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The West As the Other

A Genealogy of Chinese Occidentalism

Mingming Wang

Publication Year: 2014

Long before the Europeans reached the East, the ancient Chinese had elaborate and meaningful perspectives of the West. In this groundbreaking book, Wang explores their view of the West as other by locating it in the classical and imperial China, leading the reader through the history of Chinese geo-cosmologies and world-scapes. Wang also delves into the historical records of Chinese “world activities,” journeys that began from the Central Kingdom and reached towards the “outer regions.” Such analysis helps distinguish illusory geographies from realistic ones, while drawing attention to their interconnected natures. Wang challenges an extensive number of critical studies of Orientalist narratives (including Edward Said’s Orientalism), and reframes such studies from the directionological perspectives of an “Oriental” civilization. Most significantly, the author offers a fundamental reimagining of the standard concept of the other, with critical implications not only for anthropology, but for philosophy, literature, history, and other interrelated disciplines as well.

Published by: Chinese University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi

List of Figures

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

Though seemingly a humanities subject matter, this book is intended to be a critique of the social sciences, targeting in particular the discipline of anthropology. It brings forth a sequence of the “old ways” of the other and self-other relations, especially those to do with cosmogeographic positionings of the West, so as to make a general proposition: systematic studies of non-Western perspectives of the other and self-other relations are urgently needed; yet, paradoxically, they have often been neglected by anthropologists, who have taken this task as their own responsibility or burden...


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pp. xiii-xvi

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Notes on Transliteration and Bibliography

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pp. xvii-xviii

The official Chinese pinyin system is followed throughout, except for a few widely accepted names such as “Confucius” and “Fa-hsien.”
For convenience, most quotes taken from classical Chinese writings are cited from their English translations when available. In such cases, I directly refer to the translations. When necessary, I make slight adjustments of wording to make it consistent with the transliteration I adopt throughout and with my own comprehension of some minor parts of the paragraphs in the original texts...

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1. Introduction: Rethinking “the West”

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pp. 1-26

On March 7, 1866 (the twenty-first year of the Tongzhi reign), Bin Chun, a sixty-three year old deputy minister of foreign affairs, boarded a French ship called “Rabbo Deney.” Accompanied by his son Guang Ying and three students from the Tongwen Guan (School of Combined Learning and Translation), Bin Chun led the very first Qing embassy to the West...

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2. King Mu (Mu Tianzi) andthe Journey to the West

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pp. 27-48

In ancient China, to write was to establish images to exhaust meaning (lixiang jinyi). Directional terms such as “Dong” (East) and “Xi” (West) referred not merely to directions; they also conveyed the meaning of the world. Hence, the East (Dong), or the opposite of the West, has the same pronunciation as “motion” (dong). Dong’s written character also contains “wood” (mu)...

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3. “Illusionary” and “Realistic” Geographies

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pp. 49-86

King Mu’s journey was directed toward the West, the outer reach of Tianxia on the border of the Far (Extreme) West. But where was the Far West? The question provoked heated debates among Chinese scholars at the transition from the late nineteenth century to the first decades of the twentieth century...

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4. Easternizing the West, Westernizing the East

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pp. 87-116

In the “prehistoric” worldviews, the intermediaries between Heaven and Earth were the pentology (wufang) of the quarters and the middle, correlative both to the celestial patterns and territorial grids. Within the framework of such perspectives, the polities in the subsequent age “rotated” to command the linkages...

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5. Chaos and the West

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pp. 117-152

Qu Yuan reflected on the world by drawing from the liturgies of the shamanic dances of his country (Chu).1 In Tian Wen (Questions of Heaven), a text consisting of 178 sentences, Qu Yuan brought into question histories of the cosmos, the mandate, and the sovereigns. Among these 178 sentences, 44 are about cosmology, geography, and mythology; 72 are about the history of the three classical dynasties of Xia, Shang, and Zhou; and 24 are unclassifiable (Su, 2007 [1964], p. 1)...

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6. “Western Territories” (Xiyu),India, and “South Sea” (Nanhai)

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pp. 153-178

In Qin and Han, certain cosmological rethinkings guided the imperial directional orientation to move from the West to the East. Slightly later, some of the shi, having adopted Buddhist doctrines and mixed them with Neo-Daoist perspectives, countered this trend and re-directed the “holy” to the West, or India...

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7. Beyond the Seas:Other Kingdoms and Other Materials

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pp. 179-212

“Pre-modern” Chinese historians related what is seen by their modern counterparts as the re-centering of “key economic areas” with the oscillations of “order and chaos” (zhiluan). This pair of concepts, as Liang Qichao (1998 [1921–1926], pp. 137–144) pointed out long ago, formed a kind of temporality, neither cyclic nor linear; it was applied in traditional historiography to compare different dynasties and reigns from ethical and political standpoints. In these “order and chaos” historical narratives, history was a sequence of constant inversions constrained by the pentological framework of “quarters surrounding the center.”...

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8. Islands, Intermediaries,and “Europeanization”

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pp. 213-252

Between the nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries, Chinese descriptions of non-Chinese worlds attracted considerable attention from sinologists in Europe and America. The Gazetteer of Foreigners, The Customs of Cambodia, and The Brief Description of the Barbarians of the Isles were all highly valued. In 1902, The Customs of Cambodia was translated into French by the French sinologist Paul Pelliot (1951 [1902])...

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9. Conclusion:Towards Other Perspectives of the Other

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pp. 253-276

I began with the story of an unsuccessful endeavor in late Qing to continue a tradition of cherishing the West, and ventured into the long history of the major transformations in “directionology.” In the Far East, the “ends of the world” of Kunlun, India, and Europe, together with the intermediaries of the Western Territories, the Southwest, and the South Sea, entertained the contrast of the East and the West in local ways...

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pp. 277-290

In Eurasia of which the Chinese unity of plurality is a part, the question of the inequality of discourses is not novel, just as the tensions and relations between different spatial orientations of culture are ancient, and the ethno-directionologies of inter-cultural hierarchy of the East- West are immersed in the archaic cosmos whose histories are much longer than they have been imagined...


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pp. 291-330


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pp. 331-346


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pp. 347-366


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pp. 367-382

E-ISBN-13: 9789629968748
E-ISBN-10: 9629968746
Print-ISBN-13: 9789629964894
Print-ISBN-10: 9629964899

Page Count: 400
Illustrations: N
Publication Year: 2014