Timothy Cheek, "The Intellectual in Modern Chinese History" (Cambridge UP, 2015)


In the preface to his new book, Timothy Cheek calls out a widespread tendency to focus on dissidents when engaging with Chinese intellectuals. (This is a problem insofar as we use these intellectuals as a mirror for our own concerns, hopes, and fears.) Instead, The Intellectual in Modern Chinese History (Cambridge University Press, 2015) provides a map and method for moving beyond that tendency, simultaneously offering a magisterial intellectual history of modern China. It maps the changing terrain of intellectual life over a century, so that the reader can place a particular figure, idea, or debate sensibly, helping the reader track different times, social worlds, and key concepts. It also demonstrates a method the historical method for making sense of ideas, stories, and examples from the past. The book reflects a shift from working on China to working with Chinese, stressing the persistence of a consistent theme that unifies the narrative the importance of serving the public good and the continual orientation and reorientation toward efforts at reform, revolution, or rejuvenation . This is a wonderful, clear, carefully structured read that is a boon for general and specialized readers, students, and teachers alike.

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