The Power of Position: Beijing University, Intellectuals, and Chinese Political Culture, 1898-1929 (Berkeley Series in Interdisciplinary Studies of China)

The Power of Position: Beijing University, Intellectuals, and Chinese Political Culture, 1898-1929 (Berkeley Series in Interdisciplinary Studies of China)

Timothy B. Weston

Language: English

Pages: 338

ISBN: 0520237676

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Throughout the twentieth century, Beijing University (or Beida) has been at the center of China's greatest political and cultural upheavals—from the May Fourth Movement of 1919 to the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s to the tragic events in Tiananmen Square in 1989. Why this should be—how Beida's historical importance has come to transcend that of a mere institution of higher learning--is a question at the heart of this book. A study of intellectuals and political culture during the past century's tumultuous early decades, The Power of Position is the first to focus on Beida, China's oldest and best-known national university.

Timothy B. Weston portrays the university as a key locus used by intellectuals to increase their influence in society. Weston analyzes the links between intellectuals' political and cultural commitments and their specific manner of living. He also compares Beijing's intellectual culture with that of the rising metropolis of Shanghai. What emerges is a remarkably nuanced and complex picture of life at China's leading university, especially in the decades leading up to the May Fourth Movement.

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both Chinese and Western learning. Yan Fu’s name again rose to the top of the list, but when opposition mounted, Zhang instead appointed Yan to head the university’s translation bureau. He then zeroed in on Yan’s friend, Wu Rulun, whom Li Hongzhang had appointed director of Baoding’s Lianchi shuyuan, the foremost academy in Zhili.20 The decision to name Wu Rulun chief instructor was to have a lasting influence on the political and cultural identity of the Jingshi daxuetang over the next decade and

China to its ancient past. As the country’s best-known center for “national learning” (guoxue), Beida is viewed as a guardian of the splendor of Chinese civilization. During the centenary several prominent scholars even suggested that the university’s roots reach back to antiquity because Beida possesses status and cultural significance akin to that once held by the ancient Taixue (Imperial College) and its successor, the Guozijian (School for the Sons of the Empire).7 As the lineal descendent of

samples of the military-style student uniforms he had approved for use in Wuchang to the capital for adoption at the Imperial University. From that time the traditional gowns competed against new-style exercise clothing (caoyi) issued by the Jingshi daxuetang twice a year.58 The emphasis on physical culture was evidence of the growing enthusiasm for the military then sweeping over society, and of the extent to which university authorities were committed to rethinking the proper comportment for

areas of engineering, medicine, agriculture, law, or commerce. He neither disdained the applied sciences nor denied their importance, but believed that universities should cultivate men’s souls, not their practical skills. Here it seems quite clear that the educational ideas that Cai encountered in Germany reinforced the Confucian belief that education was about the refinement of the whole person, as well as the traditional Chinese conception of the intellectual as aspiring gentleman (junzi).

less direct in that regard than Tao Menghe. Tao declared that the world war had entirely discredited four pernicious political practices—making secret diplomatic treaties, disrespecting the rule of law, interference in politics by military figures, and the pursuit of dictatorial power—and said that any country that failed to realize this risked serious domestic turmoil.39 Three weeks after the teach-in, a group of Beida faculty members began publishing Weekly Review (Meizhou pinglun), an avowedly

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