Looking back on the history of innovation in China

To continue exploring the idea of “identity” in modern China, Yenching scholar Benjamin Pham moderated a panel discussion with Krishan Kumar and Giray Fidan in order to reconcile China’s historical development with its long-term modernization. Giray Fidan is an Associate Professor in the Department of Chinese Translation Studies at Gazi University in Ankara, Turkey. Krishan Kumar is a Professor of Sociology at the University of Virginia.

When tackling the issue of modernity in China, it is an interesting approach to look back to the past, instead of looking forward to the future. However, both scholars deemed it necessary to do so. Krishan Kumar began by stating a question that has long puzzled China watchers: Why is it that the West, and not the East, developed what we now view as modernity? From a sociological approach, he mentioned Max Weber’s “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirt of Capitalism” and shared his belief that modernity is an expression of the capitalist system. He then discussed why Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism did not lead to the creation of a capitalist system within China. Giray Fidan expanded on this topic by sharing his thoughts and research in comparing non-western experiences of modernization. In particular, he noted that comparisons can be made between the Chinese and the Ottoman empires.

There is no doubt that China is intrinsically unique. Indeed, it is only ancient culture which has survived and adapted to the modern day. After the panel, moderator Benjamin Pham shared how important it is to frame the conference from a historical perspective, “The [scholars] raised important theoretical and big picture questions that we will explore for the rest of the conference.” He continued by sharing the important of the interdisciplinary approach of the Yenching Global Symposium, “They each brought their own disciplinary perspectives to provide insights on the question. Professor Kumar comes from sociology. Professor Fidan is trained in Sinology. The two disciplinary perspectives and expertise complement each other really well.”