TRENDS IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF CONTEMPORARY CHINESE PHILOSOPHY
Since the conclusion of the Great Cultural Revolution, the study of traditional Chinese philosophy has gone through three periods.* From October 1976 to early 1979, the task was to bring to the study of traditional Chinese philosophy an end to the chaos that resulted from the Cultural Revolution. What was unique during this period was the adoption of an attitude of "seeking truth from the facts" in the evaluation of Confucius. However, negative influence from two sources still existed: (1) that academic work must serve politics and (2) the application of dogmatic research methods that kept the field of study from making any important advances.
Since 1979, however, the study of traditional Chinese philosophy has begun to break through the bounds of dogmatism, and some important issues have been discussed. I made an analysis of progress during this period in an essay, "New Developments in the Study of the History of Chinese Philosophy," published in the Min Bao monthly journal in Hong Kong and also in the Journal of Chinese Philosophy. This essay discussed new developments during that period in the following four areas: (1) the study of the history of Chinese philosophy as the history of the development of knowledge of the Chinese nation; (2) the study of concept categories and systems of Chinese philosophy; (3) the problem of method in establishing a philosophical system for traditional Chinese philosophy; and (4) the comparative study of traditional Chinese philosophy and foreign philosophies.
Since 1983, with the deepening of the study of traditional Chinese philosophy in the People's Republic of China, it is natural that the issue of future prospects in the development of Chinese philosophy be advanced. This issue is not only connected with the development of the study of philosophy in China, but also with the study of Chinese philosophy abroad. In August 1983, I presented a paper at the 17th World Philosophy Conference in Montreal, Canada, on "An Inquiry into the Possibility of a Third Phase of Development of Confucianism." This paper confirmed the realistic value of traditional Chinese philosophy as a whole and was appreciated by many scholars both at home and abroad. To find a solution to the issue of future prospects for the development of Chinese philosophy, the value of traditional Chinese philosophy must be recognized. For this purpose, some Chinese scholars have made a special study of this problem.
Li Zehou, for example, holds that the history of the development of traditional Chinese philosophy is a history of the cumulative knowledge of the value of man. The core of Confucian teaching is "benevolence," that is, to treat other individuals as "man," an approach which makes people realize that the meaning, position, and value of an individual as man lies in his dealings with other individuals. "To be open and sensible" was advocated by the Metaphysical School in the Wei and Jin dynasties is, in a sense, an expression of the emancipation of "human nature." By the Song Dynasty, Confucianist philosophy expressed consciousness of knowledge of the value of man as man. Therefore, the characteristic feature of traditional Chinese philosophy lies in the fact that people come to know themselves gradually in moral practice, seeking to realize their ideals in present society. Li names this "Practical Rationalism" or "Chinese Wisdom."
Pang Pu holds that the characteristic feature of Chinese philosophy is a kind of "humanism" that emphasizes the meaning and value of "man" in social reality. Even Daoism (Taoism), the original Chinese religion, affirmed this characteristic feature. Daoism (Taoism) preaches "living in eternity" and "immortality of the flesh," the purpose of which is for "man" to attain a state of "immortality" in social reality.
Wang Ruoshui published an essay, "Man in Reality is the Point of Departure in Marxism," in response to Hu Qiaomu's essay criticizing humanism and alienation.
Why are there so many Chinese scholars at present who all take "man" and the value of man as the focus for the development of Chinese philosophy? It is clear that the development of Chinese society has been closely connected with the issue of the value of man.
Since the winter of 1984, a series of conferences have been convened to discuss Chinese culture and the comparative study of Chinese and Western cultures. First, a seminar on the "History of Contemporary Chinese Culture" was held in Loyang, Henan Province, then a seminar on the "Comparative Study of Oriental and Occidental Cultures" was held in Shanghai. In April 1985, a coordinated conference on the "Comparative Study of Oriental and Occidental Cultures" was held in Shenzhen, and, in December, a seminar on "The Philosophical Thought of Xiong Shili" was held in Hubei. In January 1986, the first session of a seminar on Chinese culture was convened in Shanghai. From the above conferences, we can discern three closely-related problems that form the general topic of the development of Chinese philosophy, thought and culture.
A. At present, Chinese philosophy is confronted by a challenge from Western philosophy, including various Marxist philosophies in the West, and the problem is whether or not we can make immediate and active responses. To modernize China must introduce modern science and technology from the West and Western experience in economic management. But at the same time, does China have to usher in Western philosophical thought to enrich her own philosophy? Here three problems are involved: (1) whether China's Marxism can develop an open system to confront new scientific theories and new creative approaches to philosophical issues; (2) how to understand the similarities and differences between "modernization" and "Westernization"; and (3) whether China can preserve her own rich tradition of philosophy.
B. How or in what way can Marxism be combined with China's traditional philosophy? Marxism was introduced into China during the May Fourth Movement in 1919, and politically it met the needs of China at that time. In this sense, a fusion was achieved. Nevertheless, Marxism has not been integrated very well with China's philosophical thought. On the contrary, Marxism adopted a negative attitude towards China's traditional philosophy. But to face the challenge of Western philosophy, this synthesis must be achieved, because only by so doing can Marxism take root in China and become a Marxist philosophy in a Chinese environment. And, again, only by so doing can traditional Chinese philosophy develop into a modern Chinese culture which can assimilate both Western and Marxist philosophy.
C. How can we make a historical re-evaluation of traditional Chinese philosophy as a whole? Whether or not we can solve the first two problems depends basically on whether or not we can make such a reevaluation. This must be conducted in the light of the development of contemporary world philosophy, and in view of the specific conditions of Marxism in China.
*Translated by Hou Mingjun
- Written by: doc
TRENDS IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF CONTEMPORARY CHINESE PHILOSOPHY