Cultural Exchange between Modern Italy and China

Since Marco Polo, Italy’s communication with China has been the longest in Europe on written record. In the 20th century, increased mobility intensified cultural exchanges between the two countries. Leading Italian writers such as Italo Calvino continued to imagine Polo’s legacy, making him a main character in his postmodern masterpiece, Invisible Cities (1972). During the early 1970s Cultural Revolution (1966-76), Italy was among the first Western countries to establish diplomatic relations with Maoist China. During that time, prominent intellectuals, including Michelangelo Antonioni and Alberto Moravia, went there to witness the famous social engineering. The 1940s Italian neorealist cinema significantly influenced Six-generation Chinese filmmakers, including Wang Xiaoshuai in the 1990s-2000s. Since the 1980s, Italy has been the leading country in continental Europe to receive Chinese migrants, a phenomenon that led to significant media coverage and debate to the present day.

This course will examine these events by questioning notions of the self and the other, hybrid cultural identities, and intercultural communication. Ultimately, we will put Italian and European interpretations of China as a rising superpower in perspective. To this purpose, the course is divided into four units, namely “Marco Polo and His Legacy,” “The Cultural Revolution,” “Italian Cinema and China,” and “Chinese Migration to Italy.” All readings are in English, and all films have English subtitles. No prior knowledge of China or Italy is required to enrol in this course.

Required readings:


The Travels of Marco Polo
Invisible Cities (Italo Calvino 1972)
The Last Emperor (Bernardo Bertolucci 1987)
The Red Book and the Great Wall: An Impression of Mao’s China (Alberto Moravia 1968)
Chung Kuo Cina (Michelangelo Antonioni 1972)
Behind the Forbidden Door: Travels in Unknown China (Tiziano Terzani 1985)
Beijing Bicycle (Wang Xiaoshuai 2001)
My Name is Shanghai Joe (Mario Caiano 1972)
Gomorrah (Roberto Saviano 2006)
Story of My People (Edoardo Nesi 2010)
Shun Li and the Poet (Andrea Segre 2011)

Prerequisite: Second-year standing or higher.

Language of Instruction: English

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