Over the course of this conference, Cosmopolitanism in China, 1600–1950, we explored and rethought aspects of modern Chinese culture, religion, state, and society from various Eurasian and global perspectives. A focus on cosmopolitanism opened new views of the literati theory of knowledge, the transition from the Qing regime to the modern republic, the creation of new social and legal associations, and shifting perceptions of the domestic and the foreign. The conference was held at the University of California, Santa Cruz, on September 7 and 8, 2012, as part of “Constructing Modern Knowledge in China, 1600–1949,” a project headed by So-an Chang of the Institute of Modern History, Academia Sinica.
The Academia Sinica project was funded to research many important aspects of the transformation of China’s system of knowledge from premodern to modern. To grasp this change, the group also looked at the interactions between China and the West during this period, considering too the parallels and differences in their intellectual trajectories. We shall explore how foreign knowledge—largely imported from the West—was put to different purposes. A subject of special scrutiny will be the increasing compartmentalization and specialization that took place within the broader system of knowledge, as we considered, among other things, how the classical scriptures provided a universal framework in early modern China.
Our conference brought together the members of the Academia Sinica project and other scholars working in North America to discuss cosmopolitanism, a conceptual framework recently used to examine a wide variety of intellectual and cultural phenomena. Some of us challenged conventions and truisms, from historical periodization to the alleged unity of the Qing state and its society, while others cast doubts on familiar distinctions between domestic and foreign religions and cultures. We hope that the result will be a collection of excellent essays to be published by a university press.