Each of these periods is now thought of in the abstract as shidai, a word now reserved for marking the idea of an era or historical epoch. Rendered as fada or fazhan, the term first appears around the turn of the twentieth century in journalistic writings by nationalist reformers such as Liang Qichao, as well as in serialized late Qing fiction. What is interesting about the use of this third term, in fact, is how its usage pointed to precisely the tension between modernity as a colonial imposition in which China was the direct object and development as a transitive process in which Chinese intellectuals retained a measure of subjectivity.
By the late Qing, wenming came to serve as an emblem of all that was advanced, standing as a synecdoche for the power and prestige of the West, and marking the geographical and historical rupture between here and there, old and new. It signified, for all intents and purposes, the modern, insofar as that modernity was inescapably inscribed within a colonial relation to the West. It was, in this sense, a deictic term, one that pointed not only to a thing in itself, but to the relation between self and other. Its frequent use as a modifier reveals this relational quality.
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Indeed, it was precisely their acknowledgment of the universality of Western models—which they felt China had not yet or only incompletely attained—that ultimately made the word wenming appear hopelessly parochial and outdated. The difference between the two terms— and thus the rationale for the triumph of xiandai by the late s—is subtle but significant. Wenming, understood as the inescapable reality of a new world order, necessitated development; xiandai came to be understood as the yet-to-be or only incompletely attained culmination of that process. Bao-yu is forcibly evicted from the settled aristocratic precincts of the Prospect Garden Daguanyuan in which the original text is set, and gamely embarks on a crash course in modern society and technology against the unsettling backdrop of the International Settlement of Shanghai.
This autodidactic process of civilization, however, ultimately runs up against the constraints of colonial violence and local corruption, and Bao-yu, in his capacity as an aspiring nationalist reformer, comes to a devastating realization of his own helplessness in the face of history—an awakening that reflects as if in a cracked mirror the allegory of Buddhist enlightenment of the source text. As such, wenming also came to be associated with an intentional process of development—a historical movement from savagery to civilization, youth to maturity, and poverty to wealth.
Development, on the other hand, was understood as a means of managing the consequences of modernity, one that necessarily invoked wenming as a pedagogical process. In translating T. For Yan Fu, colonization—and even the extermination of native peoples—is understood as the playing out of the logic of nature itself, and justified by way of examples from the animal and botanical worlds. It is entirely inevitable that those states which are fit should struggle among themselves for predominance. Yet this project involved a number of difficult contradictions between word and deed, necessity and agency, developer and developed.
If development was inexorable, why did it need to be kick-started in the first place? Who would do the kicking and who the starting?
Cowen and R. This formulation, of course, inevitably raises the question of who serves as the subject, and who the object, in the syntax of historical process. Those who took themselves to be developed could act to determine the process of development for those who were deemed to be less-developed.
The burden of this historical mission, as is well known, was one that reformers and revolutionaries like Liang Qichao and Lu Xun arrogated to themselves as the enlightened trustees of a national community. As Marston Anderson has shown, the volatile tensions occasioned by this particular form of trusteeship are deeply inscribed within modern Chinese literary realist writing, in the form of an uneasy contest between the narrator and the narrated, the literate and the illiterate, the outspoken revolutionary and the voiceless masses who are the object of his ethical and political concern.
Through a series of close readings of texts dating from the late Qing onward, I suggest that this contest between trustees and their nominal beneficiaries, state and subjects, liberators and those they would liberate, educators and those they would educate, is endemic to narratives of national development in modern China. Here, however, Lu Xun pushes his parable to an even crueler conclusion, not only denying the possibility of historical development but laying bare the bankruptcy of those to whom the future has been entrusted.
I like watching magic shows. These shows roam all across the country, so the tricks are the same wherever they go. They need just two things to collect their money: a black bear and a child. The black bear is kept hungry to the point of emaciation, so that he seems almost to lack the energy to move. No one in China talks about where these bears come from. According to a study done by some Westerners, they are captured in the mountains when they are still small. Later they die of mistreatment and abuse.
I imagine that what the study says is perfectly true. Six, five, four more, and three. Naturally, the child has also been trained, and the pain is feigned, just a plot cooked up in collusion with the grown-ups, and anyway, it never hurts to earn some more money.
They bang a gong to get the show started in the afternoon, and continue until the evening. At the end of each show, I think to myself as I walk away: there are two kinds of moneymakers.
Developmental fairy tales: evolutionary thinking and modern Chinese culture
One kind is abused to death until another is found as a replacement. The other kind will grow up to acquire a little child and a bear cub, and go on performing the same old tricks. Yet I go on watching these shows. What else would you have me look at, dear readers? In academic journals and popular media alike, the figure of the child became a ubiquitous emblem of the nation and its developmental hopes. Their motives were complex and multifaceted.
For Zhou Zuoren, steeped in the recapitulationist rhetoric of late Victorian and Edwardian natural history, the child became a flashpoint in a larger effort to make a clean epistemological break with the Chinese past. The traditional child, he argued, had been seen and not heard as a miniature grown-up, rather than an autonomous individual whose trajectory along a developmental path from infancy to maturity modeled the evolutionary progress of civilization itself.
This proliferation of animal imagery was inextricably tied to developmentalist thinking, for it provided a new picture of the natural world in which children might see themselves as trustees of a taxonomized natural order rendered intelligible and tractable by scientific reason. In Chapter 3 I analyze the recursive structure of the former and in the narrative of modern Chinese literary development, foundational text as an immanent critique of the developmentalist faith that the child might serve as a slate upon which a new and better history might be inscribed.
The allegorical thrust of the latter piece deliberately disturbs the taxonomic schema of a biological world picture in ways that run directly counter to the official culture of the era. The real secret he discloses, of course, is how much—as he stands on two legs to beg for his bread—he resembles a man. The child with whom he is paired is perhaps not as disposable as the bear, for in his secret complicity with the taskmasters who exploit his make-believe pain, he resembles less a trained circus animal than an adult, destined to perpetuate the exploitative spectacle by which he himself has been enslaved.
Lu Xun is not content to merely to make a travesty of evolutionary faith, but also implicates his own writing as well as his readership in this ongoing cycle of exploitation. His narrator cannot help but watch such shows again and again, despite full knowledge of their inevitable tedium. As I explore in Chapter 4, the commodification of the child was central to that culture and its politics.
The new theories of child development championed by May Fourth intellectuals not only resulted in a textbook publishing boom but also stimulated the consumption of new toys and tonics, marketed, like Momilk, as patriotic products. This consumer culture positioned parents and especially mothers , educators, and the state itself as investors in children and trustees of the better tomorrow they had come to represent.
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Yet this seemingly triumphal narrative of local economic development, in which local handicrafts must inevitably yield to industrial manufacture, is countered by a dialectical movement in which the price of producing domestic goods be they toys or children is not only alienation in the classical Marxian sense but also the remorseless dispossession of its heroine of her livelihood, her children, and her senses. What is ultimately so bleak about these visions, of course, is that in pointing out the inconsistency at the center of developmentalist faith, they also posit history as a narrow cage from which there is no possibility of egress.
Inheritance is revealed as not only a biological question, but also a social and cultural matter, as a means for the powerful to prey on the powerless and the dispossessed. Instead of certainty, he gives us only the text, in whose very form is suggested another answer to the question of inheritance.
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It is in this show of sympathetic magic, perhaps, that Lu Xun finds some measure of historical redemption. Of course, we can only welcome the demise of the politics of unfettered capitalist oligarchy, scientific racism, and imperial expansion with which the monism of figures such as Herbert Spencer and Ernst Haeckel has been associated, if often in a grossly simplified manner.
And while the role and ramifications of social Darwinism in the intellectual and cultural history of the metropolitan West have been studied extensively, the world-historical dimension of the colonial diffusion of evolutionary theory in the late nineteenth and earlier twentieth centuries has been neglected. At a fundamental level, evolutionary thinking involves understanding and narrating the social and cultural realms in terms derived from evolutionary biology.
For anyone who has even a passing familiarity with the political and intellectual history of East Asia, it should be equally clear that the sense of participation in a national body what is rendered quite literally in Japanese as kokutai was produced in part by the ubiquity of evolutionary discourse in the print culture of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Perhaps inevitably, then, the application of evolutionary theory to questions of social, cultural, and geopolitical import resulted in an intense and productive anxiety about their own historical agency as intellectuals entrusted with the task of building a modern nation.
This dilemma is revealed in its most paradigmatic and pathological form in novels that attempt to imagine a future beyond the depredations of colonial modernity. Wu Jianren was one of the major figures associated with the emergence of a new print culture in Shanghai in the decade before the collapse of the Qing dynasty in His work, produced in response to the exigencies of an emergent capitalist book market, was also animated by the political passions of his career as an activist and orator in a number of patriotic and anti-imperialist causes.
His utter disillusionment with the venality and chaos of the world as it is, however, eventually drives him into the world as it should be: a futuristic Confucian state called the Realm of Civilization Wenming jingjie , in which the colonial world order has been overturned and developmental processes have triumphantly reordered not only the human but also the natural world.