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Asian History


Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Chinese Culture

Tradition and Modernity by Chen Lai, translated by Edmund Ryden (Brill's Humanities in China Library Volume 3: Brill Academic Publishers) The question for twentieth-century China has been the integration of tradition and modernity. In this collection of essays written over a period of twenty years (1987-2006), Chen Lai reflects on the question in an informative and original way. He reads behind the political slogans and engages with the thought both of Max Weber, Talcott Parsons, and western sociology, and representative Chinese thinkers, notably Feng Youlan and Liang Shuming. While the focus is on China, the book also appeals to anyone interested in this fascinating question of how to modernize whilst retaining the positive values of tradition. Chen Lai's unique and balanced grasp of society marks him out as the foremost thinker in China on this topic today.

Chen Lai, Ph.D. (Peking University), is a professor of Philosophy and the director of the Center for Confucian Study and the History of Chinese Philosophy at Peking University. He is one of China's most prominent scholars of the history of Chinese philosophy, is an honorary professor at eleven universities, and is a member of the editorial boards of sixteen academic journals.

Edmund Ryden, Ph.D. (SOAS, London University), translated Key Concepts in Chinese Philosophy (Yale 2002) and the Laozi: Daodejing (Oxford World's Classics 2008). He has also written on the philosophical background to human rights in a Chinese context.


It was with a certain amount of trepidation that I accepted to translate this book of Chen Lai's essays. The fear was in part due to the fact that the author deals with many works of sociology with which I was not familiar. Whenever he quotes in Chinese, I naturally have to discover the English originals. Another source of anxiety is that footnotes in mainland Chinese publications are apt to be sparse or even non-existent. This situation is improving but given that the essays contained here were written over a period of some twenty years, it is natural that some chapters were almost wholly devoid of notes (Publishers in China used to pay authors by the number of characters and hence the shorter the book or article the cheaper for the publisher). When I have added notes these are clearly marked as translator's notes.

In as much as possible I have checked all references and hence have made references uniform throughout, even if this means using an edition of a work that is subsequent to the publication not only of the chapters when they first appeared but even to their publication in book format in 2006. Rather than seeing this as an alteration of the text I see it as a service to the author, to ensure that his work appears with the highest standard of bibliographical references.

In some places I have added footnotes where I feel the text may be unclear to the non-Chinese reader. This applies particularly to the appearance of proper names. Here I suggest that the reader consult the index, which I have added, where dates are given for the persons listed. In general I follow the Chinese and Japanese convention of putting surnames first. This should be noted especially for Japanese names since often the romanised version of Japanese names inverts the order. I have not followed this latter habit.

 In working on this book I realise that Professor Chen is someone who has engaged in a serious and critical dialogue with western scholarship in the field of sociology and brought to it a deep understanding of the needs of contemporary China. He has had to do so sometimes in the face of opposition from his colleagues, which shows in his style in places, but the message he has to give is one that deserves to be heard not only in China but throughout the world. At bottom I find him wrestling with the question: How can a society be true to itself and yet be modern? How can modernity and tradition interact in such a way as to produce a fully-rounded human culture? These are questions that arise in China, in Europe, in Africa and indeed wherever humankind lives. In asking them and treating them in depth, Chen Lai has made a contribution not only to Chinese but to world scholarship.

Lastly, may I beg the author, publisher and reader for any faults in the translation. I have done my best but am well aware that nothing is perfect. My only hope is that such imperfections are few and that they do not blur the vision that the author has given us.


The main focus of this book is the significance of the tradition of Confucian values in contemporary society. It reflects on the discussions about culture and sociology that have taken place and are still ongoing since the contemporary era. Since my own viewpoint is formed according to the principle of 'critical continuity' and I hold that the tradition of Confucian values, just like the traditions of other great religions, still has significance in modern society, hence I hold a critical attitude to full-blown anti-traditional radicalism. Thus I am sometimes asked for my views on so-called 'cultural conservatism'. I take this opportunity to discuss this concept as it is found in the humanities.

1. Cultural Conservatism

In the academic world of the recent past, the history of Chinese thought has been marked by three main schools: Marxism, Liberalism and Neo-Confucianism. Meanwhile, in the history of political thought in contemporary China, the main schools have been radicalism, liberalism and conservatism. However, while it is recognised that there are differences and oppositions between the schools, most people realise that "the issues they think about and seek to resolve are largely about how to respond to tradition, how to accept the West, how to build China's new culture. They all carry a strong sense of national feeling: to save what is dying and aim to preserve it. To revive China is their common and central topic. They all look to the West for truth, but all seek to avoid the many contradictions and serious failings that have been exposed by the development of western culture. They all hope that China will leave the Middle Ages and' move into modernisation. Their thought may be characterised as pertaining to cultural enlightenment.' Strictly speaking, radicalism, liberalism and conservatism are categories that Western academics use to deal with political philosophy and political thought. In truth we cannot just add the term 'cultural' before each of them and then transform them into views about culture. For instance while it is possible at the level of definitions, to talk about cultural conservatism and cultural radicalism, it makes no sense to speak of cultural liberalism. Moreover, a political liberal may be a cultural radical or a cultural conservative. Since that is how things are, most people acknowledge that for a long time Chinese scholars have thoroughly studied Marxism and liberalism, but there has been very little research into, or theory provided for, cultural conservatism.

Now, in the history of China's contemporary thought, what should `cultural conservatism' be understood to imply? Benjamin Schwartz pointed out early on, "For the intellectuals who emerged in the May Fourth period, we must coin a new name, to differentiate them from the 'upholders of the old' school. This`name is 'cultural conservatism'. He noted that twentieth century China virtually had no Burkeian style conservatism:

Modern Chinese conservatism is largely cultural conservatism and not basically a socio-political conservatism committed to the prevailing socio-political status quo. Many Chinese cultural conservatives are, of course, much more definite about the elements of the culture which are to be preserved.'

Furthermore, since the Chinese expression 'conservative' (baoshou) already has deprecatory connotations, even western China experts do not approve of translating the western term 'cultural conservative' by `baoshou', but would rather use shoucheng', that is 'cultural conservatism' (wenhua shoucheng zhuyi) as the expression that best fits the western term. Originally, conservatism and anti-modernism do not only not have pejorative connotations in western languages; they even have a deeper meaning. But in China's historical-cultural discourse it is quite different. In particular the western use of the adjectival 'cultural' as in 'cultural conservative' does not exclude holding a revolutionary view of society or a critical attitude to tradition. This is something that is often overlooked in Chinese writings. Guy S. Alitto says,

In the history of early Republican thought, one most important thing may be said to be a thorough-going critique of and attack on traditional Chinese culture. At the same time there is a call for a deeper and broader acceptance of Western culture. At around the same time, a current of thought quite opposed to anti-traditionalism also emerged. In the face of an ever-growing westernisation, there appeared a cultural conservative reaction. These thinkers proposed a harmony of Chinese and western culture and proposed that the future world civilisation should be a synthesis of Chinese and Western culture. I call this thesis 'cultural conservatism'.

Chinese scholars, in general, accept this usage:

They (Western scholars) suggested the notion of 'cultural conservatism' to make a distinction from that 'socio-political conservatism' that spares no effort to maintain the socio-political state. 'Cultural conservatism' refers to a trend in thought or school of thought that, while rooted in traditional culture, aims to harmonise old and new and selectively draws on foreign culture so as to meet the demands of the times. Their political stance may be very reactionary, very revolutionary, even extremely radical, but in dealing with the national cultural tradition they are very prudent, very conservative, tender-hearted, keeping strictly to precedent only fearing to reject ancient norms. People with this attitude may be said to be not infrequent in the recent and modern history of thought in China. Zhang Taiyan is one example. A participant in the 1911 revolution and leader of the modern neo-Confucian school, Xiong Shili, is another classic example.

It is not only in studying the various divisions and changes in thought of the May Fourth and subsequent generation that we can use this term of cultural conservatism, it can also be applied to scholarship on thinkers of the pre-May Fourth era. With reference to Zhang Zhidong, one scholar holds that,

`Cultural conservatism' is an important current of thought that arose in time along with radicalism, just at the moment of interaction between old and new, China and the West. This 'cultural conservatism' does not refer to the ideology which clings to outmoded and outworn customs of a dogmatic party that obstinately rejects social progress and cultural change. That kind of currency is soon rejected by history. The cultural conservatism advocated by Zhang Zhidong is, rather, rich in openness. He does not reject all progress and change in general. In fact he even strongly pushed certain items of social progress and cultural change. Yet, cultural conservatism and cultural radicalism differ in the following ways: (1) cultural conservatism is opposed to rapid change and favours gradual change, gradual progress; (2) cultural conservatism is opposed to complete change, and supports the idea of the unity of change and not-change of the Appendix to the Book of Changes, accepting that some levels of culture are merely means, and some externalities of the system can be, indeed must be, changed. Some levels such as moral norms and the core of the system cannot, and should not, be changed; (3) cultural conservatism does not on the whole affirm the universality of culture and human nature but recognises the national and country-bound nature of culture. In recent and contemporary Chinese history, this kind of cultural conservatism and cultural radicalism both have their strong points and weak points. Each deserves to exist. They are in conflict with each other and shed light on each other and thus together by opposition and by working together, form a cultural knot.

In fact, the question of rapid or gradual change is a socio-political question and not one of 'cultural conservatism'. In the development of contemporary thought, cultural conservatism is basically a thesis about culture that is at odds with anti-traditional thought.

2. Daniel Bell

So-called cultural conservatism is not only a cultural reflection of the transformations of contemporary society; it is also a cultural appeal to the ills of contemporary industrial and commercial society. In`this sphere everyone knows about Daniel Bell. Bell, who describes himself as 'proficient in Marx', has been, since the 60s, 'an important force for criticism from within capitalism' in twentieth century America.' Bell seeks an orderly political revolution and economic equality, while at the same time casting a critical eye on cultural realities in American society. Since the 70s, in the area of academic discourse, the system of neo-liberalism has been heading for a break-up. What is replacing it is a widespread mindset of a return to tradition, a seeking for stability of values, as a response to the tendency to extremes of the 60s. It demands a restoration of moral constraints and cultural order.' Bell's thought does not only represent this kind of change, even more importantly he suggests that the structure of human values may be multifarious, overlapping. He does not reject socialism or liberalism or conservatism. Strictly speaking, he sees himself as a socialist in economic affairs, a liberal in politics and a conservative in cultural matters, and moreover holds that for him these three are all integrated into one. In the cultural sphere, Bell's stance of "profound and calm cultural conservatism" is one of upholding the core of thought and culture, adopting an attitude of serious evaluation towards popular culture and mass movements, with increased reflection on liberal philosophy. He is attentive to belief and authority, upholds the continuity of civilisation, "even more expressing his understanding of history and a world of thought that is already mature and full of wisdom."' He himself says,

In the field of culture I am a conservative, because I admire tradition, and believe that a reasonable assessment should be made of the good and bad points of works of art. I also hold that it is necessary to judge art and educational values, and maintain the principle of relying on authority.

The role of tradition as a guarantee of cultural vitality cannot be omitted. It links memories together and teaches people how our predecessors dealt with similar problems of existence.

He stresses the continuity of history and the present and considers this as the necessary condition for maintaining the order of civilisation. Bell's cultural conservatism, in as much as it reveals the contradictions of capitalism, also carries the significance of a profound religious concern. He points out that in the development of contemporary western history, "economic impulse" and "religious impulse" work together like contrasting genes. In the era of contemporary capitalism, the relationship of these two genes is already seriously out of kilter, only the economic impulse`remains. The religious impulse that would help to stabilise the economic impulse has already disappeared. Profit, consumerism, immediate gratification and worship of money have expanded exponentially. The economic impulse has become the only sovereign of social progress. Everything in the world has lost its sacred character; society has become increasingly secularised, resulting in a uniformity and reduction of culture; the danger of a loss of ultimate meaning increases day by day. He hopes that people realise the limits of human life, and return to discover anew the meaning of the sacred." The example of Bell shows that cultural conservatism is a positive force for the upholding of culture and values in a society of extreme commercialisation. It is a restraint on commercialism itself and on bourgeois utilitarian culture, a force of balance and criticism, and points directly at the disappearance of meaning and values brought about by commercialisation. As to how a society which is seeking to build socialism with Chinese characteristics should provide a suitable humanist environment for the construction of a project for modernity, Bell's example can also provide a meaningful point of reference.

3. Cultural Conservatism and Modernisation

From this it can be seen that the concept of 'cultural conservatism' first used by western scholars, has two basic meanings: firstly it refers, in the context of the process of change in contemporary society, to a cultural viewpoint in opposition to anti-traditionalism and a thorough, gross destruction of traditional culture. While absorbing a new culture it is yet able to retain the spirit and values of traditional culture. Secondly, it refers to, in the face of modern society's commercialisation and marketisation, to upholding tradition and authority in the areas of humanist values, aesthetic criticism and cultural significance, a point of view that is opposed to trendiness and cultural vulgarisation. This is precisely what I referred to many years ago. The cultural meaning of this 'conservatism' is not negative. Compared to those who are wholly fixated on political and economic effects, these conservatives put more stress on culture and values. Compared to those who demand cultural changes that are disruptive, they tend to ask more for the continuity of tradition. To put it more precisely, the point of view of the so-called cultural conservatives with regard to culture is that of anti-anti-traditionalism and anti-pan-utilitarianism,

There is no doubt that I have great sympathy and understanding for the cultural viewpoint of the so-called 'cultural conservatives', but this does not mean that I agree to being labelled in this way. In fact I have certain reservations about it, and I am even less in favour of simply sticking labels on people as a way of dealing with things. At the same time it is very clear that, after a long period of blind criticism and total denial of the cultural viewpoint of the cultural conservatism of recent times, the academic world in the last decade or so now approaches discussions on the shifts in culture of the modern era with an attitude of reason, calm, debate and analysis, and goes on to do further research. This not only embodies the progress of historical research, it also reveals the influence of questions of life on academic thought.

It is evident, that, whether or not we support the cultural conservative point of view, cultural conservatism is but one way of looking at culture. Precisely because of this, cultural conservatism may be combined with various forms of economic and political points of view so as to form the structure of a person's values, just as in the case of Daniel Bell. This coming together of various strands of culture is shown to be the dominant trend of history. As, in the history of philosophy, dialectics has often been combined with the ontology of each philosophical school, so it combines with idealism and with materialism and with other ideologies in the same way. Moreover, since the 1980s, the monopolisation by one way of thinking, one way of explaining, of the whole realm of politics has often been a halter in the opening up of thought in the academic world. In the 90s it went even further, misunderstanding cultural conservatism as that kind of conservatism which denies the revolution. That way of thinking does not fit the history of contemporary thought or the reality of contemporary society. It may be that some cultural conservatives espouse a radical revolution, but this does not allow us to characterise cultural conservatism as revolutionary. In the same way some cultural conservatives are reformists, but this does not mean that all cultural conservatives are to be classified as reformists, opposed to the revolution, just as the great development of dialectics in Hegelian philosophy does not imply that dialectics is to be classified as idealist. Furthermore, since cultural conservatism is simply a cultural issue, it merely seeks dialogue and discussion within the scope of culture, anything beyond this (such as wanting it to respond to socio-political questions) is not only unreasonable, it is also impossible.

Although Western scholars, without any malicious intent, describe China's contemporary cultural conservatism and cultural nationalism as 'anti-modernism', I do not consider this to be appropriate. We may describe modernity as having a double nature: on the one hand it implies beneficial changes in scientific technology and material life, social rationalisation and efficiency; on the other hand, it implies detrimental changes in spirit and thought, such as the destruction of traditional customs and national culture. Now, although the cultural conservatism of contemporary China is opposed to the detrimental changes, it does not attribute the faults of these changes to modernisation itself. Rather, we all share the attitude of seeking to affirm modernisation, supporting the betterment of society's moral spirit, so as to overcome the spread of individualism and utilitarianism. Alitto's view that tradition stands for humanity and modernity for lack of humanity, is a view that is much more worthwhile our study.12 Since tradition (here I refer always to the tradition of values) belongs to value rationality, it can be said to be rooted in the intrinsic demands of human nature. Whilst many elements of modernity come within the category of means, yet improvements in technology and the quality of material life, are surely also rooted in the demands of human nature. How much more can democracy, human rights, freedom and equality which are all elements of this same modernity, not be assigned merely to the category of means instead of being treated as part of human nature? Speaking from the development of China's history, we have already gone through several millennia in the development of a small agricultural economy, and then in the Ming-Qing period we saw a considerable development of the commercial economy, so we have rarely seen opposition to industrialisation by a vast agricultural community. In the disgrace inflicted by the invasion of imperialism, the demands of nationalism were such that the intellectuals saw industrialisation as the only way in which to revive the Chinese people.

It cannot be denied that cultural conservatism has its limits. Even though there are many people like Bell who have a comprehensive model of thought, yet in China's recent and contemporary history, there have been some conservatives opposed to the revolution. At the same time, as Furth says, from Zhang Taiyan to Xiong Shili, cultural conservatives, "considered cultural-moral questions apart from the political process." "They found it necessary to separate their ideals and values from political necessity." However, it is indeed true that many cultural conservatives did confine themselves to questions of ethical culture, and were not sufficiently concerned with socio-political issues. Although this is not so serious as to obscure their wisdom in the cultural field, it did, though, limit the social effect of their cultural viewpoint. Even more commonly cultural conservatives put a lot of effort into the criticism of tradition, the acceptance of foreign culture and the creation of culture. This was one of the reasons why cultural conservatism came in for criticism. However, if we leave simplistic ways of thinking behind and look from a cultural point of view, which is marked by the structure and tolerance characteristic of multiculturalism, each cultural point of view can be seen as tending towards a particular direction and having its own features. Hence since it is necessarily limited, we cannot ask any perspective to be all-encompassing. We cannot ask each view of culture to meet the demands of the whole of culture, nor can we ask each scholar to exert himself in matters of the social mainstream. In this area, mutual understanding between different points of view is much more important. The structure of the values among the various scholars does not only have to be like that of Bell, who combines the different 'isms' in the fields of politics, economics, and culture. In fact even when we consider the field of 'culture' alone, it is very common to find scholars who both stress opening out and absorbing foreign culture whilst also advocating the preservation of tradition. In other words, in the area of culture, they can be both open and critical, and also conservative. For some scholars (including myself), the idea of conservatism in the area of culture' is manifestly not a full expression of their entire view of culture.

4. Confucianism

Everybody knows that Confucian Learning and the significance of its moral system is the core question of the twentieth century cultural debate. Research into cultural conservatism shows that the modern era's critical affirmation of Confucian Learning does not derive from a rejection of social reform, even less from demands grounded in national spirit or cultural identity, rather it comes from a concern for the destruction of ethical order that is part of the process of social transformation and from an acknowledgement of the widespread value of the ethics of Confucian morality.

Precisely because the world of values of Confucianism and its relationship to the modern world has not disappeared, despite the massive change in traditional society, for this reason, amidst the cultural changes of society in twentieth century China, Confucianism has constantly been a matter of concern. And each time society has been faced with an ethical crisis, the voice calling for traditional values has been ever so much louder. Hence after the 1911 revolution, Kang Youwei and others supported the value of the study of Confucius." Even in the New Culture Movement we find someone like Liang Shuming speaking up for Confucius. In the 40s He Lin interpreted and promoted Confucian teaching on ritual and the three guides (ruler guides subject, father guides son, husband guides wife) and five virtues (benevolence, justice, propriety, wisdom and fidelity). This would be almost unthinkable in the May Fourth era. In the 40s not only did Feng Youlan give a new interpretation of 'China as the substance; the West as the means but in the 50s he insisted on upholding the idea of 'abstract inheritance'. Even more should it be pointed out that in recent years Wang Yuanhua has been through a period of profound thought and reflection. While examining cultural radicalism in depth, he has at the same time, confirmed Confucian moral ethics as indeed worthy of being continued as part of the national spirit, thereby expressing the true nature of the thinkers of our generation!

Debates over the significance of the system of Confucian values have always been at the heart of cultural disputes. This is so not only for pre- and post-May Fourth times, it also forms the central topic for the 'culture fever' of the 80s. To understand this phenomenon, the current ways in which Chinese culture of the twentieth century are studied, whether by 'reversing the new and returning to the old' or `enlightenment and salvation' or 'radicalism and conservatism', cannot be properly applied to the twentieth century debate about Confucianism. For the most part the above only have a formal significance with respect to the deep roots of the Confucian dispute of the twentieth century. 'Cultural identity' or 'the structure of cultural psychology' put the emphasis on cultural psychology and neglect the objective nature of social exigencies. In fact, if we look carefully at the twentieth century and the weak yet ultimately unbowed status of the call to uphold Confucian values, then we will appreciate why it is fully comprehensible, even after the transformation of contemporary society, that Confucian ethics constantly reappears as the key subject. Its necessity is rooted in the split between 'morality' and 'modernity' that has appeared in the process of modernising transformation, and it is required to overcome this split. Therefore, the twentieth century has witnessed the constant reaffirmation of Confucian values. In essence this is not an example of a Chinese form of so-called post-colonialism, even less is it a case of the hegemonic discourse of global capitalism, or an affirmation of the ideology of capitalist modernity:6 Rather, it is an acknowledgement at the level of theory, of multi-cultural values and a remedy to heal the process of modernisation at the practical level. It is an expression of the profound concern for the rationality of values and the spirit of civilisation, an embodiment of the unflagging pursuit of an ideal human life and ideal personality. In China there is still a strong demand for national cultural identity, at the same time there is a humanistic reflection on the morality of the enlightenment account.

Thus, leaving aside the confusion generated by discussion of the highly discriminatory "substance-means" concept in China's recent history, in the process of modernisation the issue is what should or may be retained or what may be rejected from tradition, and what should be absorbed from the West. The twentieth century provides the strongest root for disputes over Confucianism. It could be said that the debate centres on the topic of civil morality and ethical order in modern society and the question of the ideals of human life. Whether we take Sakuma Shozan's "eastern morals and western arts" or Zhang Zhidong's "Chinese studies govern the body and heart; Western studies respond to realities of the times," or even the thought of Feng Youlan or He Lin, even though they do not sufficiently emphasize the need to learn from contemporary democracy and liberty, none of them can be construed as mere culturally sentimental yearning for tradition. Rather they operate from a basis of a conviction of the universal nature of traditional morality and its role as a safeguard against the assaults on morality in the experience of modernisation. So-called cultural conservatism or moral conservatism and its differentiation from cultural radicalism is not a question of should society be reformed or not, should contemporary western civilisation be accepted or not. Rather, cultural radicalism and liberalism demand the complete rejection of tradition so as to embrace modernity, which has, as part of its definition: market industrial-commercialisation, urban civilisation, individualism, freedom, democracy, capitalist competition and utilitarianism. While so-called cultural conservatism ultimately accepts that science, democracy, market economics and democratic politics cannot spontaneously produce a civil morality or lead to a common ethical order—they cannot satisfy the need for values in human life—likewise it holds that the unrestrained individualism and utilitarianism of contemporary society are such as to harm the life of the whole and the ethics of society. Modern society differs from traditional society precisely because of modernity, but the modern society that actually exists cannot only rely on modernity to survive. In our contemporary age, the call to promote a positive understanding of Confucian values consistently maintains that the upholding and affirmation of civic morality and ethical order in modern society can definitely not take the road of opposing Confucianism and attacking Confucius. It is essential to maintain the tradition of values and the authority of morality. In this way we can appreciate the affirmation of the universal ethical values of Confucianism at every time and in all circumstances.

5. Cultural Fever

In the 1980s 'culture fever' opened up around the core of 'tradition-modernity', and anti-traditional thinking surged anew. Hence in the cultural world of thought there has always been a wave of opposition to anti-traditionalism, asking for a correct understanding of values and a call for a spiritual tradition. It comes along with the advocacy of anti-traditionalism. It is just that, in the 80s, the anti-traditionalist tide took the leading place in society and the anti-anti-traditionalist voice was weaker. The situation changed in the 90s, for a variety of reasons, among which an important one must surely be the maturity of intellectuals' thought on culture and the rapid development of the Chinese economy. But there are those who interpret the shift of scholarship of the 90s as having the ideological aim of a shift in linguistic strategy. This is an ill-informed attack on the 80s anti-anti-traditionalist thought. It is also a mark of the pan-politicisation that developed among academics in the 90s, and is an irresponsible interpretation. For many of those scholars who support a correct analysis of tradition, and I include myself among them, the concept of culture has not changed since the 80s. Those scholars who have indeed altered their concept of culture have done so only for reasons of scholarship, in the search for truth in thought and never for any supposed cultural strategy.

Because an examination of the anti-traditionalist thought and radical utilitarianism in the East-West cultural tide of the May Fourth era, and as a result the opening up of reflections on questions of modern culture; and because the New Culture Movement that began in 1915 often shares the same May Fourth label as the student movement of summer 1919, I am sometimes questioned by friends who think that my articles give too little space to affirming the accomplishments of May Fourth. Also because some people do not understand my whole path of thought and only read one article they then derive the mistaken view that I "deny May Fourth". Although the accusation of only reading one article and applying it to the whole is an effective weapon to reply to one's opponent, it is not one that I wish to use against a biased formalist criticism. Because I myself have never undertaken to fully research or assess May Fourth. Moreover, in my articles I have clearly and without any shadow of doubt affirmed the great historical accomplishment both of the cultural and of the political May Fourth movements. Furthermore, I believe that no-one would deny these accomplishments. But the learned articles of the scholar are not history textbooks or historical determinations. Even if the New Culture Movement deserves a mark of 70%, you still cannot ask that at different times and on different subjects all specialised research should devote 70% of its publications to affirming the accomplishment. Strictly speaking, the key point of my research and attitude is: to undertake reflection on the way in which the East-West cultural debate of the early Republican New Culture Movement expressed itself by a radical posture as a culture of anti-traditionalism and pan-utilitarianism. This limited research is closely related to the cultural atmosphere of the late 80s. It is my response as a scholar to the dominant wave of thoroughgoing anti-traditionalism of the 80s and by no means an abstract historical assessment. This perhaps echoes Croce's famous statement "all history is contemporary history". Hence, this does not exclude the fact that while some scholars acknowledge that there is a need for the enlightenment to again take the lead, and stress the reasonableness of the enlightenment legacy of May Fourth, I simply wish to stress that whatever side is emphasised it should be done so for a reason of scholarship. Resorting to reasons of scholarship depends on opening up the debate. As for reflection on the cultural radicalism of thorough-going anti-traditionalism or thorough-going anti-Confucianism, as with all other questions in academia, it is natural, and proper, that there should be different points of view. But I still hope that attention should be given to the recent profound reflection by Wang Yuanhua on the origin of the extreme `leftist' waves. He saw himself as an inheritor of the spirit of the New Culture Movement. He writes:

Radicalism happened before May Fourth. The worlds of thought at and after May Fourth have all to a greater or lesser extent been influenced by it. The slogans of the Cultural Revolution, such as: 'Only in great confusion is there great order', let the term "destroy" be first; stand up in the middle', 'two thorough ruptures' are all increasingly more extreme repercussions of this tide of thought's

As for me, most of the articles in this book that deal with thinking about the culture of anti-anti-traditionalism date from the late 80s. Since the 90s I have not exerted much effort in this regard and many years ago I stated that the 'tradition-modernity' mode of cultural debate should give way to other debates more suited to the new development of Chinese society. But there is still room to discuss questions set within the framework of `tradition-modernity', especially those generated by Max Weber. These have not been sufficiently addressed within the domain of the social sciences. Most of this book is related to this topic. We still have done far too little to absorb foreign culture. We must absorb far more good points of western and other cultures, promoting cultural harmony with an open mind. In the world today, China studies or Chinese culture studies are already a subject of international scholarship. Any exaggerated self-importance and holding on to the outmoded will simply mean that we are excluded from international scholarship. In fact, the more we understand foreign culture and the more broadly we absorb it, our understanding of Chinese culture will be all the more advanced. Only in this way can we raise the level of research into Chinese historical culture, and only then can we truly welcome the great revival of Chinese culture.


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