Mimesis is one of the most fundamental ideas in Western poetics. Mimetic theories constitute a mainstream in Western aesthetics. In comparative studies of Chinese and Western poetics, however, there exists a widely accepted opinion that mimetic theory is a cultural invention unique to the Western tradition. And on this scholarly consensus has been constructed a fundamental dichotomy, ramifying into a series of binary oppositions: the metaphorical,figurative, transcendental nature of Western art, as against the metonymic,literal, immanentist nature of Chinese art. Critically reviewing the comparative studies of mimetic theory, this article argues against the accepted opinion. By examining various ontological and epistemological aspects of mimesis in the Chinese tradition in relation to the West, this article reestablishes imitation as a transcultural human instinct and mimetic theory in art as a universal idea across cultural traditions. It also examines how the artistic ideal is conceived of in Chinese and Western representation, how Chinese mimetic theory differs from its Western counterpart, and what implications an understanding of the differences may have for the comparative study of Western and non-Western literatures.

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