ArticlePDF Available

Agony over national–imperial identity: Interpreting the coloniality of the Chinese New Left

Authors:

Abstract

European thought, rather than an overarching ideology imposed on the colonized, offers a concatenation of keywords and narratives for people to imagine their national community, yet, sometimes serving as political prison for the others, especially those internal and neighboring ones. Henceforth, coloniality does not reside merely in European or US domination but also in multiple relationships and scalar dynamics of the non-European context. In this article, I analyze the discourse of the Chinese New Left, who repudiate the West and affirm a new Chinese sovereign power, thereby resonating with concerns and orientations originating in the new world situation that puts China back in the global power center. I argue that their discourse, despite its left-wing rhetoric, is an expression of agony over national–imperial identity rather than of the powerless. It has found favor among academic conservatives who render ancient Chinese imperial concepts into conceptual tools available for the state to consolidate its legitimacy and political order. A new Chinese sovereign power is discursively envisioned in the co-formations and interconnectivity of the imperial imaginaries of the short-lived German Empire, Pax Americana, and the legacy of Qing Empire.
1
Agony over National-Imperial Identity
Interpreting the Coloniality of the Chinese New Left
1
Ip Iam-chong
Department of Cultural Studies, Lingnan University, Hong Kong
[This is a pre-print version. For citation, please refer to: Ip, Iam-chong. 2015. Agony over
National-Imperial Identity: Interpreting the Coloniality of the Chinese New Left.Cultural
Dynamics 27(2) 241252.]
Preamble
Over the last two decades, postcolonial scholarship points in the direction of avoiding discussion
of modernity as abstract niceties. Instead, how contested rhetorics of historicism, universalistic
claims, and political commitments to modernity operate in varied discursive formations of
national subjectivity and imperial desire deserves critical scrutiny (Rofel 1999). European
thought, rather than an overarching ideology imposed on the colonized, takes its power effect in
the tension between its indispensability and inadequacy in constituting the political and the
historical in the post-colonial context (Chakrabarty 2000: p.22). It offers a concatenation of
keywords and narratives for people to imagine their national community, yet, as Arjun Appadurai
argues, sometimes serving as political prison for the others, especially those internal and
neighboring ones (Appadurai 1990: p.6). Henceforth, coloniality does not reside merely in
European or US domination but also in multiple relationships and scalar dynamics of the non-
European context.
These insights urge us to re-examine anti-colonial discourses in terms of the power relations
characterized by discrepancy, contestation and paradox, rather than their radical gestures and
anti-imperialist overtones. For example, the plethora of alternative modernities in East Asia
make its modern trajectories far more complicated than the term “colonial domination” suggests.
While East Asia’s nineteenth-century witnessed the crumbling old Sino-centric structure of
empire and diverse national-imperial projects, simultaneously resisting against and collaborating
with the western powers, the relatively stable US-dominated postwar order, the rise of
developmental states, and their enmity with the communist countries went on for decades.
Kuan-Hsing Chen, among others, correctly specifies the historical and political structure left by
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
1
!The!author!thanks!Professor!Walter!D.!Mignolo!and!Dr.!Vivian!Lee!for!their!comments!and!
suggestions.!
2
the Cold War as the inter-Asian context which East Asian countries have to address for
deimperialization and decolonization (Chen 2010). However, without challenging the legitimacy
of their nationhood and modernity projects, thereby revealing the experience of their others,
Chen’s project of deimperialization would be trapped in the straitjacket of the inter-state system.
For instance, the rise of China is undoubtedly one of the most striking phenomena of non-
western modernity in recent years. A simple critique of the China threat theoryas a variant of
Cold War ideology is a long way from understanding the new geopolitical formation of China as
well as East Asia. The least I can do, in my capacity as a critical intellectual in China, is to try to
transform our awareness of the conditions in which our Chinese triumphalism is made possible
into reflections on the very present we inhabits. The key issue is not only about facilitating
cross-border dialogue, but also critically responding to the newly emerging discourses about
China as a sovereign and global power. Among them, the Chinese New Left, with their themes,
both in what they repudiate of the West and in what they affirm for China, resonate with
concerns and orientations originating in the new world situation that puts China back to the
global power centre. Interrogating their discourse could shed some light on coloniality and its
manifestation in contemporary East Asia.
Revitalizing Imperial Ideas
The opposition between the New Left and the liberalists has come to define the political
spectrum of contemporary Chinese intellectuals over the past two decades (Xu 2004: p. 197-
200). While one may easily notice Chinese liberalists’ explicit support to western-style
modernization and even the US military interventions across the world (Bao, Liu, et al. 2001),
their opponents are usually associated with the rise of nationalism and anti-imperialist struggles
(Gao 2004). This paper puts this notion into question. In China, a country without a
parliamentary system with competitive parties, the terms “left” and “right” should not be taken for
granted. The connotations of “the left” especially become more complicated by the fact that the
continuity of the orthodoxy of state socialism of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), usually
classified as the “Old Left”, coincides with its dramatic shift of policy goal from building socialism
to economic reform in the capitalist way since the late 1970s.
The term “New Left”, originally adopted by Chinese liberalists to criticize an intellectual group
that defended Maoism in one way or another, refers to a loosely organized school of thought
critical of capitalism and China’s economic reform policies. Despite sharing a general reluctance
to accept this label, the new leftists have increasingly become so prominent that they are not
3
simply public intellectuals or academics but also informal advisors for the Chinese government,
and attract attention from the western academy and media (Freeman and Yuan 2012; Vukovich
2012: p. 63). For instance, Wang Hui, one of the key new leftist figures in China and National
Committee Member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, was named as
one of the top 100 public intellectuals of the world by Foreign Policy. He is the only Chinese
intellectual included in Francis Mulhern’s edited volume, Lives on the Left: A Group Portrait, a
collection of interviews of intellectuals such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Georg Lukas and David
Harvey (Mulhern 2012). Gan Yang, very active and prominent during the “cultural fever” in the
1980s, continues his influence among intellectuals through his writings and lectures after he
returned to China from his studies at the University of Chicago. In recent years, despite few
publications in English, his advocacy of a “Confucian socialist republic” represents a strong
revival of traditionalism and his “left Confucianism” has drawn the attention of Western critics
(Bell 2010; Weber 2013).
The rise of the Chinese New Left takes on a different meaning in China. This label eventually
emerges out of the stand-off between intellectuals, in which the liberalists stayed alert to the
danger of new-style of statism in China. Xu Jilin, the leading Chinese liberalist, attributed the
rise to the rift in the intellectual sphere after the 1980s. The success of China’s capitalism after
the crackdown on the student movements in 1989 puzzled many Chinese intellectuals who had
a strong belief in Western modernity and provided an opportunity for developing diverse views
of the status quo (Xu 2004: 194). The New Left’s increasing reception of western critical
theories coincides with their reflection on western-style modernization, advocacy of socialist
values, but refusal to play the role of dissidents. For example, compared to some dissident
liberalists such as Liu Xiaobo, many Chinese New Leftists are on good terms with the China
government.
The comments above, despite their insights, fall short of addressing the new leftists’ intellectual
path. The Chinese New Left’s voices were not heard widely until the mid-1990s when they
stirred up debates on the Cultural Revolution, egalitarianism and socialist values. Later on,
since the global financial crisis in 2008 allowed the leftists to pronounce the death of market
ideology and implicitly to echo the official version of the “China model”, what makes their
intellectual practices more unique is their shift to redefining Chinese state sovereignty, which is
the major theme of this article. The recent resurgence of interest in appreciating the Chinese
New Left’s challenges to the orientalistic image of “Communist China” and return to the legacy
4
of the Chinese Revolution (Vukovich 2012; Gao 2004) gives short shrift to the problems
generated by national-imperial imagining. Indeed, the Chinese New Leftists not only launch a
critique of the West, but also revitalize traditional Chinese as well as Western imperial ideas. In
this paper, I term this intellectual practice as “inter-imperial imagining” for redefining the Chinese
national identity in the ways that “interacting empires have undergirded nation formation and
shaped national political discourses” (Doyle 2013: 2). Some Western critics critical intellectuals
look for their counterparts in China probably too hastily to pay sufficient attention to the Chinese
New Left’s complicity in the new geo-political positioning of the current regime and mistake them
for those who represent the revival of radicalism in the Third World. Their challenges to market
triumphalism and American hegemony should not blind us to their unique post-socialist
experiences and the Chinese imperial imagination.
Instead of getting involved in the dispute between the left and the right, this paper addresses
knowledge, power and geopolitical repositioning in the case of Chinese New Left. I argue that
their discourses, constituting a creative part of the new project of nation-building, have to be
understood in their inter-imperial imaginary and its operations in the post-colonial context. The
discussion below mainly focuses on Wang Hui and Gan Yang who make references to each
other in their writings about Chinese sovereignty and legitimacy. Unlike most who either portray
them as "third-world" intellectuals or accuse them of leaning to dictatorship, I locate them in the
force-field of interacting empires that undergird nation formation. I argue that one should neither
overrate their politically progressive gestures, nor underestimate their complicity in the new
inter-imperial order.
Carl Schmitt in China: Road to Becoming a Great Power
Given China’s long tradition of statism, it is not surprising that numerous intellectuals look for a
strong state as a vehicle of national revival. For example, Wang Shaoguang, in collaboration
with Hu Angang, published his work on the alleged decline of state power and advocated
strengthening the power of the central authority in the early 1990s (Wang and Hu 1993).
However what distinguishes the Chinese New Leftists’ recent discourse is its increasingly
cultural and philosophical gesture. In this light, the intervention of Liu Xiaofeng, a scholar
considered the most prominent Chinese philosopher and theologian since the 1990s, is
5
noteworthy. His initiative of introducing and translating Carl Schmitt, a Weimar legalist and anti-
liberal theorist, triggered a craze in China (Lilla 2010).
In Liu’s long article on Schmitt, he foregrounds Max Weber’s talk of “political maturity”
immediately after World War I as the background of Schmitt’s thought. Liu makes comparison
between Weber and Yan Fu, a famous translator in late 19th century China, for highlighting
modern intellectuals’ pursuit of strengthening their countries in the way of “Great Power” similar
to the Meiji Restoration and Frederich’s Reich II. Weber, according to Liu, went beyond Yan’s
conservatism to argue for political pragmatism to unify the nation and consolidate state power.
Liu believes that the question of how to achieve this political goal is more important than any
talk of social justice and democracy, and he further makes an analogy between the German
empire at the turn of the 20th century and today’s China:
“China after economic reform is similar to Germany led by Bismarck. The country becomes
stronger in the international political order. However, due to social injustices caused by
economic transition, economists are preoccupied with quarrels over free economy, economic
democracy and social justice. Max Weber would have this comment on China: Chinese
intellectuals are yet to be “politically mature”. They don’t know that China has already become
an economic nation. Now all the problems are about how to become a politically mature nation.”
(Liu 2002: p. 28)
The remark above sums up the reasons behind Chinese intellectuals’ sudden interest in
Schmitt’s philosophy. For Liu and others, China’s economic achievement is less a reality to be
critiqued than a given background, against which one feels the urgency of building a “political
nation”, i.e. proactively re-making the country as a Great Power. The modern history of
Germany, along with Weber’s and Schmitt’s ideas, contributes to the Chinese New Left’s
national imaginary. As I-chung Chen notes, the current talks of Chinese uniqueness, a species
of “nationalism against citizenship rights”, despite their “anti-West” overtones, come close to the
German idea of Sonderweg (special path) at the turn of the twentieth century (Chen 2010).
Liu and other Chinese New Leftists find Schmitt useful for making sense of contemporary China.
His criticism of parliamentary democracy is not simply just a type of anti-liberalism (Wang 2008:
67), but also implies a set of problems, conceptual tools and solutions, specific to the Weimar
Republic and Hitler’s Third Reich. For example, Wang Hui, not finding Schmitt’s conservatism
6
troubling to his leftist theories and rhetoric, claims his theory’s openness to “broader application”
(Wang 2009b: p.11 ). Wong then claims that China’s major problem over the past decades is
“depoliticization” and comes up with a Schmittian solution.
First, “depoliticization”, according to Schmitt, refers to the overwhelming force of technological
advancement and economic life and its effect on trivializing political confrontation and decision
in the West. But Wang further renders it interchangeable with the neoliberal concept of the
market, American cold-war hegemony and even corporate globalization (Wang 2009b: p.16).
Disregarding the contextual differences between today’s China and Germany during the 1920s,
he even terms it “worldwide dynamic towards depoliticization” (Wang 2009b: p. 9 ). Second, in
response to the crisis of parliamentary democracy, a symptom of the long process of
“depoliticization”, Schmitt resorts to a sovereign power legitimized by political decisionism. As
Karl Lowith argues, it is a kind of nihilism not based on any metaphysics, procedural principle or
any moral ground (Lowith 1995: 141). Instead, the decisionist authority is a state power in unity
with its national community and its decisive action to differentiate between “friends” and “foes
for the state of exception, a condition in which Schmitt assumes a polity to be entitled to
suspend the application of its law on the ground that the situation is abnormal and emergency.
Schmitt’s political existentialism and decisionism offer a convenient shortcut for the Chinese
New Left to shift from a critique of western modernity to imagining a sovereign power not tainted
by “depoliticization”. It saves a lot of effort to look for agents of social change such as the
working class or the peasantry. While Wang still describes his stance as “critical
internationalism” and rejects any retreat into nationalist solution in an article written in 2004
(2009b: p. 18), he gradually regains his confidence in the CCP as “the core of public
sovereignty” in the preface to the English version of The End of the Revolution in 2009:
“Because the party remains relatively disconnected from economic activity, it is able to express
the will of society with relative independence and “neutrality”... After the 1990s, the will of the
state was presented primarily through the goals and slogans of the party, including the “Three
Represents,” the “Harmonious Society” and the “Scientific Outlook on Development,” but these
were no longer direct and special expressions of the party but instead directly invoked the
interests of the entire people. In this sense, the party has become the core of public
sovereignty.” (Wang 2009a: p. xxxi)
7
The remark above demonstrates that the Chinese New Left only attempts to delink themselves
from the capitalist party-state machinery (Carter 2010), rather than to abandon their political
allegiance to the sovereign power of the party. Despite having no explicit references, Wang’s
reconceptualization of “the party” as “the core of public sovereignty” above the state
bureaucracy and economy is completely consistent with Schmitt’s political decisionism. Wang
seems to keep his notion of “critical internationalism” as a vague slogan for his left-wing
audience rather than an idea in need of further specification.
Schmitt’s anti-universalist thought, with his theoretical vagueness and flexibility, as Jan-Werner
Muller argues, constitute a kind of political opportunism to legitimize Hitler’s policies of conquest
(Muller 2003: 43). In the 1930s, after his forced resignation from all his positions of the Nazi
government, Schmitt had developed a new theory of Großräum (great spaces), a spatial order
of multiple empires (Schmitt 2011[1939]). I am not suggesting that the New Leftists are going to
repeat Schmitt’s political and intellectual path. But his conceptual tools and the background of
the Weimar Republic constitute one of the “modulars” for Chinese intellectuals to re-articulate a
discourse on national-imperial territory (Anderson 1991: 4).
Gan Yang’s “Chinese civilization”
The term “political maturity” seems to be a discursive vehicle for the Chinese national re-
imagination. Before Liu, Gan Yang had contrasted Chinese “political maturity”, in Weberian
sense, to its economic success in the mid-1990s. At that time, he saw “mass democracy”, i.e.
political participation of the whole country, as a benchmark and argued against any notion of the
infeasibility of democracy in such a big country as China (Gan 2003[1996]). However, since the
2000s, his agenda of political reform has been gradually overwhelmed by his civilizing project of
re-establishing a politico-moral legacy for the existing regime. He advocates the concept of
“civilization state” (wenming guojia), presumably different from the western idea of “nation-state”
(Gan 2004). Invoking the idea of “Greater Chinese Civilization State” suggested by Liang
Qichao, a reformist at the turn of the 20th century, Gan argues that the legitimacy of modern
China resides in its own “historical civilization” (lishi wenming), a legacy not only dating back to
ancient times, but also representing a continuity of “Three Orthodoxies”-- Confucian, Mao
Zedong’s and Deng Xiaoping’s traditions (Gan 2007: p. 6). Gan’s theory, rather than descriptive
or analytical, is a prescriptive gesture for constructing a “civilization” for the sovereign power as
8
well as the people, particularly the young cultural elites. His elaboration of “civilization” in the
debate of liberal arts education clearly indicates his elitism and imperial thrust.
His recommendation of the early 20th century American model of liberal arts education to China
has implications for national politics rather than merely serving educational purposes (Gan
2007: 89). The common subject of “Western Civilization” for university students was firstly
invented during the curricular reform at the University of Chicago, and subsequently widely
adopted by other universities. Reading Western classics is seen by Gan as a key step to
prepare young elites to culturally identify with “Europe” and justified American involvement in
World War I & II (Gan 2007: 101-102). Gan speaks admirably of the project of consolidating
confidence and awareness of the American elites’ central roles in the western world, paving the
way for the expansion of the American empire into Europe and other parts of the world.
According to Gan, it is exactly what Chinese elites lack today because of the “overdose” of anti-
traditionalism in the last century. His project of liberal arts education, that is, an indigenized
version of the American imperial model, is intended to help young elites regain confidence in
and awareness of the Chinese civilization, thereby getting out of the cultural dominance of the
West and establish China as a civilization-state. Gan’s advocacy of “cultural confidence”
(wenhua zixin) and “cultural self-consciousness” (wenhua zijue) is echoed by Wang Hui who
defines them as the basis for creative imaginaryand China’s subjectivity(Gan 2007: 56-60).
Since then, these two keywords command the profound meanings of political legitimacy in
former President of China Hu Jintao’s speech at the CCP’s anniversary gathering on July 1,
2011 (Hu 2011), which was later elaborated into state propaganda by party ideologues (Yun
2011).
Two aspects of Gan’s discourse on civilization are worthy of further attention. The first one is
Gan’s imperial imperative in defiance of any anti-imperial challenges. He confines his admiration
to the rise and the peak time of American influence in the world rather than the post-1960s era
when the radicals began to challenge Eurocentrism and elitism in the curriculum centered
around “Western civilization”. Gan opposes the adoption of the more recent American
curriculum of liberal arts in China because he finds the new elements of feminism and
multiculturalism not only irrelevant but also harmful to reconstructing of the national tradition.
The second feature of Gan’s discourse is his Han-centrism. While he argues for the inclusion of
Western civilization” into the liberal arts education in China (Gan 2007: 137), he pays no
attention to any cultural differences and conflicts within China. He never questions his usage of
Win7_Local 27/11/2013 8:12 PM
Comment [1]: first!introduced?!
9
“Chinese civilization” (zhongguo wenhua) as an equivalent to Han Chinese culture and classics.
The discursive absence of non-Han cultures, such as Tibetan and Muslim cultures, is
instrumental to his strong cultural claim.
Wang’s “Imperial legacy
Wang Hui proves to be more sensitive to the possible challenges from non-Han peoples to the
Chinese sovereignty. He published a long article on Tibet, presumably a political taboo in China,
shortly after the “March 14 Riot” in Lhasa in 2008, to criticize the Western support to Tibetan
independence for its Orientalist view and assumption of ethnic nationalism. He argues that
China could not be understood in terms of the “nation-state” and inter-state sovereignty as it has
developed since the 19th century, building upon the principles of ethnic and linguistic
nationalism. Instead, it is a hybrid form combining socialism, nation-state and imperial legacy.
According to Wang, numerous westerners, misled by their own prejudices, believe that Tibet is
entitled to the status of independent state, rather than a part of China’s “trans-systemic society”,
which accommodates various ethnic communities within its imperial order in the past and the
socialist country after 1949 (Wang 2011: p. 162).
According to Wang, the recognition of this hybridity and uniqueness is key to imagining China’s
national subjectivity in a creative way. Despite his emphasis on the uniqueness of China,
Wang’s concept of Chinese sovereign power is similar to the European “official nationalisms of
the 19th century, according to Benedict Anderson’s typology, i.e. naturalization of nationhood
with dynastic power (Anderson 1991: p. 86). Wang’s talk of “European concepts”, as Ralph
Weber notes, is a kind of occidentalist imagination serving to cover up his political agenda of
conjuring up a presumed Chinese tradition, rather than a rigorous historical review (Weber
2009: p. 227). His discourse demonstrates an exceptionalist commitment to a project of
naturalizing the CCP’s rule over the territories of the Qing Dynasty, and justifies the existing
regime’s socialist policies and ideals in regard to ethnic minorities consistent with China’s
“imperial legacy” (diguo yichan) (Wang 2011: p. 180).
Wang’s term “imperial legacy” with its linguistic ambiguity forecloses the contested discourses
on China’s imperial past. The Chinese metaphor yichan”, referring to a kind of inheritance,
implies its availability to future generations rather than the troubling past and its problematic ties
to the present. Historically speaking, Qing history should be understood in terms of continuing
10
ethnic tensions and restructuring of imperial ideology rather than harmonious national unity. On
the one hand, since the late 18th century, in the midst of political unrests in the frontiers and
inland provinces, the Qing court had relaxed its policy of ethnic segregation and implemented
various kinds of sinicization measures, such as massive immigration of the Han people into
ethnic areas and extending its Chinese bureaucracy into Xinjiang and Manchuria (Ho 1998).
This process of imperial “interiorization” was interrupted by the collapse of the dynasty in 1911-
12. It eventually generated an opportunity for Mongols, Uighurs and Tibetans to form their own
states. Their loyalty to the Qing government, previously characterized by priest-patron
relationship (Tibet), military rule over a variety of tribal and sectarian leaders (Xinjiang), and
inter-marriage alliance (Mongolia), could not be easily translated into loyalty to any modern
Chinese states. In the first half of the 20th century, China was haunted by independence
movements, often in collaboration with Britain, Russia and Japan. For example, Tibet enjoyed
de facto political independence in the years 1912-1950. The consolidation of China’s territories
and suppression of independence movements continued until CCP’s military victory in the late
1940s.
Wang probably finds these dissenting elements incompatible with any historical narrative
centered around a unitary concept of China. However, he never engages in any debate with
historians who portray the period of 1912-1950 as Tibet’s modern reform era when Dalai Lama
and his Lhasa government maintained a high degree of autonomy, despite British and Russian
involvements (Goldstein 1989; Grunfeld 1987; Wang and Shakya 2009: 100, 106). The status of
pre-1911 Tibet as “a vassal state” in its tributary relationship with the Qing court subject to
colonial encroachment determines that Tibetan nationalism remains not ‘independent” (Wang
2011: 172). With his anti-colonial discourse endorsing the legitimacy of China rather than any
Tibetan political effort, he alleges that Tibetan struggles for independence would not happen if
there were no “instigation of Western imperialism” (Wang 2011: 161, 169). The only profound
historical change in Tibet is presumed to be the transition of the tributary relationship into the
CCP’s system of regional ethnic autonomy, the only reasonable path of modernization--
transforming Tibet’s repressive theocratic order into a secular society (Wang 2011: 205). In
other words, Tibetans themselves are not able to activate any fundamental change except
without CCP’s socialist revolution.
Wang mainly concentrates on the official policy of ethnic autonomous region and the stated
rationale behind, rather than any historical analysis. For example, there is not even a brief
11
discussion on the occupation of Tibet by the Liberation Army, i.e. the “Peaceful Liberation of
Tibet” in 1951, the later breakup of the agreement, and the exile of Dalai Lama in 1959, except
an eulogy of the consequent “democratic reform” termed by the CCP (Wang 2011: 205). The
devastation of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution to Tibet is only mentioned in
passing. These missing parts are more than inconvenient facts for Wang: they reveal his
colonial attitudes towards ethnic minorities shared by many Han Chinese intellectuals (Shakya
2009: 90-92). He does not completely deny the existence of social unrests in Tibet since the
1980s, but he tries hard to refute any thesis of sinicization by arguing that they have happened
only after economic reform. It is true that the accusation of cultural genocide (VOA 2008) is not
supported by evidence. But Wang’s ignorance or negligence of the complicated process of
sinicization through Han in-migration, building of party-state bureaucracy, spread of state-
subsidized capitalist development, and class exclusion is hardly justified (Attané and Courbage
2000; Fischer 2008). Wang’s leftist rhetoric based on his theory of “de-politicization” enables
him to put all the blame on market changes, globalization and westernization (Wang 2011: 200).
Hence, the solution to the Tibetan problem lies in the revival of Chinese socialist politics. It is
primarily predicated on his belief, in line with China government’s view, that Tibetan agency has
to be sublated by the subjectivity of Communist China, a “new social subjectivity”, alleged by
Wang, turning ethnic problem into a question of social liberation or modernization (Wang 2011:
205).
Colonial condition and Inter-imperiality
This paper is not primarily intended as an epistemological exercise of repudiating the meta-
narratives that put China at the centre. I have attempted to re-orientate our post-colonial critique
towards a critical awareness of inter-imperiality, especially in the context of East Asia.
Dismantling Eurocentrism by writing history from an essentialist position of Third World is not
sufficient to take account of the inter-imperiality in the making of the modern world, which should
be understood as the fracturing consequences of local resistance, nation-making, imperial
building and consolidating colonial relationships at the regional level.
The rise of China as a capitalist power and its ideologues definitely creates an occasion for
rethinking coloniality in a new era of competing projects of empire. The case of the Chinese
New Left prompts us to reconsider coloniality in the Chinese context as the conflation of various
imperial imaginaries, past and present, and the naturalizaton of colonial domination. In other
12
words, it is a hybrid form of power re-activated in the project of a partial “Great Power”, a term
borrowed from David Shambaugh who argues that China has gradually gained in global
economic footprint, political influence and cultural presence, yet a long way from becoming a
global superpower like the US (Shambaugh 2013). The Chinese New Left discourse, despite its
left-wing rhetoric, is an expression of agony over national-imperial identity rather than of the
powerless. That is why it has found favor among academic conservatives who render ancient
Chinese imperial concepts into conceptual tools available for the state to consolidate its
legitimacy and political order. An emerging Chinese sovereign power, as the analysis above
demonstrates, is envisioned in the co-formations and inter-connectivity of the short-lived
German empire, Pax Americana and the legacy of Qing empire, i.e. internalization of imperial
ideas in a Chinese invented tradition.
References
Anderson, Benedict. 1991. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of
Nationalism. London and New York: Verso.
Appadurai, Arjun. 1990. “Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy.” Public
Culture 2 (2), p. 1-24.
Attané, Isabelle and Youssef, Courbage. 2000. “Transitional Stages and Identity Boundaries:
The Case of Ethnic Minorities in China.” Population and Environment: A Journal of
Interdisciplinary Studies 21(3), p. 257-280.
Bao Zunxin, Liu, Xiaobo, et al. 2001. “A Public Letter to President Bush and American People
by Bao Zunxin, Liu Xiaobo and other Chinese Intellectuals.” URL:
http://blog.boxun.com/hero/baozx/6_1.shtml (Accessed August 2, 2013)
Bell, Daniel. 2010. “Reconciling Socialism and Confucianism? Reviving Tradition in China.”
Dissent 57(1): 91-99.
Carter, Lance. 2010. “A Chinese Alternative? Interpreting the Chinese New Left Politically.
Insurgent Notes: A Journal of Communist Theory and Practice, issue 1. URL:
http://insurgentnotes.com/2010/06/chinese-new-left/ (Accessed August 2, 2013)
Chakrabarty, Dipesh. 2000. Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical
Difference. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press.
Chen, I-chung. 2010. “Echoes of the German Sonderweg? The Issue of “Nationalism Against
Citizenship Rights” in China.” Taiwan Journal of Political Science 45: 107-152.
Doyle, Laura. 2013. “Inter-imperiality: Dialectics in a Postcolonial World History.Interventions:
International Journal of Postcolonial Studies. URL:
13
http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/1369801X.2013.776244#.UguK0GTN-NY
(Accessed August 15, 2013)
Fischer, Andrew Martin. 2008. “”Population Invasion” versus Urban Exclusion in the Tibetan
areas of Western China.” Population and Development Review 34(4): 631-662.
Freeman, Charles and Wen Jin Yuan. 2012. “The Influence and Illusion of China’s New Left.”
The Washington Quarterly, Winter. URL: http://csis.org/publication/twq-influence-and-illusion-
chinas-new-left (Accessed August 2, 2013)
Gan Yang. 2007. Continuity of Three Orthodoxes. Beijing: Joint Publishing.
Gan, Yang. 2003[1996]. “Towards Political Nation.Dushu, 4, p. 3-8.
Gan, Yang. 2004. “From “Nation-state” to “Civilization-state”.Shucheng, 2, p. 35-40.
Gao, Changfan Mobo. 2004. “The Rise of Neo-Nationalism and the New Left: A Postcolonial
and Postmodern Perspective.” In Nationalism, Democracy and National Integration in China.
Edited by Leong H. Liew and Shaoguang Wang. London and New York, 44-62.
Goldstein, Melvyn C. 1989. A History of Modern Tibet, 1913-1951. Berkeley and Los Angles:
University of California Press.
Grunfeld, A. Tom. 1987. The Making of Modern Tibet. London: Zed.
Hu, Jintao. 2011. Speech at the CCP Anniversary Gathering. People’s Daily Online. URL:
http://english.people.com.cn/90001/90776/90785/7426751.html (Accessed August 2, 2013)
Liu, Xiaofeng. 2002. “Carl Schmitt on Political Legitimacy: From The Concept of the Political to
Political Theology.” In Carl Schmitt: Residual Value of Politics. Shanghai: Shanghai People’s
Publications.
Lilla, Mark. 2010. “Reading Strauss in Beijing.” New Republic, December 17. Accessed July 31
2013. URL:
http://www.newrepublic.com/article/magazine/79747/reading-leo-strauss-in-beijing-china-
marx?passthru=M2M4ZmE0MTA4YmQwM2QwZWFmMDMwZDg1OTk1NGE4NzM (Accessed
August 10, 2013)
Lowith, Karl. 1995. “The Occasional Decisionism of Carl Schmitt.” In Martin Heidegger
and European Nihilism. Edited by Richard Wolin. New York: Columbia University Press,
137-169.
Mulhern, Francis. 2012. Lives on the Left: A Group Portrait. London and New York: Verso.
Muller, Jan-Werner. 2003. A Dangerous Mind: Carl Schmitt in Post-War European Thought.
New Haven and London: Yale University Press.
Shambaugh, David. 2013. China Goes Global: The Partial Power. New York: Oxford University
Press.
14
Rofel, Lisa. 1999. Other Modernities: Gender Yearnings in China after Socialism. Berkeley:
University of California Press.
Schmitt, Carl. 2011[1939]. “Großräum versus universalism: the International Legal Struggle over
the Monroe Doctrine.” Spatiality, Sovereignty and Carl Schmitt: Geographies of the nomos.
Edited by Stephen Legg. London and New York: Routledge, 46-54.
VOA. 2008. “Dalai Lama: China’s demographic policy threatens Tibetan culture,” Voice of
America News, 29 March.
Vukovich, Daniel. 2012. “The Battle for Chinese Discourse and the Rise of the Chinese New
Left: Toward a Postcolonial Politiics of Knowledge.” In China and New Left Visions: Political and
Cultural Interventions. Edited by Ban Wang and Jie Lu. Lanham: Lexington Book, 61-80.
Wang, Lixiong and Shakya, Tsering. 2009. The Struggle for Tibet. London and New York:
Verso.
Wang, Hui. 2011. The Politics of Imagining Asia. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Wang, Hui. 2009b. “Depoliticized Politics: From East to West.” In The End of the Revolution.
London and New York: Verso, p.3-17.
Wang Hui. 2009a. “Preface to the English Edtion.” In The End of the Revolution. London and
New York: Verso, pp. xvii-xxxiii.
Wang, Shaoguang. 2008. Four Lectures on Democracy. Beijing: Joint Publishing.
Wang, Shaoguang and Hu Angang. 1993. A Report on Chinese State Capacity. Shenyang:
Liaoning Publications.
Weber, Ralph. 2013. “The Politics of Confucian Philosophy.” URL:
http://warpweftandway.com/2013/01/25/weber-the-politics-of-confucian-political-philosoph/
Weber, Ralph. 2009. “On Wang Hui’s Re-Imagination of Asia and Europe.” Europa Regional,
17(4) : 221--228.
Xu, Jilin. 2011. “A Critique of the Current of Thought of Chinese Statism in the Past Decade.”
Reflexion 18. Taipei: Linking Publishing.
Xu, Jilin. 2004. “The Fate of An Englightenment: Twenty Years in the Chinese Intellectual
Sphere (1978-98).” In Chinese Intellectuals Between State and Market. Edited by Edward Gu
and Merle Goldman. London and New York: Routledge, 183-203.
Yun, Shan. 2011. “Cultural Awareness, Cultural Confidence, Cultural Strength An Approach for
Ensuring the Thriving Development of Socialist Culture with Chinese Characteristics.” Qishi
Journal, 3, 1. URL: http://english.qstheory.cn/leaders/201109/t20110924_112548.htm
... For an 'Occidentalist' defence of Beijing's violent exclusion and crackdown vis-a-vis western ethnic minorities, seeWang (2010). IpIam-chong (2015) criticizes Wang Hui and other new leftists in China for being complicit with the CCP's contemporary colonial policy by revitalizing presumed traditional Chinese imperial legacies. ...
Article
Full-text available
This article analyses competing discourses on a postmodern world order perpetuated by the United States and the People’s Republic of China (PRC), which are themselves built on their own pre-modern or early modern (inter)state models. Among several dimensions of the growing struggle between the two superpowers, this article focuses on their contestation of global norms or the standard of civilization regarding the question of world governance. What is unique in the contemporary competition between America and China is the fact that both countries aim to alter the fundamental organizing principle of modern world politics; they are against not only the balance of power system but also the imperial order, both of which originated from the modern European system. Indeed, Washington and Beijing strive to offer a third organizing principle beyond the conventional dyad in the modern discipline of international relations (IR) of anarchy and hierarchy. In terms of an analytic framework, this article explores the constitutive processes of self-identity formation in America and China against the European other (the Westphalian system and imperialism), thereby demonstrating the two states’ exceptionalist doctrines and their alternative visions for a postmodern world order.
Book
'Imagined Communities' examines the creation & function of the 'imagined communities' of nationality & the way these communities were in part created by the growth of the nation-state, the interaction between capitalism & printing & the birth of vernacular languages in early modern Europe.
Article
For roughly two decades now, WANG HUI has been a prominent voice within academic, cultural and political discourses in China, but increasingly also in Europe and the United States. WANG's still developing oeuvre might be understood as an attempt to 'provincialize Europe' (DIPESH CHAKRABARTY) from a political perspective and by drawing on historical and present-day China. In this article, the main focus is on one specifi c aspect in this attempt, namely WANG's view of Europe, and I shall investigate that aspect on the basis of an article by WANG on the concept of Asia: "The Politics of Imagining Asia" (2007). I fi rst discuss WANG's genealogical analysis of Asia as a “European concept” before attending to what he perceives as derivations of it in Asia itself. I then engage with WANG's proposal to go beyond the framework of nation-state/ empire, and argue that he fails to offer an attractive re-imagination of the concept of Asia. When fi nally turning to his view of Europe, I shall issue a criticism of some misplaced anti-Eurocentrism in his work on the conceptual level.Seit nunmehr fast zwei Jahrzehnten ist Wang HUI in den wissenschaftlichen, kulturellen und politischen Diskussionen in China, zunehmend aber auch in Europa und in den Vereinigten Staaten, eine prominente Stimme. Die von WANG entwickelte Vorstellung könnte als ein Versuch der "Provinzialisierung Europas" (Dipesh CHAKRABARTY) in politischer Hinsicht und in Bezug auf das historische und heutige China verstanden werden. Der Schwerpunkt dieses Artikels liegt auf einem spezifi schen Aspekt dieses Versuchs, und zwar auf WANGS Sichtweise von Europa. Diesen Aspekt untersucht der Autor auf der Grundlage eines Artikels von WANG über den Begriff Asien: "The Politics of Imagining Asia" (Die Politik der Imagination Asiens) (2007). Zunächst diskutiert der Autor WANGS genealogische Analyse Asiens als "Europäischen Begriff", bevor er auf Abweichungen von diesem Begriff in Asien selbst eingeht. Danach setzt sich der Autor mit WANGS Vorschlag auseinander, über den Rahmen des Nationalstaates/Reiches hinauszugehen, und weist darauf hin, dass WANG keine attraktive Re-Imagination des Begriffs von Asien anbietet. Wenn der Autor abschließend auf WANGS Sicht von Europa eingeht, kritisiert er einen gewissen deplazierten Anti-Eurozentrismus in dessen Arbeit auf begriffl icher Ebene.
Article
CHINESE COMMENTATORS HAVE been curiously absent from international discussions about the Sixties, despite the fact that the Cultural Revolution was so central to that tumultuous decade., This silence, I would argue, represents not merely a rejection of the radical thought and practice of the Cultural Revolution but a negation of China's whole 'revolutionary century'-the era stretching from the Republican Revolution in 1911 to around 1976. The century's prologue was the period running from the failure of the Hundred-Day Reform in 1898 to the 1911 Wuchang uprising; its epilogue was the decade from the late 1970s through to 1989. During this whole epoch the French and Russian Revolutions were central models for China, and orientations towards them defined the political divisions of the time. The New Culture movement of the May Fourth period championed the French Revolution, and its values of liberty, equality and fraternity; first-generation Communist Party members took the Russian Revolution as a model, criticizing the bourgeois character Of 1789. Following the crisis of socialism and the rise of reform in the 1980s, the aura of the Russian Revolution diminished and the ideals of the French Revolution reappeared. But with the final curtain-fall on China's revolutionary century, the radicalism of both the French and the Russian experiences had become a target of criticism. The Chinese rejection of the Sixties is thus not an isolated historical incident, but an organic component of a continuing and totalizing de-revolutionary process.
Article
It is not possible to fully understand contemporary politics between China and the Dalai Lama without understanding what happened-and why-during the 1950s. In a book that continues the story of Tibet's history that he began in his acclaimed A History of Modern Tibet, 1913-1951: The Demise of the Lamaist State, Melvyn C. Goldstein critically revises our understanding of that key period in midcentury. This authoritative account utilizes new archival material, including never before seen documents, and extensive interviews with Tibetans, including the Dalai Lama, and with Chinese officials. Goldstein furnishes fascinating and sometimes surprising portraits of these major players as he deftly unravels the fateful intertwining of Tibetan and Chinese politics against the backdrop of the Korean War, the tenuous Sino-Soviet alliance, and American cold war policy.