Skip to content
Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter January 21, 2017

Postmodernism as a Nationalist Conservatism? The Case of Zhang Yiwu

Giorgio Strafella

Abstract

The adoption of postmodernist and postcolonial theories by China’s intellectuals dates back to the early 1990s and its history is intertwined with that of two contemporaneous trends in the intellectual sphere, i. e. the rise of conservatism and an effort to re-define the function of the Humanities in the country. This article examines how these trends merge in the political stance of a key figure in that process, Peking University literary scholar Zhang Yiwu, through a critical discourse analysis of his writings from the early and mid-1990s. Pointing at his strategic use of postmodernist discourse, it argues that Zhang Yiwu employed a legitimate critique of the concept of modernity and West-centrism to advocate a historical narrative and a definition of cultural criticism that combine Sino-centrism and depoliticisation. The article examines programmatic articles in which the scholar articulated a theory of the end of China’s “modernity”. It also takes into consideration other parallel interventions that shed light on Zhang Yiwu’s political stance towards modern China, globalisation and post-1992 economic reforms, including a discussion between Zhang Yiwu and some of his most prominent detractors. The article finally reflects on the implications of Zhang Yiwu’s writings for the field of Chinese Studies, in particular on the need to look critically and contextually at the adoption of “foreign” theoretical discourse for national political agendas.

Bibliography

Barmé, Geremie R. (1999): In the Red. On Contemporary Chinese Culture. New York: Columbia University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Beijing Higher Education Bureau 北京市高等教育局 [1994] (1995): “Beijing diqu gaodeng xuexiao dang de jianshe gongzuo yu xixiang zhengzhi gongzuo gaishu” 北京地区高等学校党的建设工作与思想政治工作概述. In: Beijing gaodeng jiaoyu nianjian 1995 北京高等教育年鉴1995. Beijing: Beijing gaodeng jiaoyu chubanshe, 74–76.Search in Google Scholar

Best, Steven/Kellner, Douglas (1997): The Postmodern Turn. New York: The Guilford Press.Search in Google Scholar

Billig, Michael (1995): Banal Nationalism. Thousand Oaks: Sage.Search in Google Scholar

Central Organisation Department 中央组织部/Central Propaganda Department 中央宣传部/State Education Commission 国家教委 [1993] (1998): “Guanyu xin xingshi xia jiaqiang he gaijin gaodeng xuexiao dang de jianshe he sixiang zhengzhi gongzuo de ruogan yijian” 关于新形势下加强和改进高等学校党的建设和思想政治工作的诺干意见. In: Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo zhongyao jiaoyu wenxian, 1991–1997 中华人民共和国重要教育文献1991-1997. Edited by He Dongchang 何东昌. Haikou: Hainan chubanshe, 3546–3547.Search in Google Scholar

Chan, Leo Tak-hung (2004): Twentieth-Century Chinese Translation Theory: Modes, Issues and Debates. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.10.1075/btl.51Search in Google Scholar

Chen Xihe (2012): “Chinese Film Scholarship in Chinese”. In: A Companion to Chinese Cinema. Edited by Yingjin Zhang. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 469–483.10.1002/9781444355994Search in Google Scholar

Chen Yan (2002): L’éveil de la Chine. Les bouleversements intellectuels aprés Mao, 1976–2002. La Tour d’Aigues: Editions de L’Aube.Search in Google Scholar

Chen Pingyuan 陈平原 (1993): “Dangdai Zhongguo wenren xuezhe de mingyun ji qi xuanze” 当代中国人文学者的命运及其选择. Dongfang 东方 1: 17–24.Search in Google Scholar

Chen Xiaomei (2002): Occidentalism. A Theory of Counter-Discourse in Post-Mao China. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.Search in Google Scholar

Chu, Yiu-Wai (2013): Lost in Transition: Hong Kong Culture in the Age of China. New York: SUNY Press.Search in Google Scholar

Davies, Gloria (2001): “The Self-Made Maps of Chinese Intellectuality”. In: Voicing Concerns. Contemporary Chinese Critical Inquiry. Edited by Gloria Davies. Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield, 17–46.Search in Google Scholar

Davies, Gloria (2007): Worrying about China: The Language of Chinese Intellectual Inquiry. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.10.4159/9780674030237Search in Google Scholar

Dirlik, Arif/Zhang, Xudong (2000): “Introduction”. In: Postmodernism in China. Edited by Arif Dirlik and Xudong Zhang. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1–19.Search in Google Scholar

Fairclough, Norman (2009): “A Dialectical-Relational Approach to Critical Discourse Analysis in Social Research”. In: Methods of Critical Discourse Analysis. Second edition. Edited by Ruth Wodak and Michael Meyer. London: Sage, 162–186.Search in Google Scholar

Forward, Roy (1990): “Letter from Shanghai”. The Australian Journal of Chinese Affairs 24: 281–297.10.2307/2158899Search in Google Scholar

Foster, Hal (1983): “Postmodernism: A Preface”. In: The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture. Edited by Hal Foster. Seattle: Bay Press, ix-xvi.Search in Google Scholar

Gao, Mobo Changfan (2004): “The Rise of Neo-Nationalism and the New Left. A Postcolonial and Postmodern Perspective”. In: Nationalism, Democracy and National Integration in China. Edited by Leong H. Liew and Shaoguang Wang. London: Routledge, 44–62.10.4324/9780203404294_chapter_3Search in Google Scholar

Gao Ruiquan 高瑞泉/Yuan Jin 袁进/Zhang Rulun 张汝伦/Li Tiangang 李天纲 (1994): “Renwen jingshen xunzong” 人文精神寻踪. Dushu 读书 4: 73–81.Search in Google Scholar

Ge Zhaoguang 葛兆光 (1993): “Zui shi wenren bu ziyou” 最是文人不自由. Dushu 读书 5: 3–12.Search in Google Scholar

Guo, Yingjie (2004): Cultural Nationalism in Contemporary China. The Search for National Identity under Reform. London: Routledge.10.4324/9780203300480Search in Google Scholar

Jameson, Fredric (1983): “Postmodernism and Consumer Society”. In: The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture. Edited by Hal Foster. Port Townsend: Bay Press, 111–125.Search in Google Scholar

Leibold, James (2007): Reconfiguring Chinese Nationalism. How the Qing Frontier and its Indigenes Became Chinese. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.10.1007/978-1-137-09884-9Search in Google Scholar

Lenin, Vladimir Ilyich [1902] (1964): “Revolutionary Adventurism”. In: Collected Works. Moskow: Progress Publishers, vol. 6, 186–207.Search in Google Scholar

Lenin, Vladimir Ilyich [1914] (1972): “Adventurism”. In: Collected Works. Moscow: Progress Publishers, vol. 20, 356–359.Search in Google Scholar

Li Zehou [1986] (2008): “Qimeng yu jiuwang de shuangchong jiezou” 启蒙与救亡的双重节奏. In: Zhongguo xiandai sixiang shi lun 中国现代思想史论. Shanghai: Sanlian shudian, 1–45.Search in Google Scholar

Li Zonggui 李宗桂 (1993): “Zhonghua minzu ningjuli de lishi neihan ji xiandai zouxiang” 中华民族凝聚力的历史内涵及现代走向. Guangming Ribao 光明日报, 2 August, 3.Search in Google Scholar

Liu, Xiaoyuan (2004): Frontier Passages. Ethnopolitics and the Rise of Chinese Communism, 1921–1945. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Luo Gang 罗岗/Ni Wenjian 倪文尖 (eds.) (2000): Jiushi niandai sixiang wenxuan 九十年代思想文选. Nanning: Guangxi renmin chubanshe.Search in Google Scholar

Lü Peng 吕澎 (1993): “Zui shi wenren you ziyou” 最是文人有自由. Dushu 读书 8: 62–66.Search in Google Scholar

Nan Fan 南帆 (1995): “Renwen jingshen: fankang de gongneng” “人文精神”:反抗的功能. Zuojia bao 作家报, 17 June, 2.Search in Google Scholar

Ni Zhen (2003): Memoirs from the Beijing Film Academy: The Genesis of China’s Fifth Generation. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.10.2307/j.ctv113160jSearch in Google Scholar

Pickett, Brent (2005): On the Use and Abuse of Foucault for Politics. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.Search in Google Scholar

Reisigl, Martin/Wodak, Ruth (2001): Discourse and Discrimination. Rhetorics of Racism and Antisemitism. London: Routledge.Search in Google Scholar

Reisigl, Martin/Wodak, Ruth (2009): “The Discourse-Historical Approach”. In: Methods of Critical Discourse Analysis. Second edition. Edited by Ruth Wodak and Michael Meyer. London: Sage, 87–121.Search in Google Scholar

Rowe, Peter G./Kuan, Seng (2002): Architectural Encounters with Essence and Form in Modern China. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Search in Google Scholar

Sanlian shudian 三联书店 (ed.) (2008): Shouwang jiayuan 守望家園. Beijing: Sanlian Shudian.Search in Google Scholar

Saussy, Haun (2001): Great Walls of Discourse and Other Adventures in Cultural China. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.10.1163/9781684173723Search in Google Scholar

Shen, Yipeng (2015): Public Discourses of Contemporary China: The Narration of the Nation in Popular Literatures, Film, and Television. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.10.1057/9781137496270Search in Google Scholar

Xiao Gongqin 萧功秦 (1994): “Ruan zhengquan” yu fenli jituanhua: Zhongguo xiandaihua de liangchong xianjing “软政权” 与分利集团化:中国现代化的两重陷进. Zhanlüe yu guanli 战略与管理 1: 2–4.Search in Google Scholar

Xie Yong 谢泳 (1993): “Bu shi zebei wenren de shihou” 不是责备文人的时候. Dushu 读书 12: 130–132.Search in Google Scholar

Xu Ben 徐奔 (1995): “‘Disan shijie piping’ zai dangjin Zhongguo de chujing” “第三世界批评” 在当今中国的处境. Ershi shiji 二十世纪 27: 16–27.Search in Google Scholar

Xu Ben (2001): “Postmodern-Postcolonial Criticism and Pro-Democracy Enlightenment”. Modern China 27.1: 117–147.10.1177/009770040102700104Search in Google Scholar

Xu Jilin/Liu Qing/Luo Gang/Xue Yi (2001): “In Search of a ‘Third Way’. A Conversation Regarding ‘Liberalism’ and the ‘New Left Wing’”. In: Voicing Concerns. Contemporary Chinese Critical Inquiry. Edited by Gloria Davies. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 199–226.Search in Google Scholar

Xu Jilin 许纪霖/Chen Sihe 陈思和/Cai Xiang 蔡翔/Gao Yuanbao 郜元宝 (1994): “Daotong, xuetong yu zhengtong” 道统,学统与政统. Dushu 读书 5: 46–55.Search in Google Scholar

Xu Jilin 许纪霖/Luo Gang 罗岗 et al. (2007): Qimeng de ziweo wajie 启蒙的自我瓦解. Changchun: Jilin chuban jituan.Search in Google Scholar

Van Dongen, Els (2009): “Goodbye Radicalism!” Conceptions of Conservatism among Chinese Intellectuals During the Early 1990s. PhD thesis, Universiteit Leiden.Search in Google Scholar

Visser, Robin (2008): “Spaces of Disappearance: 1990s Beijing Art, Film, and Fiction in Dialogue with Urbanisation”. In: China’s Literary and Cultural Scenes at the Turn of the 21st Century. Edited by Jie Lu. London: Routledge, 223–256.Search in Google Scholar

Wang Hui (1998): “Contemporary Chinese Thought and the Question of Modernity”. Translated by Rebecca E. Karl. Social Text 55: 9–44.10.2307/466684Search in Google Scholar

Wang Hui (2000): “Fire at the Castle Gate”. New Left Review 6: 69–99.Search in Google Scholar

Wang, Jing (1996): High Culture Fever. Politics, Aesthetics, and Ideology in Deng’s China. Berkeley: University of California Press.10.1525/9780520326019Search in Google Scholar

Wang, Jing (1998): “Introduction”. In: China’s Avant-garde Fiction. Edited by Jing Wang. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1–14.10.1215/9780822382133Search in Google Scholar

Wang Xiaoming 王晓明 (ed.) (1996): Renwen jingshen xunsi lu 人文精神寻思录. Shanghai: Wenhui chubanshe.Search in Google Scholar

Warner, Shelley (1990): “Shanghai’s Response to the Deluge”. The Australian Journal of Chinese Affairs 24: 299–314.10.2307/2158900Search in Google Scholar

Wedell-Wedellsborg, Anne (1996): “Self-Identity and Allegory in the Fiction of Yu Hua”. In: Identity in Asian Literature. Edited by Lisbeth Littrup. London: Routledge, 72–91.Search in Google Scholar

Yang, Xiaobin (2002): The Chinese Postmodern: Trauma and Irony in Chinese Avant-Garde Fiction. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.10.3998/mpub.17171Search in Google Scholar

Yeh, Michelle (2000): “International Theory and the Transnational Critic. China in the Age of Multiculturalism”. In: Modern Chinese Literary and Cultural Studies in the Age of Theory. Reimagining a Field. Edited by Ray Chou. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 251–280.10.1215/9780822380160-011Search in Google Scholar

Yu Shaobo 余少波 (1993): “Zhonghua minzu jingshen zai dangdai de biaoxian” 中华民族精神在当代的表现. Guangming Ribao 光明日报, 4 July, 3.Search in Google Scholar

Zhang Fa 张法/Zhang Yiwu 张颐武/Wang Yichuan 王一川 (1994): “Cong ‘xiandaixing’ dao ‘zhonghuaxing’ – Xin zhishi xing de tansuo” 从 “现代性” 到中华性 – 新知识型的探索. Wenyi Zhengming 文艺争鸣 2: 10–20.Search in Google Scholar

Zhang Jiangming 张江明 (1992): “Aiguo zhuyi yu Zhonghua minzu ningjuli” 爱国主义与中华民族凝聚力. Guangming Ribao 光明日报, 23 August, 3.Search in Google Scholar

Zhang Longxi (1998): Mighty Opposites. From Dichotomies to Differences in the Comparative Study of China. Stanford: Stanford University Press.10.1515/9781503617315Search in Google Scholar

Zhang Lun (2003): La vie intellectuelle en Chine depuis la mort de Mao. Paris: Fayard.10.4000/chinaperspectives.652Search in Google Scholar

Zhang Rulun 张汝伦/Wang Xiaoming 王晓明/Zhu Xueqin 朱学勤/Chen Sihe 陈思和 (1994): “Renwen jingshen: shifou keneng yu ruhe keneng” 人文精神:是否可能与如何可能. Dushu 读书 3: 3–13.Search in Google Scholar

Zhang, Xudong (1998): “Nationalism, Mass Culture, and Intellectual Strategies in Post-Tiananmen China”. Social Text 55: 109–140.10.2307/466689Search in Google Scholar

Zhang Yiwu 张颐武 (1988): “Ren de weiji. Du Yu Hua de xiaoshuo” 人的危机。读余华的小说. Dushu 读书 12: 41–47.Search in Google Scholar

Zhang Yiwu 张颐武 (1989a): “Konglong shidai de zhongjie” 恐龙时代的终结. Wenyi Zhengming 文艺争鸣 3: 75–77.Search in Google Scholar

Zhang Yiwu 张颐武 (1989b): “Shi di weiji yu zhishifenzi de weiji” 试的危机与知识分子的危机. Dushu 读书 5: 77–82.Search in Google Scholar

Zhang Yiwu 张颐武 (1994a): “‘Fenlie’ yu ‘zhuanyi’: Zhongguo ‘houxinshiqi’ wenhua zhuanxing de xianshi tujing” “分裂” 与 “转移”:中国 “后新时期” 文化转型的现实图景. Dongfang 东方 2: 8–11.Search in Google Scholar

Zhang Yiwu 张颐武 (1994b): “Xin kongjian: shenhua shidai de xiaoshi” 新空間:神化时代的消失. Shanghai wenhua 上海文化 3: 22–25.Search in Google Scholar

Zhang Yiwu 张颐武 (1994c): “Houxin shiqi Zhongguo dianying: fenlie de tiaozhan” 后新时期中国电影:分裂的挑战”. Dangdai Dianying 当代电影 5: 4–11.Search in Google Scholar

Zhang Yiwu 张颐武 (1994d): “Houxin shiqi: Xuanze de kunhuo” 后新时期:选择的困惑. Shanhua 山花 10: 71–72.Search in Google Scholar

Zhang Yiwu 张颐武 (1995a): “Chanshi ‘Zhongguo’ de jiaolü” 阐释 “中国” 的焦虑. Ershi shiji 二十世纪 4: 128–135.Search in Google Scholar

Zhang Yiwu 张颐武 (1995b): “Renwen jingshen: zuihou de shenhua” 人文精神:最后的神话. Zuojia bao 作家报, 6 May, 2.Search in Google Scholar

Zhang Yiwu 张颐武 (1995c): “Renwen jingshen: yi zhong wenhua maoxian zhuyi” 人文精神:一种文化冒险主义. Guangming ribao 光明日报, 5 July, 7.Search in Google Scholar

Zhao Yiheng 赵毅衡 (1995): “‘Houxue’ yu Zhongguo xin baoshouzhuyi” “后学” 与中国新保守主义. Ershi shiji 二十世纪 27: 4–15.Search in Google Scholar

Zheng Yongnian (1999): Discovering Chinese Nationalism in China. Modernization, Identity, and International Relations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Published Online: 2017-1-21
Published in Print: 2016-9-1

©2016 by De Gruyter

Scroll Up Arrow