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.
Wang TaoManyou suilu (Changsha: Hunan renmin chubanshe1982) 99–100. On another occasion he also remarks that “the current world is a world of one globe” (dangjin tianxia nai diqiu heyi zhi tianxia 當今天下 乃地球合一之天下); Wang Tao Taoyuan chidu 弢園尺牘 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju 1959) 208. Wang Tao’s notion of “great unity” (datong 大同) a concept central to New Text Confucianism anticipated the same idea enthusiastically promoted by Kang Youwei 康有為 (1858–1927) and Tan Sitong 譚嗣同 (1865–98) a couple of decades later. According to Ge Zhaoguang 葛兆光 the late Qing thinkers’ emphasis on the sameness between the Chinese Dao and the Western Dao reveals anxiety over the challenge the West posed to the Chinese civilizational order as the emphasis on the sameness was a strategy used by these thinkers to promote Western learning. See Ge Zhaoguang “Yige pubian zhenli guannian de lishi lüxing – yi Lu Jiuyuan ‘xin tong li tong’ shuo weili tan guannianshi de yanjiu fangfa” 一個普遍真理觀念的歷史旅行 – 以陸九淵 “心同理同” 説為例談觀念史的研究方法 Dongyue luncong 東嶽論叢 2 (2004): 5–15. I argue that Wang’s emphasis on the sameness intends to diminish the gap between Self and Other as China was inferior to the West a fact many of Wang’s contemporaries refused to acknowledge. But Wang was acutely (and probably painfully) aware of this problem as a result of his close association with Westerners and especially his first-hand experience in Europe.
Wang TaoSongyin manlu13–16. In Pu Songling’s original tale scholar Wang encounters a bevy of beauties on an island of immortals. He marries one of them and they return to Wang’s hometown when he becomes homesick. After Wang fulfills his obligation of filial piety and helps his son establish himself the two of them leave the mundane world and return to the island of immortals. See Pu Songling Liaozhai zhiyi 946–56.