Modern Chinese Intellectuals and a Federal Utopia
Keywords:Chinese federalism, utopia, China and Switzerland, Kang Youwei, Liang Qichao, Chen Jiongming
A vast and hyper-centralized Asian empire built on the premise of an alleged cultural homogeneity. A small, federalist Alpine state sustained by the ideal of coexistence of different languages and religions. The differences between China and Switzerland could not be wider, and it is therefore understandable that the Swiss confederacy has been fascinating Chinese intellectuals in both the modern and contemporary era. In the late Qing and early Republican period, Switzerland was mentioned by prominent figures like Kang Youwei and Liang Qichao, who praised its democracy, and in the 1920s the Swiss political system became a source of inspiration for “provincial patriots” in Hunan or for Chinese federalists such as Chen Jiongming. The present paper intends to survey these political encounters and perceptions, focusing on the transformation of the Swiss institutional model and historical experience into a “political concept”, and on the reasons for its final rejection as an unrealistic utopia unsuited for China.
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