Mote - STUDIES IN WORLD CIVILIZATION Intellectual...

Info iconThis preview shows pages 1–13. Sign up to view the full content.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Background image of page 1

Info iconThis preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full DocumentRight Arrow Icon
Background image of page 2
Background image of page 3

Info iconThis preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full DocumentRight Arrow Icon
Background image of page 4
Background image of page 5

Info iconThis preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full DocumentRight Arrow Icon
Background image of page 6
Background image of page 7

Info iconThis preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full DocumentRight Arrow Icon
Background image of page 8
Background image of page 9

Info iconThis preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full DocumentRight Arrow Icon
Background image of page 10
Background image of page 11

Info iconThis preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full DocumentRight Arrow Icon
Background image of page 12
Background image of page 13
This is the end of the preview. Sign up to access the rest of the document.

Unformatted text preview: STUDIES IN WORLD CIVILIZATION Intellectual Foundations. of China . Frederick W Mote Princeton University McGraw-HIII, Inc. New York St. Louis San Francisco AuckIand Bogoui Caracas Lisbon London Madrid Mexico City Milan Montreal New Delhi San Juan Singapore Sydney Tokyo Toronto 12 lNTELLECTUAL FOUNDATIONS OF CHINA Thus the superior man stands firm And does not change his direction.* This, of course, is but a portion of the content relevant to this particular divination text; it is cited merely to show the nature of the language. Can one make intelligent use of ideas stated in this fashion? Should we brush it all aside as simple-minded nonsense? There have always been individuals in the history of Chinese thought who have been willing to do so, but they are not consistently the clearest-minded or the most profound of Chinese thinkers. On the contrary, the concern with the uses and meaning of this book has been a feature of the thought of a majority of China’s great philosophers, and its central place has been reaffirmed in each age. We must therefore take the Book of Changes quite seriously as One of the earliest crystallizations of the Chinese mind (or of the human mind in its universal characteristics). We should try to understand what about it has so unfailingly fascinated thinking Chinese from ancient times onward, and on that score regard it as one touchstone of what is peculiarly Chinese. As a historical document its greatest significance to us is perhaps that it conveys the earliest awareness of a world view that was later to become much more complete and explicit. This Chinese conception of the world has scarcely ever been recognized by Westerners and still is not properly noted, much less borne in mind, in most of the writings on China. The Chinese World View The manner in which cultures become aware of other cultures and the extent to which persons in one culture insert elements of their own culture into their understanding of others can nowhere be better illustrated than by noting the Western failure to understand the basic nature of the Chinese world view. Modern Europeans and Americans have insisted on making the unexamined and, as it turns out, quite * I Ching, or Book of Changes. Translated into English by Cary F. Baynes from the German translation of Richard Wilhelm. Foreword by Carl Jung and Prefaces by Richard and Hellmut Wilhelm. Bollingen Series, vol. l9 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1967), pp. 126-127. CHAPTER 2 THE BEGINNINGS OF A WORLD VIEW 13 unsupportable assumption that all peoples (until modern science and Western thinking in the last century affected cosmological theoriz- ing—that is, theorizing about what the cosmos is—throughout the world) have regarded the cosmos and the human race as the products of a creator external to them. Assuming fundamental analogy as a fact, Westerners in translating Chinese texts have simply relied on falsely analogous expressions from our culture and have read them mechani- cally into the Chinese texts, perhaps satisfying themselves with the "sense" that they make in the way they echo our Western predilec- tions. I Confucius' apparent intimations of Christian truth in the eyes of seventeenth—century and later missionaries are therefore as myopic, as assessments of intellectual and cultural developments in history, as are Aristotle's in the eyes of Aquinas. But when twentieth-century histori- ans perpetuate such myopia, it is no longer tolerable. Rather it should be very interesting to us to discover what new and deeper understand- ing of China we may be led to by an objective understanding of Chinese cosmological thinking, once our sense of Chinese culture has been freed from the imposition of our own. The basic point which outsiders have found so hard to detect is that the Chinese, among all peoples ancient and recent, primitive and modern, are apparently unique in having no creation myth, that is, they have regarded the world and humans as uncreated, as constituting the central features of a spontaneously self-generating cosmos having no creator, god, ultimate cause. or will external to itself. If this belief was ever otherwise, even in the earliest periods of Chinese history, no evidence for it has persisted to influence later Chinese thinking. More- over other fundamentally different cosmogonies (explanations of the genesis of the cosmos) presenting the idea of creation and a creator external to the created world made no significant impression on the Chinese mind when encountered among South China minorities or in successive contact with Indian, Islamic, and Christian thought. Their own conception of the world, shared subsequently by all Chi— nese schools of thought on the level of the Great Tradition*——and it is a conception having pervasive influence throughout the entire soci— * Great Tradition, a term here used loosely to designate the high culture of learning and elite tradition. w- ———.— ~—-v-—._—-~ I4 INTELLECTUAL FOUNDATIONS OF CHINA ety—has been developed throughout the continuous cultural history of the Chinese people without any fundamental modification other than its refinement and more detailed articulation. The Confucian scholar Tu Wei-ming, in an essay reviewing and emending the ideas just set forth, argues that the distinctiveness of the Chinese world view comes less from the lack of any notion of creation external to the cosmos (for he believes there may be other examples, perhaps among preliterate peoples) than from the other half of the concept, the organismic wholeness and interconnectedness of all being. He writes: “. . . the apparent lack of a creation myth in Chinese cultural history is predicated on a more fundamental assumption about reality; namely, that all modalities of being are organically con‘ nected." In his view the “spontaneously self-generating life process exhibits three basic motifs: continuity, wholeness, and dynamism." His elaboration of these ideas is essentially Nee—Confucian in content and draws on a number of Neo—Confucian thinkers, showing the con— tinued importance of organismic cosmological conceptions into later history. He fully agrees however that from our point of view, as West— erners who have inherited the Judeo—Christian ideas about the crea- tion of the world by a creator God, we have difficulties in setting aside the assumptions that go with that kind of cosmogony and compre- hending the implications of the quite radically different Chinese views.* The historical evidence concerning creation myths in early China (down to the third century B.c.) has been summed up and‘evaluated by Derk Bodde. He notes that in the whole range of early Chinese myths and of myths present in early China, only the P'an—ku legend can be called a creation story. But this was an obscure tale in early China, if indeed it was known at all. Why has this story become important in our time? A probable answer is that Chinese in the past century or more have been repeatedly asked, "What is China's crea— tion story?” by outsiders who have assumed that all civilizations must explain the existence of the world in conceptually analogous ways. - ’ Realizing what the outsiders want, the Chinese have found the P an-ku " Tu Wei-ming. "The Continuity of Being: Chinese Visions of Nature." Reprinted in Tu Wei-ming, Confucian Thought: Selflwod as Creative Transfomiation. Albany, N.Y.: State University Press of New York, 1985. pp. 35—53. The quotations are found on pages 35 and 38. CHAPTER 2 THE BEGINNINGS OF A WORLD VIEW 15 story the most convenient reply. But we must remember that the question itselfwas not a set question in the traditional civilization, and the Chinese traditionally did not formulate their central ideas in re— sponse to alien questions. Bodde has demonstrated that the P'an—ku legend was late in making its appearance in China, not being known in any records that can be dated before the third century AD. By that time China’s distinctive cosmogony had long been fully worked out. He shows, moreover, that the alien origin of the legend must be assumed. It probably came from India where a very similar creation story is known, though there are also parallels that could have been 'the source of the Chinese version in the legends of the Miao (Meo) people of South China and Southeast Asia. As stated earlier "cosmology" is the effort to conceptualize what the world, or the cosmos, is and "cosmogony" is an explanation of how the cosmos came into being. Cosmologies and cosmogonies range from primitive myths to modern physics. Ancient China's cosmology and cosmogony seem somehow closer to the explanations offered by modern physics than to those we find in myths and religious systems. Yet that is not to suggest that the ancient Chinese were "scientific" beyond their time; it would be more accurate to suggest that their curious and unique conceptualizations happen to be suggestive of modern scientific explanations. but that they were arrived at by quite different intellectual routes. The genuine Chinese cosmoéadrf is that of organismic process, meaning that all the parts of the entire cosmos belong to one organic whole and'that they all interact as participants in one spontaneously self—generating life process. Recently Joseph Needham and Wang Ling have provided the contemporary terminology and concepts with which to explain the Chinese cosmology to modern Western minds. Yet the field of China studies has been slow to respond to this aspect of their work. The older, misleading analogies to Western conceptions continue to appear in writings and in translations of old Chinese texts. Yet even before Needham and Wang extensively demonstrated the nature and the implications of Chinese cosmological thinking, the distinctiveness of the Chinese world conception had been noticed by some authorities. In 1949 jung had noted: “The ancient Chinese mind contemplates the cosmos in a way comparable to that of the modern physicist, who cannot deny that his model of the world is a decidedly l6 INTELLECTUAL FOUNDATIONS OF CHINA psychophysical structure."* Needham, analyzing that Chinese model, calls it “an ordered harmony of wills without an ordainer."+ As he describes the organismic Chinese cosmos, it emerges to our full view as one in striking contrast to all other world conceptions known to human history. It differs from other organismic conceptions, such as classic Greek cosmologies in which a logos or demiurge or otherwise conceived master will external to creation was regarded as necessary for existence. And it contrasts still more strikingly with the ancient Semitic traditions that led to subsequent Christian and Islamic con- ceptions of creation ex nihilo by the hand of God, or through the will of God, and all other such mechanistic, teleological, and theistic cos- mologies. Our civilization has been so long content in those narrow confines that we have found it next to impossible even to comprehend the wholly different nature of the traditional Chinese world view. Bodde and Needham have fully demonstrated that a distinctive Chinese cosmology exists, and indeed many scholars of the past cen- tury have indicated their awareness of the essential aspects of the full story. The evidence is overwhelming, but it has not been so much challenged as simply ignored. If we are to take it seriously, we must ask the questions about what relevance a culture's cosmological orienta- tions should be expected to have for the other aspects of its history. Implications of Chinese Cosmogony If we believe, as the Chinese have believed, that people more or less consciously make their own history, we might expect this distinctive aspect of Chinese consciousness to bear some relationship to the areas of Chinese history that are different from our OWn. Or noting this essential point of distinctiveness in the ideological realm, we may then be able to discover related differences that we have failed to note heretofore. The implications of China’s world view for all aspects of Chinese history merit some exploratory thinking and speculation. The _—__—’__————— * IChina, p. xxiv. ‘I’ Joseph Needham and Wang Ling. Science and Civilization in China, vol. 2, p. 287. I6 vols. to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1954—. CHAPTER 2 THE BEGINNINGS OF A WORLD VIEW l7 following seven points of possible relevance may serve to indicate the scope and significance of the issue. CHINESE SPIRITS AND "GODS" The early Chinese, and in fact Chinese of all ages, have accepted the view that "spiritual" beings exist. They are spiritual in the sense that they somehow exist apart from normal human life, but material in that they represent different states of matter. Spirits of deceased persons continue to linger about, the lighter and heavier parts of their noncorporeal selves having separ- ated from the corpse at the moment breath (ch'i, or "spirit") left it. These then separately go their more terrestrial or more ethereal ways- for a time (on the basis of affinity between their substance and earth or air), until they at last return indistinguishany again into the flux of universal matter. By that time, if not sooner, they have lost all traces of the individual’s identity. This is an essentially naturalistic concep— tion, in that it describes "spirit" as having the same qualities and as being subject to the same processes as all other aspects of nature. It is true that in the vulgarized versions of this rather philosophical conception, spirits sometimes began to resemble “gods.” They were also somewhat colored in later ages by vulgarized Buddhist notions of transmigration and karma. Even those I'a'l’iEif‘fiovt‘i‘ons adapted more to Chinese views than the other way around. The speculative issue is that whatever spiritual beings or spiritual forces the ancient Chinese were apt to acknowledge and venerate, by the limitations of their cosmology, none was capable of being dignified above all others as something external to the cosmos and therefore not subject to its dynamic process or as the ultimate cause behind it all, responsible for existence. If no supergod could be granted such a function, then the prime impulse toward monotheism was lacking. But monotheism becomes necessary only where a particular concept of casuality is accepted. Modern writers such as Carl Jung and Hellmut Wilhelm have noted in their discussion of the Book of Changes the West's preference for "causality" and China's for "synchronicity," which are fundamentally different explanations of the relationships among events. Western scholars tend to assume that all religions show parallel tendencies and that higher religions are those that have succeeded in becoming monotheistic. The Chinese example seems to make such assumptions irrelevant because Chinese religion simply was not on 18 INTELLECTUAL FOUNDATIONS OF CHINA that track. China produced little that resembles what in other high cultures scholars have usually called the mature development of reli- gion and no tendencies toward monotheism at all. Moreover the lesser gods and spirits that the Chinese did venerate, on various levels of their culture and for various reasons, tended to merge with other aspects of nature and retain less separate significance than their coun— terparts elsewhere (for example, animistic cult objects, saints, members of the innumerable pantheons of other cultures). This suggests that highly generalized statements about culture derived from observations of other cultures should not be unquestioningly applied and that what has been described as primitive polytheism or rudimentary pantheism in Chinese popular religion may signify something else. By mid—Chou times there had occurred a development clearly reflected in the early works such as the Book of Changes: The concept of t’ien, called heaven or nature, which had been an anthropomorphic conception of a dei- fied ancestor a millennium earlier, had become an abstract conception of cosmic function. This change reflects what many scholarly works have described as an apparent biit unexplained rise of rationalism in Chinese culture in this period. The Chinese world view, properly understood, offers much help in explaining this. Other features of Chinese religion also can be better understood when freed from im— plicit assumptions about universal analogies in the way people think. All the foregoing discussion of gods and spirits or of Chinese conceptions that might be translated by those loosely used English terms, may depict the Chinese as "more rational" than other peoples. To some extent that may be the consequence of our modern prefer- ence for rationality imposing itself on the phenomena we study; in short, as moderns we see rationality because we hope to find it. Insofar as we make that error our argument for greater rationality in Chinese conceptions of spiritual forces and beings would be defective. in gen- eral however it is hard to escape the feeling that early Chinese thought was less concerned with fervid religiosity and with the nonrational modes of dealing with life's uncertainties than were many other early . civilizations. That is, regardless of how members of the upper echelons of Chinese society, the group we know most about, may themselves have felt about such things as death and immortality, or benevolent and malevolent spirits, the Chinese high tradition did not encourage them to invoke otherworldly powers, for there were none. All CHAPTER 2 THE BEGINNINGS OF A WORLD VIEW l9 phenomena were of this world, and there was reasonable hope of explaining or understanding them even if, as in Taoism, the under— standing might defy verbalization. Much less did that high tradition, as we encounter it in the formal philosophizing, declare that the reasoning mind should grant higher value to truths that must be accepted on faith alone, as did Christianity and other religions. St. Thomas Aquinas developed Aristotelian rationality to the utmost in formulating his five ways of knowing that God exists, but still held that the believer must go beyond those ways to accept God's existence on faith. To him this ultimate tenet ofthe religious life is a matter of belief, ,not reason. The Chinese Great Tradition, under no necessity to con— sider the issue ofa supreme creator God, did not need to elevate faith over reason. Stressing rational arguments in, above all, ethical and social issues, its intellectual problems were seldom extended into realms that demanded faith in truths that could not be reached by the various ways of knowing. That is not to say that the Chinese were not aware of and often highly favorable toward intuitive knowledge. Intuition is not reason, for the process by which one intuitively knows is not subject to analysis and reasoned understanding. Nonetheless to intuit is to know and to know with great certainty (even should the knowledge so acquired prove to be erroneous); it is not like faith which demands that one believe without knowing. St. Thomas Aquinas, all his rationality not— withstanding, had a mystical religious experience a few months before his death; after that he declared that the certainty of knowledge he achieved through that intuitive knowing experience rendered his life- long work of writing and formulating argumentation quite meaningless by comparison. He was not describing the leap of faith (which he held to be necessary for a believing Christian), but an experience of direct, immediate knowing. We shall see that some Chinese thinkers also accepted the validity of intuitive knowledge, some holding it to be equal to or superior to inference and reason and other rational modes of knowing via the senses and the reflecting mind. China’s Great Tradition accepted different epistemologies, but itidid not lend sup- port to the manifold and widespread modes of believing and acting that by-passed the pursuit of knowledge, and most Chinese thinkers stressed the soberly rational ways of pursuing it. The truths of religion were no exception, at least at that high level of their pursuit. 20 INTELLECTUAL FOUNDATTONS OF CHINA IMPACT ON INSTITUTIONS We can speak with much less cer- tainty about the religious belief of the common peOple in early China than we can about the religious elements preserved in the documents of the Great Tradition. But it seems justified to say that any theistic tendencies in p0pular religious practices, or tendencies to elevate cer— tain spirits to the level of general gods, must have been greatly weak— ened by the fact that the Great Tradition did not and, in its increasing rationalism through early Chou times, could not give any support to such tendencies. How remote from the lives of the ordinary pe0ple is a Great Tradition? Is it a crystallization of popular culture raised to a higher level of rationalization, or is it a counter force? For very early periods especially, it is diflicult to know. Later on in imperial Chinese society, the belief in the active possibility of social mobility—perhaps even more than the actual statistical incidence of it—kept the different levels of cultural life highly coherent and congruent. Each level was an active model to be imitated by the one below. Hence China’s Great Tradition, an antitheistic, nonteleological and essentially rational set of ideas, had a greater capacity to exert the influence of broadened versions of its essential characteristics upon popular culture than it would have had in a civilization with a closed society and a more rigidly stratified cultural form. An open society, gradually achieved during the last preimperial centuries, coupled with the cosmological content of the Chinese Great Tradition, must also have worked to keep religion weak in all its formalized and institutionalized forms. That is not to imply that the early Chinese were irreligious, but that institutionalizing tendencies could not easily become important in the sphere of religion, and people’s religion remained a matter of private and decentralized family practice, or at least of no more than local organization. Institutionalizing tendencies, present in most religions as observed in most societies, were not very important among the Chinese for still another reason: Their cosmic process lacked a mechanistic concept. A cosmic dynamism like that conceived by the early Chinese, fully ex— plicable in terms merely of its internal harmony and the balance among the parts of a conceptually known but also naturalistlcally observed world organism, does not lend itself to the development of formal social instrumentalities—of churches, or of political systems working alongside churches—for achieving goals that religion may define and sanction. Some religions provide the convenient analogy of CHAPTER 2 THE BEGINNINGS OF A WORLD vuzw 21 a god who will assist the political order in restraining deviations from its norms. But in ancient China, the workings of harmony furnished no usefully explicit analogies for humans to imitate and provided no suprarational authority to be borrowed by those who might try to do so. THE PROBLEM OF EVIL The late Dr. Hu Shih, eminent historian of Chinese thought and culture, used to say with sly delight that centuries of Christian missionaries had been frustrated and chagrined by the apparent inability of Chinese to take sin seriously. Were we to ,work out fully all the consequences for Chinese society of the model offered by an organismic cosmos functioning through the dynamism of harmony, we might well be able to relate the absence of a sense of sin to it. For in such a cosmos there can be no parts wrongfully present; everything that exists belongs, even if no more appropriately than as the consequence of a temporary imbalance, a disharmony. Evil as a positive or active force cannot exist; much less can it be frighteningly personified. No devils can struggle with good forces for mastery of humans and the universe, and people's errors, unlike sin in other worlds, can neither offend personal gods nor threaten a person’s indi— vidual existence. The question of immortality in a future that “really counts"—if one is lucky enough or good enough to transcend the material present reality—does not even arise. This being true in the Great Tradition, countertendencies in the popular religions in China's highly congruent culture were correspondingly weakened. CONSEQUENCES OF A WORLD WITHOUT SIN The conse- quence of such a definition of the problem of evil for the Chinese character seems to be something like the issue at stake in the frequently encountered distinction between shame cultures and guilt cultures. Whether this formula, derived by anthropologists from observations of relatively simple cultures, will have lasting value when applied to a civilization as complex as that of traditional China may be questioned. But it suggests that further hypotheses about Chinese national charac— ter and Chinese personality types might well be guided by some refer, ence to a cosmology which apparently releases people from the mechanical workings of fear and sin doctrines, and offers them a less threatened and less threatening personal relationship to their cosmos. Yet Chinese ethical philosophy in all periods stresses the necessity to 22 INTELLECTUAL FOUNDATIONS OF CHINA engage in self-examination and self—correction; the philosophic foun— dations for moral responsibility Were not lacking. THE SOURCES OF AUTHORITY Let us extend this point to consider what it may have done to, or for, a whole people whose civilization lacks any sense of a creator—creature relationship. The indi— vidual in such a situation is not humbled before an omniscient, omni- present, and omnipotent creator-ruler. In one sense, a Chinese man's or woman's relationship to his or her anceStors might seem to serve analogously. Yet the quality of such a relationship is radically different. For example, medieval Christians could escape a theoretically less- binding paternal authority by making a profession of serving the ines- capable one of God the Father; sons who had or who wanted no place in a particular human family could join the clergy and be called Father by everyone. Chinese sons could not escape the responsibilities of filial submission in a sublimated or substitute way; even in the eyes of the state, filial responsibility had priority over loyalty to ruler and state. In which culture, it must be asked, was paternal authority the more binding? And which granted the individual the stronger sense of being his own master? It is easier to conclude that Chinese society should have reflected fundamental points of difference due to its different definitions of individual responsibility and of authority than it is to define these. How, for example, did the Chinese cosmology provide any basis for the authority to make social and ethical norms effective? The relationship of Chinese cosmology to the theory and practice of law has been rather extensively debated and speculated upon. Yet perhaps more could be said about the lack of divinely revealed commandment in the Chinese cultural tradition and the effect of that lack upon the nature of law, since the contrast with our own cultural tradition at this point is so striking. In a civilization like the Chinese where there are only human sources (or, among the Taoists, "natural" sources) of authority, law could scarcely be expected to achieve the significance it possessed in civilizations where it was based on a superrational and unchallengeable law of God that commanded all creatures—and states as well—to enforce its literal prohibitions. Nor in China could there be any priestly enforcers of divine commandment, or even secular rulers enforcing divine law or civil law armed with the authority derived by some analogy between man’s and God’s laws. Clearly the CHAPTER 2 THE BEGINNINGS OF A WORLD VIEW 23 widely different institutions of church and state derived some of their characteristics from the differing cosmological orientations of the soci- eties in which they developed. THE SECULAR HARMONIOUS WORLD The all—enfolding har- mony of impersonal cosmic function can be seen to serve analogous, yet qualitatively different, ends from those provided by cosmologies oriented toward a supreme power that knowingly directs the cosmos. The Chinese world view kept one's attention on life here and now and made Chinese thinkers responsible for ordaining the forms and pat— terns of that life. The ritualized society of China can be adequately explained only in terms of its own cosmology; the relationship of the one to the other is direct and primary. One might cite a wide spectrum of rather puzzling problems in Chinese cultural and social history, from the large and grave role assigned to the Book of Changes by so many ofChina's best and most social-minded thinkers, to the imperial government's seemingly inconsistent role, in view of the rational tone of its Great Tradition, in fostering a range of popular religious prac— tices. These may seem less puzzling if we remember that the rituals of state, the auguries of the Book of Changes, and the popular religions tolerated by or even patronized by the state and the leaders of local society, all were secular. The forces they addressed (sincerely or other— wise) were forces of this world on a par with mankind as parts of the world of nature. The Chinese landscape has always been filled with venerated or fearsome spirits, demons, local gods, cult figures, and hungry ghosts. The state sought to formalize the people's relations to those, as it also was held to be responsible for supervising many of ' mankind’s relations with the forces of nature in the organismic cos« mos. Did it place strains on the philosophically grounded upholders of the high tradition to acknowledge practices and beliefs that their philosophy denied? Perhaps. But one does not sense the kind of almost . conspiratorial estrangement from politics and society on the part of philosophers in ancient China that has been described for classical philosophy in the West.* Yet there was one fundamental difference in * Allan Bloom. The Closing ofthe American Mind. New York: Simon 6!. Schustcr, I987. Especially "The Relation between Thought and Civil Society" and "The Philosophi- cal Experience," pp. 256—284. Z4 INTELLECTUAL FOUNDATIONS OF CHINA the way the world was managed in ancient China. Categorizing "here— sies" and combating “dangerous cults" in that world of harmonious process also occurred, but it was done in ways only superficially analo— gous to the way such problems were managed in, for example, the world of premodern Christendom. In Christendom as in other soci‘ eties dominated by revealed religions, the imperative for combating heresies and dangerous cults could draw upon religion's nonrational sources of authority. In China the justifications for such action might reflect the state's interests or the norms of social practice as maintained by local elites, neither of which was necessarily reasonable. Or they could enlist the reasoning minds of philosophers (and scholar—officials educated in philosophy in later imperial times) although philosophers’ distance from political action, there as elsewhere, allowed them little direct involvement. Regardless of what forces were used to manage dissidence, the important difference in the Chinese case is that neither political regimes nor social leaders intent on quelling deviant thought and behavior, nor the philosophers and guardians of the high tradi— tion, could claim to represent the exclusive truths of revealed religion. That conditioned attitudes and modes of behavior. A more thoughtful consideration of the ways in which the Chinese world view affected all aspects of society will help us understand China. TIME—SPACE CONCEPTS Of great interest is the problem of time concepts or of time—space concepts. The word for cosmology in Chi- nese is yii-clwu-kuan, or the uconcept of yil and Chou." These two syllables literally mean "eaves" and "ridgepole," parts of a roof, or the boundary markers of a known kind of enclosed space. But they also have very early explanations, going all the way back to the fourth century B.C. and the text of the Chuang Tzu, of the separate ideas of time and space. The cosmos thus is explained in terms of people's awareness of their place in time and space. Needham compares early Chinese thought to what he calls the Whiteheadian preference for reticular relationship, or “process,” whereas Western thought has been deeply influenced by the Newtonian preference for “particulate, catenary" causal explanation; that is, Whitehead describes the cosmic process as a netlike interweaving of events, while Newton conceives of it as a series of discrete events linked in a causal chain. The cosmic process, the Chinese felt, in a many-sided fashion affects one's life within it, because each person is an active element in that process. CHAPTER 2 THE BEGINNINGS OF A WORLD VIEW 25 This cosmology made necessary two kinds of time. One was cyclic cosmic time, with no beginning point, no Year One. Stages of cosmic “process” (for example, the generative process of the self—contained cosmos itself) were seen as a set of logical, not chronological, relation- ships. The cosmic process is one in which all stages are simultaneously present. The other kind of time, however, was the developmental, linear time ofhuman history, in which human cumulative achievement in devising culture had its beginning point, suggested if not precisely known. History, culture, and people's conceptions of their ideal roles all must be explained in terms of Chinese cosmology, and not—if we really want to understand Chinese civilization—by implicit analogy to ours. It is not too much to suggest that an ill—detected cosmological gulf separates Western civilization, as well as other civilizations including Eastern ones, from Chinese civilization. Hence the records of Chinese culture must be interpreted, and the texts translated and retranslated until our inadvertent uses of historical and cultural analogy are de- tected, weighed, and, if necessary, corrected. It is somewhat awesome to realize that this is a task the Chinese also have to perform, for the mirror images of these same problems of interpretation of our culture in terms of theirs also exist for them to grapple with. We may speculate that all national cultural peculiarities and identi- ties will tend to diminish and even disappear in the future, as science provides us not only with increasingly uniform technologies, but also with a new universal (as all things in science must strive to be) cos— mogony and cosmology. In fact the cleavages within societies in which a science-oriented elite coexists with a mass population still tied to religiously derived cosmologies, as in our own society, may be greater than any difference between traditional China on its side ofthe cosmo- logical gulf and our civilization on this side of it. But science cannot be expected to homogenize all cultures rapidly enough for us to be spared the trouble of understanding those different from our own. We must first of all be ready to conceive of and prepared to observe the most essential and consequential differences. 46 INTELLECTUAL FOUNDATIONS OF CHINA caricature of Confucius easily becomes ridiculous. But Lnost people who have tried to practice the Confucian principles 9n the basis of their own reading of the Confucian texts, as most the governors of the Chinese-‘ihthe last two thousand years ha ‘ done, are forcefully reminded of the Me's great practical com n sense and are usefully instructed by his keeftobservation of an nature. To have united these realistic features witha contin y inspiring sense of the nobility of human life is Confucius' ' g contribution to Chinese civiliza- tion. And to have done thi 'so duringly, while himself remaining .indeed. Every Ch' ese, educated or illiterat rowing up on the Ana- of daily speech, has no a fear-inspiring monster. To have remained a mere ma while suming so momentous a role in history is the rarest of human achievements. Mencius Mencius is the Latinized form of the name of Meng K’o. He lived from about 372 to 289 B.C. and was a native of the very small state .called Tsou, lying adjacent to Confucius' native state of Lu,. and similar to it in cultural traditions. He is the second great figure in the develop ment of Confucian thought. . . During the century between the death of ConfuCius and the birth of Mencius, no single figure had the stature to dominate the school of thought he had created. His disciples tended to emphasue dlStl?Cltl aspects of his teachings; narrower minds often failed to grasp-the u scope of his thinking and became ever more absorbed in pursuing eve: smaller aspects of it. Separate traditions assoc1ated With genealogies of master—student relationships developed. Some late Chou. accounts refer to three or four distinct Confucian schools that acquired some identity of their own. One stressed filial piety and the spiritual and ethical concerns of the teachings. A second school became deeply involved in the study of ritual (Ii), and tended to regard ceremonies CHAPTER 3 EARLY CONFUCIANISM 47 as formal religious Observances to be more rigidly observed than Con- fucius seems to have intended, and as more directly regulative in their social implications. A third school stressed the practice of politics. And a fourth school became noted for its purely philosophical and even metaphysical specialization. These separate schools-with their special characteristics need not be decried as degenerations of the founder’s spirit. They also manifest the Confucian school's capacity for growth and accommodation to the new needs of a rapidly maturing civiliza- By the time Mencius appeared on the scene, he himself provides evidence of the degree to which certain Confucian innovations had become standard features of the society. Confucianism was a school of teachings, and its method of education really set it apart. The profession of the teacher was by Mencius' time well established; so also was the idea of “getting an education" as preparation for a career. Since the Confucian education meant above all access to and study of books, a great deal of the energy of the societv went into vonvint: and crrculmng texts, recording interpretations of them, and arguing about them. The "author" idea had appeared, although philosophical dis— course was still primarily oral. Distinct positions in thought beyond the Confucian school had emerged, and debates between thinkers had become a standard activity both at courts, where such debates always had implications for government policy, and in the marketplace, where they were a form of entertainment. This was the height of the Golden Age of Chinese philosophy; all the conditions of the time made for diversity and encouraged original— ity—an originality limited only by the crucial fact of the cultural monism ofthe ancient Chinese world. The ancient Mediterranean was a culturally pluralistic world of great diversity, albeit of high—level communication and dissemination of ideas. The Chinese, in contrast, knew no other high civilization until they became vaguely, distantly, and inaccurately aware of India through Buddhism half a millennium or more later, and not really directly until the West began to make a significant impact on Chinese minds in the nineteenth century. But within the culturally single world of ancient China there ex— isted, in those last preimperial centuries, certain conditions ofdiversity that were scarcely ever achieved again. There were many states, more or less on a par with each other, competing openly for the best brains and the most effective state policies. There was an increasing measure 48 INTELLECTUAL FOUNDATIONS OF CHlNA of social mobility breaking down the earlier conformity within fixed social classes. There was no sense of state orthodoxy, except in one or two exceptional states and for relatively short periods; competition among ideas and schools of thought was not limited. The wandering teacher-scholar—expert role that Confucius had played with such indif— ferent results had become a recognized public role of importance. Mencius exemplified it to the full. Great public interest in such figures and their ideas folloWed their appearances at the ducal courts of the time and encouraged response to their ideas. Finally, it was a period of disorder and dislocation creating serious problems in whose solu- tion many people had an interest, and most people felt that such problems were challenges to their ingenuity, ethical sense, learning, or other human capacities. Hence the great burgeoning of thought. Mencius was like Confucius in being considered the most learned man of his age. He was generally acknowledged by the Confucians of his time as their spokesman; he restored to the Confucian school a unity and cohesion it had lacked since the death of Confucius. But the changes that had occurred, especially the growth of the school itself, made Mencius' role quite unlike that of Confucius. He could travel about with all the pretensions and sense of self—importance appropriate to the successful spokesman of a great movement. And he did. There is more than just a suggestion that Mencius was a man who took himself rather seriously, was almost pompous in his bearing. His en- tourage resembled that of the great lords and kings. Yet there is also a great sense of his expansive nature, his warmth of personality, and his vast spirit. It is easier to caricature him than any other great figure in Confucian history, but the apt caricature cannot deprive his personality of its undoubted force and value. His book, the Mencius, is of considerably greater bulk than The Analects. It probably was written by the man himself in the sense that he went over it as a text and improved it as a permanent record of his ideas. It has more linguistic unity than The Analects, but it still is more a record of perhaps idealized conversations than a collection of literary essays to be read—let alone to be read as formal philosophical arguments. Mencius made his greatest contributions to Confucian thought in two widely separated areas. In each he took problems inherited from Confucius, problems which because of the incomplete stage of their development in the master’s thought had become grounds of conten- tion among later Confucians. In each he pressed for solutions that go CHAPTER 3 EARLY CONFUCIANISM 49 distinctly beyond the record of Confucius’ own thought, although they are made to seem quite logical extensions of Confucian viewpoints. The first is his contribution to the theory of human nature; the second lies in the area of political theory. Both reflect the typical concern with psychological issues, even though this may not be immediately appar— ent in the case of the second. Confucius does not give a clear—cut answer to the question about the basic quality ofhuman nature, probably because the question itselfwas not formulated so early. But his great emphasis on human psychology in relation to ethical problems made it inevitable that the problem of whether human nature was fundamentally good or bad would eventu— ally arise. Confucius spoke constantly about jen (benevolence or good— ness); making a sharp distinction between righteousness and profit, he said that a man of jen must strive for righteousness* and ignore issues of immediate profit or benefit. He never gave an adequate theoretical explanation of what it is in human nature that makes a person wish to be so altruistic. So many theories began to be discussed, for example, that individuals were good, or bad, or neutral, or both good and bad, or that some are good and others are bad. Mencius argued with propo— nents of the various theories, insisting that all people are clearly good by nature. Hsiin Tzu in the next generation insisted on the opposite answer and, in their ways, both are equally Confucian. Eventually Confucianism developed some compromise solutions, but historically the Mencian solution to this philosophical problem ultimately became the more important and influential one among theorizers, even if Hsiin Tzu’s views long seemed more realistic to the doers. Mencius said that all people are good at birth, but that they may be corrupted into developing bad practices and habits of mind by the environment about them unless they strive to preserve and develop their innate goodness. All people have their animal nature which—in distinctive Chinese fashion—is neither good nor bad in itself, but which is capable of making everyone do bad things to himselfor herself and to others. Everyone is born with the incipient beginnings or the “buds” of benevolence or goodness (jen); righteousness (yi); respect or M—E * "Righrness. acting with a sense of justice"; the Chinese word lacks the sense of smug self‘righreousness the English word may connote. 50 INTELLECTUAL FOUNDATIONS OF CHINA propriety (ii); and the knowing capacity, especially the capacity to distinguish good from bad (chili). These moral capacities are innate, and each person must let them develop fully and express themselves in mature ethical behavior. They can be obscured, but not totally obliterated. His proof, typically a proof not theoretically sound, but simply an apt and compelling observation of human psychology, is that the basest‘scoundrel, on seeing a child teetering at the edge of a well in peril of falling in and drowning, would instinctively be moved to commiseration and would try to rescue the child without hesitating even a moment to calculate issues of advantage. Lest this “proof” of an important point about human nature seem evidence of Mencius' simple—mindedness, it should be noted that he offers very sophisticated discussions of the differences between human and animal nature, of the way a person’s material and sexual needs may override one's humane judgment, and of the effects of environment on human na- ture. He had a subtle appreciation for all the complexities of human life, and yet he remained Optimistic about it. People, having the four inherent moral tendencies, should then cultivate them to the limit, and the limit in any case is ultimate perfec- tion. All human nature is ultimately perfectible; its innate qualities imply an egalitarian view of human nature itself and an extreme opti— mism about humanity and society. This optimism contributed to the Confucian theory of education, both furthering its already egalitarian spirit and stressing its social significance. The way to improve society clearly was to bring to its service the best among its latent human resources. Mencius' view that all people are potential sages enhanced the perception of fundamental dignity; 'this helped to maintain the humanistic import of Confucianism. Mencius' political theory went even further. According to Confu— cius and the Confucian school generally, the state exists because it ought to exist, because it is the logical culmination of natural human relationships. It has ethical significance because people are meant to associate with other people in ways that tend to bring out the best in everyone; such an association of humanity in society naturally implies the existence of the state. But the kind of state is not specified. The options were not many. Nothing but the monarchical family-state had ever existed in the ken of any Chinese, and the assumption in the minds of all Chinese was that some form of monarchy centralizing ultimate political authority would have to exist. Within that definition of the form of the state, a range of possibilities existed. CHAPTER 3 EARLY CONFUClANlSM 51 Mencius lived in times even more troubled than those of Confu- cius, the date of whose death conventionally begins an era known as the Period of the Warring States. Two kinds of government, or two poles in a spectrum of types, existed in Mencius' eyes. At one end, existing mainly in the idealized historical memory of the Chinese, was “kingly” government. At the other end was government by naked force, exercised in the name of a king by a military overlord or pa. The progressive militarization of society in this period produced ever more of the latter and with it ever more wars and violence. Mencius was extremely sensitive to the people's sufferings because of violence and , disorder, so he railed constantly against the evils of government by force. Utilizing the doctrine of the rectification of names, he declared that when a ruler fails to be a kingly ruler, he is no longer a king and the people have the right to resist him, to rebel against him, and if necessary even to kill him in the course of rebellion, for by that doctrine “tyrannicide is not regicide." This position seems to make Mencius a political radical. In fact his position is philosophically radical but politically conservative, in some ways rather more so than that of Confucius. Philosophically, however, Mencius proposed a doctrine that is, while not explicitly anthropocen- tric, nonetheless quite radically humanistic: By the logical extension of the right to rebellion, he declared that the people are the most impor— tant element in a state and the ruler the least important. He went still further and said that the Mandate of Heaven that gave the ruler his position was tantamount to the expression of the people's satisfaction. By saying "Heaven hears as the people hear; Heaven sees as the people see," Mencius not only made the peoplethe ultimate standard for judging government, but made man the standard .for Heaven itself. “Heaven” to Mencius meant Nature, or the ethical cosmic order in toto. That does not, to be sure, say that the universe is to be viewed only in terms of human experience, but it takes the well—being of human society as the measure of Nature's proper functioning. It is an uncompromising statement of humanism. At the same time, in politi— cal’science terminology, “Mencius believed that the ultimate sover- eignty lay with the people."* Yet he did not propose institutional changes that would go beyond his concern “for the people" to achieve * K. C. Hsiao. A History of Chinese Political Thought. English edition. Princeton, NJ.: Princeton University Press, [979, p. 158. l 52 INTELLECTUAL FOUNDATIONS OF CHlNA government “by the people." “Heaven's agent," meaning a new dynas— tic founder, would restore benevolent government for the good of the people in due time. Mencius left a set of political propositions that on the surface seem to embody a number of unresolved contradictions. Some of them are as follows: la. Mencius said every man can be a Yao or a Shun (perfect sage). b. Mencius urged that hereditary official emolument should be restored. 2a. Mencius stressed the apprOpriateness of ancient models, although not exclusively those of the Chou dynasty. b. Mencius spoke with anticipation of a new order to be founded by a new king. 3a. Mencius courageously told kings to their faces that the common people were more important than themselves. b. Mencius justified the privileges and prerogatives of the ruling aristocracy (yet told kings that their relatives should be sacked if they could not serve the people's needs). 4a. Mencius urged the loyalty of scholars to rulers. b. Mencius approved of rebellion, even of tyrannicide. These sets of apparently contradictory statements can be taken as parts of a whole view of society and government in which the inner consist- ency stems from Mencius' basic concepts: that jen is the way of govern— ment, that to nourish the people is the prime task of government, and that the commiserating human mind-heart (jen-hsin) is the instrument of the government. The doctrine of “the rectification of names" read- ily solves the apparent problem in number 4, for example. To Confucius the proper models of government lay quite literally in the Institutes of Chou. To Mencius they lay in ideals he himself formulated out of a broader view of the mythologized past, and they thus transcended the limitations of Chou models. Confucius would have been scandalized! But, it will be remembered, neither man had more than minimal involvement in the actual tasks of government. Hsiin Tzu, on the other hand, whose active years followed closely after Mencius’ death, knew the dayl-to—day work of government from long years of service. To Hsiin Tzu, the models of government lay in the concrete and rationally apprehended normative institutions of the entire Great Tradition, especially in its li or ritual ordinances. These CHAPTER 3 EARLY CONFUClANlSM S3 norms of government were validated not by reference to any particular period of history in the literal sense, but by their pragmatic effective- ness. He was therefore still more ready than Mencius to see the end ofthe long—defunct Chou order and its replacement by something that would work better. Confucius, Mencius, and Hsiin Tzu reflect three differing personalities and temperaments and also widely differing and progressively worsening disorders and political breakdown. At the same time, we must assume that the cultural level of the Chinese continuously advanced and matured, forcing political thinkers to ad— dress themselves to ever higher levels of political expectations. l Mencius is also important in the development of the Confucian school for pushing its thought in the direction of philosophical mysti- cism. Mysticism implies idealistic monism; that is, philosophical mysti- cism is a conception of reality as an extension of the mind and of the gnostic desirability of achieving some kind of awareness of the oneness of the knower and the known. Although Mencius is true to the Confu- cian orientation in being concerned primarily with the good of society here and now and with the practical and ethical concerns of life, these are not contradictory to philosophical (as opposed to primarily reli- gious) mysticism. Mencius established a Confucian ground for the subsequent development of thought in this direction, although for his time and some centuries thereafter Taoist thought was much more active in those pursuits. Mencius said that when man develops his mind, he knows his nature, and when he knows his own nature, he knows Heaven—by which he meant Nature or the cosmic order. He also said that there is a great ch’i (literally, "breath"; probably to Mencius some kind of vital spirit that pervades humanity and the universe). Everyone can develop this within oneself. "When I nourish this great breath within me,” Mencius wrote, "all things are then complete within me." He acknowledged that this was hard to understand and did not offer a full discussion of it. Yet it is central to his thought. It shows the great scope of the Confucian intellectual world and the range of problems it could legitimately claim as its own without abandoning its essential charac— ter. The polarization of the Confucian intellectual sphere was accom— plished very soon thereafter by Hsiin Tzu, who disagreed with Mencius on many things and whose influence on Confucian thought was much the greater during the first thousand years of the imperial period. We t. W-mmmmmmmmmw. 54 INTELLECTUAL FOUNDATIONS OF CHINA tend to forget this, because Nee—Confucianism has meant a great comeback for Mencius, who—nominally at least—dominated China's view of Confucian truth during the second thousand years of the imperial period, a millennium that has provided the lenses through which the Chinese of today as well as we ourselves largely see the Chinese past. Hsi‘m Tzu Hsun Ch'ing, who also had the given name of K'uang, never was important enough in the centuries of Western knowledge of China for his name to have been Latinized, otherwise we might be calling him Hsiincius. He lived from about 298 to 238 B.C. and was the last great mind to appear in the Confucian school before the imperial period. His impact on Confucian thought was initially very great, and through— out history Hsiin Tzu's orderly way of thinking has continued to appeal to many. Like Confucius and Mencius, he was a native of North China, and like them he was acknowledged to be the most learned man of his time. But unlike them, he spent the greatest part of his active life as a regional administrator in the local government of central China. He was therefore the first great Confucian philosopher to establish what was to become a pattern for the imperial period—the philosopher who devotes much of his life to the practical affairs of government. Also Hsiin Tzu was the first Confucian who wrote his works as philosophical arguments, as essays for other people to read. Thus we get from him fuller statements of problems and much fuller develop- ment of argumentation than we find in either Confucius or Mencius. He is much more satisfying and perhaps more convincing to read as a philosopher. Beyond that, however, he also had by far the most orderly mind in early Chinese thought. A no—nonsense toughness of mind and precision of statement comes through to the modern reader with force and clarity. Hsiin Tzu had the bad fortune to teach two bright young men who later left his school and repudiated Confucian teaching to take up the Legalist doctrines then competing actively with Confucianism as a theory of government. Since these two, the philosopher Han Fei Tzu and the statesman Li Ssu, made incalculable contributions to the ...
View Full Document

This note was uploaded on 08/08/2010 for the course RELIGIONS Asian 325 taught by Professor Jamesrobson during the Spring '07 term at University of Michigan-Dearborn.

Page1 / 13

Mote - STUDIES IN WORLD CIVILIZATION Intellectual...

This preview shows document pages 1 - 13. Sign up to view the full document.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Ask a homework question - tutors are online