All forms of nationalism profess belief in the uniqueness and value of their particular national quintessence. But not all nationalist sentiments germinate in the decay of a tradition convinced of the cultural superiority and universality of its values. Chinese nationalism did. It developed, moreover, in a context in which the bungling monopoly of power of the alien Manchus as well as foreign aggression constantly tempted its exponents to appeal to racial distinctiveness. And it matured amidst the frustrations of prolonged political and societal chaos surrounding the Republican period, which provoked many nationalists eventually to resurrect the old assumption that a country's greatness should be defined in cultural terms, and to reassert the conviction that Confucian values were cosmic. Tai Chi-t‘ao was such a pioneer nationalist, whose career in politics was spent trying to create national unity through revolution, and whose efforts as an ideologue were directed at defining national unity in terms of Confucian universals. This made him a “conservative revolutionary,” whose commitment to nation found expression alternatively in militant action and in rationalizations for action in the name of traditional values.

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