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Research Projects of the University of Cologne‘s Faculty of Arts and Humanities 2017/2018

China’s Third Modernity

Library of Congress: Interior of the house of a rich Chinaman, Peking, China; photographer: H.C. White Co.;published: North Bennington,Vt.,.S.A.: H.C. White Co., publishers,1901

In-Between-Moments and Apparatus-based Media

Prof. Dr. Stefan Kramer | Chinese Studies

Funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG)

This project analyzes conceptions of time in philosophical as well as artistic and aesthetic practices in early 20th century China. The cultural and historical specificity of the perception of time that prompts a comparative perspective on China becomes apparent when considering that prior to the advent of global modernity, the concept of a divisible “time” that was so formative for Europe did not gain relevance in the history of ideas and institutions in a China regarding herself not as linearly developing, but as an expanding eternity. However, industrial modernity and its apparatus-based media that were to play a significant role in the (global) restructuring and communication of time as a flow punctuated by events forced China to engage with technologies, concepts, and discourses of time as understood and colonially realized by an “occidental” world order. The research project’s investigation into philosophy, media, and art in this period of political and cultural upheaval for China after the fall of the last imperial dynasty follows the thesis of a multitude of mutual inscription and updating processes generating alterities of aesthetic modernity that bring forth dynamic networks of meaning.
The analysis of philosophic practices focusses on the seminal texts of significant Republican-era philosophers such as Zhang Dongsun, Liang Qichao, He Lin, Feng Youlan, Hu Shi, Liang Shuming, Xiong Shili, and Ai Siqi. These will be explored regarding conceptualizations of time as chronos or (in the sense of the Chinese neologism for time introduced around 1900) between-moment, and it will be investigated to what extent they are involved in the construction of alterities of modernity. The conceptions of time identified in these texts will be put in relation to the parallel analysis of Chinese art and media practices of the same era. As programmatic media of “Western” modernity that were also highly successful in China, the apparatus-based visual media of photography and cinema stand at the center of this examination. The identified aesthetics of time will be viewed in relation to the local conditions of their Chinese appropriation and explored with regard to their interplay with patterns of pre-technical Chinese art and media practices. It is thus the aim of the project to reassess imported modern regimes of time with regard to their theoretical/philosophical reception and their realization in Chinese artistic practices, as well as to describe a diverse and polychronic modernity within and beyond national-cultural demarcations.

Text: Stefan Kramer, Tim Trausch, Martin Müller


Chinese Studies
Prof. Dr. Stefan Kramer

Researchers: Dr. Martin Müller, Dr. Tim Trausch

E-mail stefan.kramer(at)