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Re-reading Levenson: A Conversation

The University of California Berkley presents a panel discussion on Asian studies.

March 13, 2012 4:00pm to 12:00am

Wen-hsin Yeh, Walter and Elise Haas Chair Professor in Asian Studies, Richard H. and Laurie C. Morrison Chair in History, Director of the Institute of East Asian Studies, UC Berkeley; Geremie R. Barmé, School of Culture, History & Language, Australian national university; Timothy Cheek, Louis Cha Chair of Chinese Research and Associate Director, Centre for Chinese Research, Institute of Asian Research, University of British Columbia; Gloria Davies, School of Languages, Cultures and Linguistics, Monash University

Joseph Levenson’s "Confucian China and Its Modern Fate: A Trilogy" was an early and compelling work of modern Chinese intellectual history. Conceived and written between 1949 and 1967, it appeared during a crucial period in the post-WWII era when the development of "Chinese Studies" in the US academy, led by John Fairbank (Levenson's teacher), was beginning in earnest. In part a product of the Cold War as well as of Weberian sociology, the trilogy offers a particular approach to the history of ideas.

Levenson employed writings from the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to investigate reasons for the apparent disintegration of "traditional" intellectual, historical, social, and cultural structures. Writing with exceptional verve, he provided what was to many a compelling analysis of the fundamental dilemmas and problems of a "Chinese modernity".

Today, with the passage of half a century, and in the context of China’s "civilizational" re-emergence, the intellectual design, agenda, and methodology of Levenson’s trilogy warrant reconsideration. This Conversation is a preliminary effort at such a reevaluation.

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