Volume 15, Issue 2, 2018
Conceptual History: China, Asia, and the Global
Ambiguous Subject: the “Masses” (qunzhong) Discourse in Modern China
The “masses” (qunzhong 群众) discourse in modern China was influenced by two western intellectual traditions, i.e., mass psychology and historical materialism. The former regards the masses as a blind, impulsive, and irrational crowd, while the latter thinks that only the people are the real dynamic forces of historical development. As a result, the “masses” discourse in modern China bifurcated into a negative one of “mass psychology” and a positive one of “mass movement”, both of which were employed as effective tools of political mobilization by different political parties and social elites. The concept of the “masses” was either the crystallization of the abstract “people” (renmin 人民) or the actualization of the ideal “citizenry” (guomin 国民). What is embodied in the concepts of the people, the citizenry, and the masses in modern China was actually an ambiguous image of a political subject.