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Enchanted Encounter: Gender Politics, Cultural Identity, and Wang Tao’s (1828–97) Fictional Sino-Western Romance

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Wang Tao (1828–97) was a late Qing translator, political commentator, and fiction writer who spent time in England, France and Scotland, and served as an important literary link between China and the West. In examining Wang’s tales of Sino-Western encounters and drawing from the long literary tradition of depicting foreign “Others,” this paper shows that Wang’s image of the West in his literary tales is ambivalent. Further, it argues that Wang’s gender positioning of the Chinese “Self” and Western “Other” is rather ambiguous. By interpreting his representation of the West against his immediate historical context (e.g., a China facing unprecedented political and cultural challenges), this study investigates Wang’s use of various rhetorical strategies from an existing discourse on foreign “Others” (particularly the theme of “foreign woman marrying Chinese man”) to appropriate, domesticate and even contain the West. It also shows how Wang complicates and even subverts these older rhetorical strategies as a way to cope with the new historical reality. 

Affiliations: 1: Saint Vincent College, Pennsylvania


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