The Hypothetical Mandarin: Sympathy, Modernity, and Chinese Pain (Modernist Literature and Culture)

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9780195382495: The Hypothetical Mandarin: Sympathy, Modernity, and Chinese Pain (Modernist Literature and Culture)

Why has the West for so long and in so many different ways expressed the idea that the Chinese have a special relationship to cruelty and to physical pain? What can the history of that idea and its expressions teach us about the politics of the West's contemporary relation to China? And what does it tell us about the philosophy of modernity?
The Hypothetical Mandarin is, in some sense, a history of the Western imagination. It is also a history of the interactions between Enlightenment philosophy, of globalization, of human rights, and of the idea of the modern. Beginning with Bianchon and Rastignac's discussion of whether the former would, if he could, obtain a European fortune by killing a Chinese mandarin in Balzac's Le Pere Goriot (1835), the book traces a series of literary and historical examples in which Chinese life and European sympathy seem to hang in one another's balance. Hayots wide-ranging discussion draws on accounts of torture, on medical case studies, travelers tales, photographs, plasticized corpses, polemical broadsides, watercolors, and on oil paintings. His analyses show that the historical connection between sympathy and humanity, and indeed between sympathy and reality, has tended to refract with a remarkable frequency through the lens called "China," and why the story of the West's Chinese pain goes to the heart of the relation between language and the body and the social experience of the modern human being.
Written in an ebullient prose, The Hypothetical Mandarin demonstrates how the network that intertwines China, sympathy, and modernity continues to shape the economic and human experience.

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About the Author:

Eric Hayot is Associate Professor of Comparative Literature and Director of the program in Asian Studies at the Pennsylvania State University.


"This is one of the best books on Chinese-Western comparative studies of the past decade. Eric Hayot has provided a provocative and compelling inquiry into the multiple conditions of 'China' as conceived by the West in modern times. His engagement with political, moral, economic, and aesthetic theories and cases has set a new standard for any study on the representation of China."-David Der-wei Wang, Harvard University

"Drawing on an impressively broad range of materials, Eric Hayot examines 'Chinese pain' as a recurring Western symptom whose manifestations are traceable to the moral philosophy, historiography, economics, and literature of the past few centuries. As a type of imaginary contact zone, 'Chinese pain' has much to tell us about how certain cultural boundaries may be stretched and pushed, only then to be safely reestablished. This is a learned, visionary book with far-reaching political and ethical ramifications."-Rey Chow, Brown University

"Provocative. Recommended."--Choice

"A provocative, successful experiment in making the core philosophical inquiry of what we know as comparative literature...His major contribution lies precisely in experimenting with a new way of reading that forsakes conventional notions of textual coherence and historical or cultural totality..Has much to offer to any serious scholar of Chinese and comparative literary, visual, and intellectual culture."--Modern Chinese Literature and Culture

"Brilliant...[An] extremely rich, interdisciplinary book...Builds new Chinese-Western intellectual connections while challenging us to rethink the history of how Chinese suffering has been used as a tool for elucidating Euro-American compassion and modernity." --Journal of Asian Studies

"Erudite and well-written...adds an important dimension to the discourse
on orientalism...The Hypothetical Mandarin shows the path for future cross-cultural studies." --Comparative Literature Studies

"Displays a profound sensitivity to and respect for the work of language...Hayot makes a powerful case that we cannot hope to negotiate cultural difference until we commit to understanding what cultural difference really is." --Clio

"Hayot's wide-ranging footnotes testify to an admirable pursuit of ideas across disaplines. The result is a powerful, uniquely suggestive interdisciplinary framework for using sympathy and pain to connect disparate material and intellectual approached. The Hypothetical Mandarin deftly calls attention to the anecdotal nerves that animate 'the West' and 'China' as bodies of knowledge." --MLQ

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