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The question of cross-cultural understanding in the transcultural travel narratives in post-1949 China Open Access
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University of Alberta
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Department of English and Film Studies
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Doctor of Philosophy
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My dissertation, “The Question of Cross-Cultural Understanding in the Transcultural Travel Narratives about Post-1949 China,” aims to intervene in the genre of travel writing and its critical scholarship by studying a flourishing but under-explored archive. Travel literature about (post-) Communist China is abundant and has been proliferating since 1979 when China began to implement its open-door policy. Yet its scholarship is surprisingly scanty. Meanwhile, in the field of travel literature studies, many critics read the genre as one that articulates Western imperialism, an archive where peoples and cultures are defined within conveniently maintained boundaries between home and abroad, West and non-West. Others—in the field of literary and cultural studies as well as other disciplines—have started to question the binary power relationship. However, some of this work may well reinforce the binary opposition, seeking only evidences of the traveller’s powerlessness in relation to the native; and some, conceiving travel only on a geographical plane, seems unable to transcend the dichotomy of home and abroad, East and West at a theoretical level.
My project is committed to further interrogating the binarism constructed by the genre of travel and its scholarship. My intervention is not to argue who gets an upper hand in a hierarchical relationship, but to challenge the stability of the hierarchy by foregrounding the contingency and complexity of cross-cultural relationships. My dissertation engages with the key issue of cross-cultural understanding and explicates various modalities of the traveller’s interpretation of otherness. By reading Canadian journalist Jan Wong, geophysicist Jock Tuzo Wilson, US Peace Corps volunteer Peter Hessler, American anthropologist Hill Gates, and humanist geographer Yi-Fu Tuan, I examine the ways in which the Western traveller negotiates and interprets foreignness, and probe the consequences of transcultural interactions. The overall argument of my dissertation—in dialogue with other scholarship in the field—is that travel not only (re)produces cultural differences but also paradoxically engenders a cosmopolitan potential that recognizes but transcends them.
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