The Politics of the Universal--A Chinese Problematic in International Perspectives

Fri March 6th 2009, 12:00pm
Event Sponsor
Center for East Asian Studies and DLCL.
Okimoto Conference Room, Encina Hall East, 3rd Floor
Admission Information
Open to the public.
The Politics of the Universal--A Chinese Problematic in International Perspectives
Speaker: Xudong Zhang, Professor of Comparative Literature; Professor of East Asian Studies, New York University Since Joseph Levenson's "Confucian China and Its Modern Fate", modern China's pursuit of "wealth and power" (fuqiang) has been understood in mainstream scholarship and media in nationalistic terms as a necessary transition from universalism (tianxia) to particularism (the nation-state). As the rise of China's economy and prestige continues in the post-Cold War era, however, a more complex cultural, ideological, and moral mode of thinking is taking shape, both inside and outside China, to revise the linear and particularistic notions of modern Chinese self-positioning, self-understanding, and self-identity. The paper argues that this complex transformation can be better accommodated theoretically if viewed under the philosophical framework of the dialectic of the universal. As it is laid out in Hegel's speculative philosophy, the universal, instead of being the sum-total or commonplace of all historical experiences or the overarching, standard-bearing "truth", is, rather, an open-ended process of self-negation and objectification which allows various individualities--be that a person or a sociocultural tradition--fully to realize its (as-yet particular) potentials. The universal, in other words, is a concept that transcends rather than fetishize the particular, but in a way that makes the particular forge and internalize a productive relationship to its outside. From this premise, the paper seeks to rethink the philosophical implications of the historical experiences of Chinese revolution, socialism, and post-socialist reforms in light of their universal aspirations and values ingrained in those very same historical experiences' limitations, particularities, and singularities.
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