Author Archives: Federico Brusadelli

About Federico Brusadelli

Lecturer of Chinese History at the University of Naples L'Orientale

[Review] 张翔:《大同立教——康有为政教思想研究》(Zhang Xiang: Establishment of Confucianism on Datong: A Study of Kang Youwei’s Political and Religious Philosophy)

Zhang Xiang 张翔, Datong lijiao: Kang Youwei zhengzhi sixiang yanjiu 大同立教——康有为政教思想研究 (Establishment of Confucianism on Datong: A Study of Kang Youwei’s Political and Religious Philosophy), Beijing: Shehui kexue wenxian chubanshe, 2023. ISBN 9787520185844, 356 pages, 128 RMB.

Reviewed by Federico Brusadelli (University of Naples “L’Orientale”)

Since the beginning of the 21st century, studies on Kang Youwei (1858–1927) have experienced a steady and consistent surge, especially in the context of reassessing the late Qing period beyond the traditional interpretation of the “Western shock” as the predominant (if not the only) impulse to the radical transformation of China at the dawn of the 20th century. Over the last decades, more careful observation of the developments from the Jiaqing 嘉庆 period (1796–1820) onward has demonstrated the multiplicity of “intellectual paths” that Chinese élites were exploring well before the acceleration imposed by the forced penetration of Euro-Atlantic concepts (and their Japanese re-elaborations). These observations align with a more nuanced and detailed approach to the evolution of Chinese concepts, as seen in the light of Begriffsgeschichte[1]. In this framework, Kang Youwei appears as a towering figure, not just for his leadership in the failed attempt at reforming the Empire in 1898, but more broadly as one of the most influential and stimulating interpreters of the conceptual restructuring of his time. Hailed as a bold and progressive reformer by his supporters, only to be labeled as a nostalgic conservative after the Xinhai revolution (1911) and the farce of the Zhang Xun 张勋 Restoration he supported in 1917, Kang remained after his death an ambiguous and contradictory figure, embodying all the ambiguities and tensions of the tumultuous transition between Empire and Nation. Although Mao Zedong 毛泽东 himself appreciated Kang’s utopian thrust and a young Li Zehou 李泽厚 tried to combine the materialist and progressive philosophical foundation of the philosopher’s “bourgeois reformism” with Marxism in the mid-1950s,[2] Communist scholarship on Kang remained for more than three decades anchored in an orthodox interpretation of the late Qing period as the “last stage of feudal capitalism,” which deprived Kang of any concrete viability.

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