- Jibian shidai de wenhua yu zhengzhi: Cong xinwenhua yundong dao beifa
Luo Zhitian is one of the foremost voices of the younger generation of historians currently working in China. Born in Sichuan and educated in both China and the United States (where he received his doctoral degree from Princeton University in 1993), Luo is now a professor of history at Peking University and a leading figure in the effort to reclaim historical scholarship from the overt politicization that has characterized it in much of Chinese academia. In his latest work, Jibian shidai, Luo aims to avoid a teleological rereading of 1920s China by offering a new analysis of the forces and figures that gave shape to and emerged out of the May Fourth Movement and the Northern Expedition. Luo's politically informed study of post–May Fourth intellectual history seeks to downplay the theoretical divergences that emerged between competing intellectual factions in the wake of World War I by emphasizing the different groups' common political goals. By placing May Fourth intellectual debates in the context of warlordism and political factionalism, Luo attempts to bridge the gap between politics and culture—but only partially succeeds in doing so.
Jibian shidai, a collection of Luo's previously published essays, is organized into two main sections on the May Fourth Movement and the Northern Expedition and concludes with a brief afterword on the evolution of the Chinese treaty system. The first half of the book, which centers on May Fourth-era intellectual debates, is successful in accomplishing Luo's goal of emphasizing the consistent tension between culture and politics in 1920s China. His introductory essay, a well-written but not particularly revelatory rehashing of pre–May Fourth intellectual trends, points to the shift in the attitudes of intellectuals toward the West as being indicative of the start of a new social and political era in Chinese history—one in which Chinese intellectuals continued to admire Western political doctrines but were forced to acknowledge the chasm still separating China from the rest of the world (p. 55). The two essays that follow are explicitly concerned with the relationship between intellectuals and politics in the post-May Fourth period. Here, the thrust of Luo's argument is that divisions between different intellectual groups were not necessarily as clear-cut as recent scholarship may suggest. Instead, Luo proposes a fluidity of intellectual currents in which common understandings often usurped divisions, such as in the context of the [End Page 528] "Problems versus -Isms" debate between leftists (such as Li Dazhao) and liberals (such as Hu Shi, on whom Luo has published extensively in the past). Although the two men fell on opposing sides of the debate, Luo emphasizes the fact that their political stances—particularly in terms of their opposition to warlordism and their support of the good government doctrine (hao zhengfu zhuyi)—were very much in line. In spite of the fact that Li and Hu often disagreed on certain theoretical issues, Luo relies on evidence culled from the two men's letters and publications to show that both sides sought a common ground (p. 149). Thus, the first half of the book clearly underscores Luo's intent on emphasizing politically based similarities rather than theoretical divergences among the dominant thinkers who emerged in the post–May Fourth years.
Luo's aim to accentuate the interplay between culture and politics is very much attained in the first half of the book. By demonstrating Li Dazhao and Hu Shi's rhetorical similarity to—but acknowledged divergence from—the Anfu warlord clique, Luo is able to recontextualize the intellectuals' stances as being informed by, rather than isolated from, warlord politics. Perhaps Luo's greatest strength in this section is his consistent avoidance of a teleological analysis of the period. Through his efforts to blur the lines between the nascent CCP and its detractors, Luo...