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Institute of Asian and Oriental Studies URPP Asia and Europe (2006–2017)

Reincarnated Conceptuality: the Other Life of Western Philosophy in the Work of Hu Shi 胡適 (1891–1962) and Qian Zhongshu 錢鍾書 (1910–1998)

Responsible for the postdoc project: Dr. Viatcheslav Vetrov
Funded by: URPP Asia and Europe
Project duration: September 2010 – March 2013
Research Field: Concepts and Taxonomies


Hu Shi and Qian Zhongshu are among the most prominent Chinese intellectuals of the 20th century: both are well-known as connoisseurs and promoters of Western ideas in China, for whom the the West is a point of orientation faced by the Chinese self-consciousness in the context of a cultural dialogue. Hu’s world-vision differs drastically from that of Qian, but both scholars agree in selecting Western concepts, separating them from the original Western discourse, and in applying them as illustrations of phenomena within the Chinese cultural tradition. By doing so, they adjust the concepts to a new discourse, which facilitates the rhetorical realization of their individual programmes: a total Westernization (Hu) and a demonstration of the sameness of Chinese and Western thought (Qian). My project concentrates upon two Western concepts assigned a central role in these programmes: the Renaissance (Hu Shi) and the Metaphor (Qian Zhongshu.) It aims at a discourse analysis in which the position of both concepts within the „original“ Western discourse is compared with that in Hu’s and Qian’s systems of thought, paying special attention to the effect of these concepts on their treatment of language.  Renaissance will be approached as an ideal background against which Hu Shi developed his theory of baihua (the Chinese vernacular) and wenyan (the classical style) as socially determined language variants, the mutual opposition of which reflects some recurrent phases of cultural progress and stagnation in the history of China. Then, Qian’s theory of Metaphor as well as the postulated sameness of thought will be considered against questions heatedly debated in Sinology: in what way is metaphor a culturally specific phenomenon, and to what extent may Qian’s perception of Western philosophy contribute to our understanding of this conceptualization.

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