Reimagining the Chinese Nation: The Zeng Guofan Phenomenon

SAGE Publications
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Modern China, 1999, April, 25 (2), pp. 142 - 170
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Zeng Guofan (1811-1872) has been one of the most controversial figures in modem Chinese history. He has been variously judged a "saint" as well as a "lackey of the Manchus," a "cold-blooded killer," and a "traitor." Since the mid-1980s, interest in Zeng in China has escalated into a virtual frenzy. Between January 1981 and March 1997, publications on Zeng have included The Complete Writings of Zeng Guofan, The Letters of Zeng Guofan, two biographies, a script for a 50-episode television series titled Zeng Guofan, a play with the same title, 433 articles, and half a dozen book-length studies.' The debate broke out of the ivory tower of academia with the publication in 1993 of Tang Haoming's popular three-volume historical novel Zeng Guofan, which caused a sensation throughout the country as well as in the Chinese diaspora in Asia: it was printed nineteen times between October 1993 and May 1996, and more than a million copies were sold in the first two years alone. And there is still no sign of a slackening of interest. Such is the obsession with Zeng in China that it warrants the label ' the Zeng Guofan phenomenon'
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