Preferred Citation: Yeh, Wen-hsin, editor. Becoming Chinese: Passages to Modernity and Beyond. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c2000 2000.

Zhang Taiyan's Concept of the Individual and Modern Chinese Identity


7. Zhang Taiyan's Concept of the Individual and Modern Chinese Identity

Wang Hui

Concepts of the self and the individual are often seen to be at the heart of issues of identity and its crisis in the modern West.[1] Whether this is also the case in the context of Chinese modernity, however, is a matter of question. Lucian Pye argues, for example, that the shock sustained by the modern Chinese psyche has very little to do with issues of identity. Chinese anxieties and uncertainties, in fact, "have a distinctive overtone that can be traced back to the peculiar sensitivity of traditional Chinese culture to the importance of authority for the potentially destructive character of human emotions. The intimate psychic relationships between authority, order, ritual, and the repression of passion all point to a deep Chinese cultural awareness that man finds his only significance as a social being."[2]

This link between the individual and his or her sense of belonging to the collectivity has received just as much emphasis in the writings of Fredric Jameson. Jameson argues that Third World texts, even those that are seemingly private and invested with a properly libidinal dynamic, necessarily project a political dimension in the form of a national allegory. "The story of individual destiny," according to Jameson, "is always an allegory of the embattled situation of the public third-world culture and society."[3] "Third-world psyche" in that context is denied subjectivity and is seen as situational and materialistic despite itself. This accounts for the allegorical nature of Third World culture, "where the telling of the individual story and the individual experience cannot but ultimately involve the whole laborious telling of the experience of the collectivity itself."[4]

Jameson, unlike Pye, does not attribute this allegorical relation between the individual and the collectivity to the unique nature of Chinese cultural tradition. He sees it, instead, as a universal characteristic determined by that tradition's position in the opposition between the Third and First Worlds. Still, if we follow Jameson, the Chinese concept of the individual and the individual's experience implicitly

contains the experience of the collectivity. The narrative of individual experiences is at the same time the narrative of group experiences.

Jameson, like Pye, does not at all touch on if or how the relationship between the individual and the national collective experience is mediated. However, we must ask whether using a concept especially linked with psychologism (which must be seen as a tool unique to the modern West) to depict issues regarding the individual and the self within modern Chinese thought has any significance. Moreover, is modern China's cultural shock tied only to the individual's sense of belonging to the group? Before pursuing this further we must define the term "identity."

The problem of identity is linked with its significance and value, that is, the fundamental relationship between "identity" and "orientation." Orientation, however, emerges only within a specific context, because we can express our attitude toward and evaluation of matters only within a range of concrete choices. If we accept these premises, then we see that the problem of identity for the Chinese in the modern time is extremely complicated and multifaceted because it involves concrete sociopolitical and cultural choices. One cannot discuss issues regarding the individual and the self in modern Chinese thought within the abstract framework of First and Third World relations. Nor can one base discussion on the abstract notion of a unique cultural sense of belonging to a collectivity, which leads to nothing but an essentialization of the Chinese "national character."

I argue that, from the late Qing onward, many different concepts of the individual and the self emerged. Each has a particular sociopolitical and cultural content, thereby defying holistic explanations under a single system. Drawing on the work of Zhang Taiyan, this essay will examine the constitution of a major Chinese conception of the individual within the late Qing context. Zhang is the focus of this analysis not only because the concept of the individual is central to his thinking but also because his ideas were uniquely different from those of other major late Qing liberal thinkers, such as Yan Fu and Liang Qichao. Zhang Taiyan was, furthermore, one of the most important thinkers at the turn of the century. During the critical period of 1906–10, Zhang and his intellectual followers, such as Lu Xun, put forward the notion that universal terms such as "government," "settlement," "mankind," "grouping," "the world," "public principles" (gongli), "evolution," "materialism," "nature," "duty," and "responsibility" refer in fact to things that lack "self-nature" (zixing).[5] By arguing through a mode of negation, they raised the question of individual subjectivity. In other words, Zhang Taiyan and his disciples, unlike Yan Fu and others—including Zhang himself in an earlier time—did not proceed to constitute the individual within the framework of the grouping and society. They employed instead a logic of negation and established the concept of the individual as an opposite to the concepts of the public and the grouping. Zhang formulated the self, the individual, and morality as an opposition to universalistic concepts that were devoid of subjectivity.

With respect to the concepts of the individual and the self and their ramifications in modern Chinese thought, I am particularly interested in the historical

constitution of the individual, that is to say, its genealogy. Nietzsche once asked, "What light does the science of linguistics, especially the science of etymology, throw on the evolution of moral ideas?"[6] This question inspires us to begin from the perspective of etymology and its application without employing preconceived notions of human behavior. The approach permits us to show the conditions under which moral (or immoral) concepts produce nature, society, principles of life, and even illness. These investigations reveal the primitive dynamism with which people produce value judgments under different sorts of circumstances over time.

According to Zhang Taiyan, concepts of the individual and the self, in contrast to those of the public and the grouping, had emerged as counterdirectional actions in search of moral value. Zhang's concept of the individual is formulated in opposition to universalistic concepts such as public principle (gongli), the nation, and the grouping. This concept is further formulated in order to delineate the limitations of the universal terms. These universals, as we know, had arisen in intellectual circles in response to social problems and political concerns. The self and the individual, as they had been conceptualized both in tandem and in opposition to the universals, are inevitably implicated in this process, and they become political concepts.


On June 29, 1906, Zhang Taiyan was released from prison upon completing his term, and he left for Japan, where he became managing editor of the revolutionary organ Minbao. Between September 9, 1906, and October 10, 1908, when the paper ceased publication, Zhang published, apart from numerous political essays, a series of essays on philosophy and religion that spelled out the theoretical basis of his sociopolitical concepts. These essays were well circulated at the time, and they elicited considerable response in the printed media of the day. Zhang used these essays both to launch attacks on major contemporary thinkers such as Kang Youwei, Liang Qichao, and Yan Fu and to articulate an alternative worldview that was sharply different from a modernist one based on concepts of publicness (gong), grouping, and evolution.

Among the core concepts of Zhang's worldview were "the individual" and "self-nature." Zhang Taiyan developed concepts about individuality (geti), subjectivity, and other terms to attack contemporary constructions of the nation, the government, the family, the society, and humankind. In doing so, he sought to establish a new ethical revolutionary morality that drew upon a Yogacaric interpretation of Zhuangzi's Qiwu lun (On the equality of all things).[7] This is the most complicated and difficult period in Zhang Taiyan's thought, not only because his prose is archaic and obscure but also because he employed a difficult Buddhist vocabulary to express his social thought. To add to the difficulty, the relationship between his intellectual system—in which self-nature and the individual were positive concepts—and his politics contained elements of contradiction. There are

two points to this contradiction. First, the concept of the individual, as developed by intellectuals of his day, has served as an important foundation for modern moral and political thinking; this was especially true in the modernist critique of tradition. In the case of Zhang, however, there is a critical dimension to his conception of the individual that was aimed at the denial of the self in modern political thought. Furthermore, Zhang's concepts of self-nature and the individual are opposed to the universal and the collective. They are ostensibly anticollective. But in truth, in Zhang's thinking there was no more important practical mission than construction of a collective national identity.

Many have tried to explain this contrariness of Zhang Taiyan's thought as a contradiction between practical missions and future ideals. They have also pointed to sudden changes and confusion in Zhang's own thinking. But in the interpretation of modern Chinese identity and its multifaceted nature, these explanations are less than useful. Zhang's criticisms of modernity (especially his criticism of the modern concept of time, which leads directly to notions of progress and evolution) became the core ideas for modern morality and literary theory for his students, including Lu Xun. The concept of the individual has, of course, become a key element of modern thought within May Fourth literature, and its rationality is built on a progressive notion of time. How did Zhang Taiyan's concept of the individual, which denies the self and opposes modernity, become an intellectual fountainhead of modern identity (as it did for Lu Xun)?

Before analyzing the sociopolitical import of Zhang Taiyan's concept of the individual, I would like to outline the various nuances of Zhang's concept of this key subject and spell out its implications. To begin with, Zhang's individual is an absolute, subjective entity: "[The individual] does not come into being because of the world, the society, the nation, or other people. Thus the individual fundamentally has no responsibility toward the world, the society, the nation, and toward people."[8] In other words, the individual is not a constituent of the world, a member of society, a citizen of the nation, a follower of a religion, or a relative or friend of others. The condition of being an individual is, in fact, an "absolute" standing above and beyond all commands or external discipline, whether legal, political, social, or economic.[9]

Second, the limit of individual freedom lies in the proscription against harming others. The basic meaning of individual freedom is a freedom of refusal; aided by this freedom, individuals are able to resist the claims of things that assume the form of the suprapersonal, whether social, historical, or natural. Conservative, reclusive, or suicidal behavior is the highest expression of individual subjectivity, because it is a behavior of refusal. It expresses the individual's freedom to refuse all the things that "even the gods cannot interfere with," such as responsibility and duty. Zhang compares public principle (gongli) to heavenly principle (tianli) and sees both as the antithesis of individual freedom.[10]

Unlike tianli, which is grounded in metaphysics, gongli is societal and "uses the society's ever-abiding power to suppress the individual." In this regard the ruthlessness and mercilessness of gongli even surpass the heavenly principle.[11] In other

words, modern society and its organizational ideology are far more suppressive than the traditional authoritarian society, which grounded its ethical system in the concept of heavenly principle.

Third, Zhang Taiyan regards this absolute concept of the individual as a cosmic principle that is intended to make all things equal. In Zhang's thinking, the concept of the individual provides the foundation of a mode of knowledge as well as a system of ethics for coping with the world. This means that his concept of the individual, just like the concept of the individual embedded in a modern worldview, was intended to solve basic problems of social identity. However, Zhang does not take universalistic concepts as true social law; he accepts instead an absolute individual subjectivity. Zhang quotes Zhuangzi, especially the qiwu ("making all things equal") chapter, and praises the Daoist philosopher's teaching that all beings should be allowed to follow their preferences. This teaching, according to Zhang, is far superior to the theory of public principle (gongli). Furthermore, Zhang draws attention to Hegel's notion that "all matters accord with reason; all things are beautiful." Zhang points out that the two positions, by Zhuangzi and Hegel, seem comparable. The former, however, takes the human mind as the root of difference and an obstacle in making things equal, while the latter takes common purpose as the ultimate destination and sees the multitude as a passage toward that destination. There is an immense distance, then, between Zhuangzi and Hegel, according to Zhang.[12] By underscoring the differences between the two, Zhang Taiyan shaped his concepts of qiwu and the individual into a cosmic view that is antideterministic and antiteleological.

In the same fashion, Zhang attacks evolution, materialism, and naturalism by calling attention to his conception of the individual, and reveals the absurdity and falsehood of public principle (gongli). Evolution, materialism, and naturalism were key concepts that lay the foundation of modern notions of science and its publicness (gong), which in turn became the basis of a theory of social change. Zhang argues, however, that natural law, such as the principle of evolution, does not in itself bear relevance to human affairs: "To follow natural law offers no merit and to oppose it is no crime." But those who subscribe to evolution hate those who do not and accuse them of violating the laws of nature.[13] In the eyes of Zhang Taiyan, the modern worldview was composed of public principle (gongli), evolution, materialism, naturalism, and similar "fundamental intellectual delusions." If one allowed these delusions to create a moral order, then the gongli of these delusions would provide a foundation for a dangerous despotism, for they would not only eliminate human intelligence but would also take away human happiness and freedom, especially those of the individual. Only by completely wiping out these delusive concepts could the natural order be saved from the interference and intimidation of the supranatural world formed by these concepts and names.

Zhang's criticism of a worldview of gongli was derived from the Buddhist theory of cosmic "truth," especially its ideas regarding dependent causation and impermanence. It was not, however, a simple extension of Buddhist thought. When Zhang opposed individual subjectivity against the various kinds of gongli, as seen

above, he perceived this gongli as merely a repressive power surrounding and oppressing the individual. Although the individual had no self-nature to speak of, the individual was a relatively real entity, even an adequate foundation of morality for "the restoration of all Chinese."[14]

However, the connection between the individual and morality as discussed above should not be seen too simplistically. The individual took precedence over gongli, evolution, materialism, and nature, on the one hand, and government, nation, society, and family, on the other. This priority, however, derived from the individual's proximity to, rather than true possession of, self-nature. Furthermore, the link between the individual and morality was established within the complex relationship between the individual and the Buddhist "nonself." What the Buddhists called the self meant governance and substance: "The eternal is called the self; the unmoving is called the self; and the indestructible is called the self."[15] The concept of nonself entails that nothing that exists is an independent, unchanging, self-existent, and self-determining substance, and nothing possesses a self-governing principle or capacity. Because of this dependent causation, all phenomena arise within the conditions of interdependence and thus are relative and provisional.

If the concept of the individual—which opposed that of publicness (gong) and the consequent "impartial" modern worldview and ethics of the family, nation, and society—was to be reduced to nonself, might this not lead to moral nihilism? Or, if the individual had no self, then did a true self exist? If it did, then how did the true self relate to the individual? Using suicide as an example, Zhang argued that the person who undertook suicide to "save the self" did not "take the form as the self." Thus outside the form there must be something called the self. Suicide could be explained as a means of escaping the self-form that is shackled by the world and of attaining the true self. The self that committed suicide was thus the alayavijnana in an illusory form.[16] Compared with the self-form, which lacked substance, universality, and eternity, only alayavijnana was the true self: it was a universal, eternal, subjective, and "completely free self." On the one hand, it was the source of the self, the other, and all phenomena; on the other hand, it abided amid all phenomena.[17] Zhang thus treated the true self, alayavijnana, and suchness as a single substance possessed by all things: it was permanent and immutable. Since he believed that alayavijnana was not limited to the individual, what he called the "eternal," "unmoving," and "indestructible" "self" was in fact a "greater self," a universal substance that transcended the world of phenomena, much like the Kantian notion of the "thing-in-itself." The moral implications of this would be: "If we can substantiate the nonself, then the world will begin to possess the great compassion of equality."[18] Thus, Zhang regarded the principle of equality not as an ethical rule but an ontological state. This was the basis of the linkages that he identified between Yogacaric thought and Zhuangzi's concept of qiwu. It was also the intellectual bridge that led him from the concept of the individual—advanced as the antithesis of the impartial and grouping—to the concept of a supreme publicness (dagong) that transcended the individual.


Zhang's criticism of the worldview of gongli begins with a defense of subjectivity and concludes with a negation of the individual and the individual's subjectivity. His ultimate goal, therefore, is not the absolute, subjective individuality, but universality in the ontological sense. This kind of universality is the origin of the cosmos and of the ethics and morality that society should adhere to. This suggests that Zhang did not make the individual's subjectivity the ultimate moral foundation: it only serves as the premise of his criticism of "public principle" and a worldview associated with it. His concept of the self as nonself actually approximated those "public" ideals (gong) from an ontological perspective. His universal principle, however, certainly did not impose on the individual restrictive demands in the name of gong, particularly the restrictive moral codes formed within a hierarchical social structure.[19]

Through the negation of the universal (gongli) Zhang arrives at an affirmation of the universal (dagong), and the new foundation of identity is confirmed. This peculiar thinking process is constructed in the language of the Buddhist Yogacara school and the thought of Laozi and Zhuangzi. We will see that these apparently difficult, self-contradictory, abstract ideas were closely tied with Zhang Taiyan's direct engagement with sociopolitical issues.


1. Antistate and Antigovernmental Significance in the Concept of Individuality

Zhang Taiyan's concept of individuality was not only a philosophical or moral idea but also a political one. It was developed in opposition to a worldview rooted in the concept of "publicness (gong)–grouping (qun)," which, in the context of the late Qing, was not merely an abstract moral idea but a substitute term for (and moral foundation of) the modern nation-state and its many modes of social organization. These organizations include the chambers of commerce, learned societies, national assemblies, political parties, and gentry-village communities. The modern concepts such as public principle, evolution, materialism, and naturalism were the most important and dynamic elements in the modern Chinese discourse of the nation-state. The question I pose here: What was the relationship between Zhang's concept of the individual and the discursive network of the nation-state? To put it more directly, as a founding figure of the concept of the modern nation-state and a theorist for the late Qing racial revolution, Zhang made nationalism an especially significant theme during his entire writing career and revolutionary praxis. His provisional concept of the individual was not only a critique and negation of the nation, the government, and social groups—all collectives aimed at the creation of a modern nation-state and at social mobilization—but also a rejection of the very concept of the "nation." If the concept of the individual was a key element in the discourse of the modern nation-state, then how and in what way did this concept constitute a negation of the discourse? How did this contrariety come about? The political use of the concept of the individual formed a social context

for the construction of this concept. If this concept and those of race, nation, social group, and community involved different aspects and constructive modes of the modern Chinese worldview, why did Zhang's concept of the individual, which was characterized by denial of the universal, still return to it?

The political significance of Zhang's concept of the individual can be seen, first, in the concept's negation of the nation and the state. In several of his treatises—including "On the Nation" and "On Politics of Representation" —Zhang applied his analytical reasoning to political questions and developed his concepts of individuality and self-nature into a critique of the modern nation-state. In "On the State" Zhang writes, "The ‘subjectivity’ of the state, first, is artificially ascribed rather than substantively endowed. The construction of the state, furthermore, is the outcome of external power dynamics rather than the extension of inherent, natural principles. The business of the state, above all, is base and sullied, rather than pure and sacred."[20] The first point above is clearly the most important: it establishes the foundation for the two ensuing points. It is precisely in the discussion of whether the state possesses "subjectivity" that Zhang posits the individual and the nation as fundamentally opposed to each other. Invoking the atomistic view of the Buddhist Yogacara school, he argues that "all entities are composed of myriad constituents and thus do not possess their own being. The individuated entities that form the composite, however, can be said to have true being. In contrast, the composite has false being. Since the nation is composed of the people, each person provisionally can be said to be a true being. But the nation has no true being."[21] By drawing an analogy between the atomistic model of matter and the composition of society and nation, Zhang refutes all theories that regard the nation as the subject and the people as object: "Some have said, ‘The nation itself has its institutions and laws. Although the people from time to time will be renewed, the institutions and laws cannot be renewed. These being so, [the nation] is thus called a subject.’ But this is not true. Institutions and laws change of themselves and do not necessarily follow the old principles. Even if they do not change, they are only the ‘expressive appearances' bestowed by previous generations."[22]

What deserves attention is the fact that when he touches on the relationship between the nation and the individual, Zhang discusses the issue of who is the subject; but he does not believe that the subjectivity of the individual is absolute. It has only relative priority within its relations to the nation and other social groups. Since it is merely "nearer to reality than the composite" but is itself still a "false phenomenon," then the conclusion that the nation is a "false being" is not only an extrapolation but follows naturally upon the position of nation in the order of things.[23] Zhang did not elaborate on the relationship between subjectivity and that of "differentiated positions." In principle, the concept of self-nature precluded any hierarchical order or discriminating relationship.

Why did he argue that the world had certain hierarchical order? On the one hand, the assumption of hierarchical order is necessitated by his stress on the priority of the individual; on the other, the issues discussed by Zhang were not ontological but political

ones dealing with political regimes and social structures. This testified again to the immediate political significance of the concept of the individual.

The argument concerning the individual's priority over the group aimed at the idea of national sovereignty, which, in the formulations of Zou Rong, Chen Tianhua, Sun Yatsen, Liang Qichao, and Yan Fu, accentuated the freedom of the totality above that of the individual. The fact that Zhang argued against the sovereignty of the nation from the perspective of Yogacaric thought regarding self-nature means that his discussion of sovereignty did not involve relations between nations—in which case, he was a firm nationalist (and not a statist). Zhang's second criticism of the nation denies the actual significance of the nation's geographical establishment (national boundaries) and its hierarchical construction. It follows upon his idea that all distinctions among things lacking self-nature are the product of "false thoughts." His analysis of the illusory nature of national sovereignty, boundaries, and hierarchical structure leads to the third criticism, that the nation was not a moral wellspring but a lair of iniquity. Only the individual—each and every individual—was a creator of value. Collective activities were not the achievements of abstract groups or the fame of the group's leader but were the individual's creation.[24] Implicit in this conclusion were doubts regarding the right of collective cause to command the lives of individuals and interpret their significance. Viewed from the perspective of modern revolutionary history, this pertains to the rationale of revolution, the ethicality of the call to revolution, the validity of the modernist tendency to link the self with the macroprocess of history, and the natural legitimacy of the modern nation-state and its enterprises. Whereas a religious cause, which calls for the dedication of the lives of those who pursue it, often does not sacrifice anyone else, "the cause of the nation is different. Is it racial revolution? Political revolution? Social revolution? At any rate, it is not to be accomplished by dint of the individual going through hell and high water. If I advocate [the revolution's] commencement, then hundreds of millions of people will follow me and go through hell and high water…. If one can only speak of corpses and regard it as something worthy of lofty fame, then how is [carrying out revolution] different from banditry?"[25] In the eyes of Zhang, those such as Yao, Shun, Washington, Napoleon, Bahktin, and Kropotkin, who saw their calling as working for social change and the national project, could not be compared with those such as Sakyamuni, Epicurus, Chen Zhongzi, and Guan Ying, who risked their lives for all humankind, because the former had made their names as a result of the sacrifice of others.

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?


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").[26] 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."[27] 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."[28] 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.[29] 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.[30]

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

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."[31] 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."[32] 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.[33]… 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."[34] 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.[35] 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,

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."[36] 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."[37] 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."[38] 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."[39] 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."[40] 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."

3. Late Qing Statism and the Relationship between Individual and Nation

Clearly, Zhang's denial of the nation was inextricably linked with his anti-Manchu nationalism.[41] This cannot explain, however, why his criticism of the nation adopted the nation/individual duality mode of discourse. On this point, we must analyze from the opposite perspective the position of his opponent Liang Qichao. After he returned from his visit to the United States (1903–6), Liang expressed deep reservations

about American democratic government and the Western liberalism he had formerly believed in. He turned to German statist political theory, especially that of Johann Bluntschli and Gustav Bornhak. Liang introduced Bluntschli's criticism of Rousseau's theory of the social contract, which claimed that the theory of the social contract muddled the distinctions between the people and society. Liang said, "The national people are a fixed, unmovable entirety. Society is only a changing, unfixed collectivity. The national people have a single character by law, and society does not. Thus to term them ‘the national people’ is to associate them always with the country without allowing the slightest permissible separation. To term them ‘society’ is to make them only an assembly of many individuals."[42]

In addition to the relationship between the "national people" and the ethnic group discussed above, Liang cited the statist ideas of Bluntschli and Bornhak. First, unlike the society composed of individuals, the nation was an organic entity with a spiritual purpose, a physical structure, untrammeled movement, and a developmental process. Liang approved of Bluntschli's criticisms of Rousseau's theory of civil rights and social contract, believing that "national sovereignty" could not be shared with any individual.[43] Second, regarding the political entity, Bluntschli believed that constitutional monarchy was superior to other polities, especially that of the republic. This was not only because the establishment of republican polities depended on specific historical conditions but also because the separation of legislative powers (where the majority ruled) and administrative powers could weaken national sovereignty. Republican polities boasted freedom and equality, but in truth, because their social elite despised the lower ranks of the people, they also were suspicious of excellence. According to Bornhak, republican polities mixed the ruling subject and ruling object, and outside of the people there was no place for the nation. Considering the immediate relevance of this theory, Liang decided: "Our China today is weakest, and what it most urgently needs is organic unity and coercive order. Freedom and equality are secondary."[44] Third, sovereignty belonged neither to the sovereign nor to the society; the nation and its constitutional law were the source of sovereignty. Liang especially condemned the view that the sovereign was the collective authority of individuals but could not be the sovereign of a corporate nationality. He believed that with sovereignty there was the nation, and without it there was no nation.[45] Fourth, regarding the purpose of the nation, although Bluntschli attempted to maintain a rough balance between the nation for itself and the nation as an instrument of the people, "composed of each individual," fundamentally his tendency was toward a clear concept of the nation for itself. "The national purpose occupies the first place, and each individual is a tool to accomplish that purpose."[46] These views of the nation in the end led to Liang's shift toward believing that for China's concrete situation, "enlightened despotism" was even more suitable than constitutional monarchy.[47]

We can clearly see now that the true reason that Zhang Taiyan criticized the nation from the perspective of the individual was his thorough denial of the view that the nation was of supreme political value. The nation did not have its own

characteristics and certainly did not have its own dynamic organic quality. Nor did it have sovereignty: only the individual— "each person" —could possess sovereignty. For the individual, the nation was an instrument of despotism and a lair of iniquity. All discriminating relations were the source of inequality, for the cosmos and the world in the ontological sense were equal and without distinction. On the level of politics, the most important political aspect of Zhang's concept of the individual was its complete rejection of the ideals of enlightened despotism and constitutional monarchy. The key issue, however, was still the nationalist question of whether or not one desired Manchu rule. As Zhu Zhixin said in his essay "Xinli guojiazhuyi" (Psychological statism), the nation referred to in Liang Qichao's Xinmin baoshu (New citizen report letter), Yang Du's Zhongguo xinbao (China new report), and Dongfang zazhi (Eastern miscellany) "was nothing other than the Manchu government."[48] On the contrary, Zhang's "Zhonghua minguo jie" (Explaining the Republic of China) repeatedly discussed the unity of the Chinese nation and people. "If one establishes the Han name as a people, then the meaning of the nation resides there. If one establishes the name of China [Hua] as a country, then the meaning of the race also abides there. This is why the Republic of China flourishes." In clearly rejecting a territorial definition in favor of a cultural one, he emphasized the racial character of the concept of China.[49] He also emphasized national sovereignty, but his notion of sovereignty was completely racial, not political. "As well as [the reason] for expelling the Manchus mentioned above, there is the fact that they ruin our country and usurp our sovereignty."[50]

It is worth noting that the debate between Liang Qichao and Zhang Taiyan over nationalism began as early as 1903. In 1907, when Zhang returned to the issue of the nation, the issue of nationalism had even more immediate political implications. This occurred not only because the debate between Minbao and the reformist newspapers Xinmin congbao and Zhongguo xinbao involved acute conflicts between the political groups advocating revolution and reform; it occurred also because during the period between 1905 and 1907 the preparations for constitutional reform were no longer matters for debate among intellectuals or social groups, but matters of practical decision for the Qing government. At the end of 1905, the Qing government sent five high officials, Dai Ze, Duan Fang, Dai Hongzi, Li Shengduo, and Shang Qiheng, to Japan, Europe, and the United States to study constitutional government. Liang Qichao, then in exile, drafted a memorial of over two hundred thousand characters. In 1906 the Qing court announced its program for constitutional preparation: "Supreme power will be centralized at the court. The affairs of the state will be made public in popular discussion. In this manner a new and enduring foundation will be established for a new nation…. At present, however, the laws and institutions are not yet comprehensive, and the people's sagacity awaits enlightenment," and so the government would have to first lend a hand.

Archival materials on late Qing constitutional movement show that preparatory work for the initiation of a constitutional government was carried out extensively

in many aspects of society. These include the creation of new state offices, parliamentary assemblies, consultative agencies, local self-governments, legal and judicial bodies, educational and financial associations, and official newspapers, and an adjustment of the Manchu-Han relationship. The overall vision that emerged was one with the Qing court at the center, presiding over the establishment of a hierarchical administrative system resembling that of modern American and European nations, and implementing effective social mobilization from above. An imperial edict announced, "We have great hopes that each will understand the righteousness of loyalty to the monarch and love for the country, and the principle of joining with the collective to advance moral transformation. Individuals will be forbidden to harm the public interest with private opinions or damage the greater plan with petty grudges. They will revere order and preserve peace while preparing themselves to be people of a constitutional nation."[51] Thus the constitutional movement was a shared product of the Qing court and exiled intellectuals; and statism and its values, with the Qing court's legitimacy at its core, defined political discussion during the reform era.

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

provided a public space for individual freedom, hence the fact that so many Western scholars used the designations "civil society" and "public sphere" to explain the theory and practice of the modern Chinese "grouping." In other words, Liang and Yan's individual was a concept within the category of the grouping and the nation-state. According to Liang Qichao, "The reason why our China does not establish an independent nation is only because our people lack the virtue of independence."[52] Liang's formulation of the individual's independence used the establishment of national morality as its means and the establishment of an independent nation-state as its end, and the formation of the social group was a mediating stage.

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.[53] 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.[54] "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."[55] 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

charter associations and the practice of forming them, and the reinterpretation and utilization of the social functions of kin and gentry-based communities, aimed to establish the modern nation-state and carry out social mobilization. The formation of western European civil society took place in the context of the development of the nation-state. In late Qing China, however, various social groups were formed against the background of the decline of the state apparatus. European civil society, and the public sphere built on it, played a crucial role in restricting the despotic state and became a social foundation of the democratic system. In the Chinese case, the civic groups and gentry-village communities employed by the Qing government and a sector of intellectuals had a completely different significance. These groups not only aimed primarily to establish a nation-state but were state or quasistate organs in their very conception, establishment, and social functioning. Founders and members of late Qing learned societies, chambers of commerce, and other social organizations were usually gentry and intellectuals with close ties to the government, and some were officials themselves. The appearance of these social organizations was part of the top-down national reform movement of the late Qing. This demonstrates the lack of a clear division between the activities of these social groups and those of the state. Civic organizations themselves were important means for state making, especially the means for the state authority to penetrate grassroots society and strengthen its political and economic control. The state was at the center of all societal activities. This helped to explain the ambiguity of the concept of "the groupings" in the late Qing: most social organizations used the grouping as a rubric, and the highest level of grouping was the "great grouping," which referred to the nation-state. Once we see this, we recognize that Zhang's critique of "the settlement" and all kinds of social grouping was an integral part of his critique of the nation.

5. A Critique of the Parliamentary System

Against the backdrop of late Qing reformist state building, which used the Western nation-state as its blueprint, Zhang held a sharply critical attitude toward the government's use of parliaments and local self-governing bodies to expand state power into grassroots society. Many scholars have analyzed in detail Zhang's critique of the parliamentary system; I will not repeat their findings here.[56] What I do wish to emphasize is that Zhang's criticisms of the parliamentary system were directed against the state's use of the system to carry out social mobilization. First, he pointed out that parliamentary polities were another form of feudalism; their most important defect was that they employed status hierarchies to organize society.[57] Second, Zhang perceptively realized that the consultative bodies established in districts at all levels in China not only would be extremely difficult to operate (especially because of the contrast between the large population and limited numbers of representatives, the huge territory, and the voters' educational level), but even more important, the purpose of establishing parliaments was to exercise control at the

grassroots level in an economic sense, especially in solving the central government's difficult problem of tax collection.[58] The parliamentary system originally was intended to expand the people's rights, but in reality, because of economic inequality, it would increase political inequality and create a new social hierarchy.

Third, Zhang believed that the parliamentary system legitimized the special privileges of representatives (local magnates), which clashed with the principle of economic equality within the principle of the people's livelihood. Zhang offered a series of idealistic political proposals that would "check official [power] and extend [that of] the people."[59] On the surface, his proposals resemble Sun Yatsen's "Principle of the People's Livelihood." In content, however, they were considerably different, as they were rooted in Zhang's critical stance toward capitalism. For example, his plan for "equal distribution of land" was not limited to paddies and swamps but also included mountain and forest preserves and even cattle, clearly indicating his seriousness in attacking the movement of capital. This was precisely the opposite of Sun's proposal of developing state capital in order to develop a capitalist economy.[60] In Wuchao falü suoyin (Index to the laws of the five dynasties) and other works, Zhang expressed particular admiration for the traditional idea of "revering agriculture and restraining commerce." He advocated "universal laws" debasing trade and attributed social disorder to "the esteem for merchants."[61] Seen alongside his opposition to new industries and technology expressed in "Wuwu lun," such views clearly betray antimodern sentiments.

It will be recalled that Zhang's denial of the nation emerged from the perspective of the individual. This perspective, however, did not develop at all the economic idea of private property. On the contrary, whether on the level of political rights or economic rights, the individual was closely linked with the concept of equality and not the concept of rights. In the area of economic property rights, his proposals for "equal distribution" of land and the "public establishment" of factories both embodied a principle of "publicness" (gong). If we consider that the particular characteristics of his concept of the individual developed in opposition to the worldview of public principle (gongli), then on the concrete sociopolitical and economic levels the links between the concept of the individual and the value of publicness (gong) deserve special attention. This aids us in understanding why his critique of universality was also rooted in universality.

6. A Critique of Merchants as a Special Interest Group

Zhang Taiyan's critique of political groups also focused on the operation of state power in these organizations and its moral consequences. Learned societies and political parties, as well as chambers of commerce, were the most important among urban groups. Since creation of the Self-Strengthening Learned Society (Ziqiang xuehui), most late imperial learned societies were political groups; these were also the precursors of modern Chinese political parties. The most forceful promoter of learned societies was Liang Qichao. He used the term "grouping" for

all sorts of social and political organizations. Their most important function was to bring together the Chinese people as a unified nation. In "Lun xuehui" (On learned societies), in Bianfa tongyi (The general significance of the reform movement), Liang divided social groups into three types: "National groupings are the parliaments, commercial groupings are companies, and academic groupings are learned societies. Parliaments and companies know and discuss their vocations. Both derive from learning, so learned societies are the mother of those two."[62] As Hao Chang has pointed out, Liang Qichao granted learned societies such an important position because he believed that they formed an integral link in China's state making. Learned societies not only undertook the mission of teaching the people but also provided a way of shaping a certain political identity. Thus they constituted an indispensable bond in transforming China's complex and unorganized society into a unified, cohesive nation.[63] During the constitutionalist movement of the late Qing, political parties had a close relationship with learned societies. Zhang criticized these political groups primarily because of their ties with state power. He said that "if the state has political parties, then not only are most political matters corrupt, but the virtue of the scholargentry also declines. It turns the government into a redlight district, and national affairs into a peep show." This, he explained, followed from the election of representatives from political parties, who "ascended overnight to the king's road, sitting to discuss the Way. They seek to express their parties' views, not the will of the people. As for the various craft and commercial parties, all submit to their own private circles."[64] Hence his denial of political groups was twofold: on the one hand, they were self-interested social collectivities that obstructed the rationalization of state making; on the other hand, the activities of Chinese political groups were part of the state's workings. This also was the foundation of his post–1911 revolution theory: "Raise revolutionary armies and eliminate revolutionary parties."

7. The Rejection of Urban Political Organizations

Urban political organizations, including study societies and political parties, were seen as both sources of corruption and instruments of state power and were rejected.

8. The Rejection of Communities Based on Connections

In "Wuwu lun," Zhang advanced his ideal of abolishing the "settlement" (juluo), which primarily meant locally based or kin-based clans and tribes. What deserves attention is the fact that this ideal follows the ideal of abolishing the government. "The reason that all clans contend with each other is because the government sustains their separation. If political authority were to disappear, then human beings would still tame and treat generously dogs, horses, and different species. How much more generously would they treat other people?"[65] Zhang's aversion for

governments, however, was by no means unconditional anarchism. In his view, the roots of government lay in war. If war did not cease, then the government could not be dispensed with for a single day. "Thus governments are not established to order the people, but in reality are established to deal with governments of other nations. If other countries have governments, then one country cannot unilaterally be without one."[66] Thus the implication of anarchism was that it would eliminate national boundaries, unify languages, and end conflict completely. The so-called no-settlement was mentioned in the sense of ending conflict, since even with the elimination of national boundaries and government, natural differences in environment would remain, leading to conflict and alliances between natural settlements formed according to race, language, or regional differences, and the emergence of new countries and governments. "Thus if we wish to dispense with governments, we must also dispense with settlements. Farmers will be itinerant farmers, craftsmen itinerant craftsmen, and women itinerant women…. They will settle as they change dwellings and move continuously…. This is why government and settlement must be eliminated at the same time."[67]

Zhang Taiyan's "Farmers will be itinerant farmers, craftsmen itinerant craftsmen" emphasized the shedding of land and family ties. This reflected his understanding of the Chinese patriarchal clan system. In Shehui tongquan shangdui (A discussion of A History of Politics), he commented on Edward Jenks's idea that patriarchal societies "emphasize the people, not the land," pointing out that China's patriarchal society had deep bonds with the land, these bonds being in fact the combination of ancestor worship and the system of land division. It must be noted that Zhang's critique of the patriarchal system was inextricably linked to his political anti-Manchu stance, since, as he saw it, China's patriarchal society accepted the rule of foreign ethnicity. However, within the late Qing context, his assault on the patriarchal system was also based on his antagonism toward the state and the expansion of its power. During the reform period, the national officials' and constitutionalist intellectuals' proposal for local self-government was in essence an attempt to use the gentry-village community to strengthen state power. Qingmo choubei lixian dang'an shiliao includes many memorials relating to local self-government. Their central concern was how the nation might employ the gentry, clans, and the system of natural villages to carry out the exploitation, organization, mobilization, and control of society. At the end of the Qing, the reform government requested villages to establish a set of financial institutions to finance the opening of new schools and administrative and self-defense organizations. In addition, the state pressed rural villages unceasingly for tax levies (the amount exceeded by several times the land tax) to finance colossal indemnities and subsequent wars. According to Prasenjit Duara's study of rural north China, levies imposed between 1900 and 1942 were fundamentally different from the land tax and other forms of taxes collected in the past. The levies were not assessed according to population or individual wealth, but were imposed with the village serving as a unit of taxation. Because the villages were allowed to divide up their

own tax burdens, the state granted the villages their own powers of taxation and thereby control over their communal budget. After the establishment of new-style schools and public enterprises, these new-style village organizations were empowered to supervise these new enterprises and to assess and collect taxes.[68] On the one hand, the Qing government needed to nurture a group of local leaders to carry out social organization and mobilization and to realize the state's objectives. On the other hand, it had to avoid a social and judicial crisis and respect traditional authority and its institutions. However, the effort of the Manchu Qing government to use local self-government to expand its power was not entirely successful. State revenue and local disorder increased simultaneously, because the ability of the state to control rural society did not match its ability to exploit it. Formal state political authority could rely on informal structures to carry out its own policies. However, it had no means of controlling these structures. As a result, the legitimacy of state structures was checked by the corruption of local officials. Moreover, the extension of state power suggested heightened oppression and bankruptcy within the society. Duara uses Clifford Geertz's concept of involution to describe this characteristic of the expansion of late Qing state authority: "As the state grows in the involutionary mode, the informal groups become an uncontrollable power in local society, replacing a host of traditional arrangements of local governance."[69] Under these conditions, the involution of state authority means that the state bureaucracy did not rely on improving the efficiency of the existing or new establishments (personal or other administrative resources), but on reviving or expanding old state-society ties. For example, when China's old profit-based brokerage system gained in its powers of control, it not only brought about an increase in the number of brokers but also led the brokerage system to penetrate into the society's lowest level—the village. Zhang Taiyan's views toward local elections and rich families have already shown how perceptive he was about this process. At the time, however, he paid perhaps even more attention to the fact that local self-government organizations and their activities, based on local or kin-based ties, were part of the state's activities.

9. Conclusion

Let us turn to the historical significance of Zhang's proposition that "the individuated is the real; the collective is the illusory."

First, in Zhang Taiyan's writing, there is little mention of society, and the individual is set up in opposition to the state in a binary relationship. This has much to do with the historical circumstances in which the notion of society was articulated. Late Qing societal organizations such as chambers of commerce, urban guilds, and so forth often functioned as the entities in between state and society and were organized to help with the tasks of state building, society making, and individual making. As an anti-Manchu nationalist, Zhang rejected all social action in this form as attempts to help consolidate and even enhance the power of the

Manchu court. The opposition between the individuated self and the state thus developed into an opposition between the individual and a state that included all nonstate organizations. Thus, rather than saying that Zhang omitted the sphere of the society, one should say that he understood society as being "statified." This mode of discourse, with its dualistic formulation of individual and state in opposition, profoundly influenced contemporary Chinese political thought. One manifestation has been the custom of enlightened intellectuals finding political identity within the individual/nation duality (regardless of whether one is adopting an oppositional or conservative political stance). Relatively few have explored the social space that might exist between the individual and the state or in the public sphere.

Second, within the individual/state mode of discourse, the individual would never again be an abstract philosophical concept, but would be imbued with a complex structure of meaning. The meaning of the individual, with its absolute sovereignty and absolute equality in existence, had emerged in a concrete social context. Zhang's concept of the individual contained fierce negation of all "coercive" boundaries, such as nationalism, statism, and notions of village and patriarchy.[70] With regard to the state, since the individual was the basis of anarchistic thought, the individual also functioned as the basis for the declaration of popular sovereignty (with the people as individuals). With regard to modern bureaucratic structures, since the concept of the individual eliminated all rationalized social hierarchies, the concept also carried an inherent demand for political equality. With regard to economic structures, since the individual was a rationale for equal rights to the land, the individual was also a source of state socialist thought. With regard to urban groups, since the concept of the individual denied contractual relations, the concept was also the rejection of the individual/society/state mode of discourse. With regard to the patriarchal system and village associations, since the concept of the individual critiqued the gentry-village community (especially that composed of kin and local ties) as an instrument for the expansion of state power, the individual, thus conceptualized, also completely denied the traditional Chinese ethical structure. With this last point, I want to remark on the fact that although on the cultural and intellectual level Zhang promoted the "national essence" and the Chinese tradition, he rejected the clan and other traditional social groups as he developed his concept of the individual. This rejection provided an intellectual logic for modern Chinese antitraditionalism.

One of the central issues in May Fourth antitraditional thought was, as we know, the opposition between the individual, on the one hand, and the family system and traditional ethics, on the other. What deserves particular mention is the fact that Zhang's strong concept of the individual was not yet an intellectual source for capitalist rights to private property or an ethical precondition for a modern state system characterized by democracy. In other words, the individual and its related discourse certainly did not foster a Western-style individualistic culture. On the contrary, within the political, economic, and social sphere, the concept of the individual developed a politically anarchistic, economically socialist, and socially antihierarchical

intellectual orientation. The inherent relationship between the individual and universal equality in Zhang's conception contained the promise of a new relationship between the individual and the ideal of gong (the public).[71]

Third, on the level of politics, Zhang's radical negation of the nation and all social groups, as developed in his concept of the individual, had deep links with his anti-Manchu nationalism. This was because concepts of nation and social groups, as developed by Zhang's contemporaries at the turn of the century, had been predicated upon an acceptance of the legitimate authority of the Qing government. In this fashion, the radical opposition between the individual and the people (which is also a group) in Zhang's thinking had an immediate, practical consequence. The establishment of the Chinese people as a nation meant seizure of political power from the Manchus by the Han people. Moreover, the concept of the individual in principle underscored the hollowness of official state-making endeavors launched by the Qing court. In this sense, the concept of the individual was an integral part of the discursive structure of the modern Chinese people and nation.

Fourth, the concept of the individual is both self-negating and self-transcending. Zhang had argued that, within the opposition of the individual and the state, collective entities lacked subjectivity. In the end, he asserted that entities without subjectivity were but human artifices, thereby bringing up the concept of no-mankind. Furthermore, in consideration of the history of human evolution, he raised the concept of no-organisms, in order to evade the possibility that microorganisms reconstruct humankind and its society through evolution. Finally, based on the Buddhist doctrine of nonbeing, he raised the concept of the nonworld. Actually, all these arcane concepts drew from the Buddhist principles of "man without self" and "dharma without self." The concept of the individual, then, was self-negating because the individual "always took clinging to alayavijnana to be the self, clinging to self-as-real as presented in consciousness, and thoughts of good and evil arose." Moreover, this sort of self and self-as-real were biases and illusory realizations born out of discriminating relations.[72] In other words, what Zhang called the individual and the true (eternal, real, and universal) self were separate. This kind of individual was one without substance, and thus the individual itself was not a phenomenon possessing self-nature and could not become a final source of moral identity. The self thus became a concept of self-transcendence: it had to look elsewhere for substance or self-nature. The separation between the individual and self-nature (ego) was the most prominent characteristic of Zhang's provisional concept of the self. This kind of separation determined that the self would not have its own depth or inherence and could not become a foundation for value or identity. It also determined the inherent logic of Zhang's thought: his emphasis on the individual in the end led to the denial of the individual itself and toward a cosmic type of pursuit for religion, faith, and universality. This was the intellectual dynamic that gave rise to the cosmic vision in his "theory of establishing religion" and "theory of making all things equal."


Fifth, within the framework of the three-natures theory and the "theory of making all things equal," Zhang discussed the question of the individual on the ontological and cosmological levels. In other words, at least in form, the concept of the individual and the concepts of the society and collectivity were unrelated. This means that the concept has nothing to do with what Lucian Pye called "sense of belonging to a collectivity," but rather concerns the problem of the individual's identity—the position and modes of existence—within the cosmos. Whether it be Zhang's demonstration of the individual's subjectivity or his doubts with regard to the real existence of the individual, neither lay within the relationship of individual and society, individual and collectivity, or even individual and self. This special rhetoric concerning the individual and his or her substance determined that Zhang's concepts of freedom and equality would be suprasocial. Thus the relationship of equality among phenomena (including people and things, people and people, and things and things) was a principle of cosmic existence and original (natural) condition, and freedom was another form of expression for this principle and condition. Even though Zhang hinted that this should also be a political and moral principle regulating relations among nations and peoples, this freedom and equality involved no concepts of rights or duty; they did not belong to the spheres of law or morality, much less to the sphere of property. We know already that within the context of "taking the uneven as even," all phenomena have their own character and principles; but we do not know if adjustment or moderation are needed between self and self, or between principle and principle. In other words, in Zhang's mode of discourse, between the individual and the individual there was no mediator of any sort, especially with respect to society.

Zhang's concept of freedom and equality did not contain the principle that the individual precedes the social structure. Nor did it contain the principle that the social structure precedes the appearance of the individual. This was because the term "social" implied a kind of order, an apprehensible entity, a discriminating relationship, a universality, and a despotic and violent potentiality. Zhang's concept of the individual and its related discourse here involved political and social applications, but not political or social science. The political nature of Zhang's social philosophy not only led to differences in his ideas about the individual and its mode of discourse and set them apart from those articulated by Liang Qichao and Yan Fu, but it also led to differences in related ideas developed in modern Western social thought. Zhang's emphasis on self-reliance and the destruction of gongli did not lead to an argument in favor of an individual's absolute subjectivity, but to a case for the supremacy of cosmic principle and the idea of gong. This gong stemmed neither from a ritual system nor from a society, but from a natural principle of absolute equality. The reason Zhang's concept of the individual was fundamentally provisional was because only the gong had an eternal, natural condition. Although Zhang's use of the individual to oppose the nation was apparently an extreme case of individualism, he did not see the individual as a source of value

or a basis of identity. On the contrary, the source of value and the basis for morality was rooted in a unique condition, a condition of selfless publicness (gong).


This article has been translated from Chinese by Mark Halperin and condensed and revised by Zhang Qiong.

1. Translators' note: In this essay, the Chinese term geti has been translated alternately as "the individual," "the individuated," and "the individuated entity," depending on the context. The term geren has been rendered consistently as "the individual."

2. Lucian W. Pye, The Spirit of Chinese Politics (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1968), xviii. Wang Hui's reading is based upon a Chinese version of this work.

3. Fredric Jameson, "Third World Literature in the Era of Multinational Capitalism," Social Text 15 (1986): 69. Wang Hui's reading is based on a Chinese translation of this text.

4. Ibid., 85–86.

5. Translators' note: We have used Hao Chang's translation of qun. See his Liang Ch'i-ch'ao and Intellectual Transition in China, 1890–1907 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1971), 95. The Chinese term zixing is translated alternately as "self-nature" and "subjectivity" in this essay. In Wang Hui's interpretive reading of Zhang Taiyan, a key distinction is maintained between two different kinds of entities: those that are natural and thereby endowed with an authentic xing (nature, attributes) residing within the individuated unit (zi); and those that are socially constituted, often of a collective nature, to which this xing is ascribed. The most prominent significance of zixing thus lies with subjectivity but sometimes goes beyond it.

6. Friedrich Nietzsche, "The Genealogy of Morals," in The Birth of Tragedy and the Genealogy of Morals, trans. Francis Golffing (New York: Anchor Books, 1956), 188. Wang Hui's reading was based upon a Chinese version of this text.

7. Translators' note: This translation adopts Hao Chang's view of Zhang Taiyan's interpretation of Zhuangzi. See his Chinese Intellectuals in Crisis (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1987), 121–22.

8. Zhang Taiyan, "Sihuo lun" (On the four delusions), in Zhang Taiyan quanji (Shanghai: Shanghai renmin chubanshe, 1984), 4th fasc., 444.

9. Ibid., 446.

10. Translators' note: Gongli, as Wang Hui explains in the text, is a normative principle (li) recognized and accepted by all members of the society and is therefore impartial and public in the sense that it is equally accessible to all (gong). In this essay we use "public principle" to translate gongli in the hope of differentiating it from tianli (heavenly principle), a key concept in Neo-Confucian social philosophy. Gongli and tianli in Zhang Taiyan's conception appear to share attributes but differ significantly in philosophical foundation.

11. Zhang Taiyan quanji, 4th fasc., 449.

12. Ibid. The quote from Zhuangzi is taken from A. C. Graham, Chuang-tzu, 53.

13. Zhang Taiyan quanji, 4th fasc., 456–57.

14. "Da Tiezheng" (Responding to the iron gong), in Zhang Taiyan quanji, 4th fasc., 374–75.


15. "Ren wuwo lun" (On the nonexistence of the human self), in Zhang Taiyan quanji, 4th fasc., 419.

16. Translators' note: Peter Gregory defines alayavijnana as "the key Yogacara doctrine of ‘store consciousness,’ the eighth consciousness that operates as the underlying continuum in mental life and functions as the underlying projective consciousness on which delusion is ultimately based. The alayavijnana stores the seeds out of which the mental and physical elements that comprise the phenomenal world develop; it stores all experiences as karmically charged seeds, which, under the proper conditions, ripen as actions (whether mental, verbal, or physical), which in turn create new seeds." See his Inquiry into the Origin of Humanity: An Annotated Translation of Tsungmi's Yüan jen lun, with a Modern Commentary (Honolulu: Kuroda Institute, 1995), 207 and passim.

17. "Jianshe Zongjiao lun" (On the establishment of religion), in Zhang Taiyan quanji, 4th fasc., 414. The same sort of view is also seen in "Ren wuwo lun," in Zhang Taiyan quanji, 4th fasc., 427.

18. "Ren wuwo lun," in Zhang Taiyan quanji, 4th fasc., 427.

19. The stress on the impartial and the collective in modern thought exhibits a significant parallel to the ritualistic political ideals of Xunzi, whereas Zhang's conception of the "impartial," articulated in Buddhist language, is inherently similar to the ideas of natural publicness (gong) and cosmic equality expressed in the Zhuangzi: "Heaven is impartial to everything it covers, earth to everything it carries; why would heaven and earth discriminate to make me poor?" A. C. Graham, Chuang-tzu, 93.

20. "Guojia lun" (On the state), in Zhang Taiyan quanji, 4th fasc., 457.

21. Ibid., 457–58.

22. Ibid., 459. Zhang explains the so-called expressive appearances as follows: "What most people call appearance can be divided into three parts. Green, yellow, red, and white name manifest appearances. Crooked, straight, square, and round name formal appearances. Taking, giving, contracting, and expanding name expressive appearances. All things belong to manifest and formal appearances, and all matters belong to expressive appearances. The expressive appearances pass away, and with the functions they leave behind, their shape and its boundaries are not yet extinguished, and are named nonexpressive appearances."

23. Ibid., 459.

24. Ibid., 461–62.

25. Ibid., 462

26. Fourth year of the Duke of Cheng, Zuo zhuan, Shisanjing zhushu, vol. 6 (Taipei: Yiwen yinshuguan, 1976), 439; "Sannianjian" (Three-year period), Li ji, Shisanjing zhushu, vol. 5 (Taipei: Yiwen yinshuguan, 1976), 961; "Lilun" (The discourse on ritual), Xunzi jijie, ed. Wang Xianqian, vol. 3 (Shanghai: Shangwu yinshuguan, 1936), 80.

27. Shisanjing zhushu, 8:127. Translators' note: We have used the translation by Arthur Waley. See The Analects (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1938), 185.

28. Wang Ermin, Zhongguo jindai sixiang shigao (A draft history of modern Chinese thought) (Taibei: Huashi chubanshe, 1977), 209–10.

29. See, for example, the description of wufu in "Basic Annals of Xia," in Shiji (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1982), 75.

30. See Wang Ermin's two articles, "‘Zhongguo’ mingcheng suyuan ji qi jindai quanshi" (Tracing the origins of the term "China" and its modern interpretation) and "Qingji xuehui yu jindai minzuzhuyi di xingcheng" (Qing learned societies and the formation of

modern nationalism), in Zhongguo jindai sixiang shigao (Taibei: Huashi chubanshe, 1977), 209–32, 441–80.

31. Kang Youwei, "Shang Qingdi disanchu" (The third letter to the Qing emperor [May 29, 1895]), in Kang Youwei shenglunji, ed. Tang Zhijun (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1981), 140. "Trailing gowns" refers to how the Yellow Emperor, Yao, and Shun ruled the world by merely donning proper garments. See Zhou Yi, "Xici zhuan," Shisanjing zhushu, vol. 1 (Taipei: Yiwen yinshuguan, 1976), 167.

32. Liang Qichao, "Aiguo lun" (On patriotism), in Yinbingshi heji, wenji (Collected works and essays from the Ice-Drinker's Studio), vol. 3 (Shanghai: Shanghai Zhonghua shuju, 1947), 47.

33. Liang Qichao, "Zhongguo jiruo suyuan lun" (On tracing the origins of China's extreme weakness), in Yinbingshi heji, wenji, vol. 5, 15–16, 22–23.

34. Liang Qichao, "Xinmin shuo" (New citizen), in Yinbingshi heji. Translators' note: The author does not indicate which part of Yinbingshi heji he refers to and gives no volume or page number.

35. For the view that nationalism meant "national-people-ism," see "Sanmin zhuyi" (The three principles of the people), in Sun Zhongshan quanji (The collected works of Sun Yatsen), 9th fasc. (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1981), 184–185.

36. Zhang Taiyan, "Zhang Taiyan guimao yuzhong manbi" (Zhang Taiyan's random jottings from prison in 1903), Guocui xuebao (Shanghai), no. 8 (1905): 5.

37. Wang Sichen, Guoxue jianghua (Shanghai: Shijie shuju, 1935), 1–3.

38. Huang Jie, "Guocui xuebaoshu," Guocui xuebao (Shanghai), no. 1 (March 23, 1905): 3.

39. Ibid.

40. Zhang Taiyan, "Yanshuo lu," in Minbao, no. 6 (January 1907): 4. See Xinhai geming qian shinian jianshi lun xuanji, 2d fasc., pt. A (Beijing: Sanlian shudian, 1978), 448–52.

41. Translators' note: To distinguish minzu zhuyi and guojia zhuyi, we translate the former as "nationalism" and the latter as "statism."

42. Liang Qichao, "Zhengzhixue dajia Bolunzhili zhi xueshuo" (The ideas of the great political scientist Bluntschli), in Yinbingshi heji, wenji, vol. 13, 68. Behind Liang's view was the major turn in his political attitudes and faith in politics. Liang Rengong xiansheng nianpu changbian chugao (A first draft of the long version of Master Liang Rengong's chronological history) has the following note: "The nihilism of his previous deeply felt beliefs and his advocacy of revolutionary anti-Manchuism were completely abandoned. This was a great turn in the master's political thought. His speech and ideas of the next few years were based completely on this foundation." Cited from Xinhai geming shiqi qikan jieshao (An introduction to periodicals of the 1911 revolution era), vol. 1 (Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 1982), 162.

43. Liang Qichao, "Zhengzhixue dajia Bolunzhili zhi xueshuo," 70–71.

44. Ibid., 69, 77–86.

45. Ibid., 86–88.

46. Ibid., 88–89.

47. See Liang Qichao, "Kaiming zhuanzhi lun" (On enlightened despotism), Yinbingshi heji, wenji, vol. 17. Hao Chang points out that "his central concern was not with ‘enlightened despotism’ per se, but with a much broader underlying problem, namely, ‘reason of the state.’" In other words, Liang's political orientation was identical to that of Western political thinkers from Machiavelli to Hegel, whose "paramount concern was the rational conduct of government to ensure the survival and security of the state irrespective of its moral

and ideological consequences. Specifically, ‘reason of state’ consists in the justification of such rational conduct of government as the supreme political end." See his Liang Ch'i-ch'ao, 255–56. Liang's interest in "enlightened despotism" was a natural development of his interest in "reason of state." What must be pointed out here, however, is that he had no interest in enlightened despotism itself, but found it an ideal and effective means to solve the problem of the Chinese nation's security and survival during an age of imperialism. This in general also explains Liang's contradictory feelings toward constitutional monarchy and enlightened despotism.

48. Zhu Zhixin, "Xinli de guojiazhuyi," Minbao 21 (June 1906): 22–34.

49. Zhang Taiyan, "Zhonghua minguo jie," in Zhang Taiyan quanji, 4th fasc., 253. The targets of his criticism were "economic-military theorists," meaning actually Yang Du's essay "Jintie zhuyi shuo" (The theory of economic militarism), published in Zhongguo xinbao (China new report) 2 (February 1907): 4. Yang Du believed in enriching the country and strengthening the military, establishing the nation through the military "only toward the outside, but not toward the inside," and carrying out an "economic militarism." During the constitutional monarchy period, he touched on the Manchu-Han Chinese problem. "Between the monarch and the people, those who say that there has been no Manchu-Han Chinese problem for a long time cannot extend this to the imperial house. The imperial house directly stands outside the Manchu-Han Chinese problem." His view was that the monarch was an agency of the nation; the problem was one of whether he is the monarch of the enlightened despotic polity or that of the constitutional monarchical polity, and not one of whether he is a Manchu or Han Chinese. "The monarch is the representative of the entire nation, not that of an entire people." Behind his slogan that "the monarch and people are one, and Manchu and Han have equal rights" was his use of the national problem to obscure the racial problem.

50. Zhang Taiyan, "Zhonghua minguo jie," in Zhang Taiyan quanji, 4th fasc., 256.

51. "Xuanshi yule lixian xianxing liding guanzhi yu" (Edict announcing that constitutional preparation will begin by carrying out the formulation of rules for official institutions), in Qingmo choubei lixian dang'an shiliao, ed. Gugong bowuguan Ming-Qing dang'anbu (Ming-Qing archives of the National Palace Museum), vol. 1 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1979), 44.

52. Liang Qichao, "Shizhong dexing xiangfan xiangcheng yi" (The contradictory and complementary meaning of ten kinds of virtuous conduct), published originally in Qingyi bao (Pure discussion reports) 82 (June 16, 1901) and 84 (July 6, 1901), later included in Yinbingshi heji, wenji, 5th vol. See also Liang Qichao, Liang Qichao zhexue sixiang lunwen xuan (A selection of Liang Qichao's essays on philosophical thought) (Beijing: Beijing Daxue chuban-she, 1984), 49.

53. Zhang Taiyan, "Sihuo lun," in Zhang Taiyan quanji, 4th fasc., 446–48.

54. Zhang Taiyan, "Guojia lun," in Zhang Taiyan quanji, 4th fasc., 458.

55. Zhang Taiyan, "Wuwu lun," in Zhang Taiyan quanji, 4th fasc., 435.

56. See, for example, Wang Fansen, Zhang Taiyan ti sixiang ji qi dui Ruxue chuantong di chongji(Zhang Taiyan's thought and its attack on Confucian tradition) (Taipei: Shibao wenhua chuban youxian gongsi, 1985), chap. 5, sec. 3. See also Qingmo choubei lixian dang'an shiliao, vol. 2 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1979), 603–4.

57. Zhang believed that China's despotic system made for a more egalitarian society than the constitutional systems of the West and Japan. See Zhang Taiyan, "Daiyi ranfou lun," Zhang Taiyan quanji, 4th fasc., 300.


58. Ibid., 303.

59. Ibid., 307–8; and "Wuwu lun," Zhang Taiyan quanji, 4th fasc., 430–31.

60. See Zhao Jing and Yi Menghong, eds., Zhongguo jindai jingji sixiang shi (The history of modern Chinese economic thought), vol. 2 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1985), 488–502.

61. Zhang Taiyan, "Wuchao falü suoyin," Zhang Taiyan quanji, 4th fasc., 84. This work originally appeared in issue 23 of Minbao, and was changed somewhat when incorporated into Taiyan wenlu (Record of Taiyan's writings).

62. Liang Qichao, "Bianfa tongyi—lun xuehui," Yinbingshi heji, wenji, 1st fasc., 31.

63. Hao Chang, Liang Ch'i-ch'ao, 108–9.

64. Zhang Taiyan, "Daiyi ranfou lun," Zhang Taiyan quanji, 4th fasc., 309. See also Zhang Taiyan's October 1911 essay, "Zhu zhengdang" (Eliminating political parties), in Tang Zhijun, ed., Zhang Taiyan nianpu changbian (The long version of Zhang Taiyan's chronology), vol. 1 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1979), 352–60.

65. Zhang Taiyan quanji, 4th fasc., 432.

66. Ibid., 432.

67. Ibid., 434.

68. Prasenjit Duara, Culture, Power, and the State: Rural North China, 1900–1942 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1988), 4.

69. Ibid., 74–77.

70. "Wuwu lun," Zhang Taiyan quanji, 4th fasc., 429–30.

71. The manifestation of this notion of publicness (gong) in nationalism is the extension of Mozi's "impartial" ethics, in which "undifferentiated love begins its practice with kin," to the relationships between peoples. Zhang said, "What we propose is not limited to the Han people. For other weak peoples who have been conquered by strong peoples, whose government has been usurped and people enslaved, if they have any remaining strength they must unite and recover [their sovereignty and freedom]…. If we want to fulfill our nationalism, then we should extend our ‘hearts of a child’ to rescue others in similar distress and allow them to live in land that is completely independent." Ibid., 430.

72. Ibid., 436–37.

Zhang Taiyan's Concept of the Individual and Modern Chinese Identity

Preferred Citation: Yeh, Wen-hsin, editor. Becoming Chinese: Passages to Modernity and Beyond. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c2000 2000.