Other (“the Orient”) from our perspective (“the West”). desconectados: Mapas de la interculturalidad. Barcelona:The articles in this dossier shun the conception of East Asia as an �edisa.independent “discipline“ and treat it, on the contrary, as an ob�ect �UARN�, B. (200�). “Imágenes de la diferencia. Alteridad,of study that must be tackled with methodological rigour from discurso y representación”. In: E. ARD�VOL; N. MUNTAÑOLAspecific disciplines –history (David Martínez-Robles), philosophy Representación y cultura audiovisual en la sociedad(Albert �alvany), anthropology (Blai �uarné) and literature contemporánea. Barcelona: Editorial UOC. Pp. �7-127.(Carles Prado-Fonts)– applied to different geographical areas LEWIS, B. (June 2�, 1982). “The Question of Orientalism”. The(China, Japan) and to different periods (from the classical world New York Review of Books. Vol. 29, no. 11.to contemporary times). PRASSO, S. (2005). The Asian Mystique: Dragon Ladies, Geisha From these markedly disciplinary contributions, the collection Girls Our Fantasies of the Exotic Orient. New York: Publicof articles puts forward arguments and observations that enrich Affairs.already existing debates in each discipline by shedding new light SAID, E. (1978). Orientalism. New York: Viking.on them –that which comes from an ob�ect of study that is still not SHIH, S. (200�). “�lobal Literature and the Technologies ofwidespread or bestowed great legitimacy in our country, as is the Recognition”. PMLA. Vol. 119, no. 1, pp. 1-29.case of East Asia. We also hope that this dossier helps to revitaliseIss. 10 | May 2008 iSSn 1575-2275 Carles Prado-Fonts
  7. 7. Universitat Oberta de Catalunya the humanities in the digital agehttp://digithum.uoc.edu Orientalism: thirty years on. Introduction Carles Prado-Fonts Lecturer, department of Languages and Cultures, UoC cprado@uoc.edu Carles Prado-Fonts has a degree in Translation and Interpretation (Autonomous University of Barcelona, 1998), MA in Contemporary Chinese Cultural Studies (University of Westminster, London, 2001), MA in Modern Chinese Literature (University of California, Los Angeles, 200�) and is Doctor cum laude in Translation Theory and Intercultural Studies (Autonomous University of Barcelona, 2005). His doctoral thesis, Embodying Translation in Modern and Contemporary Chinese Literature (1908-1934 and 1979-1999): A Methodological Use of the Conception of Translation as a Site, explores the role of translators in the origins of modern Chinese literature. He has been lecturer in the UOC’s Department of Languages and Cultures since 200�, where he teaches the sub�ects of Chinese Literature and East Asian Literatures: 19th and 20th Centuries, and coordinates the areas of East Asian Literature, Culture and Thought. He has taught Chinese culture and civilisation at the University of California, Los Angeles, and collaborates with the Autonomous University of Barcelona and Pompeu Fabra University. He has translated Pan Gu crea l’univers. Contes tradicionals xinesos and Diari d’un boig i altres relats by Lu Xun into Catalan (finalist in the 2001 Vidal Alcover Translation Prize). This work is sub�ect to a Creative Commons Attribution-nonCommercial-noderivs 2.5 Spain licence. It may be copied, distributed and broadcast provided that the author and the e-�ournal that publishes it (Digithum) are cited. Commercial use and derivative works are not permitted. The full licence can be consulted on http:// creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.5/es/deed.en.Iss. 10 | May 2008 iSSn 1575-2275 Carles Prado-Fonts
  8. 8. Universitat Oberta de Catalunya the humanities in the digital agehttp://digithum.uoc.edu “Orientalism” Dossier The Western Representation of Modern China: Orientalism, Culturalism and Historiographical Criticism* David Martínez-Robles Lecturer, Department of Languages and Cultures (UOC) and Department of Humanities (Pompeu Fabra) dmartinezrob@uoc.edu Submission date: November 2007 Accepted in: December 2007 Published in: May 2008 RecoMMenDeD citAtion: MARTÍNEZ-ROBLES, David (2008). “The Western Representation of Modern China: Orientalism, Culturalism and Historiographical Criticism”. In: Carles PRADO-FONTS (coord.). “Orientalism” [online dossier]. Digithum. No. 10. UOC. [Retrieved on: dd/mm/yy]. http://www.uoc.edu/digithum/10/dt/eng/martinez.pdf ISSN 1575-2275AbstractThe West’s perception of China as a historical entity has evolved over the centuries. China has gone from a country of miracles andmarvels in the medieval world and a refined and erudite culture in early modern Europe, to become a nation without history or progresssince the Enlightenment of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The first historians of China were, in fact, representatives of thegreat Western empires at the end of the 19th century and their work perceives China from epistemological positions that clearly formpart of the Orientalist and colonial thought that was characteristic of the period. History written throughout the 20th century, despitethe efforts made to overcome the prejudices of the past, was unable to distance itself completely from some of the resources usedin representation or the stereotypes that the Western world had come to accept about China and East Asia since the Enlightenment.Only in recent decades has a critical historiography appeared to denounce the problems inherent in the discourse produced on China,and even this has failed to address them fully.Keywordshistoriography, Orientalism, paradigms, representation, ChinaResumLa percepció que des d’Occident s’ha tingut de la Xina com a ens històric ha evolucionat al llarg dels segles. La Xina va passarde ser un país de prodigis i meravelles en el món medieval i una cultura refinada i erudita al començament de la modernitat* I would like to thank Manel Ollé Rodríguez for revising a previous version of this article, for the comments by Séan Golden and the general contributions of the participants at the “East Asia: Orientalisms, Approaches and Disciplines” Seminar organised by the Inter-Asia Research Group of the Autonomous University of Barcelona, at which a number of the ideas subsequently established over these pages were presented. Obviously, any shortcomings and inaccuracies of the ideas expressed here can only be attributed to the author.Iss. 10 | May 2008 iSSn 1575-2275 Journal of the UOC’s Humanities Department and Languages and Cultures Department David Martínez-Robles Els estudis que impulsen la revista només s’indiquen a la primera pàgina. Original Borges Sáiz Federicotitle: La representació occidental de la Xina moderna: orientalisme, culturalisme i crítica historiogràfica
  9. 9. Universitat Oberta de Catalunya the humanities in the digital agehttp://digithum.uoc.edu Western Representation of Modern China: Orientalism…europea, a convertir-se en una nació sense història ni progrés amb el pensament il·lustrat del final del segle xviii i començamentdel xix. Els primers historiadors de la Xina són, de fet, representants dels grans imperis occidentals del final del segle xix, i la sevaobra percep la Xina des de posicionaments epistemològics que s’inscriuen molt clarament en el pensament colonial i orientalistacaracterístic d’aquell període. La història escrita durant tot el segle xx, malgrat que s’ha esforçat a superar els prejudicis del passat,no s’ha deslliurat completament d’alguns dels recursos representacionals i els estereotips que el món occidental ha assumit sobrela Xina i l’Àsia oriental des de la Il·lustració. Només en les últimes dècades ha aparegut una historiografia crítica que ha denunciatles problemàtiques inherents del discurs elaborat sobre la Xina, tot i que no ha aconseguit resoldre-les completament.Paraules clauhistoriografia, orientalisme, paradigma, representació, Xina which he described as having a conscious desire to distanceIn 1922, in a work entitled The Problem of China, after having themselves from early 20th-century stereotypes about Chinalived in Beijing for about a year and having visited other Chinese and East Asia in general. Russell is particularly critical of somecities, philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell wrote: of the more fundamental principles of Western modernity, such as the idea of progress, which is viewed from the prism of the China, like every other civilised country, has a tradition disastrous events that had gripped Europe in the preceding years. which stands in the way of progress. The Chinese have In 1916, this critical attitude towards the West had led him to excelled in stability rather than in progress; therefore Young be imprisoned for six months; the result of his anti-war stance. China, […] perceives that the advent of industrial civilisation Despite this effort, however, Russell was a man of his time and, has made progress essential to continued national existence. as such, persists in some of the stereotypes, which, for almost (Russell, 1922, p. 26) two centuries, have defined and driven the historical discussion about the Chinese world, as we see in the citation at the start. In As with other leading intellectuals of the 1920s (J. Dewey, fact, some of the ideas referred to by Russell (tradition, a lack ofH. Driesch, R. Tagore), Russell was invited to Peking University progress, the stability of the Chinese world) became –by takingto give a series of courses about what in China was perceived them on, justifying them or reinterpreting them– the intellectualas “Western knowledge”, at a time when this institution had scaffold with which the majority of Western analysts and historiansalready become one of the leading exponents of the New Culture from the late 18th century to the 20th century have tackled theMovement which crystallised around the time of the 1919 Chinese world.Versailles Conference, when at the end of the First World War, One of the most significant and authoritative examples is thatGerman concessions on the Chinese coast were handed over to of John K. Fairbank (1907-1991), probably the most eminentthe Japanese in one of the most visible gestures of disrespect historian on China of the 20th century, who in 1989 reissued aobserved in Western imperialism for decades in China and one revised version of his work, China. Tradition and Transformation,of the most transparent displays of the weakness of the Chinese originally published eleven years previously (in collaboration withrepublican government. It was in this context, during the academic E. Reischauer). When it refers to the significance of the First Opiumyear 1921-1922, that Russell lectured on philosophy, logic and War (1839-42), which represented the defeat of China by thesociology at the renovated university and came into contact with British Navy and the start of the semi-colonial European dominancemany of the new Chinese intellectuals of the age: Liang Qichao, of important areas of Chinese sovereignty, Fairbank says:Chen Duxiu, Li Dazhao, etc. (Ogden, 1982, pp. 533-539). EvenMao Zedong and Zhou Enlai, who would decades later become In demanding diplomatic equality and commercialthe most important leaders of the People’s Republic of China, opportunity, Britain represented all the Western states, whichattended some of his lectures. (Clark, 1976, p. 639). would sooner or later have demanded the same things if Britain In The Problem of China, Russell offers a very critical look at had not. It was an accident of history that the dynamic Britishthe actions of the Western powers in China and tries to distance commercial interests in the China trade was centered not onlyhimself from the ethnocentric perspective which at the time on tea but also on opium. If the main Chinese demand hadcharacterised the majority of publications about Asian countries continued to be for Indian raw cotton, or at any rate if therereaching the European public. At the same time, he showed his had been no market for opium in late-Ch’ing China, as theresympathies and admiration for the Chinese culture and people, had been none earlier, then there would have been no “opiumIss. 10 | May 2008 iSSn 1575-2275 David Martínez-Robles
  10. 10. Universitat Oberta de Catalunya the humanities in the digital agehttp://digithum.uoc.edu Western Representation of Modern China: Orientalism… war”. Yet probably some kind of Sino-foreign war would Catholic missions acted as the utmost exponent of the relations have come, given the irresistible vigor of Western expansion between the Chinese Empire and Europe. The missionaries, and immovable inertia of Chinese institutions. (Fairbank, especially those of the Society of Jesus, became high-level Reischauer, 1989, p. 277)1 cross-cultural agents, to the point where some of them attained a position of privilege and entered the court of the emperor as Even though this text was written half a century later, astronomers, engineers or painters.3 Thus, they offered ChinaFairbank goes much further than Russell in the assumption of the friendlier face of the European world, that of the arts andsome principles (such as the immobility and inertia of the Chinese sciences, which they used as an advertisement to spread Christianworld compared with the vigour of the West, the impossibility of doctrine among Chinese intellectuals, at the same time conveyingavoiding conflict, the communion of Western interests, China’s to the West a benevolent and friendly view of the Chinese world,inability to respond), which, as we will see over the coming pages, interested in justifying their mission and their method. The Jesuitsare the result of an intellectual tradition that has its roots in the believed that the most effective way of entering the Chinese worldEnlightenment thought and expansionism of the great European meant first converting its governors to the Christian cause; theempires. A tradition which, though with different nuances and people then converting should only be a question of time. To doperspectives, is based on the same sources as Orientalist thought, this, they had to adapt to an elaborate and complex culture likeas described by Edward Said in Orientalism (1978), and, indeed, that of the Chinese. Consequently, they abandoned their religiousis one of the most obvious examples of such in academic study. habits to adopt the ceremonial robes of the Chinese officials, they learned cultured language, they studied Chinese history and they analysed and translated the Confucian classics. We shouldThe formation of a historical not be surprised, then, that the treatises that they wrote aboutdiscourse on China the Chinese world were extremely well documented and that, moreover, they often portrayed the reality of East Asia in sincerelyEver since the mediaeval period, China has been an empire of laudatory terms. Confucianism, for example, reached Europe as amythical characteristics in the European imagination: the utmost moral philosophy that predated the values of Christianity, an idearepresentation of the so-called Far East. Marco Polo had defined that was very well received among some 17th-century intellectualsa number of traits that would remain unaltered for centuries in who began to preach the need for a natural religion outside thethe European portrayal of the Chinese world: the luxury and domain of the Church and who saw in Chinese thought a sourcerefinement, the culture of exoticism, the mysterious nature of of inspiration. (Zhang, 1988, p. 118).the women, the unheard-of ingenuity and invention, etc. make This perception gave birth to the Sinophile thought of theChina an unknown, distant and mysterious world, yet one that 17th and early 18th centuries, which boasted representatives ofis admired and attractive, as suggested by one of the titles of the intellectual stature of Leibniz, Wolff, Rousseau and Voltaire,the work by the Venetian, The Book of Wonders.2 The lack of who, in their works, praised very diverse aspects of the Chinesedirect contact between the two ends of the Eurasian continent, world, such as the language, the political system and education. Inas a consequence of the fall of the Mongol Empire, which had their works, China became a country governed by a philosophermanaged to unify this vast area, contributed to the reification of king with the assistance of literati who are selected by takingthese ideas, which were applied to everything that extended from into consideration nothing more than their intellectual and moralthe east of the Mediterranean, beyond the known world. standing. The respect for laws, the tolerance in ideas and the The 16th century represented a point of inflection in this trend. political excellence are virtues that eclipse the shortcomings –which,The Portuguese route that had led Vasco da Gama to the coast of nevertheless, did not go unnoticed by some of these thinkers.India skirting the African continent and which continued as far as However, circumstances changed radically in the second half of thethe ports of Japan and China brought Europe and East Asia into 18th century, in both Europe and China, and the Western portrayalcontact once again. And it was by this route, which was completed of the Chinese world underwent a radical volte-face.by the one that the Spaniards opened up through America and the On the one hand, the method of the Jesuits of fitting in withPhilippines, that not just goods but cultural products and ideas, Chinese culture was strongly criticised by the other orders, givingincluding religious ones, circulated. For almost two centuries, the rise to the so-called Rites Controversy: the Society of Jesus ended 1. My italics. 2. Polo’s work has been published under a number of titles. The most usual, Il Milione (1298), probably refers to the author’s tendency to state that everything in China has a grandeur and occurs with an extraordinary abundance –there is “a million” of everything– a topic that many of his successors would pick up ” and which lasts until today. 3. For the role of the Jesuit missionaries as intercultural mediators, see Golden (2000).Iss. 10 | May 2008 iSSn 1575-2275 David Martínez-Robles
  11. 11. Universitat Oberta de Catalunya the humanities in the digital agehttp://digithum.uoc.edu Western Representation of Modern China: Orientalism…up being dissolved by the Papacy, and the less tolerant Catholic processes, with neither evolution nor progress, inert, passiveorders expelled by the Chinese emperor. Meanwhile, in Europe and unable to assume Western modernity by itself. And it is thethe ideas of rationalism gave way to the crystallisation of the West that can make the Chinese emerge from this lethargy. Theenlightened thought of modernity, with its faith in progress. Western world, therefore, becomes a factor –a necessary andLeibniz and Voltaire were concerned with showing the universality sufficient factor– in the transformation of East Asian countries,of reason and China was an ideal example of their proposals. Yet, which becomes the intellectual justification for the colonial actionsfrom this point on, enlightened Europeans submitted China to of the great Euro-American powers in the Pacific and Asia. All thetheir ideas on historical progress: the stability that had previously texts which, from the second half of the 19th century, attempt tobeen interpreted as an example of the virtues of its political system analyse the modern history of China share this epistemologicalwould become regarded from the mid-18th century onwards as paradigm, which turned China into an apprentice of the civilisinga sign of its lack of evolution and modernity.4 lessons of Western countries.6 China –and East Asia in general– is One of the most classic formulations of this Sinophobic thought always described as the passive and feminine part in the relationshipis seen in J. G. Herder, who in his Ideas for the Philosophy of the it has with the civilised and masculine West (Guarné, 2005).History of Humanity (1787) said: “The [Chinese] empire is an And it is from this perspective that, in the colonial context ofembalmed mummy painted with hieroglyphics and wrapped in the nineteenth century, the Chinese are described as inferior andsilk; its internal life is like that of animals in hibernation” (XIV, barbarous, narrow-minded and xenophobic. This is how one ofp. 13).5 For Herder, Chinese culture is one that has not evolved the few texts of the time published in Spain about China describesfor centuries, the vestiges of a distant past, a country without them, introducing the Fu Manchu stereotype that first literaturea present, like Egyptian hieroglyphics, which belong to a dead and then cinema would feed off for decades:culture. And it was this stereotyped vision that, reproduced andamended, resonated throughout the work of most European El carácter [of the Chinese] en la apariencia es muy afable, of ]intellectuals at the end of the 18th century and throughout the 19th humano y modesto; en realidad son vengativos y crueles. Soncentury, from Adam Smith to Marx. However, the one who best muy ceremoniosos y corteses, y sobre todo observadores exactosdefined it was Hegel in his Lectures on the Philosophy of World de sus leyes, sobre lo cual se vela con mucha severidad; suHistory (1840), in which he dedicated an entire section to China. genio y talento son vivos, espirituosos, animados y penetrantes, Hegel feels that China represents the starting point of the y poseen más que ninguna otra nación el arte de disimularhistory of humanity, in a formulation that we can consider one sus sentimientos y deseo de venganza, guardando tan bienof the intellectual bases of the Orientalist representation of Asia: todas las apariencias de humildad que se los cree insensibles“The History of the World travels from East to West; for Europe a todo género de ultrajes; pero si se les presenta la ocasiónis absolutely the end of History, Asia is the beginning” (Hegel, de destruir a su enemigo, se aprovechan de ella con ahínco2004, p. 13). And he adds: y precipitación hasta lo sumo. (Álvarez, 1857, pp. 93-94)7 Early do we see China advancing to the condition in which Despite everything, critical voices could be heard regarding the it is found at this day; for […] every change is excluded, and colonial actions in East Asia, which attempted to overcome this the fixedness of a character which recurs perpetually takes the strongly Eurocentric, even racist, view and during the last decades place of what we should call the truly historical. China and of the 19th century and first decades of the 20th an effort was India lie, as it were, still outside the World’s History, as the made to transform China into an object of academic study. Oxford mere presupposition of elements whose combination must be University, to offer a distinguished example, was the first to offer waited for to constitute vital progress. (Hegel, 2004, p. 29) Chinese classes in 1876.8 The first lecturer was James Legge, a Protestant missionary who led an ambitious translation project of Hegel clearly defines the mechanisms of representation of the great Chinese classics and is the embodiment of the eruditethe Chinese world and East Asia, which remained in force for Western figure who approaches Chinese culture with honestymany decades: China is an empire that remains outside historical and passion.9 These first Sinologists, despite the fact that they do 4. For the change in European thought from Sinophilia to Sinophobia, see Zhang (1988, pp. 116-123). 5. For an analysis of Herder’s representation of the Chinese world, see Goebel (1995). 6 For an analysis of the history of Euro-American aggressions in China in the 19th century, under the banner of educating and civilising, see Hevia (2004). 7. See translation at the end of the article, cit 1. (Editor’s note). 8. In fact, the first Chair in Chinese Studies in London was significantly earlier and dates from 1837, and held by Samuel Kidd. In Cambridge, in 1888, former diplomat and interpreter Tomas Wade became the first to teach Chinese. In France, courses in Chinese had begun much earlier, in 1815 at the Collège de France run by Jean-Pierre-Abel Rémusat. For the origins of Sinology in the West, see Honey (2001). 9. Legge’s translations, over 7 volumes, were published in 1861 under the title The Chinese Classics: with a translation, critical and exegetical notes, pro-Iss. 10 | May 2008 iSSn 1575-2275 10 David Martínez-Robles
  12. 12. Universitat Oberta de Catalunya the humanities in the digital agehttp://digithum.uoc.edu Western Representation of Modern China: Orientalism…not actively participate in the colonial intellectualism defined bySaid, do unconsciously assume the epistemological categories that The sociocultural approachdrive the colonial discussion of the age in which they lived. It issignificant, for example, that the renowned translation by Legge After the Second World War, a new generation of completelyof the Chinese classics should be financed by Joseph Jardine, a professional historians began to emerge, who had studied at themember of one of the most important British merchant clans modern universities of the United States and Europe, with a muchworking in China in the 19th century, whose fortune was linked more solid and attentive training in the discipline, and this leddirectly to the lucrative opium trade.10 to the modern development of the history of China and East These experts in the Chinese world, of which Legge is only Asia. However –despite the systematic study of Chinese archives,an example, take on a dual function of representation: on the the application of scientific text analysis and less Eurocentricone hand, they become the authorised ambassadors in the West comparative research methodologies– emphasis continued onof Chinese civilisation, spokespersons and often defenders of the the role of Western aggressions in China. The whole of Chinesecultural principals that they take from the Chinese world, even history was interpreted on the basis of the significance of thesethough, on the other hand, they do so always clinging to their own agressions by studying the impact of modernisation imposed byalmost pedagogical stance as standards of Western enlightened Euro-American countries –viewed as a necessary phenomenon forideals. This is how a figure still around today was born: that of the activation of Chinese history– in traditional East Asian societies,the expert in the Chinese world, which constitutes a discipline despite certain aspects of Western imperialism being explicitlydifferent form –apart from– the other academic disciplines, which criticised. In fact, concepts such as change and transformation,generally left the Chinese and the non-Western world beyond true emblems of enlightened modernity, took on an extraordinarytheir sphere of research. cultural value for the historians of the time, forming the basis for The study of Chinese history in the early decades of the their entire research and the interpretation of Chinese history. This20th century was in the hands of these Sinologists, missionaries, had a perverse effect, as numerous aspects of the history of Chinesediplomats and functionaries who knew the Chinese world society that have nothing to do with the colonial aggressionsin person, in the hands of more or less well intentioned of Western nations disappear from historical contemplationrepresentatives of the imperial powers in Asia. It is a history and, therefore, are implicitly denied. Required reading for thisthat is clearly centred on the actions of the Western countries in historiographical context is the text quoted above by John K.the Chinese world, which are interpreted, albeit often critically, Fairbank, the leading Chinese historian from the mid-1940s to theas the unleashing that allowed the Chinese to enter modernity, late 1980s, a long period during which modern Chinese historyadmitting the technological and scientific superiority of the West, took on meaning on the basis of the question of its response towhich emerges as a civilising model and pedagogue. The same Western aggressions.historical processes are sought in Chinese history that affected This perspective throws up a number of quite obvious problems.the Western countries: for this reason, these historians reflect On the one hand, it takes on an active role for the West comparedon the non-development in China of a European-style industrial with a solely reactive China. In other words, despite the fact thatrevolution or on the reasons for the lack of capitalist-oriented it was no longer a question of the passive reality as discussed byforms of economic organisation. The West, then, is the norm the enlightened figures of the 19th century, China continued to beand yardstick of historical progress, and in this comparative denied the possibility of acting for itself, without stimulation fromperspective, Chinese history shows a series of shortcomings and the West. In addition, as we saw in the text cited above, the Westanomalies in its development.11 In spite of everything, however, was seen as a reified entity, a block with very few differences, thatthis paradigm that we could call imperialist makes China a shares unique aims and the same colonial enterprise and whosehistorical object in its own right and, therefore, overcomes the spatial and temporal complexity is often overlooked. Likewise,Sinophobic thought that we can still find in some writers at the China was, in the work of the historians of the time, a construct,start of the 20th century. a simplifying abstraction that sidelines the exceptional diversity of the Chinese world, which puts the validity of a large part of the generalisations made about it in doubt. This explains the fact 4. Sobre el pas del pensament europeu de la sinofilia a la sinofòbia, vegeu Zhang (1988,its publication, Legge’s translation still enjoys a renowned reputation legomena and copious indexes. Despite one and a half centuries having passed since pàgs. 116-123). 5. Per itsuna anàlisi de la representació de Herder del món xinès, vegeu the extensive biography by Girardot (2002). for a accuracy among specialists. For information about Legge, see Goebel (1995). 6.10. Per a una anàlisi de la història de les agressions colonials of the Jardine-Mathesonde segle xix en la seva dimensió pedagògica i civilitzatòria, vegeu Hevia (2004). William Jardine, patriarch of the clan and co-founder euroamericanes a la Xina firm, which is still trading today as one of the most high-profile companies 7. Veg. la traducció al finaldriving forcecit. 1 (N.the Sino-British war of 1839-42. in Hong Kong, was the de l’article, behind de l’ed.).11. A more extensive analysis of the role that the West has played as a benchmark for modern Chinese history and of how this has been perceived as a problem can be found in Cohen (1984, 3 et seg.).Iss. 10 | May 2008 iSSn 1575-2275 11 David Martínez-Robles
  13. 13. Universitat Oberta de Catalunya the humanities in the digital agehttp://digithum.uoc.edu Western Representation of Modern China: Orientalism…that in the historical discourse maintained during these decades, a relevance that had not been made explicit until then: facts area significant number of the historical processes that affect modern not objective, unquestionable and transcendent, but somethingChinese history go unnoticed and are not studied by historians, problematic and subject to the interpretation of whoever analysessimply because they have nothing to do with the presence of them. As a result of this evolution, after 1980 historiographyforeign countries on the Chinese coast. Some events are even followed very different paths that were much less clearly definedinterpreted as a reaction to Western actions that were in fact an and secure.evolution of internal forces and processes with their origins in a The history of China has currently moved –a great deal– awayperiod long before the arrival of foreign powers in China. from the (meta)narratives of just a few decades ago, if only at With this approach, the cultural, intellectual and even a theoretical level. Historians are obliged to act with the cautionpsychological aspects of the Chinese world are of such specific required by the historical and regional diversity of the Chineseimportance that, all too often, they sideline the political or world. Methodologically, many problems are posed in extrapolatingeconomic factors (which are the foundations of historical research what the research shows about one Chinese region for the others.with regards to Western countries). It is assumed that traditional And this regionalisation of history, which is no longer basedChinese culture –which at this time was almost synonymous on the traditional administrative divisions, also has a temporalwith Confucianism– was not simply the brake that impeded the dimension: what is stated of a specific period of history cannotmodernisation of China from the inside, but in fact the reason be stated per se of other moments in history, as had unfailinglyfor the supposed attitude of closure, denial, rejection, or, at least, been done by a great many historians until a few decades ago.14resistance to the influence and modernisation arriving from the This represents a much broader recognition of the dynamism ofWest. Political or economic questions, therefore, are relegated the intellectual, social, political and economic life of China in allto the background. This sociocultural approach, as it is often periods. An example will allow us to grasp this: when historianscalled, does not cease to be an academic and sublimated form had posed the reasons that explained the outbreak of the opiumof the Orientalisation of the Asian cultures discussed by Said: wars, the Chinese intellectual and functionary class had alwaysChina is different per se, an ontologically different entity, by non- been seen as a homogeneous group of representatives of the mostWestern definition, and therefore the categories with which the orthodox Confucian or neo-Confucian thought, supposedly hostileChinese world should be analysed and understood are specific to any change to the Chinese political and administrative system.and inherent to it, radically different from those applied to other Research in recent years, however, has shown that among thehistorical realities. This explains for these historians that contact Chinese intellectuals of the period there were highly contrastingwith the West has inevitably been antagonistic and not due to factions and parties which show that what we call Confucianismpolitical differences; it is rather a cultural shock between European is a political, philosophical and intellectual project that cannot beuniversalism and that which in this representation of the Chinese shoehorned into the categories that Western analysts –on theworld is understood as Sino-centrism. Armed confrontation was basis of the characterisation made by the Jesuit missionaries whoinevitable, as we see above in the citation by Fairbank, which first presented it to the European world in the 16th and 17thin turn acts as justification for the actions of imperialism in the centuries– have tried to apply to it.15Western Pacific. Nonetheless, some of the most basic formulae of the The 1970s represented a challenge to these ideas with the sociocultural approach have survived this criticism, both withinappearance of a new generation of historians, especially in America, and beyond the work of historians. One of the most visible andwho brought into doubt some of the assumptions of the dominant well-known examples is the so-called Asian Values Debate, whichhistoriography regarding China. The first critical voices focused attempts to recognise and, indeed, demand the validity of culturalon denouncing the “apologetics of imperialism”,12 in the context values common to the countries of the Asian continent that canof the protests against the war in Vietnam and the appearance be compared with “Western values”. These Asian values haveof a critical conscience that was not only concerned with the often been identified as supposedly Confucian values despite thehistorical facts, but also with how these are read, interpreted evident contradiction represented by attributing to a continent ofand articulated.13 The historian as a questioning figure takes on the human and geographical extent of Asia, or to a significant part12. Most notable among the first criticisms of the imperialist approach were the contributions of Nathan (1972), Esherick (1973) and Lassek (1983), who pub- lished a number of articles in the Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars, which was founded precisely as a reaction to the major North American research institutions that focused on East Asian countries.13. It should be remembered that leading figures of 20th-century intelligentsia who had a huge influence over their peers, such as Michel Foucault, Haydn White, Jacques Derrida, Edward S. Said, Jean-Françoise Lyotard, Jean Baudrillard, etc., published some of their most fundamental and referenced works in the 1970s.14. For the regional analysis of Chinese historical reality, see Skinner (1977 and 1985).15. For the different factions of Chinese intellectuals at the Imperial Court in the context of the First Opium War, see Polachek (1992).Iss. 10 | May 2008 iSSn 1575-2275 12 David Martínez-Robles
  14. 14. Universitat Oberta de Catalunya the humanities in the digital agehttp://digithum.uoc.edu Western Representation of Modern China: Orientalism…of it, a unity based on cultural values that originate, in fact, from resolve. Cohen explicitly rejects external visions of Chinese history,a specific region and very specific period of the past. We will not and in fact establishes a somewhat inaccurate distinction of whatenter here into evaluating the bases of this debate, which despite external and internal focuses are. This is an approach, which, asthe political manipulation to which it is subjected, would allow us with the Asian Values Debate, still has Orientalist echoes: China hasto reflect on a number of fundamental issues regarding how we remained isolated in universal history, clearly following differentunderstand alterity and project our epistemological categories on historical development guidelines, which need to be known fromto other realities without having first evaluated their suitability. In the inside, starting with the Chinese language and culture. In otherany event, it is important to understand how far, in the majority words, despite explicitly rejecting the sociocultural approach, heof formulations that have been made, it is based on culturalist reaches a series of similar conclusions, which, in short, do not helpreasonings that contradict the historical and social reality of the break away from the historical alienation of China.17countries to which it refers.16 Another trend in the historiography that has been developed in recent years points in the opposite direction to the one outlined by Cohen and consists of integrating Chinese history into worldCriticism and post-paradigmatisation history, not so as to enhance the latter, but as an essential part thereof. It is a question of understanding Chinese history from aHowever, criticism of imperialist apologetics and the sociocultural broad perspective. China, particularly over the last five centuries,approach, or recognition of the diversity of China, geographically has not only participated in, but has also contributed to theand historically, is one thing and it is quite another to overcome the development of some of humanity’s great historical processes. Theproblematicity of the historical discussion about the Chinese world. work of historian and sociologist Andre Gunder Frank, ReOrient:Therefore, far beyond the revisionist tendency of the 1970s and Global Economy in the Asian Age (1998), is probably the best1980s, the last two decades have seen a whole range of proposals, known in this inclusive understanding of history. For Frank, oursome more successful than others, which have attempted to representation of the Asian world has to overcome the Eurocentrismreplace the old paradigms that had marked the development of that has characterised it for centuries to accept the important rolethe historiography for almost two centuries with new formulae that the continent of Asia has played in world history: in his ownmore suitable to getting to grips with the history of China. words, history has to “reorient”.18 Despite the fact that Frank’s One of the first was drawn up by US historian Paul A. Cohen. work is unable to overcome some of the most basic premises withHe proposed changing the focus of the history of China, which which enlightened thought had approached the Chinese worlduntil then had been centred on the activity of foreign countries (progress, development),19 it has had an important influence onin China, for what he called a China-centred history of China. other authors who from both Chinese history and a more globalThis was a history that took China, not the West, as its starting approach have attempted to carry out this integrating project.20point, and –on an epistemological level– has to be deployed These are works which, generally speaking from an economicusing Chinese criteria, not those imported from the West (Cohen, history perspective, try to show the “Oriental” roots of Western1984). Cohen’s proposal is a coherent response to the situation of civilisation, or at least show the influence that the Asian worldhistorical Chinese studies, which coincided with the extraordinary has had, so as to challenge the ethnocentric approaches that haverise of local studies in the 1970s and 1980s, and which recognises always dominated our perception of history.the dynamism and diversity of the Chinese world. Proposing a However, this comparative perspective is not free fromseries of criteria derived from the Chinese world means, among methodological risks. In spite of the fact that some of these writersmany other things, assessing the validity and legitimacy of some are aware of it, others fall into the trap of attempting to establishof the categories applied to the analysis of Chinese history, which, correlations in an insufficiently critical manner. That is, there is thein fact, have their origins in certain historical processes exclusive danger of looking, a priori, in Chinese history for processes andto Western countries, such as modernity or contemporaneity. problems that are alien to it, or of which it is at least pertinent toHowever, using these “China-centred history” approaches also question their legitimacy as a basis for comparison. In other words,lead to certain doubts about the methodology which are hard to the danger of falling into the same ethnocentrism –now more16. The value of the Asian Values Debate lies more in its criticism of the supposed universality of the enlightened values than in the definition or justification of values applicable to the Asian continent.17. For a critical analysis of Cohen’s approach, see Dirlik (1996b, pp. 262-268).18. Beltrán (2006, esp. �27-35) analyses the contributions of Frank’s work and contextualises it within the production of knowledge about East Asia in the academic world, in both the West and Asia.19. For a critique of the Eurocentrism implicit in the critique of Eurocentrism by Frank, see Dirlik (2000, 73 et seg.)20. Highlights include the work of a number of specialists in Chinese history, such as Pomeranz (2000), Wong (1997) or Waley-Cohen (1999), or that of his- torians with a more global perspective, such as Bayly (2004) or Hobson (2004).Iss. 10 | May 2008 iSSn 1575-2275 13 David Martínez-Robles
  15. 15. Universitat Oberta de Catalunya the humanities in the digital agehttp://digithum.uoc.edu Western Representation of Modern China: Orientalism…furtive– to be found in the historians of the first half of the 20th be considered, and therefore does not exist, is not historical,century. Nevertheless, the recovery of China and Asia in general as we have seen with part of the Chinese reality for centuries.for the construction of a truly universal history represents a step Nonetheless, the strength of a paradigm is not limited to a cultureforward in the creation of a non-exclusive and integrating history. or borders. It sets what is true and scientific, has a universal This rejection of the forms of Eurocentric thought, in which the nature, such that everything with pretensions of science mustwork of experts in subaltern studies such as Dipesh Chakrabarty meet its specifications if it does not want to be excluded. Theand Ranajit Guha have had a notable influence, has led to another history of China is no exception. The historical paradigms thatof the shifts seen in recent decades. That is, some historians have dominated the Western intellectual tradition have endedpaying greater attention to the methodological contributions of up being imposed on China as though it were another form ofother disciplines, such as sociology, anthropology, literary studies, imperialism. Despite the fact that in this article we have limitedpolitical science, etc. Without a doubt, the development of the ourselves exclusively to the Western representation of Chineseideas of postcolonialism, postmodernity and cultural studies history, it should be taken into account that, to give a clear enoughhas been a key factor in this trend, which has not always been example, Chinese Marxist thought has ended up assuming somesufficiently balanced.21 Indeed, some of the most challenging of the more basic principles of the imperialist approach of which ithistoriographical proposals have seen the light in this setting, is the sworn enemy: according to Marxist historiography, only thewhich reflects on the articulation of such concepts as power and Chinese Communist Party managed to end the backwardness anddomination, imagination, culture and representation. One of the lack of modernisation of China, a backwardness and a need forleading names in this field is that of Turkish historian Arif Dirlik, modernisation that are the same starting point of the imperialistconcerned with questions of an epistemological nature that are approach that we have analysed. When all is said and done,not usually part of the agenda of the majority of historians. A Marxism is deeply rooted in the teleological thought of Europeanlarge part of Dirlik’s reflections revolve around the concepts of enlightened modernity.progress and modernity: according to this historian, despite the Indeed, it is Arif Dirlik, aware of the strength of thecritical evolution in recent decades of part of the historiography, a historiographical paradigms, among other proposals, who rejectsradical challenge to the teleological representation of the history any attempt to establish new paradigms that set out and demarcateinherited from the European Enlightenment has not been seen. our approach to Chinese history (and non-Euro-American historyFor Dirlik, “it is necessary to repudiate this historical teleology in in general), as this would mean repeating the same mistakes andall its manifestations” and to identify “alternative modernities”, vices of historians throughout the 20th century. In fact, since thenot to fall into a return to the reifying impetus of the sociocultural development of the critical historiography that began at the endapproach (as Cohen did), an approach that must finally be of the 1970s, no great new paradigm has appeared to replaceovercome, but to recover “historical trajectories that have been the previous ones.suppressed by the hegemony of capitalist modernity” (Dirlik, However, the fact that after the appearance of a critical1997, p. 127). In fact, according to Dirlik, the disturbing influence historiography no new paradigm has imposed itself does notof Eurocentrism cannot ever be completely overcome unless the mean that the old paradigms have been completely overcome.very idea of “development” is challenged at root. It is not a We have already seen that some of the attempts to repositionquestion of rejecting modernity per se, an attitude that would Chinese history in world history have not been able to avoidlead us to a certain self-Orientalisation, but, while recognising the ethnocentric approaches despite their aim of constructingit, creating alternative modernities that overcome the narratives a markedly non-Eurocentric discourse. Likewise, many of theof the Enlightenment that still dominate historians daily activities theoretical reflections mentioned in the preceding pages have(Dirlik, 1996, pp. 277-278). gone unnoticed by a significant number of historians, which helps us understand why so many books still being published today on the history of China continue to be rooted in the premises ofConclusions the old, theoretically, superseded paradigms; or why that which students learn in our universities unfortunately often maintains aA paradigm is not a simple theoretical proposal, instead it has marked Orientalist tone.an epistemological dimension that affords it all of its regulatory In fact, China historians have an educational responsibilitycapacity. It is a sieve that sets the possibilities for knowledge: with a social aspect that reaches far beyond their research tasks.whatever does not meet the rules set by the paradigm cannot In a society such as ours, in which Asian studies have just begun21. For a critical reading of the influence of cultural studies on the historiography of modern and contemporary China in 1980s and 1990s, see Huang (1998).Iss. 10 | May 2008 iSSn 1575-2275 14 David Martínez-Robles
  16. 16. Universitat Oberta de Catalunya the humanities in the digital agehttp://digithum.uoc.edu Western Representation of Modern China: Orientalism…and where the interest of public opinion in East Asian countries Apologetics of imperialism”. Bulletin of Concerned Asianis very recent, this pedagogical task takes on greater relevance. Scholars. Vol. 4, no. 4.Orientalist cliches and stereotypes are present in almost every FAIRBANK, J. K.; REISCHAUER, E. O. (1989). China. Traditionactivity connected to Chinese culture, from cinema festivals to and Transformation. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.academic conferences, or popular celebrations and exhibitions by FRANK, A. G. (1998). ReOrient: Global Economy in the Asianprestigious museums. The imperialist and Orientalising perspective, Age. Los Angeles: University of California Press.although very often explicitly rejected, is repeatedly seen implicitly GIRARDOT, N. J. (2002). The Victorian Translation of China:in the majority of these activities. This is why education is required: James Legge’s Oriental Pilgrimage. Los Angeles: Universitynot only does the historian, or the specialist in East Asian art, of California Press.literature or economics, have to try and convey knowledge, but GOEBEL, R. J. (1995, Jan.). “China as an Embalmed Mummy:they also have to denounce explicitly the discursive anomalies that Herder’s Orientalist Poetics”. South Atlantic Review. Vol. 60,have traditionally determined our way of representing the reality no. 1.of East Asian countries. GOLDEN, S. (2000). “From the Society of Jesus to the East India Company: A Case Study in the Social History of Translation”. Cit 1. IN: M. G. ROSE (ed.). Beyond the Western Tradition. The character [of the Chinese] appears to be very good- Translation. Perspectives XI. Binghamton: Centre for Research natured, humane and modest; in reality they are vengeful and in Translation, State University of New York at Binghamton. cruel: they are very ceremonious and courteous, and above GUARNÉ, B. (2005) “Imágenes ominosas. Escarnios e injurias en all follow their laws to the letter, which they do with great la representación de la ‘mujer japonesa’”. La mujer japonesa: severity: their genius and talent, lively, spiritual, animated and Realidad y mito. VIII Congreso de la Asociación de Estudios penetrating, and more than any other nation, they possess the Japoneses de España (AEJE). Zaragoza: Universidad de art of disguising their feelings and desire for revenge, hiding Zaragoza. all appearances of humility so well that one believes them to HEGEL, G. W. (2004). Philosophy of History. New York: Barnes be insensitive to all types of outrage; but if you offer them the and Noble. opportunity to destroy their enemy, they eagerly and hastily HOBSON, J. M. (2004). 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(1861) The Chinese Classics: with a translation, critical UAB. http://seneca.uab.es/hmic/2006/HMIC2006.pdf and exegetical notes, prolegomena and copious indexes.CLARK, R. (1997). China Transformed: Historical Change and the London: Trübner Co. 7 vol. Limits of European Experience. New York: Ithaca. NATHAN, A. (1972). “Imperialism’s Effect on China”. Bulletin ofCLARK, R. (1976). Life of Bertrand Russell. New York: Knopf. Concerned Asian Scholars. Vol. 4, no. 4.COHEN, P. A. (1984). Discovering History in China. American OGDEN, S. P. (1982). “The Sage in the Inkpot: Bertrand Russell Historical Writing on the Recent Chinese Past. New York: and China’s Social Reconstruction in the 1920s”. Modern Columbia University Press. Asian Studies. Vol. 16, no. 4.DIRLIK, A. (1996). “Reversals, Ironies, Hegemonies: Notes on POLACHEK, J. M. (1992). The Inner Opium War. Harvard: Council Contemporary Historiography of Modern China”. Modern of East Asian Studies. China. Vol. 22, no. 3. POMERANZ, K. (2000). The Great Divergence: China, EuropeDIRLIK, A. (1997). The Postcolonial Aura. Third World Criticism and the Making of the Modern World Economy. Princeton: in the Age of Global Capitalism. Boulder: Westview. Princeton University Press.DIRLIK, A. (2000). Postmodernity’s Histories. The Past as Legacy RUSSELL, B. (1922). The Problem of China. London: George Allen and Project. Lanham: Rownan Littlefield. Unwin.DIRLIK, A. (1973, nov-dec. 1972). “Harvard on China: the SKINNER, G. W. (1977). “Regional Urbanization in NineteenthIss. 10 | May 2008 iSSn 1575-2275 15 David Martínez-Robles

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