Cambria Press authors Professors Minghui Hu (University of California Santa Cruz) and Johan Elverskog (Southern Methodist University) are among the group of scholars who are making the bold exploration into historian Joseph Levenson’s observation that China used to be cosmopolitan on account of Confucianism. Levenson’s assertion was made at the height of the Cultural Revolution and the Cold War in 1971.
At that time, the notion of China, much less Confucianism, as somehow being cosmopolitan may have surprised many of his readers, especially because so many conventional ideas about China—ranging from its “kith and kin” social structure to its purportedly eternal and monolithic state structure—seem to reflect a society that was the very antithesis of cosmopolitanism.
Indeed, even now, or perhaps even more so now on account of growing Chinese nationalism, Han chauvinism, and global fears of a rising China, the idea of Chinese cosmopolitanism may strike many as ill conceived. This supposition is well borne out by the fact that one can largely search in vain the last four decades of scholarship on China to find again the three words China, Confucianism, and cosmopolitanism combined in any meaningful way. It is not only scholars of late imperial (or early modern) China who have failed to pursue Levenson’s idea; China is also woefully absent in the burgeoning scholarship in the movement known as the “new cosmopolitanism.”
But Levenson, according to Professors Hu and Elverskog, as with so much of his scholarship, was clearly on to something important. In fact, in the current academic climate it seems almost irresponsible not to address this. Their forthcoming volume, Cosmopolitanism in China, 1600-1950, is therefore a pioneering attempt to explore the implications and possibilities of Levenson’s potent observation regarding China in relation to the growing scholarship on cosmopolitanism around the world.
This book is part of the Cambria Sinophone World Series, led by Dr. Victor Mair (University of Pennsylvania).
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