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Revisiting China’s Modernity

Ethnicity, Religion, and Nation

Jiang Sun

Investigating the nature of Chinese modernity from the perspectives of social and intellectual history and inspired by Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities, this book reveals the ambiguity of nation as a modern concept and opens up a new possibility for the turn of China’s national narratives. The definitions of nation as either an imagined community or an entity with a substantive cultural origin are both partially wrong in the Chinese context, since China had its distinctive socio-cultural system in pre-modern times and the binary mode of nationality is inadequate to interpret the complexity of Chinese society. In light of this complexity, this work explores the relationship between the Manchus and the Han Chinese throughout the Qing dynasty, examines the transmission and reproduction of modern knowledge, particularly that of race and nation, on the ground of China’s reactions to the Western influence, and discusses how the supra-nationalist discourse of various religions succumbed to the homogenizing nature of nation state in modern China. To depict a general picture of "Chinese modernity" and avoid the risk of oversimplification, the author combines the methodology of social history with that of intellectual history, abandoning the East-West binary opposition and grouping all ten chapters into three parts that respectively approach Chinese modernity from a specific perspective. On this basis, it can be concluded that Chinese modernity, as a form of new knowledge, is produced out of the combination of a forward-thinking viewpoint and a fantasy about the modern age, which constitutes an inevitable path to China’s "national liberation" from the entanglement of ethnicity and cultural traditions.

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As a corpus of my writings in the past 15 years, this book includes some chapters that were published before in academic journals. I hereby express my gratitude to Routledge, Oriens Extremus, Frontiers of History in China, and Chinese History and Society for their reprint permission. I am also indebted to Shizuoka University of Art and Culture, my former employer, and Prof. So-an Chang at Academia Sinica, who invited me to join her research project. My particular thanks go to Prof. Liu Jianhui. Without his support, I could not finish this book as a visiting scholar at the International Research Center for Japanese Studies, where I spent an unforgettable year doing research and hosting the seminar for a comparative study of the formation of academic concepts across East Asia.

As my research covers various academic fields, I got help from many distinguished scholars. I really appreciate Prof. Wang Yueqing, Prof. Ma Guoqing, Prof. Zhou Daming, Prof. Di Wang, Prof. Q. Edward Wang, Prof. Zhang Qing, Prof. Chen Liwei, Prof. Kwang-Che Pan, Prof. Zhang Zhongmin, Prof. Liu Wennan, Prof. Li Gongzhong, Prof. Li Lifeng, Prof. Tze-ki Hon and Miss Margaret Li Seeley’s assistance. I am also sincerely grateful to my graduate advisor Prof. Namiki Yorihisa at Tokyo University, Prof. Elizabeth Perry, Prof. Prasenjit Duara, Prof. Mechthild Leutner, Prof. Axel Schneider, Prof. Marc Matten, my collaborator Prof. Kai Vogelsang. Ms. Li Na’s kindly help is also worth mentioning here. I would like to thank my students Dr. Wang...

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