2. The Relationship between the Individual and the People
Another aspect of the oppositional duality between the nation and the individual was Zhang Taiyan's radical nationalism. One set of questions related to this is: what is the relationship between the nation and the people, what is the historical context in which Zhang denied the nation, and more important, why was Zhang's mode of discourse an individual/nation duality, and not the more complex one of individual/society/nation?
― 240 ―
In the various discussions of modern Chinese nationalism, the nation, national sovereignty, and national institutions (establishment of the constitution, the parliament, and bureaucratic systems) are the most important themes. They are also the primary indicators of the differences between Chinese nationalism and traditional (cultural) Sinocentrism. As forms of group-identity consciousness, concepts of nationality and culture developed very early in Chinese thought. This is seen in the classical texts Zuo zhuan ("If they are not of our kin, their minds must be different"), the Li ji ("Those who have this knowledge always know to love their own kind"), and the Xunzi ("The ancestors are the basis of our kind"). According to Wang Ermin's studies, many of the nations of the Spring and Autumn period were clan factions, but many were groups formed as a result of racial or ethnic self-intuition. This is the Chinese/non-Chinese distinction found in the Zuo zhuan and the Analects. This sort of orthodox racial consciousness achieved a cultural self-identity, as testified by Confucius's remark, "Were it not for Guan Zhong, we might now be wearing our hair loose and folding our clothes to the left." However, as many scholars have already pointed out, in the process of struggle and assimilation within the Chinese people, the idea of nationality did not penetrate people's minds as much as the concept of culture, even to the point where one can say that "eliminating distinctions through culture has been a tradition of political ideals since the pre-Qin era." As seen from the relationship between the Chinese core and outlying foreigners, assimilation did not primarily take the form of establishing military garrisons and general viceroys. The criterion was often merely the observation of the Chinese calendar. The core of ancient China was reflected in the king's capital and five concentric domains of governance, a hierarchical ideal that posed the sovereign as the center and extended outward. In institutional form, relations with outlying non-Chinese were chiefly controlled by the Board of Rites and not agencies responsible for foreign relations or colonization. This shows clearly that the center that preserved the kingly way was the person of the emperor—who combined the political and moral lines of succession—and not the nation. Within this extensive structure, equal relations between nations were extremely difficult to create. In this sense, although the traditional notion of "China" had its complex and multifaceted implications, it was chiefly an "intuition of cultural place," and not a nation-state. In other words, the concept of China and the concept of all Chinese were identical. China does not entail the reality of political unity, but primarily that of cultural and racial unity.
The formation of Chinese nationalism in the late Qing started with the concept of strengthening the barriers between outlying non-Chinese and Chinese. After the Opium War, however, Chinese nationalism gradually absorbed the ideas of national sovereignty and interests. During the period of the Sino-Japanese War and the rise of the reform movement, the Western concept of the nation not only had already become the most prominent characteristic of Chinese nationalism but also was a central idea permeating the political discourse of different political groups. In other words, "the people equals the nation" formula was established by the court's plan of
― 241 ―
political reform (as seen in memorials and edicts), the propaganda of nonofficial intellectuals (as seen in essays and publications), and the theory and practice of revolutionaries (as seen in speeches, essays, publications, and overseas activities). At the beginning of the Hundred Days Reform, Kang Youwei said, "We should use the power of various kingdoms to rule all under heaven and not use the power of the unified trailing gowns."
Liang Qichao directly pitted the concept of the nation against the concepts of "great unity" and "Earthly Realm": "We Chinese do not lack patriotic character. As for those who do not know to love their country, it is because they do not know what a country is. China has been unified since ancient times…. [It was] called the Earthly Realm and was not called a country…. For several thousand years, we lived together in a small Earthly Realm and never met an equal country, to the effect that we know no country other than our own."
In a series of essays, Liang also pitted the individual or the self against the nation (or grouping). His stance, however, was just the opposite of Zhang's, as he declared that the cause of the nation's weakness was the fact that "within everyone's mind and eye there is only the I of his own self and not the I of the collective.
… What is the idea of the nation-state all about? The nation-state comes into being, first, in opposition (and as an antithesis) to the individuated self. It arises, second, in opposition to the functioning of the imperial court. It exists in opposition, third, to foreign people and an alien nation. It is defined, fourth, in opposition to the global order and larger universe."
The concept of the nation comes about through the relationships of the individual, the family, foreign peoples, and the world. Here, however, Liang left out the relationship between race and nation. The political implications of this omission were perfectly clear: its purpose was to dampen the ethnic conflicts between Han Chinese and Manchus and strengthen the unified nature of China as a nation of many peoples. The nation, not the race, became the true subject and source of modern identity and constituted the imaginative structure of the Chinese people within the world order. Sun Yatsen believed that China since the Qin and Han dynasties had been a nation-state because "nationalism is national-people-ism." Like Liang Qichao, Sun also posed the nation against the clan or lineage.
The vision of "nation-state" implied in his national-people-ism may thus be viewed as that of a political leader who had already established the predominance of the Han. Thus the idea of a single nation with many peoples was directly tied to the legitimacy of safeguarding Han Chinese sovereignty. Although these modern thinkers held different views of the state, the nation-state as the most important consequence of Western modernity had already remolded their mental framework. The demands of national identity implied that the nation itself was the true unit of sovereignty: this kind of national sovereignty was defined not only in regard to other nations but also in regard to individuals, families, clans, races, and other social groups within the nation. In other words, to achieve effective social mobilization, the nation's subjectivity implied the loss or partial loss of the subjectivity of the individual, the family, and other social units.
In the context of the nation-state construction, what was the significance of Zhang Taiyan's denial of the nation? We must first observe that from a cultural perspective,
― 242 ―
Zhang did not reject the concept of the nation. As a prime advocate for modern Chinese "national studies," he saw "national essence" —that is to say, the reworking and exegesis of language, institutions, and personal biography—as an important part of the entire constructive process of the concept of the Chinese nation-state. In February 1902, when the organ of the Guoxue baocun hui (Society for the Preservation of National Learning), Guocui xuebao
(National essence studies report), was founded in Shanghai, Zhang Taiyan, still in prison, published in it four letters written before incarceration, as well as his prison "random jottings," in which he claimed that "heaven bestowed the national essence on me."
In 1906, when Zhang managed Minbao,
the anti-Manchu, pro-Han thinking of the national essence group could be found in abundance in this publication. When Guoxue jianghua
(Talks on national learning), edited by Wang Sichen, discussed national learning, it said, "The term ‘national learning’ was not to be found in ancient times. There must be nations facing nations for the concept of the nation to begin. Then the study of one's own nation as national learning begins."
This explained in general the relationship between national learning and the idea of the nation. In "Guocui xuebaoxu" (preface to Guocui xuebao
), Huang Jie spoke of national substance and national learning together: "Our nation's national substance is the national substance of foreign people's despotism; our nation's theory is the theory of foreign people's despotism."
The "nation" of the "national learning" referred to here was the nation of Han Chinese. The "learning" was Han Chinese learning, which was in direct opposition to the despotism of "foreign people" and their "foreign learning."
Thus the nation, within the notions of "national essence" and "national learning," primarily was meant in regard to foreign peoples, especially Manchu rulers. It gave rise to racial and cultural ideas and was not the political concept of the nation found in modern international relations. In his "Yanshuo lu" (Record of speeches), Zhang Taiyan summarized his nationalist agenda in two sentences: "The first task is to employ religion to arouse faith and improve the nation's morality; the second task is to use the dynamism of national essence to improve patriotic fervor." The purpose of advocating national essence "was only to have people cherish our Han people's history."
Although advocacy of "national essence" was linked with the motive of resisting Western and Japanese influences, its primary meaning derived from the necessity of opposing the Manchus on a cultural level. What he emphasized was the subjectivity and purity of race and culture, the logical conclusion of which was necessarily an "anti-Manchu revolution."