Here I am, back at the internet cafe. This time, however, I am off in a side room, sipping ice latte and blogging - is this what they mean when they talk about the "superiority of socialism?"
I gave my paper at the conference today. Let me mention here two apsects of its reception.
First, a couple of people suggested that I was arguing against something that hasn't happened yet; that is, the state has not appropriated Confucianism for nationalist purposes, it probably won't, and Confucianism would not be well suited to such an appropriation. They may be right, at least about the timing. As suggested in an earlier post (or maybe it is in the body of the paper), Confucianism plays a secondary role in official nationalist discourse, second fiddle to the continuing emphasis on Marxism, etc. But the state has sponsored the Confucian revival, and, I believe, state leaders do want to make it into a narrative of national greatness. Perhaps this has not come fully into form yet, but I, for one, think that the state is moving in that direction. Am I paranoid? I don't think so. Instead, I think the folks here, mostly philosophers, have a more idealist view of politics than I do. That may be an occupational harzard for someone whose day job is political science.
Second, there was a certain anxiety among some of the Chinese participants about the Western origins of postmodern theory. They pointed out that these ideas - as well as the ideas of nationalism and the state - are "Western" and do not fully capture the subtlties of Chinese intellectual history. At one level, they are right - these concepts are "Western". But, as I argued in response to these points at the conference, such concepts have become deeply inscribed into the national discourse of China. Can we conceive of "China" in terms other than "nationalism," or "sovereignty," or the "state."?
I think the tension here is a recognition that Chinese dicourse has been colonized by Western notions. My sense is that there is really no escaping this. Rather than looking at the revival of Confucianism as the retrival of some sort of "authentic" or "real" Chinese mind or discourse, it seems to me we have to situate that revival, and continuing debates about Chinese-ness, in the context of global postmodernity.
I understand the frustrations of Chinese intellectuals in having to use a language of postmodernity/modernity created somewhere else. But it is a frustration similar to those in the US, conservative commentators, who worry about the loss of some sort of essential national qualities. I think we have to embrace the disappearance of "authenticity" everywhere. So, the situation of Chinese thinkers is actually the same as that of Western thinkers (though the critique may be that that is easy for me to say, since the terms of the debate are "Western"). We are all in the same globalized boat, struggling to extract meaning from the churn and flux of the world-wide cultural economy. One of the Chinese academics said something along these lines and I found myself nodding in argeement - a moment of transnational understanding.
There's more to say, especially about the ways that the Confucian conception of "family" can speak to people in the US or other cultural contexts. There is a potentially powerful reverse flow of cultural influence moving from here to the US and other locations globally. But I am running out of time and have to get back to the conference. More later.