TRANS Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 17. Nr. Juni 2010

Sektion 3.2. Transcontinental Transfer of Literature and Arts to Transform Traditional Societies
Sektionsleiter | Section Chair: Hsia Adrian (McGill University, Canada)

Dokumentation | Documentation | Documentation

Section report 3.2.

Transcontinental Transfer of Literature and Arts
to Transform Traditional Societies

Adrian Hsia (McGill University, Canada / The University of Hong Kong) [BIO]



Traditional societies tend to be self-centered. Even technologies tend to have a concrete cultural background. With the world becoming increasingly inter-connected, traditional societies need to go through the process of globalization. We think the most effective way to become a global society of different cultures is through culture transfer and use it as a driving force to achieve this end. The papers examine the cultural societies in the geographical entity of Eurasia to determine to which extent the transfer of culture transform the traditional societies so that the global multi-cultural society based to acceptance and respect of differences can eventually be a reality. On the whole, the goal of the panel has been fulfilled, but it can only be one step of a open-ended project. The actual program has 20 papers. Of these 12 are in English and 8 in German. Of the presenters, nine of them hail from Asia, three are from North America, and the rest from Europe.12 of the presenters are women.


East Asia

Hong Kong as a former British colony on Chinese soil and with over 95% of its population being Chinese is obviously an ideal prototype of Eurasian culture transfer. Three papers by Hong Kong scholars focus on the double cultural identity of this megacity. Gilbert Fong and Shelby Chan study plays translated from English into Chinese and their production on stage in Hong Kong and how these mirror the cultural identity of the cosmopolitan city. The papers suggest that Hong Kong can be considered as either having no definitive cultural identity or a shifting one. Plays sometimes have two separate productions on stage, one in English and one in Chinese. And each one has a different emphasis and reflects the cultural roots of the respective language used. It seems that East does not meet West in Hong Kong. Cultures have been transferred, but they do not fuse. The third paper by Kwok-Tan Tam uses material of the media and popular culture to study the “Englishazation of the Hong Kong Identity”. He confirms the Janus-nature of the past crown colony. It is certainly an aspect of post-colonialism which deserves further scrutiny. However, we should remind the readers that the above three papers reflect mostly the situation of the Hong Kong population with a university education who can thus shift comfortably from one cultural entity to the other.

That Hong Kong also has a Chinese identity is confirmed by Terry Yip, also of Hong Kong. Her paper examines the introduction of Western spoken drama based on dialogue to China, as the traditional Chinese theatre is closer to the genre of the European opera. She makes her point by focusing on the famous Chinese playwright of the last century: Tian Han. Tian studied in Japan when this country was deeply impacted by the Western drama and was experimenting with it. Tian Han saw the importance of dialogue in transmitting ideas, especially because the spectators would not be distracted by singing and the musical performance. With his own dramatic works, he deeply influenced the development of the Chinese drama and film. Moreover, together with Guo Moruo, a writer and scholar, Tian literally transplanted the “Werther-craze”, which was in full bloom during their sojourn in Japan, to China. Goethe’s Werther became so popular with the student generation that a considerable number of works, both by man and women, in the same vein was published in the twenties and thirties. Even suicides were reported. This was an act of cultural transformation indeed. But today, Tian may be best known, at least in China, for being the author of the lyrics of the Chinese national anthem.

Studying abroad is a good way of acquiring knowledge of a different culture. However, it is rare that one studies in a second country, but becomes influenced by a third culture, as in the case of Tian Han. He studied in Japan in the twenties, he befriended two other Chinese students. We have already mentioned Guo Moruo, who translated Goethe’s Werther and Faust into Chinese. The second person is Zong Baihua, who was the only one of the trio who continued his studies in Europe. Francis So, a senior Professor of English Literature of the Sun Yatsen University in Taiwan, examines this phenomenon. During his studies in Germany, Zong became very interested in German aesthetics which he eventually introduced to China. Unlike the spoken drama which had never existed in China before, it had and has its own set of aesthetics. He was, therefore, confronted with the problem if China should convert or revert. There was no clear-cut answer. Judging from the situation in the arts of nowadays, the Chinese aesthetics not only co-exists with the Western one, they are also able to fuse, as is evident in the realms of literature, painting, and music. Especially in the area of music, Mei-Wen Lee, a musicologist also from Sun Yatsen University, proves that the arts present a common language for Eurasia by analysing the music of George Crumb in detail. The third paper from Taiwan compares “xin”, a Chinese term which means the heart, with its Western counterpart. I-Wen Su, a renowned linguist and chair of her Department at the National Taiwan University in Taipei, illustrates the cultural connotations of both terms. According to her, xin is motivated by, and in turn reflects, our bodily experience, which supports well the idea that language is tied to our thinking. It is of a holistic nature. The English word “heart” is only able to reflect part of the connotation of the Chinese term. Only the combined feature of “heart-mind” comes close to it.

The above discussion shows the complexity of culture transfer in areas which are linguistically and culturally Chinese. Since the Chinese culture is only one component of the larger East Asian entity, we turn our attention to the papers of our Korean presenters.

Young-Im Lee, a scholar from South Korea and a specialist on Hermann Hesse, thinks that Hesse’s artistic and pedagogical vision which he depicted in the novel The Glass Bead Game (Das Glasperlenspiel) has been realized by Yo-Yo Ma’s multimedia experiment "Inspired by Bach" (1995, 1997) in collaboration with artists of many cultural backgrounds. She emphasizes that these “synchronistic” performances transcend all borders, joining the past with the present, East with West, time and space and give the spectators a presentiment of the future world culture. Because Ma is Chinese-American (from Shanghai), he naturally and consciously contrives to overcome divisions and all kinds of boundaries. Professor Lee identifies Yo-Yo Ma’s endeavors with Hesse’s vision of global culture. Of a comparable multicultural vein is Young-Ae Chon’s paper on Goethe’s Faust in context of culture transfer. According to her, Faust has 22 different translations in Korean. As a result of the efforts of missionaries, Christianity has become wide spread in South Korea. After the Philippines, it has the largest percentage of Christian population in Asia. Parallel with the Christianization, the reception of Goethe’s Faust, has intensified both quantitatively and qualitatively in Korea. Mephistopheles, as the embodiment of evil, has become a familiar figure which consequently facilitates the reception of Goethe’s drama. This is another facet of culture transfer.


Other Asian Cultures

We move on to others parts of Asia. We have described the Janus nature of Hong Kong. But Singapore is even more complex. It is a city state of four official languages and cultures. It is situated on the tip of the Malay Peninsula, but the population is predominantly Chinese, the other components are Malays, Tamils, and Europeans, hailing mostly from the United Kingdom. It is of double interest that Tamara Wagner (Singapore) analyzes the fictionalization of ethnic Chinese immigrants who migrated to Australia from Singapore and Malaysia. This is both a case of double Diaspora, globalization and post-colonialism.

As a rule, the ethic Chinese of Singapore and Malaysia are very proud of their Chinese heritage. But the children of those who migrated to Australia are the opposite, as Wagner shows from their literary works. Of course they write in English, but this is not of vital importance, because English is one of the official languages in Singapore. Vital is, that these authors are uprooted from a multicultural society with a heavy Chinese component and are now part and parcel of an Anglophone (Australian) society and culture. The emblem they choose to represent themselves is the banana, yellowish on the outside, but white inside. The ancient heritage of their parents is alien to them and they often feel embarrassed and even ashamed by certain mannerism of their parents and grandparents. Wagner calls this phenomenon self-orientalization. For us it may seem the reverse of culture transfer. The special fusion of Malay-Singaporean culture of the ethnic Chinese there is not transferred to Australia, it is being cut-off and valorized as being inferior. Thus a rift is created in the family and community. This is also a facet of globalization.

From Singapore and Australia we shift to the Arabic speaking world. As we know, when we are faced with a new concept coming from a different culture, we usually have two or three choices. We can use a similar term already in existence, or we can coin a composite term by using different elements in the target language. However, the meaning and cultural connotations of the original concept may be changed by this kind of rendition. There is a third possibility, i.e. retaining the original term. Consequently, the users, including the readers, of the new term must acquaint themselves with the original concept, thus adding a new element to the culture. Lale Behzadi of Göttingen and Beirut examines this phenomenon which goes beyond the areas of modern technology such as computer and internet. She also uses narrative texts where, she writes, these Western terms often transport a code to transmit certain shades of meaning or  connotation not available in Arabic. These Western terms are mostly of English and French origin and Behzadi thinks such usage indicates “a cultural transfer that takes place in more than one direction.” Such acts help to bring opposing cultures closer and facilitate the transmittance of ideas. They also have an impact on textual structures and reception patterns.

Asia would be missing a large chunk without India. Ms. Anandita Sharma’s examination of the Faust production of 1994 in Mumbai, co-directed by Fritz Bennewitz and Vijaya Mehta, fills this gap. Ms. Sharma is Indian who is presently completing her Ph. D. degree in Düsseldorf. It is an interesting fact that sandwiched between East Asia and the Arabic world, India is the only cultural entity where Goethe and his Faust did not have a profound impact. Under British colonial rule, especially during the 19th century, India’s colonial master had promoted only the English culture and literature, consequently the continental Europe remained “terra incognita” for most of the Indian intellectuals. It follows that Goethe and his works are still alien in today’s India. People think of Christopher Marlowe first when Faust is mentioned. It seems that the adaptations of the stage production to the Indian taste and mentality were not quite successful so that the production was not appreciated by the Indian audience, and at the same time, the German “Weltgedicht” was altered in such a way as to have lost the original character. Through this presentation, we are reminded of possible pitfalls in the transfer of culture. One wonders if Faust as a literary work and its stage production would be more popular, when India had a larger Christian population. 


North America

In South Korea, the proselytization of Christianity helped the reception of Faust, because it made the symbol of extreme evil more familiar and therefore more acceptable to the Korean public. This seems ironical as Goethe, as Richard Ilgner (Canada) never tires to point out in his paper, had transformed Mephisto from a Christian to an un-Christian devil. Ilgner also analyzes the transformation of Goethe’s devil by the Soviet author Bulgakov to Woland which in its turn inspired Mick Jagger to compose the lyrics of the “Sympathy for the Devil” which the Rolling Stones performed with great success in the sixties of the last century. This is one of the most remarkable acts of culture transfer in the age of globalization. Paolo Pasolini rendition of “African Oresteia” may be less spectacular, but not less remarkable. Mark Usher (USA) analyzes Pasolini’s little-known film Notes for an African Oresteia to explore Pasolini’s use of aesthetic and political analogies between the Athens of Aeschylus’ time to expose the post-colonial situation of Africa in the late sixties. He also points out that Pasolini’s views and comments relied heavily on George Thomson’s landmark work of Marxist criticism, Aeschylus and Athens  (1941). Usher considers the “African Oresteia” as an inspired work of culture transfer designed to foster global understanding, compassion, and justice through the prism of the Oresteia myth. Both papers are extraordinary in their expanse of culture transfer. In the first instance we witness the transformation of Goethe’s Mephisto to Bulgakov’s Stanlinist devil, who in his turn inspired the Rolling Stones. In the second instance we see an Italian communist filmmaker who linked Aeschylus’ Oresteia to conditions in Africa and who intended (unfortunately, the film is little known) to use it to influence the public opinion of America. This is really culture transfer on a global scale.

The third and last paper from North America was by Kamakshi Murti, a scholar of Indian origin who received her doctoral degree in Germany and is teaching in Vermont, USA. She discusses the problem of the veil worn by Muslim women in Germany and reflects on the clashes between Christians and Muslim cultures. Germany did not have much problem in absorbing Polish workers who came in the 19th century to work in the mining sector. However, nowadays, it cannot or will not integrate the Turkish guest workers. After the tragedy of 9.11., the situation even deteriorated. The Germans became even less willing to assimilate the Turks. Even though Islam is one of the three Abrahamic religions, it is not acceptable to the Germans, Christian and atheists alike. Dr. Murti thinks one of the reasons is that the German perceive the Muslims as a hindrance to their singular identity. Dr. Murti’s paper is based on interviews with Turkish and Kurdish women and on the feedback of her teaching courses such as “To Veil or not to Veil: Islam and Germany”. She deconstructed the myth of ethnic homogeneity of the Germans and encouraged her students to discuss migration effects, identity formations of immigrants, and also of the cultures that receive immigrants as part of global migration flows. It is obvious that a society based on tolerance, which the Age of Enlightenment already highlighted, is still far off and a society based on mutual acceptance lies even further back in a misty future.



Even though now we switch from North America to Europe, the problem of the identity of migrants and non-migrants remains comparable. The paper jointly presented by Yüksel Ekinci-Kocks (Dortmund) and Enis Dinc (Salzburg and Turkey) examines the rap of the young migrants in Germany. These youths constitute the new lost generation of globalization and are also a phenomenon of post-colonialism. They were the pioneers of the German rap which began in the eighties of the last century. At the beginning, the rap scene was multi-ethnical and reflected the articulation of all discriminated minorities. Consequently, the rap in Germany developed into a trans-cultural protest movement. It also seems to develop into a part of cultural industry in which the media and commercial sponsorship play an increasing role. Without doubt the process of integration of young immigrants is slowly underway. We should note that the rap of young migrants is rendered in German, even they may use another language in their home environment. This implies that they have a double identity, one of which is German, even though they may not possess a German passport to prove it. Similarly in the world of literature, we also encounter an increasing number of authors who write in the language of the country where they are living or where their works are most read rather than in their mother tongue.

Maria Brunner (Schwäbisch Gemünd) analyzes a number of writers in this situation: Brodsky, Nabokov, Kundera, Celan, Tawada, Tschinag, to name just a few. It is obvious that the identity created by the language used is not the natural one, but a hybrid. Brunner characterizes it as mimicry, because it is situated somewhere between the two languages. From a selection of authors, Brunner uses specific biographical events and relevant comments of the authors to illustrate her point. We encounter thus writers of Russian (Brodsky and Nabokov) origin who wrote in English, of Rumanian-Jewish origin ( Celan and Ausländer) who wrote in German, of Austrian origin (Canetti) who wrote in English, of Czech origin (Kundera) who wrote in French, of Japanese (Tawada) and Mongolian (Galsan Tschinag) orgin who wrote and still write in German and so on. In all cases the authors use their biculturalism and knowledge of two languages to enrich, embellish and to enhance their respective literary products. It is an ideal situation of cultural transfer and linguistic enrichment.

Not only writers and rappers may have a double identity. Scholars, especially those immersed in another culture, may have the same phenomenon. The Sinologue Richard Wilhelm is such an example. C. G. Jung testified that Wilhelm was a German only when he was in China, once after his return to Germany he unconsciously assumed a Chinese identity and appointed himself China’s cultural ambassador to Germany. Bettina Wilhelm, Richard’s granddaughter, presents him in her paper as missionary, translator of Chinese classics into German, and transmitter of Chinese culture to the West. His German translation of Yi Jing, or better known as The Book of Changes, had been re-translated into many other European languages.  These are still read today. Bettina Wilhelm emphasizes that although her grandfather was sent to Qingdao, China, as a Protestant missionary, he never baptized a single Chinese soul. His work consisted of building schools and hospitals and in studying and later translating Confucian and Taoist canons into German. After the First World War he was repatriated to Germany. Soon he became a Professor of Chinese at the Goethe University in Frankfurt where he founded the China Institute. His translation of Chinese classics impacted whole generations of Germans for over half a century, including such distinguished cultural giants as Hermann Hesse, Graf Keyserling, Albert Schweitzer, and last but not least, C. G. Jung. Later in life, he promoted his vision of a global culture based on moral integrity, banning sectarianism, be it religious, national or cultural. Indeed, Richard Wilhelm is exemplary in culture transfer.

Also in the field of architecture, identity is also of vital importance. Eduard Kögel, a professional architect, examines modern Chinese buildings in order to find an identity after the introduction of Western architecture into China. Designing and building houses in China was traditionally considered a trade until modern times. After the overthrow of the Manchu Dynasty, China began to develop a Chinese architecture in the modern sense. Eduard Kögel examines buildings of the last century, in search of a genuine Chinese style. It seems that such a style has yet to be developed, because buildings of the 20th century are either simply Western or using the Western concept and then add some Chinese decoration. Most of the time, the two elements do not form an integral entity. There are famous Chinese or ethnic Chinese architects, but there is still no architecture in which modernity and uniquely Chinese characteristics are fused in harmony. It is obvious that culture transfer by itself is not sufficient. The host culture, or in the present case, architecture, must be developed to such an extent as to absorb the transferred entity. Otherwise the identity is lost.

Eurasia is a vast area. It may not be the cradle of the human species, but it is certainly the cradles of all still living cultures. In many respects, North America can be considered a cultural extension of Eurasia, especially because many presenters are Americans and Canadians. The papers of our panel analyzed nearly all important areas of human culture, from literature to music, the arts, architecture and so on. Both positive and negative aspects of culture transfer have been discussed. As history, including the cultural history, tends to develop asymmetrically, progresses and setbacks can be temporary. We see the need to transform our societies by learning from other cultures. We see the necessity that a living culture should be open and capable of further development. This should be a continuous process. The papers of the present panel demonstrate how our traditional societies of both East and West have been transformed through culture transfer. We should both continue our efforts in changing our society through culture transfer and in studying the process.

3.2. Transcontinental Transfer of Literature and Arts to Transform Traditional Societies

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Adrian Hsia: Section report 3.2.: Transcontinental Transfer of Literature and Arts to Transform Traditional Societies  - In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 17/2008. WWW:

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