UC Davis lecture by Tani Barlow

The UC Davis History Department invites you to the 2023 Virtual Liu Lecture, which is free and open to the public. It will be delivered by Professor Tani Barlow of Rice University, who will speak on “Instinct, Society, Vitality: Li Zehou’s Farewell to Life Philosophy” at 15:10 to 16:30 on Tuesday, March 14, followed by a Q&A session. Registration information is available here.

Li Shicen’s (1892–1934) evolutionary Bergsonian Marxism exemplifies how Chinese philosophers — Zhang Zhunmai (1887-1969), Cai Yuanpei (1868-1940), Zhang Dongsun (1886-1973), Li Jingxi (1857-1925), Feng Youlan (1895-1990) — struggled to resolve the question of “structuration of life,” or human bodily evolution. Evolutionary philosophy is where Chinese modernists debated “life” (shenghuo) and “intuition” (zhijue), meaning insight into organic life, particularly in the debate over “science and the outlook on life” (kexue yu renshengguan lunzhan). Li Shicen, was a radical who incorporated earlier Ruists like Wang Yangming (1472–1529) and Dai Zhen (1724—1777) into his radicalism by fusing sexual difference to political philosophy. Li Shicen, like early Li Zehou, was not iconoclastic. However, Li Shicen and Li Zehou are opposite figures in the historical integration of life philosophy into existing modes of thinking. When Li Zehou superseded “life” and imposed the category of “culture,” he extinguished radical elements in philosophy and masculinized the human: he exsanguinated a vital, sexual, streak in Chinese philosophy and replaced it with an abstract, modernist, neo-Confucian “tradition,” grounded in a masculinist, Kantian-Confucian imaginary.

Tani Barlow teaches Modern Chinese History at Rice University. She took her doctoral degree with Professors K.C. Liu and Don C. Price at UC Davis and worked at University of Missouri, Columbia, San Francisco State University, and University of Washington before moving to Houston. Barlow is the author of The Question of Women in Chinese Feminism (Duke University Press, 2004) and In the Event of Women (Duke University Press, 2021) as well as half a dozen edited volumes. She founded and edited positions: asia crique between 1993 and 2023. Barlow is currently working on a monograph under the working title The Material Life of Society. This essay previews some of the issues at stake in her new project, starting with ontologization of society and the question of life.

The Liu Lecture Series is hosted by the UC Davis History Department in honor of Kwang-Ching Liu. A professor of Chinese history at UC Davis from 1963 to 1993, he was a highly regarded historian of 19th century China in the U.S. We hope you can join us in this annual event to commemorate the life and work of Liu. This event is co-sponsored by the East Asian Studies Program and hosted by Howard Chiang.

Posted by: Howard Chiang hhchiang@ucdavis.edu

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