Promises of Modern Renaissance: Italian Presences in Chinese Modernity

Open Access
Anderson, Kyle David
Graduate Program:
Comparative Literature
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
June 07, 2010
Committee Members:
  • Alexander C Y Huang, Dissertation Advisor
  • Alexander C Y Huang, Committee Chair
  • Caroline Davis Eckhardt, Committee Member
  • On Cho Ng, Committee Member
  • Robert R Edwards, Committee Member
  • cultural borrowing
  • New Rome
  • Liang Qichao
  • Marco Polo
  • Petrarch
  • Boccaccio
  • Dante
  • Modernity
  • Chinese Renaissance
  • Jiao Naifang
  • Decameron
  • sonnet
  • nationalism
  • agency
Following the re-opening of China to the outside world in the late 1970s, scholarship exploded with attempts to write and rewrite Chinafs modern history. In seeking to define Chinese modernity, many of these studies have taken a comparative approach sensitive to the international influences and forces informing developments in China in the twentieth century. In the American academy, attention to external influences has focused mainly on the major world powers of the nineteenth century that were involved in Chinafs semi-colonization (England, the United States, Russia, Japan, Germany, and France). This study explores an unduly neglected portion of Chinafs modern history, its appropriations of Italian literature and culture. To date, outside of Italy, few have attempted to push beyond the iconic commonplaces of Polo and pasta to understand the cultural history of Sino-Italian relations. This project demonstrates that just as Italian culture influenced the evolution of modern art, thought, values, education, economies, and governments in the West, it was also used to fashion Chinafs projects for modernization. The principal topics analyzed in this study include Chinafs understanding of the Italian Renaissance, Liang Qichaofs V—…”n Xin Luoma (New Rome) (1902), Chinese theorizations of the Petrarchan sonnet, and Chinese decamerons. Chapters on the Italian Renaissance and the Petrarchan sonnet describe important intellectual discourses and local debates into which notions of the renaissance and the sonnet were drawn during the early Republican period (1911-1930s). Research on the New Rome and the Decameron analyzes how the figures of Dante, Boccaccio, and Risorgimento heroes were employed in competing models for modernity in the late Qing (1900-1911) and Communist periods (1949-). These case studies verify the importance of borrowings from Italian culture in Chinese modernity. More importantly, they contribute to a fuller understanding of Chinafs modern literary history. In order to see Chinese modernity more clearly, it is imperative to look through the Italian lenses that Chinese intellectuals had once chosen to help perceive themselves as subjects in a modern world system. This study demonstrates how Chinese writers articulated and elevated the regenerative power of the Renaissance, the patriotism of Dante Alighieri and Risorgimento heroes, the normalizing function of the Petrarchan sonnet, and the Decameronfs lessons in sexuality and nationalism, as integral parts of their projects for Chinafs cultural modernization.