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Creating the "New Man"

From Enlightenment Ideals to Socialist Realities

Yinghong Cheng

Publication Year: 2009

The idea of eliminating undesirable traits from human temperament to create a "new man" has been part of moral and political thinking worldwide for millennia. During the Enlightenment, European philosophers sought to construct an ideological framework for reshaping human nature. But it was only among the communist regimes of the twentieth century that such ideas were actually put into practice on a nationwide scale. In this book Yinghong Cheng examines three culturally diverse sociopolitical experiments—the Soviet Union under Lenin and Stalin, China under Mao, and Cuba under Castro—in an attempt to better understand the origins and development of the "new man." The book’s fundamental concerns are how these communist revolutions strove to create a new, morally and psychologically superior, human being and how this task paralleled efforts to create a superior society. To these ends, it addresses a number of questions: What are the intellectual roots of the new man concept? How was this idealistic and utopian goal linked to specific political and economic programs? How do the policies of these particular regimes, based as they are on universal communist ideology, reflect national and cultural traditions? Cheng begins by exploring the origins of the idea of human perfectibility during the Enlightenment. His discussion moves to other European intellectual movements, and then to the creation of the Soviet Man, the first communist new man in world history. Subsequent chapters examine China’s experiment with human nature, starting with the nationalistic debate about a new national character at the turn of the twentieth century; and Cuban perceptions of the new man and his role in propelling the revolution from a nationalist, to a socialist, and finally a communist movement. The last chapter considers the global influence of the Soviet, Chinese, and Cuban experiments. Creating the "New Man" contributes greatly to our understanding of how three very different countries and their leaders carried out problematic and controversial visions and programs. It will be of special interest to students and scholars of world history and intellectual, social, and revolutionary history, and also development studies and philosophy.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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p. vii-vii

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pp. ix-x

I owe warmest thanks to many individuals whose support was indispensable for this project. The support and advice of Patrick Manning, my main dis- sertation adviser, have overarched the entire process, from conceptualization through development of the project. His major contribution was helping me understand how a work in communist studies fits into the framework of world history and how that framework signifies its importance. From the beginning, he encouraged me with the idea that, as a global movement, world...

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pp. 1-7

The communist movement of the last century was remarkably suc- cessful worldwide in establishing the party-state and carrying out projects aimed at a total social transformation. But behind the ideo- logical, political, and social changes was a more ambitious and comprehen- sive goal: to remold the mind, psychology, and even character of individuals by means of various party and state policies designed for a “new man” and...

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One: From the Enlightenment to the Soviet New Man

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pp. 8-47

The idea of remaking people sprang directly from the Enlightenment. The main emphasis of the Enlightenment was the science of man—that is, finding what human nature is, how it is formed, and the mutual influences between it and society. Most Enlightenment thinkers held a materialistic world outlook and viewed the human mind as a mecha- nism determined by and responding to the environment. Beginning with...

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Two: “Be Mao’s Good Soldiers”: Creating the New Man in China

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pp. 48-126

As the second most influential communist revolution in the twentieth century, the Chinese Revolution promoted its own type of new man. The Chinese new man had some features in common with the Soviet man, the prototype of the communist new man, but it also had distinctive traits, derived from China’s cultural tradition but more so from its unique revolutionary experience. The notion of an ideal human arose as early as the 1910s in China, when some intellectuals advocated a fundamental...

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Three: “Let Them All Become Che”: Creating the New Man in Cuba

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pp. 127-189

As the most important communist revolution of the 1960s, espe- cially in terms of its influence in the Third World, the Cuban Revolution presented its own type of “new man.” From 1959 to the mid-1960s, the revolution underwent a rapid and drastic transformation, from a self-proclaimed radical nationalist/democratic revolution to a socialist and communist revolution. For many historians, the Cuban Revolution is a particularly intriguing case, compared with many other...

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Four: The Global Impact of the Communist New Man

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pp. 190-213

This survey of the Soviet Union, China, and Cuba has outlined the attempts to create a new man in the world communist revolution and has profiled the major characteristics—real and fictional—of such a new man. However, the historical horizon on which this new man emerged in the twentieth century can be further broadened by examining his influence in other countries, many of which had similar revolutions while many others did not. This chapter looks at the global impact of the...

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pp. 214-223

Immanuel Kant once contemplated that “out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made.”1 After completing the writing of the preceding chapters, I feel that no other statement in the history of human self-reflection—to the best of my knowledge—is more concise yet effective in expressing my sentiments at this moment. Like many of his Enlightenment contemporaries, Kant was fond of the Chinese civilization, especially its philosophy, so much so that...


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pp. 225-248

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 249-259


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pp. 261-265

E-ISBN-13: 9780824862022
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824830748

Publication Year: 2009