Conference: Optimism and Scepticism regarding Progress in Late 19th-Century and Republican China

Erlangen, Germany
29th – 31th Oct 2013 ikgf-2013-10-conference-optimism

Convenor: Prof. Dr. Thomas Fröhlich

On behalf of the International Consortium for Research in the Humanities “Fate, Freedom and Prognostication” at the Friedrich-Alexander-University Erlangen-Nuremberg Prof. Thomas Fröhlich (convenor) invites to the conference on “Optimism and Scepticism regarding Progress in Late 19th-Century and Republican China”.

The conference will be held from 29th – 31th October 2013 in Erlangen, Germany.

The aim of this conference is to examine expressions of optimism and scepticism regarding civilizational progress as they appeared within the circles of the Chinese intellectual and political elite.

Following crisis response strategies from the end of the 19th century, conceptions of civilizational progress, in the broad sense, social evolution and modernization quickly gained a great degree of influence in political and intellectual circles in China. Even though ‘Western’ ideas played a central role to varying degrees in the development of such conceptions, the evaluations, assessments and prognoses of ‘progress’ were by no means concurrent in China and Western societies. While optimistic views on civilizational progress tended to lose importance in Europe and North America from the late 19th century and sceptical findings were increasingly emphasized, optimism regarding progress continued to predominate in China in various forms. Fundamentally optimistic positions, in China, referred to the temporal aspects of civilizational advance: it was thus thought to be possible that progress/modernization could occur in an accelerated mode in China. This attitude reflects notions of a present and future China in which a catching up with, overtaking and surpassing of supposedly more advanced Western societies might take place. Moreover, a multifaceted and frequently ethically based diagnosis of China’s current situation appeared which recognized a lack of simultaneity from an explicitly universal historical perspective and was associated with predictive statements. Here, China appeared as a historical entity that was stuck in a historically ‘backwards’ era in comparison to Western societies and therefore, facing considerable time pressure, needed to undertake targeted steps toward an accelerated process of development. Such optimistic assumptions can be found in a broad intellectual and political spectrum that is not adequately understood in terms of the usual classifications like ‘progressive/conservative’. In this context, research on scepticism regarding progress and criticism of optimistic positions from late imperial and Republican China would also be highly instructive.

The focus of the conference allows for a wide-ranging framework for transdisciplinary investigations into aspects of optimism and scepticism regarding civilizational progress.

Deadline for abstracts was 18th January 2013. Notice of acceptance/ rejection will be sent by early February. As the conference is a discussion-based workshop final papers should be submitted to the conference organizers on or before 1st September, 2013 . All presentations should be written and delivered in English.


Name Paper University
Iwo Amelung Talking about Science and Technology in Late Imperial and Early Republican China University of Frankfurt
Thomas Fröhlich Prospect Optimism and the Temptations of Expertocracy in Republican China IKGF, University of Erlangen-Nuremberg
A-chin Hsiau 蕭阿勤 When Revolutionary Optimism Encountered Local Particularity: The 1947-49 Literary and Cultural Debate in Post-Colonial Taiwan Academica Sinica
Leigh Jenco Cultural Construction and National Salvation in China: The Case of Totalistic Westernization London School of Economics and Political Science
Rui Kunze 王瑞 Fantasizing Science: Kexue xiaoshuo in Late 19th-Century and Republican China IKGF, University of Erlangen-Nuremberg
Michael Lackner Does To Be Conservative Mean to be Pessimistic? Some Remarks on Conservatives’ Coping With The Future IKGF, University of Erlangen-Nuremberg
Qiang Li 李强 The Idea of Progress in Modern China. The Case of Yan Fu Peking University
Takahiro Nakajima 中島隆博 Science and Religion between Optimism and Skepticism: Hu Shi in China and Minakata Kumagusu in Japan University of Tokyo
Axel Schneider Against the Spector of (modern) Time: Critique of Progressivism in Modern Chinese history University of Göttingen
Kai Vogelsang Conceptualizing “Progress” in Late Qing China University of Hamburg
Peter Zarrow Despair and Utopianism in Modern China (c.1900-1930) Academica Sinica


For further information, please contact Julia Hauser at

International Consortium for Research in the Humanities

“Fate, Freedom and Prognostication. Strategies for Coping with the Future in East Asia and Europe.”

Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg
Ulrich-Schalk Str. 3a
91056 Erlangen
Telefon: +49 (0)9131 85 – 20618
Fax: +49 (0)9131 85 – 20630


Visit the Conference Website at External Link





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