On May 9, 2019, Sapienza University of Rome (also simply referred to asSapienza or Rome’s first university) in cooperation with the Center for ChineseStudies at the National Central Library hosted the second session of “TaiwanLectures on Chinese Studies.” Chiung-yun Liu, associate research fellow at theInstitute of Chinese Literature and Philosophy, Academia Sinica, was invited topresent “WhenFantastic Narrative Encounters Empirical Knowledge——Imagining the World in The Record of Eunuch San-Bao’s Voyage to theWestern Ocean.”
Discussing the novel TheRecord of Eunuch San-Bao’s Voyage to the Western Ocean三寶太監下西洋記通俗演義, Professor Chiung-yun Liu divided thetopic into three parts of analysis in order to elucidate how the author, withinthe spatial and temporal contexts of the Ming-Qing period, chose andrestructured source materials. In this manner and through the strategies ofimaginative creation, the author blended both fantastic narratives and factualaccounts to produce a “world” which could only exist within the text itself.
First,Professor Liu placed emphasis on “world-making” and examined the nature andorigins of the geographic knowledge found within the novel to analyze how theauthor employed strategies to transform firsthand geographical accounts. Inpart two, the seemingly different topics of “monk[s] from abroad” 胡僧,“Muslims” 回回, “maps,” and“rhinoceroses,” all of which could be found in other historical accounts, werediscussed to illustrate how the author utilized historical narratives to pen astory rich in both exotic and supernatural elements. Additionally, Liu focusedon two stories concerning these “maps” and “rhinoceroses” to both demonstrate howepistemological disjunctions are produced as the old—ancient records—encountersthe new—firsthand accounts, as well as showing how the author created methodsto resolve these disjunctions. Third and finally, while discussing the “end ofthe Western Ocean,” Liu analyzes how the author by interacting with variousmaritime voyagers of other countries was able to produce the different possibilitiesof the relations between imagined states and the world outside of China. Inshort, the above analyses reveal the significant shifts in popular conceptionsand feelings regarding the world—such as Fengdu 酆都鬼國being the “end of the Western Ocean”—in the late sixteenth-century Jiangnanarea.
Sapienza Universityof Rome not only maintains an outstanding reputation in Italy, but is one ofthe oldest and most prominent universities throughout all of Europe. The Italian Institute of Oriental Studies at Sapienza is a leadingcontributor in the field of Asian studies, including Chinese studies, Indianand other regional Asian languages, cultural studies, as well as others. Since 1990, the Central National Library and Sapienza havefostered a close relationship. In total, forty-six researchers from Italy havebeen awarded scholarships by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the Center for Chinese Studies to conduct research onChina or Taiwan, eight of which have been from Sapienza University of Rome. This session of “TaiwanLectures on Chinese Studies” was the first activity regarding academic exchangeheld by the university since agreeing to work in cooperation with the TaiwanResearch Center on Chinese Studies in 2018. Thelecture was hosted by Professor Alessandra Brezzi, department head of theDepartment of Oriental Studies, and Officer HuangRong Guo of the Representative Office of Taiwan in Italy was present to welcomeProfessor Chiung-yun Liu as well as expressing his desire for all involvedparties to continue collaborating well into the future. After the lectureconcluded, Professor Brezzi, Doctor Timon Gatta, and others from the audienceengaged in thought-provoking discussions with Professor Chiung-yun Liu regardingthe level of circulation of The Record of EunuchSan-Bao’s Voyage to the Western Ocean, comparisons regarding both plot and structurewith Journey to the West 西遊記, as well as other topics. Chih-hong Chen of the Center for Chinese Studiesprepared and played videos introducing the Taiwan Research Center on ChineseStudies as well as providing related information on the “Research Grant for Foreign Scholars in Chinese Studies” and the “MOFA Taiwan Scholarship” to encourageoutstanding foreign students to apply and study abroad in Taiwan, furtheringthe ability of research being conducted in Taiwan.