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Plato and Nationalism: Utilizing Classics in the Age of Globalization

Leihua Weng

There has been an increasing tendency toward an alliance, though still tentative and critical, with nationalism in the reception of Plato in contemporary China: besides Leo Strauss, Plato in China is also read alongside with Carl Schmitt, Confucius and Mao in an articulated accentuation of the “Chinese-ness” in the Confucian political tradition and in the historicity of the Maoist era as well as a strategical necessity to resist globalization in this modern age. Hence arises one question. Does the image of Plato, envisaged through an amalgam of conceptions of Confucian sage and revisions of Maoist era, adhere to the same set of recurrent concerns in the earlier Confucian revival movement in the early twentieth century or it has been attributed new meanings in this more globalized new century?

This paper places the prevailing reading of Plato in China in its context and sub-texts to discuss the parallels between the Chinese contemporary reading interest in classics and the concerns in earlier movements of nationalism in Chinese modern history. The paper also explores whether this reading interest in Plato, with its rejection of the values brought by neoliberal globalization and its search for an ethical alternative, provides a transcendent and aesthetic narrative for the ethos of nationalism, and whether it may be eventually converted into militarism and Nazism.

Session/Panel Title

Classics and Reaction: Modern China Confronts the Ancient West

Session/Paper Number

36.1

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