The Lure of the Modern: Writing Modernism in Semicolonial China, 1917-1937

By Shu-Mei Shih | Go to book overview

CONCLUSION
Semicolonialism and Culture

Throughout this book I have argued that understanding modernism in Republican China necessitates multiple contextualization within the local and the global, with consideration to both the spatial and temporal dimensions of these contexts. The modernism that was formed in the changing local contexts of cultural debate, political strife, and social upheaval was also shaped by global cultural and economic flows propelled by imperialism. One most tangible manifestation of this local/global conjuncture was semicolonialism, a political formation of layered domination by multiple foreign powers who competed and cooperated with each other in pursuit of their own individual economic and political agendas. If for India the colonial state was structured like a “despotism, with no mediating depths, no space provided for the transactions between the will of the rulers and that of the ruled, ”1 the semicolonial formation was much less categorical. The sheer number of colonial powers in China prevented the constitution of a unified colonial state with well-coordinated policies of control, and the foreign powers were restricted geographically, mostly to the coastal areas of China, leaving the large hinterland relatively untouched. The Chinese were by no means entirely subject to the will of the colonial rulers. In addition to fissures in colonial control, the rudimentary sovereignty of the Chinese state also favored the possibility of political agency for Chinese intellectuals who debated and experimented with various political forms and ideologies, though these very debates and experiments contributed to increasing strife, atomization, and ultimately civil war. As a political formation, semicolonialism meant that local politics was largely bereft of stable organization and control, and was sub

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1
Ranajit Guha, Dominance Without Hegemony: History and Power in Colonial India (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997), 65.

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