Transpacific Community

America, China, and the Rise and Fall of a Cultural Network

Richard Jean So

Columbia University Press

Transpacific Community

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Pub Date: May 2016

ISBN: 9780231176965

304 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $60.00£49.95

Pub Date: May 2016

ISBN: 9780231541831

304 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $59.99£49.95

Transpacific Community

America, China, and the Rise and Fall of a Cultural Network

Richard Jean So

Columbia University Press

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.
With deft archival research, vivid storytelling, and lucid prose, Richard Jean So retraces the utopian visions, literary affiliations, and material connections linking a fascinating assemblage of twentieth-century writers, musicians, and activists on both sides of the Pacific. Their transpacific traffic, he proposes, not only calls into question the inevitability of Orientalism as an optic for understanding East-West relations but also reveals how the telegraph, the phonograph, and the typewriter underwrote new forms of political solidarity, artistic creativity, and crosscultural intimacy. Andrew Jones, author of Developmental Fairy Tales: Evolutionary Thinking and Modern Chinese Culture
A rich and deep study of literature as a form of transpacific imagination, Transpacific Community mixes textual analysis and archival research with empirical history, presenting an on-the-ground view of world literature as it impacts pivotal events. The book is a worthy and welcome addition to the current debate over the concept of world literature, an important intervention into transpacific studies, Asian American literature, media history, and other emergent fields. Yunte Huang, author of Transpacific Imaginations: History, Literature, Counterpoetics
Richard Jean So's fascinating study of the impact of global communications technology on the circulation of ideas in a transpacific context offers new insight into how pioneering figures such as Lao She, Agnes Smedley, Lin Yutang, Pearl Buck, Lu Xun, and Paul Robeson sought to reshape cultural relations between China and the United States and reimagine what 'democracy' might signify on both sides of the Pacific. Fresh and intriguing! Shelley Fisher Fishkin, author of Writing America: Literary Landmarks from Walden Pond to Wounded Knee
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! David Der-wei Wang, author of The Lyrical in Epic Time: Modern Chinese Intellectuals and Artists Through the 1949 Crisis
A valuable contribution to the historiographies of internationalism, Sino-American relations, and literature. By focusing on instances of cooperation, instead of exploitation, Transpacific Community offers a glimpse into an alternate history of Sino-Western collaboration where mutuality and shared interest are defining characteristics. Matthew D. Linton, Journal of American-East Asian Relations
The great contribution of Transpacific Community is its combination of a sophisticated understanding of the largely forgotten intellectual interchange between Chinese and US writers and artists of the time, and its trenchant foregrounding of the role of communication technologies to this dialogue. Greg Barnhisel, The ALH Online Review
List of Illustrations
Acknowledgments
Introduction: The Narrowing Circle: America and China Circa 1929
1. Long-Distance Realism: Agnes Smedley and the Transpacific Cultural Front
2. The Good Earth Effect: Pearl Buck and Natural Democracy
3. Pentatonic Democracy: Paul Robeson and the Black Voice in Chinese
4. Typographic Ethnic Modernism: Lin Yutang and the Republican Chinaman
5. Xuanchuan as World Literature: Lao She and the Uses of Global Propaganda
Epilogue: The Afterlife of Failure: Recentering Asian American and Chinese Histories
Notes
Index

Read the introduction, "The Narrowing Circle: America and China Circa 1929":

About the Author

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.