Academic journal article Tamkang Review

The Cultivation of Citizens: Degeneration, Sexuality, and Nationalist Biopolitics in Zhu Guangqian's on Cultivation

Academic journal article Tamkang Review

The Cultivation of Citizens: Degeneration, Sexuality, and Nationalist Biopolitics in Zhu Guangqian's on Cultivation

Article excerpt

I. From Minsheng [phrase omitted] to Biopolitics

Dr. Sun Yat-sen, the "National Father" (guofu [phrase omitted]) of the Republic of China and chief architect of the Chinese constitution, was a physician whose conception of the modern nation state was deeply influenced by his own, firsthand experience dealing with the poor health conditions of the Chinese people. Keenly aware of the humiliations inflicted on China by the Opium Wars and China's backward medical institutions, Sun, along with other intellectuals and framers of the Chinese constitution, formulated a liberal-socialist model of the nation that sought to directly improve the health of the overall population. Thus Sun's famed "Three Principles of the People" (Sanmin zhuyi [phrase omitted]), which laid the foundation for the values and aims of the Chinese nation state, includes the principle of the "People's Life" (Minsheng [phrase omitted]). (1) This principle, although Sun never fully articulated its meaning, was described as "the everyday life of the people, the survival of society, the national livelihood, and the fate of the masses." (2) In theory, Minsheng was understood as an alternative form of socialism and was associated with four basic necessities: the right to food, clothing, shelter, and transportation--i.e., the material benefits of citizenship which are provided by the state, including health care, public housing and education. During the Republican Era (1911-1949), however, nationalists, socialists, anarchists, and liberals debated and developed a discourse of Minsheng which, precisely due to its ambiguity, could be articulated in many forms as the biopolitics of everyday, "popular life" in China.

Early progressive reformers took the ideology of People's Life seriously, using it chiefly as a means of explaining how a strong social welfare state was central to the maintenance of the new Kuomintang government. Trained in medicine, Dr. Sun admired the reforms carried out by Western socialist countries (especially the Soviet Union) and stressed the need for adequate healthcare, housing, and social policies that would strengthen the nation. Sun, however, was partly just following through with late 19th-century liberal reforms proposed by intellectuals like Liang Qi-qiao ([phrase omitted]), who "regarded government support for medical sciences and the establishment of public health programs as a basic prerequisite for the strength of Western nations" (Unschuld 246). Liang, as one of the key advocates of Western science and medicine, had described the "New Citizen" (Xinmin [phrase omitted]) as an individual who would exercise self-control and aid the creation of China as a modern nation. (3) In the early days of the Republic one prominent Kuomintang Nationalist statesman, Dai Jitao ([phrase omitted]), would echo this when he proclaimed: "Only after 'self-control' can there be freedom within the national law," so "Our aim is to extend the people's rights and strengthen the Kuo-t'i ([phrase omitted]) (polity) with the fundamental (principle) of individual self-control" (Qtd. in Bernal 142). Here the body politic, or "Kuo-t'i," is literally the "body of the nation" in Chinese (guoti [phrase omitted]), so Dai naturally wants to describe it as a collection of self-controlled individuals or "bodies."

The Republican rhetoric of self-control (zizhi [phrase omitted]) has roots in the Confucian discourse of cultivation (xiushen [phrase omitted]) which emphasizes self-mastery and is supposed to produce scholar-official Gentlemen (junzi [phrase omitted]) to rule the realm. In a famous passage from the Analects "Zi Lu asked what constituted the superior man. The Master said 'The cultivation of himself in reverential carefulness.'" (4) Although it focuses on civic engagement as well, the discourse of the Confucian Gentleman continues to exert enormous influence on modern political discourse because cultivation and self-control are still critical markers for nationalist and communist regimes which want their cadres to be perceived as leaders of a healthy, vigorous vanguard. …

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