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Special feature: The National Learning Revival

National Learning, National Literature, and National Language

Qingshen Tong
p. 33-38


This essay is a critical reaction to the movement for the revival and constitution of guoxue (national learning), not just as a system of indigenous knowledge and scholarship, but also as an embodiment of Chinese national culture. Situating the conceptualisation of guoxue in the context of the May Fourth new cultural movement, the essay attempts to show:
a) that guoxue is a category devoid of substance, not least because its classificatory scope cannot be adequately defined,
b) that guoxue was invented in the early twentieth century in response to the pressures created by the influx of Western learning that had begun to unsettle and displace forms of classical learning, and
c) that the idea of guoxue is rooted in the conviction of the singularity of national culture. Historically, guoxue has opposed such national projects as national language and national literature. Revisiting a selection of representative views of progressive May Fourth and communist intellectuals on the need to develop and construct a new national language and literature for China’s modernisation, the essay argues for the need to develop a historical understanding of the process in which classical learning has been displaced and to recognise the importance of this process for the development of China’s intellectual modernity.

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Bibliographical reference

Qingshen Tong, « National Learning, National Literature, and National Language », China Perspectives, 2011/1 | 2011, 33-38.

Electronic reference

Qingshen Tong, « National Learning, National Literature, and National Language », China Perspectives [Online], 2011/1 | 2011, Online since 30 March 2014, connection on 10 December 2018. URL :

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About the author

Qingshen Tong

He teaches in the School of English, University of Hong Kong. He has published on issues of critical significance in comparative studies, with special attention to the historical interactions between China and the West. His current work focuses on the Chinese language reform movement in the early twentieth century and its social and political consequences.

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