Optimism and Scepticism regarding Progress in Late 19th-Century and Republican China

Convenor: Prof. Dr. Thomas Fröhlich

29th - 31th October 2013

On behalf of the International Consortium for Research in the Humanities "Fate, Freedom and Prognostication" at the Friedrich-Alexander-University Erlangen-Nuremberg Prof. Thomas Fröhlich (convenor) invites to the conference on “Optimism and Scepticism regarding Progress in Late 19th-Century and Republican China”. The conference will be held from 29th - 31th October 2013 in Erlangen, Germany.

The aim of this conference is to examine expressions of optimism and scepticism regarding civilizational progress as they appeared within the circles of the Chinese intellectual and political elite.

Following crisis response strategies from the end of the 19th century, conceptions of civilizational progress, in the broad sense, social evolution and modernization quickly gained a great degree of influence in political and intellectual circles in China. Even though ‘Western’ ideas played a central role to varying degrees in the development of such conceptions, the evaluations, assessments and prognoses of ‘progress’ were by no means concurrent in China and Western societies. While optimistic views on civilizational progress tended to lose importance in Europe and North America from the late 19th century and sceptical findings were increasingly emphasized, optimism regarding progress continued to predominate in China in various forms. Fundamentally optimistic positions, in China, referred to the temporal aspects of civilizational advance: it was thus thought to be possible that progress/modernization could occur in an accelerated mode in China. This attitude reflects notions of a present and future China in which a catching up with, overtaking and surpassing of supposedly more advanced Western societies might take place. Moreover, a multifaceted and frequently ethically based diagnosis of China’s current situation appeared which recognized a lack of simultaneity from an explicitly universal historical perspective and was associated with predictive statements. Here, China appeared as a historical entity that was stuck in a historically ‘backwards’ era in comparison to Western societies and therefore, facing considerable time pressure, needed to undertake targeted steps toward an accelerated process of development. Such optimistic assumptions can be found in a broad intellectual and political spectrum that is not adequately understood in terms of the usual classifications like ‘progressive/conservative’. In this context, research on scepticism regarding progress and criticism of optimistic positions from late imperial and Republican China would also be highly instructive.

The focus of the conference allows for a wide-ranging framework for transdisciplinary investigations into aspects of optimism and scepticism regarding civilizational progress.


28th October: Arrival

29th October: First Day

09.15 a.m. Welcome addresses
Thomas Fröhlich (Vice Director IKGF, University of Erlangen-Nuremberg)
Antje Kley (Vice-President, University of Erlangen-Nuremberg)
09.45 a.m. The Chinese Concept of "Progress"
Read Abstract here...

Kai Vogelsang (University of Hamburg)
Respondent: Rui Kunze 王瑞 (University of Erlangen-Nuremberg)
10.45 a.m. Coffee Break
11.00 a.m. Despair and Utopianism in Modern China: Abolishing Boundaries
Read Abstract here...

Peter Zarrow (University of Connecticut)
Respondent: Leigh Jenco (London School of Economics and Political Science)
12.00 a.m. Lunch Break
01.30 p.m. The Idea of Progress in Modern China. The Case of Yan Fu
Read Abstract here...

Li Qiang 李強 (Peking University)
Respondent: Thomas Fröhlich (IKGF, University of Erlangen-Nuremberg)
02.30 p.m. Coffee Break
02.45 p.m. Against the Specter of (Modern) Time: Critique of Progressivism in Modern Chinese History
Read Abstract here...

Axel Schneider (University of Göttingen)
Respondent: Li Qiang 李強 (Peking University)
03.45 p.m. Coffee Break
04.00 p.m. Fantasizing Science: Kexue xiaoshuo 科學小說 in Early Twentieth-Century China (1902-1920)
Read Abstract here...

Rui Kunze 王瑞 (University of Erlangen-Nuremberg)
Respondent: Takahiro Nakajima 中島隆博 (University of Tokyo)
05.00 p.m. End

30th October: Second Day

09.15 a.m. Prospect Optimism and the Temptations of Expertocracy in Republican China
Read Abstract here...

Thomas Fröhlich (IKGF, University of Erlangen-Nuremberg)
Respondent: Peter Zarrow (University of Connecticut)
10.15 a.m. Coffee Break
10.30 a.m. The Contingency of Culture: Westernization and Cultural Construction in the 1930s
Read Abstract here...

Leigh Jenco (London School of Economics and Political Science)
Respondent: Hsiau A-chin 蕭阿勤 (Academia Sinica)
11.30 a.m. Coffee Break
11.45 a.m. Science and Religion between Optimism and Skepticism: Minakata Kumagusu in Japan and Hu Shi in China
Read Abstract here...

Takahiro Nakajima 中島隆博 (University of Tokyo)
Respondent: Axel Schneider (University of Göttingen)
12.45 p.m. Lunch Break
02.15 p.m. When Revolutionary Optimism Encountered Local Particularity: The 1947-49 Literary and Cultural Debate in Post-Colonial Taiwan
Read Abstract here...

Hsiau A-chin 蕭阿勤 (Academia Sinica)
Respondent: Carsten Storm (University of Erlangen-Nuremberg)
03.15 p.m. Coffee Break
03.30 p.m. 近代思想中對「未來」的想像. The Imagination of "Future" in Modern Chinese Thought
Wang Fang-sen 王汎森 (Academia Sinica)
Reader: Rui Kunze 王瑞 (University of Erlangen-Nuremberg)
04.30 p.m. End

31th October: Third Day

09.15 a.m. Talking about Science and Technology in Late Imperial and Early Republican China
Read Abstract here...

Iwo Amelung (University of Frankfurt)
Respondent: Kai Vogelsang (University of Hamburg)
10.15 a.m. Roundtable
11.00 a.m. End


Conference Flyer
Conference Poster
Book of Abstracts

International Consortium for Research in the Humanities

"Fate, Freedom and Prognostication. Strategies for Coping with the Future in East Asia and Europe."

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