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Cosmopolitanism in China, 1600–1950 By Minghui Hu and Johan Elverskog ...

Chapter 1:  Introduction
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Cosmopolitanism in China, 1600–1950

Chapter 1


Minghui Hu and Johan Elverskog

“When Confucianism was vital, it was cosmopolitan…. But when China ceased to be the world and became a nation, or struggled to become one, Confucianism was provincial in that larger world that contained the Chinese nation.”

– Joseph R. Levenson1

Joseph Levenson’s astute observation about Confucian cosmopolitanism was made more than forty years ago at the height of the Cultural Revolution and the Cold War. At that time, the notion of China, much less Confucianism, as somehow being cosmopolitan may have surprised many of his readers, especially given that so many conventional ideas about China—ranging from its “kith and kin” social structure to its monolithic state structure—seem to reflect a society that is the very antithesis of cosmopolitanism. Indeed, even now, or perhaps even more so now on account of growing Chinese nationalism, Han chauvinism,