When Late Qing Intellectuals’ “Imperial Eyes” Encountered Asian Imaginations: To Revisit Su Manshu and His Writing of Java

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Yuji Xu


Homing in on Su Manshu蘇曼殊 (1884 – 1918), a revolution monk in late Qing China, and his political editorial “A talk on Nanyang” (Nanyang hua, 南洋話), this paper aims to unpack the dynamic relationship between the late Qing intellectuals’ pan – Asian imagination and the anti – colonialist sentiment in the context of global imperialism in the early twentieth century. Instead of depicting and highlighting Java or Nanyang itself in his writing, Su Manshu stressed the historical role that overseas Chinese played in exploiting and constructing Java. This, however, resulted in the writing of Java without Java, which alludes to the hierarchical power difference of the China – Java relationship at the time. When Su Manshu evoked an intimate tie between China and Java to resist against the Western colonialism, he failed to criticise the binary opposition between the white race and the yellow race. In Su Manshu’s envision, replete with the reference to anti – colonialism, Nanyang emerged not only as an anti – Western discourse to overcome the west – centred universal civilizational imagination, but also a method to re – orient the status of modern China in Asia. Moreover, it should be emphasized that Su’s Sino – centric understanding of the China – Java solidarity resonated with other late Qing intellectuals’ observation where Nanyang was considered to be subordinated to China. Such findings thus allow us to uncover the subtle and blurry demarcation between imperialism and nationalism which has not been thoroughly examined in the historical analysis when searching for modern Asian order in the period from 19th to 20th century. 

Published: Nov 14, 2022

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