Shiping Hua. Chinese Utopianism: A Comparative Study of Reformist Thought with Japan and Russia, 1898-1997. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2008. 208 pp. Hardcover $35.00, ISBN 978-0-804-76161-1.
Among the many changes that occurred during the transition from the twentieth century to the twenty-first century, one could count a general shift away from revolutionary utopias. Of course, in the final decades of the twentieth century, people already criticized utopian thought and doubted the search for alternatives to the world of global capitalism, and so we can understand the pessimism of the twenty-first century as continuing a larger trend. However, during the greater part of the twentieth century, people in China and elsewhere showed a faith in utopia and the possibility of a different future. Hence, it is particularly interesting now, from the standpoint of the early twenty-first century, to look back from a comparative point of view at the different utopian projects that pervaded the previous century. This is exactly what Shiping Hua does in his book, Chinese Utopianism: A Comparative Study of Reformist nought with Japan and Russia, 1898-1997. Hua compares governmental policies and ideologies of reform in Japan, China, and Russia and argues that political changes in these three countries occurred as ruling elites implemented reforms in response to structural problems, but emphasizes that the resulting trajectories were influenced by cultural traditions.
The author's focus is on twentieth-century China. He has divided the book into six chapters and a conclusion. The first chapter is titled "Theory and Method"; the second provides a general discussion of utopianism in Japan, Russia, and China; the third chapter concerns modernizing reforms in Japan and China; the fourth is titled "Reforms within Communism: The Soviet Union"; the fifth is titled "Reforms within Communism: China"; and the sixth is titled "Reforms out of Communism: China and the Soviet Union." The conclusion is titled "Hopefulness toward the Future as Nature, Supernatural, and the Product of Human Endeavor." In the second chapter, he lays out a major point in the book, specifically, that Chinese utopian thought is connected to the prevalence of the Taoist small kingdoms with limited population, a tradition of peasant rebellions, and especially, the Confucian ideas of the grand harmony (datong).
Hua shows the importance of the concept of the grand harmony in Chinese thought by comparing the Meiji reforms to the late Qing reforms, namely the Hundred Days Reform during the late Qing. In chapter 3, the author compares the Meiji thinker Fukuzawa Yukichi (1835-1901) to the late Qing philosopher Kang Youwei (1858-1927) and contends that both were representative of the political culture of their respective societies. In general, Hua argues that by comparing Kang and Fukuzawa, we can conclude that the Chinese were more radical than their Japanese counterparts. He cites Kang: "[S]low reform is not as good as rapid reform; little change is not as good as wholesale change" (p. 33). A few pages later, he explains the difference in terms of culture. "The traditional Japanese notion of accepting life as it is, as discussed in Chapter 2, probably explains why the Meiji leaders adopted moderate strategies with limited goals, while the Chinese traditional belief that striving will lead to a better life for the group may explain the impatience and greater ambition of the late Qing reformers" (p. 36).
Hua continues this mode of analysis in his treatment of reforms during the communist period and interestingly points out that reformers of Mao's China, such as Chen Boda, were inspired by the idea of datong (p. 76). In discussing the Great Leap Forward, he notes that in 1958, "Mao visited the People's Communes in Xu Shui County, Hebei Province. The leaders from the CCP Central Committee's Department of Peasant Affairs were asked to bring Kang Youwei's Datongshu with them 'as the guideline for the People's Commune' " (p. …