Shuchen Xiang

Nov 29, 2023

Chinese Cosmopolitanism

The History and Philosophy of an Idea

Princeton University Press 2023

A provocative defense of a forgotten Chinese approach to identity and difference. Historically, the Western encounter with difference has been catastrophic: the extermination and displacement of aboriginal populations, the transatlantic slave trade, and colonialism. China, however, took a different historical path. In Chinese Cosmopolitanism: The History and Philosophy of an Idea (Princeton UP, 2023), Shuchen Xiang argues that the Chinese cultural tradition was, from its formative beginnings and throughout its imperial history, a cosmopolitan melting pot that synthesized the different cultures that came into its orbit. Unlike the West, which cast its collisions with different cultures in Manichean terms of the ontologically irreconcilable difference between civilization and barbarism, China was a dynamic identity created out of difference. 

The reasons for this, Xiang argues, are philosophical: Chinese philosophy has the conceptual resources for providing alternative ways to understand pluralism. Xiang explains that "Chinese" identity is not what the West understands as a racial identity; it is not a group of people related by common descent or heredity but rather a hybrid of coalescing cultures. To use the Western discourse of race to frame the Chinese view of non-Chinese, she argues, is a category error. Xiang shows that China was both internally cosmopolitan, embracing distinct peoples into a common identity, and externally cosmopolitan, having knowledge of faraway lands without an ideological need to subjugate them. Contrasting the Chinese understanding of efficacy--described as "harmony"--with the Western understanding of order, she argues that the Chinese sought to gain influence over others by having them spontaneously accept the virtue of one's position. These ideas from Chinese philosophy, she contends, offer a new way to understand today's multipolar world and can make a valuable contribution to contemporary discussions in the critical philosophy of race.

For readers interested in how GCB and the Greek philosophical justification of GCB, domination, and destruction of barbarians still inform productions and consumptions of racist ideology as embodied in The Turner Diaries, see for example, herehere, and here

Readers interested in the Vāda project that employs Indian epistemology to evaluate contemporary political claims, see here

Jessica Zu is an intellectual historian and a scholar of Buddhist studies. She is an assistant professor of religion at the University of Southern California.

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Jessica Zu

Jessica Zu is an intellectual historian and a scholar of Buddhist studies. She is an assistant professor of religion at the University of Southern California.

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