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, 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.
This is an interesting and original study of an important topic—contemporary Chinese critical discourse in its various forms, and what this discourse reveals about Chinese culture, society, and politics in post-Mao China. I know of no other book-length study of the era that is so systematically attentive to the critical discourses that have mushroomed in this period and to the evolution of Chinese intellectual consciousness as shaped and reflected in these discourses. Worrying about China will be a crucial source of information and insight for anyone who is interested in coming to grips with the enormously complex discourses that have helped shape post-Mao Chinese intellectual culture and consciousness.
In Worrying about China, Gloria Davies not only shows us how China understands and misunderstands Derrida, Lyotard, Rorty, and other postmodern thinkers, but also lets us glimpse how China understands and misunderstands both the West and itself. The book is an eye-opener for students of postmodernity as well as for students of Chinese culture.
In this cogent and far-reaching work, Gloria Davies manages at once to provide a comprehensive account of the contemporary Chinese intellectual scene and frame it in the context of the ways in which similar issues are dealt with in the West. Davies zeroes in on the moral burden and sense of personal responsibility Chinese thinkers feel toward theoretical concepts, always sensitive to the dilemmas these thinkers feel in grappling with the new ideas embedded in new and globalized discourses.
Worrying about China is a must-read for anyone venturing into the complex and fascinating debates of Chinese critical inquiry. Gloria Davies expertly excavates the web of contemporary writing on culture and politics, tracing its historical roots and identifying the moral imperative of critical intellectuals, who work within a spiritual conception of history in which patriotic worrying is a mandate. Davies's research not only illuminates Chinese intellectual society, but also brings forward the conventions of knowledge that inform our own critical practice. A masterly achievement.
Davies persuasively argues that by writing in the idiolects of Derrida, Lacan, Habermas, and Jameson (or Rorty, Hayek, Popper), Chinese higher social and humanistic criticism replaces those theorists' skepticism and pluralism with 'magisterial,' even Confucian, epistemological and moralistic certainty—variously to strengthen China's authoritarian state, recuperate China's ancient transnational cultural imperium, or integrate China into 'liberal' global capitalism.
This is an intriguing study that tries to capture the intellectual anxiety of an entire generation of scholars struggling on the ruins of the Maoist revolution. Gloria Davies argues that Chinese intellectuals' interaction with political authority and their engagement with each other produce a polarity of discourses concerning China's modern fate… This is a good book for those who wish to know 'the language of self' in contemporary China, and is perhaps one of the few works that tries to grasp, in its discursive forms, 'the mind' of today's China.
This is a book that has taken years to write and it will repay readers who approach it with due seriousness, thought, and time. Each sentence is carefully wrought and the whole demands the attention of any who would understand the ways that meaning is generated in China today.
- 324 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
From this author
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