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Modern China Lecture: Varieties of Chinese Utopianism, 1900-1940

October 20, 2016 @ 4:00 pm - 6:00 pm

Speaker: Peter Zarrow, University of Connecticut

Utopianism was a major motif in early twentieth century Chinese political thought.  Utopianism was not only widespread, it became constitutive of political thought.  Utopianism did so in the form of the utopian impulse rather than full-fledged utopianism.  The “utopian impulse” is revealed in the context of generally non-utopian ideas.  While not all thinkers were influenced by utopianism, many were—and the utopian impulse revealed in their work took very different forms.  I consider four case studies.  First, Kang Youwei: he was author of the only full-fledged utopian scheme; his utopia was based on metaphysical cosmopolitanism.  Second, Cai Yuanpei: Cai’s neo-Kantian aestheticism was another form of metaphysical thinking that formed the basis of his so-called philosophical anarchism.  Third, Chen Duxiu: Chen’s secular utopian interpretation of democracy infused his liberal and Trotskyite phases (less so his Leninist phase).  And finally, Hu Shi: Hu’s scientism led him to processual utopianism and shaped his liberalism and his critique of traditional culture.  There were certainly other varieties of utopianism, both metaphysical and secular, and the utopian impulse appeared in fiction as well as political writing, but these four cases enable us to begin to examine the relationship between utopianism and varieties of political thought.

Peter Zarrow is professor of History at the University of Connecticut.  His research focuses on the intellectual and cultural history of modern China.  Zarrow is currently writing a monograph on utopian thought in China in the twentieth century and has begun a project on the history of the Forbidden City.  He is the author most recently of After Empire: The Conceptual Transformation of the Chinese State, 1885-1924 (Stanford, 2012) and Educating China: Knowledge, Society, and Textbooks in a Modernizing World, 1902-1937 (Cambridge, 2015).


October 20, 2016
4:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Event Category:


Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies

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