Through the analysis of the portrait of Italy in late Imperial Chinese press, this paper intends to adopts “a more reflective use of the contact zone as a thinking device”, as malleable conceptual space that allows to analyze the interaction between the two countries in a precarious historical moment, and to explore the scale of power undergoing such dynamics. In order to do so, three aspects of the Sino-Italian encounter and national representation will be explored: Balance of power. At the beginning of the 90’s Marie Louise Pratt’s studies on the asymmetrical encounter among different sociocultural entities resulted in the spatial idea of “contact zone”. Although, Since historians agreed on the term “semi-colony” to define the status of late Imperial China in relation to the foreign powers trying to submit it to their demands without a real imperialistic supremacy, this compels us to move away from the perspective of conquerors and conquered, as Pratt also clarifies in her later works. Voices of representation and self-representation. In this historical phase, compared to other foreign countries Italy appeared as a weak competitor in the eyes of Chinese governors, an idea of weakness built on a series of diplomatic impasses, but also consequence of the strong influence of the foreign voices and media which represented the main source of information for the young local papers, orienting and influencing the opinion of the well-educated Chinese class in the Treaty Ports. From this perspective, this paper will investigate the Italian self-portrait attempts and attest whether Italy was able to speak with the words of the Chinese to build its own image into China. Space of encounter and representation. Being a contact zone, by definition, a “space” that allows the coexistence of “peoples geographically and historically separated”, is it possible to establish the borders of the Sino-Italian contact zone in late Qing China? Being the Italian community one of the smallest and most scattered group of foreign expats in late Imperial China, contacts mostly happened according to non-tangible arrangements, and therefore in a non-physical space. We can therefore talk about a spontaneous, unintended “media contact zone”.
Vinci, R. (2020). Sino-Italian Encounters in the Late Qing Press (1872–1911). In L.D.G.a.P.L. Merle Schatz (a cura di), Contact Zones in China. Multidisciplinary Perspectives (pp. 48-69). Walter de Gruyter GmbH.