4 Philosophical Aspects of ‘Zhǔyì’

in A Conceptual History of Chinese -Isms
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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.

A Conceptual History of Chinese -Isms

The Modernization of Ideological Discourse, 1895–1925


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