In his posthumously-published work, Datong Shu, or The Book of Great Unity, Qing intellectual and statesman Kang Youwei (1858-1927) outlines a utopian image of a united “One World,” or “Great Unity.” In Kang’s utopian society, the “nine boundaries” of human suffering have been abolished: the very concepts of nation (national borders), class, race, sex, family (and its relationships), occupation (private ownership), disorder (unjust law), kind (the separation of humans from animals), and suffering itself (as it provokes further suffering). The One World imagined in Datong Shu is one that prioritizes “rightness,” which is defined loosely as what brings people happiness. It is characterized by the fulfilling, harmonious lives led by its inhabitants, citizens of a united world whose only borders are its arbitrary administrative units.
What is most striking about Datong Shu is the ideological contrast that exists between the ideas Kang presents in his work and the historical context of his times. The world Kang lived in was one dominated and divided by Western imperial domination, yet a work predicting the creation of a harmonious Great Unity was still written in it. The very fact that a text as radically-minded as Datong Shu was written within the context of its times provokes pressing historical questions, questions that are best answered via the methods and perspective of global intellectual history.
In their 2013 work on Global Intellectual History, Moyn and Sartori propose a number of paths that may be adopted by the global intellectual historian. One takes its starting point by defining the “global” as a “subjective category used by historical agents.” In other words, the approach considers how historical actors themselves perceived the concept of the global. This is the historiographical angle that I will take in considering Datong Shu, as I will analyze how Kang conceives of the “global” within his text.
My proposed project seeks to question the ideological disparities between the imagined world of Datong Shu and the historical context in which it was written in order to better understand Kang’s times. What is the vision of the “global” that Kang articulates in his work? What underpins his ideas toward the idea of a world government, a fully-realized “Great Unity?” What does this tell us about the historical nature of 19th and 20th century China, let alone the world? These are the kinds of historiographical questions my proposed project will ask of Datong Shu and its place within history.
My global intellectual approach will be centered around a close reading of Datong Shu. My project will utilize a 1958 translation of the work by Laurence G. Thompson, as I am unable to read the Classical Chinese of the original. I will disclaim this clearly within my work. However, I believe that the inevitable distortions of Datong Shu’s translation will have little impact upon my overall project; I will focus upon Datong Shu’s concepts within a broad historical context, rather than consider the text’s precise definitions and wording.
My close reading of Datong Shu will be informed by a global intellectual history framework that will place it in conversation with other texts and within the context of its times. Much has already been written on Kang as a historical figure and Datong Shu as an intellectual text, but there has yet to be a work that considers Kang’s conception of the global within Datong Shu. Through completing this project, in addition to remedying this historiographical gap, I hope to foster better understandings of Kang’s times and historical conceptions of the global.
 K’ang Yu-Wei and Laurence G. Thompson, trans., Ta T’ung Shu (New York, 1958).
 Samuel Moyn and Andrew Sartori, “Approaches to Global Intellectual History” in Samuel Moyn and Andrew Sartori, eds., Global Intellectual History, (New York, 2013) pp. 4, 16-17.
 K’ang, Ta T’ung Shu.
 See Jonathan Spence, The Gate of Heavenly Peace: The Chinese and Their Revolution (New York, 1981) and Ban Wang, “The Moral Vision in Kang Youwei’s Book of the Great Community” in Ban Wang, ed., Chinese Visions of World Order: Tianxia, Culture, and World Politics (Durham, 2017), pp. 87-105.