Chinese Intellectuals and the West, 1872-1949

Chinese Intellectuals and the West, 1872-1949

Chinese Intellectuals and the West, 1872-1949

Chinese Intellectuals and the West, 1872-1949

Excerpt

This study has several purposes. The principal ones are to describe the circumstances surrounding the beginning and development of the Chinese movement to study abroad, to demonstrate what the students accomplished both abroad and after their return, and to determine the impact these students later made upon Chinese society and government. A broader purpose is to shed light on problems that arise when a society, deeply embedded in tradition, attempts to shake off the tyranny of habit and adapt itself to an entirely different way of life within the shortest possible time. Because my hope is to reach a circle of readers beyond Sinologists, well- known events in Chinese history are upon occasion described briefly in order to make them more intelligible to readers not familiar with the country's past.

Although the term intellectuals is difficult to define when it is used to denote a certain group of men in an industrial society, it takes on a clear-cut meaning when applied to the elite in China. It simply means "educated men" in distinction to the masses who are uneducated. Given this fact, one can speak of the "higher" or "lower" intellectuals, meaning men who had much or little formal education. Since the word intellectuals has a modern connotation, I have reserved it for the Chinese of the twentieth century and have used another term, literati, to denote the educated peoples before this time.

As I point out in the introductory chapter, it is my belief that the ruling group in Chinese society was made up of scholars who assumed the dual task of preserving traditional ethical values and attending to the chores of government. Because of their pivotal and exposed position, they were the first group to feel deeply the impact of Western penetration into China in the nineteenth century. This situation was unprecedented in China's long history, and the reaction of her ruling elite provided both a symptom of the crisis and a cause for further changes in Chinese society. In one way or another, a study of the changing intelligentsia is thus a key to the understanding of modern China.

The scope of this central idea has led to many practical problems in presentation. To begin with, the very reference to Chinese educated abroad implies the view that they shared certain common traits that can be isolated for discussion. This view is commonly accepted in China, and I find no objection to it. It is one thing . . .

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