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BY 1890, WHEN China had already faced the threat of foreign domination for fifty years. China's scholar elite was just becoming receptive to the need for overall institutional changes in their country to counter the foreign threat.
For older scholars, traditional Chinese thought provided the answer to their country's needs. Younger scholars such as Liang Ch'i-ch'ao believed that only through a combination of Western knowledge and traditional Chinese thought could China strengthen itself.
The Manchus who had ruled China for more than two centuries allied themselves with older members of the elite to suppress the younger scholars. Liang Ch'i-ch'ao and other activists who advocated rapid and thorough overhaul of China's government were in exile by the end of 1898.
Prior to his exile in Japan. Liang had taught traditional Chinese studies, but his exposure to the West had alrady convinced him that the key to the Western ability to impose its military and technological might on China lay in Western philosophy. In Japan, Liang had ample opportunity to further his studies of Western philosophy, and he became an editorialist with great influence throughout China and among the overseas Chinese.
Hao Chang's Liang Ch'i-ch'ao and Intellectual Transition in China is an outgrowth of his Ph.D. thesis. Nevertheless, it reads smoothly and does not attempt to overburden the reader with the useless facts or to overawe him with the writer's analytical skills. The author has attempted to show how currents of Western and traditional Chinese thought clashed in Liang's mind. Liang did not merely substitute Western ideas for those already present in the Chinese tradition. Liang would accept a particular Western idea, but he was perfectly willing to discard that idea if he found an element in Chinese tradition that was more meaningful.
LIANG'S MAJOR concern was the danger of foreign imperialism rather than the individual liberties of the citizen. Liang favored a collectivist democracy of the type which the author compares to the Greek polis in which--unlike the 19th century liberal democracies--the needs of the multitude took precedence over those of the individual.
In light of China's weakness at the turn of the Twentieth Century, Liang believed that a liberal republican government achieved by revolutionary means, as favored by his rival Sun Yat-sen, would be a disastrous failure. According to Liang, China had no tradition of "enlightened self-interest" among all its people that would promote the public good.
To make up for the lack of "popular altruism's among the Chinese, Liang favored rule by an elite styled after that of Meiji Japan where the nonelite majority of the community could also participate in the political process. In comparison with the basically Confucian doctrine which limited the reins of power to the Emperor and the scholar elite, Chang says that Liang's doctrine of popular participation in government was "essentially egalitarian."
To have a state, Liang said, "is not merely to have rulers, officials, students, farmers, laborers, merchants, and soldiers, but to have ten thousand eyes with one sight, ten thousand hands and feet with only one mind, ten thousand ears with one hearing, ten thousand powers with only one purpose of life; then the state is established ten thousandfold strong... When mind touches mind, when power is linked to power, cog to cog, strand around strand, and ten thousand roads meet in one center, this will be a state."
The complex way in which Chinese and foreign ideas interacted in Liang's mind is a sobering reminder of the difficulties involved in communication between different cultures. Chang shows how Liang would favor those Western ideas which verified his predispositions (i.e. Benjamin Kidd's idea of sacrifice of the individual's rights in the present for the sake of the collective good in the future). The author has also shown how Liang misunderstood the philosophy of Jeremy Bentham.
CHANG'S CHRONOLOGY of Liang's thought does not go past 1907 at which time Liang entered the practical world of politics where he had little success. Liang's rivals did not do so well either; under the revolutionary leadership of Sun Yat-sen they eventually lost their power to the wariords.
Liang was a reformer rather than a revolutionary and he favored retention of important elements of China's tradition. He felt that the filial piety present in traditional Chinese family life could be put to good use by the state-- as had been achieved in Meiji Japan. Liang also saw no need for social transformation in China.
Liang wanted the Chinese to cast off their fatalism in favor of a dynamism that would enable them to persevere in resistance to foreign domination.
It took until 1949 for a regime to come to power in China able to instill in its citizens the kind of dynamism that Liang advocated.
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