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Features 51 Zhu Weizheng. Yindiao weidingde chuantong(A tradition without a definite tone). Shenyang: Liaoning Jiaoyu Chubanshe, 1995. 341 pp. Paperback RMB 13.50. Since the publication ofhis Zouchu zhongshiji (English translation published as Zhu Weizheng, Coming Out ofthe MiddleAges: Comparative Reflections on China and the West, translated and edited by Ruth Hayhoe [Armonk, New York: M. E. Sharpe, 1990]), Zhu Weizheng, an eminent historian in the PRC, has continued to ponder the complex relationship between tradition and modernity in Chinese history. As the title ofhis new book suggests, Zhu does not believe in a holistic tradition. "Particularly since the seventeenth century," he writes, "cultural tradition in China has changed so frequently, the old disappearing while the new is emerging, that we who live at the end ofthe twentieth century feel extremely hard pressed just to understand the perception ofhistory by our predecessors at the beginning ofthis century" (p. 7). While this statement sounds very modest, ifnot nihilistic, Zhu never loses sight ofhis mission to search for "facts" (shixiang). He feels that although tradition changes with a constancy that defies comprehension, we still need to engage in the pursuit ofunderstanding based on new findings. As a warning to his audience, Zhu quotes Zhuang Zi's famous maxim on the irrevocable discrepancy between the limitlessness ofknowledge and the impermanence oflife. But Zhu himselfchooses nonetheless to follow Confucius' teaching that one should try to do the impossible. While its content appears diverse, this book addresses one issue ofmajor importance to the "Culture Fever" ( Wenhua re) movement in China during the 1980s, in which Zhu, along with Tang Yijie and Pang Pu in Beijing, played a prominent role as members of the historians' circle in Shanghai. That role was to conduct a critical examination of China's cultural tradition in order to be able fully to embrace modernity, as defined by Western industrial society. While they, along with young radicals like Liu Xiaobo and Gan Yang, were enthusiastic about the coming of the new era—or "plunging into the blue ocean," to use a phrase from the popular TV series of that time, River Elegy (He shang)—as historians, they cautioned their radical comrades that in order to launch an effective assault on the old Chinese tradition, they must first come to a basic understanding of what is meant by Chinese culture and history. Thus Zhu has tried to be at once a cultural critic and an educator. As a critic, he has longed for China to come out of© 1997 by University the Middle Ages, namely out ofthe shadow ofits feudal legacy; as an educator, ofHawai'i Presshowever, he has devoted his efforts to correcting misunderstandings in the perception of China's cultural tradition. 52 China Review International: Vol. 4, No. 1, Spring 1997 Zhu has indeed seen substantial fruits from his endeavors, as shown in this collection ofessays, written mostly in the late 1980s and early 1990s. For example, by introducing two little-known poems ofWei Yuan (1794-1857), on Wei's visits to Hong Kong and Macao, Zhu finds reason to cast doubt on Wei's authorship of the Haiguo tuzhi (Illustrated treatise on the sea kingdoms), a book that earned Wei's name in Chinese history. Why, Zhu asks, would Wei, who claimed to have consulted many Western sources in writing the book, have become so captivated by Western music and architecture—like an ignorant country person, as reflected in his poems? Zhu then finds that Wei actually published this substantial book (fiftyjuan) no later than four months after his completion ofanother major work, Shengwuji (The military history ofthe Qing dynasty), which means that he completed one juan every two days (p. 199). Zhu also compares the contents of the two books and concludes that the ideas expressed in them are at least inconsistent , ifnot contradictory. Wei, for instance, was well known at the time for championing the learning ofWestern military technology as a means to deal with the Western powers, but in the Shengwuji, he had actually proposed to shut China's door to the world completely. The idea oflearning from the West, Zhu believes, had been proposed by Lin Zexu (1785-1850), who had initiated a project...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9367
Print ISSN
1069-5834
Pages
pp. 51-53
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-30
Open Access
No
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