Chinese Socialism as Vernacular Cosmopolitanism

TitleChinese Socialism as Vernacular Cosmopolitanism
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2014
AuthorsCheek, T
JournalFrontiers of History in China
Start Page2
Date Published2014

This paper follows the life of an idea, a fundamental concept in
modern Chinese intellectual life: socialism. It explores this idea as an alternative
form of Chinese cosmopolitanism, drawing from Pheng Cheah’s identification of
two kinds of Chinese cosmopolitanism: mercantile and revolutionary. If part of
what we mean by cosmopolitanism is the local use of an external, or international,
or otherwise “independent” (relative to local power and practice) ideology or
discourse to promote an agent’s sense of social good at home and connection to
the world, then the ways that socialist thought, ideology and praxis have been
employed in China in the twentieth century constitute one such strain of
cosmopolitanism. Shehuizhuyi (socialism) meant related but significantly
different things to Chinese in the twentieth century. This essay argues that
Chinese socialism can be viewed as a version of vernacular cosmopolitanism
through two examples: Wang Shiwei in the 1940s and Deng Tuo in the 1960s, as
well as the discourse of Pan-Asianism before and after the Mao era. Chinese
socialism was as much a terrain of debate and contestation about what it means
to be “Chinese and modern” as it was a shared vocabulary and set of aspirations.
All along it has been able to play the role of cosmopolitan thought for some
influential Chinese thinkers and doers—connecting China to the world in order
to pursue universal values.