Mighty Opposites: From Dichotomies to Differences in the Comparative Study of China

Mighty Opposites: From Dichotomies to Differences in the Comparative Study of China

Mighty Opposites: From Dichotomies to Differences in the Comparative Study of China

Mighty Opposites: From Dichotomies to Differences in the Comparative Study of China

Synopsis

This book transcends the boundaries of Chinese studies and scholarship on Western literature and critical theory, bringing together the two fields in a way that questions both the application of Western theory to Chinese materials and the resistance to theory in sinological scholarship. Recognizing that social and historical reality is external to discourse and that knowledge has an inevitable ethical import, the author argues for the importance of reality and lived experience in understanding a culture as well as the moral responsibility of such understanding.

The book examines the discrepancies between various Western representations of China and the reality of China; inquires into the cultural, historical, and political contexts within which such discrepancies arise; and points out the distortion of reality in the tendency toward cultural dichotomies, the tendency to view China as the conceptual opposite of the West.

From a comparison of biblical exegesis and commentaries on the Confucian classics to,the contemporary assimilation of Western critical theories in China, this book discusses a wide range of topics that situates the understanding of China and Chinese literature and culture in the broad perspective of East-West comparative studies. It studies not only the Confucian tradition, modern Chinese literature, and the students' movement for democracy in China, but also such Western topics as Origen and biblical interpretation, Montaigne and cultural critique, Jameson and postmodern theory, and the reception of Said's Orientalism in China.

Excerpt

The present time seems to be a particularly propitious one for American readers, critics, and scholars to understand literatures and cultures other than their own. the predominant influence of critical theories in literary and cultural studies, the challenge to a traditional canon of European writers, the development of multiculturalism--these and many other familiar episodes on the American cultural scene have definitely helped foster a more receptive atmosphere than ever before for the appreciation of non-Westem literatures and cultures. At the same time, in post-Mao China, as in many other countries of the Third World and the erstwhile socialist camp, interest in the West and Western culture grows rapidly, and the assimilation of contemporary Western theories forms an interesting parallel to the assimilation of Western technology and consumerism in the Chinese society at large. and yet, given the many important differences in history, cultural perspective, and especially political situation, the growing interest in other cultures does not effortlessly lead to an adequate understanding free from old stereotypes and new distortions. How to read works and texts from a different cultural tradition, and how to interpret things and events in their own social and political contexts, remains a formidable challenge. This book is an attempt at answering that challenge, an attempt to explore the possibilities of understanding cultures other than one's own, of reaching the reality of other cultures through the necessary mediation of one's own language and one's own moment in time. More specifically, it is about the understanding of a non-Western culture, that of China and the Chinese, and thus about East-West comparative studies of lit-

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