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Analyzing genealogy of Chinese wisdom

LI RUIQING | 2018-03-22
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

Chinese Wisdom
Editor-in-chief: Zhang Dainian
Publisher: Zhonghua Book Company


Chinese Wisdom, edited by Mr. Zhang Dainian, was published at the end of 2017 and received a very positive response. The authors of the book are all famous in the field of ancient Chinese philosophy, and the careful collation and cautious attitude of the editor-in-chief resulted in careful attention being lavished upon this book. The more permanent charm of the book lies in its comprehensive and scientific display of the charm of Chinese culture, including the connotations of Chinese thought, humanistic spirit, values, and various methodologies leading to clear understanding.

The use of the word “wisdom” is proposed by Zhang, in accordance with the original meaning of “philo-sophia” in Western philosophy. Ancient Chinese philosophers regarded Tao as the ultimate truth and highest wisdom. In this sense, the creative insights Chinese philosophers proposed can also be described as “Chinese wisdom.”

Zhang’s understanding of the Tao is simple and neat, which to some extent represents a new height of Chinese philosophers. He divided the Tao into “the Tao of life,” “the Tao of nature,” and “the Tao of knowing,” involving cosmological and ethical views, as well as methodologies. Under this guidance, young philosophers (the writers of the book) at that time conducted case studies and focused on the analysis of the relationship between li (the noumenon, thing-in-itself) and qi (material representation), temperament and ideas, the presence and absence of shape and spirit, motion and motionless, ti (body) and yong (function), as well as various methods of studying the nature of things, seeking an embodied humanistic and rational spirit.

Case studies are indispensable to experiencing Chinese wisdom. Well-conducted case studies are a feature of the book that distinguish themselves from the thousands of books that discuss Chinese culture in a general manner. For example, on the discussion of Lao Tzu, the book interprets issues such as “Taoism is the origin of all things,” “the Tao way follows nature,” and “the soft always defeat the strong.” The argument accurately summarizes the spiritual qualities of Lao Tzu’s thoughts which advocate the soft and the natural, and oppose the notion that there is a creator of any form. If Confucius were only skeptical about ghosts and gods, then the Tao completely overthrew the throne of God and created the atheistic tradition of traditional Chinese culture.

Zhang states in the introduction that Chinese philosophers, in a certain sense, are full of the spirit of exploration. Zhou Dunyi, Zhang Zai, Cheng Hao, Cheng Yi, Zhu Xi, and Lu Jiuyuan, who spoke differently from each other, all affirmed the need for reason and that the world is rational. To know is to understand the reason while to live is to reflect the reason. In this sense, Chinese philosophy can be said to be full of rational spirit. However, this emphasis on reason has not been supported by practice, thus it failed to give birth to modern empirical science. On the one hand, the book seeks the “rational spirit” while on the other, it tries to view the pre-Qin scholars, metaphysics of the Wei and Jin dynasties, and Neo-Confucianists of the Song and Ming dynasties through the lens of historical materialism, surpassing their old philosophies.


(edited by SUI JINGJING)