Travel along the Mobius strip : Somerset Maugham and Gu Hongming East of Suez
The International History Review
Somerset Maugham, Gu Hongming, Mobius strip, colonial travel, psychological projection
During his 1919–20 trip to China, English writer Somerset Maugham paid a special visit to Gu Hongming, an Edinburgh-educated Chinese philosopher and so-called ‘Confucian Sage’. By exploring the enigmatic interactions between Maugham and Gu in the context of colonial travel, this article illustrates the important role of psychological projection in the exchanges among elite travellers during an age of empire. Beyond a simple Orientalist or Occidentalist approach, the author proposes a new framework modelled on the geometric puzzle of the ‘Mobius strip’, a twisted and closed one-sided surface, to highlight the intersubjective nature of the East–West continuum. At first glance, East and West, as in the writings of Maugham and Gu, are on opposite sides of the strip, appearing static and well defined to each other at any given moment. However, the paradox of a Mobius strip lies in its twirling and continuous motion: East and West are constantly interacting, defining one another through contacts like Gu's and Maugham's, and actually merge as one object. As the transcultural processes of colonial travel created contacts between elites, their intersubjective encounters melded East and West in the co-construction of the binary. As such, East and West are always paradoxically defined together.
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Du, C. (2014). Travel along the Mobius strip: Somerset Maugham and Gu Hongming East of Suez. The International History Review, 36(1), 1-18, doi: 10.1080/07075332.2013.820776