Chinese Ears, Delicate or Dull? Toward a Decolonial Comparativism.

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Date: Fall 2021
Publisher: University of California Press
Document Type: Article
Length: 23,922 words
Lexile Measure: 1740L

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Abstract :

This article compares extractivist ideologies of voice and listening in late eighteenth-century Europe and China to envision a decolonial comparativism. Inspired by Dylan Robinson's "apposite methodology," the article "writes with" the French Jesuit Jean-Joseph-Marie Amiot, who compared European and Chinese ears several times during his career in Beijing to ascertain why the Chinese abhorred European harmony. Through his correspondence with the Republic of Letters, Amiot's comparisons resonated with the "sharp-eared Chinese" trope in European discourse. The dialectics of this trope, laid bare in Johann Gottfried Herder's surprisingly similar denigrations of China and of deafness, reflected an extractivist phonocentrism by which recognition of one's subjectivity required opening oneself up to society's extractive listening. Hegel and post-Thermidorian French elites even posited such extraction as the foundation for pluralism and progress. Though specifically othered by European phonocentrism, the Qing Empire then ruling China articulated similar ideologies. While Amiot compared the qupai stock melodies of Kunqu theater to the vaudeville songs of opera-comique, eighteenth-century Qing court adaptations of Kunqu departed from the pervasive use of qupai to achieve a transcendent positionality of listening. Qing-imperial ethnographies of languages and songs further revealed such transcendent listening as undergirding the multiethnic empire, where subjecthood depended on proffering a voice to the imperial ear via an extractive phonography ("voice-writing"). The article concludes by situating this phonocentrism shared between Europe and China within current academic discourses on decolonization and deimperialization. It argues that comparativism can create spaces that facilitate "turning away" from the extraction of voices, which continues to sustain imperial hegemonies as uniquely transcendent ears. Keywords: Jean-Joseph-Marie Amiot, Qing Empire, phonocentrism, extraction, comparativism, Kunqu theater

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A696486486