Knowing the Other, Knowing Yourself: The Optics of Interpretive Context
There is a persistent and pernicious asymmetry in the relationship between Chinese and Western culture. Go into a Chinese bookstore or library today, and all of the avatars of Western culture old and new are readily available in high quality translation. And a young and eager Chinese readership provides momentum for this continuing publishing phenomenon.
Go into a Western bookstore or library, and the best thinkers of China old and new are almost totally absent. And what is most disconcerting is that there is no readership to demand that this asymmetry be addressed. There is no eager market for a literature on Chinese culture.
Why? How did this come about?
First, early on, the traditional Chinese classics were translated into English by missionaries through a Christian lens that transformed these canonical texts into a liturgy of second-rate Christianity. Go into those same Western bookstores and libraries, and the defining texts of Chinese philosophy and culture—the Yijing, Lunyu, Daodejing, Zhuangzi—are shelved under the curious rubric of “Eastern Religions” rather than in the respected shelves of “philosophy” itself.
Go into the highest seats of learning in Western countries and Chinese philosophy is usually taught if at all in religion and Asian studies departments rather than in philosophy departments. With the bronze ritual vessel 觚 as a metonym for Chinese philosophy and culture, as it says in the Lunyu: 觚不觚，觚哉觚哉。We might rephrase this as “‘Chinese philosophy’ that is not Chinese philosophy—a strange Chinese philosophy, a strange Chinese philosophy.”
If Chinese philosophy and culture is simply the shadow of a Western religion, and if young people, and many if not most Western intellectuals regarding their own religious traditions as old and dogmatic and of little interest, Western people do not need or want a Confucian culture that has the same profile.
At the same time, in the middle and late 19th century the institutional structures of European and American education—universities, schools and their curricula—were imported wholesale into the East Asia cultures of China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam, and the language of modernity was translated into the vernacular languages, prompting Asian cultures themselves to theorize their own traditions through a largely Western conceptual structure.
In the wake of this self-colonization, a situation has emerged both in the cultures of the Western and East Asia in which “modernization” is simply “Westernization,” leaving Confucian culture outside the door as something old, dogmatic, and conservative.
The consequence of this history is that the value of the word “Confucian” in the West if understood at all, evokes the values of unchanging classics, rote learning, patriarchy, hierarchy—a tradition that properly belongs to yesterday. The great Anglo-American process philosopher, A.N. Whitehead, described Confucius as “the man who made China stand still.”
And in the Chinese world, the term “儒学” does not fare much better among young people who see it as an oppressive historical alternative to the liberating values of a liberal and democratic modernity.
This is where we are, and where we have to begin.
But we are living in world in which over the last decade, with the rise of Asia, and particularly of China, the economic and political order of the world has undergone an unprecedented sea change. Will there be a changing world cultural order that follows in its wake?
What in concrete terms do these Chinese canons have to offer a changing world cultural order?
A hybridic and inclusive model of cultural change wherein the heat of contest becomes the furnace of amalgamation and fusion—a tradition in which Buddhism is internalized to become Confucian Buddhism.
A human-centered rather than a God-centered religiousness that unlike the Abrahamic traditions, does not persistently precipitate war and conflict.
A conception of family and community based on achieved propriety in roles and relations that serves social and political order as a necessary complement to the rule of law.
A conception of governance that requires education and the cultivation of character from those who would presume to govern.
A Confucian role ethic grounded in the deference of family and communal relations that offers a win-win or lose-lose alternative to the ideology of liberal individualism and its divisive and deflationary model of winners and losers.
Definition of “Religion:” The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods. Etymology: Middle English (originally in the sense ‘life under monastic vows’): from Old French, or from Latin religio(n-) ‘obligation, bond, reverence’, perhaps based on Latin religare ‘to bind’.
Analects 1.12 有子曰：「禮之用，和為貴。先王之道斯為美，小大由之。有所不行，知和而和，不以禮節之，亦不可行也。」
Master You said: “An optimizing, superlative harmony is the most valuable function of aspiring to propriety in our roles and relations. In the ways of the Former Kings, this optimization of harmony by aspiring to such propriety made them refined, and was a guiding standard in all things large and small. But when things are not going well, to pursue harmony just for its own sake without regulating the situation through achieving propriety will not work.”
The composition of the earlier, more complex graph for “optimal harmony” (he和) found on the oracle bones and on the bronzes. This character is composed of a yue龠 wind instrument constructed out of reed pipes, with “growing grain” (he 禾) as the phonetic element, alluding to the playing of music as one metaphorical way of understanding this particular, highly aesthetic sense of harmony. What kind of ”harmony”? Family, menu, 孙子兵法；Whitehead’s aesthetic vs. rational order ；Oratio + ratio vs. ratio；Optimizing symbiosis 优化，最大化的共生体系 ；Teleology vs. zhonghe 中和 (Zhongyong 中庸：至诚，至圣)。
Since I and I expect you too believe that Confucian philosophy has values and institutions that can be of enormous benefit to a new world cultural order, how can we overcome this misunderstanding of Confucianism? How can we communicate to both a Chinese and a Western public the importance of Confucianism as it has been transmitted through the classical canons? How can we write a commentary for our own times that gives the world a critical, progressive, evolutionary, emergent Confucianism that addresses the pressing issues of our times?
论美国的翻译中国文化：一项半成品 ON THE TRANSLATION OF CHINESE CULTURE IN AMERICA: A WORK IN PROGRESS
How can we challenge the pernicious equation between modernity and Westernization that erases Confucian culture altogether? What will a modernity as “Eastern-and-Westernization” look like?
Confucius孔子+主義or 60+80世代 generations of Ruxue儒學?
The Master remarked to Zixia, “You want to become the kind of scholar-counselor who is an exemplary person, not the kind that is a petty person”
The Master said, “Following the proper way, I do not forge new paths; with confidence I cherish the ancients-in these respects I am comparable to old Peng”
The Master said, "There is nothing that I can do for people who are not constantly asking themselves: What to do? What to do?"
The Master said：“Reviewing the old as a means of realizing thenew-such a person can be considered a teacher.”
Ru(儒)The intergenerational transmission and embodiment of a compounding cultural legacy within a complex network of family lineages (jiazu家族) closely aligned with the prime
moral imperatives of this tradition:
“family reverence”(xiao孝),“fraternal deference”(ti悌),“achieving propriety in one's roles and relations”"(li禮)“personal cultivation and the consummation of one' s roles and relations"(ren仁)," human way-making”(dao道through"virtuosic habits of conduct"(de德),(wen文) "the continuing aesthetic and moral process of inscribing and embellishing the human experience though literary, civil,and artistic pursuits".
Ralph Waldo Emerson(爱默生):
Civilization depends on morality. Everything good in man leans on what is higher. This rule holds in small as in great. Thus, all our strength and success in the work of our hands depend on our borrowing the aid of the elements. You have seen a carpenter on a ladder with a broad-axe chopping upward chips and slivers from a beam.How awkward! at what disadvantage he works!But see him on the ground, dressing his timber under him. Now, not his feeble muscles, but the force of gravity brings down the axe; that is to say, the planet itself splits his stick.(“ American Civilization” in Atlantic Monthly 1862)