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Ivo Spira

Abstract

Chapter 4 offers some reflections on the philosophical aspects that underlie ‘zhǔyì’ (-ism) as a key concept. Its point of departure is the notion of principled action, that is, the idea that action should be based on rational principles that one commits oneself to as a modern citizen. From this point it is only a short way to the notion of ideology as beacon in man’s life. This chapter further documents how total and fundamental solutions came to be seen as the key to solving China’s problems. Even the problems of individual people were taken to be reducible to social categories and believed to be solvable by the reorganization of society along ideological lines: commitment to the ‘right’ -ism came to be seen as a sort of panacea. While not everyone was happy with this turn of events, hardly anyone escaped the social upheaval and repression that the resulting polarization of society brought about. Although the rise of ismatic politics had clear Western models, a traditional tendency towards optimistic voluntarism may have amplified the receptivity of Chinese intellectuals to ismatic reasoning.


Series:

Ivo Spira

Abstract

This last chapter starts with some reflections of the role of -isms in China since 1949 and then proceeds to a general presentation of the book’s findings. Although there are certainly parallels to developments in the West, the Chinese case of the modernization of ideological discourse is in many ways unique. On a linguistic level, this is reflected in the high productivity of words in -zhǔyì and especially their independence relative to Western models. Conceptually, the positive value attached to ‘zhǔyì’ as a key concept is perhaps the most salient feature. Rhetorically speaking, the ubiquity of zhǔyì reductionism in public discourse and the intensity of its deployment is remarkable. Although the point of gravity of ismatic discourse has shifted somewhat in in the direction of lifestyle -isms since the rise of the consumer society in the Chinese world, -isms are still very much in evidence today. The ideological optimism of the early twentieth century may be gone, but the potential of zhǔyì rhetoric is far from exhausted.