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West/Westerners in Chinese fiction


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What Chinese novels (ranging from classical works to modern literature) can you think of that mention foreigners (especially Westerners) and forein countries, and offers some views on those? For example, “二马”, but the work doesn't necessarily have to be about Chinse living abroad and their opinions on the foreigners around them. Any contemplation on, criticism of, generalisations..about the West in Chinese fiction will do. In short, examples of Chinese fiction that in one way or the other, even if it's not too significant for the overall story, "construct" the West.

Any help will be deeply appreciated!

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I really enjoyed the historical portrait of Johann Schall von Bell (汤若望) in 少年天子 by 凌力 and its sequel, 暮鼓晨钟. Much more nuanced than what you would expect from watching your average 古装戏 and screen adaptations. The novel takes place in the early years of the Qing empire under Shunzhi and a young Kangxi. This is also when many modern preconceptions about the West, science and Christianity are beginning to take form.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Lin Yutang was a quite prominent figure in pre-Communist China, he spent a good deal of time in America, and spent his last years in Taiwan. He has actually written a lot of books in English for American audiences describing Chinese culture, although he is known for his sanwen, I'm not sure if he wrote any fiction.

Wikipedia page:


The only other one I can think of off the top of my head is 二马, which you already have covered. I know there is definitely some stuff in modern Taiwanese literature: one of the stories from Bai Xianyong's classic "Taipei People" mentions a foreigner cruising for gay sex in a park in Taipei (at least if I read it right). Bai Xianyong's other famous work, 孽子, which I think is translated as Crystal Boys, is primarily about gay culture in Taiwan. I wouldn't be surprised if foreigners were mentioned in there.

Again, I have a stronger background in Taiwanese literature, but my favorite story dealing with foreigners is "我愛瑪莉" by 黃春明, it deals with a foreign-worshiping Taiwanese guy who takes in the former dog of his American boss, and the havoc it wrecks upon his family. From what I understand literature parodying foreigner-worship was quite popular in the 70's and 80's, 張系國 has at least one short story that deals with the topic.

Lastly, 余光中, the incredibly talented Taiwanese poet also has a decent amount of essays, and in many of them he discusses his frequent trips to America. I believe he spent a year as a guest lecturer at the University of Iowa or somewhere. Careful though, his prose is incredibly dense, definitely the most difficult stuff I've ever read in 白話。

Hope this helps.

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孽子: Wang Kuilong lives in the US for a while; and in the series A-qing's landlord has an American boyfriend, but I don't remember if that was in the book too (probably was).

Huang Chunming also wrote 苹果的滋味, about a Taiwanese getting run over by an American. My teacher insisted it was criticism of the Americans, I read the story and just though the Taiwanese in the story were stupid. It makes much more sense to see it as mocking foreigner-worship. Another story with foreigners, in this case Japanese, is 萨哟纳拉,再见 (personally I hated this story, but it's fairly famous. Maybe I'm just missing something).

Lin Yutang wrote several novels, some I think in both English and Chinese, but as far as I know they all took place in China.

I've never finished this book (too difficult when I started reading), but I think one of the main characters in Han Han's 三重门 is a foreign girl name Susan.

Also a few foreigners in 尹丽川's 践人, although they are very minor characters.

Taiwanese travel writer 三毛 must have written something on foreigners, I suppose.

I hope this helps, some examples are a bit obscure.

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This is an interesting question. I'm not aware of many Chinese novels by major Mainland Chinese writers who feature a major character who is a foreigner. One that comes to mind is 长恨歌 by 王安忆 in which 萨沙 (ie: Sasha) is quite an important character. The book describes him as a child of international communism who would be a foreigner anywhere he went. His parents were a Chinese student who went to the Soviet Union (OK, not really the West) on exchange and a Russian girl. Living in China, as he did at the relevant time, his name, physical appearance, speech, food preferences and general manner were all identifiably foreign. It was interesting to read a story about a foreigner living in China from the perspective of a major Chinese writer. He is rather a prick, and it seems to be implied that this is a natural consequence of having to live outside the mainstream of society.

Putting major writers aside, there is also stuff like 上海宝贝 by 卫慧. This is a book by a twenty something Shanghai female writer about a twenty something Shanghai girl who is obsessed with Western culture. She lives with her self-destructive and medically impotent boyfriend while carrying on a affair with a Westerner. The Westerner is a thirty something, fluent Chinese speaking, sexy, funny, handsome, wealthy, sporty, cultured (both Chinese and Western culture - he thinks the best music to make love to is Suzhou pingtan), generous, well-connected, artistic, extremely senior investment banker.

As pointed out above, if you include Taiwanese and Hong Kong writers there is more to choose from. For example, I think I remember reading something by 亦舒 about a Hong Kong Chinese woman who goes to work in one of her company's American offices.

I also want to mention the glamorous foreigner in the 红楼梦. A central part of that book is the poetry club of which most of the main characters are members. One of the members had met a beautiful 15 year old blonde foreign girl who could write Chinese poetry, and in particular, remembered the following poem that she had written:




汉南春历历, 焉得不关心.

The verdict of the club members was "Better than we Chinese could write!". As I'm not qualified to judge the literary merits of classical Chinese poetry, I'm not sure how good this poem actually is.

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