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  • Introduction:Comparative Literature in East Asia
  • Liu Kang (bio)

After four years' interlude, we return to a special issue of Comparative Literature Studies (CLS), with a larger claim on East Asian comparative literature than the first one, "Modern China and the World: Literary Constructions" (CLS vol. 49, no. 4, 2012), to which I penned an introduction. The present volume, however, is not the second special issue on China-related topics. The second special issue, "Global Maoism and Cultural Revolution in the Global Context" (CLS vol. 52, no. 1, 2015), to which I also contributed, underscores the broader political and ideological reverberations than literary and aesthetic ones in the cultural formations of the era of the 1960s and 1970s. Moreover, that issue broaches much wider geopolitical configurations than China or Asia, traversing continents and worlds from the "first and second worlds" of the United States, France, and Japan, to the "third world" of India, Nepal, the Andes, and so on. As I write the introduction again for the present volume now, I want to acknowledge and applaud the wisdom and generosity of the CLS editors to grant a series of special issues with a China focus, and, meanwhile, to alert our readers of not the obvious, that is, the growing worldwide attention to China as it rises to a leading world power, but rather, to the elasticity of the ideas and concepts associated with the subject of China, such as Asia, East Asia, global, international, Orientalist, the West, and so on, which the essays of this volume invoke, and the attendant indeterminacy and ambiguity of the meaning of these critical concepts. Moreover, the kinds of subjective, emotive, and affective reactions, such as exuberance, anxiety, and ambivalence when China is mentioned, ought to be examined as literary expressions or, vice versa, literary works as expressions of these emotion and feelings. [End Page 1]

In the introduction to the first China special issue (CLS vol. 49, no. 4, 2012, pp. 497–504), I begin with a discussion of rituals of 2008 Beijing Olympics and raise the question of Chinese exceptionalism, compared to American exceptionalism, as the context for the essays dealing mostly with literary criticism and fictional works. Rituals are replete with imageries, symbols, and metaphors, eliciting largely emotional, affective responses, therefore quite appropriate for close readings of literary and cultural studies. I would like to begin with a brief account of political rituals this time again.

In September 2016, China hosted the G20 Summit (the government forum of the Group of 20 major economies in the world) in Hangzhou, a southeast tourist city. As usual, Western media are skeptical about its artificial spectacle and extravaganza ("Ghost Town: How China Emptied Hangzhou to Guarantee 'Perfect' G20," titled the report of the British newspaper, The Guardian).1 It was credited, however, by Chinese state news agency Xinhua, as setting up "the world's center stage" where Xi Jinping, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader and China's president, takes the lead: "the image of Chinese President Xi Jinping standing among leaders from emerging markets and developed countries sends a strong signal: that we are in the same boat, with China charting the course ahead this time. Hours earlier, Xi, the helmsman of the world's second largest economy, had referred to boats metaphorically to stress the need of joint efforts when addressing leaders of the world's leading economies who have gathered for their annual meeting."2 While the metaphor of "the helmsman" of the world boat had long been reserved for the "Great Helmsman Chairman Mao" half a century earlier (as specifically explored in the CLS 2015 Special Issue on Maoism), what the image of Xi the new helmsman shows to the world is China's (or rather CCP's) self-imposed mission of global leadership.

A month later, in October 2016, Chongqing, a major city in China's hinterland, hosted the "CPC [Chinese official English translation of the Communist Party of China] in Dialogue with the World" Conference, to which I was invited as an academic guest from the United States and a Chinese American. I took note of the ceremonial rituals of the Plenary Session, especially the unreported yet fascinating part...


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