This essay reviews and assesses recent attempts to revisit and revise the position of China in the configuration of global modernity. Such re-descriptions question the implicit Eurocentric teleology of modern world history. First, the discourse of East Asian modernity or Confucian capitalism draws on late imperial (early modern) East Asia to locate an alternative origin of global modernity. Second, recent scholarship in world-systems analysis repudiates previous Eurocentric narratives of global capitalism and locates China at the center of the world economy in the early modern period up to 1800. Third, China’s revolutionary legacy (what was called ‘Maoism’) and its current ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’ in official parlance are considered by New Leftist theorists as a viable alternative to capitalist modernity. Fourth, universal modernity as such is regarded as a social and political imperative by the opposing camp of Neo-Liberalists as modernity is still an ‘incomplete project’ in Chinese history. Overall, such debates are efforts to chart out a cultural and theoretical landscape that does not easily fit in existing models of Western cultural studies that are often based on the colonial and postcolonial experiences of the Anglophone and Francophone world.
Global modernity refers to a moment of the breakdown of the hegemony of a Eurocentric modernity and the fragmentation into many cultural spheres of the very idea of the modern without any promise so far of how modernity might be reconstituted and some coherence restored to its claims.... On the other hand, Global Modernity as a concept is also intended to transcend the situation of which it is the product, as this very situation enables the possibility of re-envisioning modernity, rescuing it from entrapment in a vision of history dominated by Eurocentrism and imagining it differently. (Arif Dirlik, Culture and History in Postrevolutionary China: The Perspective of Global Modernity)1