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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Man of Letters, Self-ordained Minister, and Madman: Jiang Dunfu (1808-1867) in Nineteenth-Century Shanghai

  • Author(s): Xu, Chang
  • Advisor(s): Li, Xiaorong
  • et al.

Examining Jiang Dunfu (1808-1867) in his different and even contradicting roles, this thesis aims to explore the manifold, problematic identity of the man and his fraught intellectual transformation in the historical context of late Qing China. Individuals’ writings and expressions are shaped by particular social and cultural forces, yet simultaneously connected with the tradition from which they originated. In general, accounts of the earliest phase of China’s modernization focus on “progressive” individuals’ reactions to the new era, but it is also essential to ask how “conservative” individuals substantiated their values and defined themselves in the transformative period. By exploring Jiang Dunfu and making a place for traditional individuals like him, this thesis attempts to contribute to the study of Chinese intellectual life during the downfall of the Qing.

This thesis is organized into three interconnected sections. In consideration of his literary production, Chapter One sketches Jiang Dunfu’s role as an educated man. Using his proposals as the major sources, Chapter Two focuses on his unsuccessful attempts endeavored to reinvigorate the declining Qing. Lastly, Chapter Three examines Jiang Dunfu’s lifelong struggle and identity conflicts as an intellectual living through the last decades of imperial China in the context of the label “madness” (kuang)—a time-honored identity marker in traditional Chinese literati culture. It emphasizes this significant perspective of Jiang Dunfu and will shed light on what the notion of “madness” discloses about the man and his time. At large, this study demonstrates how some intellectuals trained in classical learning lived and acclimated to the earliest phase of modernization in nineteenth-century Shanghai.

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