The Quashing of the late nineteenth-century Chinese public sphere and the emergence of a racial, nationalist imaginary

Activity: Talk or presentation typesInvited talk


In the late 1990s amongst China historians there was a lively debate as to whether a "public sphere" existed in the nineteenth century in what we now call China. Three different domains of elite political action and reaction were considered: First, Guan the arena of "official" or “mandarin” bureaucratic engagement, the second zone, gong the realm translated as "public; open to all”, and a third zone si connoting “self-interest illicitly invading the public domain”: si also translates as "private, personal, selfish, partial, unfair; secret”. The public sphere, for those who perceived its existence, consisted in the emergence of new forms of philanthropy, in print capitalism and the new journalistic media of the treaty ports, in local public works, in chambers of commerce, in locally funded and organized public security organizations, in new educational institutions to transmit "Western learning" and in the reform clubs of the Generation of 1898.
Period22 Oct 2020
Held atUniversity of Bonn, Germany
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • China
  • pubic sphere
  • imaginary community
  • Nation-building