Graduation Year


Publication Date

Spring 4-22-2011


This paper attempts to explore the historical origins of the “totalistic iconoclasm” that was characteristic of Chinese intellectual history in the twentieth century. By examining Wei Yuan’s historical writings, the paper argues that the conceptual connection between the civilization of the majority Han ethnicity (“the Chinese tradition”) and the idea of a political entity of China had already broken down by mid-nineteenth century. The Qing Empire’s political adoption and control of Confucianism suffocated its intellectual creativity and thus Confucianism only existed as custom and in form. As an intellectual reaction to these political manipulations, the essentialist thoughts of the late Ming gradually gave way to the pragmatist thoughts of late Qing. This separation of cultural and political entities in the minds of the Chinese intellectual elite as a response to the Qing Empire’s manipulation of Confucianism set up the condition for the total cultural iconoclasm in twentieth century China.


Asian History | History | Intellectual History