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UBC Theses and Dissertations

A crisis of political commitment: Zhou Zuoren on culture and national identity, 1918-1938 Guo, Gwen Neva Raymond


The essay-writer Zhou Zuoren was a part of the May Fourth intellectual movement in China. In his works, he tried to establish a new way of thinking about Chinese cultural identity that emphasized the relative nature of that identity vis-a-vis other cultures and cultural histories. He compared and contrasted foreign literatures and cultures with that of China in order to further this new way of thinking. Zhou also believed that the absorption of foreign influence would rejuvenate Chinese culture. His was a fundamentally cosmopolitan endeavor, but his observations about foreign cultures and literatures were overshadowed, or perhaps even dictated, by his deep concern with Chinese identity. When cultural rejuvenation did not seem to occur in China, Zhou attempted to distance himself and his career from responsibility for not having reached the intended goals, rather than give up the vision of identity that sustained his work. Likewise, when the forces of foreign imperialism threatened to disrupt cultural study as he had envisioned it, Zhou attempted to retreat from the world. As a cultural man, he was unwilling to make a political commitment in a time of crisis for China, but eventually he was forced into a commitment by others.

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