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Is Hu Shih's Liberalism Iconoclastic? "Chuantong" (Tradition) in China's Twentieth-Century Political Quest

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As a key figure of the New Culture Movement, which advocates saving China through a cultural transformation, Hu Shih may be mistaken for an iconoclast. Yet he spent much of his life studying the philosophy, the literature and other aspects of the Chinese cultural legacy. Was Hu Shih simply inconsistent or even self-contradictory? Did he change his position on the value or role of chuantong over the course of his long career? Or could we find in Hu Shih’s attitudes and relation to Chinese intellectual traditions and cultural legacies some illumination of what chuantong is, whether it can be simply equated with “traditions,” and even if equivalent, what is and should be its role as China struggles to find a place among the nations of a new era?

This paper examines the role of Hu Shih’s critique of tradition (chuantong) in his liberalism, associated with the pursuit of science and democracy. As a liberal, was he an iconoclast who would replace everything that is old with completely novel inventions, and were these inventions necessarily Western imports? How was his project of “putting in order the national heritage” (zhengli guogu) related to his promotion of “wholesale Westernization”? Was he inconsistent, or did his views justifiably changed over time? Were apparent inconsistencies the result of suiting the message to the audience?

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hu (239), shih (138), chines (133), cultur (89), china (81), new (77), tradit (59), work (55), shi (49), complet (46), one (46), western (42), critic (39), life (38), peopl (37), scienc (36), movement (36), societi (35), liber (34), individu (33), nation (32),
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Tan, Sor-hoon. "Is Hu Shih's Liberalism Iconoclastic? "Chuantong" (Tradition) in China's Twentieth-Century Political Quest" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Marriott Wardman Park, Omni Shoreham, Washington Hilton, Washington, DC, Sep 01, 2005 <Not Available>. 2013-12-17 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p39739_index.html>

APA Citation:

Tan, S. , 2005-09-01 "Is Hu Shih's Liberalism Iconoclastic? "Chuantong" (Tradition) in China's Twentieth-Century Political Quest" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Marriott Wardman Park, Omni Shoreham, Washington Hilton, Washington, DC Online <APPLICATION/PDF>. 2013-12-17 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p39739_index.html

Publication Type: Conference Paper/Unpublished Manuscript
Review Method: Peer Reviewed
Abstract: As a key figure of the New Culture Movement, which advocates saving China through a cultural transformation, Hu Shih may be mistaken for an iconoclast. Yet he spent much of his life studying the philosophy, the literature and other aspects of the Chinese cultural legacy. Was Hu Shih simply inconsistent or even self-contradictory? Did he change his position on the value or role of chuantong over the course of his long career? Or could we find in Hu Shih’s attitudes and relation to Chinese intellectual traditions and cultural legacies some illumination of what chuantong is, whether it can be simply equated with “traditions,” and even if equivalent, what is and should be its role as China struggles to find a place among the nations of a new era?

This paper examines the role of Hu Shih’s critique of tradition (chuantong) in his liberalism, associated with the pursuit of science and democracy. As a liberal, was he an iconoclast who would replace everything that is old with completely novel inventions, and were these inventions necessarily Western imports? How was his project of “putting in order the national heritage” (zhengli guogu) related to his promotion of “wholesale Westernization”? Was he inconsistent, or did his views justifiably changed over time? Were apparent inconsistencies the result of suiting the message to the audience?

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Document Type: application/pdf
Page count: 30
Word count: 11852
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Prepared for delivery at the 2005 Annual Meeting of The American Political Science Association September 1 – September 4 2005. Copyright by American Political Science Association Is Hu Shih's Liberalism Iconoclastic? 'Chuantong' in China's twentieth-century Political Quest Sor-hoon Tan National University of Singapore Though some critics have accused him of betraying the cause there is general consensus among scholars that Hu Shih was a liberal.1 Jerome Grieder’s intellectual biography of Hu Shih is subtitled “Liberalism in the Chinese Revolution.”
his aim; perhaps over-optimistically he actually believed such destruction to be impossible. In his own practice his innovations in traditional areas of Chinese scholarship created new paradigms that enrich rather than destroy tradition. 75 See Chen Xiying’s published comments accompanying Hu Shih’s “Putting in Order the National Heritage and Fighting Ghosts.” Complete Works 3: 149-53 p.151. 76 For an explicit statement of this position see Hu Shih. Sinological Research at the Present Time. Peking Leader Reprints Pamphlet no. 11.


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