Provincial Patriots: The Hunanese and Modern China

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9780674026650: Provincial Patriots: The Hunanese and Modern China

From the Taiping Rebellion in the mid-nineteenth century to the Chinese Communist movement in the twentieth, no province in China gave rise to as many reformers, military officers, and revolutionaries as did Hunan. Stephen Platt offers the first comprehensive study of why Hunan wielded such disproportionate influence.

Covering a span of eight decades, this book portrays three generations of Hunanese scholar-activists who held their provincial loyalties above their allegiances to a questionable Chinese empire. The renaissance of Hunan centered around the revival of Wang Fuzhi, a local hermit scholar from the seventeenth century whose iconoclastic writings were deemed a remarkable match for "Western" ideas of progress, humanism, and nationalism. Advocates of reform and revolution thus framed their projects as the continuance of a local tradition--the natural destiny of the Hunanese people--creating a tradition of reform and nationalism that culminated in the 1920s with a Hunanese independence movement led by the young Mao Zedong.

By putting provincial Hunan at the center of this narrative, Platt uncovers an unexpected and surprising story of modern China that sheds light on the current resurgence of regionalism in the country.

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About the Author:

?Stephen R. Platt is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.


For over a century, Hunan occupied a special place in Chinese history, as a suppressor of rebellion, a source of prominent provincial officials in the post-Taiping era, a leading center of late Qing reform, a major contributor to the 1911 revolution, and a supplier of top leaders in the China of Mao. In this rich intellectual history, Stephen Platt, for the first time, ties these disparate contributions together in a coherent narrative, paying special attention to the shaping role of the Hunanese thinker Wang Fuzhi. Engagingly written, Provincial Patriots presents Hunan not as a case study of modern Chinese history but as a challenge to the standard narrative of this history. (Paul A. Cohen, Harvard University)

Stephen Platt has oriented the history of Chinese nationalism in a provocative new direction. His story of Hunan­-one of those distinctive regions like Bengal or Scotland that have nurtured their own identity as fiercely as they have contributed to the construction of a wider nation­-shows that we cannot understand the history of modern China without taking regional identities seriously. Based on a breathtaking array of sources and written with luminous clarity, this is a powerful book by a major new voice. (Rana Mitter, University of Oxford)

In an illuminating book, Platt traces modern Chinese history from the perspective of Hunan­-relatively free of foreign influence and home to many extraordinarily prominent figures, from Ming loyalist Wang Fuzhi to Mao Zedong. He shows that for many Hunanese the province took precedence over the nation, radically undermining nationalist narratives claiming the inevitability of China's historical trajectory from empire to nation-state. (Joanna Waley-Cohen, New York University)

The specifics of how a national concept of China could have grown from the inside out have been only partly explored. Platt's study provides many valuable pieces of the puzzle, as he persuasively demonstrates the relationship of local roots to national fruit. His brisk and focused portrait of Hunan illuminates the transition from empire to republic in new and effective ways. (Pamela Kyle Crossley, author of The Manchus)

Platt's pioneering and detailed reconstruction of the cult of Wang Fuzhi puts the long familiar icon of late Qing anti-Manchu nationalism in an entirely new light. This provocative and elegantly argued book makes a major contribution to our continuing efforts to understand the big issues of tradition, modernity, province, and nation in modern China. (Don C. Price, University of California, Davis)

Students of Chinese nationalism have usually treated provincial pride as a threat to a collective national identity. Platt, however, argues that provincial patriotism can be compatible with national identity. Indeed, in the case of Hunan loyalty, provincial identity has even contributed to greater national loyalty: The Hunanese led most of the efforts to modernize China. It was a Hunanese regional army that suppressed the Taiping Rebellion, and the Hunanese were more active than even Sun Yat-sen was in organizing the 1911 Chinese Revolution. A quarter of the first Communist Politburo was Hunanese, including Mao Zedong. Platt begins with a review of the influence that the seventeenth-century Hunanese historian Wang Fu-chih had in establishing a school of thought about Hunanese identity. The rediscovery of Wang set the stage for thinkers to champion Hunanese nationalism as a model for modern Chinese nationalism. (Lucian Pye Foreign Affairs 2008-03-01)

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