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Drawing the dragon : testimonies to the reinvention of China

McGill University
Publication Date
  • China -- Civilization
  • Linguistics
  • Literature
  • Philosophy
  • Political Science
  • Religious Science


The accidental, or maybe not so accidental, equation of the Long $ rm lbrack TE rbrack$ with the dragon is a minor, yet in many ways symbolic, incident in Western European reinvention of China. This reinvention can be found in a wide variety of discourses, the authors of which range from Enlightenment philosophes to nineteenth-century political economists, to the recent Derrida, and from the even earlier Sir John Mandeville, Oliver Goldsmith, to Coleridge, to W. S. Landor and De Quincey. It covers all aspects of Chinese culture, including philosophy, religion, government, language, poetry, and folklore. This dissertation argues that the divergent, even contradictory, accounts of China as a culture Other, on the one hand reflect divergent or conflicting domestic agenda and, on the other, converge as products of an inherent epistemological ethnocentrism. As such, they can offer no substantial alternatives to "Orientalism," which is an ideology that functions in a cross-cultural context. However, Edward Said's delineation of Orientalism has the weakness of vacillating between the incompatible notions of "truth" and of discourse. And Dennis Porter's corrective, based on the "generic heterogeneity" within the West's cultural tradition, has a theoretical problem of traversing contextual boundaries. To contribute to the on-going debate, this dissertation proposes a distinction between internal and external perspectives, on the criteria of material, objective, and standard, in the representation of a cultural identity. With each perspective conscious of its own specific values, a cross-cultural textual dialogue may be pursued.

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