Understanding Cosmopolitanism within the context of reformation.

Ban Wang engages with the idea of Cosmopolitanism in China by primarily focusing on Confucian ideals. Cosmopolitanism according to Bang Wang can only be established through Aesthetic interests, which would enable the population to become less fixated on categories such as race, class or nation and instead could form connections world wide by focusing on their shared human qualities. Wang is able to strengthen this idea by engaging with other like-minded scholars. The main focus of this is on K’ang You-wei, which therefore, allowed Wang to delve further into Confucianist ideals, revealing how these can help to shape a world centred around Cosmopolitan values. ‘By this widening gyre of sympathy, imagination, and obligation, K’ang You-wei suggests that a member of the local community could become a citizen of the world’.[1]  Therefore, by using K’ang You-wei’s ideal vison of the world, Wang is able to grasp the human qualities which would be essential to creating universal values. However, these humanistic values which Ban Wang highlights within K’ang You-wei’s writings are somewhat misleading. Confucianism was a large focus with K’ang’s writing work, but Ban Wang depicts K’ang’s life and ideals to be idealistic and a form of utopia. Instead, these Confucianism ideals were used to initiate reformation within China’s sovereignty and politics.

K’ang believed that the best hope for China was to bring about reforms within the framework of the traditional systems, with the modification of the absolute monarchy in a constitutional monarchy.’[2]

This, therefore, leads onto how and why K’ang You-wei and his Confucianist writings can be used to understand Cosmopolitanism and its role within Eastern Asia. Perhaps Aesthetics and Confucianist values could be used to create a formation of a universal community, but for K’ang You-wei, according to historians such as Chen Jianhua[3] and Laurence Thompson was primarily focused on reforming China within the context of its traditions, therefore, to ensure that China would not fall into disaster. Jianhua and Thompson, although have written up separate texts focus on this historical figure manage to somehow tag team and cover the groundwork of K’ang’s motivations for reformation. Furthermore, they both focus on a broader scale to understand K’ang’s timeline and the connection to the wider context outside of China. Thompson primarily focuses on K’ang’s education, which later in life transitions into a curiosity towards western society and politics, enabling him to adapt this to his reformist writings. Therefore, this brings more context to the idea of cosmopolitanism because it promotes this idea of shared education and adapting them to reshaping politics and customs. However, it is not surprising that this revolutionary form of ideas leads to K’ang living a life on the run.

Chen Jianhua gives little time for K’ang’s timeline and instead uses his ideas of reformation and rebellion to connect it to a wider context relating to translation. The primary focus on their text it to understand reformation through different terms and how they can be connected in a universal context. Jianhua picks apart K’ang’s use of the term ‘geming’ which has caused debates surrounding its meaning. Whether it be revolution, rebellion or reformation, it can perhaps be better understood by attaching it to K’angs goal for change. To strengthen this, Jianhua uses other terms which K’ang had placed alongside ‘geming’ that were linked to the same meaning and goal. Bianfa, which is a term used that translates to ‘change the rules’ and another which is weixin which translates to ‘keep the newness’. This, therefore, establishes another idea of a universal understanding of reformation. K’ang was aware of these shared ideas for change and used revolutions such as the French revolution and the British glorious revolution to understand western politics. Furthermore, in the context of cosmopolitanism it does not have to be only applied to one shared community, but instead it can be linked through universal understandings of politics and how this form of education can be used to create change.

[1] Ban Wang, Chinese visions of world order: tianxia, culture, and world politics (Duke University Press, 2017) p.97.

[2] Laurence G. Thompson, Ta t’ung shu: the one-world philosophy of K’ang Yu-wei (Routledge, 2005) p.18.

[3] Chen Jianhua, World revolution knocking at the heavenly gate: Kang Youwei and his use of in 1898 (Routledge, 2011).