Transnational Negotiations and the Interplay Between Chinese and Western Detective Fiction at the Turn of the Twentieth Century
This project examines the multi-layered interactions between Chinese and Western detective fiction at the turn of the twentieth century. I analyze Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories, the Chinese translations of Conan Doyle, and Cheng Xiaoqing's Huo Sang cases, using them as cultural lenses through which to read these interactions. Shaped by a variety of conflicting and indigenizing cultural elements, both Chinese and English detective discourses perform a profound identity crisis and a sense of haunting anxiety as they articulate interactive relationships between the Orient and the Occident. By constructing the Orient in his Holmes stories as a place of disease, contagion, disaster, barbarism, and chaos, Conan Doyle presents an imminent Oriental menacing force that threatens the superiority of the British Empire. But at the same time, ambiguities and textual tensions permeate Conan Doyle's Orientalist discourse that destabilize such modern conceptualizations as gender, race, identity, reason, science, and progress. Conan Doyle's desire to denationalize the discourse of Western modernity was intercepted by a simultaneous process of nationalization, manifested in the fears and anxieties of the Empire as it faced an emerging Orient that rebelled against colonial exploitations and strove for modernization and independence. By contrast, I perceive in the interactions between Chinese translators and Western writers an almost contrary trajectory. Chinese translators of Western detective fiction were obsessed with nationalism, using modern detective fiction as an educational tool to bring enlightenment to Chinese society. This process of nationalization co-existed with their denationalizing project of adopting the Western model of modernity that they saw embodied in the Holmes stories. Despite their advocacy of Western-style modernization, however, Chinese translators and writers of detective fiction offered an active response to modern conceptualizations such as science and progress through a subtle and complicated process of indigenization. Based on my analyses of the strategies used in translating Holmes and the ambiguities presented in Cheng Xiaoqing's Huo Sang cases, I argue that these marginalized May Fourth intellectuals, whether consciously or not, applied native Chinese detective genre gong-an and traditional cultural values as powerful tools in negotiating cultural difference with the Holmes detective discourse.