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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Cultural habits : The travel writing of Isabella Bird, Max Dauthendey and Ai Wu, 1850-1930 Ng, Maria Noelle


Edward Said’s Orientalism (1978) has generally been recognized as an influential study of western literary perceptions of the East, but numerous critics have also challenged his geographical parameters as too narrow and his conceptual framework as insufficiently complex. This thesis further expands the study of Orientalism (1) by focussing on a colonized area generally overlooked in this context, namely Southeast Asia; (2) by including a writer of German background, a nationality frequently omitted in the discussion of colonial history in general and of Orientalism in particular; and (3) perhaps most importantly, by juxtaposing the views of a Chinese author with those of western writers. This thesis is the critical study of three authors about their travels in Southeast Asia: Isabella Bird (1831-1904), Max Dauthendey (1867-1918) and Ai Wu (1904-1992). Since postcolonial criticism does not generally concern itself with the cultural habits which are formed in a traveller’s native society prior to his or her departure, this approach alone does not provide the tools for the differentiated kind of investigation I wish to conduct. I therefore draw on the cultural criticism of Pierre Bourdieu (1972, 1979, 1993), Johannes Fabian (1983, 1991), and Walter Benjamin (1969, 1974, 1985), to focus on a decisive moment in each traveller’s background, which may be said to have shaped his or her perception of other cultures. In Bird’s case, this event was the 1851 Exhibition which encapsulated the Victorian ideals of industrial progress, imperial expansion, and Christian philanthropy. By contrast, Dauthendey’s responses were shaped by the Art Nouveau sensibilities he bad acquired in the German, French, and Scandinavian bohème. Finally, Al Wu derived his outlook from the May Fourth Movement, a brief period when western ideas were welcomed into Chinese social and literary history. Said’s Orietalism posits the homogeneous cultural entity of an imperial West in contradistinction to a victimized East. This thesis does not reverse these categories, but it does provide the space for an equal discussion of Chinese and western writings within a differentiated historical context.

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