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Between Localism and Cosmopolitanism: A Look at Zhou Zuoren’s Early Construction of the Individual

Lisa Chu Shen’s “Between Localism and Cosmopolitanism: A Look at Zhou Zuoren’s Early Construction of the Individual” appears in Telos 180 (Fall 2017), a special issue on Cosmopolitanism and China. Read the full article at the Telos Online website, or purchase a print copy of the issue in our online store. Individual subscriptions to Telos are now available in both print and online formats.

This essay examines the modern Chinese intellectual Zhou Zuoren’s imaginations of the modern individual along the lines of the nation, the locality, and the world in the tumultuous historical period of the early twentieth century. It is argued that his oscillations between these geographical categories constitute one of his most complex and intriguing intellectual struggles. They reflect an intellectual’s critical capacities to think and reflect as he responded to the vicissitudes of the times. The article looks at Zhou’s essays, both analytical and critical, which form the basis for the three stages into which his thoughts are divided, representing the gradual transitions from one set of tendencies to another—from nationalism to cosmopolitanism to (cosmopolitan) localism. Zhou’s cosmopolitanism is deeply reminiscent of the moral imperative that has guided Chinese consciousness, carrying indelible traces of traditional Chinese philosophy and culture, which showcases the complexities that characterize the East–West intellectual encounter. Zhou’s subsequent turn to localism is yet another alternative way of imagining the modern individual as well as a counter-discourse to nationalism. Contrary to his own claim of relinquishing the cosmopolitan identity in the third stage, the cosmopolitan enters instead into a fruitful negotiation and blending with the local, which is in turn conceived on both spatial and temporal dimensions.

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