This article posits a genealogical account of humanism as discursive constructs that are historically contingent. Humanism is thus conceived as ideology—“a system (with its own logic and rigor) of representations (images, myths, ideas or concepts).” Specially, it reconsiders the Chinese discourses of humanism in the “New Era” (the 1980s) against the ideological backdrop of the Mao era as well as China’s shifting political economy. Complicating the common assertion that the 1980s discourses of humanism inaugurated the second “May Fourth,” it argues that the process in which humanism in the “New Era” arose largely hinged upon a constant excavation of 19th century Euro‐Russian literary and philosophical legacies, the influence of which was already present in the Mao era. By analyzing literary works such as Dai Houying’s Human, ah, Human! (Ren a, ren!) and philosophical‐aesthetic discourses by figures like Li Zehou and Gao Ertai, the article traces the discursive practices and subject positions of Chinese intellectuals and writers in the 1980s as they appropriated Western narratives and concepts of humanism and Romanticism when dealing locally with practical issues such as political change and cultural wounds. Ultimately, it suggests a historical approach to humanism as a discursive formation whose ideological underpinnings should be grasped in the context of the 1980s.
Within the few years of its first publication in 1980, Dai Houying’s most popular and controversial novel Human, Ah, Human! drew significant attention from literary scholars throughout Chinese and English world and was often interpreted by the liberal humanist discourse as the representative work of the “thaw literature” or as the plea to revive the “human.” Recently, such appropriations of the notions of “the human” have raised suspicions among some critics both from the Beijing‐based “revisiting the 1980s (重返八 十年代) group” and some Western critical scholars, who begin to reevaluate Marxist humanism in the 1980s China. This paper, however, attempts to utilize several post‐humanist critical theories that have been persistently on guard against the theoretical limits of both liberal and Marxist humanism to reinterpret this novel. Here, the novel Human, Ah! Human, is able to encompass both the contradiction and reconciliation of various kinds of “human” voices. This paper will revisit its theatrical setting where the newborn “human” figures encounter and contend with one another. Rather than the sudden emergence of a humanist hero, or a Marxist humanist hero, it is the encounter of the Machiavellian wild individual, the philistines who pursue earthly happiness, and the romantics, that offer the untrodden path to approach the historical “real.” This paper will exhibit their combinations, permutation, and rehearsal in the fictional structure.
Of the many forms of literary experimentation that arose in China during the 1980s, Can Xue’s writing stands out as some of the strangest and most enigmatic. This article intends to examine her most significant work from that period, Five Spice Street (Wuxiang jie; first published under the title Breakthrough Performance [Tuwei biaoyan]), in light of one of the major intellectual concerns in literature at the time: the question of the human. Through a close reading of the novel, I investigate the ways in which Can Xue interrogates and destabilizes the notion of the human with regard to the relationship between subject and object, corporeality, animality, sexuality, language, and time. Overall, I suggest that while Can Xue succeeds in offering a unique and provocative conceptualization of the human in Five Spice Street, she also refrains from “breaking through” the general realm of humanist discourse current at the time.
Throughout the history of modern and contemporary China, the concept of “science” maintains a crucial significance. Since the May Fourth period, “science” represented the advanced civilization and culture of the West. Because of its critical role, quarrels over the question of science were abundant in China in the years after the Cultural Revolution, notably in the “debates on humanism and science” (kexue lunzheng). Following that, scientific Marxism, which is based on natural dialectics, surpassed other discourses to become of dominated importance to the intellectual discourses of post‐Mao China. Scientific Marxism was considered the highest form of truth in revolutionary China, when transcendental truth reigned supreme. Following the Cultural Revolution, intellectuals embracing scientific thought sought to locate “another science” with which to replace scientific Marxism. Addressing an understudied yet crucial aspect of 1980s intellectual history, this paper explores the central ideas and discourses of scientism in this historical moment, as well as the intellectuals who took part in its construction and controversy.
While Amazon Mechanical Turk project refreshes the long‐term dream of artificial intelligence by incorporating human beings into the automation of information circuits, it also calls attention to the role of technical platforms in reorganizing the division and mode of labor under the current information capitalism. This essay examines this transformed labor regime by outlining the discourses and imaginaries of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in late 1970s and 1980s China when expert systems—an artificial intelligence system designed to provide expert consultation in the absence of human experts—first appeared. I argue that these discourses and imaginaries surrounding expert systems were tied to the anticipation of a coming information society, and to the fetish of expert knowledge, and a shift from Mao’s class‐based politics to a depoliticized realm of professionalism. Bringing together the material, technical development of AI, the intellectual discourse of Post‐Mao 1980s, as well as the imaginary domain of science fiction, this essay rethinks the politics of the “human” in the social context of Post‐Mao’s era.
This article seeks to reinterpret Wang Zengqi’s (汪曾祺, 1920-97) novels written in the early and mid‐1980s. Through a historical lens, the author examines the era immediately following China’s reform and opening‐up when the political ideal of “distribution according to work” (anlao fenpei) had met with social realities at that time. Departing from the mainstream approach to Wang Zengqi, which oversimplifies China’s process of reforms and opening and consequently reduces Wang Zengqi’s literature to a “pure literature” devoid of social implications, a lyricism of individuals, and a depiction of depoliticized everyday life, this article lays emphasis on the interconnection between Wang Zengqi’s time and his writings. By analyzing the forms and styles of Wang’s novels, the author endeavors to place his writings back in their historical context as a means of rediscovering their underlying meanings and politics hitherto neglected by the scholarship on Chinese literature from the 1980s. Therefore, this article refutes the misconception of Wang Zengqi being a “small writer” and acknowledges the writer’s “bigness” in his writing. In fact, big writers like Wang Zengqi are indispensable in the conception of new political worlds under any historical condition.
The dawn of the new millennium witnessed the rise of Internet literature in China. Time‐travel historical romances (chuanyue lishi xiaoshuo) became one of the most prominent genres produced and circulated online. At the heart of each story lies a fictitious hero who goes back in time to witness, facilitate, delay or alter a particular historical incident or series of historical events. Focusing on temporal poetics, politics and ethics in Tong Hua’s Startling by Each Step (Bubu jingxin) and its TV and film adaptations, whilst also drawing upon a number of other well‐acclaimed time‐travel historical romances, this paper builds a threefold argument. Firstly, I argue that the aesthetic fascination of this genre mainly consists in its dramatization of the temporal clash between imperial and modern zeitgeists, interweaving the traditional device of dreams to deal with the Lacanian Real; secondly, although the immense popularity of the time‐travel motif evinces a fascination with the fast pace of the digital age, Startling by Each Step tempers that trend by slowing things down and suggesting a yearning for the individual’s temporal sovereignty; finally, the causal loop innate in this genre necessitates a transgression of historical linearity which often leads to unintended catastrophes and results in a prevailing sense of historical determinism. However, in Startling by Each Step a Heidegger‐like resolute struggle for finite freedom within time delivers from the recognition of one’s fateful destiny.