Personal Freedom in Twentieth-Century China: Reclaiming the Self in Yang Lian' s Yi and Gao Xingjian' s Lings han

Mabel Lee

Abstract


A common assumption is that China's traditional culture had no place for the 'self', an awareness of which is critical for the emergence of the notion of personal autonomy and for the generation of demands for the right to personal freedom and the corollaries of social and political equality. The propaganda, including the literature, produced during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) would seem to support such an assumption. However, this paper will argue that such an assumption is incorrect and that while the Chinese notion of 'self' may differ significantly from its Western counterpart, it has had a long history of development and that the period of greatest development has in fact taken place in the present century, during which time Western philosophies with strong resonances in traditional Chinese philosophy have been eclectically embraced. The awakened 'self' and its demand for freedom was then consciously put aside because of the perceived need for mass action in patriotic struggles first against Western imperialism, then against Japanese territorial encroachment and finally full-scale invasion in 1937.

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