Humanitarianism in Modern China

In the early 1930s when the Kuomintang and the Communist Party fell into their most furious battle, the Japanese invaded China. At this, the Chinese intellectuals raised the anti-fascist banner. They ran publications and wrote articles in Shanghai to save the nation from becoming a Poland in Asia. Soon, visionary figures from both the right and left wing camps came together as an intellectual unity. This lesser-known aspect of Chinese history is revealed in the book Literature Journals in the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression in China (1931-1938). It describes the Chinese intellectuals in the war as no less honorable and righteous than Ivan Klima in the face of the Soviet invasion of Prague.

As to the mental performance and values of the Chinese intellectuals, most people are still focusing on their surrender to and singing praises of tyranny, as had happened in the late 19th century, when Chinese intellectuals held loyalty to the monarch as their most basic moral principles. But after the Republican revolution, the concept of monarchy was replaced by nationalism, and the intellectuals continued their loyalty and converted it to a national loyalty. As a result, Chinese intellectuals gathered to make their own voices against Japan after the outbreak of the anti-Japanese war.

But surprisingly, Chinese intellectuals held a humanitarian attitude to fight the Japanese, which is the core presented in the book. China has always been a nation without a strong humanitarian tradition, especially the modern humanitarianism, so it was really difficult to be spread in China. Even today, discussions about this topic would be questioned and criticized by the official ideology. But in the early stages of war, humanitarianism became a consensus among most intellectuals in China, as they believed that humanitarianism could transcend the hatred, break down fascist terror and promote more Japanese nationalists to move toward the anti-war.

This hidden history is explored by this book and the content is based on the forgotten but very precious literary journals as the study object. During the war, Chinese intellectuals holding high the banner of humanitarianism went beyond the partisan debate, rejected the use of populism, and showed their extraordinary love for humanitarianism and the hatred towards totalitarian dictatorship, aggression and fascism, all of which were based on their love for the country and the nation. It showed the same emotional pursuit they were seeking as Ivan Klima, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Alexander Solzhenitsyn and other intellectuals in Eastern Europe.

But in the book’s view, it was a long and arduous process of seeking humanitarianism for the early Chinese intellectuals. Starting from the Manchurian Incident in 1931, Chinese intellectuals kept searching for anti-fascist paths, including literary activities in different fields such as social democracy, The Three Principles of the People, and anarchism, but it turned out that they could not truly unite the majority of intellectuals and failed to guide the literary movement towards national salvation.

The relationship between World War II and books, newspapers and periodicals is always so subtle. The book burning movement launched by Goebbels attracted the attention of many scholars and it is regarded as a key starting point to study the relationship between World War II and print culture. However, there is no extensive or deep research at present on such relationship as regards to China and the whole Asian area, especially the role played by books, newspapers and periodicals in anti-aggression, so this book also fills the research gap with its academic value in this regard.

The present book mentions a group of Chinese intellectuals who were most famous at the time, such as Lu Xun, Zhang Ziping, Mao Dun and Ba Jin, all of whom who maintained a subtle and complex relationship with the Government, the Communist Party and the Third Party, and struggled free of their own political parties to be anti-fascist patriots. Among them, only Mao Dun, Ba Jin and a few others succeeded, of course, because they selected humanitarianism, which proves that: as a spirit coming from humanism, humanitarianism is also universally applicable in the East.

The book provides a fresh perspective for interpreting Chinese society in the period of anti-Japanese war from a unique angle based on a special research method, especially the study of integration of humanitarianism has gone beyond the scope of historical research in meaning. As Arif Dirlik observes, the view put forward by this book is provocative. And David Der-wei Wang also believes that this book will be a most important source for anyone interested in the cultural and political dynamics of modern China in an extraordinary time. It may have its limitations in the research, but it certainly is a model that cannot be ignored from the current general conditions as regard to research on modern China.


Sunny Han Han. Literature Journals in the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression in China (1931-1938). Singapore: Springer, 2017.

Christopher Zhaozhou Wei, Ph.D., is a translator and literary scholar. He is an Assistant Professor at Guangxi University. His translation of Malcolm Andrew’s The Search for the Picturesque into Chinese (Yilin Press) was published in 2014.


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