The Power of Position: Beijing University, Intellectuals, and Chinese Political Culture, 1898-1929 (Berkeley Series in Interdisciplinary Studies of China)

The Power of Position: Beijing University, Intellectuals, and Chinese Political Culture, 1898-1929 (Berkeley Series in Interdisciplinary Studies of China)

Timothy B. Weston

Language: English

Pages: 338

ISBN: 0520237676

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Throughout the twentieth century, Beijing University (or Beida) has been at the center of China's greatest political and cultural upheavals—from the May Fourth Movement of 1919 to the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s to the tragic events in Tiananmen Square in 1989. Why this should be—how Beida's historical importance has come to transcend that of a mere institution of higher learning--is a question at the heart of this book. A study of intellectuals and political culture during the past century's tumultuous early decades, The Power of Position is the first to focus on Beida, China's oldest and best-known national university.

Timothy B. Weston portrays the university as a key locus used by intellectuals to increase their influence in society. Weston analyzes the links between intellectuals' political and cultural commitments and their specific manner of living. He also compares Beijing's intellectual culture with that of the rising metropolis of Shanghai. What emerges is a remarkably nuanced and complex picture of life at China's leading university, especially in the decades leading up to the May Fourth Movement.

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National University naturally became a staging place for discussions and dramas centered on that subject. As before the revolution, following the collapse of the Qing dynasty, intellectuals were caught between shifting value systems. One held that it was permissible to seek prestige and glory by identifying oneself with the reigning political power, while an emerging alternative held that men of learning should stake out a more autonomous social position independent of the dictates of the state.

It is significant that Zhang defined the revolutionary hero in much the same way that he described the true scholar—as one who is uninterested in wealth or status and wholly selfless in the pursuit of his goal. For Zhang, nonconformity was itself a likely sign of moral strength and conviction. In both his politics and his scholarship he was a purist, and there 112 Redefinition in the Wake of the Revolution can be little doubt that the lessons he imparted to his disciples had as much to do with

under whose leadership classical Chinese and Western music education truly began to flourish. In March 1920 the first periodical in modern China de- Between the Old Culture and the New 137 voted to music education, Music Magazine (Yinyue zazhi), began publication at Beida. The next year, following Wang Lu’s premature death, Liu Tianhua, another of China’s virtuoso performers on the classical lute and the balloon guitar, was hired as a tutor, thereby solidifying Beida’s reputation as the

intellectual association” in the late imperial period, one deprecating “parties” or “factions” as selfish and partial, and the other sanctioning “comradely groups by quoting Confucius’ disciple, Tseng-tzu: ‘The superior man on grounds of culture meets with his friends, and by their friendship helps his virtue.’ ” The Beijing University Society for the Promotion of Morality tapped into this latter tradition.92 In calling attention to the Confucian and Neo-Confucian echoes in the manifesto for the

conveys a clear sense of superiority even as it reveals an uncomfortable awareness of his own privileged social position. Like other New Culture leaders, Xu clearly believed that all people could benefit from education and that intellectuals were the role models that all citizens should emulate. Xu Deheng’s speech was one among many, but the titles of others— “Everybody Needs Education,” “The Harm Caused by Gambling,” “Family Reform,” “The Benefits of Reading Books,” “Superstition,” “Are You Here

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