Western Theory’s Chinese Transformation


From the mid-1960s, the literary review Tel Quel shifted its anti-traditional and avant-garde stance in arts and literature toward politics within the radical political context in France. Its editor Philippe Sollers initiated a “political turn,” marked by its transformation from its “structuralist period” to its “China period.” Its “China period” inadvertently created a “textual spectacle” of two imagined Chinas: first, a poetic, static “ancient China” represented by Daoism (Taoism), Chinese ideograms, and classical Chinese art and poetry; and second, a revolutionary, subversive “modern China” represented by Maoism along with Lu Xun and other left-wing writers. Taking appropriation, rather than misreading, as a prism to view these imagined Chinas, a strategy of deconstruction emerges from the Telquelians. On the one hand, they attack Western logocentrism through Daoist philosophy, and Chinese ideograms become a crucial Other to assault Western linguistic self-enclosure and phonocentrism, and a way to disperse and diffuse meaning. On the other hand, the Chinese revolutionary spirit probably provided ammunition to reinstate the shattered subject in French theory. For the Telquelians, two imagined Chinas seem like a Chinese wisdom in the movement from structuralism to poststructuralism in French literary theories.