AAS Annual Meeting

China and Inner Asia Session 579

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Session 579: Philosophy

Standing in the Bellows: The Place of Caves in the Daoshi’s Religious Consciousness
Ronnie Littlejohn, Belmont University, USA

The activities and religious experiences of the masters of the dao who stood both as the sources of and within the lineages that created the layers that became the Zhuangzi were connected with underground chambers, caves, and grottoes in so many cases that the association cannot be coincidental. This phenomenon also shows itself in the pre-Socratic philosophers of Greece from roughly the same time period and it has been much talked about in works such as those by Peter Kingsley (The Dark Places of Wisdom), Yulia Ustinova (Caves and the Ancient Greek Mind), and J. David Lewis-Williams (The Mind in the Cave). In this paper, I make use of the Zhuangzi, other materials in the Daozang, and my own research into Daoist cave sites and traditions to construct a picture of the role of caves in Daoist religious history, ritual and text. After an exposition of the place of the cave in Daoist text and practice, I consider briefly the work done on the phenomenology and neurophysiology of experiences of alternative consciousness and the relevance of the cave environment to these findings. Finally, I offer several explanations for why caves were so significant in Daoism and how experiences in them were relevant to its religious practitioners, the most fundamental notions of Daoism (e.g., wu-wei), and our understanding of early texts, including the Neiye and Daodejing.

Ancient Chinese Philosophers on Laziness. Action or Non-Action?
Anna Ghiglione, University of Montreal, Canada

This paper focuses on the theme of laziness in classical Chinese philosophical literature (prior to the foundation of the empire by the Qin dynasty in 221 B.C.). Several pre-Qin thinkers actually condemned idleness in their doctrines, whilst praising effort and engagement for the development of human nature and of moral consciousness. Despite their contrasting views, Confucian and Mohist philosophers regarded inactivity as the root of social instability, political disorder and economic distress. In their writings, laziness is also characterized as a sign of unacceptable insubordination, disobedience to “the superiors” and lack of filial piety. With the exception of some ideological essays and distortions, the theme of laziness in Chinese philosophical literature has been relatively neglected thus far. Scholars mainly concentrated on the doctrine of non-action (wu wei). Its doubtless importance has somehow provoked a certain disinterest for other fundamental values, norms and ideals such as human work, strife, endeavour and, consequently, for the disapproval of idleness. In my paper, I will address the question of a possible compatibility between a philosophy of spontaneous, effortless action and a moral teaching grounded on strife, engagement and work. For material reasons, I will only quote a few excerpts, mainly drawn from the Lunyu, the Xunzi and the Mozi. I will also try to give a comprehensive account of the vision of laziness in ancient Chinese philosophy through a lexicological analysis of the semantic fields of some key-words such as dai, duo, often translated as “laziness”.

Theorizing the Culturally Unprecedented: Cultural Difference as Historical DiscontinuityAafter May Fourth
Leigh K. Jenco, London School of Economics and Political Science, United Kingdom

Most contemporary cross-cultural philosophy inscribes culture as a background condition in which interpreters are always-already embedded, limiting their ability to do more than dialogically engage the culturally other. In order to break with our culture and fully realize the foreign, we must also break with our past, and this seems impossible to do. Yet this seeming impossibility defined one of the most influential cross-cultural moments in Chinese history, the May Fourth Movement, which sought to replace China’s “old” feudal traditions with the West’s “new” science and democracy. When Zhang Shizhao rejected May Fourth aspirations to totalistic newness as an ontologically impossible break with the old, he prompted a decade of productive reflection on the conditions for social realization of the culturally unprecedented—leading Zhang Dongsun to furnish a theory of evolutionary discontinuity, and Li Dazhao to formulate a new historiography capable of registering revolutionary social transformation. Their debate contributes to contemporary discussions of cross-cultural engagement by suggesting ways that culture may be usefully operationalized as a _historical_ condition, which is politically mediated and subject to change through time, rather than as an epistemological frame that constrains understanding. They thus help us theorize engagement with foreign thought in a more radically self-transformative way than currently conceived: learning from foreign others is not simply a matter of dialogically negotiating embedded differences and similarities, but also of opening existing domestic situations to transformation and re-interpretation by diverse actors over time.

Confucianism as a Living Tradition in 21st-Century China
Yong Chen, El Colegio de Mexico, Mexico

The cultural trends of China during the past three decades have so far manifested fast-shifting motifs. If 1980s can be called the decade of “culture fever”, and 1990s the decade of “state learning”, it won´t be too off the mark to call the first ten years of the 21st century as the decade of “Confucian revival”. It needs to keep in mind that this Confucian revival is different from the ascendance of Confucian scholarship, which as an integral part of the “state learning” fever has merely characterized the intellectual landscape of China since the early 1990s. In defiance of Joseph Levenson´s declaration that Confucianism had lost its initiative at the end of the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) and Yu Yingshi´s lamentation that Confucianism has become a “wandering ghost”, and in contrast to the state patronage of Confucius Institute 孔子学院 and to the Communist Party´s campaign to establish a “harmonious society”, the quiet but steady revitalization of Confucianism as a living tradition from the grassroots has made its way into national consciousness and has emerged as a fascinating cultural phenomenon in 21st century China. By surveying the varied manifestations of Confucianism as a living tradition from the grassroots, e.g., the campaign of “reading classics” (dujing读经), the revival of Confucian academies (shuyuan书院), and the resurgence of traditional (Confucian) rites (chuantong liyi传统礼仪), my thesis is intended to investigate what conditions have given rise to this restoration movement and what goals and functions it is meant to achieve in a rapidly modernizing society where no single ideology can claim to have taken hold of the public consciousness. Scholars have declared that in order to regain its social value, Confucianism has to be engaged in daily practice and to serve as a meaning system for society. It is in this sense that my thesis will provide a pertinent perspective for one to understand how the Chinese people have striven to employ Confucianism to search for meaning and solidarity in post-Confucian times.

In Conflicts with Enlightenment Rationality: An Analysis of Early Chinese Marxism (1917-1927)
Chan-liang Wu, National Taiwan University, Taiwan (R.O.C.)

In the process of world modernization, the Enlightenment rationality played a central role. Modern science and technology, market economy, division of labor, bureaucracy and management, rule of law, democracy, ideas of liberty, universal human rights and individualism are all inseparable from the Enlightenment rationality that is deeply rooted in the Western intellectual tradition. A new world view and mode of thinking based on Enlightenment rationality, which is a modern form of Western rationality, is something that the Chinese have to face in their search for modernity. The Chinese, however, also have highly developed and sophisticated world views and modes of thinking characterized by Confucian, Taoist and Buddhist traditions. Traditional Chinese thinkers tend to see the notions of time, reality, order, human nature, ethics and the idea of rationality itself in ways almost completely different from the modern Westerners. Therefore, it is natural that the meeting of the two civilizations will create some fundamental conflicts. The majority of Chinese intellectuals tried to adopt Western rationality in order to modernize China. However, most of them bumped into some inevitable conflicts in their pursuit. The most influential philosophical system in modern Chinese intellectual history is Marxism. It claimed to be scientific, rational, pro-Enlightenment, and criticized Chinese tradition severely basing on their claims. However, Marxism is also a post-Enlightenment philosophy that contains many counter-Enlightenment and non-Enlightenment elements. In this paper, I would like to study three representative Chinese Marxists including Li Dazhao, Chen Duxiu, and Mao Zedong in order to see how those counter-Enlightenment and non-Enlightenment elements have influenced their thought and the relationship between Chinese intellectual tradition and these elements.