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Provincial Patriots

Provincial Patriots

The Hunanese and Modern China

Stephen R. Platt

ISBN 9780674026650

Publication date: 10/31/2007

From the Taiping Rebellion in the mid-nineteenth century to the Chinese Communist movement in the twentieth, no province in China gave rise to as many reformers, military officers, and revolutionaries as did Hunan. Stephen Platt offers the first comprehensive study of why Hunan wielded such disproportionate influence.

Covering a span of eight decades, this book portrays three generations of Hunanese scholar-activists who held their provincial loyalties above their allegiances to a questionable Chinese empire. The renaissance of Hunan centered around the revival of Wang Fuzhi, a local hermit scholar from the seventeenth century whose iconoclastic writings were deemed a remarkable match for "Western" ideas of progress, humanism, and nationalism. Advocates of reform and revolution thus framed their projects as the continuance of a local tradition--the natural destiny of the Hunanese people--creating a tradition of reform and nationalism that culminated in the 1920s with a Hunanese independence movement led by the young Mao Zedong.

By putting provincial Hunan at the center of this narrative, Platt uncovers an unexpected and surprising story of modern China that sheds light on the current resurgence of regionalism in the country.


  • For over a century, Hunan occupied a special place in Chinese history, as a suppressor of rebellion, a source of prominent provincial officials in the post-Taiping era, a leading center of late Qing reform, a major contributor to the 1911 revolution, and a supplier of top leaders in the China of Mao. In this rich intellectual history, Stephen Platt, for the first time, ties these disparate contributions together in a coherent narrative, paying special attention to the shaping role of the Hunanese thinker Wang Fuzhi. Engagingly written, Provincial Patriots presents Hunan not as a case study of modern Chinese history but as a challenge to the standard narrative of this history.

    —Paul A. Cohen, Harvard University


  • Stephen R. Platt is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Book Details

  • 286 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press