Friday, November 27, 2015

Timothy Cheek's "The Intellectual in Modern Chinese History"

Timothy Cheek began studying China at the Australian National University in the 1970s and has traveled to China and worked with Chinese colleagues since 1981. After receiving his PhD in History and East Asian Languages from Harvard University in 1986 he taught in the US until 2002 when he took up the Louis Cha Chair in Chinese Research at the University of British Columbia.

Cheek applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, The Intellectual in Modern Chinese History, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Intellectual in Modern Chinese History ends with this quote:
“If the intellectuals still loll about in the relaxed atmosphere of the cities and the foreign concessions, then they will not make revolution.”
Mao Zedong? Some Chinese anarchist or other Bolshevik? No, the words of Liang Shuming, noted as “China’s last Confucian.” The page focuses on the 1920s and 30s, about a third of a way through the arc of the book that maps the words and deeds of Chinese intellectuals who tried to shape public life from 1895-2015.

This page has the story of two Liangs—Liang Qichao the famous reforming journalist of the early 1900s, now disillusioned with the West after visiting the devastation of post Great War Europe, and Liang Shuming, whom I present as a revolutionary conservative seeking many of the goals we associate with Mao and the rural revolution of the Communists, but Liang set up his rural revolution on Confucian principles. Liang Shuming would meet with Mao in Yan’an, the Communist’s rural capital, in the late 1930s, and before that he would join forces with trans-Pacific Chinese liberal James Yen in promoting science and education in the villages in a joint Rural Reconstruction Movement.

Two themes of the broader story appear on page 99. First, While China’s intellectuals were understandably focused on fixing China—then at a low point of ill-governance, poverty, and domination by imperial powers—they looked not only to the new and the West, but also to native resources (and not simply “tradition”) as well as other Asian examples, notably from India. Second, by the 1920s reformers and revolutionaries alike accepted that rural China had to be a focus of their efforts. There lived the vast majority of Chinese and for some, like Liang and Mao in their different ways, there breathed the best virtues of Chinese civilization.

Both Liangs on page 99 reflect the dynamism and range of choices, as well as terrifying challenges, confronting Chinese intellectuals in the decades between Empire and Socialist State.
Learn more about The Intellectual in Modern Chinese History at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue