- Wahrheit und Geschichte: Zwei chinesische Historiker auf der Suche nach einer modernen Identität für China
The changes that occurred in Chinese historical writing during the early twentieth century have received much less attention than they deserve. Each year we see numerous studies published examining aspects of twentieth-century Chinese literature, especially the poetry and fiction of the May Fourth era. Much less attention has been given to the historical writing of this period. This is puzzling given the authoritative status that historical writing has always enjoyed in the Chinese tradition. The attempt to re-fashion the world, to make it new, was just as prominent in historical writing as in poetry and fiction. Engagement with the past provided an important means to re-imagine the present, and debates about history, over the nature of the discipline and its place in the new China, were central for many of the leading intellectuals of the time. German scholars have been more attentive [End Page 522] than most to the significance of these issues, and Axel Schneider's Wahrheit und Geschichte emerges out of this important strand of German sinology. It is a study of two of the key figures involved in reshaping Chinese historical thought and historical writing during the early twentieth century, Chen Yinke (1890-1969) and Fu Sinian (1896-1950).
The recent fracturing of the imposed consensus in mainland China regarding Marxist interpretations of the past and the continuing search for new ways to create the present through the past have led to the republication of many works by historians of the Republican period. Schneider makes good use of this material, and in exploring the significance of Chen Yinke and Fu Sinian he also casts some light on this resurgence of contemporary Chinese interest in the early twentieth century. Both Chen and Fu worked at Academia Sinica, the first modern research institute in China, and both were key figures in the attempt to establish history as an autonomous discipline during the 1920s and 1930s. Schneider indicates that he chose to focus on these two historians in order to explore the connection between scholarship and politics during this period and to contribute to our understanding of the way history was used in constructing a new, post-imperial, China. In the first two chapters he sets out the aims of his study and provides brief biographies of the principal subjects of the book.
Schneider begins from the hypothesis that traditional Chinese conceptions of historiography were called into question by the reception of Western theories of history. This initiated a process of reflection on the epistemological foundations and sociopolitical functions of history and led to a questioning of the foundation of Chinese identity, both cultural and national, and the place of Chinese culture in the world. The broad range of responses that flowed from this—what is generally referred to as the "new" history—is explored in chapter 3. While intended primarily to provide context for the more detailed studies of Chen Yinke and Fu Sinian that follow, this chapter is an excellent overview of the emergence of the new history in late imperial China and the various forms it took up until the 1940s. A list of the topics covered gives some indication of the scope of this chapter: Old and New Text scholarship up to Wang Guowei; the emergence of a nationalist historiography (Liang Qichao and Zhang Binglin); the discovery of new sources and Wang Guowei's historical scholarship; the influence of pragmatism (Hu Shi and the movement "to order the national past"); Gu Jiegang and the "Doubt Antiquity" movement; the renaissance of Chinese culture after 1919 (both Liang Qichao and Xueheng scholars); the emergence of a Marxist and socioeconomic historiography; and the social and cultural history of the 1930s. Schneider traces the wide range of opinion during this period about issues such as the relationship between truth and history...