Worrying about China: The Language of Chinese Critical Inquiry
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What can we do about China? This question, couched in pessimism, is often raised in the West but it is nothing new to the Chinese, who have long worried about themselves. In the last two decades since the “opening” of China, Chinese intellectuals have been carrying on in their own ancient tradition of “patriotic worrying.” As an intellectual mandate, “worrying about China” carries with it the moral obligation of identifying and solving perceived “Chinese problems”―social, political, cultural, historical, or economic―in order to achieve national perfection. In Worrying about China, Gloria Davies pursues this inquiry through a wide range of contemporary topics, including the changing fortunes of radicalism, the peculiarities of Chinese postmodernism, shifts within official discourse, attempts to revive Confucianism for present-day China, and the historically problematic engagement of Chinese intellectuals with Western ideas. Davies explores the way perfectionism permeates and ultimately propels Chinese intellectual talk to the point that the drive for perfection has created a moralism that condemns those who do not contribute to improving China. Inside the heart of the New China persists ancient moralistic attitudes that remain decidedly nonmodern. And inside the postmodernism of thousands of Chinese scholars and intellectuals dwells a decidedly anti-postmodern quest for absolute certainty.
sense of luxury to elicit instead a feeling of a battle-scarred and volatile terrain that in the sum total of its scope, reach, and consequence is a discourse that is ignored only at one’s peril (as China’s state censors are well aware). This precise point can be illustrated through a comparison of two scenarios of academic judgment. In discussing the circumstances in which he received a failed grade for his agrégation paper on Husserl in 1955, Jacques Derrida recalled that he had earlier showed
necessarily internally divided and equivocal (that in welcoming some will invariably exclude others, that the welcoming itself is grounded in a suspicion). In this way, Derrida problematizes the notion of hospitality as involving a necessary and “nondialecticizable” antimony between unconditional inclusion and limited inclusion (which entails limited exclusion). Derrida forces us to engage with the radical indeterminacy inherent in hospitality, that is through his deconstruction of “hospitality”
According to He, attentiveness to this fundamental difference in the development of Western and Chinese scripts should alert present-day Chinese intellectuals to the necessity of considering, from a Sinocentered perspective, Chinese political thought in its historical entirety. As he puts it, “ ‘Democracy’ is an empty word while ‘acting on behalf of the people’ [wei min] is real.” He argues that the tradition of Chinese political thought has produced many terms such as “pacifying the people” (an
ideas are generally stated in an esoteric manner that demands careful and rigorous interpretation constitutive of “reading between the lines,”81 the Internet essayist Wu Guanjun has commented that Liu’s displacement of truth from the status of something evident or manifest (xianzai) to something hidden 144 • Worrying about China (yinzai) remains caught in the very predicament from which Liu seeks to escape. Wu argues (in an idiom that draws from both Foucault and Slavoj Zˇizˇ ek) that in
false laws of “totalitarian ideology” he has disavowed. Shan’s essay illustrates the range of positive words and phrases commonly featured in Sinophone critical writings that advocate pluralism and democracy in an abstract theoretical register. In this regard, his reading of Gu Zhun is fairly representative of how Gu is now celebrated as the indigenous exemplar of a scientific and liberal outlook on life.40 Moreover, we should note that by distinguishing the good philosophical Hegel, who