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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.

“In this collection of closely connected essays, Jiang Sun establishes himself as one of the foremost historians of the late Qing-Republic transition. He combines extensive textual knowledge and a command of foreign, particularly Japanese scholarship and history, to generate insights into how the historical actors were shaped by, but also engaged and deployed Chinese historical and popular practices to create the nation-state.” —Prasenjit Duara, Duke University

“In this essay collection, Professor Jiang Sun, a leading scholar in the field, makes new contributions to our understanding of China’s modernity. Sun brilliantly weaves many small pieces of history into magnificent narratives of the key themes of modern China such as ethnicity, religions, and nation. Sun has a great ability of discovering the forgotten histories hidden in texts and of reconstructing history from the unearthed materials. These essays inspire us to reconsider ideological origins of secret societies, intellectual sources of the 'Five-Race Theory,' the soil of growing the Chinese communist revolution, and many other important issues. His knowledge of scholarship in Chinese, Japanese, and Western languages make this work unique, insightful, and significant. ” —Di Wang, University of Macau

“In this book, Jiang Sun, the foremost authority of conceptual history and memory studies in China, brings together a number of articles concerning crucial topics in modern Chinese history: race, nation, religion, power, memory, and representation. These erudite essays are highly recommended reading for any student of modern China interested in the question not of what China ‘actually was’ but of how it was represented, conceptualized, and committed to memory—and how this process shaped what modern China is.” —Kai Vogelsang, Hamburg University