Gu Hongming’s eccentric Chinese Odyssey

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Abstract

Known for his ultraconservatism and eccentricity, Gu Hongming (1857-1928) remains one of the most controversial figures in modern Chinese intellectual history. A former member of the colonial elite from Penang who was educated in Europe, Gu, in his late twenties, became a Qing loyalist and Confucian spokesman who also defended concubinage, footbinding, and the queue. Seen as a reactionary by his Chinese contemporaries, Gu nevertheless gained fame as an Eastern prophet following the carnage of World War I, often paired with Rabindranath Tagore and Leo Tolstoy by Western and Japanese intellectuals.
Rather than resort to the typical conception of Gu as an inscrutable eccentric, Chunmei Du argues that Gu was a trickster-sage figure who fought modern Western civilization in a time dominated by industrial power, utilitarian values, and imperialist expansion. A shape-shifter, Gu was by turns a lampooning jester, defying modern political and economic systems and, at other times, an avenging cultural hero who denounced colonial ideologies with formidable intellect, symbolic performances, and calculated pranks. A cultural amphibian, Gu transformed from an "imitation Western man" to "a Chinaman again," and reinterpreted, performed, and embodied "authentic Chineseness" in a time when China itself was adopting the new identity of a modern nation-state.

Gu Hongming's Eccentric Chinese Odyssey is the first comprehensive study in English of Gu Hongming, both the private individual and the public cultural figure. It examines the controversial scholar's intellectual and psychological journeys across geographical, national, and cultural boundaries in new global contexts. In addition to complicating existing studies of Chinese conservatism and global discussions on civilization around the World War I era, the book sheds new light on the contested notion of authenticity within the Chinese diaspora and the psychological impact of colonialism.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherThe University of Pennsylvania Press
Number of pages264
ISBN (Print)9780812251203
Publication statusPublished - May 2019

Publication series

NameEncounters with Asia

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    DU, C. (2019). Gu Hongming’s eccentric Chinese Odyssey. (Encounters with Asia). The University of Pennsylvania Press.