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  • IntroductionChina and the Humanities Today
  • Janell Watson

This special-focus section of minnesota review issue 79 is devoted to the peculiar place that China has come to occupy in the global humanities, especially in relation to the United States and Western Europe. American universities imported the humanities tradition from Europe, adapting it to changing times. The entry of a new superpower will no doubt upset the balance of intellectual trade. In the United States, China has become a hot topic beyond the business schools, slowly emerging into the humanities from the sinology ghetto, as evidenced, for example, by recent special issues of the prominent journals boundary 2 and Social Text.1 Simultaneous with this growing interest in China, humanities departments in the United States are suffering from diminished university support. American scholars mourn the end of the postwar expansion in higher education, complaining of a crisis in the humanities. At the same time, there is no shortage of new objects of study — texts, images (still and moving), ideologies, ideas. Globalization multiplied them, by expanding the Eurocentric humanities tradition to include content from the South and the East. Meanwhile, the booming Chinese state is pouring resources into its own humanities programs. Its scholars enjoy unprecedented institutional and financial support even as they assume a tradition of public intellectuals that the United States has never had (see Liu Kang in this issue). It remains to be seen how the humanities in the United States will adapt to the rise of China, especially given that the globalized content of the humanities is already bursting the seams of our shrinking language, literature, and culture programs, which have spent the last few decades absorbing works of critical theory, women, pop culture, gender minorities, ethnicities, the third world, the postcolonial world, and so on. Literary studies exemplifies the expansion-contraction dilemma also faced by disciplines such as art history, history, sociology, and political science. Because world literature is not merely an expansion of literary studies but also, and especially, its transformation, world literature is not an object but a problem, argues Franco Moretti (cited by Wang Ning in this issue). If there is such a thing as world humanities, and I think that if there is not then there should be, it faces analogous problems. [End Page 97]

As China enters into American comparative literature, cultural studies, and related fields in the humanities and interpretive social sciences, its situation resembles that of postcolonial studies during the 1990s, but with significant differences. It is no coincidence that both articles and the interview in this special-focus section mention postcolonial theory even though mainland China was never colonized. What postcolonial and Chinese studies share is their status as objects of knowledge that arrive in the United States accompanied by their own subjects of knowledge: just as the field of postcolonial studies was led by scholars from the Middle East and south Asia with close ties to Europe and North America, so Chinese studies is being led by scholars like those featured here. Wang is professor of English and comparative literature and director of the Center for Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies at prestigious Tsinghua University in Beijing and Zhiyuan Professor of Humanities at Shanghai Jiao Tong University. He has traveled extensively abroad to conferences and to give invited lectures and has published widely both in China and in top American journals, including boundary 2 and Critical Inquiry. He has invited numerous North American and European scholars to speak in China. It was thanks to his invitation that W. J. T. Mitchell visited Tsinghua University, where he was interviewed by Wang’s colleague Sheng Anfeng; their exchange is included in this issue. Liu is chair, professor, and dean of the Institute of Arts and Humanities at Shanghai Jiao Tong University and, in the United States, professor of Chinese cultural and media studies at Duke University as well as director of Duke’s China Research Center. I am grateful to both Wang and Liu for inviting me to speak at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Tsinghua University, and the 2011 meeting of the Chinese Comparative Literature Association. The CCLA provides ample evidence of China’s adaptation of the comparative literature...


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