THE FUTURE OF THE PAST
On Wang Hui’s Rise of Modern Chinese Thought
Since the 1990s, Wang Hui has been an agenda-setting figure in the contemporary Chinese intellectual landscape. A leading representative of China’s ‘New Left’, he has been at the centre of public debates since the publication of his path-breaking essay, ‘Contemporary Chinese Thought and the Question of Modernity’, which aroused fierce and enduring intellectual controversy. Under his editorship, China’s principal journal of ideas, Dushu, became the forum of many key theoretical disputes and policy discussions. His forced resignation from the journal in 2007 ignited another debate among the Chinese intelligentsia, as readers polarized over its political line and intellectual quality during his tenure. In contrast to all this uproar, however, his magnum opus on The Rise of Modern Chinese Thought, whose four volumes appeared in 2004, caused scarcely a political ripple.  Technically, Xiandai Zhongguo Sixiang de Xingqi comes in two volumes, each in two parts. But since neither of the volumes has a subtitle indicating what the parts have in common, or why they belong together, it seems simpler to refer, as will be done below, to the whole set as they exist physically, in four volumes, each with its own title. Applauded by the left, and well received by many scholars of modern Chinese intellectual history, it met with almost universal silence from his political adversaries.
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