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Public Lecture

Chen Di's Record of Formosa: A Chinese Anti-Imperial Text in Comparative Perspective


Leigh K. Jenco (London School of Economics and Political Science) 

In this talk, I examine the first written account in any language of the indigenous societies living on Taiwan, Chen Di's Record of Formosa (Dongfan ji). Recent commentators have viewed Chen's text as a key elaborator of Chinese colonial discourse and its various tropes of hierarchical difference. In contrast, I situate Chen Di's narrative of Taiwan within a range of other stories about so-called "savage" or "primitive" peoples - told by European near-contemporaries, such as Michel de Montaigne, as well as by earlier and later Chinese colonial travelers, including Yang Shen and Yu Yonghe - to argue that Chen's Record does not contribute to a stream of Chinese colonial discourse as directly as some have claimed. To the contrary, Chen offers one of the few examples of a Chinese anti-imperial argument, built from his scholarly commitments to a historicized view of the past and elaborated in contrast to other, more prevalent neo-Confucian justifications for the pacification of Taiwan. Building on a broader understanding of Chen's biography and his extant works, I argue that Chen reads the perceived cultural differences of indigenous peoples with an imperial center as evidence of the fragility and reversibility, rather than inevitable superiority, of a historical story that produces the outcome of "civilization". Chen Di rejects the historical timeline that confines indigenous people to some primitive stage of human development, but also goes further to suggest that they might be understood as forging their own contingent history that exists parallel to, rather than behind, that of a civilizational center. By placing the Formosan indigenes along a different timeline altogether, Chen's historical narrative resists the colonial temptation to align them with Han Chinese forms of development. 



6th of November 2018, 16:00-17:30h 



University and City Library of Cologne

3rd floor, Room BVI

Kerpener Str. 20 (Entrance)

50937 Cologne 



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