In the last decades of the nineteenth century, the earliest of the modern Chinese revolutionaries were looking beyond the creation of a new polity to the creation of a new kind of person and new ways of living together. At a moment when the political legacy of the Chinese Revolution rarely fails to confound and disappoint, there is clarity and hope to be found in this legacy. The thinkers whose work is discussed here took it upon themselves to rethink China’s past and future place in the world. The revolutionary spirit that they nurtured comes down to us not in the form of answers but questions no less relevant today: the conditions of possibility of liberation, the relationship between individual and collective consciousness, and how to cope with failure.

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