OCCIDENTALISM by Xiaomei Chen

OCCIDENTALISM

A Theory of Counter-Discourse in Post-Mao China
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 An ambitious revisionist challenge to Edward Said's concept of Orientalism. Chen (East Asian Language and Literature/Ohio State Univ.) advances the notion that the influence and presence of Western culture and ideas in China can't be dismissed simply as yet another instance of Western hegemony and cultural imperialism. To make her case, she meticulously scrutinizes several cross-cultural intersections in contemporary China. One chapter is devoted to the 1988 Chinese TV series He Shang, which the author writes was ``widely noted..for its positive image of a scientific and modern West.'' However, she notes that it would be a mistake to see this as an instance of Western cultural imperialism, that the show's writers reinvented for their own purposes Western ideological constructs in the service of an essentially Chinese political debate and that, in the end, the effect of the show was profoundly liberating. In ``The Occidental Theater,'' she explores how Shakespeare, Ibsen, and Brecht have been performed and received by audiences in China, making the point that, translated into Chinese and performed in 20th-century China, they become new plays, appropriated by Chinese culture as much as they are imposed upon China by an allegedly alien Western culture. Whether discussing theater or the relationship between menglong poetry in post-Mao China and European modernism, Chen argues for a more fluid understanding of how Eastern and Western cultures cross-pollinate, making the point that it is often difficult to predict which influences will be politically oppressive and which liberating. There are, however, some lapses in consistency. In the final chapter, she paints the West as a superimposing, patriarchal ``surrogate'' father who stands guardedly behind the ``domestic father'' of China against any possibility of gender liberation of their Chinese daughters. This is an arguable point, but it's surely inconsistent with the central thesis of the book and leads one to wonder if Chen isn't engaging in a bit of Occidentalism herself. Minor problems, and a thick theoretical vocabulary aside, Chen's thesis is fundamentally sound, supportable, and intellectually challenging.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-19-508579-5
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1994