Handbooks of Research on Contemporary China series
Edited by Michael Keane
Chapter 1: Introduction
A hundred years ago the New Culture Movement swept through China’s coastal cities. The dynastical period presided over by emperors with their concubines and officials gave way to a heady period in which ideas such as democracy and science jostled with the legacy of Confucianism. Chinese culture was facing a crisis. Modernize or perish. Chinese culture did modernize: it assimilated elements of Western Marxism, expurgated elements of Confucianism and under the stewardship of Chairman Mao set its course to liberating a nation. The idea that culture might be an industry was never countenanced: that was something bourgeois, evidence that the capitalists were evil. Cultural workers were the screw and cogs in a machine of progress measured initially by revolution and class struggle and later by economic reforms. When the economic reforms did come in the late 1970s, China emerged from its seclusion from the world. Culture, however, was still insulated from global market forces. This is no longer the case. All societies need renewal; ways of thinking change, and governments inevitably look to the future. Ultimately renewal takes place when ideas gain purchase among communities, sometimes when governments are overthrown for a better development model, or sometimes they are incubated in creative or innovative milieus.