Frontiers of History in China

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The Formation of the Qing State in Global Perspective: A Geopolitical and Fiscal Analysis
Huaiyin Li
Front. Hist. China    2018, 13 (4): 437-472.   https://doi.org/10.3868/s020-007-018-0025-7
Abstract   PDF (559KB)

This article re-examines the formation of the Qing state and its nature from a global perspective. It underscores the key roles of geopolitical setting and fiscal constitution in shaping the course of frontier expeditions and territorial expansions, unlike past studies that have centered on the dynasty’s administrative institutions and the ruling elites’ ideologies or lifestyles to defend or question the thesis of “Sinicization” in Qing historiography. This study demonstrates the different motivations and varying strategies behind the Qing dynasty’s two waves of military conquests, which lasted until the 1750s, and explains how the Qing state’s peculiar geopolitical interests and the low-level equilibrium in its fiscal constitution shaped the “cycles” in its military operations and frontier building. The article ends by comparing the Qing with early modern European states and the Ottoman empire to discuss its vulnerability as well as resilience in the transition to modern sovereign statehood in the nineteenth century.

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China’s Roles in World History and Historiography
Roger Des Forges
Front. Hist. China    2016, 11 (2): 177-246.   https://doi.org/10.3868/s020-005-016-0012-1
Abstract   PDF (476KB)

Many historians of China and the world have long worked within certain paradigms that are increasingly recognized to be excessively Eurocentric, linear, and teleological. This article draws on both primary and secondary sources to propose a theory of Chinese history that is more sinocentric, cyclical, and open-ended. The theory takes seriously the well-known Chinese emphasis on establishing and maintaining cultural centrality and Chinese interest in learning from the past to influence the present and shape the future. It argues that these concerns have resulted in a spiral or helical pattern of Chinese historical development. It goes on to suggest that the Chinese spiral might help us to conceptualize world history in a way that respects all peoples of the world and all periods of history from the origins of our subspecies to the present. History is in one sense what actually happened in the past and historiography is how people interpret it to meet present needs and realize future aspirations. Given acceleration in the pace of change and expansion in the arena of action, historians can tell us little about what to expect in the future, but they may enhance the range of possibilities by bringing to light various past experiences. In this article I examine how the Chinese experience might assist us in fashioning a more peaceful, just, and sustainable world order.

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The Scholar’s Robe: Material Culture and Political Power in Early Modern China
Minghui Hu
Front. Hist. China    2016, 11 (3): 339-375.   https://doi.org/10.3868/s020-005-016-0020-4
Abstract   PDF (3573KB)

This essay explores the history of the scholar’s robe as a nexus of material culture and political power. It focuses on the controversial garment —called ren 衽—found pervasively in the Confucian canon and confirmed in archaeological findings. But for hundreds of years there have been disagreements and changes concerning which specific term is identified with which part of the robe, especially involving the use of ren in the scholar’s robe. The bulk of my analysis deals with two prominent scholars’ monographs on the robe: Huang Zongxi’s Investigation of the Robe (Shenyi kao ) and Jiang Yong’s pointed rebuttal titled Mistakes in “Investigation of the Robe” (Shenyi kao wu ). The intellectual and political configurations of both works are analyzed in depth in order to contrast two options of cultural identity: Chinese superiority versus cosmopolitan universalism.

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Chinese Secret Societies and Popular Religions Revisited: An Introduction
Robert J. Antony,Joseph Tse-Hei Lee
Front. Hist. China    2016, 11 (4): 503-509.   https://doi.org/10.3868/s020-005-016-0030-1
Abstract   PDF (219KB)
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Rethinking the Histories of War in Modern China
Kenneth Pomeranz
Front. Hist. China    2018, 13 (1): 2-27.   https://doi.org/10.3868/s020-007-018-0002-2
Abstract   PDF (275KB)

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Discovering the Long : Current Theories and Trends in Research on the Chinese Dragon
Marco Meccarelli
Front. Hist. China    2021, 16 (1): 123-142.   https://doi.org/10.3868/s020-010-021-0006-6
Abstract   PDF (763KB)

After the 1980s, the world started addressing the challenges posed by economic globalization, and the protection of cultural diversity became a widely discussed topic. Today, China is experiencing problems in defining the relationship between the past and present, as well as that between tradition and modernity. Since the 1990s, China’s opening-up policy, the advent of globalization, and an increase in cross-cultural communications strengthened the country’s need to preserve its cultural heritage. Many Chinese scholars reflected on the past and examined the potential of archaeological materials, inscriptions, myths, and ancient legends to explain the relationship between tradition and modernity. The birth and evolution of the long 龍, or the Chinese dragon, remains at the core of such international studies. These studies highlighted the necessity of promoting discussions on and demystifying the long. This new perspective facilitates a connection between various theories on the origin of the Chinese dragon and the contemporary identity discourse, which has attracted the attention of Chinese scholars. This paper bridges the gap by introducing reliable theories on the origin of the mythical animal and focusing on typology issues, classification, latest debates on the distinction between the long and the dragons of other cultures, and finally, main theories on the visual representation of the Chinese long.

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The Secret Society’s Secret: The Invoked Reality of the Tiandihui
David Faure,Xi He
Front. Hist. China    2016, 11 (4): 510-531.   https://doi.org/10.3868/s020-005-016-0031-8
Abstract   PDF (3182KB)

This essay examines two sets of reports in the Qing-dynasty Jiaqing and Daoguang periods (respectively 1796–1820 and 1821–45) in order to understand better the perceived reality of the Tiandihui. The first set, found among the papers of Jiangxi governor Xianfu (1809–14), allows a comparison of a criminal gang that invoked the Tiandihui ceremony with one that did not. The second set includes the diary of Taihe county magistrate Xu Dihui (in office from 1824) that recorded various events which came to be reported to the senior officialdom as having been conducted by secret societies. By collating the incidents as reported in the diary and memorials to the emperor, the authors argue that the pressure of the administrative process was responsible for the ultimate acquiescence by the Hunan governor Han Wenqi (in office 1825–29) in the perception of an indisputable connection of the incidents with secret societies. Moreover, both sets of reports show that participants in secret-society ceremonies and officials who suppressed them knew that the acclaimed networking of the Tiandihui as implied in its folklore was very far from the reality.

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A New Woman and Her Warlord: Li Dequan, Feng Yuxiang, and the Politics of Intimacy in Twentieth- Century China
Kate Merkel-Hess
Front. Hist. China    2016, 11 (3): 431-457.   https://doi.org/10.3868/s020-005-016-0023-5
Abstract   PDF (1006KB)

This article proposes a new way of viewing Republican-era warlords. Through an examination of the life of Li Dequan, the second wife of warlord Feng Yuxiang, it displaces Feng from his typical military and political context, scrutinizing instead the ways that Feng and Li interwove the private intimacies of love, marriage, and family life into their public and political lives. In the Republic, Feng and Li, like many prominent figures of the time, shared elements of their private lives with journalists and, through them, a broader reading public, posing for photographs with their children on their way to school and inviting reporters to family events. Feng and Li utilized this newfound intimacy between public and political leaders to cultivate public sympathy and support. By the early PRC, Li—following Feng’s sudden 1948 death—was named the first Minister of Health of the People’s Republic of China and her roles as wife and romantic object fell away. Instead, she focused on mothering the nation. By the late twentieth century, emphasis on the Li and Feng romance reappeared in writings about the couple, and while these narratives drew on the Republican-era stories, it was made to seem that Li’s feminism rather than Feng’s modernity had facilitated their true love. Though the warlords have often been seen as destructive, exploring Feng’s and Li’s lives demonstrates that factional militarists and their families contributed to a new political culture grounded in a gendered national narrative that intertwined family and nation.

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An Etymological Note on the Term Tubo Gaoshen
Wang Qilong
Front. Hist. China    2020, 15 (2): 174-197.   https://doi.org/10.3868/s020-009-020-0007-2
Abstract   PDF (2058KB)

Most previous studies have held that the system of Tubo gaoshen (an honorary identity mark) was an imitation of a similar system in the Tang dynasty, referring to the latter’s official costume decorations for its stratified office-holders. These studies have not given due attention to the characteristics of the title itself. From the perspective of the change of the Tibetan name and based on existing research results and historical records in both Tibetan and Chinese, this article tries to offer a new understanding and preliminary discussion on the development of Tubo gaoshen and several related issues. We find that there are two paths in the evolution of its name: One is from Sug to Yi Ge or Yig, the other is from Yig tsang to Yig tshangs. The former is used to denote a concrete gaoshen and can be added as a prefix while the latter denotes the abstract idea of gaoshen and no attribute can be used before it. When the two are used together, the latter is used before the former, such as in: yig tshangs pa ni zangs kyi yi ge gtong/ (As to the gaoshen [yig tshangs], [he] is awarded a bronze yi ge).

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A College Student’s Rural Journey: Early Sociology and Anthropology in China Seen through Fieldwork on Sichuan’s Secret Society
Di Wang
Front. Hist. China    2017, 12 (1): 1-31.   https://doi.org/10.3868/s020-006-017-0001-1
Abstract   PDF (385KB)

This paper focuses on the investigators of rural society in the Republican period, specifically research made through fieldwork on the Gowned Brothers (or, Paoge) in 1940s Sichuan. It takes up one such investigator, Shen Baoyuan—a student at Yenching University; her youthful work never became published or recognized. The present study reveals how the pioneers of Chinese sociology and anthropology, who called themselves “rural activists,” tried to understand rural China. It argues that the developments in those fields in China of the 1920s and 1940s made it possible for us today to have a better understanding of the contemporary rural problems. The investigators played an important role in the Rural Construction and Rural Education Movements in Republican China. They show us how Western sociology and anthropology were localized in order to answer “Chinese questions” and to solve “Chinese problems.” As source material, these investigations have given us rich records, which in turn have become precious sources and historical memories of rural China’s past.

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Under and Beyond the Pen of Eileen Chang: Shanghai, Nanyang, Huaqiao, and Greater China
Bin Yang
Front. Hist. China    2016, 11 (3): 458-484.   https://doi.org/10.3868/s020-005-016-0024-2
Abstract   PDF (260KB)

Although Eileen Chang, one of China’s most popular twentiethcentury writers, never visited Nanyang (lit., the South Sea, referring principally to Southeast Asia), Nanyang and huaqiao (Chinese sojourners) are mentioned frequently in her writings. This essay first analyzes Chang’s images of Nanyang and huaqiao , and then discusses the societal and individual contexts of her literary conceptualizations by tracing her direct and indirect knowledge of these themes. Chang’s imagination of Nanyang and huaqiao , examined within the historical context of Sino-Nanyang interactions, provides a valuable opportunity to discuss the emergence of a nationalist-driven huaqiao community and the expansion of Sino-Nanyang interactions before the Pacific War.

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Hokkien Merchants and the Kian Teik Tong: Economic and Political Influence in Nineteenth- Century Penang and Its Region
Yee Tuan Wong
Front. Hist. China    2016, 11 (4): 600-627.   https://doi.org/10.3868/s020-005-016-0035-6
Abstract   PDF (4088KB)

This article explores nineteenth-century Penang’s Hokkkien merchants and their secret society or hui —the Kian Teik Tong (Jiande Tang)—which had a variety of roles and an extensive network. It contextualizes the merchants’ secret society as a transnational socioeconomic and political organization rather than as an overseas Chinese criminal group in the wider Penang area. By recovering Kian Teik Tong and its network, it can be shown how these merchants secured and mobilized labour, capital, and allies in a way that cut across linguistic, ethnic, class and state boundaries in order to establish control of coolies and the lucrative opium, tin, and rice businesses, in order to exert political influence in the colonial and indigenous milieus of the nineteenth-century Penang region. They established a social contract through their Kian Teik Tong relief activities and initiation rituals, and thus were able to recruit thousands of members who were mainly labourers. With such a substantial social force, the merchants launched organized violence against their rivals to attain dominance in opium revenue farming and tin mining businesses in Penang, Krabi, and Perak. The widespread and strategic location of the Kian Teik Tong in Burma also enabled the same merchants to monopolize the Penang-Burma rice trade. The versatility of the Kian Teik Tong’s functions allowed them to operate as an alternative political order vis-a-vis the colonial and indigenous powers. This arrangement allowed the Hokkien merchants to gain significant political clout in confronting the Siamese and Dutch authorities.

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Editor’s Note
Wang Qilong
Front. Hist. China    2021, 16 (1): 1-3.   https://doi.org/10.3868/s020-010-021-0001-1
Abstract   PDF (208KB)

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Courting Actresses and Exploring Love in Early Republican China
Jiacheng Liu
Front. Hist. China    2020, 15 (1): 1-33.   https://doi.org/10.3868/s020-009-020-0001-0
Abstract   PDF (367KB)

This article focuses on the early Republican theater as a popular site of experiments with love and discusses the significance of pengjue courtship between actresses and male patrons. It argues that while the literati still played a role in shaping theater patronage culture, employing the discourse of qing and the scholar-beauty romance, the popularization of pengjue enabled a more flirtatious mode of love that combined male homosociability and heterosexual desire. Male patrons’ courtship of actresses was marked by frivolity and performativity, as well as economic calculations. It deviated from the traditional ideal of qing and the New Culture notion of romantic love and thus aroused intense criticism from conservatives and reformists alike. However, this article argues that the practice of pengjue created an alternative affective sphere for performing gender, contesting social norms, and exploring new forms of love in the public space of commercial theater and in everyday life.

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The Qing, the Manchus, and Footbinding: Sources and Assumptions under Scrutiny
John R. Shepherd
Front. Hist. China    2016, 11 (2): 279-322.   https://doi.org/10.3868/s020-005-016-0014-5
Abstract   PDF (462KB)

Two sets of assumptions surrounding the Manchus and footbinding have crept into the historiography of the Qing period. A first set of assumptions claims that the Manchus attempted to ban footbinding among civilian Han on repeated occasions after the conquest but failed due to women’s resistance. Moreover, Qing attempts to ban footbinding made binding into a politically charged ethnic marker that embodied for Han anti-Manchu and anti-Qing sentiments and caused the bans to backfire and footbinding to spread further. A second set of assumptions claims that the overwhelming cultural allure and popularity of footbinding proved irresistible to banner women, who, thwarted by banner regulations forbidding the practice, covertly imitated footbinding by wearing platform shoes that hid natural feet and created an illusion of smallness. This paper scrutinizes the evidence put forward by Qing historians for the first of these two sets of assumptions. The claims are found to be unsubstantiated and evidence is offered that contradicts them. I argue that the weight of evidence shows that there was no prohibition on footbinding imposed in 1645 or at any time during the Manchu conquest, and that a 1664 proposal to ban footbinding was withdrawn before it could be implemented, for reasons misunderstood by historians of footbinding. Therefore there could have been no “resistance” by Han women or men to a ban on footbinding, and claims that footbinding became a politically charged ethnic marker of anti-Qing sentiment in the seventeenth century are groundless. With regard to the second set of assumptions, I provide evidence in a separate paper to be published elsewhere that banner women had distinctive roles and fashions uninfluenced by the culture of footbinding, and that in Beijing and the Northeast Manchu styles were emulated by Han, not vice versa.

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The Cyclical Views of Human History in Thucydides’ Archaeology and Sima Qian’s Historical Records
Bai Chunxiao
Front. Hist. China    2021, 16 (1): 73-95.   https://doi.org/10.3868/s020-010-021-0004-2
Abstract   PDF (352KB)

Many previous thinkers have imagined that there was a glorious or harmonious period in the past better than the world of their own time, but Thucydides and Sima Qian do not describe the early stages of human society as a Golden Age. I suggest that Sima Qian marks a separation between the mythical stories and the historical spirit in China, just as Thucydides did in Greece. Further, they both presented a modified cyclical view of human history. For a better understanding of the basic characteristics of Greek and Chinese historiographies, this paper discusses the cyclical views of human history underlying ancient Greek and early Chinese historiographies through a comparative study of Thucydides’ and Sima Qian’s texts. I analyze some similarities and differences between the two great historians’ conceptions of historical process, and I conclude that Thucydides believes human intelligence develops through a historical spiral, while Sima Qian focuses on dynastic cycles with a strong moral concern.

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The “Chinese World Order” Encounters the “East Asian World Order”— Post-War Japanese Historians’ Debates on the Tribute System
Lin Shaoyang
Front. Hist. China    2020, 15 (2): 198-233.   https://doi.org/10.3868/s020-009-020-0008-9
Abstract   PDF (522KB)

In this paper, I trace the post-war Japanese genealogy of studies on China’s tribute system (imperial China’s relatively tolerant approach to its foreign relations) in relation to the English-language work of historian John King Fairbank (1907–91). I emphasize that, together with the sporadic Chinese studies into China’s tribute system prior to the 1950s, it was the post-war research of Japanese historians that inspired Fairbank, who, in turn, further stimulated critical debates on the topic in Japan. I first concentrate on post-war Japanese debates concerning an “East Asian world order” based on a “system of investiture/tribute.” This notion, developed by the Japanese historian Nishijima Sadao in 1962, precisely corresponds to Fairbank’s 1941 understanding of the “tribute system” or “Confucian world-order,” but contrasts with Fairbank’s later, controversial understanding of a “Chinese world order” as proposed in 1968. In the second part of this paper, I introduce Japanese historian Hamashita Takeshi’s 1980s and 1990s arguments on the “tribute trade system” as representative of the younger generation within this genealogy, contrasting it with the work of Immanuel Wallerstein and Andre Gunder Frank. In the third part, I locate this Japanese genealogy within the wider historical context of post-war Japanese intellectual cultural politics. This means that I examine Japanese historians’ arguments both from the angle of historiography and from the perspective of post-war Japanese intellectual history.

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A Textual Study of the Myth of Manchu Origin
Yong Liang
Front. Hist. China    2021, 16 (1): 96-122.   https://doi.org/10.3868/s020-010-021-0005-9
Abstract   PDF (403KB)

The myth of Manchu origin was narrated in different versions with the same theme and variant details. Based on Manchu documents, the myth of Manchu origin has two early versions that were written in Manchu with minor differences in the narration of the story. From the earliest version of 1635 to the version compiled in the nineteenth century, all the authors highlight that the origin of the Manchu people as coming from a heavenly being, with the purpose of reinforcing the Qing dynasty’s legitimacy as coming from the heaven, as was officially declared by the Qing government throughout the dynasty. This article makes a comparative study based on evidential research on the facts contained in different versions of the myth and the time periods of composition.

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Bringing Chinese Law in Line with Western Standards? Problematizing “Chinese” and “Western” in the Late Qing Debate over the New Criminal Code of Great Qing
Yue Du
Front. Hist. China    2021, 16 (1): 39-72.   https://doi.org/10.3868/s020-010-021-0003-5
Abstract   PDF (430KB)

This article examines the intense debates over the New Criminal Code of Great Qing (Da-Qing xin xinglü) in the National Assembly (Zizheng yuan) during the Qing empire’s New Policy Reform (1901–11). The focus is on the conflict between those who drafted and supported the new code and those who expressed reservations, especially over reform of the laws on filial piety and fornication. The issue of reconfiguring the family and social order through law was closely related to the overarching agenda of twentieth century legal reform in China—making an empire that “ruled through the principle of filial piety” into a modern nation-state that had direct relationships with its citizens. More importantly, an analysis of the late Qing debate over family law enables this article to problematize such concepts as “Chinese” and “Western” during this crucial moment of China’s empire-to-nation transformation. It showcases the paradox of China’s modern-era reforms—a contradiction between imposing Western-inspired order with a largely indigenous logic and maintaining existing sociopolitical order in the name of preserving national identity.

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Cattle Slaughter Industry in Qing China: State Ban, Muslim Dominance, and the Western Diet
Shaodan Zhang
Front. Hist. China    2021, 16 (1): 4-38.   https://doi.org/10.3868/s020-010-021-0002-8
Abstract   PDF (413KB)

Cattle slaughter and beef consumption are barely mentioned in the literature on Chinese economic, food, or animal history. This is possibly due to the widely held popular and scholarly assumption that beef was avoided and even considered taboo in the daily diet of Chinese people in premodern times. This article investigates the tangible regulation and practice of cattle slaughter in Qing China—the period when the beef taboo was argued to be formally subsumed into Chinese morality. I ask the following questions: To what extent did the Qing state ban cattle slaughter? How was the ban enforced in the localities? Did Chinese people slaughter cattle for consumption? Were there lawful beef markets in Qing China proper? How did increasing beef-eating Western sojourners since the mid-19th century impact this sector? Accordingly, I demonstrate that with the leeway provided by the state, the cattle slaughter industry developed in many regions of China proper, especially large cities. In this sector, Chinese Muslim merchants played a dominant role, even though the Han merchants could outnumber them. Their efforts have prepared the state and Chinese merchants to better cope with new circumstances since the mid-19th century. Broadly, this paper sheds light on how different religious, ethnic, and national groups affected the economy and the practice of law in the Qing dynasty.

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Editor’s Note
Wang Qilong
Front. Hist. China    2020, 15 (2): 171-173.   https://doi.org/10.3868/s020-009-020-0006-5
Abstract   PDF (136KB)

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Local Histories in Global Perspective: A Local Elite Fellowship in the Port City of Quanzhou in Seventeenth-Century China
Guotong Li
Front. Hist. China    2016, 11 (3): 376-399.   https://doi.org/10.3868/s020-005-016-0021-1
Abstract   PDF (246KB)

The Great Mosque of Quanzhou, as a distinctive community center, bound its residents through religious, professional, and educational ties; it also linked the mosque community to other communities with bonds of shared Muslim identity and minority status. The Great Mosque was rebuilt in 1609 under the supervision of the Confucian scholar Li Guangjin. This significant event is evidence of a local elite fellowship in seventeenth-century Quanzhou consisting of three well-known Confucian scholars—Li Zhi, Li Guangjin, and He Qiaoyuan—who had close ties to their Muslim neighbors. They left meticulous records of merchants, particularly Muslim traders. This paper focuses on the fellowship among the three men in order to investigate Quanzhou’s connections to the broader world of global commercial and religious networks and to look more closely at local community life.

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Ethnic and Religious Violence in South China: The Hakka-Tiandihui Uprising of 1802
Robert J. Antony
Front. Hist. China    2016, 11 (4): 532-562.   https://doi.org/10.3868/s020-005-016-0032-5
Abstract   PDF (1736KB)

In 1802 the second major Tiandihui (Heaven and Earth Society) uprising erupted in the mountains of Huizhou prefecture near Canton. Before it was suppressed over a year later, the disturbances came to involve several tens of thousands of people and nearly a quarter of Guangdong province. This study, which is based on extant historical sources and fieldwork, takes an interdisciplinary approach, combining the methodologies of history, anthropology, and folklore. The areas where the uprising occurred were predominantly Hakka, an ethnic Chinese minority who came into conflict with the earlier settlers, known as the Punti. As violence escalated, both sides organized their own paramilitary units: Hakka formed Tiandihui groups and Punti formed Ox Head Societies. Significantly too, the Tiandihui groups in Huizhou belonged to a much wider network of secret society and sectarian organizations that spread across the Hakka heartland on the Jiangxi, Fujian, and Guangdong border. This article addresses key issues concerning the social, political, and religious contexts and motivations of this Hakka-led uprising.

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Conflict, Order, Harmony: The Modern Meaning of the Confucian Tradition
Lee H. Yearley
Front. Hist. China    2017, 12 (2): 155-180.   https://doi.org/10.3868/s020-006-017-0011-8
Abstract   PDF (289KB)

An examination of how a focus on the reading of traditional Confucian texts as a spiritual exercise can enable us to deal productively with modern understandings of the divergences among different ideals of human excellence. An investigation of such ideals has often focused on virtue discourse, but that discourse generates understandable suspicions in many people. A productive approach to these suspicions is to examine both the idea that new virtues (such as spiritual regret) are needed, and the notion that three distinctive modern emphases must play a central role in any contemporary consideration of the relationships among diverse ideals. After considering two kinds of principled opposition to this approach, we turn to Walter Benjamin’s exemplary account of the huge gulf between modern and traditional understandings, and the possible aid some texts may offer in bridging it. Focusing on the distinctive operation of specific forms of presentation in the Confucian tradition, we conclude by investigating the idea that reading Confucian texts can be seen even today as an illuminating kind of spiritual exercise.

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The Literati’s Polyphonic Answers to Social Changes in Late Imperial China
Paolo Santangelo
Front. Hist. China    2017, 12 (3): 357-432.   https://doi.org/10.3868/s020-006-017-0018-7
Abstract   PDF (765KB)

The article aims to rethink the pluralistic intellectual currents and social changes of the last centuries in China: How literati reacted to the historical changes, the economic developments, the collapse of the hierarchical order, and the social mobility from the end of the Ming to the middle of the Qing dynasty. Urbanisation, the great silver inflow, the acceleration of trade, and social mobility raised new challenges to the orthodox view of the world and to Neo-Confucian norms. These new attitudes of the Chinese literati—which can be inferred both from literary and philosophical works—uncover new attitudes in the mental structure of the intellectual strata of the time. In the history of ideas we notice a progressive detachment from the orthodox view of the conflictual relationship between principle and desires, especially in the ambit of the Taizhou school. The elaboration of a new anthropological mindset aimed at the rehabilitation of passions and desires culminated with Li Zhi. This trend went on in the Qing period, from Wang Fuzhi to Dai Zhen. In literature, a similar trend, the so-called “cult of qing ,” can be found with the moral justification of emotion-desire (establishing emotion as a genuine and active source of virtue), and with the vitalistic identification of emotions as the source of life and reproduction. Another indication of change is the challenge of common and accepted truisms through the praise of “folly” in real life situations and literary works: To be “crazy” and “foolish” became a sign of distinction among certain intellectual circles, in contrast with the pedant orthodox scholars and officials and the vulgar nouveaux riches . The unconventional character of the anti-hero Baoyu is emblematic, with his aversion for any kind of official ceremony and convention, his abnormal sensibility and impractical and na?ve mentality, and his consciousness of being different from others. The crisis of the established ladder of values can be seen in the exaltation of “amoral” wisdom and in the presentation of various dimensions of love, from the idealistic sentiment of “the talented student and the beautiful girl” to the metaphysical passion that overcomes death, and to the minimalist concept of “love is like food” in a carpe diem perspective. And finally another challenge is exemplified by Yuan Mei’s reflections on the concept of Heavenly Mandate, retribution, human responsibility, and historical constructions by resorting to “abnormal” phenomena to uncover the absurdity of reality and unconscious imagery. His questions testify the polyphonic debates of the late imperial China, besides established conventions and Neo-Confucian orthodoxy.

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