Chapter 12 The Immortality of Words: Hu Shi’s Language Reform and His Reflection on Religion

In: Remembering May Fourth
Authors: Gina Elia and Victor H. Mair
  • 1 City University of Hong Kong
  • | 2 University of Pennsylvania

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Abstract

Chinese intellectual and language reform pioneer Hu Shi developed a self-styled “religion” over his lifetime, which is what he called his belief in so-called “social immortality.” Among scholars writing on Hu Shi in English, Jerome B. Grieder has examined his self-styled “religion” in great depth. However, he minimizes as inconsequential Hu Shi’s use of the term “religion” to refer to his worldview. This article uses contemporary perspectives from the field of Religious Studies to argue instead that Hu Shi uses the term “religion” to describe his worldview as a rhetorical strategy that helps him to enact his philosophy in the very form of the language he uses to describe it. This article will provide an overview of Hu Shi’s theory of social immortality and how his referral to it as a “religion” worked on a formal level to emphasize the significance he attributed to it. Understanding how Hu Shi used the term “religion” to underscore the importance of his worldview emphasizes its centrality to his intellectual mindset and invites further inquiry on its relationship to his lifelong dedication to language reform.

Remembering May Fourth

The Movement and its Centennial Legacy

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