Manual The Confucian Mind :A Historical and In-depth Look at Asian Culture and Psyche

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There is a dynamic quality associated with the search for complementary relations between seeming opposites the yin and yang dialectic. The Chinese communal approach emphasizes the quality of relationships and concern for the other. Thus, emotional engagement is fundamental to ritual performances as in mourning where deep sorrow is considered more important than attention to minute details of observances. The outcome of this approach is filial piety combining intimate benevolence with respect for authority. The ideals of Daoism are exemplified in the attributes of hermits who abandon the existing social order in favour of the solitude preferred by wanderers.

Giving up the comforts of society and social status enabled inward hermits to achieve a state of transcendence and a deeper appreciation of harmony with nature. This was embodied in a spiritualized approach to social relations which emphasized equality in contrast to the hierarchy embodied in a Confucian emphasis on elder and younger, father and son, and so forth. The Daoist approach to independence and transcendence focussed on uniqueness rather than on egocentrism and competition with the attendant deleterious effects on health.

The acceptance of an eremetic life style flourished when Chinese civilization was at its zenith during the Tang and Song dynasties rather than during its decline under the Mongol rulers. In Western language, this emotion combines the perception of vulnerability with empathy and anxiety over the well-being of another. Metaphysically, the Chinese notion of affect implies a sympathetic universe which is sustained by an affective bond among all things from humans to stones and rocks in nature.

Of particular importance in a Chinese context is the presence of spontaneity, authenticity, and creativity in an emotion. Wisdom of the ancients helps to explicate these different facets of emotion. As in the case of traditional poetry, the ideal state of emotion freely embodies a simple message that is deeply felt.

Thus, an authentic expression of emotion is sensitive to the meaning of a situation and is free from the interference of intentions to control it by a deliberate mind. This account of spontaneity in the Chinese expression of emotion is at odds with a Western academic emphasis on appraisal and purposive action. The author reminds us of the duality in Chinese culture, between the hierarchical nature of social relations from a Confucian perspective e.

This transforms into caring gestures toward parents as youth gives way to indebted gratitude in adulthood. Thus, the good feelings attendant to gratification of impulses leave a glow of self-worth that changes to filial piety and caring gestures. Refinement in Chinese culture is embodied in the concept of savoring which applies both in everyday life and in an aesthetic context. This concept is unique in that it encompasses both positive and negative episodes. Temporality plays an important role encompassing both immediate and retrospective experiences in subtle nuances. Thus, from a Chinese perspective, savoring includes mindful awareness of sensory experiences that are integrated in an ideal mental world best expressed in poetry.

Savoring without blinding expectations thus emptiness enables the person to appreciate the gist of things and also fosters novel connections. My reading experience heightened an understanding of the ways that the principle of complementarity is actively embodied in Chinese philosophy and social relations.

The Confucian emphasis on hierarchy, and its effects on maintaining social harmony through parent-child relations, is complemented by a Daoist appreciation of how silence and intimacy helps us savour subtle qualities of nature and our social world.


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Sundararajan makes a valiant attempt to build a bridge between traditional Chinese concepts and thinking through ideas in contemporary psychology. In part, this effort is successful because it shows how Western ideas and findings can resonate with Chinese culture. But it also indirectly reveals the burdens of Western mechanistic ideas that are worlds apart from the holistic attitude underlying Chinese thought. Of course it is not necessary for translations to exist for comparative scholarship to function, so long as scholars themselves have access to the primary texts, through their knowledge of their language, or, if necessary, through the medium of a third language such as English.

And in the Republican era, the Chinese certainly thought and wrote extensively about the Western classics, even as those texts were only slowly emerging in Chinese translation. Zhou, the younger brother of the famous modern Chinese writer Lu Xun, initially learned Greek in order to gain access to the New Testament, but his broad interests in the Greco-Roman tradition can be seen through his translations of authors as varied as Sappho and Lucian.

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Such reformist efforts met considerable political challenges later; Zhou, who became chancellor of Peking University in , was persecuted by the Nationalists for alleged collaboration with the Japanese invaders in Released by Mao in , he spend his later years in relative obscurity, dying in the midst of the Cultural Revolution. This particular instrumentalization of the Greco-Chinese comparison, as a heuristic for what ailed or was perceived as ailing early twentieth-century China, is of course also of limited value within the realm of comparative studies, especially as changing circumstances have made such cultural navel-gazing seem old-fashioned.

More conservative Chinese scholars of the period had different interests in the Western classics. Exemplary of this camp would be Wu Mi — , who studied comparative literature under Irving Babbit at Harvard as World War I was ending, and on his return to China cofounded the important journal Critical Review Xueheng.

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Critical Review defended the traditional ethical values of Confucianism as a legitimate basis for a modern nation and society. For intellectuals such as Wu, the Western classics were valuable less as a series of clues to why the West had won the race to modernity, and more as a way of understanding the complexity of the West and its own conflicts between tradition and modernity. Such views were largely silenced on the mainland after and remained dormant for a long time, though as we shall see, they have considerable traction today in a new guise.

In the West Sinology was gradually emerging as a legitimate academic discipline, no longer merely an auxiliary science to missionary work. Germany saw its first chair in Sinology only in The years between the world wars were thus an era in which the field began to grow significantly from these small beginnings and began to develop the trappings of specialization, which discouraged comparative work. After and the Communist rise to power, interest grew in the study of contemporary China from a social science as well as a humanistic perspective, especially in the United States, with the emergence of area studies in the s.

In the context of the Cultural Revolution, in which many in China were actively engaged in erasing the traces of the ancient past, the study of that past began to seem an antiquarian interest, one not connected to urgent contemporary realities. Trends in the larger academy, toward postcolonial thought and subaltern studies, for example, likewise marginalized scholarship on early China. Comparative work between China and the West was, if anything, more marginalized than that, left without an obvious ideological space to occupy.

Progressively minded scholars were hard at work on unthinking a century and a half of racist and ethnocentric thought, which had assumed the inferiority of non-Western cultures, and had little interest in comparative work, which for them would have been tarred with the ethnocentric brush. Increasingly specialized and disciplinary in its approach, and under pressure from all directions, classical Sinology had little interest in performing comparative work, even though many Western specialists in early China continued to be people who had studied Greek and Latin at an earlier stage in their intellectual lives, and for whom the comparison must always have been imminent.

Much work in the field of Early China studies thus has the Greco-Roman world as a referent usually implicitly , but the work that raises that comparison to the level of organizing principle has been quite rare until very recently. Why did modern science, the mathematization of hypotheses about Nature, with all its implications for advanced technology, take its meteoric rise only in the West at the time of Galileo [but] had not developed in Chinese civilisation or Indian or Islamic?

Needham But it does mark a significant rise in interest in explicit comparisons between China and the West, taken on the basis that the two are great civilizations with long and rich intellectual histories, both inherently interesting to study. Indeed, other readers of Needham sometimes come away with the impression that he has overemphasized the contributions China made to human civilization and to technical advancement. More recent work on the early history of Chinese science, notably that of G.

Lloyd and Nathan Sivin, has been much more explicitly comparative in its approach. They argue instead that, at around AD, Greece and China had equal potential for developing toward what would become science, with each culture possessing some, but not all, of the characteristics that would eventually be needed. When the question of whether traditional China had philosophy or not is raised today, the terms of discussion tend to be more nuanced and complex. Still, we must be careful not to evaluate premodern Chinese texts on the basis of whether or not they fulfill certain modern Western expectations about what philosophy is.

This work, little read today, strikingly emphasizes the foreignness of the concept of zhexue. Although Xie was writing a history of Chinese philosophy, not an explicitly comparative work, this emphasis on the foreign nature of the concept of philosophy renders the project inherently comparative Denecke , As an avowed nationalist, his goal in writing his Outline was explicitly to establish the legitimacy of the Chinese philosophical tradition as worthy of comparison with Western philosophy.

Also significant in this regard is the work of Feng Yu-lan — Another student of John Dewey, Feng is best known for his two-volume History of Chinese Philosophy , still one of the most complete and accessible works on its topic, as well as being the first systematically composed on Western principles.

Feng is animated throughout by a concern that Chinese philosophy lacked a rigorous metaphysical tradition, something he attempted to address as well in his own philosophical writings. Such a comparative model necessarily produces the lack it seeks in its object. Further work in comparative philosophy has frequently continued to operate within this paradigm, while challenging various aspects of it. The scholarly duo of David L. Hall and Roger T. Their Confucius is a radically immanent one, and their convictions are on the side of inherent differences between cultures, worldviews that are deeply rooted in the minds of a nation, rather than historically contingent and shifting differences and debates.

A comparison of, say, Sextus Empiricus and the Zhuangzi would yield rather different results, and it should be remembered that both Socrates and Confucius were rejected in their own times, the former executed, the later dying hungry and unemployed. If these two highly unusual, cantankerous, and not entirely consistent men can be used as metonyms of their cultures of origin, they can only do so with due attention to the lengthy and contingent historical processes by which their views came to be, if not hegemonic, at least representative.


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A salutary effort to compare Greek and Chinese philosophy in a more nuanced way is found in the work of Jean-Paul Reding. His approach is thus similar to that which has prevailed in comparative Greek-Chinese literary studies proper in the past decade. Mention should be made here as well of a very different eruption of Greco-Chinese comparison into philosophical discourse, namely the role played by Chinese writing in the work of Jacques Derrida, specifically his De la grammatologie On Grammatology [] As part of his larger project of problematizing the Western privileging of the immediacy of speech over the mediation of writing, Derrida explores the Enlightenment tendency best exemplified by Leibniz to celebrate Chinese writing as nonphonetic, as the closest actually existing equivalent to the kind of purely abstract language of ideas toward which some Enlightenment thinkers were yearning.

This reading of course downplays the undeniable, if complex, phonetic dimension of Chinese writing for a good discussion see Bachner , and it is not altogether clear whether Derrida is aware of this failing in Enlightenment thinking, and if so where he situates himself in relationship to it. They could not have been a more disparate group in terms of training, methodology, or thematic interests, but among them they began to establish a body of scholarship that could be described as a subfield, or at least the beginnings of one.

Although Earl Miner — was primarily a scholar of Japanese literature, he is responsible for one of the earliest books explicitly in the realm of East-West comparative literature. His Comparative Poetics: An Intercultural Essay on Theories of Literature attempts to found a comparative discussion on European and East Asian poetics with reference to other contexts, notably Arabic, as well. Miner identifies elements of such an affective-expressive poetics in later aspects of the Western tradition, notably in Horace and Wordsworth, but suggests that the early absence of mimetic poetics from East Asia and of affective-expressive poetics from Greece has important implications for the development and privileging of genres, among other issues.

While their conclusions can certainly be challenged, and their emphasis on certain forms of literary texts rather than others may have an impact on their findings, these books remain compelling in their insights into the texts they discuss and are extremely important in laying the groundwork for any further cross-cultural study.

Wang Ching-hsien, born in Taiwan in , is an accomplished poet as well as a scholar of comparative literature. See Idema Victor Mair, born in , is a professor of Chinese at the University of Pennsylvania, specializing in early Chinese vernacular literature. This work, culminating in the edited collection Contact and Exchange in the Ancient World , has not been without controversy, and on the whole Sino-Greek literary comparison has followed paths that do not emphasize points of contact. The work of Mair and others of this ilk offers, however, an important challenge to the presumption of transcendent differences between China and the West.

Jullien offers readings of Chinese texts ranging from commentaries on the Canon of Songs to Maoist propaganda. While his readings are always penetrating, and his ideas provocative, his work has also been challenged for seeming to reinscribe the kinds of essentialist images of the inscrutable East common to orientalist scholarship of an earlier era, and for treating both East and West as more internally consistent than they actually are.

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Proceeding from a similarly deconstructive position, but with rather different results, is Haun Saussy. Both these themes are seen in his influential first book, The Problem of a Chinese Aesthetic That book is mostly built around a reading and interpretation of the orthodox Mao commentaries on the Canon of Songs and around the problem those commentaries might present for a Western scholar of comparative literature bringing to bear upon them the concept of allegory. One of the most influential voices in the study of China and the West including Greece is Zhang Longxi.

Born in Chengdu, Sichuan, in , Zhang was among the first cohort of graduate students in English at Peking University after the end of the Cultural Revolution, in There he met with, and was influenced by, Qian Zhongshu — , one of the greatest comparative scholars of his time, before receiving a PhD in comparative literature at Harvard. In his The Tao and the Logos: Literary Hermeneutics, East and West , Zhang explores this territory, through readings of major poets of the Chinese and European traditions and through an exploration of the concepts of Dao otherwise transcribed as Tao and of Logos, which Zhang sees as concepts performing similar work in their respective cultures, in spite of their complex ranges of meaning and arguable incommensurability.

As such, his work is directly and indirectly very influential on more recent work in the field. Another very distinctive and influential voice is that of Lisa Raphals — , whose work bridges the fields of history of science, philosophy, and comparative literature. In the process of privileging similarity over difference, her book also represents a tension between discursive and strategic knowledge within traditional Chinese culture.

These shifts from incommensurability to comparable similarities; from static to dynamic models of the cultures compared have importantly defined the further development of Greece-China studies in the American academy, in particular in the past twenty years. It offers a wide range of perspectives on how to go about thinking of the comparison between Greece and China, as this list of contributors suggests, and both the conference and the volume itself underscored the arrival of this comparison as, if not a coherent field of study, at least a productive one. Shankman and Durrant one of several pairings of scholars whose coauthored work has been influential in the field, along with Hall and Ames [] and Lloyd and Sivin [] published their own volume, The Siren and the Sage: Knowledge and Wisdom in Ancient Greece and China Cassell, , which explores the relationship between knowledge and wisdom in the two traditions, through comparative sections exploring in turn poetry, history, and philosophy.

The Greek-Chinese field has continued to grow in the twenty-first century, as new generations of scholars have entered the field. As a collection of scholars born in the s and afterward, and having come of age in the s and along with other scholars, such as Tamara Chin, whose work may focus primarily on China, but whose training and methods are comparative , these four offer different perspectives on how to do comparative work between Greece and China, but taken together, I believe certain trends can be detected.

Her book contrasts the agonistic competitiveness the Greeks deployed as they created a public sphere of friendship transcending familial ties with an early Chinese approach in which public events served to negotiate and assert relationships within patrilineal clans. Again, a careful attention to actually existing complexities on the ground yields fruitful results.

Building on this premise, I argue that both cultures use stories of authorship and the implicit theories of poetics that underwrite those stories as a means of giving meaning to literary texts as they circulate in wider and wider contexts.

EASTERN PHILOSOPHY - Confucius

Attentive throughout to the historical specificities that make her two cases distinct from one another like the fact that Japan did not conquer China in premodern times, or that the Japanese wrote in both Chinese and Japanese, while the Romans wrote almost exclusively in Latin, not in Greek, for literary purposes , and frequently juxtaposing unlikely pairs of texts from the two traditions, Denecke draws out some fascinating and important parallels between the two traditions, making a compelling case for further comparative study in this area.

The world of Sino-Greek comparison, then, continues to grow as it thrives. These works do not strictly speaking fit under the heading of Greece-China comparisons, but are linked closely enough with that topic to warrant mention here. The Rome-China comparison has generated less literary interest than one might have hoped for, but has generated some discussion in historical contexts. Synthetic comparative monographs on Roman and Chinese empire have yet to emerge, though given the rapid evolution of this field, such a development seems likely. Literary and other cultural fields of comparison remain largely unstudied.

It is to be hoped that the increasing interest in Sino-Greek comparisons will lead in turn to further study of this broader family of comparisons. Of course, a significant reason direct or indirect for the recent uptick in interest in comparative Greece-China study has been the recent economic rise of China, making the history of Chinese culture and therefore its comparison with the West newly urgent.

As a result, earlier assumptions about essential differences between Chinese and Western culture may need urgent attention. Chinese academia has likewise seen a renewed interest in this comparative project, if for slightly different reasons. This is an era in which the figure of Confucius has been increasingly, if not unproblematically, seized upon as an emblem of a perduring Chinese identity that transcends, without erasing, Communist ideology.

Debates about the roles played by the classics, Confucian and Greco-Roman, have therefore been an important vehicle for debates about tradition and modernity in contemporary China. For a thorough discussion of this debate, see Weng One of the leading figures of these discussions, Liu Xiaofeng — , draws heavily on the work of Leo Strauss, and particularly on the notion of esoteric teachings. Liu argues, that as in his view at least Strauss demonstrates the need for a distinction between public versions of philosophy, oriented toward guiding citizens into appropriate ways of life, with a more subtle and complex esoteric version accessible to those who are careful students of philosophy.

Liu borrows this notion of esoteric teachings and applies it to the context of the Chinese classics. Straussian readings of Plato are thus used to generate Straussian readings of Chinese texts, which in turn are seen as offering guidance on how to navigate the complexities of contemporary Chinese political life and to offer a way forward for the Chinese nation. To some extent, these contemporary debates draw on debates in political theory around the viability of democracy in the Chinese context.

Political Confucianism has played a role though exactly what role is difficult to say in debates within the Chinese administration about the relative roles of Marxism and Confucianism as guiding principles for the Communist Party of China in the twenty-first century. The potential stakes of these discussions, in other words, are high.

Not all Chinese Straussians are as enamored of the notion of esoteric teachings as Liu Xiaofeng: Gan Yang, for example, offers a different Straussian take. Other scholars are critical of the Straussian enterprise altogether, and the last five or ten years are remarkable for the broad resurgence in interest in the Western classics in Chinese intellectual circles, indicated by the establishment of a Western classics program at Peking University in , by the strength of the ancient history program at Fudan University in Shanghai, and by the prevalence of conferences on such themes in China today.

Many, perhaps most, Chinese intellectuals who are interested in the Western classics are opposed to the Chinese Straussian narrative, and its presence may do as much to spark oppositional readings of the Western classics as to shut them down. The Western classics therefore occupy a position of unexpected significance in contemporary China. The challenge will be, as it has always been, to nurture the development of such studies while resisting the always-present urge to instrumentalize those studies as a part of internal debates or international relations.

Bachner, Andrea. New York: Columbia University Press. Find this resource:. Beecroft, Alexander. Behr, Wolfgang. Chan, Albert. Ching-hsien, Wang. Defoort, Carine. Arguments of an Implicit Debate. Denecke, Wiebke. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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Derrida, Jacques. De la grammatologie [ On Grammatology ]. Translated by Gayatri Spivak. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Feng, Youlan. Translated by Derk Bodde. New York: Mackmillan. Fingarette, Herbert. Confucius: The Secular as Sacred. New York: Harper and Row. Ge, Zhaoguang. Intellectual History of China. Translated by Michael S.

A Historical and In-depth Look at Asian Culture and Psyche

Duke and Josephine Chiu-Duke. Leiden; Boston: Brill. Hall, David L. Thinking Through Confucius. Hunter, Michael Justin. Idema, Wilt. Paris: Grasset. Translated by Sophie Hawkes. Kim, Hyun Jin. Ethnicity and Foreigners in Ancient Greece and China. London: Duckworth. Li, Sher-shiueh. Liu Xiaofeng. Caelum non animum mutant, — Beijing: Huaxia chubanshe.

Lloyd, G. Mair, Victor. Contact and Exchange in the Ancient World. Meynard, Thierry. Mul ed. Miner, Earl. Mutschler, Fritz-Heiner, and Achim Mittag, eds. Conceiving the Empire: China and Rome Compared. Needham, Joseph.