Miki Kiyoshi’s Marxist Buddhism: The Impact of Imagination on the Past, Present, and Future

But the fact that we see the imagination as a faculty peculiar to artists is probably related to the fact that we view artistic activities in particular as original creations. Our job is to elucidate the logic of imagination as a logic of historical creation, while liberating it from its restriction to the realm of beauty and broadly introducing it into the world of action.” – Miki Kiyoshi, The Logic of Imagination

Miki Kiyoshi, a 20th century utopian thinker who combined Marxism and Pure Land Buddhist philosophy, used the relationship between imagination and history to clarify his vision for the future of society.  Miki’s work is influenced by the Kyoto School — an intellectual movement led by thinkers who interpreted Western philosophy in the context of East Asian intellectual traditions — which lays the foundation for his conception of ideas like logos, pathos, and imagination.1  His novel ideas about the historical applications of imagination not only created new ways of interpreting history, but also unprecedented ways of imagining the future.

In his published collection of essays, The Logic of Imagination, Miki argues that imagination is not a purely fictional realm belonging only to artists, but a process which directly impacts the real world.2  This is also true of myth, which he sees as the product of imagination, and whose impact on historical reality can be traced throughout history.3  If imagination influences action, and action shapes history, then imagination must directly influence reality.  This supports Miki’s claim that, “being human also means to exist in a particular historical context — as Miki puts it in ‘History’s Reason,’ ‘human beings do not exist outside of history; they stand within history’.”4  He defines human reality as grounded in historical reality, and historical reality as directly influenced by imagination.  In her study of Pure Land Buddhism and 20th century utopian thinkers, Melissa Anne-Marie Curley argues that Miki used the imaginary utopia of the “Pure Land” as a historical myth to help shape his Marxist vision for the future.5

According to Miki, the myth of the Pure Land belongs to the realm of imagination, but this does not negate its importance — if anything, imagination provides a conceptualisation of the future which cannot be found in reality.  The ability to imagine a better future or a “Pure Land” allows humans to act on this myth.  Here, he applies Marxist theory to imagine such a future: a unified human community supported by the principles of mutual aid.6   Religion, which exists primarily in the human of imagination, is an internal realm, but “Miki maintains that this internal experience inevitably and directly manifests socially, generating new religious phenomena or new forms of social life that are founded upon a demand for happiness and thus arc always toward utopia.”7  Imagination, by Miki’s definition, is both a historical actor as well as a force which influences our future.

  1. Masakatsu Fujita, The Philosophy of the Kyoto School, trans. Robert Chapeskie (Singapore: Springer, 2018), vi, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-10-8983-1_5. []
  2. John W.M. Krummel, “Introduction to Miki Kiyoshi and his Logic of the Imagination,” Social Imaginaries 2, no.1 (2016): 17. []
  3. Ibid., 19 []
  4. Melissa Anne-Marie Curley, Pure Land, Real World: Modern Buddhism, Japanese Leftists, and the Utopian Imagination (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2017), 141, http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctvvmxmx. []
  5. Ibid., 148 []
  6. Ibid., 151 []
  7. Ibid., 143 []

Obliterating the division between public and private spaces: Love and Family as the tie of state-society relations

At the beginning of the twentieth century, a time when China’s educated, progressive younger generations came into contact with various Western ideologies—including liberalism, anarchism, Marxism, and so on1 —taken as a hallmark for individual freedom, romantic love became the preoccupation of many. This phenomenon had hence sparked discussion among intellectuals over the relation between love and revolution.2 

In light of prevalent foreign oppression and the incompetency of the domestic government, political entrepreneurs sought to harness and direct the power of love to aid their own cause by reframing its rightful interpretation as universal human love and the love for the nation, rather than romantic love oriented towards individual fulfilment.3  After the familial reform advocacy was circulated during the New Culture Movement4 , the GMD government became the first political institution to formalise the idea of xiao jiating and to incorporate it into legislation. The logic behind such actions is that satisfactory home life and the liberation of individuals from oppressive big families enhance the productivity and creativity of the population, which would, in turn, serve to strengthen the nation and benefit industrialisation. Such are the only ways to save China from foreign threats and internal degeneration.

Later on in the century, the Marital Law issued by the CCP in 1950 demonstrated continuity of this view on the relation between love and national interests, and had furthered the state’s effort to integrate the two matters. The Marital Law, together with the land reform, were seen as the two pillars of a total social reform that aimed to overturn the feudal power relationships.5  Historians like Susan Glosser believe that this consolidated association between family reform and the revolutionary agenda was not established until the CCP came into power.6  We can hardly deny the CCP’s effort in compressing private spaces and making conjugal union increasingly a political matter, however, given Glosser’s less than subtle anti-communist tone, her opinions need to be taken with some reservation. The views presented in Revolution of Heart, a Genealogy of Love in China, 1900-1950 implicitly disagreed with those articulated in the Chinese Visions of Family and States.

Whereas the CCP developed the tie between the society and the state to the fullest through a redefinition of love and marriage, the effort to tame various forces—women’s agency, individualistic romantic love etc.— under the roof of the “family” had existed since the 1920s. Political entrepreneurs and intellectuals constantly sought to reconcile the preconceived contradiction between one’s personal fulfilment and one’s responsibility to the nation by redefining love and family in accordance to their own ideologies. For example, as Revolution of Heart had pointed out, criticism for individual fulfilment was voiced by GMD propagandists such as Hong Ruizhao had appeared as early as the 1920s.7 Hong denounced romantic love manifested in the form of individual fulfilment and urged the younger generations to devote their energy not to love but to their nation.8 

To conclude, the conflicts and overlaps between personal interests and the greater good of the nation manifested in the dilemma of love is a persistent debate among politicians and intellectuals,  and the systematic usage of marriage and family reform to aid revolutionary goals appeared as early as the 1910s. Governments and political parties appropriate the ideal form of love and family to pursue their vision of a productive and efficient state-society relation, during which the line between public and private matters in China was increasingly blurred in the past century.

  1. Susan L. Glosser, Chinese Vision of Family and States, 1915-1953 (Berkeley, 2003), Chapter 1, p.3 []
  2. Haiyan Lee, Revolution of the Heart: a Genealogy of Love in China, 1900-1950 (Stanford, 2007), p.257 []
  3. Ibid., p.264; Glosser, Chinese Vision of Family and States, Chapter 4 []
  4. Glosser, Chinese Vision of Family and States, Chapter 1, p.9 []
  5. Ibid., Chapter 4, p.2 []
  6. Ibid., Chapter 4, p.4 []
  7. Ibid., p.257 []
  8. Lee, Revolution of the Heart, p.262 []

From Anarchism to Socialism With Chinese Characteristics: Tracing the Development of a Century of Chinese Revolutionary Political Thought

“Both history and our present reality tell us that only socialism can save China—and only socialism with Chinese characteristics can develop China. This is the conclusion of history, the choice of our people.”- Xi Jinping, “Some Questions on Maintaining and Developing Socialism with Chinese Characteristics”, 2013

      It is impossible to understand contemporary Chinese politics without first looking at the developments of the early 20th century in China, nor is it possible, as Rana Mitter points out, to pick up a newspaper and read about China without heavy references to its history. China’s politicians of today are acutely aware of the past, constantly drawing lessons from it.[1] From the rise of linear historiography during the late Qing era and the May Fourth Movement at the beginning of the 20th century in response to the exigent threats that China was facing to its survival to Xi Jinping’s 2013 speech giving the first inklings of his ideological platform, history, and various politically influential groups’ interpretation of it, is an essential tool that has been utilized as a weapon over the years and provides an exceedingly important component of the answer to the question of “Whither China?” posed by historians and social scientists.[2] An understanding of early 20th century Chinese revolutionary thought, then, is essential, with anarchism playing a key role in its development.

     Witnessing the peak of its popularity between 1907-1930, anarchism reached into the various ideologies of other radical groups and became a key fixture of political discourse.[3] As tepid members of Sun Yat-Sen’s Revolutionary Alliance, a partnership born from a common struggle against the despotic Qing Dynasty in spite of distinct philosophical differences regarding their conceptions of social revolution, anarchism had an outsized impact on revolutionary discourse, with Sun remarking on one occasion that anarchism was “the ultimate goal of his Three Peopple’s Principles”, a sentiment shared by many Guomindang officials in the 1920’s.[4] It also had a distinct impact on the nascent communist movement that emerged between 1920-21. By 1920, anarchist literature available in Chinese was unmatched in both scope and comprehensiveness by any other social and political philosophy of European origin.[5] Far from being restricted to simply being of use to revolutionaries, however, conservatives also put its tenants to use in the late 1920’s, as seen in the example of the Guomindang. This contradiction is what inherently lies at the heart of the difficulties in explaining anarchism’s impact on Chinese revolutionary thought, and it is for precisely this reason Dirlik argues that anarchism’s contribution to Chinese social revolutionary thought should not be measured in terms of how consistently they were able to live up to their ideals in practice, nor in the “ideological[ly] schizophreni[c]” use of its ideas, but how consistently anarchists propagated their ideology from their bases in Paris and Tokyo.[6] The circulation of its ideas in journals such as Xin Shiji, and the opportunity that they provided for influential revolutionaries such as Liu Shifu during his time in prison, which strengthened his commitment to anarchism as a political ideology and ultimately carried him to his vision of a great human community based on the universalistic principles of science and rationalism.[7] In a similar vein, given the path that contemporary Chinese politics has taken on the Mainland, early 20th century Chinese anarchism’s impact can most saliently be observed in the legacy that it left behind on the Chinese Communist Party.

     In spite of the fact that Chinese anarchism fell into a steep and uninterrupted decline in favor of Leninist Marxism, its impact on the leaders of the Communist movement in China and Maoism was profound, which has lead Dirlik to argue not only for the importance of understanding the anarchist background of many of China’s early communist leaders, but also that Chinese Marxism has retained anarchist principles in a way that European revolutionary movements have not.[8] Clear links can be made between anarchism and the events of the Cultural Revolution, and, as such, it was heavily implicated in the crisis socialism faced in China after Mao’s death in 1976, at which point Mao’s Great Proletariat Cultural Revolution failed and was thoroughly repudiated.[9] The lessons that the bureaucratic clique, lead by Deng Xiaoping, took away from the horrors of this this time period was to crack down on those who followed “Lin Biao, Jiang Qing, and their ilk and rose to power through rebelling”, the anarchistic elements that had emerged during this ten year period who’d been “infected with a factional mentality”. To the leaders of China today, it is Deng’s Socialism with Chinese Characteristics developed in response to this that will guide China forward in the 21st century, not any of the other ideological frameworks that were prevalent in China at the beginning of the 20th century, and it is one that Xi expects the next generation to carry forward.[10]

[1] Mitter, Rana. “Preface.” Preface. In A Bitter Revolution: China’s Struggle with the Modern World, x-xii. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

[2]Luke S. K. Kwong. “The Rise of the Linear Perspective on History and Time in Late Qing China c. 1860-1911.” Past & Present, no. 173 (2001): 157–90. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3600843.; Greer, Tanner. “Xi Jinping in Translation: China’s Guiding Ideology.” Palladium, May 31, 2019. https://palladiummag.com/2019/05/31/xi-jinping-in-translation-chinas-guiding-ideology/.; Walton, Keith. “WHITHER CHINA?” New Zealand International Review 25, no. 6 (2000): 19–22. http://www.jstor.org/stable/45234974.

[3] Dirlik, Arif. Anarchism in the Chinese Revolution. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991. https://doi-org.ezproxy.st-andrews.ac.uk/10.1525/9780520913738


[4] Dirlik. Ibid. 80.

[5] Dirlik, Ibid. 2; 82.

[6] Dirlik, Ibid. 80-81.

[7] Krebs, Edward S. “1. ‘Daring to Die’: A Life of Shifu.” Essay. In Shifu, Soul of Chinese Anarchism, 1–14. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 1998. https://www.vlebooks.com/Vleweb/Product/Index/336439?page=0.

[8] Dirlik, Ibid. 3.

[9] Dirlik, Ibid. 5.; Jisheng, Yang. “Preface: The Road, the Theory, and the System.” Essay. In World Turned Upside down: A History of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, xxi-xxxii. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2021. https://www.amazon.com/World-Turned-Upside-Down-Revolution-ebook/dp/B088DQPQCN/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1635113828&sr=8-1.;  Mittler, Barbara. “POPULAR CULTURE AND CULTURAL REVOLUTION CULTURE: THEORY, PRACTICE, AND EXPERIENCE.” In A Continuous Revolution: Making Sense of Cultural Revolution Culture, 1st ed., 343:3–32. Harvard University Asia Center, 2012. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt1x07z47.5.

[10] Greer, ibid.

Looking Beyond China: The Wider Consequences of Taixu’s Anarchist Beginnings

In the first two chapters of his book Anarchy in the Purse Land, Justin Ritzinger conducts a thorough investigation into the teachings and philosophies of Taixu, a renowned twentieth century Buddhist thinker1. Primarily, he focuses on Taixu’s early anarchist origins and explores how they influence his later work as a transnational Buddhist revivalist2. This blog post will briefly investigate the consequences of this contextual influence, along with others, for Taixu’s work toward the transnationalisation of Buddhism, ultimately concluding that Taixu’s Chinese cultural background in both anarchism and Chinese Buddhist thought is heavily influential in his later teachings outside of China.

Ritzinger’s assessment of Taixu’s anarchist influences conflicts with the generally accepted scholarship about the topic, which usually minimizes these origins as inconsequential in Taixu’s later works. Ritzinger points out that Taixu’s own autobiography, in accordance with this general consensus, implies that his early anarchist and revolutionary experiences were little more than “youthful indescretions,” which Ritzinger works to refute in his chapters2. Anarchism, Ritzinger stipulates, largely contributes to Taixu’s later Buddhist works, in which he condemns economic inequality and seeks to revolutionise with the ultimate hope of forming a utopian society2.

This portrayal of Taixu, as someone who was very much molded and guided by the context in which he developed his ideas, is crucial to consider as we understand the influence he had as a transnational Buddhist outside of China. Elise DeVido specifically explores Taixu’s influence on the Buddhist revival in Vietnam3.

Leaders and followers of Confucianism and Buddhism have, over the course of several centuries — if not millennia — contributed substantially to cultural amalgamation and assimilation in East and Southeast Asia. Taixu’s work as a transnational Buddhist demonstrates another example of this phenomenon, with DeVido arguing that the revival of Buddhism in Vietnam would not have occurred to the same extent without his crucial participation2. She refutes the idea that a general trend of “Chinese cultural influence” in Vietnam allowed it to reflect developments in Chinese Buddhism, asserting instead that Taixu’s reforms, writing, and visits to Vietnam were necessary for the revivalist movement to occur2.

The Chinese influence on Taixu’s teachings in Vietnam was strong, as DeVido points out that the thinker “expected that China would become the leader of the Buddhist nations in Asia,” and thus worked to proliferate Chinese Buddhist texts, reforms, and teachings throughout other countries2. Taixu’s revivalist goals, notably influenced by his anarchist background, were profoundly impactful in Vietnam. One of Taixu’s widely read writings there, “How to establish Buddhism for this world” heavily stressed his utopian views, encouraging his audience to follow his teachings to “make this world into the Pure Land”2.

Taixu’s movement and methodology was formulaic for modern Vietnam, as DeVido explains that many influential generations of monastics were engendered during Taixu’s revival.

Ultimately, Taixu’s widespread impact in transnational makes Ritzinger’s conclusions about Taixu’s prominent anarchist influences all the more interesting and consequential. The Vietnam example shows not only the significance of Taixu’s role in the Buddhist revivalist movement that occurred there, but clearly reflects the anarchist ideological undertones that Ritzinger identifies in Taixu’s teachings.

  1. Ritzinger, Justin. Anarchy in the Purse Land: Reinventing the Cult of Maitreya in Modern Chinese Buddhism. (Oxford Scholarship Online, 2017), Ch. 1-2. []
  2. Ibid. [] [] [] [] [] [] []
  3. DeVido, Elise. “The Influence of Chinese Master Taixu on Buddhism in Vietnam” in Journal of Global Buddhism 10, (Directory of Open Access Journals, 2009), pp. 413-458. []

The Chinese suffragists’ violent methods and their role within the family 

During the early twentieth century, Chinese suffragists notably – Tang Qunying campaigned for woman’s suffrage. These revolutionary women used violent methods to garner the attention of their male counterparts. The decision to use such aggressive tactics came at cost; these woman’s roles within the family changed. Whether they wished for this or not, their actions removed them from the domestic sphere and forcibly placed them in the same political realm as men. A quote from David Strand accurately represents this change, ‘The shift from the individual as a social self-embedded in family or family-like networks to the individual as a social self who is an integral part of an organisation like a political party.’[1] This article will consider this idea and how it links to what was lost and what was gained from the use of violent methods by early Chinese suffragists. It is important to note that though Chinese men may have viewed Chinese woman differently due to their acts, fundamentally their role as caretaker did not change for years to come. Universal suffrage was only granted in 1949.

 The likes of Tang Qunying being skilled in bomb-making and battlefield tactics, and the violence that broke out during suffragist protests leads to the question of why these groups chose such destructive methods. Chinese women in society at the time were viewed as objects that were to be stared at. This perception angered the suffragist movement and so they used it to their advantage by being hostile and emulating male behaviour. They would smoke cigarettes, wield weapons, and even physically assault men.[2] Though their actions were greatly looked down upon by men and women, ultimately it would prove effective to their cause. As it forced male politicians to acknowledge the suffrage movement. President Sun Yat-sen pleaded that they be patient as universal suffrage would eventually come.[3] This was met with more backlash as it was seen as a passive, easy way out for politicians who did not want to directly go against the forceful suffrage movements.

Their decision to use violent tactics was simultaneously influenced by their role within the family, while eventually changing how these roles were viewed. A Chinese woman’s role in the domestic sphere was so great that the suffrage movement believed they deserved responsibility beyond the confines of the home. Their citizenship had to exist in the public realm as well if they were going to do so much as caretakers. However,since men believed that if women gained more rights they would abandon their domestic duties, a role they believed to be the ‘foundation of the nation’, they continuously refused to grant them the vote.[4]Therefore, because of the mere wish of being viewed as a citizen outside the home was too much of a request for men to grant, the women in some suffrage movements believed using violent, ‘manly’ tactics was the way forward. They had to directly confront society’s notions of gender roles by clashing with them.

Unfortunately, this affected their roles within the home as the women that chose to act this way were viewed as having ‘unrestricted private morality’ and said to support ‘anti-husbandism’.[5] This meant they lost a lot of respect and power that already existed for them in the domestic sphere. This was not their aim; they did not wish to forget about their roles in the home, they just wanted to be acknowledged by wider society in political terms. By choosing to use such aggressive means to gain this acknowledgment, these suffragists were advocating that, ‘natural rights trumps social stability.’[6] In the end, they truly believed the right to vote was something every human being should have and so were willing to do anything to gain this – even if it meant losing the social status they had within the home.

[1] David Strand, An Unfinished Republic: Leading by Word and Deed in Modern China (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011), p.22

[2] Ibid. p.18

[3] Ibid. p.18

[4] Ibid. p.19

[5] Ibid. p.19

[6] Ibid. p.19


“Divorced from Reality?”

Susan Glosser highlights an intriguing and seemingly ironic circumstance in, Chinese Visions of Family and State, 1915-1953, when she explains that despite the fanfare and propaganda that Communists (CCP) made regarding the rights of women and the need to smash old traditions, the new Marriage Law of 1950 made it harder, rather than easier for women to obtain a divorce than under the earlier 1931 marriage code promulgated by the Nationalist government (GMD). While both laws allowed divorce if each party consented, the 1931 code provided ten specific circumstances where either the husband or wife could sue for divorce.1 On the other hand, the 1950 Law required that couples seeking a divorce undergo meditation before the local government and if the mediation failed, the contested divorce could be heard in the county or municipal court where the court’s primary interest was also to reconcile the couple.2 This system seems to be in stark contrast to propaganda used by the Communists to promote their marriage law, “This lawfully expresses the spirit of the Central People’s Government toward the equality of men and women. The fundamental spirit lies in enthusiastically actualizing the uplifting of women and the destruction of the evil remnants of feudal society.”3 Allowing women to escape abuse or abandonment would seem to be in line with the rhetoric of the law, but not the reality. Moreover, at first, it seems odd that the GMD would provide more options for women than the CCP in the realm of divorce. This restriction on divorce appears to be an important lens through which to understand the limitations on women’s rights under the regimes established by the CCP versus the GMD.

The Nationalist and Communist views of divorce seem contradictory to what one would think of their political philosophy and the marketing or rhetoric that goes along with it. Indeed, the Communists’ practices regarding the granting of divorce seem antithetical to their propaganda of equality of the sexes. Moreover, an important element of Communist propaganda and philosophy was to raise the conditions of women in the new state, and initially, it appears that divorces increased under Communist rule, particularly amongst peasant women, but then the numbers rapidly decreased.4 It has been argued that the initial increase in the divorce rate led to difficulties for the Communists because it was negatively impacting peasant families (or more likely male peasants) and that, in turn, hindered support for the CCP’s land restructuring efforts.5 Thereafter, perhaps to no surprise, the ability to obtain a divorce was made much more difficult.5 In addition, it was until 1980 that the marriage law was revised to allow for a divorce if mediation did not result in the couple reconciling.5 On the other hand, one might have expected the Nationalists to be more conservative and less willing to grant divorces to women, given their philosophy expressed by Sun Yatsen, that “‘devotion to one’s own family would expand into devotion to one’s national family.’”6 However, the Nationalists’ marriage code specifically provided for near-equal rights to both genders to be granted a divorce and removed previously abusive practices that allowed men to obtain what was referred to as “arbitrary” divorces.7The GMD code thus seems to support women’s interests notwithstanding the nationalist philosophy that the strength of the family unit is crucial to state success, without which the Nationalist regime would suffer great strains. However, despite this apparent support for women and the fact that the GMD code did seem to provide more options for divorce and less state control over exiting a marriage than the CCP’s Marriage Law, it did not necessarily mean that divorce would be freely obtainable. Nonetheless, the GMD code did seem to provide women with a much greater degree of control over their lives in the realm of divorce than the CCP.4

The Nationalist and Communist policy on divorce might reveal the CCP’s greater need to pander to the peasant’s more conservative views on marriage, at least initially, as well as the CCP’s more effective efforts to engrain state control over all elements of family life. It has been claimed that Mao, when faced with losing support from his predominantly peasant soldiers or promoting women’s rights, stuck with his soldier.8 However, this does not explain why divorce remained extremely difficult long after Mao and the CCP were victorious. In fact, it seems that a critical factor at play was the CCP’s successful implementation of his philosophy that the state must be held above the individual that explains the CCP’s restriction on divorce.4The limitations placed on the ability to obtain a divorce without explicit state sanction and after extraordinary measures to reconcile couples demonstrate that the Communist’s interest in women’s rights was substantially subordinated to the state’s interest in maintaining control over the family unit. Unfortunately, such a stance dooms abused women to remain tethered to their abusers and clearly does not serve to establish real equality between the genders.

  1. Susan Glosser, Chinese Visions of Family and State, 1915-1953, (University of California Press, 2003), p. 172.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid. at 175.
  4. Ibid. at 173. [] [] []
  5. Ibid. [] [] []
  6. Ibid. at 98. []
  7. Ibid. at 111. []
  8. Ibid. at 168. []

He Zhen and Qiu Jin: Feminist thinking in contrast

He Zhen and Qiu Jin are both prominent feminist figures in the early twentieth century in China. When we investigate their thoughts on a superficial level, they share many similarities; for instance, to fight for the right and interests of women. If their revolutionist ideas are put into the contemporary context, their explanation of feminist movements has an opposite causality with the national revolution. Qiu Jin argued that feminist goals could be achieved as a part of the nation revival project; He Zhen argued that women liberation could not be simply considered to be the by-product of revolutions; only if women’s liberation is achieved, then the revolution can be successful.

For Qiu Jin, women liberation and female rights can only be won when the current corrupted government is replaced by a better one. During her stay in Zhejiang, where she took an active part in the radical revolutionary circle, and their main goal was to overthrow the dynasty and purge the corruption and injustice that existed in the society. It is clear that fighting for equality between men and women is not a specific task in the revolution purpose for Qiu Jin, rather than treating it as an individual task that requires extra attention and effort, Qiu considers the improvement of women’s conditions as a part of national and social revolutions, as long as the polity is changed, women liberation can be realized under the new and more advanced government in a strengthened nation. Margery Wolf concluded that she placed revolution ahead of the feminist goals.1

He Zhen, on the contrary, held a different faith. Her theory on women liberation is closer to anarchism; she does not believe that men and women can share equal status with the existence of government or any other kinds of ruling organizations. Women’s emancipation is a part of the revolution, not one of the outcomes of national and social revolutions. In her cases, she criticized those who treated the feminist movement as a mere tool for national revolution; for example, Jin Tianhe saw women’s emancipation as a part of a larger project of enlightenment and national self-strengthening.2 The goal of emancipating women was not to establish a more civilized and mighty nation, but it should be the goal itself. The causality of women’s liberation and national self-strengthening plans believed by Qiu and He Zhen leads to their differences in practising feminist movements in reality. For Qiu Jin, her actions did not always directly relate to women emancipation; she did both feminist-related activities and nation-saving projects. For He Zhen, according to Kazuko Ono, He Zhen failed to bring a practical theory to conduct her ideas in reality.3

In the later time, the general trend of feminist movements followed the idea of Qiu Jin. Many women chose to participate in revolutions in 1911; they chose first to emancipate the country then restore social status for themselves. Women assisted the revolutionist activities in many ways; for instance, women were rioters in the Rice Riots, Xu Zonghan transported three hundred pistols from Hong Kong to Huanghuagang uprising. Women’s army was organized in Wu Chang Uprising. After the establishment of the ROC, women did not get suffrage as promised.4 Just like Kazuko Ono stated in the book, Women suffrage movement failed eventually, the result of this series of feminist movements in pre-1911 time did not bear a good result.5  Though women had devoted a lot of effort to the revolution, like what Qiu Jin believed that if women wanted to be liberated, they need to first liberate the country. The final result ultimately disappointed them. To some extent, what He Zhen had said became true, women would not share equal rights with men, even the government is changed, the change of polity cannot change the social and political status of women. Qiu Jin did not have the chance to see this later event after her execution.

These two ideas on feminist movements have their own results. He Zhen’s idea lacks a solution for the problems she brought up; it lacks practical action; her ideas are stagnant on an ideological level. Qiu Jin, by tying feminist movements with the national self-strengthening program, leads the later trend of women emancipation. However, it still failed to prove itself to be the right path for women.

  1. Margery Wolf, “The Emergence of Women at the End of the Ch’ing: The Case of Ch’iu Chin” in Women in Chinese Society, p58-9. []
  2. Liu, Lydia He, Rebecca E. Karl, and Dorothy Ko, “Introduction: Toward a Transnational Feminist Theory” in The Birth of Chinese Feminism: Essential Texts in Transnational Theory. Columbia University Press, 2013, p.1-2. []
  3. Kazuko Ono, and Joshua A Fogel, “Women in the 1911 Revolution “in Chinese Women in a Century of Revolution, 1850-1950, (Stanford University Press, 1989), pp.69-70. []
  4. Ibid, pp. 70-73. []
  5. Ibid, pp. 80-85. []

From Tonghak to Ch’ondogyo

Tonghak as a religion underwent vast transformation between its founding by Ch’oe Che-u in 1860 and the Japanese annexation of Korea in 1910. Particularly, it saw shifts in its socio-political aims and its spiritual doctrine, made possible by the legalisation of the movement and wider influences upon its makeup. Carl F. Young traces these developments in his work Eastern Learning and the Heavenly Way (2014) in part of a broader narrative which saw the movement become a viable platform for nationalist voices by the 1919 March First Movement. As part of this transformation, the most apparent change is in the organisations “rebranding”, a change in name from Tonghak to Ch’ondogyo, announced in late 1905. This change in name is reflective of the wider developments Young traces, particularly within the religious sphere.

Firstly, the change in name from Tonghak to Ch’ondogyo is representative of the movements desire to separate itself from the negative image it acquired during the 1894 rebellion, which was neither promoted nor led first by official Tonghak leadership, but began as a reaction to local economic concerns. Most involved were of lower social status,  of which Tonghak initially attracted due to the centrality of folk religious elements in its early meetings and worship. Tonghak is described by Young as an almost hybrid or union of Confucianism, Buddhism, Daoism, and native Shamanism – involving aspects of Buddhist meditation and Confucian ethics – and those native folk elements, for example Che’-u’s supposed healing power, or the healing power of the yŏngbu (talisman) were among reasons why many were initially attracted to Tonghak. [[1]] The detachment from its folk elements and practices we see later in the spiritual and doctrinal developments of the religion can be viewed as a response to the 1894 uprising; an attempt to control how it was perceived by the masses. It too indicates a shift in its target audience, from peasant masses it once attracted before and during the 1894 rebellion towards the attraction of those from educated classes, alienated by the Confucian system but attracted by the preaching of its virtues. Young Ick Lew argues that this is what attracted Chon Pong-Jun, leader of the first 1894 rebellion, to Tonghak. [[2]]  Carl F. Young makes the case that a tension between ‘high’ and ‘low’ cultures – folk elements conflicting with Confucian values – may have contributed to divisions within the movement. [[3]] Ultimately, it seems these ‘high cultures’ were deemed a greater necessity to the long term survival of the organisation (something of utmost importance to its highest leadership) due to its appeal to those alienated educated classes who were to assume leadership roles and ensure the continuation of Tonghak dissemination and expansion.

Young applies Benedict Anderson’s concept of ‘imagined communities’ to the reorganisation of Tonghak into Ch’ondogyo, claiming it to be a ‘reimagining and refocusing of the parameters that held together the religious community that had been founded by Che-u’. [[4]] It can be argued that the refocusing of doctrinal aims in the detaching itself from folk religious practices ‘refocused the parameters’ of the movement in terms of its makeup, shifting the extent of its influence but in turn preserving the community. Further consolidation of this occurred in the establishment of Ch’ondogyo’s official teaching: In nae ch’on. This principle emerged officially in 1907 – translated as ‘humans are heaven’- and claimed that the divine resides within humans and pervades all creation. Anyone could attain full contact with the divine regardless of learning or social rank, allowing for potential widespread appeal, while also calling for proper ethical behaviour as a way of showing respect for heaven. The ethical and moral implications of the doctrine may have appealed to those more educated who were attracted to Tonghak due to its promotion of Confucian virtues and ethics. In nae ch’on presented Ch’ondogyo as a rational religion, in contrast to what was perceived as ‘irrational’ folk practices, and served as the foundation for social action the movement promoted.

Finally, the change in name from Tonghak to Ch’ondogyo can perhaps be seen as a reflection of the organisation’s involvement and interaction with foreign ideas via the Japan’s intellectual scene. Its initial name ‘Tonghak’ translates as ‘eastern learning’, a deliberate choice as opposed to ‘western learning’ (Sohak). Here, it presented itself as a ‘national’, Korean alternative to the Christian mission present in Korea in the early twentieth century. The movement was to provide the moral foundations for a transformed Korean society, and fill the apparent spiritual vacuum caused by the ‘discrediting of traditional neo-Confucianism and a weakened Buddhism’. [[5]] The adoption of ‘Ch’ondogyo’ translated as ‘teaching of the heavenly way’ removes the distinction between east and west, a distinction perhaps not needed nor desired following interaction with reformist thinkers in Japan and acceptance of western intellectual currents, political and social thought. Young claims that it was this western political and social thought encountered in Japan via its leader Song Pyong-jun and the movement’s involvement with the Ilchinhoe that allowed for the ‘systematisation and rationalisation of Tonghak ritual and doctrine’, and moved Ch’ondogyo away from aspects which tied it to the 1894 rebellion and negative image. [[6]]

Overall, tracing the development and shift from Tonghak to Ch’ondogyo is interesting in the study of how foreign ideas came to influence religion in Korea, and how its leaders responded to pressures to keep the movement alive and well regarded. We see that the shift allowed for a more universal audience, as indicated in its new meaning. Too, its new doctrine allowed for a new duality, appealing to both those who valued  the teaching of Confucian ethics and virtues but also those who desired a new religious community which allowed anyone to attain contact with the divine. This new apparent widespread appeal is arguably what made Ch’ondogyo a viable but also successful platform for nationalist voices later in the decade.


[[1]] Carl F. Young, Eastern Learning and the Heavenly Way: the Tonghak and Ch’ondogyo movements and the twilight of Korean independence (Honolulu, 2014) pp. 8-9.

[[2]] Young Ick Lew, ‘The Conservative Character of the 1894 Tonghak Peasant Uprising: A Reappraisal with Emphasis on Chon Pong-jun’s Background and Motivation’ in The Journal of Korean Studies 7 (1990), pp. 149-180.

[[3]] Young, Eastern Learning, p. 18.

[[4]] Ibid., p. 114.

[[5]] Ibid., p. xix.

[[6]] Ibid.



Korean Buddhism: Understanding the Key Factors of its Survival.

‘Korean Buddhism was already considered ‘half dead, half alive’, representing ‘nothing more than other-worldly hermits in the mountains.’[1]

There are multiple factors to consider regarding Buddhism within Chosŏn Korea and its fight for modernisation. Darwinism, socialism, the Tonghak uprisings and Japan all influenced Buddhism to reconsider its mechanisms in order to survive this new social demand. However, depending on the historian these factors differ in value. Jin Park[2] and Vladimir Tikhonov[3] both focus on one important historical figure which enabled Buddhism to modernise in a way that would ensure its survival. Han Yongun had a variety of education which differed in forms which was essential to understanding what exactly a modern Korea should look like, and how Buddhism might be able to keep its place within the country’s future.

Jin Park does not give much context regarding why Han Yongun was influential within the modernising of Buddhism other than his open-minded ideas regarding the freedom to marry for monks and nuns, however this does give insight to the influence in which Japan had on Korean Buddhism. In the areas which Jin Park has been unable to highlight Han Yongun’s importance, Tikhonov has been able assess the different factors which enabled Han Yongun to understand how society was beginning to function under Darwin’s concept of ‘survival of the fittest’. With his collaborated text of ‘Selected Writings on Han Yongun: From social Darwinism to Socialism with a Buddhist Face[4], Tikhonov is able to highlight other factors such as the Tonghak uprisings and the aftermath of the Russo-Japanese war, which Han Yongun was able to witness, enabling him to better understand what survival meant for Korea and how the modernising world around Korea may influence it.

Another factor that Tikhonov highlights is the influence of Laing Qichao upon Han Yongun, which is mentioned within both of his texts. Through this Han Yongun was able to obtain a better understanding of Social Darwinism and how it can be used to ensure the survival of Buddhism. ‘The main lesson the Korean nationalists were keen to learn from Liang was the Social Darwinist understanding of evolution as a competitive dog-eat-dog ‘struggle for survival, where the downfall of the ‘weaker devoured by the stronger’ was blamed only on the victims’ ‘failure to strengthen themselves’.[5] Although Buddhism was and is strictly non-nationalist, there were monks like Han Yongun, who were able to disassociate it with Social Darwinism and take the relevant information from it to create the necessary means for strengthening Buddhism’s place within a modernising Korea. This is perhaps why there is such an emphasis on Han Yongun within Tikhonovs texts because through this Buddhist figure there is a variety of factors which all connect to the modernisation of Korea. Han Yongun was educated on nationalism through his experience of the Tonghak uprising and his travels to Russia, however, he was also educated through Confucian and Buddhist teachings. Therefore, he was able to use this knowledge to understand which areas of Buddhism could be changed to adapt better to Korean society which would attract a bigger following and ensure its capability to compete against other religions.

Tikhonov highlights why Buddhism would perhaps struggle to finds its place within the religious competition, especially within Korea. These were factors such as the lack of European language skills which the majority of the Korean Buddhist shared, the isolation which the monks and nuns experienced as a result of Confucianism being more favoured, which therefore lead to Buddhism lacking any form of solid ground within Korea. The result of this meant that toward the late nineteenth century Buddhism within Korea was beginning to experience a decline in followers. However, Yong-u Han, Vladimir Tikhonov and Owen Miller focus their argument on supporting Buddhism and why it could be deemed more suitable to creating progress within the modern world in comparison to  Christianity and Confucianism. The main strength of their argument comes from using figures such as Han Yongun and Laing Qichao to highlight that those who followed the belief were capable of comprehending the modernisation of Buddhism and the route it must take to establish that. By focusing on the inner workings of Buddhism and the influence of Laing and Yongun the argument focuses on the qualities of Buddhism which places it above Confucianism and Christianity. These qualities are the ability to reject self-righteousness and ignorance, which would therefore, ensure progression for those who followed the belief because they would not be swept up by a world based on capital and survival.

[1] Vladimir M. Tikhonov, Social Darwinism and Nationalism in Korea: The Beginnings (1800s-1920s): “Survival” as an Ideology of Korean Modernity (Brill, 2010) p.117.

[2] Jin Y. Park, Makers of Modern Korean Buddhism (SUNY Press, 2010).

[3] Vladimir M. Tikhonov, Social Darwinism and Nationalism in Korea: The Beginnings (1800s-1920s): “Survival” as an Ideology of Korean Modernity (Brill, 2010).

[4] Yong-un Han, Vladimir Tikhonov, Owen Miller, Selected Writings on Han Yongun: From social Darwinism to Socialism with a Buddhist Face (Global Oriental, 2008).

[5] Yong-un Han, Vladimir Tikhonov , Owen Miller, Selected Writings on Han Yongun: From social Darwinism to Socialism with a Buddhist Face (Global Oriental, 2008) p.5.

The People’s Revolution: The Use of the Iconography of the Cultural Revolution

The Cultural Revolution’s internal strife, conflict and ideology is notable, and well studied, but one aspect of it that is rarely considered, according to Julia Lovell, is the overall international impact and view of the event. In her forward to her 2016 article, The Cultural Revolution and Its Legacies in International Perspective, Lovell gives a short overview of the histography surrounding the international impacts of the Cultural Revolution1. Discussing the works of Richard Wolin, Roberto
Niccolai and Robert Alexander, Lovell sums them as looking at the international impacts of the Cultural Revolution in a piecemeal manner – looking at individual regions and nations, not considering overall trends – so while these works may be useful, there is not a comprehensive overview of the trends of the international impacts of the Cultural Revolution – a void that Lovell intends to fill2. One such impact demonstrated by Lovell is the way the iconography of the Cultural Revolution impacted a whole range of revolutionary and anti-establishment movements.

The focus of a great deal of Lovell’s work is on how the presentation and conception of the Cultural Revolution abroad stimulated discontented youth across varying nations and social boundaries  – from the African American civil rights movement of the United States to radical student movements in West Germany3. And while a large part of the groups discussed by Lovell are politically left wing, one of the more interesting elements discussed by Lovell is how the revolutionary iconography of the the Cultural Revolution was coopted by many anti-establishment groups, regardless of their political disposition. Lovell discusses how even Italian Neo-Fascists used Maoist slogans and language, while among the more radical arms of the African American liberation movements of the United States, Mao’s Little Red Book was seen in explicitly racial terms,  and the Revolutionary Action Movement used terms like ‘Black Guard’4.

Why was it Maoist iconography that took such a root in revolutionary and anti-establishment groups across the world, and why only by the mid 60s with the onset of the Cultural Revolution? According to Lovell, it was the specific aspects of the Cultural Revolution – the focus on grassroots political participation and the idea of the mass line5. But how was the Cultural Revolution ‘marketed’ and presented outside of China. While Lovell does mention that the Cultural Revolution both internally and externally took on meanings probably unintended by it’s creators, the way the Cultural Revolution was presented internationally does not seem to be something that she focuses on, nor does it seem to be a common area of study6. This seems to be somewhat of a blindspot to me, and a missing piece of the puzzle of the spread of Maoist ideas throughout the later half of the 20th century.


  • Lovell, Julia. “The Cultural Revolution and Its Legacies in International Perspective.” The China Quarterly 227 (September 2016): 632–52.
  1. Lovell, Julia. “The Cultural Revolution and Its Legacies in International Perspective.” The China Quarterly 227 (September 2016): 632–52, PG633-634. []
  2. Lovell, Julia. “The Cultural Revolution and Its Legacies in International Perspective.” PG634-635. []
  3. Lovell, Julia. “The Cultural Revolution and Its Legacies in International Perspective.” PG637. []
  4. Lovell, Julia. “The Cultural Revolution and Its Legacies in International Perspective.” PG637-638. []
  5. Lovell, Julia. “The Cultural Revolution and Its Legacies in International Perspective.” PG640. []
  6. Lovell, Julia. “The Cultural Revolution and Its Legacies in International Perspective.” PG633-634. []