Originally proposed by Irving Babbitt and Elmer More, and inspired by Buddhist and Confucian philosophies, New Humanism opposed the moral decline fostered by relativist and determinist beliefs and by an increasingly materialistic American society during the early twentieth century. Brought back to China and transformed by Chinese scholars who had studied with Babbitt, New Humanism became a counternarrative to the May Fourth Movement, to Marxism, and to radicalism in general. This essay delineates the roles New Humanism played in China, its internal contradictions, and its intricate relationship with hegemonic discourses by examining the literary practices of three New Humanists who demonstrated, respectively, ideal/academic, political, and transcendental ways of engagement.
This article is published as Li,T., New Humanism,” Modern Language Quarterly, 69.1 (2008): 61–79. Doi: 10.1215/00267929-2007-025.Posted with permission.