A History of the Present: Chinese Intellectuals, Confucianism and Pragmatism


The chapter investigates the way in which the modern Chinese intellectual has been constructed during and after the May Fourth Movement occurring in 1919 when Dewey started his trip to China. First, it argues that the introduction of Dewey’s pragmatism into China was a break in modern Chinese intellectual history. It shifted the notion of intellectuals from a model of Confucian collectivism to one of individualism. Second, this chapter explores how the “New Cultural Movement” brought revolutionary changes in Chinese language, Chinese literature, Chinese culture, and educational systems into a relationship with the reading of Dewey. For example, the main purpose of school education was to prepare children for the governmental servant examination before the New Cultural Movement. However, it shifted to teaching children the “real” tasks that they need in their late life after 1919. Third, the chapter demonstrates that the interpretation and application of Dewey’s pragmatism in modern China shifted over time and was interpreted as a traveling library and so brought about reform in thought in a non-confrontational yet critical manner. The shifts of interpretation of Dewey’s thoughts caution us to be aware of the “regime of truth.” The chapter concludes by pointing out that Dewey’s pragmatism assembled into the formation of the particular Chinese modernity. The Chinese modernity is a political issue and it is associated with multiple dimensions.


Educational Reform Chinese Literature Intellectual History Chinese Intellectual Cultural Movement 
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© Thomas S. Popkewitz 2005

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  • Jie Qi

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