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The Power of Position

The Power of Position: Beijing University, Intellectuals, and Chinese Political Culture, 1898-1929

Timothy B. Weston
Copyright Date: 2004
Edition: 1
Pages: 338
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  • Book Info
    The Power of Position
    Book Description:

    Throughout the twentieth century, Beijing University (or Beida) has been at the center of China's greatest political and cultural upheavals-from the May Fourth Movement of 1919 to the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s to the tragic events in Tiananmen Square in 1989. Why this should be-how Beida's historical importance has come to transcend that of a mere institution of higher learning--is a question at the heart of this book. A study of intellectuals and political culture during the past century's tumultuous early decades,The Power of Positionis the first to focus on Beida, China's oldest and best-known national university. Timothy B. Weston portrays the university as a key locus used by intellectuals to increase their influence in society. Weston analyzes the links between intellectuals' political and cultural commitments and their specific manner of living. He also compares Beijing's intellectual culture with that of the rising metropolis of Shanghai. What emerges is a remarkably nuanced and complex picture of life at China's leading university, especially in the decades leading up to the May Fourth Movement.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92990-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. INTRODUCTION: Locating Beijing University in History
    (pp. 1-11)

    On May 4, 1998, Beijing University commemorated the one hundredth anniversary of its founding.¹ Celebrations to mark such occasions are common enough, but this one, attended by some fifty thousand people, was a veritable extravaganza that made it abundantly clear that Beijing University occupies a particularly distinguished place in modern Chinese history. The national media covered the celebration closely, and dozens of new books about the university were rushed into print.² The Post and Telecommunication Ministry issued a set of commemorative Beida stamps in honor of the event, and during the celebration a celestial body was officially christened the “Beijing...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Schools, Politics, and Reform in the Nineteenth Century
    (pp. 12-39)

    Thinking about Beijing University in the context of Chinese political culture challenges us to understand an institution that has always resided on the shifting border between China’s official and unofficial realms. From the time of its founding in 1898, the university has been neither wholly of the “state” nor wholly of “society.” Instead, its porous boundaries have permitted flow back and forth between those two realms; it has been a place where state and society have come together to negotiate their relationship to one another. The university’s role as a meeting ground begins to explain why so many important political...

  6. CHAPTER 2 The Imperial University and Late-Qing Beijing
    (pp. 40-77)

    During the optimistic height of the “Hundred Days’ Reform” the Jingshi daxuetang symbolized the possibility of intellectual and political transformation led by the center, but after 1900 its placement in a capital now widely held to be hopelessly corrupt and behind the times diminished its ability to attract creative and ambitious men. For many, the sense that the political center could effectively lead China out of its complex difficulties was lost, and the capital itself now came to be seen as the problem. Frederic Wakeman discusses this as the moment when the reformers’ “capital-fixation” gave way to a “new concern...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Instability and Redefinition in the Wake of the 1911 Revolution
    (pp. 78-113)

    The collapse of the Qing dynasty in the fall of 1911 might reasonably have been expected to lead to the demise of the Jingshi daxuetang, given how closely the university was linked to the old regime. When the Xuantong emperor abdicated the throne on February 12, 1912, much of the Jingshi daxuetang’s raison d’êre was lost. There was no longer an imperial state for its graduates to serve, and the applicability of the particular blend of Western and Chinese learning that characterized the university’s curriculum under the monarchy was thrown into doubt by the victory of the republican ideal. Nevertheless,...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Between the Old Culture and the New
    (pp. 114-146)

    Most of the radical ideas that captured the imagination of China’s progressive intellectuals during the New Culture Movement began to crystallize after the catastrophic Second Revolution among a loose network of thinkers and political activists, most of whom were outside China. But it was not until the late 1910s that those ideas formed the core of a potent domestic socialmovement. Such movements do not arise inevitably, as a result of the sheer force of the ideas they embody. Rather, they come into being when a variety of forces—institutional, intellectual, social, cultural, and political—enable leaders and supporters to...

  9. CHAPTER 5 The Insistent Pull of Politics
    (pp. 147-181)

    The tension between the vision of the university as a cloistered sanctuary dedicated to academic research and self-cultivation on the one hand, and as a burgeoning center of political and cultural activism on the other, continued to mount in 1918 and 1919. Cai Yuanpei clearly believed that fundamental cultural and social reform was a long-term process built on a foundation of new and reordered knowledge, but he also believed that intellectuals were the rightful leaders of the nation in a broader, moral sense. This latter, highly Confucian assumption led him to pursue an educational culture that encouraged members of the...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Tensions within the May Fourth Movement
    (pp. 182-214)

    Beijing University was never the same after 1919. The trappings of the Jingshi daxuetang that still existed in residual form at the end of the Yuan Shikai era appeared to have evaporated overnight: the Imperial University was gone and “Beida” had arrived—a new force on the national landscape destined to play a central role in Chinese political and cultural life into the foreseeable future. The students at the nation’s highest school had “awakened” the Chinese people with their courageous display of nationalism, thereby etching a sharp dividing line beyond which a new period of “modern” consciousness was at hand....

  11. CHAPTER 7 National University under Siege
    (pp. 215-249)

    The May Fourth Movement left Beijing University with two overlapping legacies as it headed into the 1920s, one intellectual and cultural, the other political. The fundamental importance to politics of the cultural realm and the political nature of cultural issues had become abundantly clear during those heady days. But the blending of politics and culture raised the possibility that in time the former might overwhelm the latter. If this happened, the university could well be prevented from developing into a space where ideas could be pursued in a calm, deliberative fashion, removed from the glare of the media and the...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 250-254)

    The early history of Beijing University illuminates the struggle by intellectuals to reposition themselves after the collapse of the late-imperial Confucian order for the purpose of maintaining their elite social status and guiding China along the path to modernity. That effort began at the national university well before the May Fourth Movement, and it reflected the enduring hold on Chinese intellectuals of an elitist worldview which held that intellectuals were the appropriate leaders of society. By situating May Fourth in the context of the broader early history of Beijing University, I have sought to illustrate the extent to which that...

  13. Abbreviations Used in Notes
    (pp. 255-256)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 257-292)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 293-312)
  16. Index
    (pp. 313-325)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 326-326)