Modern Chinese Thought: A Retrospective View and a Look into the Future

Contemporary Chinese Thought 24 (3):3-24 (1993)
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At one time, modern historians had come to be accustomed to using the paradigm of "Western challenge-Chinese response" to describe the development of modern China since the Opium War. However, in the past few decades, some scholars have begun to offer a very different opinion and argument. This is not only because Arnold J. Toynbee's "challenge and response" theory has continued to be repeatedly criticized and examined in a more unfavorable light, but also because people have come to believe that the lessons of Chinese history over the past century and a half cannot simply be summarized as an outward response to the modern civilization, or the civilization of modernity, represented by the West, and that the conflict between the two—[i.e., between China and the West] must be resolved only through China's own modernization. Nonetheless, from a macrocultural perspective, the question of how a premodernistic Chinese culture may produce a creative response to the modernized culture of the West has remained and to a certain extent remains today a major topic for the study of the culture of modern and contemporary China. In a fundamental sense, the ebb and flow and the interweaving between the stubborn cultural identity of a cultural conservatism that was, and is, deeply rooted in a powerful spiritual-cultural tradition on the one hand and the antitraditional consciousness which is produced out of an urgent, even desperate concern for modernization on the other hand has formed the basic framework of the culture of modern China



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Lai Chen
Tsinghua University

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