Italy and China, Europe and East Asia: Centuries of Dialogue


April 7, 2016 to April 9, 2016


University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada


Increasing dialogue between China and Italy (as between East Asia and Europe) constitutes a most significant issue in today’s world. Recently, several Italian and Chinese industries competed directly in the global market. The Chinese migrant entrepreneurship in fashion and garment industry in Prato was spotlighted in Italian and international media as emblematic of the tension between “Made in Italy” and “Made in China.

Over the centuries, crossings between Italy and China have produced the most sustained strand of cultural texts on East-West borrowings. The work by the likes of Marco Polo, Li Madou (Matteo Ricci), Giacomo Puccini, Michelangelo Antonioni, and Bernardo Bertolucci is among history’s most influential intercultural texts. More recently, Luca Bigazzi’s cinematography in Gianni Amelio’s La stella che non c’è/The Missing Star and in Andrea Segre’s Io sono Li/Shun Li and the Poet shows the influence of Chinese landscape painting.

Britain and France also contributed significantly to European knowledge of modern and contemporary China. The Opium Wars dramatically accelerated British- and European-Chinese trades for the first time in modern history. And they consolidated such powerful stereotypes of Chinese as Fu Manchu and the Yellow Peril that persisted to this day under differing guises. French intellectuals such as Roland Barthes and Julia Kristeva traveled to China during the Cultural Revolution and wrote accounts which contributed to their theoretical elaborations.

Chinese perception of Italy, France, and Britain has been equally textured and powerful. Liang Qichao formulated his influential nationalist thinking with explicit references to the Italian Unification. The “Sixth Generation” Chinese filmmakers extensively adapted Italian neorealism for their Chinese subject matter. The current success of English-language tests managed by the British Council and the sale of French wines in China undoubtedly capitalized on specific Chinese notions of the two countries.

In recent years, English-language scholarship on Italy-China issues in particular have received renewed interest. In addition to special issues published in Journal of Modern Italian Studies (2010) and in Journal of Italian Cinema and Media Studies (2014), several books appeared addressing topics as varied as China in Italian operas (Ward 2010), Italian colonialism in China (Smith 2012), modern Italian-Chinese international relations (Marinelli and Andornino 2013), and Chinese migration to Italy (Pedone 2013).

What was at stake in Italian-Chinese, East Asian-European dialogue? How can we best examine the dialogical process in these crossings? What theoretical insights and policy advice can we yield from these intellectual endeavors? This conference will explore the contexts, ways, and reasons for which such exchanges took place. We will also examine the specific knowledge that was produced, interpreted, and negotiated when the two countries and the two continents communicated. The focus countries are Italy and China. Contributions focused on British-Chinese, French-Chinese, Japanese-Italian, and Korean-Italian exchanges are also welcome but are invited to consider Italian-Chinese examples for comparison.

The goals of the conference are to pool together existing research strands on China-Italy issues in one place; to study these issues in comparative, cross-disciplinary, and cross-centuries contexts; to attract emerging and established scholars to this field and to create a network of them for long-term collaboration based at the University of Toronto; to set agenda for future research; and to reach out to the strong Italian and Chinese communities in Toronto. To these ends, scholars from both the humanities and social sciences are welcome to participate. Selected proceedings from the conference will be published in an edited volume. An exhibition on Italian-Chinese dialogue will be planned at the University of Toronto.

The deadline for submissions is November 30, 2015.

More information and possible topics

Conference website

Jacqueline Nivard

Jacqueline Nivard, Centre d'études sur la Chine moderne et contemporaine

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