In this paper, I seek to understand Occidentalism through a Chinese lens of alien other in the context of travelogue. Other, being defined in an ongoing process of reflections, connotes a wider meaning of the themes of familiarity and the alien. Using Flowers in the Mirror and analyzing it to create a framework oh how people traverse these figurative spaces that are interlinked many symbolisms; they use a concept of diasporic cosmological structure to guide them into finding the familiar in a place that is alien to them as they unfold as through the dialogues of their characters. The many instances of Occidentalist narration that shine throughout this travelogue recount a unique experience, that of many imaginary travellers who set sail towards the same imaginary place with an inversed cultural constant told through Sinophone representation of an inverse world that appears in Flowers in the Mirror by Li Ruzhen, in which several chapters describe strange occurrences that they come across as the further west they go away from China, Examples such as men dressed like women and taking care of the home, while women behave like men and manage affairs outside it. As we will see, the novel is an interesting specimen of the genre of the travelogue. Using a number of themes such as a viewing the self through an opposite mirror, usage of the diaspora to set familiar anchor points and defining others to guide the analysis of an Occidentalist text in the Qing period.Orientalism was first conceptualized and defined by Edward Said who described it by segmenting it into three parts: The first refers to a Western academic field, which studies the Orient and the Oriental, the second followed a strictly othering practice in seeking fundamental differences between the Orient and the Occident using epistemological schools of thought.
The third includes the incorporation of all of these to apply such studies and ways of thinking to manage or control the Orient. Through this Said constructs his critisim of Orientalism: The orientalist gaze and its usage for colonial projects. In which the gaze plays an important part in this as the lens through which the other in interpreted and subsequently depicted. The awareness of being gazed at made the other reevaluate the worth, meaning and significance identity and how the move in spaces.
Said demonstrates that Orientalism has created a distorted image of the Orient as essentially different from the Occident. This image originated in response to a perceived threat from the Orient, since for Orientalists, in that strange, exotic, and unknown Orient, its people and culture, all a threat to western agency. However, Said’s greater concern is the political and economic reason for Orientalists’ promotion of the Orient as being opposed and separate. Said asserts that “the relationship between Occident and Orient is a relationship of power, of domination”. As he sees it, the creation of the inferior Orient and it’s superior Occident counterpart, it was not a need for self defence or a self awareness, but rather the definement of the West.
The creation of the Orient was also a instrument in developing a justification for colonialism. Besides, the Orient had been created as an object, and so denied capacity to represent and speak for itself. Thus, Said’s analysis on Orientalism explains it as form of knowledge in which not only shaped the academic field but also became deeply ingrained in western societies perception of the East and affected its relationship with the West. As presented with Occidental there is also a parallel to it in the form of Occidentalism which deals with how the Western Other is constructed by people in non-Western countries through various practices. It is noted that Occidentalism creates a stereotyped West by stressing fundamental differences, as did Orientalism, in which it was used to show how a image of the western in relation to the other and however how this was portrayed and used in the oriental context is different. The concept of this where oriental people depict theas a model of the other used to criticize traditional values, as mentioned previously, any construction or reconstruction is inevitably shaped by the constructor’s wish, knowledge, thoughts and cultural background. The West seen in the eyes of oriental people is, therefore, a West that is portrayed to their own purposes.
However, the existence of Occidentalism have distinctive characteristics in various countries. Often times these othering practice are born through different encounters with the West under different historical and political contexts. Much like Orientalism, the way that the west has been constructed through the eyes of the East influences the attitudes of the East to the West. Occidentalism was coined as a counterpart of Orientalism and determine how the eastern world and inhabitants it’s counterparts. The notion questions whether oriental people can or will depict the real West, and how and why they depict the West in the ways they do. That portrayal entails xenophobia due to Confucian world views, this takes the form of Sinocentrism, a worldview that had been built up by influential peoples in chinese society while in continuous struggle with foreigners but still maintaining agency to view themselves as the centre, thus influencing Chinese people for over 2000 years.
The core of this view is that China, representing the highest human civilization, is at the center of the world, and all other people, within its periphery or outside of it, are uncivilized and thus inferiors or barbarians. A Chinese sense of cultural superiority created the divided between the Chinese from the non-Chinese before Western colonization severely shattered this world view. This however helps set up the story for Flowers in the mirror as it is set during the early Tang dynasty (618-907) well before humiliation from the west with China at arguably it’s most prosperous, the writer Li Ruzhen who lived between 1763 and 1830 wrote this historical period in 1827 a time in which China had a real-world consciousness of foreign places but still had agency in world affairs and had favors in power. This time period helps set up the story and the context for the characters thoughts and has a considerable role when coming to these countries and the specific customs of people living there. The travels follow the voyages of merchant Lin Zhiyang, his brother-in-law, Tang Ao, and the ship captain, Duo Jiugong, to multiple places to bring back the diaspora who were scattered abroad, where they come across many countries that are inhabited strange people and get stranger the further they go. They come across such as the country of Giants (who in actuality are very small and float on clouds) The Gentlemen Country where the Confucian ideal of benevolence is personified.
Here everyone is needlessly Ke Qi to the point it becomes bizarre even by Chinese standards. One such example of this is a scene that happens during the trip to the market where they encounter a customer asking the shopkeepers to raise the price because they could not bear to buy it at such a low price but the shopkeeper refuses him and wants to go lower. In this inverted country the concept of consumerism is turned upside down on its head. The Deep-eyed People; a cautious people who have eyes on their hand and use them to look high and low. The Country of Sexless People; a people who do not have any distinction between man and woman, they do not die rather they go into deep slumber and wake up again so they do not crave material things.
At one point they come across a country called the Country of Women, where there is a reversal upon the Confucian concept of gender roles in which the woman has taken what is traditionally a man’s role and the man acts as the inner person for the household and society. In this country again, when Lin tries his hand in selling his wares and ends up capturing the attention of the King is in fact a woman. He then is subjected to a feminine role as he becomes a concubine for the “King” an ordeal in which he is even subjected to foot binding before escaping with Tang Ao and the “Prince” who is of Chinese descent but is trapped and suffering from the locals.
This aspect of this particular country could hold aspect of the authors social critique upon Chinese cultural norms in regards to gender however one could take another more logical approach to this in the context of the time it was written, that this was set in as that because of these characters in these travelogues are predominately men, the observation of the the gender inversion of a outside entity to represent the imbalanced, reversed state of affairs in in a place far away that is opposite of China, out of order and not way things should be. In other words, nothing in the country of Women as in its proper place thus disorderly. As according to the “three obediences” a woman must follow the men in her family, i.e. father, husband and son.
A woman’s proper position in the household is to be the inside person as the man attends to affairs outside. The proper placing of men and women creates a balance between heaven and the earth. There is a distinct drawing of a relation between self and the foreign in this allegory.This piece of travel literature at its core is occidentalist, as it is by nature self-reflective of the Chinese core and its outlying counterparts. You see in this novel when travelling in an unfamiliar environment, the traveler in this case Tang Ao often encounters cultures and peoples belonging to the other. In this context the role of the traveller is equivalent to being a stranger whose identity is unknown, is never clearly defined in the story as oppo to understand and interact is never really present, mostly a reactionary experience.
This identity of the the unknown provokes the traveler in question to come to compare and contrast his own culture with the other. In the course of this contact, the traveller’s own culture is often used as guidelines to explain his new experiences. In this way, the traveller will question and reflect continuously on his self identity during the journey as the presence/suffering of Chinese bodies shape the perception of the characters that visit these lands. When travellers are presented with different environments these places serve as allegories to China vs outside. This causes them to compare them and the other. Just as Tang Ao encountered on his journeys overseas, he often uses the Chinese he met, as mirrors for comparing with other inhabitants.
As distance is a important factor in the creation of the other. The feeling of distance involved both physical and cultural factors. Geographic distance played an important role since it sets a area of unknown outside the Sinosphere, a space between the Chinese and Westerners. This distance, has a large influence on the individuals perception of Westerners as outsiders.As we have seen throughout this novel individual experiences of these traveled characters together reflect a common perspective upon a what is outside China and the distinctions of the other. Through a Sinophone representation of an inverse world appears in Flowers in the Mirror by Li Ruzhen, in which the main characters concept of the Other is constant in viewing the people on the periphery.
In a traditional and less differentiated society, what is viewed as the Other is largely based around boundaries set by culture or nation. As these characters continue their journey from a traditional and homogeneous society to society completely alien to them. We see that it causes them to reflect upon their culture, self reflect and try go find anchor points of familiarity to help guide them in the perception of the other.