Aesthetics, Morality, and the Modern Community: Wang Guowei, Cai Yuanpei, and Lu Xun

Critical Inquiry 46 (3):496-514 (2020)
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In Mao’s era, China’s policy makers and intellectuals viewed aesthetic experience and thought as handmaidens in the service of the political order. As China opened up and engaged more intensely with modern traditions of the West, aesthetic thinkers such as Li Zehou critiqued the subordinated role of aesthetics and reasserted notions of aesthetic autonomy and liberal humanism, calling for the separation of arts and literature from political, social, and moral concerns. This truncated aesthetic view stems from a modernist version of Western aesthetics that favors sense and sensibility as the sole sources of aesthetic value—a view that considerably diminishes the horizon of concerns inherent in traditional and modern Chinese aesthetic thoughts. This article seeks to recapture a repoliticized aesthetics by considering the ways early twentieth-century Chinese thinkers linked aesthetic thoughts to moral and political considerations in the reconstruction of China as a modern nation-state. Instead of transcendent, pure aesthetics over and above political processes and social experience, prominent aesthetic thinkers like Wang Guowei, Cai Yuanpei, and Lu Xun invoked traditional Chinese aesthetic legacies and reconsidered intimate and necessary ties between aesthetic categories and broader concerns about cultural crises, moral reform, and nation building.



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The Politics of Literature.Jacques Rancière - 2004 - Substance 33 (1):10-24.

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