The Deconstruction of Orientalism in the Image of China in the Late 19th Century: A Case Study of Zeng Jize


There was a long history since orientalism was proposed to depict the imbalanced representation from west to China. Since 19th century, China was under the framework of orientalism and it had increasingly recognized by Chinese people. Based on the orientalism, this paper explores how did China deconstruct and resist her orientalism image from the west in the late Qing Dynasty, and what overseas effect was made by such attempts . The study is on the basis of rhetorical analysis  and discourse analysis to Zeng Jize’s English article——China, the sleep and the awakening and the western comments on it.

There have been many studies on the image of China from the western perspective. Relevant studies mainly focus on how China’s image, as ‘the other’ in the eyes of the west, was constructed by various orientalism cultural symbols in different period of times in history.

But in the process of image construction of China from west , Chinese did not passively accept such a negative image. There were also resistance and deconstruction to it, which started in the early stage of the collision between Chinese and western civilizations. The dissemination of Zeng Jize's article named China, the Sleep and the Awakening, is an early and typical example of such resistance by Chinese in the late nineteenth century.

By focusing on the article published by Zeng Jize , the Chinese ambassador to the Britain, France and Russia in the late Qing Dynasty in Asian quarterly ( a British Periodical) in 1887, this paper finds that Zeng attempted to deconstructed the image of otherness of China in the west with anti-orientalism attitude. By giving a new connotation to ‘sleep’, the western culture concept which is specially used to describe China, he deconstructed its original orientalism derogatory sense and transformed its connotation from ‘decay and stagnation’ to ‘temporary numbness of great civilization’.

It was the first time in modern history that a Chinese diplomat has taken the initiative to publish a signed article in a Western newspaper to systematically introduce China's diplomatic position and policy and to respond to western concerns. After the article was published, it provoked a wide debate in western world, some influential newspapers including The Times, New York Times reprinted and reviewed it.

Thus this paper also investigates the reaction of western media to Zeng's attempt against orientalism. By analysing comments from western newspapers, the paper demonstrates that there are generally two positions, the majority of the comments still insist on the original meaning of the concept ‘sleep’, but there are still a few western newspaper media accepted Zeng ’s new interpretation on the concept of ‘sleep’ and his reconstruction of China’s image as a ‘rising country ’.

By evaluating the strategy and effect of Zeng’s attempt to resist orientalism, the study reclaims the attempt of anti-orientalism from Chinese people in the early modern era, and it provides a new perspective for us to understand the image of China in the late 19th century in a more dynamic way.