This article argues that the polymath Marxist philosopher and Communist Party apparatchik Qu Qiubai, who established sociology in the Chinese Marxist tradition by organizing the Sociology Department at Shanghai University in 1930, proposed that “society” was the sine qua non of human existence. To establish the contours of society and exploit the value of the social sciences, however, Qu as a translator struggled against China's written language in the name of sociology and social justice. In this regard, Qu understood that the diglossic literary language harbored ancient “ghosts” and philosophy dating from the origins of the written graphemes that make up the hanzi, or written medium. Always ill, always fleeing, the polylingual and cosmopolitan Qu, who died at age thirty-six, left behind a vast archive of unfinished work and fresh, complex ideas about the real, the social, the experiential, and the work of translation.

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