The Search for a Chinese Way in the Modern World: From the Rise of Evidential Learning to the Birth of Chinese Cultural Identity
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CitationYu, Wen. 2018. The Search for a Chinese Way in the Modern World: From the Rise of Evidential Learning to the Birth of Chinese Cultural Identity. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractThis dissertation explains how the search for a Chinese cultural identity became central to China’s debates over shared values in the twentieth century. Challenging the mainstream view that the rise of modern Chinese national thought was a product of Western-style modernization, I argue that proposals to construct a Chinese cultural identity in the early twentieth century were first and foremost concerned with the sources of elite values and the role of elite culture. Key to this historiographical revision is the excavation of the link between twentieth century nationalist thinkers and seventeenth century Evidential Learning. Nationalist thinkers were the intellectual descendants of Evidential Learning and adopted its conviction that China’s own cumulative cultural traditions, rather than the universal moral principles of the Neo-Confucians, should be the basis for the values of the intellectual-political elite. They aimed to restore the Qing Evidential Learning tradition as the basis for China’s new post-imperial civic and moral life, and they believed that the Evidential Learning tradition’s historical approach to the definition of values would allow scholars to engage with new concepts from abroad while preserving the authority of their own cultural traditions that was fundamental to intellectual elites’ cultural and political agency in China’s new post-imperial society.
This dissertation contributes to a deeper understanding of the ideological foundations of modern China, by showing how debates within Confucian literati learning traditions played a significant role in China’s modern transition. Reconstructing the intellectual history from the seventeenth century to the twentieth century and examining the key corpus of major thinkers in context, I unearth a profound but largely neglected ideological debate between the Evidential Learning conception of shared values as a historical product of a “Chinese” cultural community and the imperial Neo-Confucian conception of values as universalistic and predetermined moral doctrines. Uncovering how modern Chinese nationalist thinkers were both historically and philosophically connected to this debate, I disclose the historical meanings of modern Chinese nationalism, reveal alternative political models that were not chosen, and contribute to the ongoing discussions over China’s modern condition and the future of China’s political identity.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:42015919
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