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College of Asia and the Pacific, The Australian National University

Dialectic of the Chinese Revolution: From Utopianism to Hedonism. by Jiwei Ci Review by: Richard Madsen The China Journal, No. 38 (Jul., 1997), pp. 171-173 Published by: The University of Chicago Press on behalf of the College of Asia and the Pacific, The Australian National University Stable URL: . Accessed: 19/04/2012 03:24
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the author tries to give us a new way of thinking about the Chinese revolution. he postponed the hedonistic fulfillment of the revolutionary promise too far into the future for people to bear. They gave up hope in the revolution and gave up faith in Maoism. original interpretation of the Chinese revolution's moral logic. who have seen Maoism as a kind of revolutionary asceticism ? a transcendent moral vision that called on its followers to sacrifice themselves for the good of the collective ? Ci sees it as a sublimated hedonism. while calling for nothing less than ceaseless revolution. Ci writes as someone who has experienced much of the history of that revolution and is steeped in its culture but who thinks about it through the lenses of Western philosophy. with important influences from Hegel and the Frankfurt School. A$32. materially prosperous China. His book is a profound. Though Ci uses a large number of works in Western political theory. including myself. However. 1994. on other-worldly salvation. By this he means that the Maoist moral project was ultimately based on a promise of this-worldly satisfaction rather than. which was set by the limit of how far into the future the Maoists could postpone hedonistic self-gratification. When Mao plunged the country into chaos in the Cultural Revolution. Writing in what he calls the 'philosopher's way'. Stanford University Press. as for with ascetic Christianity. His interpretive framework owes most to Nietzsche. by Jiwei Ci. not because such struggle was good in itself or because Mao's followers would be rewarded in an after-life. What remained then was nihilism.50 (paperback). which the author defines as 'a situation in which reality and meaning have become so separated that the gap between them no longer seems to offer the . Stanford. vii + 281pp. which one day would obviate the need for constant struggle and self-sacrifice. This made Mao's totalitarianism and invisible' therefore 'subjectively overwhelmingly strong. Unlike many interpreters. Maoism example enjoined its followers to struggle against the self for the sake of the public good.REVIEWS Dialectic of the Chinese Revolution: From Utopianism to Hedonism. but because their efforts would create a stronger. there was a limit to the credibility of this vision. his bibliography cites few works on China. Many Chinese under Maoism deeply internalized this utopian vision.

nor to the complicated political struggles and historical contingencies that shaped the Chinese revolution. It is presented with great conviction and passion. As long as the need for sublimation ? the source of all politics ? keeps being reduced. When dissidents called for freedom and democracy. hedonism will continue to flourish . (p.. which produced an atomized citizenry quite amenable to authoritarian political control. came two new trends ? a de-sublimated hedonism and political liberalism.. de-sublimated hedonists who live for present enjoyment within an iron cage. nihilism cannot be a permanent. In the way Ci defines it. Like Maoism itself. that.5). The antiindividualistic collectivism advocated by the Maoists and the socially responsible individualism advocated by the democracy movement now gave way to an unrestrainedly selfish individualism. who now prefer more tightly focused. in 'the philosopher's way'. There is something old-fashioned about the grandness and abstractness of Ci's interpretation. People will no longer be sublimated hedonists who give themselves over to the collective because of faith in a utopian promise. With the hope for democracy stifled. 'the chances are . Yet I found his argument stimulating and compelling. He hypostasizes the billion people of the People's Republic into a unitary China driven dialectically by grand ideas. The explication of the underlying logic of Maoism seems quite plausible.. but self-centered. people now turned to the de-sublimated hedonism ? the instant ? of an gratification emerging consumer society. barring major economic setbacks. The circular movement from hedonism to utopianism to nihilism back to hedonism is presented.. then. the of Chinese society will shift more and more from political control problematic to technical management' (p. It is a call for some new meaning and for a new social and moral equilibrium. Though the argument is complex.. though there will undoubtedly be room for other interpretations of the Maoist . This style of discourse will be frustrating to those who follow the historian's way or the social scientist's way. 'When the government crushed the democracy movement. they saw these not as goods in themselves but as the most efficient means to eventually achieve widespread material gratification. Out of the nihilism of the post-Maoist era.172 THE CHINA JOURNAL possibility either for the meaningful interpretation of present reality or for hope-inspired action with a view to the future' (p. The author does not attend to the complex ideal and material interests of different sectors of the Chinese population. delimited arguments. the book is beautifully written. the political liberalism of the late 1980s was in the end based on a sublimated hedonism. with graceful sentences and arresting turns of phrase. In the author's view.8).241). what it sought to eradicate was not its underlying hedonism but only the political products of its sublimation'. satisfying intellectual position. It might be better characterized as the 'theologian's' rather than the philosopher's way. not so much as a socialor a political process as a logical process but more as a psychological movement of ideas than of people. It will probably be frustratingto professional academic philosophers.

US$65. xiii + 251pp.. On the other hand. analytical distinctions.REVIEWS 173 project. past . This is most evident in an extended discussion of 'public opinion'. especially that of the 'state'. 1996. The four main chapters are concerned with peasants. his conceptual framework is both overblown and underdeveloped. there is far too little attention paid to the crucial concepts in Liu's discussion. and especially during recent years. workers. but usually they merely put into different language points which could easily be made in a much more straightforward and clearer fashion. The structure of modern Western academia keeps most scholars focused on narrow specialties and keeps them from grappling with such big ideas.. He attempts to go beyond generalized statements concerning state-society relationships by mobilizing a broad comparative social science literature. The focus of this work is best indicated by the subtitle. but often the reader is merely exposed to the confusion and mystification of social science jargon. The author's Western philosophical apparatus. There are occasional references to such concepts throughout the work. L. its self-perception. US$19. A world-historical event like the Chinese revolution needs bold thinkers with big ideas to take its measure. but it does not easily grapple with those parts that were adaptations to Chinese cultural traditions. Liu. We should be grateful to Jiwei Ci for directing us to the ultimate questions and grand themes which a great revolution properly challenges us to consider. Liu emphasizes symbiosis' the social groups' antagonism and resistance to the state during the throughout whole Communist period. if revised to 'state versus society'. draws out the logic of those parts of Maoism that were imported from the West. San Diego University Mass Politics in the People's Republic: State & Society in Contemporary China. definitions. for example. His approach is undermined by drawbacks in Liu's analysis. Westview Press. For a start. students and ethnic separatism. With the partial exception of the 'adversarial between the state and industrial workers. It is not at all clear how any of this assists in Liu's later analysis. charts and classification schemes with reference to a wide range of literature.95 (paperback). Richard Madsen of California. by Alan P. There is no lack of conceptual apparatus in the introductory chapter.00 (hardcover). and by distinguishing among different parts of Chinese society. raising a bewildering series of concepts. The introduction concentrates on 'three aspects of the Chinese state . Boulder. by reviewing developments over the Communist period.