The Centre for Comparative Modernities is delighted to announce its inaugural workshop for the centre’s Autumn Workshop Series. Please note all sessions in this series will be online on Zoom at 13:00 UK time.
The Zoom link for all sessions is:
Meeting ID: 948 8192 7692
Session 1: Morality & Modernities 7 November 2023 (online)
The State of Contemporary Chinese Moral Education: The Search for a Pre-modern National Identity
Edwin Hao Chen Jiang, PhD Cambridge University
Abstract: Taking heed of anthropologist Bjorn Thomassen’s warning that the canonical conception of modernity that originated in post-Enlightenment Europe was never about the delineation of a singular historical trajectory, I defend in this paper a Weberian conception of modernity by demonstrating its utility in conceptualising contemporary moral and political education initiatives within the People’s Republic of China. Drawing on ethnographic observations of such educational initiatives in a Chinese high school, I argue that the Chinese Communist Party is actively promoting a Chinese identity amongst the youth that is characteristically pre-modern, in the sense that it is ‘found’ and not ‘made.’ While other primordialist or essentialist conceptions of identity in different ethnographic context —ones based on ‘blood,’ ‘soil,’ or even ‘cultural logics’—might seem to share this pre-modern direction of normative fit, I argue what is unique in the Chinese case today is its complete lack of a singular defining characteristic of Chineseness. By focussing on the ‘why’ and ‘how’ instead of the ‘what,’ of ‘being Chinese,’ I argue that although my informants did not identify and could not agree on any single putative trait that made someone Chinese, their pre-modern conception of their own natural identity was not weakened by this epistemic shortcoming in the slightest.
East Asian Interpretations of Universal Morality in Modernity
Jiannan Luo, Durham University
Abstract: Contemporary Chinese IR literature highlights the Chinese worldview that prioritises universal morality, transcending interests, rules, and cultures. This perspective draws extensively from ancient concepts, notably Tianxia. Similar commitments to universal morality is observable in other East Asian nations, exemplified by Korea’s ‘Juchejeok IR’ and Japan’s Kyoto School. These arguments typically stress consensus and peaceful coexistence today, but the interpretations of universal morality exhibit variations across historical contexts. Japan’s early 20th-century term ‘Hakkō ichiu’, for instance, stirred controversy by perceiving universalism as a mandatory imposition of the state, which consequently intensified conflicts. This essay’s objective is to present and compare how East Asian states interpret universal morality as an ‘Asian way’ differently in response to encounters with the West. It contends that with the progressions of modernisation, East Asian states have shown diminishing interest in defining the uniqueness of ancient East Asian thoughts or its implications in realpolitik. Instead, they tend to regard East Asian perspectives through a lens of nostalgia, seeking philosophical narratives adapted to contemporary contexts. Meanwhile, the challenge of integrating universal morality with multilateralism remains a pressing concern.