The Sublime Figure of History: Aesthetics and Politics in Twentieth-Century China

By Ban Wang | Go to book overview

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Sublimation unto Death: The Aesthetic Search for Meaning in Cultural Crisis

. . . if man is ever to solve that problem of politics in practice he will have to approach it through the problem of the aesthetic, because it is only through Beauty that man makes his way to Freedom. -- Friedrich Schiller

The study of aesthetics has been and remains a major intellectual and cultural activity in twentieth-century China. In the People's Republic, aesthetics as a discipline has been a university course with standard textbooks. The aesthetics curriculum was officially launched in 1960, when the country was experiencing natural disasters, famine, and political instability. Even more surprising is the fact that, two years later, a course called History of Western Aesthetics was launched as part of the curriculum in the Party School, the training ground for high-ranking party leaders. This aesthetic curriculum was one result of the officially sponsored "aesthetics debate," which began in 1956 and continued through 1962, an undertaking that involved a dozen prominent scholars and aestheticians, whose articles were published in a number of state-run and highly visible journals and newspapers.

The fate of publications on aesthetics is no less intriguing. Kant Critique of Judgment, translated by the renowned aesthetician and poet Zong Baihua, was published in 1964, shortly before the nation was inundated by the small red books of Mao's quotations. In 1985 Kant's book was reprinted, and 12,500 copies sold instantly. 1 As early as the late 1950's, the aesthetician Zhu Guangqian undertook the daunting task of translating Hegel multivolume Aesthetics, and the first vol

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