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The Social and Political Thought of Yen Fu

Li, Q; (1993) The Social and Political Thought of Yen Fu. Doctoral thesis (PhD), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

This thesis is intended to provide a new interpretation of the social and political thought of Yen Fu (1854-1921). Yen Fu was the first person to introduce Western social and political ideas systematically into China, and consequently played a major role in furthering intellectual change in modern China. The received interpretation of Yen Fu's thought emphasizes the influence of social Darwinism on his preoccupation with state power and with China's ability to survive an international struggle for existence. This established interpretation considers that Yen Fu deformed Western liberalism as a means to achieve state power. This thesis argues that Yen Fu did not adopt social Darwinism to justify ruthless struggles within society or between different societies. Rather he drew from Darwinist thought the idea of a universal law of social evolution and concluded that China must change its traditional culture and system by following the model of the modern West. This thesis presents Yen Fu as the pioneer of modern Chinese liberalism. It argues that Yen Fu's ideas on liberty and democracy were influenced by both British liberalism and the Confucian tradition. At the core of his liberalism were proposals to define a sphere in which the individual can act freely without interference from the state or society, to establish the rule of law in order to prevent the tyrannical power of the state, and to limit state power both in the sphere of moral education and in the sphere of economic activities. He also appreciated democracy as a means of fulfilling the Confucian ideal of social harmony. However, his gradualist approach towards China's democratic transition led to his criticism of democracy in his later years. The arguments of this thesis are based on the extensive use of previously unexplored writings of Yen Fu.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: PhD
Title: The Social and Political Thought of Yen Fu
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10075564
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