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Lecture: Why China did not have a Renaissance – and why that matters

14. Feb 2018 17:00 Uhr bis 18:00 Uhr
Veranstalter: China Centre, University of Oxford
China Centre Lecture Theatre http://www.chinacentre.ox.ac.uk/

Lecture by Professor Thomas Maissen (Director of the German Historical Institute in Paris (DHIP), Chair in Modern History at the Historisches Seminar, Heidelberg University, has served as Speaker of Research Area A ‘Governance and Administration’ and later Director at the Cluster of Excellence ‘Asia and Europe in a Global Context’ (now the Heidelberg Centre for Transcultural Studies)) and Professor Barbara Mittler (Chair in Chinese Studies at the Institute of Chinese Studies, Heidelberg University and Director of the Heidelberg Centre for Transcultural Studies (formerly Cluster of Excellence ‘Asia and Europe in a Global Context’)).

Concepts of historical progress or decline and the idea of anakyklosis (Kreislauf) have existed for centuries in many civilizations. European attempts at a periodization of the History are a rather recent phenomenon, however, and correspond to a particular world view engendered in the 18th century, the European Enlightenment. Such periodizations, in spite of claims to be transnational or even universalist, reveal clear cultural, social, and national leanings and predispositions. The aim of this dialogue is to understand and question processes of historical periodization, including a discussion of the elements of suppression and exclusion it involves, as well as that of the dynamics behind the transcultural adaptations of periodizations as concepts for ordering the past. It will suggest that it may not only be appropriate but indeed important to say that China did not have a ‘Renaissance’. This discussion takes periodization as a historical phenomenon in itself and takes up the case of the ‘Renaissance’ the way it has been understood in the tradition of Jacob Burckhardt in the 19th century, who himself referred back to the ideas once voiced by the humanists of the 14th and 15th century. Focussing on the particularities of the humanist dialogue which informed the making of the ‘Renaissance’ as a historical period, the discussion will highlight elements that distinguish the Italian and then, more broadly, the ‘occidental’ Renaissance from other rediscoveries of neglected elements from the past elsewhere (i.e. in China). The talk ends with the rather far-reaching question of whether and when a period such as ‘Renaissance’ (or baroque, romanticism et al.) which stems from a concrete socio-historical situation, can fruitfully be applied to describe other cultural experiences, too.

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