Item number 2349
Sat, 2 Mar 1996 19:47:16 -0500
Can anyone point me to any studies of the applicability or non-applicability of E. Said's theories of Orientalism to what he calls the "Far Orient," and particularly to China and Japan? He, of course, makes it very clear that he's restricting himself to the Arabs and Islam (the "Near Orient") seen through British, French, and American spectacles, leaving the "Far Orient" out. But he does seem to imply that the techniques he's used to study European representations of the "Near Orient" should also be applicable to the "Far Orient." Though there's a useful article in a recent issue of _History and Theory_ called "Orientalism Now," by Gyan Prakash, looking at the current state of Said's theories, it doesn't engage this particular question.
I raise it because, for all his extraordinarily valuable insights, I'm not at all sure that Said's version of "Orientalism" works very well for Western representations of China and Japan, though how far my disquiet comes from a general discontent with the theories themselves (from a historian's point of view, for instance, there's too much generalization from literary study, perhaps) and how far from a sense that China and Japan were differently perceived and described, and thus do not fit neatly into his theories, I'm not sure.
Nick Clifford firstname.lastname@example.org
I don't comment that often on these queries but I can't resist this one. When I am not doing H-ASIA or teaching an occasional class, my principal interest is the relationship between Asia (very broadly defined) and the West. With that in mind, I have read Said's work very closely and assigned it in graduate seminars on the subject. My personal impression is that Said's work is fascinating. It is wonderful for getting a conversation going and really very learned in its overview of fairly recent European literature. Oh yes, on the issue of historical content the book is a disaster. I don't think the real issue is whether it applies to South Asia or East Asia rather than just South West Asia. I think the only thing the book reveals is that Said's knows very little about the history of European relations with the Middle East period. He picks a very narrow, fairly recent period to discuss and from which to draw conclusions about the entire history of the relationship and errors painfully in doing so. If anyone is interested, I would suggest looking at Bernard Lewis new book on Islam and the West. He has an entire chapter devoted to Said's _Orientalism_
Steven A. Leibo
The Sage Colleges & Suny Albany & H-ASIA
Item number 2359
Sun, 3 Mar 1996 15:16:46 -0500
RE: H-ASIA: Said's Orientalism
R. Nicholas Clifford's query re. Said's Orientalism
For a brief and rather withering review of the non-applicability of Said's theories to the field of sinology, one might read the essay on the subject By Simon Leys [Pierre Ryckmans] in his collection entitled " The Burning Forest " [ " La foret en feu " in the original ].
Edward C. Fields
Dept. of History
University of California at Santa Barbara
RE: H-ASIA: Said's Orientalism
The following is part of an exercise I completed some months ago--already
done and easy to cut and paste in here:
Significant scholarly critiques of Said's Orientalism include: Robert A. Kapp, ed., review Symposium: Edward Said's Orientalism, in Journal of Asian Studies 39:3 (May 1980), pp. 481-517. Peter Gran, review of Orientalism by Edward Said, in Journal of the American Oriental Society 100:3 (July-October 1980), pp. 328-331. Simon Leys (Pierre Ryckmas), Orientalism and Sinology in The Burning Forest: Essays on Chinese Culture and Politics New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1985), pp. 95-99. [originally published as La foret en feu (Paris: Hermann, Editeurs des sciences et des arts. 1983).] Jonathan D. Spence, Chinese Roundabout: Essays in History and Culture (New York and London: Norton & Company, 1992), p. 90 (short notice).
A brief synopsis of one other conference devoted to Said's Orientalism and its application (or not) to (in part) East Asia:
Warren I. Cohen, ed., Reflections on Orientalism: Edward Said (East Lansing, Michigan: Asian Studies Center, 198), Warren, Introduction (pp. 1-2):
Edward D. Graham began with the reminder of Chinese attitudes toward Western barbarians, noting that "otherness" was not a peculiarly Western idea about Orientals. He looked at an early 18th century play by Voltaire, describing the characters as verbalized chinoiserie . . . . Although Graham expressed some reservations about Said's unrelenting reductionism, his own analysis leaves no room for complacency about Western understanding of the East-West relationship. Donald Lammers focused on several 20th century pre-World War II novels about Japan. He argued that to take a non-Western people seriously suggested freedom from the unself-critical "orientalism" of which Said wrote and spoke. Lammers concluded that among the writings he discussed, there was a substantial body of accurate sociological and psychological observation, acquired first hand and rendered with imaginative sympathy. Unwilling to challenge Said's general argument on the basis of so slim a sample, Lammers nonetheless presented important evidence to the contrary. Roger Bresnahan turned to the image of South Sea islanders in American literature of the 19th and 20th centuries. He stressed the difference between American and European versions of "orientalism" --the Americans perceiving themselves as a people who were saving the islands and islanders from Europe. Bresnahan called attention to the preparation Americans had for assuming racial superiority over Asians in their justification for the enslavement of Africans and their ruthlessness toward American Indians. Surjit Dulai looked at George Orwell's Burmese Days. . . . [and concluded that] Orwell's writings illustrate why Said so seriously doubts the possibility of one culture knowing another apolitically or without hostility.
As Lammers said most eloquently, Said's elaborate construct would not be undermined with a few essays. Moreover, the authors were all sympathetic to Said's argument and purpose. Readers of this volume will find several questions to explore further, reservations that must be considered and ample evidence that Said's orientalism does indeed apply to non-Muslim parts of the Orient."
Edward D. Graham himself said (page 42):
finally, Said makes such a strong case for "orientalism" as a prejudicial mode of knowing, that we can never again be quite sure that our understanding of China (or whatever) is not tainted. The massive, unrelenting reductionism of his attack on what we think we know, and why we want to know it, is upsetting and infuriating. It is also, I suspect, a source of some healthy skepticism about our status as pundits.
My own feeling is that Said's Orientalism fits Western studies of East Asia poorly because it depends for its validity on the notion of the "Other" "Sinologists" and other students of East Asia have to remain trapped in the straitjacket of their own Western culture and so be incapable of viewing China, Japan, Korea, etc. honesty, non-aggressively, accurately, etc. but only as an alien "Other" about which they can only make false, self-serving constructs (to paraphrase what Said says about Western approaches to the Islamic Near East). This notion of "Other" seems to fall apart when we consider how many scholars of East Asia prominent in the Western world during the last almost century have been themselves from East Asia, where they also often have been at least as influential as they have been in the West. I know the field of Chinese studies better, s observe that Scholars such as Yang Lien-sheng and William Hung (Hong Ye) at Harvard, Chao Yuen-ren at University of California at Berkeley, Fang Chao-ying at Columbia, Hsiao Kung-ch' at the University of Washington, Teng Ssu-y (Harvard and Indiana University), and Wing Tsit-ch'an at Dartmouth, all shaped Chinese studies in the West in absolutely fundamental ways during the 1930s and 1940s. Somewhat later, they were joined by T'ang Yung-t'ung at the University of Pittsburgh, Liu Tzu-chien (Stanford and Princeton), Ho Ping-ti at the University of Chicago, and, among many others, James J. Y. Liu (Liu Jo-y), who had a fascinating international career, from Fu-jen and Tsing-hua universities in Beijing, to Oxford, to University of London (School of Oriental and African Studies), University of Hong Kong, University of Hawaii, University of Pittsburgh, University of Chicago, and finally Stanford University. Liu was my own teacher. He would have been outraged if anyone suggested that he had somehow "sold out" the study of Chinese literature to "Western cultural imperialism"! Liu, however, was well aware of the pernicious doctrine and practice of "Orientalism"--lng before Said came along. Earlier Western scholars of China (and a few contemporaries) often came in for his wrath for their China "Orientalism" (they shall remain unnamed here), and any student of his who tried such nonsense himself would have been dead in the water in no time! I suspect that Western studies of East Asia during the past three generations or so have been spared "Orientalism" because of such teachers: There is no "Other" if one so identifies with, feels affection for, and identifies with the subject of his study, research, and analysis--regardless of the discipline. I feel that I have been blessed with the greatest good fortune in the kind of teachers I have had, and I'd bet that many subscribers to this List justly feel the same way! It is due to our teachers that the field of East Asian Studies has become and stayed so free of "Orientalism." Let us all work to ensure that it remains so.
Richard John Lynn
Professor of Chinese Studies and
Chair, Department of East Asian Studies
University of Alberta
Said's Orientalism in the "Far East"
In response to Nicholas Clifford's query as to the applicability of ideas put forth in Said's *Orientalism* to China and/or Japan:
Stefan Tanaka's *Japan's Orient* (UC Press, 1993) is one attempt to bring Said to the "Far East." Although I think this work has some major contradictions and problems, it is the first work that explicitly takes cues from Said. I should also note that, all in all, I think Tanaka's effort was an admirable one.
Dept. of History
UC, San Diego
Re: Said's Orientalism
Nick Clifford asked about studies of the applicability of Said's Orientalism to China and Japan. I haven't read the following articles, but you might try:
Journal of Asian Studies 39:3 (1980) review symposium; includes an article by Richard Minear on Orientalism and Japan.
Xiaobing Tang, "Orientalism and the Quest of Universality: The Language of Contemporary Chinese Literary Theory," _Positions_ 1:2 (1993).
I found these in the notes to a fascinating book that might or might not be related to what you're looking for:
Chen, Xiaomei. Occidentalism: A Theory of Counter-Discourse in Post-Mao China. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.
Chen describes Occidentalism as produced by "a particular combination of the Western construction of China with the Chinese construction of the West" (p. 5). She sets it up as a "counter-discourse" to Orientalism, and she too draws heavily on literary theory.
Ohio State University
In response to Nicholas Clifford's posting about works applying Said's analysis of Orientalism to East Asia, I have not run across anything of interest on China or Japan but I highly recommend a book on western perceptions of Tibet: Peter Bishop, _The Myth of Shangri-la_. Bishop draws very effectively on Said and Foucault.
A Chinese language article about ow well Edward Said's notion of orientalism applies to China, which first appeared in _Liaowang_, was repinted in _Hua Xia Wen Zhai_. I read it in late January or early February this year, and I believe the issue in question was first broadcast shortly before then. The author's chief revelation from his reading of Said is that the Western understanding of China is imperfect and is subject to the political pressures of the time. If that is the chief lesson one learns from Said, this reader at least feels little regret for not having read _Orientalism_.
Dept. of Pediatrics and Program in International Nutrition
University of California, Davis
Re: Said's Orientalism
The May 1980 issue of _The Journal of Asian Studies_ (Vol. 39, No. 3) carried a review symposium on this subject, consisting of an Introduction by Robert A. Kapp and articles by Michael Dalby, David Kopf, and Richard A. Minear. Benjamin I. Schwartz's Presidential Address, printed in the Nov. 1980 issue (Vol. 40, No. 1) also contains some remarks on Said's _Orientalism_ (pp. 16 and 21 ff).
Re: Said's Orientalism in the "Far East"
With regard to Orientalism and the "Far Orient", there is (or was) an ongoing debate in NIAS-nytt, the Nordic Newsletter of Asian Studies, especially in the two issues of 1994, and 1995. If it is not in a library near you, I'm sure if you write to the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies they will send you a set:
Nordic Institute of Asian Studies
DK-2300 Copenhagen S
East Asian History of Science Library
Needham Research Institute
Re: Said's Orientalism
In reference to Said's approach:
There is Stefan Tanaka's "Japan's Orient", which is a book about Japan's attitudes toward China. He takes his basic approach from Said, but this time it is not Western attitudes toward the East, but some Easterners attitudes toward other Easterners.
My own work includes a short section on Western missionaries
assumptions about Japanese Christian: Jon Thares Davidann, "A Wold of
Crisis and Progress: Christianity, National Identity and the American YMCA
in Japan,1890-1930" Ph.D. diss. U. of Minn, 1995, to be published by Lehigh Press,
hopefully in 1997. I borrowed from William Hutchison's book on American
missionaries "Errand to the World" in constructing this section.
There are many other books on East Asia which use Said's general
approach. The general approach of looking at Western discourse about
Easterners is an illuminating and powerful form of scholarship. And Said
pioneered this approach. So any criticisms made must take this into
That being said, there are criticisms that can be made about the
approach. First in its original form it leaves a huge gap where there ought
to be indigenous response or some representation of Eastern acceptance or
rejection of these stereotypes. Second, it gives to the imperialist the
monolithic power to define subject peoples, which I do not think the
imperialist in reality has.
Third, I found in my own work American missionaries who operated outside of the boundaries of the basic discourse American missionaries had constructed about Japan. So Said's approach also seems too monolithic in its assumptions about Western agreement on these stereotypes. But those who did move outside this discourse were under immense pressure to return to the fold.
But in Said's defense, he and those who have studied under him readily
admit at least that those being represented by Westerners themselves need
representation. Said's latest "Culture and Imperialism" gives some space to
My own interests are in looking at the interaction of Westerner and
Easterner more as an open-ended dialogue, and in assuming that the Western
change-maker is also changed by the experience of contact with
To that end, I am interested in Akira Iriye's, intercultural ideas and Mikhail Bakhtin's dialogic theory. Hope this longish reply helps.
Jon Thares Davidann
University of Minnesota
Simon Leys (Pierre Ryckmans) has a brief but characteristically witty and cutting commentary on the relevance of Orientalism for Chinese studies, entitled 'Orientalism ad Sinology', in his The Burning Forest (Paladin, 1988). It was originally published together with other similar comments by scholars working on different areas of Asia in Asian Studies Association of Australia Review (Aug 1984), but I've never bothered to look at these. His final assessment of the book: 'three hundred pages of twisted, obscure, incoherent, ill-informed and badly written diatribe ... [which reaches] at last one sound and fundamental truism'. Many of my students also take a course in post-colonial literature, and treat Said as gospel truth, so there is always a great discussion when I assign this reading. But it doesn't so much address the arguments as dismiss them out of hand.
Though it's dated, I found re-reading Raymond Dawson's The Chines Chameleon to provide some new insights in the light of Orientalism. But I too would love to hear of something which tackles the question directly and in more detail.
PS to Prof. Clifford: Just started your novel, a great help in getting through the dark Montreal winter.
Department of History, McGill University
855 Sherbrooke St. W, Montreal,Canada H3A 2T7
Item number 2381
Date: March 6, 1996
2) Leys, Simon (1985) "Orientalism and Sinology." In th Burning Forests (by same author), pp. 95-99.
3) Hershattter, Gail (1993) "The Subaltern Talks Back," Positions, 1.1: 103-130
4) Zhang Longxi (1988) "the Myth of the Other," Critical Inquiry 15: 108-131.
5) Chen, Xiaomei "Occidentalism as Counterdiscourse: 'He Shang' in Post-Mao China, Critical Inury (Summer 1992): 687-712.
Dept. of History,
One book that has not been mentioned but I think is relevant here is John M. MacKenzie, _Orientalism: History, Theory and the Arts_ (Manchester UP, 1995). The book does not specifically answer the question posed by Professor Clifford, but contains critique of Said and "discourse theorists" in general, from the point of view of a historian, like Clifford. The author speaks of Said's historicism that is ahistorical. Said and others committed the most fundamental of historical sins--"the reading back contemporary attitudes and prejudices into historical periods." A main argument of the book is that historically speaking, there was no rigid essentialising of West (Self) and East (Other). By examining oriental influence in European art, architecture, design, music, and theatre, the author argues that "western arts in fact sought contamination at every turn, restlessly seeking renewal and reinvigoration though contacts with other traditions. And both Self and Other were locked into processes of mutual modification,...." (p.209). He also notes a complex range of Others in late-nineteenth century Europe-- Orientialism was "one of several cultural courts of appeal." Another point is that the example of the Orient can become the means for a counter-western discourse, and that the Orient or its discourse "has the capacity to become a legitimizing source of resistance to those who challenge western conventions, introspection and complacency." (p.10)
Xiaoqun Xu (David)
Dept. of History
Francis Marion U.
RE: H-ASIA: Said's Orientalism
Prof. Leibo is right on the money: Said is useful in a broad sense. His most basic point, that Europeans and Americans have created images in their writing which represent Euro/Am ideas as much or more than they reflect Asia, is not bound to th Middle East.
It seems only logical to accept that Western writing about Asia has not been absolutely objective scholarship. Instead it naturally is a combination of Asia and the "West;" this "discourse" in Said's Orient. Perhaps some people do not necessarily accept this basic point. If you believe that European and American writers have created an image (or images) of Asia (East or otherwise) which reflects European and American ideas, it is logical that this image is different from Asian perceptions of self or from actual interaction among Europeans and Asians. European and lately American ideas have had and continue to have a tremendous amount of influence on the world, and the power of these ideas can limit the way one analyzes any part of the world which has distinctly different cultural and social traditions.
For a view of Said's place in the history of criticism of "Western" views of history, see Alan Young, _White Mythologies_. There is also a thin volume published by Michigan State which is a collection of papers by Asian historians who considered Said's application to E. Asia at a small conference in E. Lansing. Paul Cohen, _Discovering History in China, and John Dower, in the intro to E.H. Norman's collected work have considered the problem of American historians creating a problematic and false image of East Asia (China and Japan specifically) and the early volumes of the CCAS bulletin also discussed the same situation. All the writers contend that American historians have been too concerned with American problems when they study E. Asia, and that their work has reflected American problems and concerns as much or more than they have expanded understanding of Asian history. There are many different ways to approach the problem of writing about one's own or another culture, and Said's work has been useful precisely because some of it has provided a common point of reference for many people concerned with writing ad representation
William Alexander Mann
I don't know whether its has been mentioned, but recently I found a book by John M. MacKenzie, Professor of Imperial History at Lancaster: Orientalism. History, theory and the arts. Manchester UP, Manchester and NY, 1995
Japan and China are not in the index, but briefly looking at the book, I found a mention in passing. The focus is on Britain and India in the 19th and early 20th centuries and Mackenzie describes his work as an "essay in cultural history". There are chapters on the Orientalism debate, the Orient and culture and imperialism, Orientalism in art; in architecture; design, music and the theatre. Illustrations include he railings of the Glasgow School of Arts by Charles Rennie Mackintosh to illustrate M's adoption of Japanese heraldic forms. I've not got much beyond the preface yet, but it looks like a stimulating book.
Margaret Mehl, University of Stirling, email@example.com
Could Wm Mann explain what he means by "Asian perceptions of self"? Is it really possible that all the conceptions of self in Asia fall on one side of a wall and that all so-called western perception of self fall on the other side? Do societies never grapple with similar problems in similar ways? Is there no mutually enriching exchange among societies? Why believe in an east and a west, however one chooses to Mark them? Was western colonialism a unique essence in othering others or have conquerors in Asia and everywhere else not done this throughout history? It is a fact that imperialists rationalized barbarism against others as true civilization but this was (is) also done within Europe to other Europeans. Said is useful in reminding people of how much imperial wealth undergirds much of the situational reality of many English novels. But that is not what is at stake when one embraces orientalism as a uniquely powerful lens for comprehending the world. It is a helpful construct for deconstructing nasty imperial legitimations but its embrace of bipolarity makes it dangerous and misleading for any commitment to democratic reconciliation and mutual enrichment across boundaries.
University of Wisconsin
I don't know anyone has mentioned it,but I find Richard Madsen's CHINA AND THE AMERICAN DREAM a fascinating and useful book for college students. It does not pretend to have the theoretical depth as Saids (I am not saying that Madsen does not have depth), but its exposition on the various modes of imagining China is clear and succinct. Madsen reminds me of Sheila Johnson's THE JAPANESE THROUGH AMERICAN EYES, an equally fascinating and, again for college students, possibly entertaining work.
Wah K. Cheng
Item number 2396
March 7, 1996
RE: Far Orientalism?
I'm not aware of any studies that ask the question of whether Said's analysis of Orientalist scholarship on the Near Eat applies" to scholarship on East Asia, but since the 1970s there has been a lot of discussion among Americans working in the field about its political position. Since the 1980s, Said's work has figured prominently. In the '70s, criticism of the field focused mainly on its cold-war affiliations (an issue Said treats in the third part of _Orientalism_); since then it has focused more on discursive and epistemological issues, a change prompted not only by Said but also by the work of Foucault, the Subaltern Studies group, and others.
In English, some places to start would be: John W. Dower, "E.H. Norman, Japan, and the Uses of History," in Dower, ed.,_Origins of the Modern Japanese State: Selected Writings of E.H. Norman_, NY:Pantheon, 1975;
Masao Miyoshi, "Against the Native Grain: The Japanese Novel and the "Postmodern" West," Miyoshi and H.D. Harootunian, eds., _Postmdernism and Japan_Durham: Duke UP, 1989; United States_, Cambridge, Mass. Harvard UP, 1991, and "back of the book" essays in the journal _positions: east asia cultures critique_, which began publishing in 1993. These essays generally deal with methodological and theoretical issues.
Stefan Tanaka has written on the appropriation of orientalist discourse in Japan and its use in Japanese historians' representations of China beginning in the late nineteenth century. _Japan's Orient: Rendering Pasts into History_, Berkeley: U. of Calif. P., 1993.
Re:Nicholas Clifford's question about the extension of Said's Orietalism discussion to East Asia
I think Donald S. Lopez, Jr., ed., Curators of the Buddha: The Study of Buddhism under Colonialism (U. of Chicago press, 1995) has some relevant discussion; The editor says the extension of Said's project Eastward was the starting point of this book.
I particularly liked the chapter by Bob Sharf, "the Zen of Japanese nationalism"; and ne by Gutavo Benavides, "Giuseppe Tucci, or Buddhology in the Age of fascism."
Eric Reinders, U.Calif. Santa Barbara
Re: Far Orientalism, Thanks
I'm most grateful indeed to all those who answered my question on "Far Orientalism;" your suggestions have been and will be enormously helpful, and have given me enough reading to get thru the next few months! I'm looking at Western travel writing on China, and have an article coming out on _Red Star Over China_ read as travel literature (you'd be surprised how Orientalist that book is!) Hence my question to the list (which actually originally went to H-IDEAS, being more properly Western than Asian). A couple of random comments:
Clearly, after Said, it is impossible to read history or
anthropology or journalism or literature about the Orient in
quite the way we used to, and he's made an enormous contribution to our
awareness of such texts. But Said's use of the term, both in _Orientalism_
and in _Culture and Imperialism_ often implies a good deal more than mere
ethnocentrism; it implies also a relationship of power, of
domination. (_O_, p.5). "All cultures tend to make
representations of foreign cultures the better to master or in
some way control them. Yet not all cultures make representations
of foreign cultures _and_ in fact master or control them. This
is the distinction, I believe, of modern Western cultures."
(_C&I_, p. 100 -- note that neither Japan nor the Soviet Union is
Therein lies the chief value of any analysis of Orientalist
discourse. Unfortunately, however, Said himself also sometimes
writes as though he doesn't mean anything more than
ethnocentrism, and ethnocentrism is hardly a quality restricted
to the West! Late Qing writers could be thoroughly ethnocentric
in writing about the West, but were powerless to exercise
hegemony (forgive that tired word!) of any sort over the West;
vis-a-vis Tibet or Xinjiang, however, the situation was quite
Plenty of other people, before and after Said, have looked
at ethnocentrism, and in _Understanding History in China_ P.
Cohen clearly shows how "impact" theorists and "modernization"
theorists and "imperialism" theorists, both Right and Left, have
constructed and periodised Chinese history as if the Western
encounter was, for good or ill, the chief factor shaping modern
Chinese history, thus denying China the autonomy of her own
recent past. And though Cohen deals only with Americans, one
might lump Chairman Mao in among such theorists as well. After
all, we all might well be shocked if a Chinese historian of
Europe were to date the outbreak of the Thirty Years War as having taken
place in the forty-fifth year of Emperor Wan-li of
Is it Said's literary training that seems to incline him to
the view (I hope I'm not parodying it) that the Occidental
monopoly of categories of representation of the Orient have
somehow themselves overcome the Orient? Surely while language
may become the handmaiden of imperialism, it was ultimately
Occidental technology that did the job. ("The difference is that
we have got / The Maxim gun and they have not." G.K.
Chesterton??) Nor was the Orient quite so passive in its own
self-representation as he sometimes seems to suggest; at least it
wasn't in China, and I can't imagine the Indian and Islamic
worlds were much different.
Orientalism, Said tells us, is more valuable as a sign of
western power than as "veridic discourse" about the Orient. O.K.
But at some point one has to ask what, in Said's universe,
"veridic discourse" eas? Can there be such a beast? Others
have complained about his homogenization of Orientalist
discourse, and surely his synchonic approach fails adequately to
consider historical change. Put another way, the representations
of China produced by the Jesuits at the court of Kangxi are very
different from the representations one finds in the late
nineteenth century, and both differ from those of, sa, the mid
nineteen-thirties or the nineteen-sixties; and such differences
represent objective (no cute quotation marks around that word,
please) changes in China, as well as in the Occident.
Finally, though maybe I'll run across this in some of the
works you have so kindly suggested, neither Said nor his growing
number of disciples and semi-disciples seem willing to grapple
with another problem: what do we do when the criticisms of
outsiders mirror those of insiders? Both western travelers and
men like Kang Yuwei contrast he dirt and disorder of Chinese
cities with the cleanliness and good order of Hong Kong and the
Shanghai settlements. Lu Xun's strictures on the Chinese
character (you can put that in quotes, if you like!) make some of
the exemplars of the Shanghai Mind look like apostles of
multiculturalism in contrast. Are Western critics of China
simply ethnocentric, even Orientalist? Are people like Kang and
Lu Xun and the leaders of the May 4th movement and Mao himself
somehow running dogs, comprador intellectuals, whatever you want
to call them, wh've sold out to Orientalist categories? Are
missionary critics of footbinding and the subjection of women no
more than cultural imperialists, attacking the Chinese social
order in order to impose a hegemony over it, while Chinese
critics of such practices are courageous reformers?
I still think that in some ways the representation of
China by westerners gives us an exception to Said's categories of
Orientalist discourse. Perhaps it's because of the legacy of
Marco Polo and the Peking Jesuits, that left Europe with a
glamorized view of the Middle Kingdom. Perhaps it's because of
Occidental respect for what was clearly an ancient and highly
literary culture, and a complex and sophisticated polity.
Perhaps it's because (Hong Kong and Taiwan aside), China -- while
a prey to imperialism (not of all which was, _pace_ Said, western
capitalist imperialism) it was not a prey to colonialism. Or
perhaps it's simply because the many Occidental representations
are less homogeneous than writers like Said (or M.L. Pratt, or D.
Spurr) would seem to suggest.
Finally, though we may all have our ideological and culturally constructs informing our thinking and writing, might they not occasionally be liberating rather than constricting? Without Said's own ideological and cultural constructs, for example, would we ever have got a book like _Orientalism_?
Item number 2408
March 9, 1996
I left the H-Asia group about a year ago due to some technological
difficulties. Upon my re-entry today, I am pleased to find that there is
a discussion on the application of Said's orientalism on the Eat Asia in
progress. As I walked into this discussion mid-way, I have no idea
whether anybody has already mentioned Chen Xiaomei's _Occidentalism_, New
York: Oxford, 1995, which I just finished reading to my great enjoyment.
Chen's defines occidentalism as a discourse that combines Western
construction of China and Chinese construction of the west. The result,
however, is not necessarily marked by "cultural imperialism." Rather,
Chen documents cases where this creative misunderstanding of the West can
be liberating, as in He Shang (River legy) controversy in 1988. In an
indirect way, Chen's book will answer some of the questions raised by
Of interest too is how the West is represented to Chinese. Chou Li's _A
Chinese Woman in Manhattan_ comes to mind. Chou's book created quite a
stir among Chinese readers when it came out in 1992, but has somehow
escaped the attention of English scholarship, with the exception of Chen
Xiaomei, who also discusses it in _Occidentalism_.
Incidentally, and by way of self-introduction, I am getting increasingly
interested so interested, as a matter of fact, that I delivered a paper
on the topic at the AAS conference lat year) in the representation of
China in a cross-cultural setting, in which this on-going discussion on
orientalism and occidentalism can certainly come to play. I am looking
specifically at the memoirs and autobiographies written in English by
emigre Chinese about their experiences in China, books such as Chang
Jung's _Wild Swann_, Anchee Min's _Red Azaleus_, and Cheng Nien's _Life
and Death in Shanghai_. My argument is that the writing of these
memoirs, which are primarily for Western readers, involves a large degree
of second-guessing across cultures whereby these writers and their
experienced editors anticipate the readers' expectation on the basis of
what they perceive to be the readers' pre-existent notions of China. As
such, their portrayal of China is to a certain extent predetermined. I
hope to develop this further, and would welcome comments and suggestions.
Trinity College, Hartford, CT 06106
Re:Said and Asia
Any discussion on Edward Said's _Orientalism_ must also consider how
Asian-based intellectuals interpret and use this book.
His book has become rather popular among intellectuals in Mainland China
over the past several years, especially since 1989. Some use Said's book
to argue against those intellectuals/activists favoring democracy and
human rights. His argument on the Eurocentricism of western scholars
offers "sound proof" that Chinese liberal activists are promoting a
"western" (or foreign) political agenda that runs counter to China's
national condition (guoqing). While Said may have intended his book to
offer the colonized "space" (liberty? empowerment?) vis-a-vis the
colonizers, these Chinese intellectuals have appropriated an
reinterpreted his ideas to promote an anti-liberal agenda in China.
I may note that a small number of intellectuals (e.g., literary theorist
and dissident Liu Xiaobo) have tried to counter such arguments. But with
the regime painting democracy and human rights as "Western" and with the
rise of a group of intellectuals/policy advisors wedded to the guoqing
perspective, Liu and other voices are often drowned out, if not
In short, this phenomenon is profoundly ironic. Said's expose on European
discourses on "Asia" conflicts with the discursive and brute power
structures in China that prohibit the acceptance of indigenous efforts to
Michael J Sullivan
To reply to Dr. Friedman's concerns about bipolarity:
I think that is what Said was responding to in Culture and Imperialism. There was give and take. The 'bipolarity' is really much more complicated.
An article appearing in the party journal Liaowang in 1995 discussed Said's
Orientalism (1978) and Culture and Imperialism (1994) (probably the article
referred to in an earlier posting by Bill Watkins). Said had opened the
author's eyes, he claims. Western Sinology (typified elsewhere in the
argument by the late J K Fairbank) was far from being as disinterested as
it claimed, or as the unwary Chinese reader might assume it to be. Western
admonitions about human rights and democracy were part of a long
imperialist tradition revealed by Said. The author goes on,
"Modern Western humanities and social sciences have been replete with
colonialist discourse, indeed it has deeply influenced modern scholarship
within China itself. This is seen in the way we constantly accept what the
West regards as moral standards. We follow the requirements and signals of
Westerners in expounding on all kinds of specific Chinese problems. For
some time, we have lacked the courage to challenge and check Western
hegemonic and colonial discourse. Thus one of the reasons we seem so
passive when carrying out concrete negotiations with Western countries over
issues like human rights, or intellectual property in the market economy,
is that we have not come up with a mode of exposition which completely
casts off Western hegemonic discourse. ...In today B9s reform and opening
up, in a period in which the formation of a Chinese socialist market
economy is linking it with international practice, how to preserve and
uphold our own subjectivity in culture, how to reinforce identification
with one's own culture so as to enable victory in future international
conflicts, properly deserves serious consideration by all responsible
Chinese intellectuals." (my translation - D.K)
This formulation surely raises some deep and uncomfortable questions.
Western moral discourse (to accept a dubious generality for the sake of
argument) has hardly had the field to itself. How could forty and more
years of strident Maoist nativism have failed to drive it out? If the
answer is that Mao's Marxism was itself tainted with Orientalism as defined
by Said, should this not be frankly discussed?
Soe of the article's censure of Western scholarship points with justice
to the uses to which the latter has sometimes allowed itself to be put. But
is "Orientalism" the right charge to level against the
American-resident Chinese scholar C. T. Hsia? If Westerners of marginal
identity can be so tainted, Said himself may not get off lightly.
A case can be made showing precisely the Orientalism of anti-liberal
ideologists in China who argue from Chinese exceptioalism or "national
conditions" (guoqing). For all its beguiling phrases - post-colonial,
discourse, hegemony, etc - th viewpoint of this article is
barely-disguised, cliched anti-liberalism, tacitly serving to iscredit and
silence Chinese critics of the regime.
Said's work is meeting a fairly cool reception in China. First, the ideological use to which it is being put, as noted above, is quite evident. Second, from a Chinese cosmopolitan/liberal viewpoint, Said is all too clearly motivated by resentment. Bitterly rejecting the moral criteria of the West is unsatisfactory to the many intellectuals who hope ultimately to adopt these very criteria and prove superior to the West in realizing them.
Interestingly, Wang Xiaodong, a noted new conservative intellectual,
reproduces Barme's critique of "avant garde nationalism" with only mild
adverse comment in recent article in "Strategy and Management."
Geremie Barme, "To Screw Foreigners is Patriotic: China B9s Avant Garde Nationalism," The China Journal, 34 (July 1995), 209-238; 219 ff.
Shi Zhong (Wang Xiaodong), "Xifangren yanzhongde 8CZhongguo minzuzhuyi B9
" [ 8CChinese nationalism B9 in the eyes of Westerners], Zhan FCe yu
Guanli, 1 1996, 20-26. (Extended discussion of Barme's article)
Zhang Kuan, "Sayide 8CDongfangzhuyi 8C yu Xifangde Hanxue yanjiu,"
[Said B9s 8COrientalism B9 and Western Studies of China," Liaowang no
27, 1995. Reproduced in Huaxia wenzhai, (Internet journal; serial no. cm96
Dong Yueshan, "Dongfangzhuyi da hechang?", [Grand Chorus of
Orientalism?], Dushu, 1994:5 (May 1994), 99-103.
Wang Hui and Zhang Tianwei, "Wenhua pipan lilun yu dangdai Zhongguo
minzuzhuyi wenti" [Theories of cultural criticism and issues about
modern Chinese nationalism], Zhanl FCe yu guanli, no. 4 1994, 17-20.
David Kelly, freedom and Civilization, B9 China News Analysis, no. 1528
(February 1, 1995).
University College office
Australian Defence Force Academy
Campbell ACT 2600 Australia
This is in response to several comments on Said's Orientalism hypothesis as applied to China.
Call me a Western liberal (small l, 19th century variety) cultural
imperialist if you will, but I think humanists ought to welcome information
on their subject, no matter where they get it. Even if it is garbled, it
may open a window on at least the observer's personal reactions.
Nick Clifford (I believe) noted that some have charged that Western
Sinology sometimes seems to rob the Chinese of their recent past. Forgive
my harshness, but I believe that the Chinese (and a lot of other peoples)
have no-one to blame but themselves for this state of affairs.
Whether or not Steven Mosher's -Broken Earth- represents the best
scholarship possible, the aftermath of its publication revealed neatly the
mind of Mainland China in the late 1970's. The Communist regime believed
that by granting access to the country, it had paid for positive propaganda
from foreign scholars and journalists. Even now, whatever unapproved
("foreign") ideas are let in ae seen as the unhappy price China must pay in
order to obtain technological and capital goodies. A balanced picture of
the country from official statistics and approved records is simply not
In imperial times, the same problem was partly remedied by out-of-work
literati cranking out "Wai Shih"--fictionalizations of the past in which the
present was subjected to not-so-oblique criticism.
And on the other hand, Western Sinology may have been held captive at
times by the self-assessment of Chinese intellectuals, whether in China
itself or in exile. Compare the Jesuit picture of a harmonious,
well-emulated realm of good manners and smooth interpersonal relationships
(doubtlessly learned from an orthodox Confucian language tutor?) with the
adolescent sturm, drang, and confusion presented in Hong Lou Men, or the
bureaucratism and cynicism exposed in Ru Lin Wai Shih. Moving into more
modern times, I am certain that some of the Chinese worshippers of Dewey who
assured their Western classmates and teachers that "We Chinese are not a
religious people" had mothers and grandmothers who frequented temples,
listened to sutras, kept vegetarian fasts, etc.
I would also like to add a personal vignette of how propaganda can warp
perceptions and information given to he outside.
On a consular visit a Yao Autonomous Xian in southern China, I was
escorted by the deputy magistrate, a Hakka-speaking Han. Having encountered
the Yao in northern Thailand, I asked him if the local yao still believed
the myth of descent from the do Pan Hu. My interlocutor indignantly
pointed out that in the dark days before liberation, the Han wrote the
character "Yao" with either the dog or bug radical, looked down on the Yao,
Well, after all official business was said and done, the deputy magistrate
invited my senior colleague and me to his favorite local bistro--a moored
barge where some of his fellow Han sold dog meat, of which Hakka are just as
fond as Cantonese. The Han and Americans in the party enjoyed the repast,
but the deputy magistrate's Yao associates sat stock still throughout the
meal, lips clenched firmly shut, eyes narrowed and unblinking, arms
motionless at the sides, looking down on the plate of xiang rou in the
middle of the table. I don't think it was because they wee not allowed to
partake, for Han of similar rank and status did.
In one meal, I saw how both ethnic gaps and "feudal superstition" remained
firmly in place after forty-plus years of "liberation".
Peter Jeffrey Herz
I suspect that I am arriving rather late in the discussion and no doubt someone has already mentioned this, but Said's notion of Orientalism, as I understand it is neither equivalent to Eurocentrism or ethnocentrism. A key passage occurs on p. 3:
"Taking the late eighteenth century as a very roughly defined starting point Orientalism can be discussed and analyzed as the corporate institution for dealing with the Orient --dealing with it by making statements about it, authorizing views of it, describing it, by teaching it, settling it, ruling over it: in short, Orientalism is a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient." In the case of China, I suppose one could talk about missionary discourse on Chinese characteristics, the North China Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society (Shanghai) and its scholarly productions on China, and the Imperial Maritime Customs as the sorts of equivalents to the things Said talks about with respect to the Islamic world. The important thing is the power to represent, work on, and shape the Orient. For further discussion along these lines, see Ron Inden's _Imagining India_.
North Carolina A&T