Exploring, among other things, Lu Xun’s configuration of his characters’ relationships to then-dominant ideological discourses, this chapter teases out heretofore seldom observed or altogether unremarked upon vital features of his canonical works. The chapter is grounded in the conviction that an attunement to the insights internal to a text can expand our understanding of a literary work, its intellectual-historical context, and its author. It affirms the relevance of the concept of aesthetic cognition and the value of a hermeneutics of engagement in the study of modern Chinese literature.
This chapter revisits an important and long-standing debate on whether “Renaissance” or “Enlightenment” is a more appropriate or accurate term to describe the May Fourth Movement. The author of this chapter proposes a renewed interest in using “Renaissance” as a conceptual category to evaluate the May Fourth new culture movement since it has the merits of placing this Chinese cultural movement in a transnational context. Through an appropriation of Franco Moretti’s concept of “distant reading,” the author highlights the parallel relations between May Fourth China and other cultures at their respective historical junctures in order to emphasize the multiple and transnational practices of Renaissance. This chapter thus demonstrates how the framework of world literary studies can help us reshape and refresh our understanding of the May Fourth new culture movement within a global and cross-cultural context.
This chapter proposes to re-examine the concept of “vernacular” in the May Fourth context. It argues that the Chinese term for the vernacular, baihua, was not a self-evident concept in the May Fourth context, since its meanings were still being contested in the May Fourth period. By tracing the connotations of the term from the late Ming to Qing and early Republican periods, this chapter shows that what we take as baihua nowadays is actually modern invention. This chapter particularly investigates the transformation of the concept of baihua in the May Fourth context by using Hu Shi’s writings as a primary example. The author suggests that concept of baihua in the May Fourth period was not just considered a new instrument or medium of writing, but more as a kind of quality, property, and potentiality that can be used to evaluate or predict the health or life span of any living language.
Among the leaders of the May Fourth Movement, Hu Shi was the one who was most aware of the movement’s historical significance. His emphasis, moreover, was not just on China, but the modern world led by the West, in which China was a junior but avid member. At his brief radical swing to the right in 1926 and 1927, he rhapsodized on the May Fourth Movement’s turn to politics and party discipline under the aegis of the Soviet Union and the Third International. As he turned conservative in the early 1930s, he reverted to his earlier position by emphasizing individualism and referred to the movement as a watershed that separates China’s “Victorian Age” from its “Age of Collectivism.” Toward the end of his life, he lamented that the meaning of this movement was hijacked by cunning and ruthless political parties. The fact that Hu Shi had always sought to situate the May Fourth Movement in a global, albeit Eurocentric, contexts—even when his political positions shifted—should lead us to follow his example and continue to (re)interpret the May Fourth Movement in its various historical and political contexts.
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.
This chapter explores the works of Ding Ling in order to open up a new way of studying and researching modern Chinese literature. The author points out that the May Fourth writers had frequently documented bombing incidents in their diary entries, essays, and novels. Familiar with what the bombs could do, the May Fourth writers did not hesitate to use the sound metaphor such as bomb and bombing to compliment an author or literary work that sent tremors down through the literary scene. This chapter discusses Ding Ling’s The Diary of Miss Sophie, which was once described by a critic as a bomb that the author dropped on the Chinese literary circle. By treating Ding Ling as a synecdoche for May Fourth writers, the author investigates as well as demonstrates how the prevalent usage of the bomb metaphor in everyday life could mean to the May Fourth literary writings.
This essay explores the memorableness of “May Fourth” writings in relation to their emotion-arousing capacity. It argues that our understanding of “May Fourth” is impoverished if we do not heed the affective power of its textual legacy and treat “May Fourth” instead as an object of analysis, to be studied in relation to the factual significance of selected actions, ideas, persons and texts. Using J.A. Austin’s notions of the “constative” and “performative” as a heuristic device, the essay addresses the performative dimension of expressions, statements and key texts that have come to be subsumed under “May Fourth”. It draws on a range of readings of “May Fourth” from the Republican era to the present-day to discuss the proposition that one feels compelled to make sense of “May Fourth” only if one has been affected by what one reads as “May Fourth”. It also connects the affective power of “May Fourth” to a poetics of the possible at work in the linguistic play of baihua writings of the time.