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In Event: The New Paradigm and the Old Style: Intellectual Transformation of the Literati in the Late Qing
To a large extent, detective fiction was a product of growing industrialization during the 18th and 19th centuries. As Western books spread into China, detective fiction was first introduced to Chinese readers in 1896 through translations. It then became very popular during the late Qing Dynasty.
During that time, many literary intellectuals, led by Zhou Guisheng (1873-1936), thought Western detective fiction relied on the concepts of individual rights and a scientific temperament which could exert a positive influence on the evolution of Chinese thought and culture. However, some of these individuals later changed their tune. One of them was Wu Jianren (1866-1910); whose work Jiuming Qiyuan (1906) imitated the Western detective style. But then he was alarmed by the ‘Westernization’ of detective fiction and adopted a set of traditional Chinese values as a way to preclude its hegemony.
By focusing on the debate process, this paper analyzes the different attitude towards the West and demonstrates how Chinese literary intellectuals used foreign literature to shape a new Chinese subjectivity. It then argues that the controversy over Western detective fiction was not marginal, but rather a critical moment of literary transition that highlighted the late Qing Dynasty as an era of cultural changes and reformation during periods of imperial disintegration. In other words, the controversy in the late Qing Dynasty was not simply a great triumph of the West over China, but rather suggested the dynamic collision and reformation of culture from the 19th century onwards.