Sinologism: An Alternative to Orientalism and Postcolonialism

By Stalling, Jonathan | Chinese Literature Today, January 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

Sinologism: An Alternative to Orientalism and Postcolonialism


Stalling, Jonathan, Chinese Literature Today


Gu Mingdong. Sinologism: An Alternative to Orientalism and Postcolonialism. Non- fiction. London. Routledge. 274 pages. 2013. ISBN 9780415626545

Over the past decade the literary critic Mingdong Gu has published a number of works on subjects dealing with com- parative Chinese-Western literature, philosophy, linguistics, and aesthetics. His first two books are elegant attempts to bring critical terms and concepts from classical Chinese aesthetics, phi- losophy, and poetics into conversation with contemporary critical cross-cultur- al literary criticism. Gu's earlier work generally bypasses postcolonial, new historical, and materialist ideological critiques as methodologies; rather, he is in favor of a more apolitical "high post- modern hermeneutics," and his new book, Sinologism: An Alternative to Ori- entalism and Postcolonialism, continues in this vein. In fact, as the title suggests, this time around the methodological parting of ways has become the central focus of his attention.

"Sinologism," for Gu, "is a system of knowledge produced about China, but in its problematic epistemology and methodology, turns into sinologization, which is essentially a special type of col- onization. What is to be colonized is not the land but the mind." Gu asks, "Can we not think of China as a book and open a genuinely neutral hermeneutics that can open up its innumerable sub- tleties and complexities?" His answer to this question arrives under the opening he sees in sinologisim being not just a way of naming this epistemic violence, but a name for a field that renders these forces "legible" so that they can be challenged through his hermeneutic approach. In other words, Gu hopes to interrupt sinologism's pervasive appa- ratus of capture by both revealing its textual nature and providing readers with interpretive methods capable of disrupting the "intellectual and politi- cal unconscious" that give rise to its harmful effects.

The most risky element of Gu's work lies not in his hermeneutical response to the epistemic violence of sinologism as he defines it, but in his continual disavowal of ideological cri- tique (postcolonialism) as a counter- measure against hegemonic structures of knowledge. …

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