Volume 15, Issue 2, 2018
Conceptual History: China, Asia, and the Global
The Enlightenment Turns to China
The International Flow of Concepts and Their Geographic Dispersion
This article attempts to strip away the Eurocentrism of the Enlightenment, to reconsider how this concept that originated in Europe was transmitted to China. This is thus an attempt to treat the Enlightenment in terms of its global, worldwide significance. Coming from this perspective, the Enlightenment can be viewed as a history of the exchange and interweaving of concepts, a history of translation and quotation, and thus a history of the joint production of knowledge. We must reconsider the dimensions of both time and space in examining the global Enlightenment project. As a concept, the Enlightenment for the most part has been molded by historical actors acting in local circumstances. It is not a concept shaped and brought into being solely from textual sources originating in Europe. As a concept, the Enlightenment enabled historical actors in specific localities to begin to engage in globalized thinking, and to find a place for their individual circumstances within the global setting. This article follows such a line of thought, to discuss the conceptual history of the Enlightenment in China, giving special emphasis to the processes of formation and translation of this concept within the overall flow of modern Chinese history.