To Believe or Not to Believe: Zhou Zuoren's Alternative Approaches to the Chinese Enlightenment

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Date
2013-04-01
Authors
Li, Tonglu
Li, Tonglu
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World Languages and Cultures
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World Languages and Cultures
Abstract

Resistances against May Fourth "enlightenment" (qimeng) have been celebrated as alternative versions of modernity that "decenter and destabilize" the mainstream paradigm (Chow et al. 2008: 3). But in this alternative modernities program, the complexity of the so-called center is often overlooked. Within the May Fourth movement, there are irreducible differences in position and different strategies of position taking. As Wang Hui (1997: 310) points out, what the May Fourth thinkers shared was only a common attitude toward tradition, not a unified theory; their proposals for establishing "newness" were quite different from each other. Surveying the roles the journal New Youth (Xin qingnian) and the Literary Association (Wenxue yanjiu hui) played, Wang Xiaoming (1 999) challenges the May Fourth paradigm by arguing that it repressed various literary trends and individuality and promoted a pragmatic, "pro-collectivity" view of literature. Michel Hockx (1999) rejoins that to further understand the complexity of history, the pluriformity within the May Fourth cannot be overlooked and a binary view of history needs to be avoided. Therefore, although treating the May Fourth as a totality against a broader historical background might be justified, it is equally important to pay attention to its internal differences and tensions, particularly to marginalized trends and figures. In light of the ongoing scholarly reflections on the May Fourth and Chinese modernity, I now focus on just such a historically marginalized figure who was once a leading member of the May Fourth camp, Zhou Zuoren (1885-1967), and explore how his imagination and critique of enlightenment constituted a counter model to some mainstream ideas and practices.

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This article is published as Li, T., To Believe or Not to Believe: Zhou Zuoren's Alternative Approaches to the Chinese Enlightenment. Modern Chinese Literature and Culture (SPRING, 2013), 25(1);206-260. Posted with permission.

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