This essay challenges the French poet, naval doctor, archaeologist and sinologist Victor Segalen’s established image as a literary modernist who broke with colonial exoticism. I use a set of previously understudied primary sources, including Segalen’s own travel journals, archaeological accounts, letters and photo albums, as well as Chinese gazetteers and a stele inscription documenting his excavation of a tomb associated with Bao San Niang 鮑三娘 – the supposed daughter-in-law of the famous Chinese general Guan Yu 關羽. Through a study combining both textual and field investigations, this article not only points out the disjuncture between Segalen’s progressive theory and his actual practice, but also questions the tendency among critics – both Western and Chinese – to overstate Segalen’s contribution to East–West cross-cultural representation, while intentionally omitting his exploitative deeds.
- inverted exoticism
- Sino-French cultural encounters
- Victor Segalen