- Making the Political: Founding and Action in the Political Theory of Zhang Shizhao
Based on the author’s PhD dissertation, which was awarded the 2008 Leo Strauss Prize for Best Dissertation in Political Philosophy by the American Political Science Association, Making the Political is a theoretical study of the early Republican Chinese thinker Zhang Shizhao’s (1881–1973) theory on nation building. Leigh Jenco, a political scientist, describes Zhang as “one of the most intellectually substantive Chinese thinkers of the early twentieth century” (p. ix). The phrase “making the political” (weizheng), she explains, means creating political institutions or government, and the word “founding” is her translation of the Chinese term liguo (state and nation building), which was widely used by Chinese intellectuals [End Page 72] of the Republican period who sought to build a modern nation-state on the ruins of the imperial system. Zhang expounded his political theory in the pages of the influential journal The Tiger, which he launched in Tokyo in 1914 and relaunched at Beijing University in 1917.
According to Jenco, the basic question for Zhang as a nation builder is how individuals (ren), as opposed to groups (qun), can take effective action to change the sociopolitical order in the absence of a set of institutional arrangements made through the work of others and a “self-consciously political community to legitimate or execute such action” (p. ix). In other words, how can individuals establish a political regime and develop new institutions without a set of norms that are already existent, shared, and widely understood by members of the political community? This leads to another question: In such circumstances, can individuals, acting alone rather than in concert with others, make a difference and change society in a spontaneous and noncoercive way? Zhang’s answer is in the affirmative. His individuals can take effective action and make a difference because they are self-aware persons with talents that they would self-use to bring about change from the bottom up, and they are willing to accommodate different points of views. Their talents maintain their potency by being self-directed, and their actions can be effective because they can produce unintended cumulative effects.
Jenco examines the paradoxes in Zhang’s founding project: mass action versus elite leadership, constituting authority and legitimacy, in the context of two Chinese founding narratives: the social contract and “making the political lies in the people” (p. 58). In the process, Jenco provides new insights into Zhang’s thoughts on the relationships between “rule by man” (renzhi) and “rule by law” (fazhi), between morality (or virtue) and legal institutions, between the private (si) and the public (gong), and between social change and political reform (pp. 72–111). Zhang rejects the dichotomous approach and sees their relationships as complementary and mutually reinforcing. Zhang also believes in federalism, self-rule, and local interests that need not lead to a weak state.
Jenco also provides an analysis of Zhang’s accommodation thought (tiaohelun). Tiaohelun is widely subscribed to by Chinese intellectuals, especially cultural conservatives. What is remarkable about Zhang’s ideas is that accommodation for him is “both a way of dealing with tensions” and “an invitation for contestation” (p. 200). It contributes to social and political health, which is constitutive of democracy. Differences can take many forms, and they are good things, especially differences that are inspired by self-awareness and are action-oriented. Jenco does, however, miss the opportunity here to probe another dimension of accommodation thought, namely harmony as an outcome. It is not the natural harmony that Liang Qichao wrote about,1 but harmony that results from noncoercive reconciliation of differences and peaceful conflict resolution. To be harmonious is not to go to the extreme, as the doctrine of the mean holds. Chinese liberal intellectuals [End Page 73] desire a constitutional democracy but not one that is conflict ridden. Zhang is no exception.
Making the Political is rich in political theory relevant to...