The Lure of the Irrational:
Zhu Qianzhi’s Vision of Qunzhong in the “Era of Crowds”

By Tie Xiao

Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, vol. 24, no. 2 (Fall 2012), pp. 1-51

This essay explores the historical specificity of the “crowd” (qunzhong) as a psychological category in modern China by examining Zhu Qianzhi’s (1899-1972) against-the-grain reading of Gustave Le Bon’s classic study of crowd psychology in his 1921 theoretical treatise Philosophy of Revolution (Geming zhexue). It focuses on the ways in which Zhu’s philosophy of the “anti-intellectual crowd” partook in a global dissemination of the particular languages of irrationalism and vitalism that gained momentum around the turn of the twentieth century.

Xiao examines how Zhu Qianzhi embraced a modernity of passionate rebellion by appropriating the psycho-physiological theorizing of emotion that emerged in Europe in the late nineteenth century and how he envisioned an instinctual form of collective emergence that violates the precarious distinction between awakening and being awakened in modern China. At the heart of Zhu’s vision are ideas of consciousness and unconsciousness, rationality and intuition, and manipulation and spontaneity through which his radical claims were articulated. This study is as much an attempt to recognize the political and intellectual overdetermination of the idea of the crowd as it is a preliminary effort to map out how representations of the crowd make visible the dialectical articulations of political reason and affective instincts in modern Chinese political imaginations