By Kang Liu
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Additional info for Aesthetics and Marxism: Chinese Aesthetic Marxists and Their Western Contemporaries
He claimed that ‘‘the animus of Mr. ’’48 Wang critiqued Confucian utilitarianism from the same angle. He contended that most Chinese philosophers were only concerned with moral and political philosophies as means to societal change, without emphasizing a metaphysical basis, which should be an end in itself. Moreover, in Chinese tradition, fine art has never had an independent value of its own. Hence, in order to have truly independent intellectual inquiry, scholarship and fine art must be pursued as ends in themselves, rather than means to other political and social objectives.
The only exception in China would be an artistic innovation that directly benefits the moral good or social well-being. Since Western modernism made neither of these claims, it did not easily take root in China, especially since Chinese writers and artists alike were preoccupied, as most Chinese intellectuals were, with the compelling social problems that threatened to tear the nation apart. Western romanticism and realism, by contrast, had all the social and moral appeals that the Chinese needed, and thus, were eagerly embraced.
Politically speaking, Wang was a staunch conservative. Many years after the Qing Dynasty was overthrown by the 1911 Republican Revolution, he remained till his death a loyalist to the dethroned emperor. In 1927, at the age of fifty-one, Wang drowned himself in the Lake of Summer Palace in Beijing. His suicide in the prime of life was largely a symbolic gesture, leaving a major enigma in modern Chinese intellectual history. Wang has been denigrated ever since, by liberal reformists and radical revolutionaries alike, as a recalcitrant cultural and political reactionary.