History and Theory 49 (1):58-70 (2010)

From a hermeneutic point of view, understanding is always conditioned by one's own horizon and perspective. as the great poet Su Shi remarks, we do not know the “true face of Mount Lu” because what we see constantly changes as we move high or low, far off or up close. But the point of the “hermeneutic circle” is not to legitimize the circularity or subjectivity of one's understanding, but to make us conscious of the challenge. How do we understand China, its history and culture? What should be the appropriate paradigm or perspective for China studies? More than twenty years ago, Paul Cohen argued for a “China-centered” approach to understanding Chinese history, but to assume an insider's perspective does not guarantee adequate understanding any more than does an outsider's position guarantee emancipation from an insider's myopia or blindness. By discussing several exemplary cases in China studies, this essay argues that neither insiders nor outsiders have monopolistic or privileged access to knowledge, and that integration of different perspectives and their dynamic interaction beyond the isolation of native Chinese scholarship and Western Sinology may lead us to a better understanding of China and its history
Keywords paradigms  insider and outsider perspectives  hermeneutics  China and the West
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DOI 10.1111/j.1468-2303.2010.00528.x
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