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Communitarianism, or, how to build
East Asian theory
Margaret Hillenbrand
Version of record first published: 19 Nov 2010.
To cite this article: Margaret Hillenbrand (2010): Communitarianism, or, how to build East Asian
theory, Postcolonial Studies, 13:4, 317-334
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Communitarianism, or, how to build East Asian theory
Maps, fevers, and furores: thinking theoretically in East Asian studies
At a recent conference, I gave a paper which began with the question: ‘What
does it mean to think ‘‘theoretically’’ in contemporary East Asian studies?’ In
theory, the answer to this question seems quite straightforward. It means
thinking metaphysically rather than just empirically; it means scrutinizing
why and how East Asianists till their fields in the manner that they do; and it
means writing about the region in ways that, rather like the Peters Projection
world map, challenge the very cartography of global knowledge. My
particular focus in this essay is the creative humanities*by which I mean
literary, cinematic, philosophical, and cultural studies*and it is surely fair to
say that theoretical thinking has reconfigured the terrain of these disciplines
in the East Asian field over the last couple of decades, largely to their
enrichment. Yet to move back to maps and their metaphors*to take an aerial
rather than a worm’s eye view, in other words*it would be very moot indeed
to claim that theoretical thinking in East Asian studies has had a decisive
cartographic impact.
The reason for this, too, seems reasonably plain, and
one might think it has been rehearsed stringently enough already.
Leaf through the key journals of the field, attend its major conferences,
name-check its seminal monographs, and the message is clear: scholarship
that strives to think theoretically continues to take many of its key cues
from Michel Foucault, Walter Benjamin, Fredric Jameson, and Benedict
Anderson*to name an especially popular quartet. The result is a curiously
composed epistemological picture. Its foreground is busy with all the lively
details of local cultural life, often scrupulously sketched: Chinese writers,
Korean filmmakers, Japanese philosophers, Taiwanese performance artists.
But it is the ‘old masters’ of Western theory who continue to describe the
broad contours and grand features of the intellectual landscape, and whose
influence is writ large all over the canvas. Indeed, many of the basic terms of
reckoning and address which frame the study of contemporary East Asian
culture*keywords like power, metropolis, postmodernism, nation*are
routinely glossed via reference, and thus deference, to their Euro-American
‘originals’. The fact that only a small proportion of these Western writings
refer to East Asia in any consistent way themselves makes this indebtedness
all the more intriguing.
It is, of course, well understood now that scholars who work in and on East
Asia will regularly avail themselves of Western theory. At the very least, there
is an element of ‘if the cap fits, wear it’ to these borrowings: if Freud or
ISSN 1368-8790 print/ISSN 1466-1888 online/10/04031718 #2010 The Institute of PostcolonialStudies
DOI: 10.1080/13688790.2010.526538
Postcolonial Studies, Vol. 13, No. 4, pp. 317334, 2010
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Foucault illuminate the case in point, then why spurn their insights?
A quixotic disavowal of Western theory makes no more sense than a
blinkered infatuation with it; but more to the point, perhaps, any such
disavowal is pretty impractical anyway. To attempt a root-and-branch
expunging of Western theory from the interpretation of East Asian culture
would be tantamount to pretending that the Opium Wars and Commodore
Perry never happened, that the region never had its bruising showdowns with
the Occidental machine. The relevance of Western thought to East Asian
modernity was carved in blood and stone by these traumatic encounters, and
their legacy is as palpable in the epistemology of culture as it is in the ructions
of political nationalism. Indeed, the fierce desire to know thine enemythat
has driven Chinas self-strengtheners, Japans Meiji oligarchs, and countless
East Asian intellectuals on the search for modernity ever since demonstrates,
quite transparently, how the impact of the West is indissociable from local
philosophies of culture. One only needs to consider the successive bouts of
theory fever(re)*the Jameson re, the Weber re*that have swept the
Chinese scene (and, to a lesser extent, that of Taiwan and Hong Kong) over
the last few decades to see both that Western theory is part of the air that
intellectuals breathe, and that plenty find it refreshing. The days of griping
about Western theoryseem long gone, and the furore that greeted its arrival
in East Asian studies during the 1980s and 1990s has now largely abated into
an acceptance that these epistemologies are part of the academic furniture.
Already by 2000, Rey Chow felt able to state that, The hostility towards
‘‘Western theory’’, which merely a decade ago was still predominant in the
field of China studies, has apparently all but become marginalized to the
point of insignificance.
Yet despite only ever scotching the snake they feared so much, the
anti-Western theory lobby and their protests remain in some ways instructive.
At base, their resistance to Western theory was protectionist: they saw the
sanctity of their object of study*Chinese poetry, Japanese art*as somehow
violated by the application of extrinsic knowledge which was devised for other
worlds and other times. This notion of extrinsic knowledge is a core concern
of the present essay too. Or to reframe things slightly, if there remains
something slightly worrisome about the application of Western theory to East
Asian cultural texts, it lies not in the exteriority of these ideas per se, but in the
internal void that the routine recourse to other interpretive traditions cannot
help but imply. Scholars of contemporary East Asia across the world turn to
Western theory because the latter is richer, bolder, better than the thinking
that has been worked out within the region itself*this, at any rate, is the
unmistakable message that our field transmits to the academy beyond. It
conveys it through scholarship which subjects contemporary Chinese
literature to close focus, but only nods at contemporary Chinese philosophy;
through approaches which still assume that key terms such as civil society
or the avant gardecan travel eastwards just as they are; and above all,
perhaps, through a reluctance in some quarters to commit hard intellectual
resources to the notion that East Asiais a community of ideas in much the
same way that Western theoryis. And rather than engage in the slightly
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odious process of naming and shamingother researchers here, it might be
fairer and more transparent to admit at this early juncture that my own
published work so far displays all of these shortcomings; so what follows is as
much a self-criticism as it is a commentary on anyone else.
East Asian theory: around the corner or already arrived?
It is precisely a growing awareness of these shortcomings that has sparked
interest in hybrid,local, or what, for the sake of simplicity, I will call East
Asiantheory, both in the region itself and across the Western academy over
the last few years. This recognition that East Asian contexts act transforma-
tively upon Western theory, that these sites are not just the destination but also
the origin of pertinent theoretical thinking, and that the interventions they
produce constitute a body of thought in their own right has*as it were*
established itself as a kind of theorywithin East Asian studies, a concept to
which many either nominally or concretely subscribe. Up to a certain point,
this theoryhas made its way into praxis, a process to which I will return in
due course. But my basic point in the pages that follow is that this praxis is at
best still a fledgeling one, and that there is a great deal more to be done if East
Asian theory is to become a redoubtable nexus of intellectual resources. Part
of the problem, perhaps, lies in the fact that there is a subtle sense of deferral in
some quarters about the whenof East Asian theory. Hauling East Asian
studies out of the mire of geopolitically-driven area studies*replacing what
we might call espionage empiricismabout our others in Asiawith more self-
reflexive and less positivistic work*has been a job enough in itself. East Asian
theory, by these lights, is on its way, just around the post-Cold War corner.
Rather more commonplace, however, is the conviction that East Asian
theory has, in fact, already arrived*a point I discovered when presenting this
paper. Several conference participants assured me, inter alia, that modern and
contemporary Japanese literary studies are now thoroughly immersed in
the various currents of twentieth-century intellectual life in Japan;
that Sinocentrism, not Eurocentrism, is the real bogeyman in the woods;
and that journals such as positions: east asia cultures critique have ensured
that East Asian studies now thinks theoretically on its own self-standing,
self-referential terms. In short, mine was a passe´ critique for a field that has
now shrugged off its subaltern epistemological status, so much so that parts
of it have developed colonizing ambitions themselves. Certainly, it is true that
harping on about Eurocentrism can be unfashionable nowadays. As
Shu-mei Shih has put it,
it appears that the critique of Eurocentrism in general has exhausted itself, that
one only needs to show awareness of it because it is predictable. Instead of
working through the problem, one gives recognition to it [ ...] Charges of
repetition and yawns of familiarity, then, may be hazards one must anticipate in
insisting on continuous dissections of Eurocentrism.
Yet as Shih also points out, this ennuicannot change the fact that
Eurocentrism still exists in old and new forms; and just because East Asian
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theory is now on the rise does not mean that it has knocked older habits of
mind off their perch.
Western theory: still on top of the world
Sinocentrism and the degree to which Japanese literary studies have grappled
with modern Japanese thought are topics which will be touched upon later in
these pages, so for now I will dwell briefly on the third of the above-
mentioned points: positions, and its embrace of East Asian theory. As it
happens, I would be the first to concur that positions, ever since its inception
in 1993, has done more than any other publication, serial or otherwise, to
foster metaphysical habits of mind across the field; indeed, it would be
difficult to imagine a theoreticalEast Asian studies without it. As such,
therefore, it is also the perfect testing ground for the linked hypotheses that
East Asian theory has arrived, and that over-dependence on Western thought
is dead in the water. Rather than impressionistic speculation, which leads only
to impasse, hard bibliometrics must be the order of the day here*and a
systematic review of citation practices in positions reveals, somewhat contra-
dictorily, that East Asian theory is indeed championed in its pages, but that
the work of Western thinkers still takes pride of place.
Positions is both impressive and valuable for the home it offers to work
which engages in punctilious ways with key critics, theorists, and thinkers
from twentieth-century East Asia (although some work in the Western
academy). Amongst them, the highest bibliometric scorers include Rey Chow,
cited 34 times during the journals history; Naoki Sakai, who makes 28
appearances; Karatani Koˆjin, whose work is referenced on 25 occasions; and
Dai Jinhua, who secures 18 mentions. Also doing well in the citational stakes
are Maruyama Masao (17), Wang Hui (15), Nishida Kitaroˆ(13), Takeuchi
Yoshimi (12), Watsuji Tetsuroˆ(12), Li Zehou (11), Wang Xiaoming
(11), and Tsurumi Shunsuke (10). And one might also mention Ueno
Chizuko (7), Liu Zaifu (7), Chen Kuan-hsing (5), Maeda Ai (5), and Gan
Yang (5). Overall, however, this showing contrasts rather poorly with the
performance of the quartet of Western thinkers mentioned above: Foucault
(110 citations), Benjamin (82), Jameson (55), and Anderson (43). Equally
remarkable is the volume and density of citational attention garnered by a
range of other Western thinkers who (unlike Jameson, for example) have only
a passing interest in East Asian culture*even if several possess sterling
postcolonial credentials. These include Gayatri Spivak (61), Sigmund Freud
(60), Edward Said (53), Jacques Derrida (51), Homi Bhabha (51), Jacques
Lacan (38), Roland Barthes (36), Gilles Deleuze (34), Ju
¨rgen Habermas (29),
Max Weber (28), Louis Althusser (27), Antonio Gramsci (26), Stuart Hall
(26), Theodor Adorno (26), Michel de Certeau (25), Slavov Z
ˇek (24), Julia
Kristeva (23), Martin Heidegger (22)*and the list runs on. Nor can one
argue that this imbalance is a feature of the past, since citational practices
over the last five years reveal the same habits, approximately adjusted to scale:
Foucault (38), Benjamin (27), Freud (22), Spivak (22), Chow (15), Sakai (14),
Dai (11), Karatani (8).
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The purpose of this numbers gameis not particularly to critique positions
itself; indeed, its founding and prevailing premise rests in many ways on the
utter salience of East Asian theory and thought. As Tani Barlow, the chief
editor of positions, has noted in the pages of the present journal: the very
conditions that enabled [positions] as an intellectual project, the dissolution of
the discursive binary of East and West, also meant reconnecting contributors
to critical traditions outside the North American University.
Yet as Barlow
also observes, somewhat ruefully, The reality that we cannot pay translators
has made this difficult to achieve.
At the time when she was writing*1999*
the problems of translation were unarguably daunting. But the last decade
has seen something close to an efflorescence of translation in the critical
disciplines across a range of publishing venues (a foundational point to which
I will return later); and in this sense it is the fault of us*many of the
contributors to positions and the field at large*if these opportunities for
reconnection with local traditions have not always been leapt upon.
An equally feasible explanation is that this ongoing preference for Western
thought is only intermittently self-aware and self-questioning. It is, after all,
one thing to set out with a defined purpose to interpret a text the Freudian
way. Perhaps the text in question battles with unspeakable desires; perhaps its
author studied in Vienna during the 1910s and devoured The Interpretation of
Dreams. Either way, it is not the specific rationale that counts here so much as
the considered intention to explore a text through the prism of Freudian
psychoanalysis: and this intention is, of course, perfectly justifiable. Indeed, it
is the very consciousness of this intent which justifies it. What is more, this
intent can itself be transformative, as Freuds ideas are of necessity
reconstituted in an array of ways through their encounter with East Asian
The problem, to my mind, relates to the unreflective, untransformative,
almost inadvertent recourse to Western theory that occurs whenever grands
re´cits and big ideas are discussed. To name-check Freud in analyses of the
psyche is a scholarly habit so widely practised within contemporary East
Asian studies that this custom has little incentive to ponder its motivations.
Essentially, what this habit makes manifest is the prevalence of a
quasi-tiered system in the production of cultural analysis in the East Asian
creative humanities. Its first rung consists of primary sources in Chinese,
Japanese, or Korean, and these, as is only proper, occupy the major energies
of the scholarly producer. The next tier is composed of secondary sources, in
both East Asian and Western languages, which deal with varieties of
knowledge rising from the micro- to the macro-levels. Perched above this is
the tier of what might be called metaknowledge: a small but potent space of
authority which is occupied more often than is arguably necessary or
commonsensical by the work of Western thinkers. Thus an entirely putative
case study might break down like this: the fiction of a Japanese woman writer
(primary source); a range of dedicated articles on her work in English or
Japanese (micro secondary source); studies of postwar Japanese feminism by
Ueno Chizuko, Ehara Yumiko, or Matsui Yayori (macro secondary sources);
and reference, often quite brief or sporadic, to Julia Kristevas ideas on
abjection (meta source).
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Undergirding this typology of knowledge is a suggestive set of expectations
about the sort of service which these discrete source materials should provide
to the scholar. Perhaps most striking is the fact that the work of Western
thinkers and theorists is not de facto spatially dominant, despite the citational
density described earlier in this essay. Yet this relatively minimalist presence
actually functions in counter-intuitive ways, since what it really signals is the
extent to which referencing the West operates as shorthand for*or shortcut
to*a nexus of universal and authoritative ideas that everyone is expected to
understand already. Thus they need no proper gloss, and glancing, box-
ticking reference will do the job: As Freud says..., and so on. While
apparently offhand and off-the-cuff, passim citations of this kind actually
convey the continuing dominance of Western ideas far more evocatively than
an engaged application of dream theory ever could, for the simple reason that
they are used as casual ballast in much the same way as quoting from the
catechism might help you make a point in Elizabethan England. After all,
everybody in those days was supposed to have learned the words.
Obviously, then, we need to consider the institutional histories of East
Asianists, and the role that these pasts might play in hampering the growth of
East Asian theory. A good many scholars of contemporary East Asian
culture nowadays*whatever their nationality, linguistic background, and
current base*have made their way through the ranks of comparative
literature and cultural studies departments, where Western theory circulates
so potently that its doctrines, if not exactly biblical in their authority, can
indeed become a kind of received wisdom that accrues its power through
long-learned familiarity. And those numerous others who have progressed
through East Asian studies departments have often been keen to learn the
drills too, since the crude academic capital of Western theory*publishability,
tenurability*is well understood. This is essentially Rey Chows point when
she observes that Western theory offers East Asianists, wherever they are, the
opportunity to be at once local and global, since the generalityof Western
theory interacts with the specificity of China, Japan, or Korea in ways that
allow for multiple circles of address and recognition.
Yet the problem here is
not so much the assumed terminological equivalence between global/
generaland Western*that point surely needs no further reiteration*but
rather the obstacles that this assumption sets up for the progress of East
Asian theory. Indeed, even if it is fairly obvious that Western theory is one of
those naturalizedbackdrops that succeeds via everyones complicity with the
illusion, it is another thing altogether to start switching the scenery, and
grounding work in local ideas instead.
Journals such as Traces,Inter-Asia Cultural Studies and positions itself have
done crucial work here, and as a result East Asian epistemologies do figure
more prominently now in both the regional and the global picture of the
contemporary humanities. Yet much more clearly needs to be done, and by a
broader range of scholarly constituencies. I have already suggested that
East Asian theoryis essentially a portmanteau term for all kinds of
regionally-rooted thinking, from hybrid reworkings of Euro-American
thought to the minting of fresh academic currency. Yet the very term theory
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can, perhaps, be distractingly grandiloquent, since at base it evokes the
brilliance of the conjurer and the intellectual magic which he or she performs.
In this essay, I would like to suggest that thinking theoreticallymeans much
plainer things besides, and is, in fact, a labour in which everyone who works
on the cultures of the region can and even should be engaged. Indeed,
practical, small-scale, workaday strategies*such as reading, teaching,
citation, and curriculum design*are just as crucial to the emergence of
East Asian theory as any wizardry. Such strategies have the potential to make
the East Asian creative humanities a terrain of study which is fully
invigorated by theoretical thinking*from East, West, and all the spaces in
between*rather than slightly sapped by the open secret that a sizeable slab of
its ideas base is shipped in wholesale from somewhere else.
‘Western theory’ and the sociology of academe
If we are to give theoretical thinkinga more open-ended definition, it might
also be instructive to ask what the fixed and resonant couplet, Western
theory, really means*not semantically, but rather in terms of the sociology
of academe. What the term connotes, of course, is something Leviathan in size
and reach: cohesive, integrated, commensurately intimidating. Yet at base this
is just mythology; and behind the myths lie a simple set of working practices.
Let us take, as a prominent example, Terry EagletonsLiterary Theory:
An Introduction, a neat exposition of theory and its rise which is now bread-
and-butter reading for English literature majors across the world. This may
seem a perverse place to start, but Eagletons text has a great deal to say to
scholars of contemporary East Asian culture, despite declining to include
them in its address. Literary Theory is, most obviously, a deftly compiled crib
for undergraduates and laypeople*a kind of Cliffs Notes
on a thorny
theme, in the words of one of its many detractors. For East Asianists,
however, the books instructiveness lies not in its easy parsing of tricky
thinkers, but rather*and in a more truly deconstructionist sense*in what it
tells us about Western theory as a socio-institutional praxis. The fact that
Eagletonstext*hailed by some, scorned by others*remains the closest thing
theories of culture have to a bestseller a full 25 years after its first publication
only makes the lessons it offers all the more valuable.
These lessons start with the books table of contents, headed by a chapter
entitled The Rise of English(by which Eagleton means English literature),
followed in concisely telescoped fashion by further chapters on phenomen-
ology, semiotics and structuralism, post-structuralism, psychoanalysis, and
political criticism.
Two things cry out for attention here, and I will approach
them in turn. First, there is the relaxed and fertile union between literature
and all kinds of philosophical thinking, plain for all to see in the very rubric
of the book. Western theory, as Eagleton makes clear, is the story of how
literary studies got together with other disciplines, and did wonders for its
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own status as a consequence; everything else is narrative detail. We can go
further than Eagleton and observe that it is not just literatures receptiveness
to other ideas, but interdisciplinarity per se, cross-pollinating from field to
field, which has allowed Western theoryto grow into a system of thought
that confers prestige on all of its component parts. Thus Tel Quel may be
famous for its frictions and fallings-out, but it was the groups closely
collaborative ways and disregard for tidy taxonomies that really mattered,
and which allowed its expositions to carry the day for a while. As Franc
Dosse observes, Tel Quel did not emanate from any particular discipline
among the humanities and as such reflected the profound concern for
synthesis during this period.
Western theory is the offspring born from the
miscegenation of ideas, and this broader gene pool is integral to the
intellectual mystique which it has gathered so skilfully to itself.
Needless to say, there are indigenousideas aplenty in contemporary
East Asia, and numerous arenas for their exchange. For a start, the region
makes much of its public intellectuals: whether incarcerated in gulags or
enshrined as talkshow hosts, literati in East Asia matter a great deal, just as
they always have done. And public intellectuals, as they popularize the
academy and academize the popular, are crucial to the emergence of precisely
those terms of reckoning and address that can travel meaningfully between
disciplines and prepare the ground for the growth of theory*which is, of
course, nothing other than a systematized approach to the interpretation of
culture. But what Eagletons book also tells us, rather more inadvertently, is
that ideas and their mobility are not enough. Theory, after all, frequently
boils down to the flash of insight around which an extensive and plausible
discourse can be built. Derridasdiffe´rance, Baudrillards simulacrum,
Andersons imagined communities, Habermass civil society: all important
theorists are coupled to their catchphrases, although they themselves might
be irked by the reductio ad absurdum of it all. The business of discourse-
building, meanwhile, falls to the scholarly community, more broadly defined:
the writers, teachers, and academic professionals who get on with the job of
turning theory into practice, seeing if it works, doing the necessary fine-
tuning, or rejecting it as unfit for purpose. East Asian thinkers have just as
many Damascene moments as their counterparts in the West, but scholars of
the regions creative humanities*and perhaps most particularly those based
in the West*are not yet doing enough to bed them down in the wider
intellectual field.
In a way, then, it is all too easily cathartic to bash the injudicious
application of Western theory to non-Western texts. People have been doing
this for years now, and the pious glow it generates can easily distract attention
from the graver problem at hand. What really requires critique is not simply
neo-imperialism in the epistemological realm, nor even the merry readiness of
many East Asianists to go along with it, but the altogether less-noted
reluctance of our scholarly community to get on with the hard graft of
turning the regions thinkers, theorists, and philosophers into shining icons
who can shed their light across our fields. What does it take to make the
crossover from justa thinker, to a thinker with his or her own dedicated
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adjective*Derridean, Foucauldian, Lacanian? Surely, this transition is
brought about not simply by coruscating brilliance, but via the skein of
discourse that others create, over time and often laboriously, around rare and
resonant ideas. It is this discursive web which ties ideas and their inventors
into culture, and thus turns them, over time, into crucial resources for the
study of everything from literature to manga.
This brings me back to my conference interlocutors and the claim that
modern and contemporary Japanese literary studies are now expertly versed in
twentieth-century Japanese intellectual life across the swath. Certainly, it is true
that academics who work on Japanese literature turn in nicely axiomatic ways
to local literary theorists and critics as eclectic as Kuriyagawa Hakuson,
EtoˆJun, Kobayashi Hideo, Maeda Ai, and Karatani Koˆjin these days; and it is
equally true that the field of Japanese philosophy, for example, has also been
enjoying something of a boom in recent years. Both are thoroughly cheering
trends. Yet the academic custom, so ingrained as to be second nature, which
prompts scholars of Western literature (and scholars of Japanese literature
too!) to cite a diverse and extensive range of Euro-American philosophers,
sociologists, anthropologists, political scientists, and public intellectuals in
their work is still only patchily mirrored in Japanese literary studies. And by the
selfsame token, it is not enough simply to draw on the work of Wang Hui, Dai
Jinhua, or Cui Zhiyuan in specific discussions of Chinas New Left political
philosophy; scholars of contemporary Chinese literature, film, and media
need, as a matter of fully naturalized habit, to absorb, cite, and ingrain their
ideas too. Whether the topic is Yu HuasBrothers, the new documentary
movement, or even the smash hit series Super Girl, New Leftist arguments
about the what, when, and how of Chinese modernity have pertinence for the
field at large. In a way, this is Chen Pingyuans slightly acerbic point when he
observes that, What the Chinese intellectual world most lacks at present is not
first-rate scholars who can express their own ideas [...] but second-rate
scholars who will embark on a conscientious process of reading and
substantive training.
Although most East Asianists might prefer to
substitute the appellations thinkersand academicsfor Chensfirst-rate
scholarsand second-rate scholarsrespectively, his point that good ideas need
well-read, industrious intermediaries if they are to achieve critical mass is very
Much of the problem, at least for Western scholars, is that reading the
dense writings of Wang Hui, Dai Jinhua, and Cui Zhiyuan can be tough
work. Fredric Jameson, for all his fruity prose, is a good deal easier to digest.
In much the same way, it is quicker and more user-friendly to read
Ozu Yasujiroˆin terms of Andre´Bazin than it is to roam the library stacks
and cut a systematic swath through journals such as Eiga geijutsu or even
Kinema junpo. The easier route is further expedited by the very reasonable
argument, made elegantly by David Bordwell in a recent essay, that the
Hollywood style was assimilated everywhere, even by the selfsame director
who pioneered the so-called tatami shot.
This argument can, of course, be
extrapolated every which way, and with the same approximate validity. Any
cultural impulse*from fin-de-sie`cle decadence to socialist realism*which
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first sprang to life outside East Asia, but later became inspirational within it,
seems almost to solicit its own interpretation via Western theory. The Opium
Wars, Commodore Perry, and global history ever since provide such
interpretation with a very decent, very defensible rationale. What is more,
plenty of intellectuals in East Asia seem to agree, hence the appetite for
Western theory which ranges from mild to ravenous depending on the time
and place.
Ultimately, however, the nub of the problem for many East Asianists in the
West remains language, and what Alan Tansman has termed the drudgery of
the archivein an incisive essay. As he puts it:
To write on Natsume Soˆseki [...] one would, in good conscience, read all, or
certainly most of his own writing, totaling over thirty closely packed volumes. In
addition, one would need to familiarize oneself with the bulk of secondary
literature about him, in English and Japanese, numbering in the hundreds of
books and articles, as well as the theoretical and contextual material, in both
English and Japanese, needed to make an argument of interest to peers in the
American academy [...] Now, nobody who has written about Soˆseki has done all
this*nor should anyone be expected to. All scholarship requires carving out a
manageable corpus from a morass of material.
And the fact of the matter is that the most popular strategy for creating a
manageable corpusnowadays is to prunethe archive, and to compensate
this loss of sheer bulk with theoretical approaches which proffer a highly
distilled acumeninstead.
More cynically, of course, these approaches are
also less time-consuming and increasingly prestigious(which explains their
appeal to native readers of Japanese too). It is refreshing indeed to encounter
such a candid acknowledgement that the difficulties of linguistic mastery
cannot but dictate the very shape of Western scholarship; but quite apart
from this, the shift from thick description to thinner theory is far
from problematic in itself anyway. The difficulties arise*as Tansman also
notes*when the archive is thinned in favour of theoretical approaches which
are overwhelmingly Western in origin, since this process effectively doubles
the sense of knowledge loss.
Tansman argues that No easy solution can be offered to this problem.
Yet here, once again, the actual praxis of Western theory may contain the
kernel of an answer. The present essay has referred regularly to the privileged
quartetof Foucault, Benjamin, Jameson, and Anderson; but it might be just
as accurate, if not more so, to speak in terms of a tetralogy of privileged texts.
Whether in East Asian studies or elsewhere, a striking but little-noted feature
of theoretical approaches is their reliance on a core hub of incessantly cited
sources: Discipline and Punish;Illuminations;Postmodernism,Or the Cultural
Logic of Late Capitalism;Imagined Communities. Indeed, if reading
theoretically-driven scholarship is occasionally rather dull, it is at least in
part because such work chants the same passages from the same sutras over
and over again, and thus operates by a law of diminishing intellectual returns.
By this token, perhaps what the study of contemporary Japanese, Chinese,
and Korean culture requires is its own compulsory reading listof theoretical
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writings: intensively interdisciplinary within the humanities, taught to
graduate students using the original materials, even canonizedin textbook
form so that every department can drum the message home.
some institutions already offer such courses; but if every centre of expertise
made it a matter of absolute pedagogical policy to do so, this perennial
dilemma between archiveand theory, between thickand thin, might find
some form of mitigation. And, of course, it would take many years, and many
thousands of citations, before this reading listbegan to provoke the ever-so-
slightly stale sense of de´ja` vuthat yet another reference to the big fourcan
sometimes trigger.
... and internationalism
If, as I have tried to argue above, reading far and wide within national
traditions does not always come easily, then it should be even less surprising
that engagement with critical traditions further afield in East Asia is rarer
still. Bibliometrics in positions over the last 17 years certainly proves the
anti-trend: I found only three articles on China, Taiwan, and Korea which
cited Karatani Koˆjin, and only three on Japanese/Japanese American culture
which made reference to Rey Chow. Yet one could argue that their less than
stellar showing in contrast to Foucault, Benjamin, Jameson, and Anderson
stems in very significant part from the fact that these East Asian thinkers are
so seldom cited outside their national niches. Meanwhile, the Western quartet
glides effortlessly*and, by and large, indifferently*above the entire field,
picking up citations here, there, and everywhere. This brings us round to the
other lesson encoded in the basic packaging of EagletonsLiterary Theory:
namely, that a corpus of potent texts, broadly recognized as such, is produced
not just via interdisciplinarity, but through an energetic and open-minded
internationalism too. Indeed, this notion of a meta-text*as academic edifice
and not just fond fantasy*has no other option than to build itself, brick by
brick, around these twin cornerstones of collaborative work.
Interdisciplinarity, as I have suggested above, can and should proceed at
the national level, via readings of contemporary culture in Korea, Taiwan,
Hong Kong and all the rest which consult*closely, punctiliously, and ever
more as a matter of habit*the writing of local philosophers, thinkers and
public intellectuals. If we imagine local theory as a field of depth and
breadth*or, perhaps, as a fabric with warp and weft*then bringing the
interpretation of culture back home like this is probably the best way of
deepening its requisite verticality. But local theory, if it is to bed itself down in
culture, needs a horizontal axis too: it needs to draw strength in numbers, to
marshal its more distant troops. So-called Western theory, that entity which
always seems so clean-cut and monolithic when it is invoked in scholarship on
East Asia, is a messy, disparate thing if we stop to scrutinize it for a second.
What has allowed it to loom like an obelisk over the study of contemporary
East Asian culture is the mythology I referred to earlier: that myth of
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cohesiveness which has been fostered by practices that are much more about
communitarianism than they are about intellectual heft.
Derrida, Benjamin, Bakhtin; French, German, Russian: we all know that
Western theory is a citizen of many nations, and is seemingly conversant in
many tongues. More crucially, it is predicated on a notion of culture-as-
civilization (Graeco-Roman, Judaeo-Christian, Marxist-capitalist) which has
allowed thinkers across the span of Euro-America to address each other in a
meta-language that everyone concerned is happy to learn and speak.
Translations are, as I will discuss below, essential from place to place. Yet in
ways that recall Saussures distinction between langue and parole*in which the
former denotes the grand collective abstractions of a language and the latter
refers to its quirkier individual utterances*it is the belief, mistaken or
otherwise, in a Western cultural wewhich transcends nationality that has
brought Westerntheory to the fore. Thus we know that modernism, for
example, may speak in different paroles, that its articulations vary from France
to Russia; but as a basic term of engagement, modernismbelongs to a more
grandiloquent langue, intelligible and salient across borders. In many ways its
salience derives precisely from a collective, unspoken decision to invest in its
intelligibility: to make it hard fact through reams of scholarship that
adumbrate the meanings of modernism by drawing on everyone from
Baudelaire to Nietzsche as if this were the most natural thing in the world.
It is just as clear that East Asia, both in the past and nowadays, has a
cognate civilizational consciousness, an awareness of itself as a cultural whole
greater than its parts. This is not to deny, of course, that to talk of Asiaat all
is to enter into a very vexed and protracted conversation. Takeuchi Yoshimis
pithy point that What made Asia possible lies within Europecaptures only
one dimension of the terms many-faceted problems.
No doubt thornier is
the way in which Asiahas served shifting agendas of identity and
imperialism in Japan,
whether it is the utopian ideologuing of Okakura
Tenshin and his 1903 dictum Ajia wa hitotsu nari(Asia is one), or Fukuzawa
Yukichis earlier treatise Datsu-A ron(Goodbye Asia, 1885) which, prima
facie at least, articulated Japans need to define itself over and against the
floundering land-mass across the sea. And the jitteriness about Sinocentrism
mentioned earlier in this essay stems, of course, from a widely felt sense that
China may be gearing up to pick up the imperialist baton*and in the process
will produce theorywhich assists it in the race to power. This sense of
shifting morphology characterized the political and cultural shape of Asia
throughout its twentieth-century history:
alternately a dark continent that
only Japan could lead into the light, and a Sinosphere that has long borne
witness to Chinas civilizing mission, Asiahas arguably been reified as much
from within as from without. As Naoki Sakai and Shu-mei Shih note in their
respective contributions to this volume, the West-versus-the-Rest binary has
proved just as useful to local imperialists and state-builders as it was to their
counterparts in the Occident. Meanwhile, what all too often gets frittered
away in these ceaseless struggles to command the regional space is the rich
theoretical potential of Asia. Indeed, the very fact that the selfsame term
can be pressed into service by both Chinese revolutionaries (Li Dazhao and
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Sun-Yatsen) and Japanese would-be war criminals (O
ˆkawa Shu
ˆmei) suggests
ultimately that the idea of Asiais less a zone of politics and culture than an
open episteme.
Perhaps, in fact, it is precisely this tense contestation that surrounds the
term which makes it so seductive to theorists and theoretical thinking. Asia
as episteme is as alive now as ever it was, a truth vividly shown by the recent
scholarly efforts by intellectuals such as Chua Beng-Huat, Naoki Sakai, and
Sun Ge*to name just a few*to foster new forms of intellectual dialogue
about it: the former two through the founding of Inter-Asia Cultural Studies
and Traces, and Sun through her establishment of the so-called Asia
Knowledge Community(Yazhou zhishi gongtongti).
Chen Kuan-hsing,
moreover, has given this dialogic process hard theoretical form in an
important essay entitled Asia as Method, which expounds and elaborates
on the work of Mizoguchi Yu
ˆzoˆ(himself a key figure in Asia-centric
exchange), and his notion of China as method(hoˆhoˆto shite no Chuˆgoku)
in particular.
In his later essay, Chen argues eloquently that East Asian
intellectuals must prize their conversations and communitas with each other if
they are to forge a new and salvationary sense of self.
Chens thesis is genuinely compelling; but its quasi-exclusionary focus on
East Asia is reminiscent, albeit in counter-intuitive ways, of Tu Wei-mings oft-
cited call to Cultural China. Tu dubs the latter a continuous interaction of
three symbolic universes: the Chinese-speaking territorial heartlands; the
diaspora; and the scholars, teachers, journalists [...] and writers, who try to
understand China intellectually and bring their conceptions [ .. .] to their
own linguistic communities.
I would argue that Tus notion of a third
constituency, reworked to refer to East Asia and all those who work on the
region across the globe, can also contribute meaningfully to the production of
ChensAsia as method*not least because this methodology is a utopia to
which only some intellectuals within East Asia itself subscribe, as Inaga
Shigemi has shown.
To make this contribution, though, East Asianists*
wherever, whoever*would need to show a good deal more communitas, and
engage in a great many more conversations. Vital to recent Asia-centric moves
is precisely the sense of a cultural wereferred to earlier, which is itself nothing
other than the communitas that emerges through conversation, and thereby
produces keywords for culture in a langue that is recognizably regional in its
semantic tone. The problem for contemporary East Asian studies, both in the
West and in the region itself, is that it is a field still dominated by a steadfast
allegiance to paroles. Indeed, East Asian studies seldom pays more than lip
service to the idea of langue, preferring as it does the methodology of culture-
as-nation and its customary monolinguism. In practice, this means that key
interpretive texts such as, for example, Matei Calinescus 1977 study Five Faces
of Modernity, which does indeed travel from Baudelaire to Nietzsche in its
quest to probe the aesthetics of the modern, simply do not have sufficient
counterparts in East Asian studies. Once again, the local theories are there,
awaiting circulation, but the supporting scholarly apparatus is only partially in
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The golden labour of translation
East Asian studies is, or so we are told, congenitally incapable of helping to
produce the apparatus that could help to make the regionscultural wea
more palpable and persuasive discursive reality. Its languages are too difficult,
its politics too obdurately hostile to permit this kind of open-door policy on
the flow of ideas. Maybe so; but all-out conflict in Europe*twice*did not
lead to a total battening down of the intellectual hatches, and it would be
¨ve nonsense to assume a harmonious community of Western polyglots
who habitually perused Bakhtin, or even Saussure, in the original. This brings
us, inevitably, back to translation, and to the hard historical fact that
intellectual journeys*whether from continent to continent, or simply from
France to Germany*require the good offices of translation if they are to
make sustained contact with the locals. The academic community in the West
has tended to read everything from Barthes to Bakhtin in translation*as, of
course, do East Asianists. And if East Asianists can read translated versions
of Barthes and Bakhtin, then scholars of China can read Karatani, and
specialists on Japan can read Wang Hui in just the same linguistically
mediated way. And, of course, pretty much everyone can read East Asian
theorists who choose to write in English.
It is extremely encouraging in this regard that Li Zehous far-reaching work
on Chinese aesthetics*to give a very recent example*has appeared in English
A translation of Wang Huismagnum opus,The Rise of Modern
Chinese Thought (Zhongguo sixiang de xingqi, 2004), is also in the works. Brill,
meanwhile, has inaugurated a new series entitled Humanities in China
Library, which makes available in English translation the work of humanities
scholars who are shaping academic discourse in China,
and so far includes
important volumes by Chen Pingyuan, Chen Lai, and Hong Zicheng.
Cambridge University Press, too, has launched a series called China Library,
with a cognate but even broader interdisciplinary remit. Just as heartening are
the moves made by Columbia, Hawaii, and Duke University Presses to bring
philosophy and criticism from modern East Asia to a larger audience. A series
of landmark volumes either published or forthcoming provide both transla-
tion and analysis of the work of thinkers such as Natsume Soˆseki, Takeuchi
Yoshimi, Maruyama Masuo, Kang Sangjung, Maeda Ai, Takamura Koˆtaroˆ,
Nishitani Keiji, Kuki Shu
ˆzoˆ, Watsuji Tetsuroˆ, Karatani Koˆjin, Yi Taejun, Ng
Kim Chew and many others.
Large-scale, monograph-length projects such as
these complement the quiet but immensely important effort spearheaded by
journals in recent years to showcase translations of philosophical and
theoretical work from East Asia. M E SharpesContemporary Chinese
Thought, launched in 1997, blazed something of a trail here, publishing
quality translations of a gratifyingly catholic range of thinkers. This endeavour
has been pursued by positions and Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, too, both of
which have stepped up their publication of theoretical writings translated from
multiple languages in recent years. Most impressive of all, perhaps, is Traces,
which has published issues in a range of languages, both to speed the transfer
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of knowledge, and to pay a more symbolic kind of deference to the
indispensability of translation as a scholarly labour.
But the very fact that these texts are openly billed by their publishers
as daring, rare, or innovative tells its own story. The brisk and busy
thoroughfares for translated texts that are such a given of Euro-American
theoretical enquiry shrink to narrow, little-trodden footpaths when it comes
to the transfer of big ideas from East Asia into Western languages. And this
is, at least in part, because most specialists on China, Korea, Taiwan, and
Hong Kong make it no matter of urgency to read the work of the Japanese
thinkers listed just above; and few specialists on Japan are much better either.
The majority are far more likely to be found thumbing the pages of Gayatri
Spivak or Homi Bhabha than consulting the increasingly broad corpus of
writings produced by intellectuals across the region which ponder colonialism
as a theoretical, and profoundly local, problem.
Our empirically provable
reluctance to read regionally, despite the swelling number of translated works
and the tough work put in by their translators, demonstrates that the problem
is not practical so much as temperamental and systemic. The truth of the
matter is that many East Asianists, as an academic community, remain
dispositionally disinclined to extend their collegiality across borders.
It is around these two focal points, interdisciplinarity and internationalism,
that the possibilities for future East Asian theory cluster. And this is in no
small part because both are habits of mind that can display themselves, in
both dedicated and dilettante ways, across all the everyday academic practices
of reading, thinking, writing, teaching, citation, and curriculum design. To
take the last example as a final case in point, if every teacher of Lu Xun, both
in East Asia and elsewhere, required his or her students to delve into the
Chinese, Korean, or English translations of Takeuchi Yoshimi by Li Xinfeng,
SoˆGwang-doˆk and Paek Ji-un, and Richard Calichman respectively
reading process that is both interdisciplinary and international*then a
generation of students who work on China would come to realize that its
twentieth-century literature operates within a theoretical field which is
regional as much as it is national or global. And if every teacher of Takeuchi
prescribed the fiction of Lu Xun to his or her students, this would have
cognate and compelling implications for the kind of theoretical parameters
which students of Japan might set for their work too. The fact that Takeuchi
himself was one of Lu Xuns most noted Japanese translators only under-
scores the point.
Contemporary East Asia, in theory
Interdisciplinarity and internationalism lie at the heart of this special issue,
too. Harry Harootunians essay probes local strands of thought (the
philosopher Takeuchi Yoshimi, the folklorist Yanagita Kunio, the Marxist
economist Yamada Moritaroˆ, the liberal publicist Hasegawa Nyozekan)
in insightful ways to explore concepts of modernity and the time-lag in both
inter-war Japan and more recently. Chua Beng Huat, meanwhile, theorizes
the strictures of the party-state in Singapore from various disciplinary
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perspectives to show persuasively how its policies*and most particularly
those in the realms of language, race, and culture*are suggesting an
alternative developmental blueprint to other East Asian nations, especially
the Peoples Republic of China. Other essays in the issue take internation-
alism as their basic point of departure, and seek to problematize, realign, or
stretch the parameters of their respective fields. Koichi Iwabuchi takes up the
theme of the media cultures which now energetically speed their way across
the nation-states of East Asia; but he subjects the triumphalism that often
attends this relatively new discourse to critical, nuanced enquiry, and thus
encourages us to think more deeply about the challenges these cultures might
mount to Euro-American dominance. In an innovative piece on avant-garde
theatre, Rossella Ferrari explores how intensifying collaboration between
dramatists and performers from Hong Kong, Taiwan, China, Korea, and
Japan is creating a transnational praxis in the theatrical arts which moves in
rhizomaticways. Nayoung Aimee Kwons contribution probes a half-
forgotten archive of Japanese-language writings from colonial Korea to
argue convincingly that imperialism in East Asia, and its manifold legacies,
demand a re-making of the current paradigms for understanding colonial
experience. In a searching essay on the apparently oxymoronic relationship
between Asiaand theory, Naoki Sakai argues that the sense of strangeness
that invariably meets this pairing is nothing other than a civilizational spell,
which weaves itself almost imperceptibly betwixt and between the micro-
physicsof power relations. Shu-mei Shih, meanwhile, conducts an equally
striking exercise in deconstructive archaeology via a contribution which
assesses the disruptive potential of the Sinophone, and re-reads key texts from
the modern Chinese literary canon to uncover the affective histories of the
Nanyang, or Southeast Asia, that lie buried within them. Finally, my own
contribution attempts to theorize the ersatz nostalgia craze that has swept
every nation-state in East Asia by tracing its impulses back to an acute sense
of placelessness across the region over the last few decades.
Collectively, the essays gathered together in this volume try to think
theoreticallyin a range of different ways. Most do indeed coin new terms and
devise new paradigms for the study of the East Asian creative humanities, and
their insights are commensurately exciting. But others (by which I principally
mean my own contribution) seek to be interdisciplinary and international in
rather more prosaic and humdrum ways: by peering over the disciplinary wall,
by trying to identify when East Asiais as illuminating a site of enquiry as are
its discrete nation-states, and by using translations when a lack of training
across the broad spectrum of East Asian languages makes them necessary.
I am grateful to John Treat, Michel Hockx, Ruth Maxey, and Young-hae Chi for their insights
and kind help in the preparation of this essay.
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Naoki Sakai provides an eloquent exposition of these problems in his contribution to this volume.
For examples of the critique of Western theory in East Asian studies, see John M Roseneld, Japanese
Art Studies in America in 1945, in Helen Hardacre (ed), The Postwar Developments of Japanese Studies
in the United States, Leiden: Brill, 1998, pp 161194, p 189; Perry Link, Ideology and Theory in the
Study of Modern Chinese Literature,Modern China 19(1), 1993, pp 412, pp 78; and Michael S Duke,
Thoughts on Politics and Critical Paradigms in Modern Chinese Literature Studies,Modern China
19(1), 1993, pp 4170, pp 6366.
Rey Chow, Introduction: On Chineseness as a Theoretical Problem, in Chow (ed), Modern Chinese
Literary and Cultural Studies in the Age of Theory, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2000, pp 125,
Shu-mei Shih, Global Literature and the Technologies of Recognition,PMLA 119(1), 2004, pp 1630,
p 16.
In order to keep this review within manageable bounds, the analysis below is restricted to citations of
Western thinkers whose major work was published during the twentieth century. Naturally, the
citational volume would increase if the parameters were brought back to include, for example, thinkers
such as Immanuel Kant and Karl Marx.
These statistics naturally exclude instances of self-citation.
Tani Barlow, Founding positions,Postcolonial Studies 2(1), 1999, pp 1928, p 22.
Barlow, Founding positions, p 22.
This process is sometimes controversial, of course, since local re-makings of Western theory may assume
forms that some East Asianists nd distasteful in politico-personal ways. One is reminded here of the
indignant response to Zhang Fa, Zhang Yiwu and Wang Yichuans 1994 manifesto Cong ‘‘xiandaixing’’
dao ‘‘Zhonghuaxing’’: xin zhishi de tanxun(From Modernityto Chineseness: In Search of a New
Epistemology). This piece deploys the tenets of post-thinking to rebut Western modernity in favour of
a recrudescent Sinocentrism, and it was decried in many quarters as a conservative revanche that took
sinister aim at pro-democracy intellectuals. See Zhang Fa, Zhang Yiwu, and Wang Yichuan, Cong
‘‘xiandaixing’’ dao ‘‘Zhonghuaxing’’: xin zhishi de tanxun,Wenyi zhengming 2, 1994, pp 1020. For
well-known critiques of the manifesto, see Zhao Yiheng, ‘‘‘Houxue’’ yu Zhongguo xin baoshouzhuyi,
Ershiyi shiji 27(2), 1995, pp 415; and Ben Xu, Postmodern-Postcolonial Criticism and Pro-Democracy
Enlightenment,Modern China 27(1), 2001, pp 117147, pp 123127.
Chow, Introduction,p2.
Peter A Muckley, ‘‘‘Why Dont They Do Something Else?’’: Terry Eagleton and Some Symptoms of
20th Century Literary Theory,A Parte Rei 32, 2004, pp 116, p 1.
Terry Eagleton, Literary Theory: An Introduction, Oxford: Blackwell, 1983, p i.
¸ois Dosse, History of Structuralism: The Rising Sign, 19461966, vol. 1, Minneapolis: University of
Minnesota Press, 1998, p 276.
Quoted in Gloria Davies, Worrying about China: The Language of Chinese Critical Inquiry, Cambridge,
MA: Harvard University Press, 2007, p 190.
David Bordwell, Transcultural Spaces: Toward a Poetics of Chinese Cinema, in Sheldon H Lu and
Emilie Yueh-yu Yeh (eds), Chinese-Language Film: Historiography, Poetics, Politics, Honolulu:
University of Hawaii Press, 2004, pp 141162.
Alan Tansman, Japanese Studies: The Intangible Act of Translation, in David L Szanton (ed), The
Politics of Knowledge: Area Studies and the Disciplines, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004,
pp 184216, p 196.
Tansman, Japanese Studies, pp 198199.
Tansman, Japanese Studies, p 200.
A tentative and provisional attempt to provide this sort of reading listfor modern and contemporary
China can be found in Margaret Hillenbrand and Chloe Starr, Documenting China: An Interpretive
Reader in Seminal Twentieth-Century Texts, Seattle: University of Washington Press (in press).
Takeuchi Yoshimi, Kindai to wa nani ka, in Takeuchi, Kindai no choˆkoku, Tokyo: Chikuma shobo,
1983, pp 445, p 12.
For detailed treatment of this type of agenda, see the essays collected in Furuya Tetsuo (ed), Kindai
Nihon no Ajia ninshiki, Kyoto: Kyoto daigaku jinbun kagaku kenkyujo, 1994.
Wang Hui provides an extensive grounding of this process in his essay The Politics of Imagining Asia:
A Genealogical Analysis, trans. Andrew Hale, Inter-Asia Cultural Studies 8(1), 2007, pp 133.
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This is essentially Chen Kuan-hsings point when he argues that Asia is not simply an object of analysis,
but also the means through which knowledge can be transformed. See Chen, ‘‘‘Yazhou’’ zuowei fangfa,
Taiwan shehui yanjiu jikan 57(3), 2005, pp 139218, p 140.
As Sun states, in dialogue with Mizoguchi Yu
ˆzoˆ, the idea of a knowledge communitystarted out as a
simple notion:might there be a common standpoint amongst the people of Asia and, in particular,
amongst its so-called intellectuals?The dialogue which they pursue thereafter reveals, unsurprisingly,
that it is chiey through the expression of dissatisfaction, critique, and self-critique that this community
takes more concrete shape. Mizoguchi and Sun, Guanyu zhishi gongtongti,Kaifang shidai 11, 2001,
pp 522, p 6.
Chens notion of methodalso, of course, refers back to Takeuchi YoshimisHoˆhoˆto shite no Ajia: waga
senzen, senchuˆ, sengo 19351976, Tokyo: Sojusha, 1978.
Chen Kuan-hsing, ‘‘Yazhou’’ zuowei fangfa, pp 200201.
Tu Wei-ming, Cultural China: The Periphery as the Center, in Tu Wei-ming (ed), The Living Tree: The
Changing Meaning of Being Chinese Today, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1994, pp 134,
pp 1314.
Inaga notes that, Of 1701 scientic papers on foreign philosophy which the Research Centre of
Philosophy of the Chinese Institute of Social Sciences published between 1978 and 2000, only 87 articles
treat Japan, covering no more than 5 percent of the total items.See Inaga Shigemi, Philosophia, Ethica
and Aesthetica in the Far-Eastern Cultural Sphere: Receptions of the Western Ideas and Reactions to
the Western Cultural Hegemony, (accessed
24 August 2010), pp 18, pp 34. This is not, however, a uniform view. Bian Chongdao, for example,
argues that intellectual interchange between Japan and China in the eld of philosophy has been vibrant
in recent years. See Bian, Chu
ˆgoku no tetsugaku to Nihon no tetsugaku no taiwa, in Fujita Masakatsu
and Bret Davies (eds), Sekai no naka no Nihon no tetsugaku, Kyoto: Showado, 2005, pp 82100,
pp 9799.
Li Zehou, The Chinese Aesthetic Tradition, trans. Maija Bell Samei, Honolulu: University of Hawaii
Press, 2009.
Brill website, (accessed 23 August 2010).
Hong Zicheng, A History of Contemporary Chinese Literature, trans. Michael M Day, Leiden: Brill,
2007; Chen Lai, Tradition and Modernity: A Humanist View, trans. Edmund Ryden, Leiden: Brill, 2009;
Chen Pingyuan, Touches of History: Inside the May Fourth Movement, trans. Michel Hockx, with Maria
af Sandeberg, Uganda Sze-Pui Kwan, Christopher Payne, and Christopher Rosenmeier, Brill: Leiden,
See, for example, Michele Marra, Modern Japanese Aesthetics: A Reader, Honolulu: University of
Hawaii Press, 1999; Maeda Ai, Text and the City: Essays on Japanese Modernity, translation ed. James
A Fujii, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004; Richard F Calichman (ed), Contemporary Japanese
Thought, New York: Columbia University Press, 2005; Richard F Calichman (ed and trans), Overcoming
Modernity: Cultural Identity in Wartime Japan, New York: Columbia University Press, 2008; Yi Taejun,
Eastern Sentiments, trans. Janet Poole, New York: Columbia University Press, 2009; Natsume Soˆseki,
Theory of Literature and Other Critical Writings, translation ed. Michael K Bourdaghs, Atsuko Ueda,
and Joseph A Murphy, New York: Columbia University Press, 2009; and Michael F Marra, Japans
Frames of Meaning: A Hermeneutics Reader, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2010. A
forthcoming volume on Sinophone literature, meanwhile, contains translated work by the important
Malaysian Chinese critic and theorist Ng Kim Chew. See Shu-mei Shih, Tsai Chien-hsin, and Brian
Bernards (eds) Sinophone Studies: A Critical Reader, New York: Columbia University Press,
forthcoming 2011.
For example, a search on Google Scholar (admittedly an imperfect tool) reveals only seven English-
language sources which refer in any way to Ozaki Hotsukis key treatment of literary culture in the
Japanese imperium, Kindai bungaku no shoˆkon. Kyuˆshokuminchi bungakuron (Tokyo: Iwanami shoten,
1991). And Komori Yoˆichis equally important study Posutokoroniaru (Tokyo: Iwanami shoten, 2001)
has scarcely fared much better outside Japan.
See Zhunei Hao (Takeuchi Yoshimi), Lu Xun, trans. Li Xinfeng, Hangzhou: Zhejiang wenyi chubanshe,
1986; Takeuchi Yosimi, Ilbon-gwa Ashia: Takeuchi Yosimi Pyoˆngnonsoˆn, trans. SoˆGwang-doˆk and
Paek Ji-un, Seoul: Somyoˆng, 2004; and Takeuchi Yoshimi, What is Modernity? Writings of Takeuchi
Yoshimi, trans. Richard F Calichman, New York: Columbia University Press, 2005.
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... Margaret Hillenbrand expresses the problem eloquently in her introduction to another Postcolonial Studies special issue, Contemporary East Asia, in Theory: the problem "lies not in the exteriority of [European theory to East Asian contexts] per se but in the internal void that the routine recourse to other interpretative conditions cannot help but imply" (Hillenbrand 2010, p. 318). While it is neither possible nor desirable to expunge Western theory from Asian studies, which would in any case inaccurately negate the considerable long-term influence of Western thought on and in the region, the antidotes commonly proposed to redress the imbalance are to pay attention to Eastern and local indigenous philosophical traditions (Clammer 2001, p. 74;Hillenbrand 2007Hillenbrand , 2010Kuwayama 2004, pp. 53-55). ...
... Margaret Hillenbrand expresses the problem eloquently in her introduction to another Postcolonial Studies special issue, Contemporary East Asia, in Theory: the problem "lies not in the exteriority of [European theory to East Asian contexts] per se but in the internal void that the routine recourse to other interpretative conditions cannot help but imply" (Hillenbrand 2010, p. 318). While it is neither possible nor desirable to expunge Western theory from Asian studies, which would in any case inaccurately negate the considerable long-term influence of Western thought on and in the region, the antidotes commonly proposed to redress the imbalance are to pay attention to Eastern and local indigenous philosophical traditions (Clammer 2001, p. 74;Hillenbrand 2007Hillenbrand , 2010Kuwayama 2004, pp. 53-55). ...
Postcolonialism has grown from a minor branch of English literary studies applied to the decolonising movements of the British Empire in the 1950s to a term increasingly applied to various legacies of exploitation, exclusion and discrimination around the world. As globalisation is recognised as a contemporary form of cultural and economic imperialism, and as world literature and the global circulation of media make available voices from hitherto under-represented peoples, postcolonial studies has become a many-headed beast. While South Asia (India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) and South-East Asia (former British, French, Dutch, Portuguese and Spanish colonies) are represented in the field, East Asia remains under-explored. This essay applies postcolonial precepts to minority communities in Japan, particularly the indigenous Ainu, and assesses the strengths and weaknesses of applying the postcolonial framework to a non-European setting.
... With the typical Western prototype house architecture, the part that is considered important and main is no longer the front room, living room, or pendhapa, as is the classic in the architectural tradition of regional houses, as a symbol of high respect for the great bêbrayan living system together or communitarianism (Kian-Woon, 2000;Hillenbrand, 2010), but rather is the personal space or room, as a symbol of belief in the value of Western philosophy of individualism that is dominant in the construction of its consciousness (Friedman, 2008;Metz, 2015;Peters, MA & Mika, 2017). ...
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One of the crucial-cultural matters experinced by all colonialized nations, not to mention Indonesia, is their incapability in becoming free from the shackles of colonialism syndrome. In terms of Indonesian context, for instance, this problem, can be easily identified almost in every existing layer of its civilization system, not to mention in fine arts, either in its artifact, sociofact or ideofact level that is under the infuence of Western hegemony. For this reason, this particular study focuses on: firstly, describing the construction of Western character hegemony found in fine arts in Indonesia; and secondly, identifying for an outlet from the issue of Western hegemony in Indonesian fine arts. The qualitative-hermeneutic approach was used to explain that phenomenon. The analysis of data found through out this study revealed the following results. West hegemony has become an obsession curse beyond all of desire, in its cultural performance in this postcolonial era. This is what merely called the ‘becoming white’ phenomenon. In Indonesian contexts, the construction of this phenomenon particularly in fine arts world is manifested in its hegemonic historiography embodiment that is dissolved in the Western centric mainstream. Hence, a set of strategic cultural processes are necessary to be conducted for the sake of finding the best solution towards that problem. And one of the processes is by conducting methodological deconstruction over all knowledge epistemology including fine arts knowledge existed and owned by this nation.
... Therefore, postloyalism shares a similar set of thematic foci with postcolonialism, acquiring a kind of genericism that carries it beyond the 'targeted poignancy' of Sinophone studies or at least calls for a thematic turn in the concrete applications of the concept of the Sinophone. As a theoretical innovation rooted in a sophisticated understanding of Sinophone experiences and languages, postloyalism can thus break the entrenched division between Western theory as framework and Chinese reality as primary text, an academic status quo that many scholars, including Longxi Zhang (1992) and Margaret Hillenbrand (2010), have long found unsatisfactory. ...
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Sinophone studies has improved the visibility of a range of Chinese-language cultural products and is expanding into a transnational and multilingual academic enterprise. With firm acknowledgement of the pragmatic benefits the Sinophone has brought (particularly to Anglophone and Taiwanese academia), this paper reflects on some of the problems embedded in the underlying premises and ideological mechanisms of the concept of the Sinophone that have so far been under-discussed. As a first step towards a more self-reflective meta-discourse about Sinophone studies, it highlights three areas that warrant more clarification and debate before the concept is applied to specific analyses: the significance of the Chinese Cold War; the matrix of multiple Sinocentrisms; and the double-edged sword of theoretical generalisation. In this process, I emphasise the institutional formation of the ‘Sinophone’ both as a cultural field and as an academic discourse, and highlight the significant role that Taiwan has been playing in this.
Feminists have been examining the travelling and dominance of Anglophone feminist knowledge across the globe through translation and adaptation, and their revision and transformation in the process. This article suggests that feminist scholarship circulates globally through not only the travelling of theories but also the ‘travelling’ scholars who move geographically, linguistically, and intellectually in and out of the Anglophone scholarly world. It considers knowledge production as an embodied process and explores the relationship between intellectual biography and knowledge production. Directing the gaze to travelling scholars and their ‘accented’ writings, it traces the various types of ‘accents’ in the form of italics or non-Romanized scripts, the invented terms and phases, the meaning frames and conceptual constructions, and creative grafting of ideas and epistemic frameworks. Using various forms of ‘accented’ writings in feminist and queer inquiries about China as examples, this article demonstrates that moving between languages and intellectual traditions, the accented writings produced by travelling scholars can serve as important modes and foci of feminist knowledge production and have the potential to produce ‘xenophone’ scholarship that contributes to feminist knowledge production.
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digital platforms, infrastructure, new media, innovation, critique, futurity, multipolarity, inter-asia, postcolonialism
The rise of Asian states—particularly China and India—and their search for energy, raw materials, and markets has spurred talk of a “Global Asia.” Though this has spawned a vast literature, the complexities of language and research environments and the absence of a complex grid of scholarly exchanges—translations, collaborative exchanges, comparative analysis—has meant that these studies have not challenged reigning conceptions of a broad geocultural area and studies of individual states or subregions continue to emphasize their exceptionalism. Though inter-referentiality was projected as a strategy to break out of the “intellectual claustrophobia” of area studies, the continued acceptance of Asia as a cartographic space marginalizes the very global linkages that are salient aspects of the present epoch. Hence area studies scholarship continue largely to obscure the global reach of state and private agencies and of their diasporas as these seek to project elite views and understandings of their states overseas. Rather than taking cartographic units as epistemological fields, we need to chart patterns of human activity to historicize spatial designations.
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Based on a three-year digital ethnography as an educational consultant on the Chinese digital platform X, I use guanxi, enduring interpersonal relationships, to explain how people voluntarily work to the extent of burning out. Drawing on literature about emotion and work in precarious labour, and especially the discussion on emotional capitalism, I demonstrate that it is not because of the lack of social connections that people engage in auto-exploitation and burning out, as Han Byung-chul argues, but precisely because of shared values and the emotions people develop for each other that people commit more to work. Complementing research on digital economic tribes, I argue that guanxi could serve as an analytical framework to decipher the buyer–seller relationship on platforms. In particular, I use two guanxi-related concepts ganqing (emotional attachments) and renqing (norms of interpersonal relationship) to explain why I worked voluntarily and obligatorily for the students I met via X.
The chapter frames the history of Chinese-language theatres as a history of journeys. It reflects on the origins of modern Chinese drama to highlight the transnational and intercultural genetics of the performance cultures of the Chinese-speaking region since the twentieth century. Transnational Chinese theatres are defined as a theory, practice, and method of contemporary performance collaboration constituted by mobile networks of relations. In defining this concept, the chapter explores the meanings of ‘transnational’, ‘Chinese/Asian’, ‘theatre(s)’, and of the relational prefixes ‘inter-’ and ‘trans-’ to argue for a productive integration of decolonial, inter-Asian, and rhizomatic methodologies. The chapter also outlines the notion of ‘significant chronotopes’ and the importance of networks of cities in the production and circulation of transnational Chinese and Asian theatres.
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This introductory chapter opens with a historical account of single womanhood and creative work in China, followed by theoretical discussions on the two unique trajectories of our globalizing times that the subjects of this book straddle: single womanhood and creative work. While these Chinese women deal with the multiple demands of singlehood and creative jobs, what are their everyday struggles and pleasures? How do they take care of themselves in the midst of everyday precarity? The chapter explicates local modes of precarity implicated in global ideologies and imaginaries pertaining to womanhood and its intersection with creative labour. Ultimately, it holds up the case study of single women in Shanghai to argue for the limits of the politics of precarity, and proposes an ethics of care. The chapter introduces the 25 women who are the subjects of this book, and the methods used to converse with them. It ends by presenting the organizational logic of the book, and the gist of the subsequent chapters.
All the rich and insightful hermeneutic theories we have had in our possession so far are attempts to apply some local knowledge stemming from some native culture to circumstances and situations everywhere, as theories, with their universalist pretensions and aspirations, are wont to do. But to date, insofar as the “local” is mainly the West, the Euro-American world, it begs the question of how empirically tenable is a locally incubated theory when it is applied to extra-local conditions. In fact, even within the local, as it were, differences and tensions abound. And if we introduce into this welter another local world, say, the Chinese one, the picture gets, needless to say, messier. But then we have no choice but to muddle up the picture, if we are already inescapable denizens of a global city, a cosmopolis which is our current multicultural, intertwined world. Consequently, place and space, that is, varied and varying locality, must intervene in any effort of theory-building in the realm of hermeneutics that purports to explain some general modes of operation in the process of reading and understanding. To more effectively shed light on the other worlds of reading and understanding requires some re-situation of place and space, such that new and broad perspectives may be developed. By redirecting the theoretical gaze from the Euro-American site to the Chinese (specifically, the Confucian) locale, I argue that we should grant the self-explanation and self-identity of thinking agents other than those in the Western world their rightful place in theoretical inquiries into what I call the hermeneutic dictum of human existence, namely, that human living inevitably involves thinking that is interpretation, which is relative to contingent culture-historical dynamics molding the interpreter’s preunderstanding. In other words, if the imperative of interpretation and understanding is what ultimately constitutes human authenticity in the sense of apprehending the meanings of life, how the Confucians read may serve as inspiration, option, and even in some cases, alternative for a more general, more nimble, and interculturally more sensitive inquiry into the ways we read and conceive the self and the world. In short, to take seriously place and space in any hermeneutic project is to argue on behalf on intercultural hermeneutics, of which comparative thinking is integrally a part.
Li Zehou (b. 1930) has been an influential thinker in China since the 1950s. Before moving to the U.S. in the wake of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, Li published works on Kant and traditional and contemporary Chinese philosophy. The present volume, a translation of his Huaxia meixue (1989), is considered among Li's most significant works. Apart from its value as an introduction to the philosophy of one of contemporary China's foremost intellectuals, The Chinese Aesthetic Tradition fills an important gap in the literature of Chinese aesthetics in English. It presents Li's synthesis of the entire trajectory of Chinese aesthetic thought, from ancient times to the early modern period, incorporating pre-Confucian and Confucian ideas, Daoism, Chan Buddhism, and the influence of Western philosophy during the late-imperial period. As one of China's As one of China's major contemporary philosophers and preeminent authority on Kant, Li is uniquely positioned to observe this trajectory and make it intelligible to today's readers. The Chinese Aesthetic Tradition touches on all areas of artistic activity, including poetry, painting, calligraphy, architecture, and the "art of living." Right government, the ideal human being, and the path to spiritual transcendence all come under the provenance of aesthetic thought. According to Li this was the case from early Confucian explanations of poetry as that which gives expression to intent, through Zhuangzi's artistic depictions of the ideal personality who discerns the natural way of things and lives according to it, to Chan Buddhist-inspired notions that nature and words can come together to yield insight and enlightenment. In this enduring and stimulating work, Li demonstrates conclusively the fundamental role of aesthetics in the development of the cultural and psychological structures in Chinese culture that define "humanity."
To link democracy to enlightenment in contemporary China is to emphasize that the critique of authoritarianism is by its very nature an exercise in critical thinking, a project of enlightenment, which requires overcoming what Kant (1970) calls "self-inflicted immaturity". In this case, self-inflicted immaturity is evidenced in the willful submission of self to the undemocratic political culture of post-Tiananmen China. Arguing that China still needs pro-democracy enlightenment, I will, in sections 1 and 2 of this article, take critical rather than purely explanatory approaches to the depoliticization of Chinese enlightenment that occurred in the 1990s. Section 1 will seek to understand the political and economic factors that have contributed to the marked, post-Tiananmen shift in intellectual consciousness. But I do not wish to imply that such understanding ought to render the shift any less regrettable or to suggest that the arguments used by postmodern-postcolonial critics of pro-democracy enlightenment are always valid. Consequently, in section 2, I will turn the tools of criticism to sinicized postmodern-postcolonial theory to explore its part in effecting the shifts of the 1990s. I will furthermore challenge the way in which sinicized postmodern-postcolonial theorists couch their rejection of enlightenment in the argument for Chinese exlusivity, against hegemonic Western universalism. Their criticism of enlightenment is, in my opinion, full of contradictions, which are less the product of theoretical incoherence than of the contradictions inherent in the intellectual role they prescribe for themselves. Janus-like, they would act simultaneously as vanguards for and rejecters of "true" enlightenment; the result is a necessary ambivalence toward all that the word enlightenment implies.
1. Cultural China: the periphery as the center Tu Wei-ming 2. The inner world of 1830 Mark Elvin 3. No solace from Lethe: history, memory, and cultural identity in twentieth-century China Vera Schwarcz 4. Being Chinese: the peripheralization of traditional identity Myron L. Cohen 5. Kuan-hsi and network building: a sociological interpretation Ambrose Yeo-chi King 6. Among non-Chinese Wang Gungwu 7. The construction of Chinese and non-Chinese identities David Yen-ho Wu 8. The 'evil wife' in contemporary Chinese fiction Zhu Hong 9. Roots and the changing identity of the Chinese in the United States L. Ling-chi Wang 10. From Qiao to Qiao Victor Hao Li 11. On the margins of the Chinese discourse: some personal thoughts on the cultural meaning of the periphery Leo Ou-fa n Lee Glossary Notes Index.
Following the recent trends of globalization and regionalization, the idea of Asia has been revived in political, economic, and cultural fields. This essay examines some of the various uses of this idea in modern East Asian and especially Chinese history. The essay consists of four parts. Part One discusses the derivativeness of the idea of Asia, that is, how this idea developed from modern European history, especially the nineteenth-century European narrative of 'World History,' and it points out how the early modern Japanese 'theory of shedding Asia' derived from this narrative. Part Two studies the relationship between the idea of Asia and two forms of populism against the background of the Chinese and Russian revolutions - one, exemplified by Russian Narodism, attempted to use Asian particularity to challenge modern capitalism; the other, represented by Sun Yat-sen, attempted to construct a nation-state according to a socialist revolutionary program, and to develop agricultural capitalism under the particular social conditions of Asia. Part Three considers the differences and tensions between the 'Great Asia-ism' of Chinese revolutionaries such as Sun and the Japanese idea of East Asia (Tōyō),and it discusses the need to overcome the categories of nation-state and international relations in order to understand the question of Asia. Part Four discusses the need to go beyond early modern maritime-centered accounts, nationalist frameworks, and Eurocentrism in re-examining the question of Asia through historical research by focusing on the particular legacies of Asia and Toyo (such as the tributary system) and the problems of 'early modernity'.
Recent interest in globalizing literary studies has largely involved attempts to locate conjunctures between contemporary literature and the economic formation of global capitalism and thereby to name a new literary structure of feeling— structure in terms of the organization of various literatures into a world system and feeling in terms of the literary production of new affects in new forms, styles, and genres. Its precedent is the idea of “world literature,” first articulated by Goethe in 1827 and recently recuperated. While many scholars resuscitating this concept offer a nominal apology for its Eurocentric origins, this Eurocentrism's constitutive hierarchies and asymmetries are seldom analyzed. Twenty-five years after Edward Said's Orientalism and the book's specific criticism of Goethe, it appears that the critique of Eurocentrism in general has exhausted itself, that one only needs to show awareness of it because it is predictable. Instead of working through the problem, one gives recognition to it, which serves as an expedient and efficient strategy of displacement, a tropological caveat, able to push aside obstacles on the path to globalist literary studies of global literature.
Introduction: On Chineseness as a Theoretical Problem', in Chow (ed), Modern Chinese Literary and Cultural Studies in the Age of Theory
  • Rey Chow
Rey Chow, 'Introduction: On Chineseness as a Theoretical Problem', in Chow (ed), Modern Chinese Literary and Cultural Studies in the Age of Theory, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2000, pp 1Á25, p 1.