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By the late nineteenth century, the cosmology that supported the political and social orders in China had collapsed, leading certain intellectuals to feel a spiritual vacuum and prompting them to search for new sources of meaning. By the May Fourth period, many intellectuals expressed confidence that they had found ontologically based, transcendent values to center the political order, effectively building a new civil religion from scratch. Radical attempts to give China a new common life stemmed from late Qing discourses on democracy and centered on universal values of liberty, equality, fraternity, and justice. Cai Yuanpei spelled out his belief that people could learn a kind of absolute empathy through aesthetics of the beautiful and the sublime. Chen Duxiu interpreted democracy as a motive force of historical development. Hu Shi claimed historical processes of "socialization" and "humanization" were explicitly spiritual results of scientific and material progress. These three case studies of secular thinkers suggest how "civil religion" can deepen our understanding of the era.