Cultural Nationalism in Contemporary China

By Yingjie Guo | Go to book overview

4

RECONSTRUCTING A CONFUCIAN NATION

The Confucian revival

Both followers and critics of Confucianism generally describe it as the ‘mainstream’, the ‘backbone’, the ‘central pillar’ or the ‘mainstay’ of Chinese culture, differing mainly in their judgements as to whether it has played a positive or negative role in shaping China and its national character. Written off by Westernizers and Marxists as a ‘sterile orthodoxy’, a ‘dead weight from the past’ and an ‘obsolete but immovable fixture of the old order’ as early as May Fourth, Confucianism appeared destined for the museum, as Joseph Levenson predicted. On the other hand, the question has remained as to how far frontal assaults on Confucianism, including the devastating Cultural Revolution and the Criticizing Lin Biao and Criticizing Confucius Campaign, succeeded in eradicating the Confucian legacy from the hearts and minds of the Chinese. It is a Chinese irony that Confucianism should have remerged in the last two decades to ‘advance toward the twenty-first century with a smile on its lips’. 1 It is equally ironic that this news should have come through PD, the CCP’s mouthpiece.

What is driving the Confucian ‘renaissance’ on the mainland is evidently a strong current of cultural nationalism. Like cultural nationalists in general, Confucians see themselves as ‘moral innovators’ who establish ‘ideological movements at times of social crisis in order to transform the belief-systems of communities and provide models for political and cultural development that guide their modernizing strategies’. 2 It is their attempt to see the nation as a high civilization with a unique place in the world and ‘to recreate this nation which, integrating the traditional and the modern on a higher level, will again rise to the forefront of world progress’. 3 Their contest for the nation primarily focuses on the constitution of ‘cultural Chineseness’ resulting from an alternative interpretation of the nation’s will and its conception of itself. This conception casts doubt upon the legitimacy of Chinese Party-state as ‘a people’s democratic dictatorship’ and of the CCP, which claims to be the nation’s sole, legitimate representative. Furthermore, they seek to transform the state, demanding that the state, in what it is and what it does, accord with the nation’s will and its conception of itself. Their contest over national identity also has

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Cultural Nationalism in Contemporary China
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page v
  • Contents ix
  • Tables x
  • Preface xi
  • 1 - Rethinking Nation and Nationalism 9
  • 2 - Renationalizing the State 24
  • 3 - Rewriting National History 49
  • 4 - Reconstructing a Confucian Nation 72
  • 5 - Repossessing the Mother Tongue 91
  • 6 - Reclaiming the 'Othered' China 109
  • Conclusion 133
  • Notes 144
  • Bibliography 172
  • Index 189
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