The sublime is contagious. Longinus told us long ago that it is the echo of a noble mind. By encountering this mind, we hear its resounding and ennobling voice re-echo in us and fill us with a proud exultation and vaunting joy. We may fancy that it is we, not the sublime personage we hear, who produced the loud echo. I did not set out, however, to reproduce another loud echo in these pages, although I have heard enough of it in my reading and research for this book. Indeed like many people of my generation, I have become tired of the sublime and the grandiose. The lures of the grand narrative, the lofty figures, and idealistic projects and projections seem to be makebelieves of a bygone infantile past. Any mention of something sublime or chonggao more often than not produces skepticism, ridicule, and even disgust. It is sublime writings that are apt to be contagious, not writings on the sublime. Critically motivated and detached, this study aims at pointing out problems, tensions, illusions, and even diseases within the grandiose figures and even grander narratives. I intend this book, if not to militate against the sublime, at least to develop a critical sensibility and understanding of this aesthetic and related practices and institutions.
I have been exploring various aspects of the figure enveloped in the sublime aura, which opens itself up to the interplay between aesthetics and politics in twentieth-century China. The sublime offers a nodal point to enter the intricate and overdetermined relations between the sensuous experience of the individual and the moral com