How modern was Chinese modernity? Exploring tensions of a contested master narrative

2015-05-15T08:52:19Z (GMT) by Thoralf Klein
“Modernity” continues to be a useful historiographical tool, however, it is tension-laden both theoretically and empirically. Conceptually, “modernity” can denote either a quality (“modern-ness”) or a condition referring to a specific period in history. With regard to empirical research, the essay takes a look at the recent history of China, arguing that although there exists a line between what is modern and what is not (between modernity and its Other[s]), this often appears fuzzy when we look at concrete historical manifestations. Two case studies bear this out: The first looks at the possibility of locating a rural modernity, challenging conventional scholarship that has situated the modern almost exclusively in China’s cities. The second case study elucidates the relationship between “Chinese” and “global” modernity, striking a balance between universalistic and pluralistic understandings of modernity. In sum, the essay shows that it is essential to incorporate the paradoxes inherent in the modern condition into the analytical framework.