The Sublime Figure of History: Aesthetics and Politics in Twentieth-Century China

By Ban Wang | Go to book overview

5
The Sublime Subject of Practice

The people, and the people alone, are the motive force in the making of world history.
-- Mao Zedong

The great historian Sima Qian once wrote that while reading the Confucian classics, he was seized by a strong urge to know how the person who uttered those sacred words had lived his life and conducted himself. So he made a trip of pilgrimage to the state of Lu and paid homage at Confucius' onetime. residence, now the Confucian Temple. The historian found himself musing over Confucius' furniture, clothing, and daily utensils. He also watched the rituals and ceremonies performed by Confucian scholars, which made tangible the life of Confucius as he lived it. As Sima Qian lingered over the revered residence and objects, he reflected that many kings had attained the reputation of sages, but all of them flourished and vanished in a hurry. Confucius, though of humble origins, had bequeathed a wealth of learning studied by scholars and admired by kings and aristocrats and, through dozens of generations, had been honored as the ultimate sage. The man had become immortal. Sima Qian's feeling of wonder, of a humbled pride mixed with a pleasure of elevation, is expressed in the poetic fragment that crowns this passage (see Chapter 3).

This poetic fragment dramatizes the historian's mind, elevated as it was by the compelling aura of Confucius' residence and the ritual re-enactments. It also reveals a peculiar movement of the mind when confronted by a grand object. Faced with the magnificence of Confucius, who seems to rise above the spectator and transcend time and the social hierarchy in his immortal virtue, the spectator feels the pettiness and limitations of his ordinary humanity. The height of Confu

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The Sublime Figure of History: Aesthetics and Politics in Twentieth-Century China
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Contents *
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Sublimation Unto Death: the Aesthetic Search for Meaning in Cultural Crisis 17
  • 2 - Writing China: the Imaginary Body and Allegorical Wilderness 55
  • The Sublime and Gender 101
  • 4 - Desire and Pleasure in Revolutionary Cinema 123
  • 5 - The Sublime Subject of Practice 155
  • 6 - The Cultural Revolution: a Terrible Beauty is Born 194
  • Conclusion 263
  • Reference Matter 269
  • Notes 271
  • Character List 287
  • Bibliography 293
  • Index 305
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