Gu Hongming as a cultural amphibian : a Confucian universalist critique of modern Western civilization

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8 Citations (Scopus)


Intellectuals around the world debated the meaning of civilization during the World War I era. This article reexamines the life and ideas of the so-called Chinese sage Gu Hongming. Born and raised in British Malaya, Gu grew up as an English-educated Romanticist, but he ended as a staunch monarchist and eminent Confucian propagandist to the early twentieth-century Western world. In contrast to the traditional label of "cultural conservative," I propose the new concept of "cultural amphibians" to characterize Gu and his contemporary "spokesmen of the East." Because of their social "hybrid vigor" and transcultural competence at a time of rapid global transformations, these men were able to forge "authentic" identities across national, ideological, and cultural boundaries. Seemingly rooted in a cultural and ideological confrontation between the West and the non-West, their discourses on "Eastern-Western civilizations" are in fact better seen as marked by a global intellectual syncretism.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)715-746
Number of pages32
JournalJournal of World History
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • China -- Biography -- Gu Hongming
  • Malaysia -- Biography -- Gu Hongming
  • China -- History -- By Period -- Ch'ing (1644-1911)
  • China -- History -- By Period -- Republic (1911-1949)
  • China -- Philosophy & Religion -- Confucianism
  • Gu Hongming (1857-1928)
  • intellectuals
  • attitudes
  • perceptions
  • ideas
  • conservatism
  • hegemony
  • Qing
  • Republic of China
  • writings
  • British Malay


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