Global Space and the Nationalist Discourse of Modernity: The Historical Thinking of Liang Qichao

Global Space and the Nationalist Discourse of Modernity: The Historical Thinking of Liang Qichao

Global Space and the Nationalist Discourse of Modernity: The Historical Thinking of Liang Qichao

Global Space and the Nationalist Discourse of Modernity: The Historical Thinking of Liang Qichao

Synopsis

This book reexamines the historical thinking of Liang Qichao (1873-1929), one of the few modern Chinese thinkers and cultural critics whose appreciation of the question of modernity was based on first-hand experience of the world space in which China had to function as a nation-state. It seeks to demonstrate that Liang was not only a profoundly paradigmatic modern Chinese intellectual but also an imaginative thinker of worldwide significance. By tracing the changes in Liang's conception of history, the author shows that global space inspired both Liang's longing for modernity and his critical reconceptualization of modern history. Spatiality, or the mode of determining spatial organization and relationships, offers a new interpretive category for understanding the stages in Liang's historical thinking. Liang's historical thinking culminated in a global imaginary of difference, which became most evident in the shift from his earlier proposal for a uniform national history to one that mapped "cultural history". His reaffirmation of spatiality, a critical concept overshadowed by the modernist obsession with time and history, made it both necessary and possible for him to redesign the project of modernity. Finally, the author suggests that the reconciliation of anthropological space with historical time that Liang achieved makes him abundantly contemporary with our own time, both inextricably modern and postmodern.

Excerpt

The year 1902, the fourth year of Liang's political exile in Japan, witnessed the birth of Liang Qichao the New Historian. It also marked a high point in his career as a giant man of letters. Through his prolific writings, Liang Qichao found a way to make the changes of his time narratable as part of the global history of the arrival of modernity. The central, historicizing narrative was provided by nationalist discourse, which introduced to Liang a new and dynamic spatiotemporal regime.

Liang's intellectual energy and versatility are abundantly demonstrated in the scores of diverse articles he authored in this one year. They range from expansive essays such as Discourse on the New Citizen and On the General, Development of Chinese Scholarship and Thought to more specific studies like A Private Proposal for Financial Reform in China and A Brief History of the Development of Economic Theory. Other indications of his broad interests are his introductions to and biographies of personalities as varied as Darwin, Montesquieu, Kossuth, Mazzini, Descartes, Bentham, Kidd, and Aristotle. Also during this period, Liang wrote political commentaries on current domestic and world affairs and contributed to the development of a nascent reform literature by tirelessly promoting contemporary poetry. His notes on poetry would later be published as the influential Poetic Commentary from the Ice-Drinker's Studio. All these voluminous writings first appeared in the New Citizen Journal, one of . . .

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