Chinese Studies
2013. Vol.2, No.2, 96-100
Published Online May 2013 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Yeast and Its Meaning Travel in China
Li Jing
Shanghai Maritime University, Shanghai, China
Received March 18th, 2013; revised April 21st, 2013; accepted April 29th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Li Jing. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution
License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original
work is properly cited.
The post colonial Chinese national identity is legitimized through appropriations of Victorian literature
and culture. This idiosyncratic “modern” national rhetoric is supposed to be time honored and timeless,
but the children it breeds turn out to be neither rightfully Victorian nor indigenously Chinese. Adopting
the concept of the “meaning travel”, this essay intends to give an alternative perspective to examine the
Chinese discursive practice of the Victorian literature. While intending to prove the “Chinese character”
by setting out what values showed in the Victorian novel Yeast China is now short of, the Chinese readers
add a fugue motif in the fable of modern China’s revitalization.
Keywords: Yeast; Meaning Travel; China
“The trouble wit h the En … english is that their hiss hi s-
tory happened overseas, so they dodo don’t know what it
means.”—by Salman Rushdie in the Satanic Verses.
The articulated centrality of the west has nearly penetrated
into every aspect of Chinese experiences with the moderniza-
tion of Chinese society beginning in the early 20th century. In
order to reconstruct its idiosyncratic identity after the founda-
tion of new People’s Republic of China, the nation, willy-nilly,
has to find social-economical examples, which paradoxically,
always turn out to be the west. Various forms of consumptions
of the Victorian culture are in part the fantasy products based
on selective remembering of the past. By surpassing the Victo-
rian history, the CPC regime of China is expected to represent
itself with potentially reactionary1. The east versus the west
paradigm presupposes the cultural term China as one part of the
world culture as a whole, yet it fails to explain the ambiguous
formations of “modern” cognitions in the global context.
Edward Said’s “travel theory” introduces the concept of
cross cultural literary practice, in which the fluidity of knowl-
edge transfer is highly emphasized. In terms of creative adop-
tion and appropriation, Said sets a universal framework of cri-
tique. However, it is intriguing to observe that in this set of
framework, the theory always responses to the social context
that never stops modifying. The travel theory has the atrophy in
nature when explicating further inquiries such as what are the
vehicles of the travel, which subjects drive the time machine etc.
It is worth noting that in many regions in the world like China,
the English language shall always be far from being important
compared to the native languages, the foreign terms such as cul-
ture, modernity, nation, religion have their magnificent fermen-
tation due to systematic conspiracies from the local initiatives.
Many critics have noticed the “allez-retour” feature of the
meaning formations of western episteme. The characteristic
cultural relocation finds its evidences in terms of the “global
ecology of Victorian literature” (Gagnier, 2008; Gagnier &
Delveux, 2006). What Julliet John says about the “global
Dickens” study also sheds light on a critical understanding of
the global Victorian study that “marks a return to scholarship as
dialogue, dialogue that includes languages other than English,
media other than books, and cultural institutions other than
universities” (John, 2012: p. 502). This essay shall focus more
on the ecological consumptions of the Victorian novel Yeast
(1851 by Charles Kingsley). The bi-lateral meaning transfer
suggests a translated Chinese national identity that could not be
simplified into the dominance-resistance landscape in the center
of the risky field of the west and the east.
Researchers have focused more on the intellectuals’ process-
ing of the western discourses while neglecting the circulation of
these verbal practices in the non-elite common mass. Valerie
Sanders argues that films and literature are significant agents
fostering contemporary students’ understanding of the Victo-
rian age (Sanders, 2007), the common mass’ consumptions of
the Victorian culture bear sharper transparency of the legiti-
macy of western discourses. In the following essay, one shall
analyze the non-elite Chinese readership on Yeast. The reading
space becomes “a text, a commodity, a discourse, and a piece of
international cultural capital” (Jordan, 2011: p. 6) in which a
paradoxical Chinese identity is “translated” by means of power
reconfiguretion, productive distortion and parodic imitation of
1The landscape of the imaginative construction on Victorian age in China
since 1978 can be seen in the following works: Gao, Debu. “The Middle
Department and Interim Employment in English Industrialization.”
of Southeast University (Philosophy and Social Science) Vol. l15 .16.2003:
44-47; He, Liping. “On the Female British’s Leisure Activities on the First
Half of the Nineteenth Century.” Collection of Womens Studies Vol. 13.
2005: 21-29; Sun, Dongbo. “The Government in the British Urbanization in
the Victor i an Ag e.” Journal of Yuncheng University. Dec 2005: 66-68; Tang
Maolin, and Xiaohong Li. “Apprehend the Working Condition of Factory
Workers during Industrial Revolution in Great Britain—Compare Marx’s
and Wren’s Discussion.” Journal of Anhui Agri. Sci. Vol. 34.1 0. 20 06: 2279
the novel.
Such characteristic readership is a counter discourse of the
grand narrative of China’s revitalization. Detailed interpreta-
tions on Kingsley’s utopian imagination of harmonious Asia
shall be illustrated firstly in the following essay; Chinese read-
ers’ disenchantment of the “harmonious Asia” shall be analyzed
secondly. The unconscious acceptance of western values such
as “culture,” “religion”, “otherness” makes coded split identity
that adds a fugue motif in the narrative of China’s revitalization.
At the same time, Kingsley’s “harmonious Asia” finds its new
performance in Chinese readership. A brief archeology of
China’s processing of western values encourage one to think
about what Amanda Anderson holds as the fundamental cul-
tural roots that shape today’s history (Anderson, 2005: p. 14).
The perspective of bi-lateral meaning travel of Yeast offers a
“critical paradigm precisely because it blurs the distinctions
between criticism and creativity, with each becoming a reflec-
tion on self and other” (Llewellyn, 2008: p. 71).
“Harmonious Asia” in Yeast
The imagination of a “harmonious Asia” is a crucial media-
tion for one to analyze Yeast’s theme “regeneration,” which yet,
has not been put into critical study in its own right. Philip Davis
argues in The Victorian that the Victorian age is the threshold
of modern civilization, being a “transformation of old traditions
within new context”. John Mcgowan also says it is from the
Victorian intellectuals Mill, Carlyle, Arnold and Ruskin the
term “Zeitgeist” has become a new concept alongside the term
Yeast shows Kingsley’s yearning for the “zeigeist” in terms
of the novel’s showing of a disenchanted landscape. The theme
“regeneration” signifies the quest for a spiritual homeland.
Lancelot, the young protagonist, goes through trials and tribula-
tions in search of a spiritual anchorage in a fragmented world.
Historical and literary merits of Yeast are illustrated by many
critics (Cazamian, 1991: p. 254; Beer, 1965: p. 243-354; Scott,
1983: pp. 195-207; Kijinski, 1985: pp. 97-109; Derbyshire,
2006: pp. 58-64), what remains unsettled is the interrelation
between the theme and the imaginative “harmonious Asia” in
the novel.
In Yeast, the image of the “harmonious Asia” serves as a
utopian archetype of the enchanted lands. When the desperate
Lancelot encounters the mysterious sage Barnakill, who is
supposed to be the Christian socialist leader F. D. Maurice
(Hartley, 1977: p. 163), the latter one suggests him to go to
Asia, “the oldest and yet the youngest continent … when you
have learnt the wondrous harmony between man and hid
dwelling place, I will lead you to a land where you shall see the
highest spiritual cultivation in triumphant contact with the
fiercest energies of matter” (Kingsely, 1851: pp. 253-254).
In his letters and memoirs it is hard to find any direct infor-
mation of the sources of such utopian imagination. It is also
intriguing to notice the displacement between Kingsley’s Asian
imagination and the historical “facts”. In the year 1851 when
Yeast is finally published, the British empire has just defeated
the Qing government in the Opium War. In the national rhetoric
of Chinese history, Chinese historians intend to write this pe-
riod of history as tragic epic. Should Kingsley be so ignorant of
the result of the Opium War? Why should Barnakill’s words
have resonance with ancient Chinese philosophy?
Rana Kabbani has analyzed that in the 19th century Europe,
the Orient has always been an archetype, either of heaven or of
hell, yet it seems inadequate when explaining the case here. In
the nineteenth century the British Utopian imagination on the
Orient has two main sources: 1) Jesus Jesuits and other Catho-
lic missionaries who came to China in late Ming and early Qing.
They described China as the land of idyllic beauty ruled by wise
kings with their rationalism (the doctrine of Confu- cius and
Mencius) in the works and letters. 2) At the beginning of the
nineteenth century Protestant missionaries who came to China
also translated and introduced Chinese Confucianism, Taoism
and buddhism. Professor James Legge (1839-1873 in China) of
the University of Oxford translated The Four Books (The Great
Learning, The Doctrine of the Mean, The Confucian Analects,
and The Works of Mencius) and The Five Classics (The Book of
Songs, The Book of History, The Book of Changes, The Book of
Rites and The Spring and Autumn Annals), which has a great
impact in Britain. Due to the influence of Jesus fel- low, a
fashion and trend known as Chinoiserie occurred in Europe in
late seventeenth century to early nineteenth century, namely
that China is an ideal harmonious world with Chinese tea, ce-
ramic, wallpaper, pavilions, pagodas as its symbol. In spite of
the Opium War during 1848 to 1851, due to the seclusion, the
British did not really enter the Chinese mainland. The truth they
knew about China is mainly after the Second Opium War.
Therefore, when Lancelot is enlightened by the sage’s
“nameless” teaching on Being, he blurts out the Latin words
“Solvitur ambulando” (Kingsley, 1851: p. 262). Such philoso-
phically enlightenment could also be found in Confucius words:
“Does Heaven speak? The four seasons proceeded by it, the
hundreds things are generated by it. Does Heaven speak?” (qtd
in Graham, 1989: p. 18); also could be found in the Taoist mas-
ter Lao Tzu’s words: “The way that can be told of is not an
unvarying way; the names that can be named are not the un-
varying names” (trans Lao, 1997: p. 6). The transformation of
Being is achieved by a “Solvitur ambulando” way of transpar-
ency of language usage, also declares Zhuangzi, another Taoist
in ancient China: “words exist for expressing ideas; once the
ideas are expressed, the words are forgotten. I would like to
find someone who forgets words and have a talk with him!”
( Jullien, 2000: p. 307).
The overlapping thoughts either on the revealing of the holy
heaven or on the “way” shed light on a dialogical possibility of
the meaning travel of Yeast. It is worth noting also, Asia is not
the only utopia for Kingsley. In Alton Locke (1852), the tailor
poet is also enlightened through a long conversation with a
female sage Eleanor. At the end of the novel, the master sends
Locke to Mexico, so as to look for new energy for the rebirth of
England. Before setting off, Locke dies in the prime of his life.
In 1863, there comes a fairy tale The Water Babies, where
Kingsley arranges the setting in a fictive watery wonderland,
which sets the utopian imagination to another phase.
The diasporic developments and the open endings of King-
sley’s novels imply the author’s cultural ideal that hasn’t been
found in his own social landscape. Kingsley could also never
have imagined his striving for regeneration would receive re-
generative feedbacks hundreds of years later in a nation that he
ever imagines as the dreamland. The round trip meaning travel
of Yeast finds its ambivalent enchantment in its diasporic con-
text. Embedded in the ecological reading space of the novel, the
fermentation of the discourse “harmony” incubates the split
modern Chinese experience.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 97
The “Harmony” Disenchanted
For Kingsley the sources of the “harmonious Asia” could be
originated from his hermeneutical interpretations on ancient
Chinese classics in the context of the Chinoiserie. The Chinese
readership of Yeast performs productive imitation and distorted
parody of Said’s normative travel theory. While Kingsley trav-
els with the ancient Chinese classics by air, the Chinese readers
travel with Yeast by water. The heterotopian consumptive field
of Yeast implies ambivalent modern Chinese experiences.
The Chinese readers” disenchantment of the trope “har-
mony” metaphorizes the “translated” modern China’s national
fable. While the elite community takes pain to create the rheto-
ric of modern China’s revitalization, the Chinese common
readers add a fugue motif in this grand post-post modern sym-
phony. The enchantment of Yeast also makes the concept of
national identity be more ambiguous: the answer to the question
“what China is” depends on how one answers back “what
things China don’t have”. The counter discourse of Kingsley’s
utopian imagination dwells in the representation that what the
“harmonious Asia” is to Kingsley is what Yeast is to the Chi-
nese readers2.
The astonishing disenchantment of the “harmony” anchors
its ethnographic bay shortly after the readers reach the novel’s
theme “regeneration”. When discussing Lancelot’s religious
rites of passage, many readers blurt that such kind of religious
pursuit could seldom be seen in China now:
Reader 1: The foreigners usually hold religious beliefs,
and some of them think that …
Teacher: Lets discuss it. You dont think the Chinese hold
religious beliefs, right?
Reader 1: The Chinese have got very, very superficial
comprehension of religion.
Teacher: For instance?
Reader 2: Recently some people have not held enough be-
Reader 1: Their beliefs are mostly superstitious. The for-
eign religious beliefs require people to do good deeds and
to think in some way. Any way, they work in this way.
Reader 3: It is related to their culture.
Teacher: Then what we have learnt, take the Confucius
thinking which teaches you how to live and behave, for
instance. Dont you think it is …
Reader 1: Um, what I said about religious beliefs is …
(pause) Not mention Confucius. We dont usually tag
Confucius as our religious belief or something we should
The transcription implicates the legitimatization of the per-
formative nationality in the post-post modern context. From the
19th century’s the Opium War to today’s reform and opening
up policy, China has undergone extraordinary vicissitudes in its
social structure. The tr ansformation takes the form of emerging
fragments of historical discourse that is present and marginal-
izing, yet is visualized as the discourse of progress and continu-
ity. Modern Chinese discourses, whether of social or scientific
practices or on China’s intellectual heritage, are largely articu-
lated in westernized discourses that have been normalized as
China’s own. Researchers have focused more on the knowledge
transfer in the Chinese elite community from whom new terms
such as “religion”, “culture”, “superstition”, “western” are in-
troduced and invented, it is equally important to notice that
these terms gain their symbolic power through the anonymous
travel and circulation in Chinese common mass.
The puzzling acceptance of the borrowed terms could also be
seen in the translation practice of the Lancelot’s dogmatic creed
before having his regeration: “a man ought to be religious”
(Kingsley, 1851: p. 13). A key factor showing the cultural re-
purposing is on the diction in the translation of the word “reli-
gious”. A lot of the readers use dictions that weaken the Chris-
tian orientation in the original text, instead they choose words
such as “虔诚”(qiancheng, faithful), “真诚”(zhencheng, sin-
cere), “谨慎” (jinshen, cautious), “有信仰的” (youxinyangde,
In the reading space of Yeast, defining what is valued as
“Chinese” in the complexities of the historical Chinese
“neighborhood” is challenged. No matter viewed as a verbal
object or cognitive mechanism, Lancelot’s regeneration be-
comes a mediated code from which the Chinese readers imag-
ine their own national identity. A split identity is reified
through the discursive formation of a paradoxical othering
Teacher: Why do you think Chinese have a superficial
comprehension of religious beliefs?
Reader 2: What are the religious beliefs you mentioned?
Reader 4: In my opinion, for example, they (the Chinese)
dont attach too much importance to religious beliefs. The
old lady with two pistols, for instance. (The old lady with
two pistols is a legendary narrative on woman fighting the
Japanese soldiers with excellent shooting skill. The image
of her is often popularized by the TV operas).
Reader 5: Briefly speaking, it is a serious attitude. What
we lack is the serious attitude, toward everything.
Reader 6: It depends. What you said is too superficial.
Reader 5: It is a common phenomenon in China. You
cannot find such a thing even in a much poorer country.
Teacher: Take for instance, a man ought to be religious
—How do you think about religious? And what do you
mean by Chinese have a superficial comprehension of
religious beliefs?”
Reader 7: It is general enough to get religion involved,
not individuals religious problem.
Teacher: In what way do you think the Chinese are super-
ficial in religion and the westerners in-depth?
Reader 2: Hearing what you said, I think that in each so-
ciety there are good people and bad people. But I found
some people around me, wearing a cross for instance. It
only lies in the level of form, and they only wear it for
comforting themselves. But strictly speaking, he does not
follow all the disciplines nor does he care it deep in the
heart. I believe that religious beliefs were transferred to
China at a later time.
Teacher: So in your opinion, what kind of persons do you
think have religious beliefs? In what situation do they get
the religious beliefs?
Reader 8: I believe Bill Gates is a guy with belief. I think
we Chinese rarely do this kind of thing (donation). Take
that Wang Shi for instance. He donated very little for the
Sichuan earthquake. It is not concerned with the amount
2See John Macg owan, “Modernity an d Culture, the Victorians and Cultural
Studies,” in John Kucich and Dianna F. Sadoff, Eds., Victorian Afterlife:
ostmodern Cul
ure Rewrites the Nineteenth Century, Minneapolis: Univer-
sity of Minneso ta Press, 2000, pp. 3-13.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
of money he gave, but something he said at that time.
Later he was criticized that he climbed over a mountain.
Now he goes to extremes. He is not taller than a grave
mound in our hearts.
Reader 2: As to belief, Bill Gates, I respect him very much.
His value system must be different from ours. They think
the money one earns is given by the society and one is
obliged to return some to the society. But we Chinese, I
suppose we may become better in the future. I believe that
people with beliefs are pious.
Reader 1: He (Bill Gates) has already reached a certain
Teacher: What do you think is piety?
Reader 9: In my opinion, piety does not necessarily mean
something purely formal. One of my colleagues, I dont
mean she is not nice, goes to the temples to burn incenses
and make a vow regularly every month. But what she says
and does, is not as good as I, who do not believe in Bud-
dhist nor go to temples to burn incenses and make a vow.
I dont burn incenses nor make a vow, but I do better
things than she does; she burns incenses and makes a vow,
but what she has done is unfair. (She is excited). I think
Buddha is in ones heart, but not what you do formally.
Teacher: What power or belief do you think makes Bill
Gates do so?
Reader 10: This concerns with a persons quality, faith,
and his education background. Some people will not be
Reader 1: Different people have different views of the
The discussion of Lancelot’s religious regeneration shows
the representation of the self and the otherness. The meaning of
“China” and “Lancelot” are depended on the defining, separate-
ing, narrating and explaining of the words “China” and “Lan-
celot”. Their discursive relations with other discourses such as
Bill Gates” donation and the reader’s colleague’s fictive wor-
ship on Buddhism henceforth remake a fluid Chinese national
After the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), China has im-
plemented the policy of reform and opening-up which fosters
new cultural orientations3. The representation of the nation has
shifted from the political slogan of “based on class struggle” to
the one of “on socialist economic construction”. Hence all arts
and humanity activities should serve the people and socialism
(Hu Hui-Lin, 1999: p. 113). Yet the dystopian imagination
made by the “people” in the “socialist” context explicates the
puzzles in the nation’s revitalization fable. The astonishing
findings on the readers’ productive distortions of Lancelot be-
ing “富二代” (Fuerdai, Rich2G) imply the agency of the dis-
enchantment of harmony.
The regenerative interpretation of Yeast is reified through a
large scale of attentions paid on Lancelot’s aristocrat identity.
In the novel one can find few clues to identify Lancelot’s fam-
ily status, one could only get to know that Lancelot’s father is a
rich merchant, and he later inherits a large amount of legacy
from his uncle.
Most of the readers focus on Lancelot’s status of being a rich
aristocrat. To reterritorize Lancelot in the center of their mod-
ern experiences, the readers repurpose Lancelot as a good
“fuerdai”. Fuerdai is a popular term firstly appears in a TV
show “Luyu youyue” (《鲁豫有约》, A date with the hostess
Luyu) in China, identifying the children of the overnight mil-
lionaires or of the government officers. The term quickly
spreads in China with an ironical rhetoric showing the inequal-
ity in China, as well as criticizing the bad manners of these new
born Chinese aristocrats and the utilitarian marital ideology
elaborated in the industrial process. Many readers also focus on
Lancelot’s free choice on education, which shows their reluc-
tance to the spoon feeding “quality education” in their own
nation. At the same time many of them say the Fuerdais don’t
have to undertake years of hardworking, their families arrange
every thing for th em.
In a word, Lancelot becomes a mediated code for the readers
to explicate their empirical understandings on their present
Beings. The Chinese readership’s productive appropriations of
Lancelot’s regeneration vividly signify the nation’s ambivalent
relations with the “west”. In the representational landscape, the
readers’ paradoxical national identities are not only showed in
their utopian yearning for Lancelot’s homeland, but also in their
dystopian rejections against the Confucian “tradition”. At the
same time however, Kingsley’s “harmonious Asia” finds its
nameless resonance when the readers” unconsciously reveal
their “solvitur ambulando” (Kingsley, 1851: p. 262) mode of
Many of the readers face grammatical and lexical difficulties
in the reading process. When they are asked to translate or
paraphrase certain fragments of the novel, they directly choose
a language that is written as Chinese, but is processed by Eng-
lish way of cognition. Such kind of difficulties show another
aspect of what the resistance paradigm of the post-post modern
study hasn’t paid enough attention to. They also set articulated
contrast with the Chinese people’s vague yet deeply rooted
embodiment of the so called “tradition”.
To post modernists the term “tradition” is a new term, to the
common Chinese readers “tradition” means the unconscious
adoption of the attitude of “solvitur ambulando”. Reader 2, a
pharmacist, while having great difficulties to understand the
novel, sharply realizes the irony hidden behind Lancelot’s
creeds in the beginning of novel. She says she thinks that Lan-
celot is forced to (“ought to”) have these creeds yet he himself
doesn’t accept them as the truth at all. Many readers also say
that it is unnecessary to “name” or to “presuppose” a lot of
things, when you just do whatever you should do and when you
feel you do justice to yourselves, then you are regenerated. In
this sense, Kingsley’s “harmonious Asia” finds fit houses in
3The fieldwork was taken in six English classes and one English night club
in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province from Jun 2009 to Jun 2012. Since Kingsley
claimed that Yeast unveiled the “yeasty state of the youth” (266), the Chi-
nese readers were chosen at an age range between 19 and 40. There were
220 readers involved in this research. The participants were invited to ex-
press their interpretations on Yeast by means of group discussion,insight
paper writing, casual interview and passage translation. There was no Chi-
nese version available for Yeast, not all of the readers finished reading the
novel. The data showed in the body of this paper focused on the partici-
pants” interpretations that finished the whole novel. To concentrate on the
theme of this essay, interpretations far way relevant to the thesis were ex-
The meaning travel of Yeast in terms of the readers’ produc-
tive responses to the novel not only challenges the conventional
paradigm of literary study, but also shows a fugue motif in
China’s revitalizing fable. The Asian imagination finds its new
meanings in the process of critical readings on Yeast.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 99
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
The diasporic reading practice of Yeast focuses on the
non-elite Chinese readers’ heterogeneous performativity of
national identity in the globalized context. The Chinese re-
sponses shows its powerful initiative in the legitimatization of
the western values, which adds a fugue motif in the idiosyn-
cratic Chinese national fable in the globalizing phase. Aca-
demically such kind of research adventure gives an alternative
perspective to see the issue of the governance versus resistance
paradigm; moreover, it gives further trajectory to the Said’s
travel theory. To common Chinese readers having the tickets of
Yeast” meaning travel invite them to understand themselves
more in the center of Chinese experiences. One reader appro-
priates Lancelot’s ironical tone towards the religious creeds in
this way: “such kinds of creeds are so similar to what we are
asked to remember through rote memorization: you ought to
love your country, you ought to love your people. The truth is,
sometimes we don’t know who the people are and where the
country is”. Another one says “Buda is nameless, you know,
‘solvitur ambulando’, Buda lives in your heart”.
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