Imagining India in Modern China: Literary
Decolonization and the Imperial Unconscious, 1895-1962

By Gal Gvili

Reviewed by Adhira Mangalagiri

MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright February, 2023)

Gal Gvili, Imagining India in Modern China: Literary Decolonization and the Imperial Unconscious, 1895-1962 New York: Columbia University Press, 2022. 264 pp. ISBN 9780231205719 (paper).

Imagining India in Modern China: Literary Decolonization and the Imperial Unconscious, 1895-1962 makes a compelling case for reading Chinese writers’ imaginations of India as constitutive of the makings of both Chinese anti-imperial discourse and the project of modern Chinese literature as a whole. Gal Gvili convincingly argues that during the early decades of the twentieth century—a period marked by vigorous contestation over literature’s forms and uses—the practice of seeking imagined connections to India proved a powerful strategy for Chinese writers to “undo imperialist knowledge structures” (2). The book’s conceptual framework hinges upon the seeming contradiction between, on the one hand, Chinese writers’ interest in the idea of India as a site for anti-imperialist thought and, on the other, the markedly imperialist and Orientalist character of those texts and discourses about India accessible in China at the time. The book’s central task lies in exposing the mediating force of “Western imperialism’s truth claims and structures of knowledge” in Chinese imaginations of India (4), what Gvili terms “the imperial unconscious” (9). The book argues that attending to the workings of the imperial unconscious does not diminish “the anticolonial critique and fervor with which Chinese writers turned to India,” but instead “makes clearer the immensely complicated epistemic untangling they undertook” (19). Although the idea of the “imperial unconscious” has been explored in other contexts,[1] Imagining India importantly introduces this concept to the study of modern Chinese literature, a field in which there still remains much to uncover regarding the role of colonial networks and hierarchies in shaping the literary sphere.

In addition to offering a lucid overview of the book’s arguments, the Introduction lays out its interventions in modern Chinese literary studies. Gvili calls for granting India as formative a role in the crafting of modern Chinese literary thought and practice as other sites, notably Japan, have conventionally occupied. Attention to imaginations of India can reveal “the particular anticolonial characteristics of … Chinese textual milestones of the first half of the twentieth century” (3). In this sense, the book joins a recent wave of publications loosely termed “China-India studies,” many of which seek to recover the often obscured and overlooked role of engagements with ideas of India and with Indian interlocuters in the development of Chinese notions of modernity, nationhood, and self-determination.[2] Imagining India persuasively brings this aim to the sphere of modern Chinese literary studies, and calls for a long-overdue recognition of English—with all its imperialist baggage—as an important mediating language in the expansive corpus of indirect or relay translations so central to the early-twentieth century Chinese literary world (17).

Imagining India also seeks to intervene in the fields of Global South studies and those of decoloniality. Supplementing the growing interest in South-South relations, Gvili proposes “South-North-South” as a formula that attends to the mediating role of the English language and of Western knowledge structures in Chinese imaginations of India. “South-South interaction in the decolonial or even postcolonial eras has never been bilateral,” Gvili writes, “but it is better understood as inevitably, if unevenly, triangulated in various ways—‘South-North-South,’ if you will” (12). The book’s commitment to subjecting “ideals of friendship, solidarity, and brotherhood” to “robust interrogation” issues a much-needed caution against the still wide-spread tendency in Global South studies to valorize relations of horizontality (8), a tendency that arguably becomes all the more heightened in studies that seek to recuperate China from its disrepute as a hegemonic presence in the Third World. Regarding “literary decolonization” (a term featured in the book’s subtitle), Gvili turns to the writings of members of the Modernity/Coloniality Collective—including Aníbal Quijano, Walter Mignolo, and Catherine Walsh—drawing on their conceptualizations of the “coloniality of power” and of decoloniality as an exercise in “epistemic disobedience” (6-7). Gvili describes Imagining India’s interest in decoloniality along similar lines, as an investigation of how “an early iteration of the South came into existence in the North,” but how such iterations nonetheless provided the terms for imagining anti-imperial possibilities in the face of limiting historical realities (9-11). Significantly, the book suggests that the task of decolonizing literature—undertaken by the authors it studies—remains incomplete: “decolonizing literature is not a teleology … that ends with unmediated South-South relationality. Modern Chinese literary texts conjured a horizontal vision of South-South connection, but even at their most optimistic, such texts could never fully disavow the mediating traces of the North” (9). By drawing attention to the inevitable yet often invisible presence of the colonial hand in crafting South-South encounters, and by emphasizing decolonization as perpetually and necessarily in-the-making, Imagining India takes up debates that are currently at the forefront of the wider humanities.

Imagining India shines brightest in its expert tracing of little-known intellectual and translational histories and the close readings showcased in each chapter. Chapter 1, “Unsettling the Violence of Comparison,” centers on the enigmatic late Qing writer, Su Manshu 蘇曼殊, a polyglot well-versed in Japanese, English, and Sanskrit (in addition to Chinese), an ordained Buddhist monk, and an avid translator. Gvili situates Su’s writings within a late Qing discursive realm indelibly shaped by the activities of Anglo-American Protestant missionaries, key figures in introducing and disseminating ideas of India in China. Gvili shows how missionary writings betray a China-India “comparative compulsion,” wherein texts “obsessively highlighted China and India as similar cultures, in which similar [Christian] pedagogies were argued to work precisely because of the countries’ imagined resemblances” (32). Although missionary activities set the initial terms of China-India comparison, the chapter shows how “Chinese intellectuals [worked] within those terms and wrest[ed] from them new meanings—albeit meanings that still bore traces of an imperial unconscious” (24). The chapter offers a close reading of a curious text by Su, “A Record of Seclusion on Sal Beach” (娑羅海濱遁跡記, 1908), that presents itself as a retranslation (from an English translation of an Indian text) but has in fact been proven to be a pseudotranslation of Su’s own creation. Gvili analyzes Su’s translational deception and his experiments with narrative voice to argue that although the text inherits the ideological constraints of Su’s English-language-based studies of Sanskrit and Buddhism, it nevertheless labors to reveal the hypocrisy of Christian benevolence and to portray India as an ally (and not merely a cautionary tale, as in the writings of Kang Youwei 康有為 and others) in the fight against Western imperialism.

Chapter 2, “What Is Rising There in the East?,” turns to the Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore’s fabled entry into the 1920s Chinese literary sphere. Although much ink has been spilled on Tagore’s influence on Chinese poetry, Gvili’s account proves newly instructive. Approaching Tagore’s 1924 China visit through the lens of the imperial unconscious shows how Chinese writers followed the “Anglo-American habit of celebrating the universal sense of religion Tagore was seen to convey, while editing out his critique of nationalism and profit-driven imperialism” (66). Although Chinese writers fundamentally misunderstood Tagore, filtered as he appeared through his Western reception, their engagements with the poet nonetheless proved fruitful. Focusing on the reverberances of “the East” in poems by Tagore’s close affiliates, Xu Zhimo 徐志摩and Bing Xin 冰心, Gvili proposes the notion of “Pan-Asian poetics”: “the idea that there exists an Asian religious sensibility connecting man to the universe around him, and that poetry could model itself on this particular sensibility to fashion similar interpersonal connections within members of society” (62). Although of imperialist provenance, Xu Zhimo’s invocations of “the East”—a category often used to interpellate Tagore abroad—issue an emotive force capable of forging human connection and of expressing hope for the “dawn of an Asian revival” (76). In Bing Xin’s short poems, Tagore’s influence manifests in the desire for connection between self and other, evincing “a constant inclination toward the interpersonal” (84). Tagore himself maintains an elusive presence in the chapter, appearing only through snippets of speeches and conversations. Indeed, as Gvili’s study suggests, Chinese translations of Tagore reveal the untranslatability of his writings in May Fourth China, and the received frames that overdetermined and limited the critical import of his thought, all of which still engendered Chinese poetic and religious innovation.

Chapter 3, “Folklore, (Il)literacy, and Cyclical Realism,” discusses Xu Dishan 許地山. Gvili argues that Xu’s writings are shaped by two colonial discourses—folklore studies and comparative religion—but that Xu worked within these inheritances to effect “a radical epistemic intervention in the wide-spread modern Chinese literary practice of realism” (93). Colonial readings of “authentic” and “ancient” Indian stories tended to treat the female storyteller as a bearer of cultural heritage and marker of India’s “savagery”—an idea picked up by missionary literary pedagogies and May Fourth writers alike (95). In the May Fourth context, folklore also signaled a “superstition-ridden past” in need of rectification (106). Xu, in contrast, subverted the savage/civilized hierarchy, and, against the current of May Fourth iconoclasm, drew continuities between past and present. In “The Merchant’s Wife” (商人婦, 1921), a story set partly in India, Xu features a cast of women who eschew the supposed supremacy of literacy and instead share oral tales as strategies for collective female survival. Xu repurposes folktales as “a means of coping with everyday life in times of flux through rituals,” and uses the circulatory capacity of folktales to foster “regional forms of solidarity” (103). The disruptive potential of orality and transregional affordances of religion manifest in Xu’s works not just thematically but also as a structural pattern: namely, as repetitive cycles, what Gvili terms “cyclical realism” (112). Through readings of “The Web-Mending Spider” (綴網撈蛛, 1922) and “Chun Tao” (春桃, 1934), Gvili shows how Xu’s commitment to repetition, renewal, and ritual grew from his studies of Hinduism and Buddhism and how it stood in opposition to both the progressivist premise of colonial religion studies and the developmental logics of May Fourth realism (109).

The next chapter moves to the 1950s period of China-India cultural diplomacy, and centers on the Chinese Indologist Ji Xianlin’s 季羨林 translation of the Sanskrit drama Śakuntalā (沙恭達羅, 1956). Those familiar with China’s cultural diplomacy in the 1950s will recall the exhaustion, even ennui, with which Indian visitors to China reported once again being subjected to a performance of Śakuntalā, a drama that bespoke for some Indians China’s Orientalist fascination with the play and its frustrating propensity to celebrate an ancient imaginary of India instead of engaging with the contemporary cultural scene. Again, Gvili sheds new light on studies of Śakuntalā’s “world literary” appeal in Orientalist circles (lauded as it was by such figures as Goethe and Schlegel). The chapter begins with Śakuntalā’s arrival in Europe as part of the Romantic interest in “drawing boundaries between ‘nature’ and ‘culture’,” which informed European translators’ understanding of the play (134-135). Breaking with such Orientalist readings, Gvili argues that Ji Xianlin’s translation positions Śakuntalā within the context of Chinese socialist art, particularly Mao Zedong’s definition of revolutionary art in his “Yan’an Talks” as “life in a more concentrated form,” as capable of “transform[ing] reality into a heightened version of itself” (145). Through readings of Ji’s translational choices, Gvili suggests that his Śakuntalā manifests socialist zhenshi (真實) aesthetics—an “embodiment of a reality that is ‘nearer the ideal’” (148). While Gvili suggests that the 1950s “saw a shift away from an episteme of Eastern spirituality towards a philologically informed study of the historical connections between China and India, encouraged and funded by increasing diplomatic contact” (130), the chapter’s focus on Śakuntalā—a play steeped in discourses of “Eastern spirituality”—also suggests the lasting endurance of Orientalist legacies in mediating the China-India relationship even in the period of “real” connections furthered by cultural diplomacy. The book concludes with a brief Epilogue, which discusses the 1962 China-India war and the continuing work of mourning the losses endured under China and India’s conditions of colonization.

Over the past few years, the field of modern Chinese literature has moved increasingly toward an exploration of China’s literary networks in and encounters with Global South literary spheres. This move stems, in one direction, from the current rise of Global South studies in the wider humanities and, in the other, from China’s growing socioeconomic and diplomatic ties in parts of Africa, South America, and South and Southeast Asia since the 2000s. China’s strategic interests in parts of the world often labelled the “Global South” have also recently energized the study of these cultures and literatures in the Chinese academy, and to a degree perhaps previously seen only during the 1950s period of China’s diplomacy with the Third World. Avoiding the trap of treating China’s entanglements in the geographic Global South in a binary fashion as either “exploitative or benevolent,” Carlos Rojas and Lisa Rofel have recently called attention to the “myriad of new processes of worldmaking” China’s historic and present-day interactions with the Global South have enabled.[3] Importantly, “China’s engagement with the Global South not only has the potential to make some novel worlds thinkable but may also simultaneously render other worlding processes nearly impossible to imagine.”[4] Rojas and Rofel suggest conceptualizing the China-Global South vector through a constant “dialectic” between openings and foreclosures, “unified and heterogenous visions of the world.”[5]

In this vein, the “South-North-South” framework proposed in Imagining India raises important questions for the study of Chinese literary engagements with the Global South, and for Global South studies as a whole. How does “South-North-South” differ from the standard workings of colonial relations that center on a mediating North? What does “South-North-South” make newly visible in how we understand the functions of colonialism beyond its familiar pattern of mediation? By drawing attention to the mediating hand of the West in China-India literary relationships, the book skillfully balances a dialectic consideration of openings and foreclosures: imagining “India” (the Orientalist construct) allowed certain Chinese writers to innovate and experiment, but their ideas of “India” made unthinkable or colored other possibilities for engaging with India proper (to refer heuristically to the real lifeworlds of the Indian subcontinent subjected to colonial systems of knowing via processes of colonization). Imagining India navigates this thorny problem by showing how Chinese writers’ imaginations of “India” (a construct taken as synonymous with India proper by Su Manshu, Xu Zhimo, Bing Xin, and Xu Dishan, and arguably by Ji Xianlin as well) nevertheless enabled noteworthy experiments with ideas of anticolonialism, religion, and realism. At times, however, the “South-North-South” framing belies the complexity of the cases the book bravely tackles. The extent to which the Chinese writers under consideration here rehearsed Orientalist stereotypes that portrayed “India” as religious, spiritual, ancient, and so on suggests the impenetrability of Orientalist mediation. In other words, it appears that the Orientalist construct of “India” served not as a layer or lens one could pass through, but rather as an unpierceable veil that kept India proper out of reach. Might we then understand the China-“India” literary relationship studied here as closer to “South-North,” the second “South” marked by its notable absence? Doing so may caution those of us working on China and the Global South against conflating the “North” with the West, for Imagining India offers us a compelling case of hegemonic epistemologies that appear in non-Western garb. As scholars of Chinese literature gravitate increasingly toward the South-South horizon, this book calls for heightened vigilance to how the line between some Norths and Souths can flicker in and out of view, and for the danger of eliding this line (taking “India” as India, for instance).

The problem of the absent second “South” in “South-North-South” raises further interesting questions for studies of indirect and relay translation. Notably, each of Imagining India’s chapters deals with the place of India in China’s religious imaginary: from Su Manshu’s engagement with missionary ideologies and Tagore’s place in discourses of “Eastern spirituality,” to Xu Dishan’s literary interest in Hinduism and Buddhism and Ji Xianlin’s attempt to reframe Śakuntalā’s religious sensibility in terms of debates on realism. This connective thread suggests that, in the works of the writers studied here, “India” functioned as a site for rethinking ideas of and relationships to religiosity, often positioned in contradistinction to developmental, secular notions of modernity. To what extent does this epistemological affordance of “India,” which offers ways to rethink the possibilities of religious and spiritual being, result from the particular archive under study here, namely colonial-era English language translations of and writings on India? Is there a correlation between the widespread availability in China of Orientalist treatments of India as an ancient repository of mankind’s religiosity, and Chinese writers’ concurrent “rediscovery” in the twentieth century of India as the originary font of Buddhism (in the writings of Zheng Zhenduo 鄭振鐸, for instance)? What foreclosures does the “India”-religion complex betray, given the Orientalist tendency to treat India as a spiritually rich but politically depraved site of thought? Imagining India paves the way for a rich field of future research on indirect/relay translation in the vibrant multilingual landscape of modern Chinese literature, a topic yet to be fully explored. Ideas of India that entered Chinese discursive fields through the mediating language of Russian, for instance, might offer an interesting counterpoint to the “India”-religion complex, and may even reveal the narrowness of that associative link by challenging the supremacy of Orientalist definitions in determining what “India” could mean in translation.

The absent second “South,” to remain with the idea a little longer, also raises important questions of method for those working on China and the Global South. Imagining India should be commended for making strikingly visible the presence of English as a mediating language, a presence that exerts an undeniable influence on shaping “India” as the object of translation yet one that could easily slip by unnoticed in less critically astute studies. In one sense, readers may find that the book is constrained by the methodological limits of the Chinese writers it studies, in that the book shares with its protagonists access only to the English-language sphere of writings from and about India. The study of Ji Xianlin, for instance, offers an interesting case for those of us who may share the methodological limitations we seek to expose. As discussed in chapter 4, the fact that Ji was able to translate an Indian text directly from Sanskrit (and not through English mediation) marks a crucial turn in the trajectory Imagining India traces: the shift from the workings of the “imperial unconscious” in earlier Chinese writers’ mediated engagements with India, to Ji’s work as a “critical stepping stone for an emergent Sino-Indology that paid critical attention to the Western legacies that informed it and was aware of the inability to completely disavow them” (141; emphasis added). Yet, despite Ji’s awareness, the imperial unconscious remains at work, for in its careful identification of Ji’s translational alterations (from replaced punctuation marks to insertions of new words and lines of dialogue), the chapter compares Ji’s translation not to the “Bengali recension of Śakuntalā” Ji himself referred to, but rather to Barbara Stoler Miller’s English translation of that recension (206, fn 82). With at least three linguistically-differentiated versions at play here—the Sanskrit text (itself in many variants), its Bengali recension, and Miller’s English translation—the chapter implicitly raises the challenges of identifying the translator’s modifications in the absence of an “original” to which to compare. By calling attention to the continued workings of the “imperial unconscious,” Imagining India, much like the writers it studies, shows how working within methodological constraints may still prove productive. Here, excavating Ji’s translational interventions, even if via indirect translation, reveals how Ji attempted to imbue Śakuntalā with a dynamism and a heightened ability to evoke an emotional response in the audience, furthering his exploration of zhenshi aesthetics (152-153). Imagining India, therefore, could be read as opening a generative conversation on how the “imperial unconscious” may still haunt our own scholarly practices and on the value of reflecting on our continued entrapment within colonial legacies of thought.

Such reflexivity on the colonial structures of our academic work is currently positioned within the field of decolonial studies, which seeks in part to “advance the undoing of Eurocentrism’s totalizing claim and frame, including the Eurocentric legacies incarnated in U.S.-centrism and perpetuated in the Western geopolitics of knowledge.”[6] In contrast to earlier models of immanent critique (of critiquing from within, simply put), decolonial studies tend to call for a radical break or rupture from “Eurocentrism’s totalizing claim and frame,” of refusing to subscribe to those lineages and practices of thought altogether. As Mignolo has written, “decoloniality focuses on changing the terms of the conversation. Dewesternization, instead disputes the content of the conversation and leaves the terms intact.”[7] On this crucial point, Imagining India perhaps departs from the Modernity/Coloniality Collective’s vision of decoloniality and stays closer to Mignolo’s “dewesternization”: both the book and the Chinese writers it discusses remain with the “terms” of the knowledge structures they inherit from the West, but imbue these terms with new meanings and uses. As the book shows, the writers work within Orientalist terms to wrestle with the hold of the imperial unconscious and to explore new possibilities of relation that push against the imperialist limits of those very terms. As such, Imagining India offers a counterpoint to decoloniality’s move toward rupture. The book makes clear the fruitfulness of studying Chinese creative efforts to imagine connection with “India” within and against colonial epistemological flows. Although it may be evident from our present-day perspective that, for the Chinese writers discussed here, “India” remains closer to the “West” than to India proper, the book pushes us to take seriously the Chinese writers’ own belief in the radical potential of that “India” to “undo” Eurocentrism from within.

What might taking Chinese writers’ engagements with “India”—however limited these engagements may be—seriously (as Imagining India asks us to do) offer to our understanding of modern Chinese literature? In this regard, the book raises a pressing conundrum: in order to emphasize the innovativeness of Chinese writers’ decision to turn to “India” (or, indeed, to other non-Western imaginaries), do we risk constructing too rigid a status-quo or “norm” against which innovation can become identifiable as such? Two examples from the book, each of which pursues a different approach, help illustrate this conundrum. The first is the case of Xu Dishan. Chapter 3 argues that Xu Dishan’s “cyclical realism” sought to intervene in “May Fourth literary realism,” by subverting “the linear determinist narrative that characterized the European realist and naturalist fiction . . . which inspired many Chinese authors in the 1920s and 1930s” (111-112). By situating “religious worship, conversion, and faith-based notions of fate at the heart of his stories,” Xu “shaped a new narrative form of realism” that opposed “the generic frame of realism (xieshi 寫實), understood as a literary representation of social life with scientific accuracy . . . [and that] was deeply informed by evolutionary theory” (112-113). The argument is alluring in its clarity: Xu’s turn to Indian folklore and religious thought dismantles the Eurocentrism, the commitment to an Enlightenment idea of “science,” and the linear logics found in May Fourth realism. But what if we evoke again Michel Hockx’s prescient sense (now published almost a quarter of a century ago in this journal’s pages) that “the variety of literary products [of early Republican China] cannot possibly be covered by referring only to a single mainstream, a single genre, or a single sociopolitical event that occurred in 1919, and that there is, perhaps, no such thing as ‘May Fourth literature’”?[8] As Roy Chan has insightfully argued, in Republican-era China, realism’s “others” “appear to be external to realism but in fact have their root in the desire immanently embedded in the very search for the real.”[9] Might we then read Xu Dishan’s “cyclical realism” not as opposed to the Eurocentric, scientific character of early-Republican realism, but as part and parcel of it, for, in Chan’s words, “while realism sought to replicate and convey an ontology built on the epistemic principles of science, it also nevertheless dreamed of utopian ways of being and knowing that went beyond what was scientifically established”?[10] By highlighting Chinese engagements with the Global South as exceptional to the norm, do we risk constructing the norm as more unified and homogenous than was the case?

The second example concerns Ji Xianlin. Chapter 4 takes a different route regarding the question of the norm: here, Ji’s translation of Śakuntalā functions to bring Ji closer to what the chapter identifies as a central concern of socialist realism of the time. The chapter argues that following Mao’s 1942 “Yan’an Talks,” “art and literature now had to not simply reflect reality, but actively produce a better version of it” (146), an imperative captured in the distinction between xianshi 現實 (real) and zhenshi 真實 (true). Much of the analytic link between Ji’s Śakuntalā and zhenshi aesthetics hinges upon Ji’s preface to his translation, in which he cites Mao’s words from the “Talks” on art’s ability to capture life “on a higher plane, more intense, more concentrated, nearer the ideal,” and discusses this idea in terms of xianshixing (realness) and zhenshixing (trueness) (153). The chapter then demonstrates Ji’s translational choices as elevating Śakuntalā to this “higher plane” of zhenshixing. Here, Ji’s engagement with “India” is positioned not as oppositional or external to, but as within the folds of what the chapter suggests is an accepted ideal of socialist art. In so doing, this “norm” becomes consolidated—the fervent debates on socialist realism that took place between 1942 and 1956 (the year of Shagongdaluo’s publication, and a year marked by the vigorous Hundred Flowers contestation of Soviet-style socialist realism) become collapsed. How do we understand Ji’s intervention as part of the intense debates and experiments with socialist realism, itself in flux at the time, rather than as adhering to a retrospectively constructed norm? Although Ji’s gesture to Mao’s “Talks” in his preface reminds us of how common citations of Mao’s words were in translational prefaces of the time, the mention nonetheless indicates Ji’s efforts on some level to fold into accepted artistic tenets his decision to translate a mystical Sanskrit drama about kings and sages and maidens, one that seems far removed from Zhou Yang’s 周揚conception of zhenshi as inextricable from jieji 階級 (class) (146). Here, the question is this: how can we retain the complexity of Chinese engagements with non-Western imaginaries in moments when such literary practices appear to not “subvert,” but rather to bolster (or at least overtly position themselves in agreement with) accepted registers? This question gains heightened relevance today given the present conditions of China-Global South interactions, wherein engaging the Global South has arguably become the state-sanctioned norm. Imagining India raises these timely questions, which are of crucial importance to understanding China’s historical and present-day turns to the non-Western world.

In tackling such urgent issues, Imagining India will offer provocative reading for all those working on China and the Global South, as well as on issues of realism and religion in modern Chinese literature. Among its contributions is an archive that brings together a fascinating collection of texts and discourses through which ideas of India entered into the Chinese literary sphere in mediation and through which Chinese writers engaged with those received ideas. As such, the book offers what Roanne Kantor has conceptualized in a different context as “the countershelf,” “a collection of texts, authors, and locations of world literature through which writers in the Global South identify against the Anglophone globe in which they are simultaneously compelled to circulate.”[11] Kantor’s study examines South Asian writers’ engagements with Latin American texts and ideas that circulated in English translation (assembled on a figurative “countershelf”), which opened important sites of imagined affiliation as counterpoints to the hegemonic demands of the Anglophone literary world. In a similar vein, Imagining India can be productively read as an investigation of one such “countershelf” available to and constructed by Chinese writers through which they formed imagined affiliations with ideas of India as an (incomplete) strategy to experiment with conceptions of religion and realism. Imagining India makes an important intervention in uncovering one of the many such countershelves that sparked the formations of modern Chinese literature.

Adhira Mangalagiri
Queen Mary University of London


[1] Gvili provides a helpful selected bibliography of other scholarship that explores the concept of the “imperial unconscious” on page 172, fn 38.

[2] For an overview of and recent scholarship in the field of China-India studies, see: Adhira Mangalagiri, and Tansen Sen, eds. “Methods in China-India Studies,” special issue, International Journal of Asian Studies 19, no.2 (2022).

[3] Carlos Rojas and Lisa Rofel, “Introduction: Contact, Communication, Imagination, and Strategies of Worldmaking,” in New World Orderings: China and the Global South, eds. Lisa Rofel and Carlos Rojas (Durham: Duke University Press, 2023), 2–3, 7.

[4] Rojas and Rofel, “Introduction,” 8.

[5] Ibid, 7.

[6] Walter Mignolo and Catherine Walsh, On Decoloniality: Concepts, Analytics, Praxis (Durham: Duke University Press, 2018), 2.

[7] Ibid., 130; emphases in original.

[8] Michel Hockx, “Is There a May Fourth Literature? A Reply to Wang Xiaoming,” Modern Chinese Literature and Culture 11, no. 2 (1999): 49.

[9] Roy Bing Chan, The Edge of Knowing: Dreams, History, and Realism in Modern Chinese Literature (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2017), 28.

[10] Ibid., 27.

[11] Roanne Kantor, South Asian Writers, Latin American Literature, and the Rise of Global English (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2022), 11.