Revolutionary Waves: The Crowd in Modern China

Veg, Sebastian. [Compte rendu de] Xiao Tie, Revolutionary waves : the crowd in modern China (Cambridge, MA and London, Harvard University Asia Center, 2017). Journal of Chinese Studies, n° 67, July 2018, pp. 336-339. URL : (consulté le 16 octobre 2018)

Compte rendu

Tie Xiao’s study of the crowd in modern Chinese literature is a well-researched and sensitive addition to the field of studies on left-wing literature in the Republican period. It productively explores the crowd not only as an aesthetic symbol but also a theme in Chinese and global intellectual history that is closely connected with concepts like democracy and revolution. Many scholars of Chinese literature will be familiar with Gustave Le Bon’s theories of the crowd and their influence on the early Lu Xun and other late-Qing thinkers. Xiao takes this theme further and deeper: looking at the 1920s and 1930s, he effectively highlights some of the ambiguities of the crowd figure within “revolutionary” literature: the appropriation of the crowd as a literary trope thus often results in bringing out undercurrents of moral anxiety or doubts about the political role of crowds, and their possible threat to the status of writers or intellectuals. In this way, he neatly shows how the crowd theme is connected with a residual literary modernism even in literary fictions that claimed the banner of proletarian aesthetics.

Xiao studies how the crowd emerged simultaneously as a literary theme, an object of academic inquiry, and indeed as a participatory public in the late nineteenth century. This approach allows him to show that literary themes and tropes can be productively studied in conjunction with discourses of knowledge, emanating in this case from the fields of psychology and psychopathology (p. 20) as well as politics. Taking its cue from traditional notions of zhong 眾 and min 民, the term qun 羣 appeared in the context of the Hundred Days Reform, referring to the ideal of a structured society or nation. However, it was also sometimes used to refer to the “crowd” until it was displaced by the new coinage qunzhong 羣眾 after the May Fourth movement.

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Monique Abud

Centre d'études sur la Chine moderne et contemporaine, EHESS, Paris, France

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Monique Abud

Centre d'études sur la Chine moderne et contemporaine, EHESS, Paris, France

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