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The Body and Modernity in China

Li Shiqiao
Theory Culture Society 2006; 23; 472
DOI: 10.1177/026327640602300288

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472 Theory, Culture & Society 23(23)

The Body and Modernity in China

Li Shiqiao

as a site of moral rectitude in the Confucian

Keywords China, modernity, the combatant
tradition, in which to establish your body (lishen)
commanded a central importance. On the other
hand, Chinas defeat in this war and a series of
other encounters with Western powers set forth a

odernity in China seems to invoke an rethinking of the body beyond the conventional
endless set of questions about both understanding of the body framed through the
modernity as a meaningful cognitive duality of pleasure and moral conduct. Both
framework and the ways in which modernity pleasure and morality were reconstituted to
manifested in the Chinese cultural and political include the combatant body the strong and
context. This, on the other hand, probably dexterous body sustained through sports and
contributed to the fact that studies on modern competitions in the Hellenistic formulation, and
China have become one of the fastest growing codified in the representations of the body since
areas of scholarship in the past two decades. The the Renaissance in the West. In China, the combat-
account of modernization in China, until recently, ant body had been understood traditionally as
had been relatively straightforward; encounters something to be gradually overcome through the
with the modern West beginning with the mid- civilizing power of ritualized moral conduct or
19th century led to institutional tensions between spiritual enlightenment. Vestiges of the combatant
new ideas and traditions, leading to a series of body remain through the metaphor of battle
peaceful and violent revolutions marking the frequently used in Chinese erotic literature. Major
conflicts the Opium War (183942), the Boxer reform thinkers and revolutionaries in China in the
Rebellion (1900), the May Fourth Movement early 20th century paid extraordinary attention to
(1919), etc. This account of the key moments of the remaking of the body in a multiplicity of
rapture of modernization in China substantiated discursive formations. The Renaissance ideal of
both the revolutionary hegemonic views of stages bringing together active life (vita activa) and
of revolution and the metanarratives of freedom contemplative life (vita contemplativa) became a
and progress mapped in a linear and universal new paradigm to be injected into the traditional
pattern. As Chinas archives opened up for role of intellectuals focused on literary and artistic
research, and as intellectual inquiries shift from activities. Education reforms in the early 20th
the Weberian interpretation of institutional century emphasized physical exercises, as shown
changes, more nuanced studies are now possible by Wen-hsin Yeh in Alienated Academy (1990).
from a multitude of spaces and views, generating Liang Qichao (18731929) stressed the central
new research questions and reframing old ones. As importance of the new Chinese person (the new
both a critique of modernity and a reconstitution citizen or xinmin) to the renewal of Chinese
of the Chinese modern, the new research traces culture and society in the modern world. This
shifting formations, always already hybridized and understanding influenced a generation of Chinese
eclectic, of fractured and contested grounds reformers and revolutionaries: Mao Zedong, for
between heterogeneous traditions and practices. instance, named his student organization the New
One useful point of entry into an understand- Citizens Society (Xinmin xueshe), and he
ing of modernization in China is through the engineered a high visibility for his rigorous exercise
reconstitutions of the body in the Chinese cultural regimes a central theme of revolutionary propa-
and political context. When, in 1793 during his ganda in post-1949 China. Chinas first partici-
famous mission to China, Lord Macartney resisted pation in the modern Olympics in 1984 and its
the bodily movement of kowtow to the dismay of hosting of the 2008 event can be seen as symbolic
his Chinese hosts, he brought the cultural worlds manifestations of the reconstituted body advo-
constructed around the body into sharp relief. At cated by successive political regimes in the 20th
the start of the first major violent encounter century, displayed in the international arena.
between China and the West during the Opium Despite all these changes, the traditional body,
War, the Qing (16441911) court considered the seen in its speech (and the absence of it), memory,
body of the imprisoned site of opium-induced movement essential to the ever-present power
pleasures as undermining its normative functions hierarchy, has never ceased to be a significant layer

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25_modernity_064829 10/5/06 10:25 am Page 473

Problematizing Global Knowledge Modernity 473

in the process of its hybridization with the new the Qing Empire in the late 19th century, built
combatant body. shipyards, arsenals, and railways. They revived a
The debating mind as the counterpart of the historical phrase of self-strengthening (ziqiang) to
combatant body demanded remaking of knowl- underscore the Chineseness of their endeavor.
edge underlined with principles of precision and They wanted to overcome the shame of labor of
conciseness; this formed the main modern reform the Chinese literati, an effort which paralleled the
agenda for leading intellectuals such as Yan Fu and medieval exultation of manual labor in the Bene-
Liang Qichao as they introduced Western scholar- dictine monasteries described by Lewis Mumford
ship into China. The embodied knowledge of the in The City in History (1961). While the techno-
traditional hegemonic power hierarchy of Con- logical modernization of the Qing court in the late
fucianism was contested by the new hegemony of 19th century was undermined by incessant foreign
logo-centric knowledge. The new mind must now hostility and conservative courtiers, Deng
be sufficiently nimble to employ notions of global Xiaopings pragmatic modernization program from
space and time (geography and history in the the 1980s has been much more effective in
Hegelian sense), and to renew and recreate restoring a modernizing agenda sidelined by politi-
Chinese scholarship in this new framework. cal and ideological demands in the early 20th
Developing this agenda, scholars such as Hu Shi century.
(18911962) and Lu Xun (18811936) experi- The female body in the Chinese cultural and
mented with a new way of writing Chinese political context presents a uniquely complex
(baihua) which moved away, in form and content, question in Chinas modernization. The abolition
from Chinese tradition symbolized by the dense of the female bound feet, a central fetish at the
scholarly language fostered by the traditional heart of the patriarchal pleasure/morality, became
examination system. This distance between the the first indication of a process of reconstitution
new language and the traditional language became of the female body. The May Fourth Movement
an important measure through which renewal and championed the ideal of the Chinese woman
recreation of the Chinese culture in the modern through equality and freedom, an ideal that
context could be considered possible. continued to gain currency in post-1949 China.
The prosthetic extension of the combatant Maos impassioned writings in 1919 on the tragedy
body through technology was particularly recep- of Miss Zhao, a young woman who committed
tive in the Chinese context. This may be suicide as she refused an arranged marriage,
attributed to the ease with which the notion of reflected this ideal. The Norwegian dramatist
technology could be rephrased in the existing Henrik Ibsens A Dolls House, in which the
vocabulary in the Chinese scholarly tradition, heroine Nora left her husband as she revolted
albeit with technology now playing a reversed role. against bourgeois hypocrisy and oppression, was
The conceptual framework for technology was translated and printed in the journal of the new
traditionally framed as one side of the binary oppo- culture, New Youth, in 1918; it was received with
sition of the dao and the qi. The dao (the contem- great enthusiasm by Chinas youth. As much as the
plation of universal principles) and the qi (the cultural iconoclasm in the 1910s demanded
making of things) were understood as separate the liberation of the female body, nationalism in
endeavours, and the pursuit of the dao was seen the 1920s and 1930s exerted a counter-claim on
to be a superior form of intellectual life. This it in the form of a return of the patriarchal author-
concept can be found in early classics such as ity, as Prasenjit Duara demonstrates in Rescuing
Zhouyi (The Book of Changes), compiled in the History from the Nation (1995) and in Of
late Zhou dynasty (770256 BCE). As China Authenticity and Woman (2000). The earlier
encountered the Baconian notion of use/power of representation of anti-Confucian and anti-familial
technology, it sought to rethink its tradition of women became a liability for nationalism, and was
science and invention which, as Joseph Needham replaced by one of traditional virtues bound by the
demonstrated in his monumental Science and domestic space off limits to Western influences,
Civilization in China, had always been a key playing a central part in the construction of the
component in traditional Chinese society. From nationalist ideology. Within the 20th century, the
the 1840s onwards, a number of capable Qing female body in the Chinese cultural and political
officials such as Zeng Guofan (18111872), Zuo context was, and continues to be, the site of
Zongtang (18121885), and Li Hongzhang violence, oppression, and liberation in the multi-
(18231901), who rose to prominence as farious formations of patriarchal authority, cultural
commanders of armies suppressing various rebel- iconoclasm, revolutionary hegemony, and national-
lions (Taiping, Nian, and Muslim) which plagued ism with heightened intensity.

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474 Theory, Culture & Society 23(23)

References Sennett, S. (1994) Flesh and Stone: The Body and

the City in Western Civilization. New York
Duara, P. (1995) Rescuing History from the
and London: W. W. Norton & Company.
Nation. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago
Tang, X. (1996) Global Space and the Nationalist
Discourse of Modernity: The Historical
Duara, P. (2000) Of Authenticity and Woman:
Thinking of Liang Qichao. Stanford, CA:
Personal Narratives of Middle-Class Women in
Stanford University Press.
Modern China, in W. Yeh (ed.) Becoming
Turner, B.S. (1996) The Body and Society,
Chinese: Passages to Modernity and Beyond,
Explorations in Social Theory, 2nd edn.
pp. 34264. Berkeley, LA and London:
London: Sage.
University of California Press.
Yeh, W. (1990) Alienated Academy: Culture and
Featherstone, M., M. Hepworth and B.S. Turner
Politics in Republican China, 19191937.
(eds) (1991) The Body: Social Process and
Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard
Cultural Theory. London: Sage.
University Asia Centre.
Li, S. (2003) Reconstituting Chinese Building
Tradition: The Yingzao Fashi in the Early
Twentieth Century, Journal of Society of Li Shiqiao is Associate Professor in the Depart-
Architectural Historians 62(4): 47089. ment of Architecture, Chinese University of Hong
Mumford, L. (1961) The City in History, its Kong. He has published on architecture and
Origins, its Transformations, and its Prospects. modernity in China and England, and has won
New York: Harcourt Brace. architectural design awards.

Anthropology and Japanese Modernity

Kaori Sugishita

failure to objectify Japanese modernity, the

Keywords imperialism, modernity, postmod-
particular conditions under which it has
ernism, westernization
Japans engagement with modernity traces
back to the restoration of imperial rule (1868);
with the feudalistic regime of shogunate and its

lthough the discipline of anthropology is
embedded in different socio-cultural policy of national isolation abolished, Japan set out
entities, the West remains the primary to catch up with the West in the name of
we/here that produces knowledge about others/ enlightenment. Anthropology was introduced to
there, thanks to its political, economic and Japan in this course for modernization, mediated
academic dominance. Hence it is worth investigat- by Western investigation into the origins of the
ing the development of anthropology in the non- Japanese. Brought to a shocking realization that
West with regard to different manifestations of they were observed by Westerners (Shimizu,
modernity, which was originally a self-image of 1998: 115), the Japanese vigorously produced
the West, a state of rationality and civilization that knowledge about their origins, differentiating
the dominant entity attributed to itself. Japan, a we/here from others/there in the North and the
non-Western nation, has engaged with modernity South. Such scholarship contributed to the
as such in relentless pursuit of Western power, modern attempt of Japan to forge its unity as a
wealth and knowledge. The operation of anthro- nation-state, which unfolded against a backdrop
pology in this process is twofold; on the one hand, of the emergent world order centred on the West
Japan as others/there has been scrutinized by the (Askew, 2003: 138). In search of a national
dominant West, while, on the other, it has joined identity with which to arm itself, Japan desired to
the West, as we/here, in subjecting others/there join the West as dominant entity, thereby keeping
to the same scrutiny. In fact, Japan has become a distance from Asia, the subordinate entity of
locus of anthropology comparable to the West in which it hitherto formed a part. This led on to the
terms of ethnographic and theoretical range. development of imperialism in Japan, affecting
However, Japanese anthropology lacks critical anthropology therein; we/here increasingly
perspectives on itself, as illustrated by its constant considered itself superior to others/there, even

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