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Perfect Worlds

Perfect Worlds: Utopian Fiction in China and the West

Douwe Fokkema
Copyright Date: 2011
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  • Book Info
    Perfect Worlds
    Book Description:

    Perfect Worlds offers an extensive historical analysis of utopian narratives in the Chinese and Euro-American traditions. This comparative study discusses, among other things, More's criticism of Plato, the European orientalist search for utopia in China, Wells's Modern Utopia and his talk with Stalin, Chinese writers constructing their Confucianist utopia, traces of Daoism in Mao Zedong's utopianism and politics and finally the rise of dystopian writing - a negative expression of the utopian impulse - in Europe and America as well as in China. This title is available in the OAPEN Library -

    eISBN: 978-90-485-1486-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Preface
    (pp. 5-8)
    Douwe Fokkema
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. 9-10)
  4. Table of Contents
    (pp. 11-14)
  5. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 15-30)

    Among humankind no urge seems stronger than the desire for a better world. From Thomas More’sUtopiaor even earlier, from Plato’sRepublic, from the chiliastic dreams of Christianity, or Confucius’ concept of a harmonious society, to the recent fictional representation of a world of cloned humans by Michel Houellebecq, human beings have been thinking of alternatives to their present life with its misery, want, and worries. There is no reason for assuming that the representation of such imagined worlds will ever come to a halt.

    The combination of desire and imagination has pushed the shape of these other worlds...

  6. 2 The Utopia of Thomas More
    (pp. 31-48)

    More’sUtopia(1516) set an example for later writers who criticized the social conventions of their times by designing an ideal society. For the remarkable thing of More’s fiction is that it combined an abstract discussion of a utopian society with hardly veiled political criticism of autocratic rulers, such as the English and French kings in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. The independent opinions expressed by More in his various functions – as a member of parliament, a privy councillor to Henry VIII, and lord chancellor of England – were bound to bring him into conflict with the king. When...

  7. 3 From Rational Eutopia to Grotesque Dystopia
    (pp. 49-82)

    In comparison with More’sUtopia, Campanella’s description of a perfect society known in English asThe City of the Sunappears to be both one step back and one step forward. Campanella’s utopia manifests regression in that it has a millenarian inspiration and shows the realization of biblical prophecies in a theocratic society. Thomas More, however, in hisUtopia– though not as lord chancellor – argued for toleration of different beliefs and, in principle, expounded the idea of a separation of church and state. On the other hand, Campanella is more modern than More in his firm defense of unrestrained scientific...

  8. 4 Interlude: The Island Syndrome from Atlantis to Lanzarote and Penglai
    (pp. 83-94)

    Until the eighteenth century most European stories about utopian societies were situated on an island. Undoubtedly that convention was partly motivated by the discovery, since the days of Columbus and Vespucci, of faraway territories. Often, the land where seafarers anchored after voyages of many months was an island, with a mild or tropical climate, lush vegetation, and rich wildlife. The natural setting appeared idyllic, and if the inhabitants were not openly hostile their different way of life could arouse the utopian imagination and would stimulate the projection of an ideal state without religious conflict, political corruption, economic hardship, or oppressive...

  9. 5 Enlightenment Utopias
    (pp. 95-134)

    The Enlightenment took varied forms and proceeded at different paces across Europe, but there is one characteristic that can be recognized in the variegated manifestations of Enlightenment thought: the emancipation from authoritative conceptions of religion, government, and philosophy as they appeared to be incapable of withstanding rational criticism and individual empirical observation. Through the course of the eighteenth century people attached greater and greater value to individual judgment.

    Not everyone shared in this development, which, for a long time, remained restricted to an elite of writers and philosophers, but by the end of the century the critique of divine revelation,...

  10. 6 Orientalism: European Writers Searching for Utopia in China
    (pp. 135-164)

    If we are to believe the Enlightenment philosophers, Confucian China compared favorably to the European nations, which were divided by religious discord and political conflict. Therefore it could serve as the location of an alluring utopia, which because of its inaccessibility remained very much a product of the imagination. If I call this utopian interest in China a mode of Orientalism, I use the term in a neutral sense, differently from Edward Said (1978) whose references to Orientalism nearly always imply a pejorative judgment. (The use of the term Orientalism is more elaborately discussed in chapter 12.) The image of...

  11. 7 Chinese Philosophers and Writers Constructing Their Own Utopias
    (pp. 165-194)

    Since the desire for a better world is an anthropological constant, it is not surprising that Chinese writers in one way or another have also conceived utopian communities. The form of their narratives follows more or less logically from their intention to construct a world different from the one they are living in, but the results of these attempts are impregnated by Chinese geographical conditions and cultural preoccupations. Chinese writers of utopian fiction posit a secluded world that is difficult to access and hence protected against outside influences: situated in a mountainous region, faraway borderlands, or overseas. It is projected...

  12. 8 Small-Scale Socialist Experiments, or “The New Jerusalem in Duodecimo”
    (pp. 195-210)

    At the time when Li Ruzhen wrote hisFlowers in the Mirror, Europe was gradually recovering from the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars. The first decades of the nineteenth century were marked by a period of cultural crisis, with the utopian imagination trying to find a solution for the urgent social problems which the French Revolution had brought to the surface but had failed to solve. European intellectuals and politicians were torn between rationalism and romanticism, agnosticism and religion, reactionary forces and imminent revolution. They were challenged to choose between, on the one hand, the rationalist legacy of Condorcet...

  13. 9 Chernyshevsky’s What Is to Be Done? and Dostoevsky’s Dystopian Foresight
    (pp. 211-232)

    Dostoevsky had a clear idea of the philosophical background of utopian socialism and predicted its political consequences inDevils(Besy, 1871-72), also translated asThe Possessed. The novel is based on his knowledge of Saint-Simon, Fourier, and Cabet, as well as Russian materialist philosophers such as Chernyshevsky and Pisarev; and, in particular, on documentation about the radical activities of Sergei Nechayev. In Dostoevsky’s fictional reconstruction of the political debate of the 1860s, one of the main characters, the conservative Stepan Trofimovich Verkhovensky, tries to understand his radical son Peter by reading Chernyshevsky’sWhat Is to Be Done?(Chto delat’?, 1863)....

  14. 10 When Socialist Utopianism Meets Politics …
    (pp. 233-254)

    In the course of the nineteenth century we witness a flourishing of utopian fiction, not only on the European continent but also in the United Kingdom and North America. It took some time before the horrors of the French Revolution – itself partly motivated by utopian thinking – had receded into the background. Then, half-way through the century,The Communist Manifesto(1848) and Darwin’sOn the Origin of Species(1859) offered a worldview with an apparently scientific basis, which aroused hopes and raised the expectation that one day the utopian dream might come true. Intellectuals like Chernyshevsky believed that humankind could evolve...

  15. 11 Bellamy’s Solidarity and Its Feminist Mirror Image in Herland
    (pp. 255-270)

    The American Civil War (1861-1865) marks a break between a period of practical experiences with small agricultural cooperatives, such as Brook Farm in West Roxbury, Massachusetts, which was based on transcendentalist ideals, and an era characterized by a more politically motivated search for happiness on a national scale. The small-scale communitarian experiments in the United States, inspired by Emersonian transcendentalism, socialist utopianism, or religious millenarianism, met with adversity; most were soon dissolved. For instance, Brook Farm existed only from 1841 to 1847, and the Icarian community in Nauvoo, Illinois, which was founded by Étienne Cabet in 1849, lasted no more...

  16. 12 Chinese Occidentalism: The Nostalgia for a Utopian Past Gives Way to the Idea of Progress
    (pp. 271-288)

    The term “Occidentalism” refers to a body of usually simplified and often biased views about Western culture. These mental constructions, carrying either positive or negative connotations, may become ideological instruments in polemics and politics (Carrier 1995). A nineteenth-century coinage, the term was introduced into critical discourse about China by Chen Xiaomei (1992), who in herOccidentalism(1995) mainly focused on anti-official Occidentalism in post-Mao China, a kind of counterdiscourse that purveyed a positive image of a scientific and modern West contradicting Maoist orthodoxy. Not being aware of Chen’s pioneering work, Buruma and Margalit use the term Occidentalism in a more...

  17. 13 H. G. Wells and the Modern Utopia
    (pp. 289-300)

    As a prolific writer and prophet of optimism and progress, Herbert George Wells (1866-1946) played a crucial role in the history of utopian fiction. After a few stories which expressed his endeavor to wake up humanity and draw attention to the dangers ahead of us, including the disaster of increasing class conflict and the astronomical catastrophe of an earth inevitably cooling off, he projected different fictional blueprints of a world state unencumbered by a history of revolution. His attempts to revitalize the utopian tradition attracted not only a wide readership but also the interest of state leaders. Single-handedly he appeared...

  18. 14 Dystopian Fiction in the Soviet Union, Proletkult, and Socialist-Realist Utopianism
    (pp. 301-320)

    Zamyatin, Bulgakov, and Platonov – writers of dystopian fiction – are included in the Russian canon of the twentieth century proposed by Igor Sukhikh in the volume of essays he published under the titleBooks of the Twentieth Century(Knigi XX veka, 2001). It is a small canon that comprises only seven more writers, among whom are Chekhov, Gorky, Nabokov, and Fadeyev, but not Ostrovsky, Gladkov, or Sholokhov. Of course, Sukhikh’s canon represents a subjective selection. Yet the difference from official Soviet literary history is too striking not to notice. The history of Soviet Russian literature published by the Soviet Academy of...

  19. 15 Mao Zedong’s Utopian Thought and the Post-Mao Imaginative Response
    (pp. 321-344)

    Marx and Engels had their utopian visions of a classless society and the withering away of the state, and so did Mao Zedong. But Mao’s utopianism was different, in that it was embedded in the Chinese tradition, eschewed economic problems, was motivated by a subjectivist philosophy, and called for voluntarist action.

    The Hundred Flowers policy, which Mao announced in May 1956, was couched in traditional terms. “Let a hundred flowers bloom, let a hundred schools contend” (baihua qifang, baijia zhengming) was the political slogan that remained valid for about a year until the policy was redressed and the Anti-Rightist campaign...

  20. 16 Utopias, Dystopias, and Their Hybrid Variants in Europe and America since World War I
    (pp. 345-398)

    The production of various forms of utopian fiction in twentieth-century Europe and America is enormous so only some of the major trends can be discussed here. Both positive and negative utopias appeared, but the latter attracted more attention: in response to the infelicitous, violent, and plainly criminal attempts to realize utopian projects, with well-known counter-productive results, some highly interesting dystopian novels were written.

    Apart from the growth of dystopian fiction in reaction to unchecked technological and disastrous political developments, there is another factor that has radically changed the writing and reading of utopias. Increasing democracy and the introduction of universal...

  21. 17 Concluding Observations
    (pp. 399-410)

    As explained in the introductory chapter, my analysis of the major instances of utopian fiction has been guided by four hypotheses. Admittedly, their phrasing was vague to an extent that almost prevented their refutation. The first assumption, for instance, established a link between moments of cultural crisis and the rise of utopian fiction. It is of course possible to survey – more strictly than I have done – the rise and decline of utopian narratives in specific periods of time, but the notion of crisis remains a rather subjective and weak element in the observation that a cultural crisis would favor utopian...

  22. References
    (pp. 411-430)
  23. Subject Index
    (pp. 431-440)
  24. Index of Names
    (pp. 441-448)