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-6ON TRANSFORMATIVE AND ACCOMMODATIVE PHILOSOPHIZING IN TWENTIETH-CENTURY CHINA Thomas A. Metzger, University of California, San Diego While many scholars increasingly emphasize the importance of intellectual or cultural influences in China's modern transformation, revisionists are now suggesting ways of altering the main interpretative framework used so far to describe these influences .1 According to the latter paradigm, leading thinkers since at least the May Fourth movement have adopted a modernizing outlook discontinuous with much of the tradition . They have thus shared a view of world history as multifocal and cosmopolitan; a secularized cosmology, in terms of which norms had a problematic relation to the physical world, and human thought was more shaped by the historical legacy of culture than directly oriented to universal truths; a philosophy of progress emphasizing political participation, science, technology, economic growth, and less deferential social forms; and the Levensonian syndrome, whereby nationalists with a particularly great sense of pride in a unique civilization were "disoriented" by the new definition of their country as backward, by the humiliations of imperialism, and by the existential implications of cultural secularization. The modernizers have also been seen as sharing a framework of discussion, using universal standards of logic and evidence to debate epistemological, historical, and political doctrines. In other words, they have seen themselves and been perceived by much of their overseas audience as participating in a global philosophical seminar rather than a culturally defined arena of discourse, succeeding or failing to grasp the true nature of, say, revolution or the existential self. With this shared outlook, they differed especially over two central issues: Should one use only science or also some other epistemological construct or derive values? Should one respect the established structure of property and power or modernize in a revolutionary way? Revision of this paradigm has occurred partly as a result of criticism directed at its Levensonian aspect. Analyzing cultural secularization, we cannot consider the symptoms of "disorientation" and "cultural despair" in isolation but rather should see them in relation to that surge of optimisim often associated with the philosophy of progress. As Don C. Price has shown, the early modernizers generally had a profound sense of optimism. Similarly, as Price has also shown, their nationalism may have been overshadowed by their central desire for a universal moral order. 2 Sinocentrism is a spatially symbolized kind of feeling, but Chinese intellectuals have traditionally viewed their society more as a temporal process thrusting missions of moral regeneration on them. Besides the Levensonian syndrome, the problem of continuity between traditional views and the philosophy of progress is being reexamined. Clearly the discontinuities have been overemphasized, since ~ priori any segment of intellectual history is a mixture of continuities and discontinuities. For instance, Price has noted the continuities involved in the modernizers' demand for a universal moral order and in the image of "the revolutionary vocation." Lti Shih-ch'iang has argued that Confucian ideas in late Ch'ing times furthered rather than blocked the cause of modernization.3 Wang Erh-min's fascinating essays show how late Ch'ing modernizers combined very familiar traditional values with superficially-studied Western ideas to form a third, distinctive pattern of political thought.4 We are thus brought back to the insights of certain Chinese scholars more than twenty years ago, such as T'ang Chi.in-i. He asserted then that .the outlook of Chinese modernizers claiming to reject the tradition, including the Communists, was itself infused with traditional values.5 Conversely, the emphasis on continuity has been strengthened by the ongoing reexamination of traditional thought. De Bary, for instance, has challenged the Weberian analysis of Confucian orientations as stagnative.6 Similarly, Rhoads Murphey's discussion of Westernization has pointed to the vigor in modern times of China's indigenously idiosyncratic intellectual tradition. He rejects the idea, connnon to both the Marxist theory of imperialism and the structural-functional theory of modernization, -7that the impact of a dynamic West fell on relatively passive Asian societies, which then focuse~ on responding to this impact instead of also pursuing their own internal objectives. A third problem with the above paradigm lies in its restricting our understanding to the modernizers' own self.:..image as participants...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1940-5065
Print ISSN
1521-5385
Pages
pp. 6-9
Launched on MUSE
2021-05-25
Open Access
No
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