What China Thinks: Philosophical Passages to China. Málstofa Konfúsíusarstofnunarinnar Norðurljóss og kínverskra fræða

Laugardagur 26. mars kl. 10.30-16.30 í stofu 101 í Háskólatorgi
26 March, 10.30-16.30, room 101, Háskólatorg

Fyrirlestrar verða lengri en í öðrum málstofum. Þeir verða fluttir á ensku.

Málstofustjóri/Chair: Geir Sigurðsson, dósent í kínverskum fræðum, forstöðumaður Konfúsíusarstofnunarinnar Norðurljóss


  • Roger T. Ames, University of Hawaii: Confucian China in a Changing World Order
  • Henry Rosemont, Jr., Brown University: The 'New Confucianism' in China Today

Hádegishlé/Lunch break

  • Wang Keping, Beijing International Studies University, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences: A Harmonious Society in the Harmony-conscious Culture
  • Carine Defoort, K.U. Leuven: How China Names?

Kaffihlé/Coffie break

  • Tong Shijun, Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences: Two Paths of Reason: Overcoming the Dilemma between Reason-dogmatism and Reason-skepticism
  • Ralph Weber, URPP Asia and Europe, University of Zürich: The Politics of ‘Chinese Philosophy’



Roger T. Ames, University of Hawaii
Confucian China in a Changing World Order

The Book of Changes—the first among the Chinese classics—defines  the human experience in terms of change and persistence: 變 通. One change that has occurred is that the 21st century has ushered in a new age of global interdependence. The increasingly complex problems that face human beings as a species are no longer issues of national interest alone. Problems such global warming, the imminent threat of pandemics, increasing air and water pollution, religious extremism, diminishing energy reserves, environmental degradation, retreating fresh water resources, and so on, do not respect national boundaries. We either solve these challenges together, or we all sink together.

There is a second major development that is immediately relevant to our increased need to think globally. With China rising over the past three decades, a dramatic sea change has occurred in the economic and political world order that affects us all in an age of global interdependence. Since the founding of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation in 1989, the growth of trade in this region has increased by 400% and GDP has tripled. In September 2009, the G20 replaced the G8 as the main economic council of the world’s wealthy nations. Several weeks ago Forbes Magazine listed Hu Jintao as the most powerful person in the world, now one place ahead of Barack Obama.

The global impact of China’s economic and political growth is easy to track. But what about its culture? What does Confucianism have on offer? Under these rapidly evolving conditions, will the family-centered Confucian values of China precipitate a new cultural world order?


Henry Rosemont, Jr., Brown University
The 'New Confucianism' in China Today

This lecture is a survey of the several and varied patterns of thought in contemporary China that are usually described collectively as “The New Confucianism.” These patterns encompass religion, philosophy, political organization, and the conduct of foreign policy as China is assuming an economic and political  place as a global power. The potential significance of these intellectual currents is not, however, confined solely to China itself, for Confucianism is being seen by increasing numbers of people inside and outside the country as having cross-cultural philosophical applicability on a par with Western philosophy.


Wang Keping, Beijing International Studies University, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences
A Harmonious Society in the Harmony-conscious Culture

Ever since 2004 in China, the first priority has been given to the experimental construction of a harmonious society. According to the blueprint concerned, a harmonious society is imagined to bear such primary features as democracy, rule of law, equity, justice, trustworthiness, friendliness, dynamics, stability, orderliness, and harmonious correlation between human and nature. These factors are determinate in their respective degrees, and involving almost all the domains of a modern society. In other words, the experimental construction appears to be a comprehensive project associated with politics, law, economics, human relations and environmental ethics and the like. It is in fact proposed in contrast to the social reality saturated with potentially disharmonious phenomena. Such phenomena allude to certain contradictions that are largely originated from the widening gap between the rich and the poor, gap that is said to be chiefly resulted from societal inequity, distributional injustice and institutionalized corruption in essence. They have thus become conducive to the formation of disproportionate interest division, grouping and discrepancy owing to resource and market monopoly mixed up with power deals, which is working to upset and even undermine the conventional social structure and national mentality as well. All this tends to bring into jeopardy social stability and order that serve to secure the apparent prospect of social development and economic growth altogether.

As is observed from the foregoing blueprint and its problems involved, the building of the harmonious society is often treated as either a political aspiration or a social enterprise by nature. But in my observation, it could also be conceived of as a cultural expectation as regards the Chinese social setting in particular. By “cultural expectation” herein is meant that the harmonious society in question is partly expected from the cultural ideal of harmony (he 和). For the ideal of harmony is deep-rooted and constantly stressed in the Chinese cultural heritage, especially in the Confucianist thought. It serves in principle as the inherent basis on which the harmonious society could be built, basis that partly lies in the ethos of zhonghe wenhua 中和文化 qua harmony-conscious culture peculiar to Confucianism proper.

This paper is intended to look into the four aspects as follows:

  1. The Importance of Harmony
  2. The Distinction between Harmony and Uniformity
  3. The Dialectic in Harmony versus Conflict
  4. A Harmonious Society as a Process


Carine Defoort, K.U. Leuven
How China Names?

One important and often overlooked aspect in the question of “What China Thinks?” is "How China Names?" or, more specifically, what is its sensitivity to the power of words. The fact that we can do many more things with words that merely describe reality has been a major conviction in the Chinese intellectual history from its earliest philosophers till today.

The philosophical texts of the 5th till 3rd century B.C., the formative period of Chinese thought, abound with verbs or expressions meaning “to name”, “to refer to”, “to be called” (wei , yue 曰). In Western translations, these expressions often lose their importance or inadvertedly disappear to be replaced by the verb “to be”. Similarly, Westerners sometimes fail to catch the importance of fixed expressions, labels and slogans that have a crucial function in contemporary China. Using the distinction between the “emotive power” of terms and their “descriptive content”, I will analyse three naming techniques at work in the ancient texts--persuasive definitions, re-labelling reality, and insisting on the term—and show examples of their contemporary relevance in China.


Tong Shijun, Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences
Two Paths of Reason: Overcoming the Dilemma between Reason-dogmatism and Reason-skepticism

For many years the “crisis of reason” has been a key phrase of the academic as well as public discourses. This is the case not only in the West, but also in China. This is more the case when China is very successful in economic development in the last decades than when it was not so successful thirty years ago.

It should be admitted that reason-skeptics do have good reasons. Historically speaking, both Chinese and Western culture can be characterized by the core ideas of Reason (logos) or Li 理 (Dao 道). And both were understood as a kind of transcendental substance behind or above particular things on the earth or under the heaven. With the advent of modern age, however, Reason in this sense can less and less be supported by scientific research and secular-minded thinking. Nor can Reason as something whose interpretation is monopolized by the Western culture be sustained with the proceeding of the decolonization movement. Therefore the idea of Reason as transcendental substance is more and more replaced by the idea of rationality as empirically manageable attributes of things, or as culturally trustable ideas of communities. And this idea of rationality in turn can, in many cases, be associated with the idea of reasons as arguments that people provide for their claims for something being rational or not. The point is that real people provide their reasons in real situations, and real situations vary not only from scientific communities to scientific communities, but also or much more so, from cultural communities to cultural communities.

It is, therefore, somehow natural that the disintegration of Reason into reasons would have turned the whole modern intellectual world more or less away from something unified, objective and transcendental as the guide of our public as well as private life, towards something plural, subjective and community-specific. It is because of this tendency that at the international level, talks of conflicts or even clashes among civilizations have been quite fashionable in the last twenty years or so.

Fortunately, in human history or in history of human cultures there is not only a descending path from Reason through rationality down to reasons, there is also an ascending path from reasons through argumentation up to reasonableness: people dealing with reasons in particular fields should and can share the same attitude of reasonableness, for example, being willing to yield to the power of reasons rather than the power of forces; being able to tell the difference between reasons valid in different fields and contexts; being ready to be convinced by others as well as to convince others; and being open to reasons that are unknown now but will possibly be brought up in the future, especially to those that will be brought up by others, and so on.

It is important to raise the level of reasonableness or to reduce the level of unreasonableness by philosophical argumentations, but a mere philosophical approach is far from being enough for the simple reason that the propositions meant to be justified by philosophical argumentation are very often the ones it has already presupposed. What is of equal importance, if not of higher importance, is to overcome the dilemma by actual cultural dialogues, through which we can personally experience how people from surprisingly different communities share a surprisingly large amount of things, and how they can also learn a surprisingly large amount of things totally unknown before from other people or other peoples. It is through dialogues of this kind that people learn to be reasonable as part of their experiences of socialization.

It might be true that while Western culture, especially in its modern form, has a strong tradition associated with the idea of rationality, Chinese culture has a strong tradition associated with the idea of reasonableness, as the Chinese philosopher Liang Shuming and the British philosopher Bertrand Russell remarked almost at the same time in the early 1920s. As a kind of self-critical review, however, we as people from China should admit that the Chinese idea of reasonableness needs to be developed with the help of something with a higher level of discursive rationality in a Habermasian sense and to be realized with the help of something with a higher level of instrumental rationality in a Weberian sense.


Ralph Weber, URPP Asia and Europe, University of Zürich
The Politics of ‘Chinese Philosophy’

Philosophy and politics may seem worlds apart, but that appearance often is and in principle always can be deceptive. For that reason alone, given the powerful implications that politics has, the relation between philosophy and politics deserves to be scrutinized over and over again. As talk about ‘the rise of China’ continues to either benumb or thrill our ears, it might be particularly apposite critically to examine ways how ‘Chinese philosophy’ and politics are being related in scholarly and other practices. In my talk, I discuss four fields where such relations are to my mind detectable: (1) scholarship on ‘Chinese political philosophy’ (e.g. Confucian democracy), (2) uses of philosophy for political ends (e.g. of Confucianism in the People’s Republic), (3) subtle ways of politicization of ‘China’ in philosophical writings (as is the case, I argue, in François Jullien’s writings), and (4) representations of ‘Chinese philosophy’ in what purports to be straightforward policy-oriented work. These four fields, I shall argue, are entangled and co-implicative in so many ways that nobody writing on ‘Chinese philosophy’ can afford not to make explicit one’s own commitments in this regard.


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