China’s Modernity at the Crossroads: Heritage and Society in Dialogue with the Past and With the World

Conference: AAS-in-Asia2020 (AAS-in-Asia2020)
Title: China’s Modernity at the Crossroads: Heritage and Society in Dialogue with the Past and With the World
Stream: Sociology
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Karolina Pawlik, USC-SJTU Institute of Cultural and Creative Industry, China (organizer, presenter)
Frank Tsai, The Economist, Shanghai, China (presenter)
Maximilian Mayer, University of Nottingham Ningbo China, China (presenter)
Emily M. Hill, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada (chair, discussant)


Ever since the May Fourth Movement (1919) spread, China positioned itself in the process of developing its own modernity using binary categories traditional/modern, past/future, Chinese/Western, but at the same time constantly proved how misleading these oppositions often are. Closer examination of cultural practices, experiences and styles seems to prove that China’s ongoing struggle with modernity has resulted rather in hybridity and complex agency, and that China hasn’t entered a single linear path. If so, then has China, engaging with modernity, but remaining rooted in tradition, and opting for the “Western” ideas but maintaining “Chinese characteristics” actually ever left the crossroads of 1919? Today, when China transitions towards global leadership, it is worth asking if this crossroads can be cherished as a source of strength, and turned by China into a great asset for the future of a postwestern world, or will it become a burden. Looking at a variety of cultural practices and narratives this panel seeks to inquire how “tradition” and “modernity” have been used, reshaped and perceived since May Fourth Movement to consolidate Chinese identity. What topics and tropes concerning modernization and collective identity prevailed throughout the century or reoccurred recently? How do essentialized approaches to the West and “modernity” limit China’s potential or prestige? What are the implications of China’s struggles with redefining its collective memory and identity for the future? Is China making the most of its cultural resources? What inspiration can China’s experiences provide for other countries, currently redefining their relation with modernity – in Asia and beyond?