> Books > Book Review

Zhang Dainian’s philosophical ideas in full view

ZOU XU | 2017-07-27
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

A Collection of Zhang Dainian’s Works
Author: Zhang Dainian
Publisher: Zhonghua Book Company

Zhang Dainian (1909-2004) was a modern philosopher and historian of philosophy. His research focused mainly on three aspects: interpretation of Chinese history of philosophy, investigation of philosophical questions and discussion of cultural problems. After two years of intense efforts, the first volume of the revised edition of A Collection of Zhang Dainian’s Works was published. The first volume contains his four most representative works: An Outline of Chinese Philosophy, Five Treatises on Heaven and Humanity, Introduction to the History of Chinese Philosophy, and Essentials of Chinese Classical Philosophical Concepts and Category.

The book An Outline of Chinese Philosophy takes philosophical questions as the outline, and attempts to reveal the theoretical system of traditional Chinese philosophy by examining its basic tendencies, logic, concepts and origin. As a pioneer in his field, Zhang emphasized the interpretation of materialism, dialectic thought and human-oriented spirit in Chinese philosophical traditions, while calling for investigation of the values and categories of Chinese philosophy. He argued that “previous research on Chinese philosophy rarely used dialectics. The few works that touched upon dialectics were all about Lao Tsu, while still there was almost no research on the rich dialectic thought in Chinese philosophy.”

As for the exploration of philosophical questions, Zhang established his unique “Neo-materialism” philosophical system by integrating materialism, ideals and analysis, as well as modern materialism, analytics and ideological essentials of Chinese traditional philosophy. In light of this, Zhang is regarded as one of the pioneers who connected Marxist philosophy and Chinese traditional philosophy. The completion of the book Five Treatises on Heaven and Humanity symbolized the formation of Zhang’s philosophical system, which subsequently embraced continuous development.

As for cultural issues, Zhang opposed total Westernization but did not agree with cultural nationalism. He advocated the integration of Chinese and Western cultures and different schools in Chinese culture with materialistic dialectics as a theoretical basis.

In terms of the whole collection, the other volumes are yet to be published, and the revised edition can be generally divided into three categories: monographs, papers, and works of various literary styles. Compared with the two versions of collection of Zhang’s works previously published by Tsinghua University Press from 1985 to 1995 and Hebei People’s Press, published in 1996, the revised edition collected a considerable quantity of Zhang’s unpublished manuscripts, including academic papers (mainly those before 1949 and in Zhang’s late life), essays, diaries, lecture notes, letters and translation works.

For example, the collection compiled several boxes of reading notes and essays Zhang left behind, according to the year they were written and their contents. The correspondence between Zhang and his family members and friends will be compiled in independent volumes. Zhang also kept diaries, which span across ages and recorded his thoughts and experiences. These diaries will be compiled in a volume to offer rich ideological and historical values.