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ACROSS THE HIMALAYAN GAP

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PERSPECTIVE

THE CRITIQUE OF MODERNITY IN INDIA AND CHINA

PRASENJIT DUARA

11

In recent years, the very idea of History has been much deconstructed and criticized (see for instance Anderson 1991, Duara 1995). The modern territorial nation and linear History are seen to have co-produced each other as the principal mode of belonging in the twentieth century. Individuals learn to identify with nation states that have supposedly evolved over a long history to reach the self-conscious unity of the two and are thus poised to acquire mastery over the future. The linear History of modem nation-states projects a territorial entity (the nation) backwards in time as its subject [or actor or agent) which evolves or progresses to the present and future. In projecting the presently constituted or claimed territorial nation into the past, national histories seek to appropriate for the present nation-state the peoples, cultures and territories which actually had scant relations with the old empires.

Here I will consider other narratives or discourses which have challenged this History of the nation in China and India.  Because these alternative narratives have been largely ignored or marginalized in both nationalist narratives and modern scholarship, it is important to explore their critical potential.

These alternative narratives centre principally around the notion of “culture”. The early usage of culture to oppose evolutionism can be found within Europe itself in the writings of Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803). Those figures in Asia whose alternative ideas I try to understand through the notion of culture were, perhaps, mostly unaware of Herder’s usage, but the circumstances of its appearance in the two contexts have much in common. According to George Stocking, in the late’ 18th century Herder reacted against the cultural imperialism of French and Scottish Enlightenment conception of universal progress and the implicit hierarchy of cultural achievement. He emphasized the variety of national character, each national culture an expression of its own unique Volkgeist, all equally manifestations of the divine realizing itself in the spiritual development of humanity as a whole. To be sure, while Herder may be seen as a source of pluralism and anthropological relativism, his notion of culture never closed the back door to racialist evolutionism. Each national spirit evolved from an “internal prototype”: Jews would retain the spirit of their ancestors, blacks could never acquire the “finer intellects” of the Europeans, and so on (Stocking 1987, 20). Thus, if ‘culture” presented an oppositional stance towards the Enlightenment discourse of “civilization”, which since Hegel we have identified as History, it was also capable of recalling this evolutionism as a supplement.

Within Asia this oppositional mode has also challenged linear, evolutionary conceptions. More often than not, like Herder’s critique, these challenges have targeted one or more dimensions while reproducing other assumptions of the dominant narrative of History. Thus, Zhang Taiyan (1869.1936) and occasionally, Lu Xun (1881-1936) denied progress while accepting evolutionism (Ogata 1984), Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) and Liang Shuming (1893-?), each in their own way, denied comparability while accepting progress. Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) was one of the only significant figures to deny History in toto. The tatter half of this essay will seek to understand the significance of Gandhi’s thought as well as the mirror in which his total and determined opposition to History was reflected. Modern scholarship has not been particularly sympathetic to these critics of the Enlightenment project. For example, history text-books in America, India or China either ignore most of these figures, or, where they are unable to ignore them, as in the case of Gandhi, assimilate their actions and ideas into the narrative of national liberation or into a lesson on moral courage. There is a tendency to pass over the critique of modernity.

The dominant narrative of modern Chinese history in both China and the West is the narrative of modernization. This has been seen as a painful and uncertain process, which has nonetheless, inched towards a full modern consciousness in distinct phases. These phases are familiar enough and I will just outline them. The narrative begins with the Opium War of 1840 and the initial refusal of the imperial state and the mandarinate to recognize the challenges posed by the West. This was followed by the self-strengthening movement where Western learning was sought to be confined to practical matters designed to strengthen the empire, while Chinese learning was reserved for all essential matters -the classic ti-yong dichotomy’.1 With the increasing failure of the self-strengtheners to confront the military challenges of the late 19th century, segments of the literati and progressive bourgeoisie began to advocate institutional reform without challenging the basic principles of the Confucian imperial system. The exemplary representative of this phase is Kang Youwei (1858-1927) and his experiments during the 100 Days of Reform.  The 1911 republican revolution challenged, of course, the traditional political system, but it was left to the May 4th movement of 1917-1921, to finally and systematically attack the very cultural underpinnings of the old system.

Of course, this simple linear narrative does not do full justice to the complex responses to modern discourses that emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Those who responded by questioning the project of total modernization in China, have been called conservative, although Benjamin Schwartz has observed that their responses are very modern (Schwartz 1976, 4).  Particularly in the Chinese political context, they have been painted in negative colours as people opposed to the epochal trends of progress and freedom. I would like to extend Charlotte Furth’s very useful distinction between two “conservatism” or what I call questioning narratives of modernity in China (Furth 1976, 39-41). The first form is one which tried to separate culture from politics and thus was able to find compatibilities between science, rationality and traditional culture.  In this form, culture was often subordinated to the needs of politics and technology. The second finds this distinction difficult to sustain because it sought to exalt spiritual culture over materiality. Thus, the values and ideals of this culture would necessarily shape certain essential aspects of political and material life.

Represented by the national essence school (guocui) of thinkers like Zhang Binglin (i.e. Zhang Taiyan) and Liu Shipei, the first type according to Furth, was concerned with the preservation of those cultural ideals seen as embodying the historical genius of the Chinese people (Furth 1976, 31-32; see also Chang 1987, 112, 150). As such, this school was not opposed in principle to modernity, but questioned its adequacy for the life of the nation and the individual. At its edges, I find that this nationalist critique tended to merge with formulations of the East versus West binary which depicted the East as the source of spiritual culture and the West as the source of material or scientific Western culture, both of which, however, were necessary for humanity. Thus the critique of History through culture, while mostly used to anchor the nation on alternative grounds, was also linked to a redemptive universalist model. Most of the critiques of modernity we encounter in both China and India are versions of this form. The ideas of Liang Qichao (1873-l 929) on his return from Europe after witnessing the devastation of the First World War exemplify this model of (national) culture with aspirations to redeem the universe. Liang now believed that Chinese Eastern) civilization had a great responsibility towards the world to counter the destructiveness of Western civilization (Hay 1970, 137-140). This model received much patronage from visiting Western philosophers like Russell and Dewey and from its most ardent advocate, Rabindranath Tagore, whose pan-Asianism was deeply affected by his personal friendships in China.  Although Tagore’s last visit to China in 1929 was welcomed neither by the CCP nor the KMT (Hay 1970, 323-324), even the Kuomintang (KMT) leader Dai Jitao (Tai Chi-tao)(1884-1949) espoused the theme of Asian spiritual unity in the magazine New Asia during the early 1930s where he depicted Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925) as the father of a pan-Asianism focussed on China’s cultural values.  In Dai, anti-imperialism and the discourse of culture coalesced together into a popular Chinese image of the time which saw the entire society as a “proletariat responsible both for the Asian anti-imperialist struggle and for preserving the purity of Asian culture” (Mast and Saywell 1974; 98).

The second type of critique of modernity was embodied in what Furth calls the neo-traditional Confucianism of figures like Kang Youwei and Liang Shuming and was centrally concerned with the religious and spiritual questions. Although they were not necessarily opposed to modernity, they perceived the religious truths of Confucianism as occupying not only a separate, but a more elevated, plane than did science. In other words, this was a realm which embedded Truth that theoretically could not be judged by the standards of science or History. One may see this notion of culture in a Herderian light, but it is also continuous with the self-strengtheners’ ‘ti-yang” formulation which regarded the moral goals of Confucianism as the ends of technological adaptation.2 For 20th century Confucianists culture could not be completely separated from politics since the religio-moral values I Confucianism could not but inform the polity and society. This was not true for the adherents of the national essence school because the culture they advocated was in some senses subordinate, or at least, adaptable to the requirements of modernity.  They could choose the substance or content of culture to suit the requirements of the age in a way in which a Confucianist could not because he sought to carry over certain substantive values and orientation to the world.

Because he was inspired by the evolutionism of History, scholars have tended to regard Kang Youwei as operating essentially within its problematic. Certainly, he reveals some of the most unfeeling racial prejudices of evolutionism. In his of utopia in ‘The Great Unity (datong), Kang writes of the inferior races, which include all but the white and yellow races, that they will be decimated by the natural principle of the strong prevailing over the weak. For instance, the "fierce and ugly” races of India who die by many thousands in epidemics each year, will hardly be able to overcome the British; since the bodies (Negroes “smell badly”, it is difficult for the racial barrier against them to be levelled. Those few of the black and brown races who are not annihilated will marry with the lighter races and will ultimately become amalgamated with the white people (Kang 1958, 142-3). And yet the intensity with which he subscribed to evolutionism should not blind us to another dimension of his thought which emphasized love and equality of all in the world. Chang Hao (1967) stresses the indeterminacy of Kang’s ideas drawn from different Confucian schools, Buddhism as well as Western ideas. Thus Kang’s evolutionism co-exists (not without tension, see Kang 1958, 41) with a moral quest and activism which derived from a Confucian “cosmic imperative” and his utopia is informed by the moral values of fen (benevolence, altruism). Indeed, if one views Kang not only as a political thinker, but as a philosopher and religious leader, as did his disciples like Liang Qichao, then we have to see his ultimate goal as the spread of Confucian moral and spiritual teachings in order to save the world. (Chang 1987, 21-65).

However, few Confucianists of the 20th century were practically able to realize this religio-moral vision in society, at lea! in a form that made it recognizably different from the modern vision of society. Were they perhaps content with Feng Youlan's (or Fung Yulan) suggestion that “the sage within is simply a man whose outer kingliness lies in the fact that he does what everyone does but understands it differently”? (Cited in Furth 1976, 41). Liang Shuming may have been among the few who insisted that the sage’s actions in the world must be realized in the form of a Confucianist moral community. Liang’s rural reconstruction institutes were inspired by Mencius: The elite were to be the teachers, responsible for leading the masses and for their ethical transformation. In this sense, the teacher was to aspire to be a sage; the central institutional agent of the government was to be the school; and the cadre were to be the spiritual hierarchy of dedicated students. He loathed the self-interested, competitive spirit of Western capitalism and attacked the Westernized educational system for creating a privileged class that ha lost the tradition of the morally perfect junzi or ‘gentleman”(Alitto 200). He sought to reorganize society on the basis of the traditional ethical bonds through such hallowed institutions as the 11th century xiangyue (village compact), so that society an moral instruction “could make an indivisible whole” (Alitto 206). At the same time, like Kang, Liang ‘Shuming never really parted with the evolutionist perspective. But it was an evolutionism that was re-worked to rid it of any value hierarchy, 01 the three stage of Will that he wrote about, the Western stage, the Chinese stage and the Indian stage, each was equally validly concerned wit the problems of humanity at the appropriate stage of development of course, as Alitto points out, none of this critique prevented him from identifying the essence of Chinese culture as an absolute value (Alitto 1979, 84).

Many of the same processes and tendencies can also be found in the 19th and 20th century history of India, but the narrative has not been emplotted in the same way. Here, the critique of modernity has almost as much visibility as the narrative of progress although the sting of the former has often been removed. We may see the narrative of progress as tied together at three points by the figure of Ram Mohun Roy (1772-1833) and the Bengal Renaissance, the moderate wing of the nationalist Congress Party at the turn of the century, and by Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964), first Prime Minister of India. But the shadow of a parallel process (not quite narrativized) of the critique of History allows us to see how the orderly succession of a lines narrative, as in the progression to modernity in Chinese historiography, may be bifurcated by relating each of these development, to a reaction or counter-movement in the parallel process.

The climax of the Chinese narrative represented by the birth of full modern self-consciousness in the May 4th movement actually begins the narrative in the Indian case. The Bengal Renaissance of the first half of the 19th century championed by it; initiator and central figure, Ram Mohun Roy upheld reason and individual rights against “superstition” and the hierarchy of cast1 and family. True, he held onto Hinduism, but this Hinduism was transformed into a Unitarianism and the repository of reason Moreover, by virtue of the very rationalistic methods whereby he sought to establish his case, he revealed himself to be modernist and is popularly known in India as the “Father of Modem India”. Ram Mohun and his followers advocated the improved status of women, the adoption of English language and scientific education in Bengal (Ray 1975, 14-15). Even more radical than Roy was the Young Bengal movement of the 1820s, a smaller-scale but more thoroughly iconoclastic movement of the Westernized Bengali youth led by the Anglo-Indian, Henry Vivien Derozio (1809-1831). Influenced by the philosophy of Hume and Bentham and radical thinkers like Tom Paine, they claimed to measure everything with the yardstick of reason. Their attitude to religion, which was informed by Voltaire, led them to denounce the Hindu religion with great fervor (Ahmed 1975, 99). For the Derozians as for the May 4th iconoclasts, the total rejection of the old was only matched by the total affirmation of the new.

As the 19th century drew on, however, the early form of radical iconoclasm against Hinduism and tradition in general subtly began to give way to more complex, if not always more nuanced, responses to modem ideas and practices. Bankim Chardra Chattopadhyay (1838-1894) perhaps the most acclaimed man of letters in the Calcutta of his days, and who had once described himself as a member of the Young Bengal group (Raychaudhuri 1988, 203), articulated one such response to modernity which was to find many adherents among the intelligentsia of late 19th and 20th century India as a whole. Bankim acknowledge significance and desirability of science and rationality. The West had achieved progress, prosperity and freedom beta placed reason at the heart of its culture. But the West was superior only in the culture of material life, and had little to contribute to the spiritual aspect of life. Here it was the East that had the upper hand. Man was imperfect if he had developed side, especially the material. The perfect and complete man combined the religious truths of Hinduism with the love To be sure, figures like Chattopadhyay, just as much if not more than the Chinese, were affected by European (Raychaudhuri 1988, 8) who, it might be said, projected a yearning for a “lost spirituality” into Oriental societies.

Bankim Chandra and other like-minded thinkers such as Aurobindo Ghosh (1872-1950) and Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) occupy a place in the trajectory of opposition to modernity somewhere between the national culture group and the neo- traditional Confucianists. Like the former, Bankim recognized the significance and necessity of modern ideas: rationalism, progress, individualism. But his nationalism led him to claim that a purified and regenerated Hindu ideal was far superior as a rational philosophy of life than anything Western religion or philosophy had to offer. Like the cultural essence school, Bankim distinguished modernity from westernism, and claimed that modernity could become part of a transcendent Hindu cultural ideal. But in practice, the tensions in his thought led him to oppose reformers who advocated reform of Hindu customs and practices by appealing to the colonial state on the basis of enlightened reason. Bankim did not oppose reform in principle; but he believed that change would and should follow from the new moral consensus that would emerge from the rejuvenated national culture, or national religion as he preferred to call it (Chattejee 1986, 73-79). Thus, as with Liang Shuming, politics and culture could never really remain separate: the religio-moral insight would necessarily shape the vision of the ideal society that had to be realized.

In the history of Indian nationalism, the early 20th century is seen as marking a political break between the extremists and moderates; between those who wanted immediate independence and would use agitational politics to achieve it and those who sought more gradual, constitutional modes to attain concessions ultimately towards independence. From the perspective of culture, this political break also fits, albeit imperfectly, with the incorporation within mainstream nationalism of a discourse of the nation founded in Hindu culture as opposed to the European model of civilizational progress for the colonies. The assumptions of the latter are captured in the Moderate critique of “the un-British rule of the British in India” to which Moderates like G.K. Gokhale (1866-1915) and Jawaharlal Nehru’s father, Motilal Nehru (1861-1931) subscribed. Hindu nationalism was exemplified by Gokhale’s fellow Maharashtrian, the extremist B. G. Tilak (l856-1920), who took nationalist rhetoric out of the lawyers’ chambers and into the streets to mobilize Hindus during their communal festivities. Although Gandhi drew his ideas from a variety of sources and evolved a unique blend, he too drank deeply from this trope of “culture”, of an irreducible (Hindu) spirituality as a foundation for his nationalism.

At this point, the Indian narrative of national modernization becomes complicated. We are at a cross-road: should we focus on Jawaharlal Nehru as the flowering of modern consciousness or on Gandhi who turns his back on History? We could by focusing on Nehru and the segment of the intelligentsia favouring the vision of a fully modern society which dominated certain, strategic points of Indian public life through most of the independence movement, develop the narrative of emancipation. To be sure, even among this group, there were few who advocated the kind of break with history that we have seen in the May 4thor even among the Derozians. For Nehru the significance of traditions lay not in a transcendent spiritual or moral telos but in the historical development of the nation. All the great rulers of Indian history such as Asoka, the Guptas, Akbar and several of the Moghul emperors attempted to develop a political framework to unite the cultural diversity of the sub-continent. This History, while giving the Indian people their unique qualities, also placed them within the progressive and emancipatory project of the Enlight-enment3.

Like the Chinese historians, Nehru saw the historical nation through the biological metaphor of growth and decline. The great heights of Indian thought, culture and science had been reached as early as the 11th century and subsequently entered a long dark period of rigidity and stagnation (Nehru 1960, 121-128). To be sure there were short cycles of creativity thereafter, especially during the reign of Akbar and some of the other Moghul emperors, but until the modern period which was uniquely the period of vigour and dynamism of the Europeans, there was no basic growth in India. From even this brief outline, we may see that Nehru displays an ambivalence regarding the question of a pre-formed national subject of ancient times. The end of creativity coincides roughly with the advent of the Islamic period, but individual Muslim monarchs are able to re-generate society periodically. Certainly there was no question of the substance of an ancient culture re-appearing in Jawaharlal Nehru’s Discovery of India. That was left to Hindu nationalists of different stripes from the benign to the savagely vengeful. Even more than for the cultural nativists, culture and politics ware separable for Nehru. Indeed not only were they separable, but culture occupied a distinctly subordinate position in relation to history, And as with the Chinese Marxists, a national culture may once have embodied (and will again embody) the supreme ideals of its age. Though not a Marxist, in the way in which Nehru sustained the ideas of the uniqueness of national culture within a modernist vision of History, he resembled the Chinese Marxists when they were not violently anti-historical. Perhaps we can place his ideas somewhere between the nativists and the Marxists in China.

But the narrative has to confront the figure and impact of Gandhi. He is perhaps among the most difficult political figures to understand in terms taken from modern discourses. My reading of Gandhi here owes much to works by Partha Chattejee and Ashis Nandy, What were Gandhi’s basic ideas about modem civilization? For Gandhi the religio-moral vision was so compelling that it could not brook the separation of politics and culture, a distinction regarded by true believers - whether Gandhi or the variety of religious fundamentalists that we encounter in the world today - to be a particular imposition of modernity itself. In Hind Swaraj published first in 1909, Gandhi launches a total indictment of modem civilization as it has developed in the West and subsequently brought into India. Gandhi pursues a line of argument that can also be found in the Western romantic tradition as well as in certain Hindu and Buddhist texts. His argument, however, is not founded upon a textual or scriptural tradition, but rather on a universalist moral philosophy. According to Gandhi, the modern organization of society which is designed to release its productive potential and produce increasing wealth and comfort fork all, is ultimately self-destructive. Modem civilization actually makes the individual a prisoner of his or her own craving for luxury and self-indulgence, generates a destructive competitiveness and brings about poverty, inequality, and large-scale violence (Gandhi 1938, 24-27, 44-45).

Unlike the Marxists, who critiqued coionialism for its class character but praised it for unleashing new productive forces and technology in “stagnant, feudal societies”, Gandhi criticizes precisely these productive forces. Modern machinery can only create the desire for more goods, it can never satisfy it. Worse, industrialism brings destruction, exploitation and disease to a society, and creates an especially exploitative relationship between the city and the village (Gandhi 1938, 66-70). If modem industrialism cannot find a place in Gandhi’s religio-moral vision of society, nor can the modem state. For Gandhi, whose anarchism was influenced by Tolstoy, the critique of the modern state flows logically from his ideas about industrtalism. The modern state was only necessary because of the needs of industrialism and the co-ordination of large-scale orgnizations. Parliamentary representation does not improve Gandhi’s image of the state because representative politics is based on a competitive individualism. In the new independent India, the state could never be the appropriate machinery for the rejuvenation of village society and economy. More important, the slate as a coercive agency could not c/aim an inalienable authority for that authority lay in the law of Dharma or moral duty which resided outside the state (lyre 1973, 253-260). Only religion possessed that transcendent authority by means of which the existing establishment could be challenged.

Gandhi proposed a utopian society of largely autarkic village communities called Ramarajya (or the kingdom of Rama, the legendary sage-king). This was to be a patriarchy in which the ruler, by his exemplary moral qualities expressed the collective will. It is also a utopia in which the economic organization of production, arranged according to an idealized “varna” form of organization with a perfect system of reciprocity, would ensure that there would be no competition and differences in status. The ideal conception of Ramarajya, in fact, encapsulates the critique of all that is morally reprehensible in the economic and political organization of civil society (Chatterjee 1986, 92). The similarity of this vision to a Mencian conception of society is striking, but its similarity to a Maoist utopian vision is even more intriguing.

If we temporarily free Mao from the narrative of modernity and slice Chinese historical materials from the angle of a counter-narrative, we can make much sense of both Gandhi and Mao. Both ‘were in search of alternative forms of community, alternatives to competitive - in particular, market - models of society implicit in the emancipation of idea, Although Mao held on to the notion of economic progress, their common concern for economic and politically autarkic communes, the loathing of urban domination, the mistrust of technological expertise, and the superiority of spontaneously self-governing communities over systems of representation, whether this was the Party or Parliament, confirmed for both the necessity of subordinating politics to a communal morality.

            While History itself for Mao remained within the progressive linearity of the Hegelian-Marxist formulation, the question of human will as the counter-point to the automaticity of the unfolding of History remained unresolved, as it did in the formulation generally. According to Frederic Wakeman (1973), Mao’s understanding of will provides an opening to influences from Chinese intellectual and moral traditions, including those from Wang Yangming to Kang Youwel. Wakeman is careful to note that this is not some timeless influence and he tracks it particularly through Kang Youwei’s synthesis in the early part of the century which, although we have seen it to have been an incomplete synthesis, identified the telos of evolution as the morality of ren. We may see this pre-occupation in Mao’s view in the fact that the ability to make History demanded the possession of a moral force, "a kind of revolutionary sincerity” or purity among individuals (Wakeman 1973,324). Thus it is the irruption of an obscured geneously of ren into the dominant narrative that moved Mao, perhaps despite himself, to subvert the telos of progressive History by the quest for a moral community.

Yet, Mao was not an anti-modernist while Gandhi most definitely was. Mao’s communal utopia was not transcendent; indeed, it was immanent and, frighteningly, imminent. Gandhi’s utopia was based upon a distinctly transcendent foundation and such he was able to resist assimilation into the romantic critique of modernity. Chattejee argues that European romantics critiqued science and rationality from within the Enlightenment discourse. They never called for the ultimate abandonment of Reason, but were rather torn between the demands of Reason and Morality, Progress and Happiness, Historical Necessity and Human Will. These tensions did not trouble Gandhi, as they did many other Indian thinkers and leaders including Tagore (Chatterjee 1986, 99-100). The foundation of Gandhi’s views of society derived fundamentally from his composite religious vision of Truth, denying History, and defying the Enlightenment problematique of his age. But the nation was not denied: at least not for the moment. Having no anchor in History, or even in history (which has no permanent anchor), the nation would have to embody the transcendent Truth.

What makes it possible for someone like Gandhi and his ideas to occupy the supremely important place that they do in Indian society and history? It is most unusual to find the general acceptability and prestige accorded such anti-modern ideas among people educated in modem society in other parts of the world. The contrast is particularly striking in the comparison with China, both with the Republic of China (ROC) and the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Although I have compared him with Mao, the comparison must break tin with respect to Mao’s ultimate adherence to the Engtightenment project and his violent rejection of the past. Then, of course, there is the case of Liang Shumtog who has been compared to Gandhi. Indeed, Liang liked to regard himself as a Chinese Gandhi. But the comparison with Liang Shuming is telling, because Liang’s influence or prestige among China’s intelligentsia is but a fraction of Gandhi’s in Indian society.

To be sure, practically speaking, Gandhi accommodated, and was happily accommodated by, many modern forces, not the least of which was the emergent Indian industrial bourgeoisie, especially the house of the Bida. But regardless of whether or not his ideas are practtsed in India today, the relative prestige that they occupied itself needs explanation. Moreover, although we are often reminded that Gandhi’s political and economic ideas are no longer, nor were they really ever, influential in India, they have existed as a strong oppositional force criticizing the establishment. Oppositional groups inspired by Gandhian ideas seek to critique the most extreme effects of modernity and provide ways, however meagre, of mitigating its most destructive results, whether they be the social costs of large-scale industrialism and urbanism, the untramelled growth of state power in the name of progress, or the unforseen devastation of the environment. In particular, the environmental movement, especially in India, has led to a resurgence of interest in Gandhi’s critique of modernity. The critique of modernity may have been finally domesticated Indian nationalism, but it has not disappeared.

I propose to undertake two strategies to explain the differences in the weight and influence of anti-modem ideas in India and China among the intelligentsia and elites more widely. I wish to underline that my strategies refer particularly to the ways in which these politically active elites - the designers of these new nation-states - represent themselves and their visions of political community; they do not refer to some abstract entity such as Indian or Chinese political cultures. The first strategy will seek the possible institutional anchors for such anti-modernist perspectives in the different potitical cultures of these elites. This strategy will provide us with the necessary but not sufficient condition to explain the difference. The second strategy considers the particular ideological conjuncture in which Gandhian ideas emerged and took root. This had much to do with the specific circumstances of imperialism and modes of resistance in the two countries: with Gandhian resistance to direct British rule and the Chinese response first to indirect imperialism, and then the military and idedogical resistance to Japanese imperialism, The first strategy appeals to an argument for cultural difference in the way the elite was integrated with the polity, the second to differences in ideology and cultural strategies of resistance.

LinYu-sheng (1979) has argued that the totalistic iconoclasm of the May 4th movement was itself made possible by the organic unity between the cultural and political order in the Chinese imperial system. In this system, universal kingship integrated the cultural-moral order with the socio-political order. The collapse of this pivot in the system led to the collapse of the legtttmating principle of this elite’s cultural-moral order, which subsequently enabled the totalistic attack on the traditional order.4 There is a remarkably symmetrical argument made for Indian society by the lndologist Louis Dumont. Dumont (1980) argues that it is religious ideas, especially of hierarchy and pollution, and the Brahmin priesthood that held together the entire system, Kingship and politics, although protecting religion, was fundamentally dependent upon religious ideas and the ritual activities of the Brahmin priesthood for their legitimation, So where, in Lin’s account, the cultural and moral, as well as the more broadly social sphere, were dependent upon the imperial institution for their legitimation, in Dumont’s view of India, politics and society depended upon religious institutions and ideas, Thus in India, “religion encompassed the political”, whereas in China, it was the political which encompassed the religious (or moral culture).

Both views may be criticized for essentializing complex cultural traditions, for reducing the enormous diversity of China and India to simple, and some would say, simplistic principles. I have found some value in their formulations as ways of understanding have elites perceived and integrated themselves with political power. Thus in Lin’s formulation, we may better think of the organic unity as a representation which informed the world-view of the literati elite and upwardly mobile segments of society; as for Dumont, we need to qualify his assertion about religion sanctioning politics by the extent to which this relationship was relevant to the self-understanding of different, particularly lower-class, groups. By understanding these formulations as specific elite representations rather than as timeless cultural principles, we may also see how differently these elite representations have shaped the emergent nations in the two societies as the new sources of sovereign authority. In the comparative study that follows I turn to a study by Arjun Appadurai of the history of a south Indian kingdom and temple community from the 18th until the early 20th century. For the Chinese materials I will use my own researches and other materials from the north China plain in the 19th and 20th centuries. 

Appadurai’s study of the Sri Partasarati Svami temple in Madras gives us a clear picture of how authority was constructed in this society. Before the British took over the area in the late 17th century, a triangular relationship obtained in the community between the kings, the sectarian priests of the temple and the temple community, the last of which also happened to be subjects of the kingdom. A set of transactions, material and symbolic, held the three together. Sovereignty lay actually with the deity of the temple. By providing royal gifts and protection (other patrons might giant more generous gifts, but could not provide protection) to the temple, the king, who demonstrated the highest form of service to the deity, came to share in the paradigmatic royalty of the deity, “By being the greatest servant of the deity, the human king sustains and displays his rule over men” (Appadurai 1981. 51). Thus, the authority of the rulers in the kingdom was, in practice, crucially dependent upon their patronage of the temple.

Behind the conferral of these ritual honours land critical to the link between the temple community and the king and the royal bureaucracy, were, of cause, the sectarian managers of the temple who were also the religious leaders of the community. While the king was granted the authority to be the ultimate arbiter in temple disputes, the actual day to day, managerial authority of the temple community lay with these leaders; and the monarch could not encroach upon the prerogative. As Appadurai puts it, “the ceremonial exchanges of honour between warrior-kings and sectarian leaders rendered public, stable and culturally appropriate an exchange at the level of politics and economics. These warrior-kings bartered the control of agrarian resources gained by military prowess for access to the [symbolically] re-distributive processes of temples, which were controlled by sectarian leaders. Conversely, in their own struggles with each other....sectarian leaders found the support of these warrior-kings timely and profitable” (Appadurai 1981, 74).

With the expansion of the colonial British state and the growth of its control over the most intimate spheres of life, especially in the late 19th century, this particular interaction of religious and political structures of authority fell away and the triangular relationship was replaced by a state-civil society model of authority. At the structural level, the British dispensed with temples as the authoritative basis of rule in south India. Moreover, reversing the pattern of the past, the colonial administration sought increasingly to control the day-to-day affairs of the temple, thereby encroaching upon the authority of the temple leaders and generating enormous conflict and unending litigation, The historic process we have outlined was an effort at classic state building - whereby the state attempts to appropriate the authority of local communities - albeit in the colonial context.

What was the effect of this state-making upon the religious structures of authority? Needless to say, the old triangular relationship collapsed. Moreover, the authority of the sectarian leaders was being increasingly challenged. Yet, this temple and Hindu temples all over India continued to play a vital role in electoral politics, political mobilization, and politics in general. Control of temples continued to generate intense competition between local power-holders, their lawyers and publicists (Washbrook 1976). Cut off from state power, sectarian and Brahmin elites sought to reinforce their religious authority within the community and temple which continued to provide, as Appadumi argues, a last resort for working out political entitlement. Temple honours were not only valued cultural markers because they brought enhanced status to the recipient, but because they also brought control of temple resources, their followings and their allies. Thus the continued importance of religious institutions in the power and self-perception of an important segment of the Indian elite would ensure religious ideas a rote in the emergent narratives of the nation.

Let us now consider the way in which religious and political structures of authority were articulated at the local level in China, both before and after the process of modern state-making took hold. In the villages of north China during the late 9th and early 20th centuries, patronage and management of the religious sphere of activity - endowing and managing temple lands, honour and repairing temples, organizing temple festivities, serving on temple management committees - clearly brought honour and status to those engaged in them. These activities were monopolized by the village elite, who in terms of leisure and resources, were best able to avail of them, In many villages these activities in the religious sphere provided the framework for managing the public affairs of the village, for instance, running the crop-watching association or the self-defence crops of the village. Moreover, in some villages, temple committees also functioned as the ultimate tribunal to judge offenders in the village under the watchful eyes of the gods (Duara 1988, Ch. 5).

I have argued that the active role played by the village elite in the religious sphere was sanctioned by the cosmology of a uversa1 bureaucracy headed by the emperor but composed of both earthly and godly bureaucrats mediating the relationship between spiritual and temporal worlds (1989, 134 -136).The activities of this universal bureaucracy provided a model for leaders to present their authority and exercise their responsibilities. For whatever practical reasons the village elite performed their activities in the religious sphere, the bureaucrats’ patronage of officially sanctioned gods and the gentry’s sponsorship of both official and non-official gods communicated a clear message to them about the style and responsibilities of political leadership in society. It also alerts us to the way in which authority in the religious sphere at the local level was symbolically dependent on the pivotal role of universal emperorship and, more widely, on the ritual activities of the imperial bureaucracy. This is brought home most sharply when the modernizing state began to send a different message regarding the religious sphere in the villages and urged village leaders to transfer their allegiance from the religious realm to the more secular activities of the modern regime

At the turn of the 20th century, the provincial adiministration of Zhili and Shandong under the initial leadership of Yua Shikai (or Yuan Shih-Kai) sought to implement a series of modernizing reforms at the village level and target the old religious sphere as the source of ‘superstition” and also substantial resources. The success of this administration in appropriating temple and temple property was not inconsiderable (Duara 1999, 148 -155). This was due largely to cooperation by the village elites who saw new channels of social mobility in the schools, titles and programmes which came down to the village came from a national authority. These resources functioned to certify and bolster the authority of the village elite who monopolized official positions in this initial period (Duara 1989, 157). In other words, the rural elite turned wt to be extremely adaptive and responsive to state demands: they were able to transfer their allegiances from the religious sphere to the secular relatively painlessly. They were able to do so because for them it had been the political within the religious that had been salient in the first place. The religious domain had ceased to be a factor in the political role of the elite any more.

What does this comparative excursus tell us about the greater prominence of critiques of modernity in India? Surely not the simplistic conclusion that religion is necessarily anti-modern. Religion, in and of itself, is scarcely incompatible with modernity as the increasingly popular role of religion in the US, Japan or Taiwan reveals. In China, the areas which have prospered most in recent years, such as the south and southeast coast, have also witnessed a massive religious revival. I believe it tells us that where elites locate their authority outside of the political power of the state, which often tends to be in organized religions, they are able not only to generate opposition, but also to articulate alternative narratives to the authoritative discourse located within this political power. Thus, a state-building programme in India did not foreclose, and may even have contributed to the expansion of a space within which certain elite groups could engage in an indigenous critique of the narrative of History associated with the colonial power. This is also how we can understand the force of Gandhi’s resistance to granting moral authority to the state.

In China. since universal kingship encompassed the religious and moral order, the source of authority for local elites as well as intelligentsia resided principally in the political. We have seen how the pivotal role of the political shaped the allegiance of the elite at even the most local levels of rural society. The collapse of the political pivot which made possible the radical iconoclasm of the May 4th movement also de-legitimated critiques of the emergent order originating in the non-modern sectors of society. Non-modem and non-elite popular religious movements, such as those led by the Small Sword Society (see Duara 1995, Ch. 3), continued to flourish and challenge the hegemonic discourse especially as it pertained to popular religion. However, lacking links with the modern intelligentsia, they were unable to articulate a counter-narrative of dissent that ,was acceptable in the public domain.

The relative autonomy of religious authority in India enabled a man like Gandhi to be as influential as he was. But it would be a mistake to identify Gandhi entirely with the project of the 19th century Hindu elite who sought to found the nation in the idea of a "spiritual culture" in opposition to History. Stephen Hay has revealed how the entire 19th century Hindu renaissance was the work overwhelmingly of Brahmins in Bengal and South India. It was also largely the celebration of the high Brahminc philosophical tradition of the Vedas and the Upanishads. While at one level, Gandhi, a non-Brahmin, drew from this tradition, Ashis Nandy (1987, 155-8) points out that at another level, he marked a break with this tradition because Gandhi’s Hinduism affirmed the non-canonical and the folk. While this may make him similar to the Chinese nativists in search of traditional roots of a modern, national culture, yet we should recall that for Gandhi it was often the non-modern within these folk traditions that he valued. Gandhi’s critique of modernity derived its legitimacy in substantial part from the popular, sectarian religious traditions which continued to play a vital part in Saurashtra, the area he came from. This comer of Gujarat was an area of eclectic and competing religious cultures including ascetic Jainism and Christianity and his family was strongly influenced by the devotional tradition of monotheistic Hinduism of bhakti. It was from this tradition that he derived his opposition to classical, caste-bound Hinduism and projected a religious nationalism based on non-violence and compassion. Most of all, the bhakti tradition gave him an orientation and style. By following in the path of bhakti teachers, walking about the land preaching his message, Gandhi, the latter-day saint, was able to reach out to the ordinary people (Rudolphs 139, 172).

If the continued meaningfulness of religious traditions among segments of the elite leadership of the national movement in India created a space and an audience for the critique of modernity, the substance of Gandhi’s critique itself was not a necessary outcome of this space. The substance must be understood in the context of his encounter with colonial ideology. Ashis Nandy (1983) has argued that the psychological impact of colonial ideology is much more devastating and longer lasting than its political or economic effect. This impact is felt both in the colonized society as well as in the colonizing society. The justification of world colonization by Western powers required the construction of an ideology of rule that not only transformed the representation of the colonized peoples, but also recast the self-image of Western society as one that was quintessentially and definitionally the antithesis of the East, In the Indian context, the “natives; were marked variously as cowardly, effeminate, naively childlike, superstitious, ignorant and the like. In turn the West was characterized by the images of youthfulness, aggressiveness, and mastery exemplified so well in the British public school. In doing so, it repressed many of the antinomian Dionysian features of Western society itself, such as femininity, childlikeness, passiveness, the positive qualities of age, at great psychological cost to this society, Nandy examines the crippling effects of this ideology on those at the interface of the encounter such as Rudyard Kipling, E.M. Forster and CF. Andrews, on the one side, and westernized Indians such as Aurobindo Ghosh on the other.

Gandhi was among the very few elite Indians to successfully resist the colonial representation of the Indian. In my opinion, upper caste Hindu reformers tended to respond to the colonial psychological onslaught with a myopic defensiveness of a reconstructed Hindu spirituality (versus Western materiality) - itself an Odentalist representation, albeit with positive connotations. Partly in consequence of this defensiveness, Hindu elites have been much more closed to the kind of self-criticism that characterized May 4th intellectuals in China. Gandhi was able to break through this defensiveness and, according to Nandy, resist the linkages at the root of colonial ideology between progressive mastery at the heart of History on the one hand, and racism, hyper-masculinity and adulthood on the other (Nandy 1983, 100). His doctrine of passive resistance and non-violence sought to liberate activism and courage from aggressiveness and recognize them as perfectly compatible with womanhood. Keenly aware of the disfiguring effects of colonialism on the British themselves he pointed to the abandonment of true Christian values which, he believed, could never justify colonialism.

But (and this is not part of Nandy’s argument) Gandhi appears to have taken a final step of equating the irrationality and immorality of colonialism with that of modernity as a whole. So deeply implicated were the categories of modern thought with colonial ideology that to accept the Western criterion of a true antagonist - to be a player in the game of  "modernization" -would be to violate one’s own being, to remain imprisoned within the deforming categories of the other.

Thus the sufficient condition enabling Gandhi’s critique of modernity lay in the encounter with colonial ideology and his ability to provide a psychologically valid alternative to it in his nationalism, especially for a middle class caught awkwardly between two worlds. in China, the imperialist presence was of course widely resented and anti-imperialism was at the core of political movements for the first half of the 20th century. But the absence of institutionalized colonialism in most parts of China also meant that colonial ideology was not entrenched among both colonizer and colonized in the same way as it was in India and other directly colonized countries. The opposition to imperialism was chiefly political and economic and did not present the urgent need to root out imperialist ideology in the very self-perception of a people, It is interesting to speculate on the rote and effects of Japanese colonial discourse in the early 20th century.

As far as l know, few scholars have taken up this subject seriously. However, work seeking to understand the Japanese construction of History and the Orient is beginning to emerge, most notably, Stefan Tanaka's Japan's Orient (see also James Fujii,  1993). At the centre of Tanaka’s concern is the Meiji production of foyoshi (literally, Eastern History), a historical narrative of great consequence for East Asia. From our perspective, toyoshi combined linear History with the oppositional discourse of ‘culture” In a way that Japan could resist the hierarchies of universal History and thus establish its equivalence to the West and yet create its own superiority in relation to the rest of Asia, particularly China which came to be designated in this discourse as Shins. As the foundation of an alternative History, the East was idealized (or Orientalized) and for figures like Okakura Tenshin, Japan's mission lay in re-entering the Asiatic past and regaining the lost beauty of Asia. The dominant academic trend, however, tended to objectify Shina as Japan’s past, as a temporal inferior, even while claiming some of the timeless qualities of Asiatic ideals as being embodied in modern Japan (Tanaka 1993, 19). While it is important to recognize the indeterminacy of toyoshi discourse and the fact that it inspired many Japanese to reach out to other Asians to build a positive future, nonetheless, there was, even amongst the most noble-minded of these figures, a paternalism towards Japan’s Orient that seeded the violent appropriation of this discourse by Japanese imperialism (Tanaka 1993, Ch. 5).

From the outset, then, it would appear that Japanese colonial ideology took a different approach to its colonial subjects that would have made a Gandhian type of response inappropriate, if not meaningless. In proclaiming the establishment of the Greater East Asian Co-prosperity Sphere as the mission of Japanese rule in the 1930s and 1940s the Japanese imperialists were appealing to the Orientalism of toyoshi which celebrated an Asiatic unity. Idyllic village communities based upon the spirit of age-old cooperation were to be the building blocks of the Japanese empire which was the only force capable of resisting the corrupting influences of Western capitalism. (Hatada 1976, 10-15) Although there was a world of difference between Gandhi and the Japanese imperialists, nonetheless, the basis of a critique founded upon alternative Asian values which Gandhi also espoused was arguably extremely suspect in China.

In a recent forum on my 1995 book, Rescuing History from the Nation: Questioning Narratives of Modern China (Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars, Vol. 29, July-October), John Fitzgerald comments on an earlier version of this paper. Fitzgerald examines the internalization of Western imperialist images of the smelly, wily, emasculated and inscrutable Chinese among a large number of Chinese novelists and politicians of the early 20th century, and concludes that the sources of Chinese and Indian self-images in Orientalism were perhaps not so different after, all. His alternative view is that what was different was “the relatives a 'new with which Chinese nationalists accepted the colonial representations of John Chinaman as the foundation for fashioning a ‘new kind of people’...” in contrast to Indian nationalists. I agree with Fitzgerald’s judgement and believe that it advances our conclusion a step further. Apart from exceptional individuals like Gandhi, the self-image of middle-class Indians was made, in significant part, from both the positive and negative stereotypes of imperialist Orientalism. Yet Indian nationalism (and not necessarily the movement) tended to use the positive Orientalism as a shield to deflect serious self-examination that might have been provoked by the negative Orientalism. It still, however, begs the question as to why Indian nationalists found it difficult to explore and act upon this criticism.

Why this relative lack of “ease” among Indians, has, I sense as one with no expertise in psychology, to do with the presence or absence of everyday, colonial rulership, whether in India, Korea or Algeria. Although this does not hold for every person or even every group in the colonized society, the strongly dualistic or Manichaean relationship between colonialism and nationalism makes it very difficult for these nationalists and intellectuals to be self-critical in the May 4th way. The space for self- examination is often filled by a defence mechanism that sanctifies the self-or a part of the self. One might make the argument that this is the reaction of only bourgeois nationalists and it is true that they probably have a greater stake in the status quo than many others. But a cursory look at multicultural politics in contemporary America reveals a recognizably similar process that suggests that it might also have, to do with the everyday confrontation of identities constructed as self and other. The ability to criticize the Self demands some distance from a powerful, objectifying Other, or perhaps it demands the Other principally as an internalized Self, which provides a curious autonomy from a real Other standing over the Self. At the same time, however, this self-criticism - while valuable as a practice - is, of course, no guarantee of liberation.

To return to the exceptional Gandhi. It is perhaps inevitable that, with widely varying degrees of destructiveness, all of our representations imply normative hierarchies which tend to marginalize and repress peoples and cultures. Is Gandhi relevant to understanding how and why to keep our dialogue open to the Other?

My answer is a yes and a no. Gandhi’s contribution was to demonstrate that it may be possible to bring vast masses of people into the political mainstream without the same violent or wrenching transformation of their self-image that 19th century imperialism had produced among the intelligentsia: to locate the sources of self-empowerment (swaraj) not only in an external or elite discourse but within the best in their popular traditions: and to project an ideology that minimized the instrumentalization of the people with whom he worked. In these respects he also resembled grass-roots reformers in China like Jimmy Yan and Liang Shuming for whom the transformative impulse was balanced by the need to preserve the local as a value, even though he was much more politically popular than were they.

In preserving the local - here religious traditions in relation to the modernizing center - as a value, Gandhi was able to transform it into a space from which the dominant ideology of the state could be critiqued - a space similar in many ways to civil society in the West. We tend not to equate religious space with civil society because the enlightenment project was directed against the authority of the church. If. however, we may step aside from the history of modern Europe and seek our perspective from political developments for democratization in East Europe, Latin America, the Philippines and elsewhere, then we have to recognize that the critique of state and state ideologies has come from the authority provided by religious sources such as the Catholic church and Liberation Theology.

The narrative of emancipatory modernity in China has its power because it has elicited the commitment of both the Chinese state and the modern intelligentsia. Its gains for the Chinese people in many areas of life cannot go unappreciated. Moreover, despite my criticism of the Chinese intelligentsia’s representation of me “people”, I believe that the highly elitist Indian intelligentsia and bureaucracy (outside of the Gandhian safyagrahi and some activist groups) can learn much from Chinese egalitarianism. Yet the consuming commitment of Chinese intellectuals to the narrative of modemiiy has tended to produce a monologism in which gradualist reformers like Liang Shuming, Jimmy Yan, Tao Xingzhi and others (each of whom could perhaps have played the role of a Gandhi under different circumstances) have been marginalized. In the process, this narrative has obscured the vitality of popular culture, religion and their associational life, and de-legitimated the critique of modern ideologies originating outside of modern discourses. Despite the repeated persecution of the intelligentsia by the Chinese state, it is this shared narrative which has thrown so many of them repeatedly into the arms of the state and at the same time alienated both from the living cultures of the “masses” and of “tradition”. While the state has made effective use of the narrative of modernity to expand its own powers, the Chinese intelligentsia has robbed itself of alternative sources of moral authority which it might have found in history and popular culture.

At the same time, Gandhi’s success in politicizing the people was also limited by the fact that his politics were a meditation on the methodology of morality. We may think of his mission as the production of a self that was less epistemologically controlling, but morally self-aware and self-controlled. Indeed, such was his dedication to this disciplinary project, that it became its own totalization and took its own toll. This totalizing impulse is also reflected in his utopianism which was so radically oppositional that it reproduced the essentializing quality of modernity which he sought to fight. Thus by conflating colonialism with modernity as a single, given mode of being, he objectified it and did not attend to the historical tensions within that could unravel it. How would Gandhi have accounted for pacificist traditions in modern society, for the power of the environmental movement, for the increased visibility of androgyny, for the “age revolution”? Gandhi did not recognize that any de-construction of a system of ideas must also fall prey to this system. To put it more affirmatively, “it is a question of explicitly and systematically posing the problem of the status of a discourse which borrows from a heritage the resources necessary for the de-construction of that heritage itself” (Derrida 1978, 282).

In not posing the problem of his affiliation with that which he critiqued, Gandhi could not sea that the transcendent Truth which his conception of the nation sought to embody was exactly parallel to the nation as the subject of transcendent History, an essence which remained even as all tangible histories were re-written, dispersed or died out. In seeking to banish History as the foundation of the nation, Gandhi banished historicity itself and ended up with a transcendental ideal, the more impossible to realize. As historians, our task is to displace History, but at the same time, to rescue history, We do so with the knowledge that the nation cannot be essentialized as a transcendent reality, beyond self-serving regimes and bickering interest groups. The nation exists as representations of community inseparable from these very groups pursuing their partialities but also embodying their larger aspirations in, narratives of transcendence. As representation, the nation also conceals itself as a relationship of power which uses its political and rhetorical apparatuses to suppress alternative visions of community. The nation as representation and power has been well served by History and Truth. The real historical nation is an elusive relationship which can only be understood by marshalling all; the resources that history has to offer.

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1           Zhongxue weiti, xixue weiyong”, i.e. ‘Making Chinese learning the substantive body while adopting the utility of Western learning” was the central policy of Chinese “Self-strengtheners” in the second half of the 19th century. Here, “ti” (the substantive body) and ‘yong” (utility) are symbols for Chinese values and Western values respectively.

2. Here I am differentiating myself from the Levensonian dichotomy which sees tiyong as an un-self-conscious expression of culture as telos, whereas ‘modem conservatives” are seen to manipulate or rationalize culture self-consciously. The instrumental use of culture was alive before the modem divide, and Confucian spirituality could also function as an alternative telos in the modern era (See Duara 1995, Ch. 3; also Chang 1967).

3. Nehru actually develops a variation upon the Hegelian progression of the universal ‘spirit of the age”, which the modem Indian nation must once again realize.

4 Lin argues further that in the process of engaging in the totalistic attack, the May 4th revolutionaries reproduced the assumption of the very unity between culture and politics, seeking once again to legitimate culture by some other master narrative.

 

 

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