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Faculty Spring 2019: Nicolai Volland

Le Monde Chinois: Literary Cosmopolitanism in Modern China

Associate Professor of Asian Studies and Comparative Literature

Le Monde Chinois: Literary Cosmopolitanism in Modern China

Narratives of nationalism have dominated interpretations of twentieth-century Chinese literature. Beneath the concern—obsession, even—with the nation and its suffering, however, there exists a neglected undercurrent of cosmopolitanism: a deeply ingrained fascination and identification with the world at large. This project aims to reconstruct the cosmopolitan tradition running through twentieth-century Chinese literature. Through the lens of Sino-French cultural encounters, it examines how authors in modern China critically reassessed their own subjectivity and made the foreign a part of Chinese literary practice. Suppressed at times and forced to cloak itself into changing disguises, interest and investment in transnational culture nonetheless was one the chief driving forces of literary creativity in modern China. Indeed, it was a sustained and intense interest in the world beyond its borders, I argue, that provides the unifying paradigm underlying modern Chinese literature and culture.