Pathways of Transculturation: Chinese Cultural Encounters with Russia and Japan (1880-1930)


Xiaolu Ma

PhD defended at: 

Harvard University


My dissertation analyzes how Chinese writers adapted, translated, and intertextualized Russian literature via the intermediary of Japanese scholarship and creative writing in the final decades of the nineteenth and the first few decades of the twentieth centuries. Based on extensive fieldwork in mainland China, Hong Kong, Japan, Russia, and North America, my project is the first in English and one of the few in any language to examine the triangular relationship among Chinese, Japanese and Russian literatures and cultures. I argue that “relay transculturation,” by which I mean cultural exchange among at least three cultures, one of which serves primarily as an intermediary, is the key to understanding cultural negotiations between China and the West, a major theme of modern Chinese literature.
To better demonstrate “relay transculturation,” I examine literary developments—the transformations of language and literary style, and shifting trends of literary criticism—as resulting from the traveling and circulation of texts, personal encounters among writers, and interactions among literary organizations. My project tackles a wide spectrum of topics central to discussions of Chinese and East Asian modernism, such as the adaptation of Russian literary trends and ideology, the haunting specter of Chinese tradition and morality, and the geopolitics among China, Japan and Russia and its manifestation in Chinese literature. I also probe Chinese literature and culture in the context of the global development of radical and socialist movements, and the transformation of proletarian literature. This process of examination offers a new understanding of the dynamics of cross-cultural contact zones. Although much scholarship has been based on the conventional target-source culture model, I propose that probing the implications of cultural brokerage and its function in the transculturation process gives us a vital new perspective on East Asian literature and culture in local, regional, and global context.