This book uncovers the history of intellectual and social activism in China through the development of late 19th and early 20th century study societies against the context of the decline of the Qing government, widespread social unrest, and the encroachment of Western imperialism. The study societies in Beijing, Hunan, Shanghai and elsewhere were organized around the goal of defending and reinventing Chinese civilization in reaction to the cultural and political hegemony of the modern nation-state.
“This work is an original and convincing piece of research. It offers a new lens through which we can examine the fundamental shifts of the late Qing period. Focusing on a new institution—study societies, Professor Chen reinterprets it to explain the process that lay at the foundation of modern Chinese state-making under conditions of military defeat and imperialist threat. He gives us an innovative and challenging approach to historical sociology with a culturalist bent and a fair amount of intellectual history, highlighting not just ideas and not just organizations but a lived process through which Confucianism was reinterpreted and the foundations of new statebuilding imagined.”
—Peter Zarrow, University of Connecticut
“Navigating from Nobert Elias to Charles Taylor, from Kang Youwei to Mao Zedong, Chen Hon Fai’s Civilizing the Chinese, Competing with the West is a dexterous combination of powerful social theories and deep reading of historical materials. It delineates how late imperial Chinese intellectuals transformed the Confucianist traditions of civility and association to confront the challenges of modernity, setting the course of reform and revolution in twentieth-century China. This is an exemplary work of historical sociology that sheds new light on China’s transition from empire to nation and on indigenous modernities outside Europe.”
—Ho-fung Hung, Johns Hopkins University
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