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Federico Brusadelli

Friedrich-Alexander University (EURICS Fellow)
A Conceptual History of Federalism in 20th-century China. Central, local and individual agencies in political modernization
01 October 2020 -
31 December 2020

Federico Brusadelli has been a researcher in Sinology at the Friedrich-Alexander University in Erlangen-Nuremberg since 2017. He holds a Ph.D. in South & East Asian studies from the University of Naples “L’Orientale”, and before moving to Germany he worked as an Adjunct Professor at the Universities of Bologna (East Asian Philosophies) and Chieti-Pescara (Chinese History). He is the author of “Confucian Concord: Reform, Utopia and Global Teleology in Kang Youwei’s Datong Shu”, published by Brill.

In October 2020, he joins the RFIEA program of Chinese studies (EURICS).

Research Interests

Intellectual history of late Qing and early republican China, with a special focus on the “history of concepts”. Chinese political thought. Chinese historiography and philosophy of history. Modern and contemporary Confucianism.

This project aims to analyse how federalist movements and individual activists unsuccesfully tried to redefine the distribution of power and legitimacy between the centre and the peripheries in modern China, more specifically in the late 19th – early 20th century. Adopting a conceptual history (Begriffsgeschichte) approach, this research intends to examine how intellectual and political actors elaborated and used the concepts of lianbang and liansheng (federalism) – often in connection to zizhi (self-government) – to (re)articulate the relationship between the “central” and the “local” political spheres, within a new macro-concept of political order (zhengzhi zhixu) produced in response to the collapse of the imperial system.
Databases, archives and publications presenting the activities of proponents of federal ideas, their personal networks and biographies, their political plans, and ultimately their failures, will show how these concepts were developed and narrated. The conceptual constellation covering the wide spectrum of “federation”, “federacy”, “self-government” or “feudalism” will be thus observed in its formation and evolution in the late Qing and Republican period. Its history will be studied as a multi-layered translation: as a translation from the past (with regard to the use of traditional Chinese political categories and historical precedents in the articulation of federal theories); as a translation from an alien political and cultural context (with regard to the references made by supporters and opponents of federalism to non-Chinese historical examples of federalist countries); finally as a purely linguistic translation of foreign terms.
Besides its historical focus on the late imperial and early republican period, the research could be extended diachronically with the aim of tracing the legacy of this conceptual debate - involving key issues as State-society relations, definitions of autonomy and self-determination, local and provincial governance – in 21st-century China.

Contemporary period (1789-…)
Eastern Asia