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The Concept of the Sinophone

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 October 2020

Extract

The spectacular rise of China as a superpower perhaps only now compels us to recalibrate existing discourses of empire and postcoloniality, but China has been an empire in the modern sense since the mid–eighteenth century, when it conquered vast lands north and west of “China proper.” This history has been largely hidden from view because of two unacknowledged obsessions: the fetishization of Western empires over other empires and the prevailing discourse of Chinese victimhood at the hands of Western empires. The rise of China would not have caught so many by surprise if our vision had not been persistently clouded by our privileging of the oceanic (i.e., Western) mode of colonial expansion, which paradoxically centered the West as the most deserving object of critical attention and intellectual labor. It also would not have been a surprise if we had looked back at the Manchu conquests of inner Asia, which present-day China largely inherited and consolidated in a continuous colonial project. Postcolonial theory as we know it, particularly its critiques of orientalism, may prove irrelevant or even complicit when we consider how the positions of Chinese intellectuals critical of Western imperialism and orientalism easily slip into an unreflective nationalism, whose flip side may be a new imperialism.

Type
The Changing Profession
Copyright
Copyright © Modern Language Association of America, 2011

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