The Image of China in Western Social and Political Thought

The Image of China in Western Social and Political Thought

The Image of China in Western Social and Political Thought

The Image of China in Western Social and Political Thought

Synopsis

This book examines how China has been portrayed in European and North American social and political thought. Such a question immediately evokes the spectre of orientalism and subsequent chapters explore whether the identification of an orientalist project invalidates the knowledge claims of European and North American social and political thought as it evolved from the 18th to the 20th century.

Excerpt

Whoever orients himself to the Orient feels incapable of formulating from the bewilderment of names and images that come to him a clear figure and a definite thought.

Paul Valery Orientem Versus 1938

In these politically correct, ethically relativist and culturally confused times, the popular discourses of cinema or advertising that saturate us with images of sultry Singapore girls or untrustworthy Asiatics earn official and academic condemnation. It is further maintained, by those who detect a concealed prejudice in most European and North American academic comment on the Near and Far East, that a similar disposition has long informed the discourse of ‘western’ political and social thought. This work thus seeks to identify both how thinkers within the canon of Enlightenment and post Enlightenment European political thought have presented China and the Far East and the ideological implications, if any, of their various interpretations. How, we might wonder, did European thinkers of the Enlightenment and after categorize the Orient in its Chinese manifestation?

Such a question immediately evokes the postcolonial response that they were orientalists, that is that representations of the East ‘were deliberately concocted . . . as instruments to contain and manage these cultures and civilizations’ ( Sardar 1999: 4). Indeed, this view of the western encounter with the East has become something of a fashionable academic orthodoxy. For Ziauddin Sardar it became ‘a self-perpetuating and closed tradition which aggressively resisted all internal and external criticism; an authoritarian system that is flourishing as much as it ever did in colonial times’ (5). Let us, then, first examine a little more closely the character of this orientalism, before tracing the lineaments of the

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