My project is a comparative study of British and Chinese visual and literary representations of colonial encounters in the frontier area between British Burma and late Qing and Republican Yunnan. Challenging the colonizer vs. colonized dichotomy, I hold that encounters in this region involved not only British “conquerors” and the colonized indigenous peoples but also China, which had a long established presence in the region. Despite apparent power imbalance between the Chinese and the British, their interactions with and perceptions of the indigenous were shaped by their co-presence, and their portrayals of encounters in this region register the intricate power dynamics between the British, Chinese, and indigenous groups, which were themselves extremely diverse.
To understand the dynamic relations between the groups, I choose to focus on the representation of the body in British and Chinese texts—in visual forms such as painting, drawing, and photograph, or in verbal forms such as travelogue, poetry, and novel. Indeed, in these texts there is a constant obsession with the body, which is often portrayed in meticulous and allegedly realistic detail. At the same time, these depictions, including self-consciously “truthful” photographic images, are never purely objective or truthful, but are ideologically and politically charged. In sum, visualizations of the body mirror the multilateral power struggle in the area. By looking closely at these depictions, my project investigates how they reflected and affected power relations in this area from shortly before the British annexation of Upper Burma to the end of WWII.