Assoc.Professor Nan Wang
During the May 4th Movement, freedom of marriage was highly praised by intellectuals in China, not only on grounds of its divergence from Confucian ethics but also because it conformed to the science of eugenics. The argument was that only when marriage was based on romantic love could parents produce healthy children. However, developments in eugenics science effectively challenged the equation between freedom of marriage and eugenics. Pan Guangdan, China’s most famous researcher on eugenics at the time, suggested that since the principal purpose of marriage was not love but carrying on the family line, traditional marriage customs had value and celibacy benefited no one. Pan’s views of marriage represented a complete departure from the value of May 4th Movement, especially individualism, and were the source of great controversy. For their part, however, his critics offered views that were heavily inflected by evolutionism. The arguments they advanced for freedom of marriage were no more free of nationalism and a class character than the counter-arguments put by Pan.
Dr Nan Wang is associate professor in the Xueheng Institute for Advanced Studies of Nanjing University. She received a doctorate in history from Nanjing University. Her primary research involves historical memory and conceptual history in modern China.