Victor Segalen’s 1914 archaeological mission in Sichuan: The untold story

Yunfei BAI*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review


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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)210-229
Number of pages20
JournalFrench Cultural Studies
Issue number3
Early online date7 May 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • archaeology
  • inverted exoticism
  • Orientalism
  • Sino-French cultural encounters
  • steles
  • Victor Segalen


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