4. The Omission of Societal Space
in the Binary Formulation of Individual and Nation
Within the particular nationalist atmosphere of the late Qing, Zhang Taiyan employed the "reality" of the individual to negate the "falsity" of the nation, and used the negative freedom of the individual to critique the freedom of the nation-state. Thus the provisional concept of the individual had profound political implications. Instead of posing a three-way, nation/society/individual relation in discussing the problem of the individual, Zhang elided society, configuring it together with nation in opposition to the individual. In this way, the relationship of mutual stimulation and restraint between nonnational and nongovernmental social organizations, and the nation or government, did not fall within the sphere of discussion.
One of the primary motifs of modern Chinese thought is the formation of the concept of the society, and the popularity of concepts of gong (public) and qun (grouping) that was directly related to the influx of Western thought and learning regarding "society." Kang Youwei and Liang Qichao's theoretical investigation and political practice concerning "learned groups" (learned societies), "commercial groups" (chambers of commerce), and "national groups" (national associations) developed around the pivot of the relationship between society and the nation (primarily the imperial court). This was how the power of a morally constituted society could check imperial authority and complete the reconstruction of the social and political systems. For Liang Qichao and Yan Fu, the individual's autonomy was inseparable from the establishment of social contract groups and modern state systems. On the one hand, the autonomous social grouping could mediate the process of social mobilization necessary for the establishment of the modern nation-state. On the other, the restraint imposed on the state by the autonomous social grouping
However, Zhang's concept of the individual not only opposed the nation but was asocial. As he said in "Sihuo lun," "What mankind commonly acknowledges is that one cannot encroach on society for the sake of the individual, nor encroach on the individual for the sake of society." What was referred to here as society included the nation, the government, and all social groups organized by people as individual units. The individual did not come into being because of the nation, society, or other people, and thus did not acknowledge laws, responsibilities, or duties. Within the entire order of phenomena, no phenomenon composed of other constituents had self-nature— "not only the nation, but all of its villages, settlements, groups, and assemblies." It was only each person who truly possessed self-nature. "Wuwu lun" fully expressed the various aspects of Zhang's social thought: that is, there was no government, no settlements, no humankind, no groupings, and no world. The development of the Five Nonexistences involved three stages. At the first stage, there was no government and no settlements; at the second, no humankind and no groupings; at the third, no world. Zhang first treated the individual as an element within all social organizations. These organizations structured discriminating relations, all of which had no self-nature. Thus on the social level, the denial of the nation and other social groups originated in the demand that the individual be liberated from all discriminating relationships. This suggests that Zhang's social thought not only was anarchist but also antisocial. Thus the individual as social atom could also be divided, because, "speaking of the atom, at root it has no space, but later takes shape through mutual contact. Since it has no space, it is amassed into a unity. How could there have been mutual contact? This shows that all talk about the atom is nonsense." This is why he denied humankind, the living beings, and the world altogether.
One particularly important aspect of Zhang's denial of social collectivities is his idea of "no-settlement." Why did Zhang reject the autonomous social group so valued by Liang Qichao and others? According to the Western historical experience, especially that of western Europe, were not civil society and the public it engendered the base conditions for the limitation of state power and the formation of democratic society? The key to an answer to these questions is the fact that society, in Zhang's definition, comprised all kinds of nonindividual collectivities, including the nation, which is quite different from the Habermasian civil society standing outside the state and bearing special relation to the individual's private domain. More important, within the late Qing context, both the dynamism of urban