Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Reinventing Modern China

Reinventing Modern China: Imagination and Authenticity in Chinese Historical Writing

Huaiyin Li
Copyright Date: 2013
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Reinventing Modern China
    Book Description:

    This work offers the first systematic analysis of writings on modern Chinese history by historians in China from the early twentieth century to the present. It traces the construction of major interpretive schemes, the evolution of dominant historical narratives, and the unfolding of debates on the most controversial issues in different periods. Placing history-writing in the context of political rivalry and ideological contestation, Huaiyin Li explicates how the historians' dedication to faithfully reconstructing the past was compromised by their commitment to an imagined trajectory of history that fit their present-day agenda and served their needs of political legitimation.Beginning with an examination of the contrasting narratives of revolution and modernization in the Republican period, the book scrutinizes changes in the revolutionary historiography after 1949, including its disciplinization in the 1950s and early 1960s and radicalization in the rest of the Mao era. It further investigates the rise of the modernization paradigm in the reform era, the crises of master narratives since the late 1990s, and the latest development of the field. Central to the author's analysis is the issue of truth and falsehood in historical representation. Li contends that both the revolutionary and modernization historiographies before 1949 reflected historians' lived experiences and contained a degree of authenticity in mirroring the historical processes of their own times. In sharp contrast, both the revolutionary historiography of the Maoist era and the modernization historiography of the reform era were primarily products of historians' ideological commitment, which distorted and concealed the past no less than revealed it.In search of a more effective approach to rewriting modern Chinese history,Reinventing Modern Chinaproposes a within-time, open-ended perspective, which allows for different directions in interpreting the events in modern China and views modern Chinese history as an unfinished process remaining to be defined as the country entered the twenty-first century.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-3726-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. CHAPTER 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-32)

    This book looks at how Chinese intellectuals have written about China’s “modern history” through their incessant construction of various, often conflicting, explanatory schemes and narratives since the early twentieth century.¹ More specifically, this study has three objectives. First, it aims to reveal how scholars as well as political elites in China derived meanings from their different readings of the nation’s recent past by conceiving it as a coherent, phased process leading to an ultimate goal. Central to my analysis is the proposition that historical writing on “modern China” has evolved primarily as a response to present challenges and concerns that...

  5. CHAPTER 2 Origins of the Modernization Narrative: Nationalist Historiography before 1949
    (pp. 33-73)

    Calling for a “revolution in history” (shijie geming) in China at the very beginning of the twentieth century, Liang Qichao (1873–1929), then an exile in Japan after the failure of the 1898 reform, legitimated the “new historiography” he espoused by juxtaposing it to the old historiography prevailing in China: the latter, he lamented, dealt with “only the imperial court rather than the state,” “only individuals rather than society,” “only past stories rather than current affairs,” and “only facts rather than conceptions” (Liang Qichao 1936c, 1629). The mission of the new historiography, therefore, was to reveal “the universal principles and...

  6. CHAPTER 3 Origins of the Revolutionary Narrative: Marxist Historiography before 1949
    (pp. 74-109)

    The revolutionary narrative emerged in the 1930s and 1940s primarily as resistance by the Chinese Communist Party and its supporters to the modernization narrative then prevailing in mainstream historiography under the Nationalist regime. Among the Marxist historians and CCP theorists who contributed to its rise, Fan Wenlan (1891–1969) stood out for his writing, which had a profound impact on Chinese historiography during and after the communist revolution, and for his particular role as a trusted historian and personal friend of Mao Zedong. This chapter investigates the origins of the revolution narrative in the context of political and intellectual struggles...

  7. CHAPTER 4 The Making of a New Orthodoxy: Marxist Historiography in the 1950s
    (pp. 110-131)

    One of the major challenges that confronted official historians in China after the communist revolution was how to attenuate the pragmatic quality of the revolutionary historiography of the 1930s and 1940s, and create a new interpretative schema that was consistent with the orthodox Marxist doctrines that regained currency after 1949. Fan Wenlan, the leading Communist Party historian, openly admitted in 1951 the problem of “ahistoricism” (fei lishizhuyi) in his earlier work,Zhongguo tongshi jianbian(An outline of Chinese history), which was written in Yan’an in 1940 and 1941.¹ “Speaking of the present by borrowing from the ancient” (jie gu shuo...

  8. CHAPTER 5 Between the Past and the Present: The Radicalization of Historiography under Mao
    (pp. 132-169)

    The “historiographical revolution” (shixue geming) began in 1958 at the height of the Great Leap Forward as a result of growing dissatisfaction among CCP leaders with disciplinized history and its weakened ability to link the past with the current needs of the party-state. Proponents of the revolution questioned historians’ preoccupation with purely academic research and called for their adaptation of historical studies to present-day political realities. After a temporary retreat in the early 1960s when the Great Leap radicalism caused nationwide famine and subsequent attacks from inside and outside the Party, the historiographical revolution resurged at the eve of the...

  9. CHAPTER 6 Challenging the Revolutionary Orthodoxy: “New Enlightenment” Historiography in the 1980s
    (pp. 170-203)

    Coinciding with the inception of economic reforms and with “liberating the mind” (jiefang sixiang) in the ideological area, a new intellectual trend, known later as the New Enlightenment (xin qimeng), emerged in the late 1970s and the 1980s. Having witnessed nationwide turmoil or having personally suffered political persecution and physical maltreatment in the previous decade, activists in the movement inquired into the reasons behind the fanaticism and irrationality of the radicals at both the top and grassroots levels. They ascribed the personality cult of Mao, the lack of democracy within the Party, and the disrespect for human dignity during the...

  10. CHAPTER 7 From Revolution to Modernization: The Paradigmatic Transition in Reform Era Historiography
    (pp. 204-235)

    The rise of the New Enlightenment historiography in the early 1980s, as it turned out, was only the beginning of a two-decade process in which Chinese historians not only reformulated their basic views about the major historical issues in late Qing and Republican China, but also reconstructed the conceptual frameworks and redefined the mode of narration for history writing. The transition in the 1980s and 1990s in the narratives of modern Chinese history from eulogizing rebellions and revolutions to accentuating modernization and reforms during the late Qing and Republican periods paralleled a similar trend in the Western historiography of modern...

  11. CHAPTER 8 Master Narratives in Crisis
    (pp. 236-260)

    Intellectually, a remarkable development in China in the 1990s and 2000s was the rise of neoliberalism as the dominant ideology shaping the thinking of mainstream intellectuals as well as policy makers in the government. Based on a consensus to establish a market economy in China, to legalize and protect property rights, and to fully integrate China into the global capitalist system, economic reform in the late 1990s and early 2000s underwent a transition from introducing market mechanisms to outright privatization of state-owned and collective enterprises. China’s entry into the World Trade Organization in 2001 further accelerated the massive flow of...

  12. CHAPTER 9 Conclusion
    (pp. 261-278)

    Since the early twentieth century, influenced by Western historiography, the writing of modern Chinese history has centered on the construction of narratives. Compared to the chronicles or annals that dominated Chinese historiography in the imperial period, the narrative form of historical representation was widely adopted by Chinese historians for a compelling reason: by telling a story with well-defined beginning, middle, and ending phases and by imposing on the narrativized past an overarching theme or a master narrative consistent with a historical philosophy or political ideology, historians made the once seemingly chaotic and fragmented past appear to be coherent, goal-directed, and...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 279-292)
  14. Glossary
    (pp. 293-298)
  15. References
    (pp. 299-332)
  16. Index
    (pp. 333-338)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 339-341)