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The Journal of English Language and Literature , Vol.65, No.2, 275 ~ 286, 2019
“Why-for are you such a horrible contradiction?”: Kipling and the “Chinese Question”
Qian Wang
While there have been numerous studies on Rudyard Kipling’s writing about the British Raj, relatively little has been done on his perception of China. This paper looks at Rudyard Kipling’s representation of China in his collection of early travel letters From Sea to Sea and Other Sketches: Letters of Travel (1899). The encounter with Chinese immigrant labourers provoked profound psychological disturbances for Kipling, as was revealed in his persistent and obsessive need to solve the “Chinese question” throughout these letters. This paper analyses the figuration of the Chinese and considers how it contributes to the debate about the effects of Chinese immigration emerging in the second half of the nineteenth century. Kipling’s representation of the immigrant Chinese partakes of, and is conducive to, a Yellow Perilist preoccupation with invasion scares. Further, Kipling’s seemingly unaccountable fear and extreme hatred of the Chinese were the result of his frustration to solve “the Chinese question.” The supposedly paradoxical nature of the Chinese frustrated Kipling’s attempt to interpret them in clear-cut ways and in turn provoked his extreme abhorrence and vituperation. Finally, the paper also reflects on the ways in which different formations of imperialism might inflect British representations of China, as indicated by Kipling’s writing.
Key Words
Rudyard Kipling, Chinese immigration, colonial discourse, mimicry, Yellow Peril
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