2005 Annual Meeting: Border-Crossing Sessions


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Session 188: Representing China: Interpreters, Translators, Ambassadors, or Cultural Compradors?

Organizer and Chair: Charles W. Hayford, Independent Scholar

Discussants: Lionel M. Jensen, University of Notre Dame; Mary G. Mazur, Independent Scholar

Keywords: China, United States-China relations, cultural history, Lin Yutang, Feng Youlan, John Fairbank.

Nations and cultures use stories to explain themselves and others, stories which both reflect and shape foreign policy, scholarship, fiction, films, and popular culture. By 1950, many Chinese and Americans told new China stories using freshly absorbed terms such as Nation and Revolution, but disagreed over who was to tell the story and how it was to be told. Going back several centuries, as innovative recent work argues, Chinese elites no longer fashioned hermetic self-narratives but used a globalized rhetoric to manufacture new histories. Americans came on the scene late, deeply misled by their own history. Differences in power shaped relations and perceptions, particularly during the Sino-Japanese War, but Americans did not simply project self-generated "images" onto poor passive China. Rather, morally engaged groups in both countries looked back and forth across the Pacific for inspiration, and as often found antagonists or allies in the other country as at home.

Our panelists and commentators embrace divergent views, but we do not re-deploy the frameworks of "images," history in national boxes, or see a dominant American Orientalist discourse; we see not Orientalism, but Orientalisms which change over time and by mutual interaction.

The papers re-engage key individuals and works to explore how Chinese and Americans collaborated and fought over new China stories in the years leading to the Cold War. We present translators, interpreters, and ambassadors who were accused of being sellouts, exploiters, incompetents, self-aggrandizers, or Cold Warriors. We, as their inheritors, should acknowledge their work and the continuing problematic they struggled with.

Who Represents China? Lin Yutang vs. the New American Experts of the 1930s and 1940s

Qian Suoqiao, City University of Hong Kong

In the late 1930s and 1940s, Lin Yutang lived in America and became a self-styled cultural and political spokesman on U.S.-China relations. Lin’s political passion during the war consists of two interrelated dimensions of liberal cosmopolitanism: critique of Western imperialism and defense of liberalism in regards to American representation of China. While his critique of imperialism brought him some controversy and negative reception from the Right, it was his debate with a group of "China hands" over American representation of China that spelled the end of his "American success": not only did his series of American bestsellers cease, but he was virtually silenced and retreated from making public utterances related to American politics of China.

In the 1930s and 1940s, American representations of China were fiercely divided between pro-Nationalist groups, notably Henry Luce’s media enterprise and authority, and a host of "China hands" accused of being pro-Communist. Though these "China hands" came from different professions—journalists (Edgar Snow, Theodore White), social scientists (Owen Lattimore), political activists (Agnes Smedley)—they formed a distinct group of American liberal cosmopolitan intellectuals. They achieved their cultural capital through their writings on China as "China experts," and unlike their predecessors, they were Progressive liberals who allied themselves with the cause of China’s "Progress."

By revisiting this debate, I do not want to reinvoke the issue of "Who Lost China?" Instead, my paper will map out a critical terrain for understanding and questioning liberal cosmopolitan difference over American representations of China.

Feng Youlan, Derk Bodde, and A History of Chinese Philosophy

Xiaoqing Diana Lin Chen, Indiana University Northwest

Feng Youlan (Fung Yulan) (1895–1990) was one of the preeminent Chinese philosophers of the 20th century who drew on both Chinese and Western ideas in the 1930s–1940s. Feng tried to develop Confucian learning by synthesizing science and metaphysics, through borrowing from the school of New Realism in early 20th century. He tried to logically prove traditional Confucian concepts, such as li and qi, before adopting them in his vocabulary. Feng’s A History of Chinese Philosophy, published in 1931 (v.l) and 1934 (v.2), still remains the classical treatment of Chinese philosophy both in China and in America. It was translated into English by Derk Bodde in the 1940s and introduced to the American readers.

This paper will discuss the impact of the book, and the added effect of the translation by Derk Bodde, on both the Chinese and American readers. For instance, although Feng’s original Chinese did not contain the term "xin ru jia" (neo-Confucians) it was from Bodde’s translation that the term "neo-Confucians" began to be used in the West to refer to Confucians in the Song and Ming Dynasties, and then was introduced into the Chinese vocabulary as "xin ru jia," a term that has been so prevalently used that people take it for granted today.

Doctoring China: The United States and China and The United States and China (1948)

Charles W. Hayford, Independent Scholar

John K. Fairbank’s The United States and China (lst ed. 1948), is a still compelling piece of writing (more readable than later editions); it also marks a stage in the professionalization of China study and presented a new version of the China Story for a Cold War audience. The Area Studies movement sought to make university graduate study the gateway for China knowledge and the Ph.D. the license for its academic practice. Implicitly this trend toward professionalization marginalized earlier experts such as missionaries, treaty port journalists, retired diplomats, novelists, and other "amateurs." To become institutionalized in the university, the new profession needed a new set of theories, and Fairbank consciously turned to social science. His classic book is structurally different from textbooks and told a different story from earlier popular writings.

This paper first introduces earlier China hands whose claims to authority were based on experience in China rather than formal training, and then traces the origins of the new social science story—Modernization and its evil twin, Revolution. Fairbank’s redaction is indebted to both Chinese and Western inspirations, including his predecessors on the China Coast, such as H. B. Morse; his mentors in China, such as T. F. Tsiang (Jiang Tingfu); friends and colleagues such as Ch’ien Tuan-sheng (Qian Duansheng); scholars who worked through the Institute of Pacific Relations, such as Owen Lattimore, Chen Hansheng, Karl August Wittfogel, and R. F. Tawney; and Fairbank’s experience in wartime China, including his relation with his former student, Theodore White.