The evolution of this volume has paralleled the intellectual developments
that it seeks to capture and analyze. At the book’s conception in 1996,
Chinese intellectual life in the first half of the 1990s remained nebulous,
its central contentions obscure. Scholars both inside and outside China
still tended to view China in the shadow of Tiananmen and the cultural-
intellectual excitement of the 1980s, which that tragic event brought to an
end. The renewed and intensified economic reform known as marketiza-
tion (shichang hua) after 1992, and the end of the Cold War a year earlier,
have redefined the historical condition for intellectual discussions and a
new everyday form of life in China.Whereas the new socioeconomic reality
gave rise to an explosion of mass cultural production, Chinese intellectu-
als, at least for a moment, seemed at a loss. Initial discussions among intel-
lectuals primarily concerned positions, attitudes, and strategies by which
to fend off or absorb excessive stimuli from the processes of social ratio-
nalization, commodification, and globalization.
Yet this origin in historical rupture and social-cultural shock proved
to be productive. It also called attention to an increasingly differentiated
and fragmented sphere of intellectual development, with its allegorical co-
herence rooted in the national situation. Over the past half-dozen years or
so, the Chinese intellectual field has defined its various, often conflicting
positions and orientations in more articulate and assertive terms.
This last development is described and analyzed in the book’s new
introductory chapter, and the newly added chapters of the volume—previ-
ously published in journal form—create a context within which the origi-
nal essays from the Social Text special issue can be read. The processes
Previous Page Next Page