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Reviewed by:
  • Chinese Émigré Intellectuals and Their Quest for Liberal Values in the Cold War, 1949–69 by Kenneth Kai-chung Yung
  • Milan Matthiesen (bio)
Chinese Émigré Intellectuals and Their Quest for Liberal Values in the Cold War, 1949–69. By Kenneth Kai-chung Yung. Leiden, Boston: Brill, 2021. Pp. 242. Paper $159.00, isbn 978-90-04-46603-6.

Kenneth Kai-chung Yung’s Chinese Émigré Intellectuals and Their Quest for Liberal Values in the Cold War presents the philosophical and political development of Chinese intellectuals who fled the mainland after the Communist takeover in 1949. Focusing on Yin Haiguang 殷海光 (1919–1969), Zhang Junmai 張君勱(1887–1969), and Xu Fuguan 徐復觀 (1904–1982), the author provides a comparative account and comprehensive overview of the many facets of intellectual discourse among Chinese post-war philosophers and public intellectuals.

Yung’s book is structured into five chapters. While the first two chapters introduce the reader to the general trends and historical circumstances of the post-war intellectual sphere, the ensuing chapters three to five are dedicated to a detailed analysis of Yin Haiguang (chapter three), Zhang Junmai (chapter four), and Xu Fuguan (chapter five). In the introduction, Yung expounds on the framework he is employing in his analysis, starting off with the somewhat controversial proposition that the intellectuals who left mainland China after 1949 were not “exiles,” as they are usually referred to in the field, but “émigrés.” His reason is that they were not forced to leave China but did so out of their own volition (p. 1). This denotation not only runs counter to the many works on the exile situation of the authors in question, or their own accounts of mourning the loss of their home, but also some of Yung’s own assertions made on the same page, where he talks about the intellectuals’ “self-exile.” In the later chapters, Yung states that Zhang Junmai would have most likely been persecuted if he had stayed on the mainland (p. 134) and that both Xiong Shili 熊十力 (1885–1968) and Liang Shuming 梁漱溟 (1893–1988), two other important representatives of modern Confucianism who stayed on the mainland after 1949, were persecuted by the Communists throughout the 1950s and 1960s (p. 161). Since there are no further reasons provided to warrant this change of labels, it remains somewhat of an unanswered question throughout the book.

As to the general structure of his analysis, Yung moves on to distinguish between three distinct schools of thought among Chinese émigré intellectuals: Confucians, Liberals, and moderate Socialists, with Xu Fuguan, Yin Haiguang, and [End Page 1] Zhang Junmai as their respective representatives. Differing from the conventional classification into two schools of thought, which does not recognize moderate Socialism as a distinct school, Yung draws an important differentiation in the political and economic orientations among the group of Confucian intellectuals Zhang Junmai is usually seen as being part of. While at times convincing, the differentiation into three “schools of thought” does not always appear to be warranted, especially since the chapter dedicated to the work and thought of Zhang Junmai primarily deals with his deliberations on Confucianism and its compatibility with democracy, and only marginally touches on his socialist ideas. I will come back to this issue of classification at the end of the review. The final part of the introduction situates the three intellectuals in what Yung calls “Cold War currents,” a wave of thought formed against the backdrop of the global conflict between the rise of totalitarian regimes and the “free world” that promoted liberal democracy and maintained a strong anti-utopian and anti-totalitarian worldview. Formed by this environment, all three intellectuals are identified by Yung as belonging to the modern Chinese liberal tradition, united in their opposition to the Communist takeover of the mainland but differing in their interpretation of liberal ideas and their degree of importance for modern Chinese society (p. 25).

Chapter 1 explores how the different environments in which the intellectuals found themselves after 1949 shaped their political ideas and actions. While intellectuals who followed Chiang Kai-shek and the Kuomintang (KMT) to Taiwan put their focus on establishing a democratic political system on Taiwan and pushing back against the...


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