The Forschungskolleg Humanwissenschaften: Events

Thursday, 24 June 2021, 11:00
Forschungskolleg Humanwissenschaften, Am Wingertsberg 4, 61348 Bad Homburg

Forschungskolleg Humanwissenschaften of Goethe-University
Fellow colloquium

Zhiyi Yang (Goethe Fellow)
»Idealist Confucianism, Democratic Centralism, and Wartime Collaboration: The Paradox of Wang Jingwei (1883–1944) «

Taking chance of this colloquium, I will present a section concerning democracy in my monographic project that investigates the complex of poetry, history, and memory through the case of Wang Jingwei (1883–1944), a poet, politician, and one of the most controversial figures in modern Chinese history. As Sun Yat-sen’s political heir, rival of Chiang Kai-shek in the Chinese Nationalist Party (GMD), and leader of the GMD Left, Wang is now primarily remembered as the chief Chinese collaborator with Japan during WWII. In this talk, I will investigate the Confucian conviction of Wang Jingwei that underlay his ideal of democratic centralism. Late Qing and early Republican Chinese thinkers, as scholars note, in general tended to share an over-optimistic view of democracy. It was above all instrumentalized as a means and not necessarily treated as an end. Following the philosophy of Wang Yangming (1472–1529), which believes in the world-changing power of a fully cultivated moral subjectivity, Sun Yat-sen and Wang Jingwei pronounced the GMD to be a vanguard party that commits to realizing democracy in China through the altruistic self-sacrifice of its members. This elitist and fundamentally paradoxical vision of democracy helped them envision a tripartite program of nation-building, namely, from military rule, through political tutelage, to constitutional democracy. Wang Yangming’s philosophy of moral knowledge, measured not by external standards but by internal reflection alone, further served as an intellectual source of confidence for Wang Jingwei. His political philosophy of altruism and authenticity not only explained his staying power in Republican politics but also, arguably, partly contributed to his fateful decision to collaborate with Japan.

The speaker
Zhiyi Yang has been a professor of sinology at Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main since 2012. She studied Chinese literature, history, philosophy, and comparative literature at Peking University. In 2012 she received a PhD in East Asian studies from Princeton University. 2019/20 she was a fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin. Her research and publications have focused on classical (and modern classicist) Chinese poetry and its relation to society, politics, and intellectual history. She has published her first book on the 11th century poet Su Shi and has recently completed a monographic manuscript on Wang Jingwei, an early 20th century politician and poet who gained the unfortunate distinction as the chief Chinese collaborator with Japan in WWII. She is currently working on contemporary Chinese classicist internet poetry and on aesthetic classicism across the Sinophone space.
2021–2025 Zhiyi Yang is a Goethe Fellow at the Forschungskolleg Humanwissenschaften.

Participation and registration
Closed online event. Please register in advance. Contact: Beate Sutterlüty (

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