> News > IN WORLD

Academics rethink Western perception of China

ZHA JIANGUO, XIA LI | 2018-04-12 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

Academics discuss Western perception of China at the seminar.

SHANGHAI—Scholars reexamined Western perception of China and its effects on both sides at a seminar at Shanghai University on March 30.

From a historical point of view, the Western perception of China has been constantly evolving under the influence of a variety of factors, such as Western understanding of China, relations between China and the West, and changes in social, political and technological conditions, said Zeng Jun, a professor from the College of Liberal Arts at Shanghai University.

Chinese scholar Zhou Ning has conducted extensive research in this field. Zhou concludes that the image of China in the West fluctuates with the changes in power relations between the West and China, and China has always been the image created by the West’s own sense. But one crucial point that Zhou failed to note is that this actually reflects the typical Western dualistic way of thinking, Zeng said. He argued that this may fundamentally mean that the West does not really recognize the complexity of China’s own existence.

Gao Jianping, a professor from the Institute of Aesthetics and Literary Criticism at Shenzhen University, said that Western Sinology played an extremely important role in Western literary studies on China issues. Therefore, it is necessary to distinguish the study of China issues as Sinology and the study of Chinese issues as the mainstream ideas in the West. For Western Sinologists, China’s image has different aspects and can be understood using multiple interpretations. The mainstream Western thought has a different approach to studying China issues, however.

In the West, The Chan’s Great Continent: China in Western Minds (1998) by American Sinologist Jonathan Spence is probably the most renowned research work on China’s image, Zeng said. “Many of his works are related to the issues involved in our research.” For example, The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci, The Question of Hu and Chinese Roundabout: Essays on History and Culture.

In China, The Influence of Chinese Philosophy on Europe (1940) by Chinese historian Zhu Qianzhi is among the earliest research works in the field, said Zeng. Bringing together a great deal of historical data, the book examines the westward spread of Chinese learning from the Renaissance to the 17th and 18th centuries. A more recent book Thinkers’ Perception of China (2013) by Xin Jianfei discusses the influence of China on many Western masters, including Karl Jaspers, Martin Heidegger and Carl Jung.

For a long time, contemporary Chinese literary theory has been greatly influenced by its Western counterpart. Wang Hongsheng, a professor at Tongji University, said that Chinese literary studies should strengthen the subjectivity of Chinese culture, which is to say the consciousness of reconstituting the subjectivity of Chinese literary theory. The research perspective should be tilted toward contemporary literary theory, prioritizing practice, which is characteristic of Chinese culture, and considering how China is understood in Western literary theory, Wang said.

Research on China issues in Western literary theory cannot be limited to the field of literary theory. Zhang Zhengwen, a professor at the University of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that researchers can find issues related to literary theory in the fields of politics, economy, society and culture to expand research perspectives.

The study of China’s image in the West is rich in potential, Zeng said. On the one hand, it can serve as a powerful tool for us to study the West’s perception of China, and it is a critical perspective. On the other hand, it takes a diachronic approach, which can lead to many issues in culture and politics, as well as the discourse practice and cultural construction behind image construction. The downside is that this type of research may be a little simplistic at the moment, which is to say that it fixates on the simple conclusion that “China is a mirror image of the West” while paying less attention to the complex interaction between the two, Zeng said.


ZHA JIANGUO, XIA LI are correspondents with Chinese Social Sciences Today.

(edited by JIANG HONG)