Liang Qichao, Chinese Settler Cultures and the History of the Chinese Future

Justin Tighe

History of Ideas, Pathways School, Trinity College, University of Melbourne

Liang Qichao plays a critical role in the enunciation of many of the narratives of Chinese modernity.  Beginning as a Confucian reformer dedicated to dynastic renewal, he ultimately became an architect of visions of modern Chinese nationhood, inspiring many Chinese intellectuals dedicated to the idea of a better future for China and its people.

One of Liang’s key operational contexts was the Chinese communities brought into existence by settlement processes occurring in the Pacific Rim in the late imperial era.  These communities are often understood as driven by strong desires for material and social improvement, based on expansion into frontier zones which provided opportunity for advancement.  This paper examines the essay that Liang wrote in 1904, “Biographies of Eight Famous Chinese Colonizers”, and argues that it plots an alternative narrative of Chinese historical experience in which Chinese people are seen as agents and heroes of progress and development rather than as icons of backwardness.  It suggests that these stories of heroic colonization were in part attempts to plot a past for China that suggested an active role in the creation of a modern future.


Justin Tighe teaches History of Ideas at Trinity College, University of Melbourne, Having a particular interest in the history of Chinese frontier zones and their imaginative construction, he has authored Constructing Suiyuan: The Politics of Northwestern Territory and Development in Early Twentieth Century China (Brill 2005)


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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