Much recent comparative political theory and philosophy engages the substantive ideas of historically marginalized thought traditions, but ignores the methodological insights that have structured cross-cultural thinking in diverse times and places. In contrast, this essay examines the cross-cultural methodology of Tan Sitong, an influential Chinese reformer of the Qing dynasty who thought critically and carefully about his country’s engagement with Western knowledge. Tan’s work draws attention to how dynamic and plural meaning (dao) in any society is embedded and produced through externally observable practices and institutions (qi) that can be replicable in other communities. Working from these metaphysical assumptions, he draws attention to the possibility of “authentic” imitation of foreign ways of life. His ambitions to authenticity, however, do not affirm a cultural essence so much as they recognize the process of meaning-production as driven by a necessary tension between continuity or replication, on the one hand, and innovation and interpretation, on the other. Tan therefore provides an important corrective to contemporary accounts that emphasizes how the emergent and hybrid character of cultural constructs tends to ignore the ways in which foreign learning can be a site of discipline as well as a target of inclusion.


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pp. 92-113
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