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Modernity, Gender and Poetics: Chen Jitong (1852-1907) and the Cross-cultural Intellectual and Literary Writing Practices in Late Qing China

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This dissertation approaches Chen Jitong (1852-1907), a late Qing diplomat’s cross-cultural writing attempt in his major work to explore the cultural and literary representation of late Qing literati on the world stage. During his 16- year stay in Europe (1875-1891), Chen, a secretary and attaché in the Chinese legation, also acted as a cultural celebrity by writing several books to introduce China and actively participating in cultural activities. Through the perspectives of modernity, gender and poetics, we gain a rare glimpse of how literati of his generation imagined and presented a “Chinese culture” to the western world.

Chapter 1 provides a panoramic reading of Chen’s representative work and some critics’ dichotomized viewpoints, showing his critical engagement in a dialogue on modernity with the west. Chapter 2 explores Chen’s aspirations for officialdom as a student of new learning, and his role in the Sino-French war. Through the angle of masculinity, we may understand his cultural representation in writing as an outlet for the frustration and desire of his generation of literati. Chapter 3 discusses the importance of cultural matrix and public sphere in the cross-cultural writing. I demonstrate how the Parisian print media may influence on Chen’s publication, and how Chen elicited public sympathy and public opinions in his work. Chapter 4 analyzes Chen’s writing choices and styles in the book, showing that aesthetic features and individual penchant are indispensable and expressive elements in writings of this kind. Chapter 5 adopts a comparative approach to compare the differences of presenting culture and society in Chen Jitong and Gu Hongming (1857-1928)’s major works, which shed light on our comprehension of the varieties of transnational writing in this vein.

In general, Chen Jitong and his cultural representation on the world stage enrich our study of the intellectual map and zeitgeist of late Qing. His major work The Chinese Painted by Themselves (Les Chinois peints par eux-mêmes, 1884) as well as other works embodied his pioneering proposition of a mutual participation and dialogue in “world literature.” The study of his writing also unravels the multifaceted aspects that contribute to the cross-cultural writing.

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