Transpacific Community: America, China, and the Rise and Fall of a Cultural Network

Hardcover | May 31, 2016

byRichard Jean So

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In the turbulent years after World War I, a transpacific community of American and Chinese writers and artists emerged to forge new ideas regarding aesthetics, democracy, internationalism, and the political possibilities of art. Breaking with preconceived notions of an "exotic" East, the Americans found in China and in the works of Chinese intellectuals inspiration for leftist and civil rights movements. Chinese writers and intellectuals looked to the American tradition of political democracy to inform an emerging Chinese liberalism. This interaction reflected an unprecedented integration of American and Chinese cultures and a remarkable synthesis of shared ideals and political goals.

The transpacific community that came together during this time took advantage of new advances in technology and media, such as the telegraph and radio, to accelerate the exchange of ideas. It created a fast-paced, cross-cultural dialogue that transformed the terms by which the United States and China-or, more broadly, "West" and "East"-knew each other. Transpacific Community follows the left-wing journalist Agnes Smedley's campaign to free the author Ding Ling from prison; Pearl Buck's attempt to fuse Jeffersonian democracy with late Qing visions of equality in The Good Earth; Paul Robeson's collaboration with the musician Liu Liangmo, which drew on Chinese and African American traditions; and the writer Lin Yutang's attempt to create a typewriter for Chinese characters. Together, these individuals produced political projects that synthesized American and Chinese visions of equality and democracy and imagined a new course for East-West relations.

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In the turbulent years after World War I, a transpacific community of American and Chinese writers and artists emerged to forge new ideas regarding aesthetics, democracy, internationalism, and the political possibilities of art. Breaking with preconceived notions of an "exotic" East, the Americans found in China and in the works of Ch...

Richard Jean So is assistant professor of English at the University of Chicago. He specializes in modern American, Chinese, and Asian American literatures, and his work has appeared in Representations, Critical Inquiry, PMLA, American Literature, and boundary 2, among other publications.
Format:HardcoverDimensions:304 pages, 9 × 6 × 0.98 inPublished:May 31, 2016Publisher:Columbia University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0231176961

ISBN - 13:9780231176965

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Table of Contents

List of IllustrationsAcknowledgmentsIntroduction: The Narrowing Circle: America and China Circa 19291. Long-Distance Realism: Agnes Smedley and the Transpacific Cultural Front2. The Good Earth Effect: Pearl Buck and Natural Democracy3. Pentatonic Democracy: Paul Robeson and the Black Voice in Chinese4. Typographic Ethnic Modernism: Lin Yutang and the Republican Chinaman5. Xuanchuan as World Literature: Lao She and the Uses of Global PropagandaEpilogue: The Afterlife of Failure: Recentering Asian American and Chinese HistoriesNotesIndex

Editorial Reviews

Transpacific Community is an insightful study of Sino-American cultural politics in the mid-twentieth century and a powerful intervention with the extant paradigm of democracy, be it called socialist or communitarian, capitalist or liberal. As the first of its kind, the book rediscovers a group of cultural and intellectual figures we have long overlooked due to their seemingly eclectic, anachronistic political stance. It calls attention to the highly interactive ties between China and the United States in transcultural diplomacy as well as in literary and artistic engagements. Richard Jean So is a strong critic and compelling storyteller. He has written a great book!