Monday, November 18, 2013

Chinese Citizen Milton

Although I was skeptical at first, I was unable to shake some of the connections between modern Chinese culture and ideas persistent in Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained. Some of the similarities include his ideas about knowledge, heroism, power, and gender roles. Many of these topics seem contradictory when reading it from a modern American culture perspective. For example, the fact that Satan is so active and Christ is so passive seems at odds with our ideas of power. Milton has fallen under much gender role criticism because Eve seems inferior by our American standards, but after a little study I've found a few interesting things:

  • There are interpretations of meanings implicit in our language (ie. "knowledge" in Latin and Chinese, and Latin and Chinese word order emphasize similar things).
  • In Milton's time, England and Asia shared many similar ideas about many things from femininity to gardens. This perhaps was due to a common point of origin (as seen in language) or due to crossover culture.
  • At the core of Milton in Paradise Lost and other works are dogmas still existent in Chinese culture.
  • American perceptions of the same ideas have been distorted (mostly after the world wars) making it difficult for modern Americans to understand his meaning.
  • If we read through the lens of a different culture, now unclear things become clearer.
Some interesting articles and books that have been really helpful have been these:
1. Sun, Lung-Kee. The Chinese National Character: From Nationhood to Individuality. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 2002. ISBN 0-7656-0826-X. Print.

Tons of great stuff on pages 200-210. Talk about femininity and passivity in Chinese vs. American culture. Also states American change in ideas about passivity.

2. Jacques, David. "On the Supposed Chineseness of the English Landscape Garden" Garden History, (Volume 18, Number 2, Autumn 1990) 180–191. Print.

Historical Chinese and English art crossover and influence.

3. Hwang, K. K. "Guanxi and Mientze: Conflict Resolution in Chinese Society." Intercultural Communication Studies (Volume 7, 1998) 17-42. Print.

About "knowledge and action," talks about face and power. Face is to help people maintain own agency and own choices. Choices are not product of social pressure, but on your own contemplation. Good things and people let you maintain "face." Bad things and people will have you lose "face," like Satan and his way of tempting is on a time frame and gives pressure.

4. Jarman, Mark. "Citizen Milton." The Hudson Review , Vol. 62, No. 2 (SUMMER 2009), pp. 319-325. Print.

Talks about Milton as a culture builder. Hard to judge his ideas about women and other things because his atmosphere and culture are different than ours and he was quite progressive.


  1. I don't know how I can help you on this, since I am 100 percent unfamiliar with Chinese. However, on the femininity part, you may be interested to look up this book, Enclosure Acts: Sexuality, Property, and Culture in Early Modern England edited by Richard Burt and John Michael Archer. I've read a piece of the book, and it has really useful information that you might be interested in.

    1. That sounds like a great source! Thanks!