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Title:Beyond Belief: Zhou Zuoren's Rationalist Writings and the Chinese Enlightenment
Author(s):Li, Tonglu
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Gary Xu
Department / Program:East Asian Languages and Cultures
Discipline:East Asian Languages and Cultures
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Literature, Asian
Abstract:This dissertation is situated in the current scholarly reflection on the problems of Chinese modernity, especially its "initial phase," the Chinese Enlightenment (1910s-1920s). It examines the thought of the highly controversial thinker and writer Zhou Zuoren (1885-1967), whose work had been profoundly influential during the Enlightenment, but was later marginalized due to political reasons. It argues that, although Zhou wrote in a non-systematic way, behind his highly fragmented essays on various and random topics, there is a consistent philosophical foundation that is rationalism. Inspired by the European Enlightenment, Zhou developed his rationalism that consists of a humanistic understanding of the world; a critical attitude towards established social and moral doctrines; the reliance on one's understanding based on scientific knowledge that is acquired through objective observation, and a balanced view of the rational and the emotional, the mind and the body. The dichotomy between reason and belief constitutes the overarching structure and the dynamic of his rationalism. In many respects, Zhou's rationalist thought represented a self-reflexive voice concerning the Chinese Enlightenment. This dissertation aims to delineate the ways in which Zhou developed his rationalist thought and used it to criticize the mainstream Chinese Enlightenment. It explores Zhou's criticism from four perspectives: ontological, epistemological, sociopolitical, and aesthetic. It argues that Zhou opposed the mainstream Enlightenment for its pursuit of the Utopian ideal society through teleological Progress, for its resorting to belief as the basis for truth, for its using violence as the legitimate means to attain social progress, and for its using literature as a propaganda tool. Zhou proposed an alternative view of Enlightenment, which is an adherence to this world and to everyday life, a reliance on rational knowledge as the criterion for truth, an unconditional denial of violence, and an insistence on literature as a device for self-expression. Zhou's thought is still valuable in our reflection on Chinese Enlightenment in particular and on the Chinese modernity in general. Nevertheless, it has its inherent limitations and irresolvable dilemmas within the Chinese historical context. Zhou situated China in the global context of cultural development and measured Chinese culture and Western culture on the same universalistic scale. However, "China" as a historical reality as well as a cultural concept eventually set a barrier for his universalistic cultural criticism. Zhou's "failure" in promoting his universalistic ideas might not only be a result of the repression from the mainstream social and cultural forces he fought against, but also be due to the irresolvable dilemma in his proposal and the ways in which he presented it.
Issue Date:2009
Description:291 p.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2009.
Other Identifier(s):(MiAaPQ)AAI3392190
Date Available in IDEALS:2015-09-28
Date Deposited:2009

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