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Between Chinese Nationalism and Soviet Colonisation: A Chinese Orientalist's Narration of Inner and Outer Mongolia (1926–1927)

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image of Inner Asia

This essay questions the nature of ‘Chinese orientalism’ vis-à-vis the Western model of ‘orientalism’. It examines the dialectics of the interconnection between Chinese civilisation/nationalism and Soviet communist colonisation/modernisation, and how these shape and limit the perceptions of a Chinese scholar politician, Ma Hetian, in his travel writing about Inner and Outer Mongolia in the mid 1920s. Unlike most travel writings which focus on cultural differences of the ‘inferior’ others as study object and aesthetic idol, Ma's was a political travel writing, which represents his Chinese Nationalist Party and the Chinese Republican government in relation to its internal frontier Inner Mongolia and the independent ‘Outer Mongolia’ (the MPR) at the time. This political travel writing challenges Kojin Karatani's coherent though essentialised reinterpretation of orientalism from its specific sociocultural contexts and geopolitical positions. Similarly to Western orientalists, Ma had an authority to speak of his ‘inferior’ Inner Mongol objects as their civiliser as well as to represent his ‘helpless’ Outer Mongol ‘brothers’ as their national guardian. However, unlike many orientalists (Western and non-Western), Ma's politically charged Sinocentric position and often chauvinistic attitude towards Mongols align him closer to his ‘enemy/friend’ – Soviet Russia.


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