Modern Chinese Historiography

Workshop at the University of Heidelberg

Workshop on Modern Chinese Historiography and Historical Thinking to be held at the University of Heidelberg, Germany, May 23-27, 2001

Call for Papers

In 1995 an International Symposium on Chinese Historiography in Comparative Perspective was held in Heidelberg. Now a second workshop is planned. While the first symposium addressed Chinese historiography in general, the aim of the second workshop is to focus on the development of modern Chinese historiography and historical thinking and its relation with different types of memory. Special attention will be directed to the relation between and intermingling of Chinese, Japanese and Western concepts of historiography and views of history, the processes associated with this "renewal of historiography" (xin shixue), and the role of traditional concepts in this process.

The workshop will be organized in three panels each consisting of a keynote speech and several presentations. Papers focussing on the preconditions for the modern transformation of Chinese historiography and ways of remembering, and the transformation itself will be found on each panel.

The topics of the panels are:

  1. Between Universality and Particularity - Historical Thinking and the Quest for Identity
    Modernization in the West led to a double-edged concept of history: On the one hand history was conceived as the progressive realization of rationality, closely linked to secularization, nation-building, and concepts of positivist (natural) science, while on the other hand history became the ongoing process of historicization and, hence, relativization of norms and values. Did such modern Western notions come to dominate Chinese historiography, and, if they did, how did this occur? Are there types of modern Chinese historiography that tried to develop traditional, predominantly Confucian historiography? The philosophical problem that lies at the heart of these questions is the problem of universality and particularity, and hence the question of China's identity. A progressive teleology of history as well as a cosmological conception of history imply universal standards thereby threatening particular traditions, whereas history conceptualized as historicity emphasizes historical particularity at the cost of leading to moral relativism. How did Chinese historians react to this dilemma? How do they relate to concepts of world history? Did they try to reconcile the universal and the particular and how did this influence understandings of the political and moral task of historiography?

  2. The Writing of History - Forms and Methods of Historiography
    Discussions on the nature of methodological changes during the early Qing have long been central for our understanding of traditional sources of modern Chinese historiography. This workshop will try to deepen our understanding of how discussions on historiographical methods are conducted in China. Besides researching individual cases and patterns of interaction between Chinese, Japanese and Western approaches, investigation should proceed to conceptual questions, to an understanding of the specific rationality of methodological debates in China, and to an understanding of how aware historians were of the necessity to make their methods explicit. Similarly, this workshop will endeavor to probe issues associated with the formal structures of historical writing. The authority accorded historical knowledge is related to the way that knowledge is presented, yet in Chinese historical writing issues associated with narrative form, intertextuality and derivation have received little attention. Research in this field should lead to a deeper understanding of how history is written in China and to a relativization of ideas developed with regard to the historiographical text, which up to now are nearly exclusively based on Western historical writing.

  3. The Making of Cultural Memory - Historiography and its Relationship to Individual and Communicative Memory
    The study of modern Chinese historiography has up until recently been focused on historiography as an academic discipline and - for the post-49 period - as an official undertaking dominated by state and party interests. But with commercialization intruding into the realm of intellectual production, the CCP as well as the government of the PRC have already lost their capacity to dominate the writing of history. It is in this context that questions related to history and memory become more and more important. Official historiography is a form of history writing which excludes personal and collective memories from presentation in the historical text. The reader is confronted with a text which lacks concreteness and stresses the theoretical explanation and evaluation of the event. On the other hand, unofficial histories stand out by the concreteness of their descriptions and the lack of theoretical explanation. Instead personal memories are the basis of the historical narrative, memories that very often cannot be integrated into official interpretations. The questions to be discussed pertain to the relationship between individual, communicative, and cultural memory, between official and non-official, academic and non-academic forms of history writing. How can we explain the continued ambivalence within academic historiography towards elements of collective memory? How do non-academic historians collect and work on their "non-official" sources? To what extent are oral sources employed to unearth otherwise forgotten memories and thus contest academic or official historiography? These topics will be discussed not only focussing on the situation in the PRC but also paying close attention to the developments on Taiwan in the course of the ongoing democratization, Taiwanization, and revival of interest in the aboriginal cultures.

The conference is jointly organized by Prof. Dr. Paul A. Cohen (Institute of History, Wellesley College, USA), Prof. Dr. Huang Chin-hsing (Institute for History and Philology, Academia Sinica, Taiwan), Prof. Liu Guisheng (Institute for History, Beijing University, China), Dr. Brian Moloughney (Institute of History, University of Otago, New Zealand), Dr. Axel Schneider, and Prof. Dr. Susanne Weigelin-Schwiedrzik (both Institute for Chinese Studies, University of Heidelberg, Germany).

If you wish to participate please send an abstract of not more than 500 words to Dr. Axel Schneider until May 31, 2000, either via email: or through regular postal services (accompanied by a computer disk with the abstract as ascii text) to Dr. Axel Schneider Institute for Chinese Studies University of Heidelberg, Akademiestrasse 4-8, 69117 Heidelberg, Germany.

Posted: 27 April 2000