The bidirectionality of epistemological theft and appropriation: contrastive rhetoric in China

Lixin Liu, Xiaoye You

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Postcolonial critiques of contrastive rhetoric (CR) have called our attention to epistemological theft and appropriation in the field of second language (L2) writing. Published in Anglophone venues in the Global North, these critiques reveal that early contrastive rhetoricians dispossessed non-Western people from their ownership over certain knowledges, methodologies, and practices by normalizing their language, fixing their culture, and speaking for them. These critiques have contributed to a decolonial reckoning in L2 writing. To understand how the reckoning has impacted L2 writing in the Global South, this paper examines CR scholarship published in Chinese-language venues. The study reveals that while Chinese scholars are not unfamiliar with the decolonial reckoning, they have continued to embrace the traditional CR framework. By doing so, they took part in the epistemological theft and appropriation by reenacting the appropriation of students’ writings and narratives and interpreting them in ways that fit Western knowledges and perspectives. Their acts of epistemological theft and appropriation include racializing Chinese students as inferior to White native speakers, portraying Chinese language and culture as static and inferior, and celebrating CR as a means to solving students’ problems in English writing. Chinese scholars’ acts were motivated by their national identity being defined in opposition to the West and the complicity of capitalism and nationalist discourse in China, a reality that poses challenges in decolonizing L2 writing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalApplied Linguistics Review
StateAccepted/In press - 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language

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