This essay begins with the proposition that to engage with the idea of the human in Chinese is to encounter, at some point or other, a rhetorical disposition to benevolence, understood as the Confucian virtue ren. The moral affects of this disposition, I argue, have been hardwired into the Chinese language and can be traced to, among other things, the enduring hierarchism of the junzi (gentleman) and xiaoren (small man) as presented in The Analects of Confucius. I examine the junzi-xiaoren dyad for the characteristic bifurcation of the human that it has engendered, in which selflessness and selfishness are counterposed as the defining qualities, respectively, of superior persons and their inferior counterparts. I then consider this dyad as an argumentative device at work in actual and textual acts of dissent in post-Maoist China, focusing on an event that occurred during the student protest movement at Tiananmen in 1989, excerpts from the writings of the currently imprisoned (as of this writing) 2010 Nobel Peace Laureate Liu Xiaobo, and the blog posts and interview comments of China's most popular writer, Han Han.
Gloria Davies; Homo Dissensum Significans, or The Perils of Taking a Stand in China. Social Text 1 December 2011; 29 (4 (109)): 29–56. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/01642472-1416082
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