Love and Shame: Transcultural Communication and Its Failure in Xiaolu Guo’s A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers

Eunju Hwang


This essay traces the transformation of Z in Xiaolu Guo’s A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers from a naïve Chinese peasant girl with blind faith in love to a cosmopolitan subject disillusioned with love. Her disillusionment results from her transnational relationship and her failed effort in transcultural communication during her stay in London for a year. Driven by her desire for complete understanding of her lover, she puts all her efforts into learning English; ironically, as her English improves, their relationship deteriorates. This essay illuminates the reasons for the failed communication from two different but related perspectives. The first part of the essay, informed by Pierre Bourdieu’s theory on language and culture, locates the reason in Z’s incapability to act as an effective minister of her culture and her lover’s unwillingness to accept the arbitrariness of his culture and break out of its habitus. The second part of the essay, based on Silvan Tomkins’s theory of emotions, attempts to demonstrate how intimate feelings such as love and shame operate between the two lovers and how shame interrupts Z from communicating with her lover but also contributes to her newly acquired identity as Chinese in the global context.


Love, shame, Xiaolu Guo, Transcultural communication, cosmopolitan subject

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The Johns Hopkins University Press

ISSN: 1920-1222

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