Review of Ways of Seeing China: From Yellow Peril to Shangrila, by Timothy Kendall
'If you dig a hole right through the middle of the earth and out the other side, you will come up in China.' A promise to set generations of children dreaming and wondering—about strange lands and mysterious peoples, about the perverse laws of nature (digging down to come up). Reality eventually intrudes on their dreams. Backyard excavation projects are aborted when they realise that the hole would have to be very deep indeed. And if they find out that the same tale is told to children in England, the US, Australia, or, as in my case, Norway, they cannot but start to question its veracity. They knew that China is big, but can it be that big? Can it be on the opposite side to all those places? Obviously it cannot, and the China story is relegated, along with favourite fairy tales, to the memory shelf set aside for precious, but outgrown childhood fantasies. However, if these children grow up to read postcolonial theory, they might realise that such questions can be answered in the affirmative—China has functioned as the opposite, the ultimate Other, to a great many different selves. And they don't have to dig through the earth to find it: it is there on their bookshelves, in the media, in every repository of Western knowledge about the world.
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