Le Shan, Sichuan (1986)
Photograph by Lois Conner
Research under this theme will take the form of a diverse range of projects that offer one or another form of critical engagement with textual China. China Texts is conceived of here as Zhongwen (中文) in the broadest sense of this word. The influence of the literary past on the twentieth century and beyond will be a guiding theme. The general aim is to produce scholarship attentive to Chinese (not just 'China's') styles of thinking and expression. The objective is to gain insight into Chinese habits of mind and styles of being through the rhetorical patterns and aesthetic forms that have become an integral part of the Chinese language, and languages used within the Chinese world. To date, the norm in Anglophone China scholarship has been to provide empirically rich accounts of Chinese culture, literature and scholarship within (essentially) Western-derived conceptual frameworks. This has encouraged a discipline-bound approach to China that has often been to the detriment of the more organic Chinese sense of the humanities as renwen 人文 (literally, 'human patterns'). Accordingly, China Texts seeks to provide an alternative approach that draws from the early modern Chinese idea of the humanities as wen shi zhe (文史哲). This is a trans- or multidisciplinary approach that treats the literary (wen 文), historical (shi 史) and philosophical (zhe 哲) as components of an indivisible triad of natural concerns rather than as distinct disciplines.
The work undertaken under China Texts will interrogate this Chinese disposition to 'patterns of knowing' for what it reveals of key patterns (whether of argument, figuration or other literary and discursive, as well as visual devices) that have played a defining role in shaping the history of Chinese thought and culture. China Texts serves as the testing ground for experimenting with organic approaches to analysis and interpretation constitutive of a New Sinology.
Central to this thematic is the question of how China is presented internationally - through art, film and theatre, the Internet, scholarship and visual culture. Other key issues include how China is seen through polemics and media discussions, as well as through visual and textual representations of power. In relation to the visual, we are especially interested in exploring the versatility of Chinese cultural being that is given expression in the work of cosmopolitan Chinese artists and writers with an emphasis on those that are engaged with Australia and the Asia and Pacific region.
The projects associated with China Texts will traverse a wide spectrum of images and texts, both historical and contemporary, to discern and explore cultural habits and aesthetic sensibilities that have played, and continue to play, a key role in shaping how 'we' see China, as well as how seeing China is constituted, both internally and internationally.