Language and Literature
This paper reinterprets Chinese leftwing intellectuals’ reception of Bergsonism, and the Chinese reconnection of Henri Bergson’s philosophy of life and creative evolution with socialism and Buddhism. In March 1920, John Dewey delivered a series of six lectures, titled “Three Contemporary Philosophers,” in Beijing, which kicked off the “Bergson Fever” in Republican China in the coming decades. Major Western Marxist theoreticians usually categorize Bergson and vitalist philosophers as irrationalists and conservative thinkers. They criticize his Philosophy of Life as being a variant of bourgeoisie philosophy of the imperialist age. Therefore, it is problematic and even politically incorrect to associate Bergson with Leftist thought. This paper corrects this ideological bias, since Bergson’s philosophy was the common intellectual resource shared by some of the most prominent Chinese Leftist intellectuals in early Republican China, including Qu Qiubai and Li Dazhao. Qu and Li reinterpreted vitalism and the philosophy of life, and connected the idea of creative evolution with socialism and Buddhism. They radically rewrote and transformed the theoretical formation of both Western thought and traditional Chinese thought. Bergson’s reception in early twentieth-century China provides vital evidence of the transcultural exchange between Europe and Asia in cosmopolitan politics.