Published Humanitas, Volume XVII, Nos. 1 and 2, 2004
National University of Singapore
Conservatism as an “ism,” as Karl Mannheim maintains, only emerged in the West in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and was an inseparable component of the triad conservatism/liberalism/radicalism. As a result, conservatism is often seen as a direct opponent of liberalism and radicalism. In modern China, especially during the May Fourth period, intellectual leaders whom we may classify as liberal, such as Hu Shih (1891-1962), and radical, such as Chen Tu-hsiu (1879-1942), were commonly engaged, in their pursuit of modernity, in a project that combined Westernization with opposition to tradition. To them, a modern China was to a certain extent a “Western” China, whatever the term “Western” might mean. Therefore, right from the beginning, conservatives who opposed the proposals of the New Intellectuals usually were viewed by others as a group that attacked Western culture and values.
But nowadays, it is commonly accepted by scholars of modern China that the historical evidence does not support the classification of the conservatives as monolithically anti-Western. In fact, many conservatives showed great interest in Western learning. Among them, the Critical Review (CR hereafter) school warrants in-depth study. CR, a monthly journal first published in 1922 by some members of the faculty of the Southeastern University in Nanjing, lasted for eleven years. Major figures of this school were Wu Mi (1894-1978), Mei Kuang-ti (1880-1945), Hu Hsien-hsu (b1894), and Liu I-chen (1880-1936), among others. They were in direct opposition to the New Culture Movement led by the New Intellectuals, and it is in this sense that I consider them conservatives.
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