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Abstract

This paper is part of a larger project in which I make a case for the central importance of the problem of free will to considerations of Chinese modernity. I begin by distinguishing between two key aspects of modernity and the Enlightenment: (1) subjectivity, or the realm of consciousness including the capacity for critical reason, and (2) agency, or acting on the world outside consciousness in a way that makes a difference. I then suggest that neglecting the development of rational agency cripples the force of the commitment to human freedom that drives the project of modernity. In calling attention to agency and proposing to explore its place in modern Chinese fiction, I do not mean to belittle the first line of inquiry into subjectivity and its various aspects. My point is simply that investigations of subjectivity can encompass only one part of modernity, one aspect of modern consciousness and only some of the questions that modern literature can pose. Modernity may mean a rise of individual consciousness, yet equally crucial is the possibility that reason can advance human freedom.

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