Title

Reflexive exceptionalism : on the relevance of Tocqueville’s America for modern China

Document Type

Journal article

Source Publication

Journal of Classical Sociology

Publication Date

2-1-2009

Volume

9

Issue

1

First Page

79

Last Page

95

Publisher

Sage

Keywords

China, civilization, Confucian religion, exceptionalism, power, reflexivity, study society movement, world society

Abstract

In this paper I argue that a reflexive type of exceptionalism was articulated by the reformist elites in late imperial China as a cultural strategy to confront and appropriate the hegemonic representation of modern democratic power and Occidental civilization that was articulated on the basis of Tocqueville’s exceptionalist image of America and imposed by Western imperialism. By delineating the temporal and normative structure of this reflexive exceptionalism and reconstructing the quasi-religious meanings of its myths and rituals, I propose that the motif of ‘Confucian religion’ in the reformist study society movement should be understood in terms of its intent to produce and discipline a social power that could be mobilized for China’s ideological and political competition with the West. While the movement ended in failure with the rise of a fundamentalist reaction, the fate of Chinese exceptionalism under the changing power structure of contemporary world society can be properly understood with reference to its historical origin and transformation.

DOI

10.1177/1468795X08098978

Print ISSN

1468795X

E-ISSN

17412897

Publisher Statement

Copyright © 2009 SAGE Publications Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore and Washington

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Recommended Citation

Chen, H.-F. (2009). Reflexive exceptionalism: On the relevance of Tocqueville's America for modern China. Journal of Classical Sociology, 9(1), 79-95. doi: 10.1177/1468795X08098978