Polarities and the May Fourth Polemical Culture: Provenance of the “Conservative” Category

Ya-pei Kuo*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


    This essay argues that the conservative/radical polarity by which we classify May Fourth intellectuals originated in the New Youth group's polemical stratagem of depicting the intellectual landscape in terms of a "New Culturalists vs. the rest" divide. In this stratagem, those who later became "the conservatives" were lumped together for dissenting from the New Culture movement and largely defined by who they were not. Historiographically, the establishment of this polarity scheme sidelined alternative mappings of the intellectual scene. Drawing on the case of the Critical Review (1922–1933)—a journal of "cultural conservatism"—and its polemics against the New Culture, this essay explores one such alternative mapping that grouped "conservative" thinker Liang Shuming (1893–1988) with the New Culturalists. Taking this paradigm as one of many that existed before the mid-1920s, the essay discusses the juxtaposition of multiple schemes of grouping as a strategy for superseding the polarity mode of classification.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)174-189
    Number of pages16
    JournalTwentieth-Century China
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - May-2019

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