Date of Award

Spring 2023

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


Comparative Literature

First Advisor

Jeanne Garane

Second Advisor

Jie Guo


This dissertation focuses on modern and contemporary Sino-French literary and intellectual relations. I explore them through the center/periphery binary developed by Samir Amin in L’Eurocentrisme and expounded upon by Édouard Glissant in Poétique de la Relation. Due to French imperialism in East Asia, these theorists view France as a “center” of global power with China being “peripheral” to it for most of the twentieth century. This speaks to a larger trend in postcolonial studies, which has focused on unequal power relations between countries and the impact they have on cultural production. Nevertheless, I find that the history of exchange between China and France is more complicated. Even though China was diplomatically, militarily, and economically outmaneuvered by France during the late Qing and Republican periods, the country was never fully colonized and remained a vast empire. Moreover, by the late twentieth century, French hegemony had waned as China experienced its post-1980s military and economic “rise.” Therefore, I argue that we must also consider how the two countries’ histories have been intertwined through their current and former imperial possessions, or “shifting peripheries.” To accomplish this, I deliberately choose to examine a variety of works, including writings by twentieth and twenty-first century French authors who have traveled to China, Marguerite Duras’s Indochina novels, and contemporary works by Ying Chen and Nobel Laureate Gao Xingjian—two Chinese diasporic authors who write in and translate their work into French. Together they take us from colonial Vietnam (Duras), which before the arrival of France, had long been dominated by China; to contemporary Shanghai (Chen), a city that once sat at the farthest reaches of the French colonial empire, and is now the financial center of an emerging superpower; and the outer reaches of China’s Southwestern provinces (Gao)—frontier regions that have been subject to internal colonization by the People’s Republic.


© 2023, Paul Timothy McElhinny

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