Peter Zarrow Humanities Institute Fellowship

On Tuesday, April 12 at 4:30pm, AAASI Affiliate Faculty and Professor of History Peter Zarrow, who is a recipient of a 2015-2016 UCHI Fellowship will deliver Utopian Democracy and the Birth of Chinese Liberalism John Dewey, Chen Duxiu, and Hu Shi that presents two case studies of “Chinese liberalism”, an idea that may strike many inside and outside of China as an oxymoron.

Zarrow will argue that notions of liberty and equality, democracy and civil society came together in the politically tumultuous 1910s and 1920s, focusing on Chen Duxiu, who later became a founder of the Chinese Communist Party, and on Hu Shi, who later became Chiang Kai-shek’s ambassador to the United States, and their takes on Deweyan ideals.

Prof. Zarrow was awarded a 2015-2016 University of Connecticut Humanities Institute (UCHI) Faculty Fellowship. His winning submission “The Utopian Impulse in Modern Chinese Political Thought, 1890 – 1940″ is summarized as follows:

This project examines the role of utopianism in modern Chinese thought through four case studies. They demonstrate that the urge toward utopian solutions was widespread; it was not universal, but it can be found among thinkers not usually thought of as utopian. This is the “utopian impulse”—a constituent but not defining element of theory that took different forms, examined via:

1. Kang Youwei (metaphysical cosmopolitanism);

2. Chen Duxiu (utopian democracy, which infused his liberal, Leninist, and Trotskyite phases);

3. Hu Shi (scientism, which influenced his liberalism); and

4. Cai Yuanpei (aestheticism, which formed the basis of his “philosophical anarchism”).

These four figures illustrate the wide variety of forms that the utopian impulse could take and the different theoretical purposes to which it was put. Most political thinkers in modern China could not have theorized in the ways they preferred without making use of utopian ideas even while they frequently condemned “utopianism.” This project will conclude with a brief examination of the afterlife of the utopian impulse in Maoism and post-Maoist state capitalism.

A UCHI Faculty Fellowship provides a focused opportunity to pursue advanced work that contributes to scholarly knowledge or to the general public’s understanding of the humanities.