by Professor Wang Xiaoming
Wang Xiaoming was born in June 1955, Shanghai. He is a Professor and Dean of the Department of Cultural Studies at Shanghai University and the Director of the Center for Contemporary Chinese Culture Studies. He is also the Zijiang Chair Professor of Department of Chinese Studies at East China Normal University and Chairman of the Committee of the Chinese Modern Literature Information and Research Center. His research interests focus on contemporary China literature/thought, and also contemporary cultural studies.
The seminar entitled “Nationalism Culture” presented by Professor Wang Xiaoming focusing on China during the 19th century. A strong nation with the highest position of total economic volume at that time and made up of four billion numbers of populations, starting to face various crises that extends from internal bureaucracy, corruption and external imperialism invasion.
China at that time never experienced such situation and eventually, these crises had lead China to be separated by various imperialist forces, which contribute to pessimistic social mood thus provoke the intellectual circles to seek solutions out of the woes.
Professor Wang Xiaoming describes the emergence of contemporary thought at that time as revolutionary attempts and means in creating a new China. With the outlook of a new world, it sparks different thoughts and problematizations. In here, emerges three different schools of thought which attempt to answer the complex question of “How do we treat the West”?
In 1870, Wang T’ao ( 王韜 ), a prolific thinker of his time and also the first person in China to publish the modern newspaper. His critique of the Western culture, where it is being perceived to be heavily focused on competition and expansion; although these means can strengthen the nation, it will ultimately lead to world scale war between nations and conflicts in the Eastern part of the world.
Yan Fu（嚴復） is a scholar who studies in England during the end of the 19th century. He has actively engaged in a prolific translation works and also the first President of Beijing University. He attempts to compare the Eastern and Western countries from the perspective of its culture. In here, he has develops an ambiguous view of the State where it is hard to determine the nature of a ‘good’ State. This has been contributed to the Western countries formation which rely heavily on the human agency and allow unlimited human expansions process which will create an imbalance with the natural world. On the other side, although Eastern culture has stressed the importance of natural relationship and tends to make a decision that can be characterized as profound and lasting, but paradoxically, this habit contribute to the weakening and uncompetitiveness of China as a country. Although he advocates learning from the Western culture and technology in order for China to survive, but he is equally perplexed of whatl China will be after that.
Yang Duo （楊度） also shares his thought regarding this complex time. He started by describing that the 19th century world is ‘ a barbaric world ruled by the civilized nation’. The statements propagates the meaning that internally the civilized nation; which he refers to as the Western nations such as England, France and American treat their citizens with rights and liberty, but externally through the logic of competition and expansion, where he conceptualises it as two phenomena from the two-side of a coin. He emphasizes that Westernization is merely a first step where there is a need of something novel in order to supplant the barbaric side of the civilized nations.
By explaining this background, Professor Wang Xiaoming highlights the importance of the intellectual circle in their attempt to change the China society at that particular period. Although there are different schools and methods, they have gathered a small number of intellectuals that develops such consciousness and depend on these groups to change the population. The goal is to build a new China and overtly emphasizing on conceptualising political movements, which directly linked to the Communist’s movements at that time in serving the revolution.
In here, he also discusses the famous author, Lu Xun （魯迅）. In his youth, Lu Xun is highly optimistic of China future, only to become more pessimistic and complex when he is getting older. Prominently known as an author, Professor Wang Xiaoming also highlights Lu Xun’s ability to offer critical thinking where he emphasizes and problematize several phenomena of his period, the first one is the relationship between the enlightener and enlightened and secondly, the person’s will to continue fighting on even when it is all dark and utterly pessimistic condition.
Professor Wang Xiaoming also provides us with new ways to interpret Lu Xun’s famous works entitled Madman’s Diary and The True Story of Ah Q. In Madman’s Diary, Professor Wang Xiaoming said that we need to dissects three themes. Firstly, the relationship between the protagonist in the novel and the cannibalism environment he is in. Secondly, the protagonist relationship toward the children; specifically when the protagonist said he saved the children at the end of the novel, but in the middle of the novel, he was very frightened by the evil glare of a children. Finally, we need to interrogate the novel’s introduction, where Lu Xun wrote that the protagonist was finally being cured and being a bureaucrat which directly bores the meaning the he lives in the cannibalistic environment that he loathes.
In “The True Story of Ah Q”, Professor Wang Xiaoming did mentioned about the misinterpretation of the novel where the protagonist is seen to be winning in its spiritual sense, but there are certain elements in the novel that needs to be further questioned. For examples, how does the main protagonist becomes a revolutionary. In here, the environments of the main protagonist concerning his economic and cultural position needs to be put into perspective. Secondly, how does the protagonist acquires his knowledge structure and its production? It is worth to observe the relationship between the mainstream and alternative thought that he is developing.