- Questioning Modern Chinese Views of Temporality in Context of Comparative Philosophy
The Trend and Brief History for Zhang Taiyan Research: Locating Viren Murthy’s Book
In recent years, increasing attention has been paid to late Qing intellectual history (1890–1911). Partly it is because of interest in the 1911 revolution, which resulted in the collapse of the Qing dynasty and the establishment of the first republican [End Page 543] government in Chinese history. From 1911 to today, in a strict sense, republicanism (gonghe, literally, “people in equality and harmony”) is still an unfinished project for the Chinese people. Furthermore, China entered into the global capitalist world after its economic reform and the opening-up policy that started in 1978; realistically, it is now reemerging as an important member in the world market. Thus, it is reasonable that scholars both within and outside China are still discussing the nature of Chinese modernity, if, indeed, Chinese modernity is understood as the opening of China to the Eurocentric world since the late Qing.
Of thinkers in late Qing China, Zhang Taiyan (章太炎, i.e., Zhang Binglin 章炳麟, 1868–1936) has received the most attention. Zhang Taiyan was one of the most accomplished Chinese philologists, linguists, philosophers, and social, political, and literary critics at the turn of the twentieth century. He is known today as a great scholar who was deeply immersed in traditional classical learning. At the same time, he has penetrating insights into Western philosophy, religion, and sociology. In this sense, Zhang Taiyan’s works themselves are a kind of comprehensive conglomeration and fusion of traditional and modern learning, East and West, late Qing China, and Meiji Japan. Politically, he is one of the most important anti-Manchurian revolutionaries and thinkers who worked with Sun Yat-sen (i.e., Sun Zhongshan, 1866–1925) during the 1911 revolution. Both politically and scholarly, he exerted a very substantial influence upon the young intellectual leaders in the May Fourth Movement, including Lu Xun (1881–1936), Zhou Zuoren (1885–1967), and Hu Shi (1891–1962). Lu Xun and Zhou Zuoren, brothers, were two of Zhang’s disciples when Zhang was the main theorist and propagator for the revolutionary camp in Tokyo. This is to say that the study of Zhang Taiyan is also key for an examination of Chinese modernity, because Zhang Taiyan’s philosophy encourages us to throw a spotlight into the ignored corners of Chinese modernity. Viren Murthy’s book The Political Philosophy of Zhang Taiyan examines Zhang Taiyan’s philosophy precisely to grasp the problem of Chinese modernity differently from other scholars.
Until recently, despite his importance in modern Chinese history, Zhang has not received sufficient attention in current scholarship in greater China. It is partly due to the dominance of modernist ideology that is based on linear progressivist temporality. It is also partly due to the bias of Communist and Guomindang historians, because Zhang was critical of both China’s Communist trends in late 1920s and of Chaing Kai–shek’s (1887–1975) Guomingdang government at the same time. Zhang’s criticism was even directed again Sun Zhongshan, whom both political parties respect. Formerly, Zhang was also well known for his feud with Sun early in 1907.
Before Viren Murthy’s book, there were four English monographs on Zhang Taiyan: Wong Young-tsu’s Search for Modern Nationalism: Zhang Binglin and Revolutionary China 1869–1936 (Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 1989); Kauko Laitinen’s Chinese Nationalism in the Late Qing Dynasty: Zhang Binglin as [End Page 544] an Anti-Manchu Propagandist (London: Curzon Press, 1990); Shimada Kenji’s Pioneer of the Chinese Revolution: Zhang Binglin and Confucianism (translated by Joshua A. Fogel, Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1990); and Wong Young-tsu’s Beyond Confucian China: The Rival Discourses of Kang Youwei and Zhang Binglin (London: Routledge, 2010). Shimada (島田虔次) is a well-known Japanese intellectual historian on Confucianism, and his book is a translation from Japanese. Shimada’s book deals with Zhang’s thoughts within traditional Chinese thoughts, especially within the...