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  • Voices from the Chinese Century: Public Intellectual Debate from Contemporary China ed. by Timothy Cheek, David Ownby, and Joshua A. Fogel
  • Esther T. Hu (bio)
Timothy Cheek, David Ownby, and Joshua A. Fogel, editors. Voices from the Chinese Century: Public Intellectual Debate from Contemporary China. New York: Columbia University Press, 2020. viii, 388 pp. Paperback $30.00, isbn 978-0-231-19523-2.

The "China Dream" ((中国梦), a seminal, recurring motif that informs, shapes, and legitimizes Chinese Communist Party (CCP) rule, has been promoted by General Secretary Xi Jinping (习近平;; b. 1953) as the main narrative to "tell [End Page 251] China's story well," his directive given at the National Propaganda and Ideology Work Conference in August 2013. As a way of response, this volume constitutes results from a five-year international project funded by the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, "Reading and Writing the Chinese Dream," in which the three principal investigators, Timothy Cheek, David Ownby, and Joshua Fogel, and their team, collaborated with Chinese colleagues in the People's Republic of China (PRC) to determine the best essays in China today that capture the diversity of voices articulating what is, or should be, the "China Dream." Employing the "New Sinology," a methodology grounded in respect for Sinophone discourse by insisting that scholarship on China be grounded in Chinese-language sources, thereby working "with Chinese" rather than simply "on China" (21), this volume represents a range of humanist intellectual Chinese voices that address a public intellectual audience reached mainly through social media in the past twenty years. Though there is overlap in identity and slippage in categorization, the voices are mainly organized via three "streams of thought" (思潮) that were previously described and then published in China Information in 2018 as part of the project's initial result1: Liberal, New Left, or New Confucian. Simply put, Chinese Liberals look for ways China "can embrace and develop universal or global norms and draw from Western liberal thinkers" (9); New Left intellectuals look for both Asian solutions and socialist traditions but are not limited to Chinese, Western, or universal norms; and New Confucians look for specifically Chinese solutions, mining from indigenous Chinese thinkers (9). Though these terms have been in circulation for some time, the texts, which have been collaboratively translated into English, are useful for readers 101 years after May 4, 1919, because they mark some of the predominant features shaping the China Dream narrative. Bookended by Gan Yang's (甘阳; b. 1952) influential "'Unifying the Three Traditions' in the New Era" (2005 Tsinghua lecture; 2007) that proposed merging the Confucian, Maoist, and Dengist traditions (通三统) to arrive at an understanding of Chinese state and society and Jiang Qing's (蒋庆; b. 1953) "Only Confucians Can Make a Place for Modern Women," an interview from 2015 that serves to correct the demonization of Confucian thought by May Fourth intellectuals in its treatment of women and prescribe how modern intellectual women might find value and meaning in Confucian teaching, these English translations offer an eclectic blend of central themes of debate in contemporary Chinese thought, history, and politics especially useful for scholars, policymakers, and think tanks engaging with China.

Where in time is China in the "China Dream"? For philosophers like Gan Yang, the temporal placement of China when he first delivered his lecture in 2005 was akin to "England of around 1800 or America around 1900" (p. 39), with modern transformation and economic growth accompanying societal contradiction and conflict. That Gan Yang skips a century of revolutions and [End Page 252] war to return China to 1900 reflects his expectations and responses to the CCP's policies and its consequences. "We today [in China] are still living the transition, and we must see the entire process, from the late-Qing collapse through the Chinese revolution and reform, as a continuous process whose goal is the search for a new continuity on which to base modern China" (p. 34). It should be noted, however, that since his proposal to merge the Confucian, Maoist, and Dengist traditions to assist China's re-envisioning of its historical experiences, the legal scholar Jiang Shigong (强世功;; b. 1967) has published in 2018 another influential, and more...