This article discusses core social and political concepts regarding subjectivity widely used by Chinese intellectuals between 1840 and 1940, including ge ti (singular subject), ge ren (singular person), wo (I), and Da Tong (Great Unity). Collectively these concepts convey an understanding of human beings as interrelated individual subjects but one differing from Western notions of individualism. The idea of Da Tong, for instance, carried an idealistic, utopian charge. It was foundational for Chinese visions of revolution that aimed to change China not by embracing modernity but by transforming “the barbaric world dominated by civilized countries,” in the words of the late Qing Dynasty intellectual Yang Du. These theories of subjectivity deserve renewed attention, as they are valuable spiritual resources for contemporary left-wing intellectuals as they try to imagine the future for China and the world.

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