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Ideological Base of Chinese Renaissance

Nationalism is the immediate basis to Chinese Renaissance. The movement sprang from the wide disillusionment with traditional Chinese culture following the failure of the Republic of China to address China’s problems. The Chinese realized that even though a republic replaced the former decadent royal rule and progress had been made in its economic modernization, the basic fact that China remained weak was unchanged.

Yet interestingly, the nationalism turned out somewhat peculiar, as the Chinese Renaissance called for a rejection of China’s own traditional values while adopting Western ideals. This bears a similarity with European Renaissance which had drawn much inspiration from the achievements of the Islamic World.

Traditional Chinese culture (mainly Confucianism) was held as the culprit for China's reduced circumstances. Just as the European Renaissance revolted against the church, the Chinese Renaissance was an unprecedented revolt against Confucian culture, which was increasingly considered corrupt and decadent. More and more traditions and customs came under criticism as being obsolete or having been wrongfully believed and applied for thousands of years. In The Diary of a Madman, Lu Xun denounces China’s traditional culture as man-eating. Confucian texts, along with other classics, were re-examined using modern textual and critical methods. The emancipation of the individual from the bondage of traditions, for example, feminism and the pursuit of free love against arranged marriage, were among the major themes of literature of the period.

The doubt and revolt against traditional Chinese culture was coupled with a warm brace of Western culture. Intellectual leaders called for reshaping Chinese culture based on Western standards, especially democracy and science. The Chinese called for learning Western natural sciences and technologies to strengthen China’s economy and military. Returned students from overseas criticized Chinese medicine as mere groundless superstitions, and extolled the fruits of Western scientific and technological achievement. Traditional ethics characterized by patriarchal, autocratic familial system came under fire, and calls for true democracy and liberty (partly in response to then President Yuan Shikai’s attempt to restore the monarchical system and the state of national disunity in the hands of a few autocratic warlords) were a popular outcry. 

Enlightenment of the general public was deemed the fundamental means to reform Chinese culture, and the intellectual leaders were keen to make some influential differences in this respect. A new literature based on written vernacular language was promoted. It was charged that classical Chinese language and literature, though elegant and meaningful, was understood by scholars and officials only. Just as Galileo wrote in the vernacular to reach a larger audience, literature written in the popular, living language allowed people with little education to read texts and books.



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