Beyond the cultural dominant : for a textual politics in modern China

Alternative Title

超越文化的主導 : 現代中國的文本政治初探

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Journal article

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淸華學報 = Tsing Hua Journal of Chinese Studies

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Drawing references to the recent debates in the crisis of modernity in the West (including the debate on postmodernism), this paper attempts to analyze the project of cultural modernity in China sinew the May-Fourth Movement. By tracing the development in textual strategy, cultural formation and institutionalization through three significant stages in the history of modern China (marked respectively by the year 1919, 1949, and 1979), the author discusses the changing relationship between Culture and Revolution. With an emphasis on the cultural text's “representation of Revolution, the paper intends to outline the possible crisis and revolution in the formation of subjectivity and investigate the historical subject’s realization of the dominant hegemony through cultural/textual discourse.

For this purpose the paper is divided into four parts. The first section deals with the relationship between tradition and modernity and argues for the significance in recognizing the form of historical consciousness in cultural/literary modernity, the emergence of which depended, distinctively, upon the active and sometimes radical rejection of its past. The significance of a radical break or rupture (versus the mitigatory effect of the reliance on continuity as emphasized by tradition) is analyzed, and the historical context under which modernity in China emerged as such a project of “ruthless forgetting” is also discussed.

In the second section, the author raises the issue of textual politics in modern China by tracing the emergence of a counter-discourse during the May- Fourth era and assessing the implication of the subsequent legitimation and normalization of culture after Mao Zedong’s talk on art and culture at the Yenan Forum in 1942. Whereas the changing positions of culture vis-a-vis Revolution is here reconsidered, the more recent development towards a renewed attempt to intervene in politics with culture is also addressed. The third section confronts the configuration of culture in modern China with its institutional constraints. The case of “high modernism” in the West is brought in to reveal the effect of institutional framing on all cultural text, thus clearing the ground for a reappraisal of/the extent to which the radical anxiety of the radical intellectuals after the May-Fourth Movement also carries political (viz. anti-institutional) message.

Finally, the paper ends with a note on the possibilities opened by the debate on postmodernism in the West for an alternative tactic in the Chinese project to strive for a modern subjectivity under current cultural-political situations. The author proposes that to move forward in our quest for modernity, it is perhaps useful that we begin to (i) rewrite the cultural text of modernity, (ii) re-situate the modern subject as a historical subject, and (iii) speak (up) for the position of such an active and conscious historical subject by participating in the production and reproduction of culture as discourse.



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Copyright © 1989 國立清華大學人文社會學院. Access to external full text or publisher's version may require subscription.

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Recommended Citation

Chan, C.-k. S. (1989). Beyond the cultural dominant : for a textual politics in modern China. Tsing Hua Journal of Chinese Studies, 19(2), 125-163.