A Quarrelsome Century for Chinese Culture


The 20th century has not been an easy century for Chinese scholars and philosophers. For them, China underwent two revolutions, the so-called democratic and nationalist revolution of 1911 under the leadership of the Nationalist Sun YatSen in which the totterring imperial system which has dominated China through an all encompassing bureaucracy for some 4000 years was overthrown, followed nearly 40 years later by the proud announcement of Mao TseTung at the head of the ramparts of the former Imperial Palace in Beijing on lst October, 1949 that the Chinese people have finally stood up, under the leadership of the proletariat claiming to have won power under the then reigning Marxist-Leninist socialist idealogy. Such political events and the ideologies which supported them theoretically could not fail to leave its footprints in the thoughts of the Chinese intellectuals trying to solve one of the most difficult problems facing China in its efforts to modernize itself in the face of the economic, ideological or military and in brief "cultural" challenges coming from what they formerly regarded as the "barbarian" nations of the West.
 
In a way, the history of 20th century Chinese cultural philosophy is a history of China’s struggle to find its cultural feet in the face of the various challenges from the West. In the light of such challenges, Chinese cultural philosophers or thinkers have formulated three different kinds of response. The first is to deny its own past and to regard it as thoroughly bankrupt and to rebuild Chinese culture anew using the Western principles of science and democracy. The second is to rebuild China using the so-called scientific socialist principles of Marxism, as supplemented by Leninism and later Maoism. The last response is to reassert what some thought of as the core values of Chinese civilization namely Confucianism: the response of the so-called "new Confucians". 
 
In this herculean cultural task, Chinese thinkers could not but be influenced by their own peculiar geographical situations.  After 1949, many thinkers were trapped within the PRC. For them, because of the system of totalitarian control under the influence of Leninism, only "socialist" (read Communist) thought were permittted. To these thinkers, Confucianism must be eradicated because they were thought to be the kind of ideology suitable at a particular stage in Chinese history, the period of what they thought of as the "feudalistic" stage, in which the landlords and kings and nobility were in control . The 1911 revolution was thought to be  the result of the development of the bourgeois "democratic" stage, when theoretically the merchants, industrialists, financiers and urban middle class or bourgeois intellectuals were in control. After the triumph of the so-called "socialist revolution", the workers and with Maoist thought, the peasants were supposed to be in control, under the leadership of the CCP, which was supposed to be the political embodiment of the avant garde of Chinese "socialist consciousness" in accordance with the principles of dialectical materialism" in which the dominant ideology of the relevant historical stage was supposed to be determined by the underlying socio-economic conditions of the relevant societies at the particular stage of their socio-historical development.  The so-called Chinese intellectual and cultural tradition shall accordingly be completely rebuilt along socialist principles. For this reason, they severely criticized Confucianist thoughts, especially during that cultural tragedy and disaster called the "Cultural Revolution" of the mid-1960s, when the Chinese intellectual scene was overwhelmed by radical leftist thoughts through the political need of Mao to retain or regain power after the debacle of the "Big Leap Forward" started in 1958.
 
After their expulsion or escape from China, many Chinese intellectuals went to either Hong Kong, Taiwan and some of them left for various Western countries, principally America. In such different cultural contexts, it is inevitable that they should be influenced by the intellectual climate and predominant forms of philosophic thought in their host cultures and felt a very understandable nostalgia for the old traditional China which they left behind. Having been  uprooted from native China, some of them felt emotionally attached to the "old" ways of thinking, especially in view of the often cruel and inhuman methods employed by the Communists againsts the so-called "counter-revolutionaries" and they had plenty of time to reflect on their own cultural tradition in the relatively freer new social environments. Some of them therefore tried their best to salvage such of the elements of traditional Chinese culture as they might find worth preserving. This may help in part to explain the different approaches they take towards Chinese tradition and in particular of Confucianism. This is the geographical background to the birth and growth of the so-called third generation of "new Confucianist" thoughts. Some of them followed the lead of such thinkers like Liang ShuMing (粱漱溟), Hsiung ShijLi (熊十力) through the development of Fung YouLan (馮友蘭), Ho Lun (賀麟),Tang JunYi (唐君毅), Mou TsungSan (牟宗三),) who taught in Hong Kong and Taiwan in the 1950s to 1970s.   This culminated in the delaration for the affirmation of "Chinese culture and the World"  "中國文化與世界". by such Confucianist scholars as Tang JunYi (唐君毅)  Mou TsungSan (牟宗三),) Hsu FuKuan (除復觀) and Zhang JunLi (張君勵). This shows that their anxieties that Chinese culture may be swamped in the waves of Western thought, including Marxist thoughts,  flooding into China after the May 4 Movement in 1921 shortly after the end of the first world war when China was felt to have been badly treated by the Western imperialist nations. It was the  response of such "new Confucianists’" to the thoughts of those advocating complete and radical westernisation through the principles of science and democracy by such thinkers as as Hu Shih (胡適) and his followers like Bo Yang (柏楊), Li Ao (李傲)  and those less radical as these two advocates like Yin HaiGuang (殷海光)‘s students such as Lin-YuSheng (林毓生) and Chang Ho(張灝) 。
 
Hu Shih had written 中國哲學裏的科學精神與方法" "中國的傳统與將來" in which he advocated that it was time for China to radically re-think its philosophical traditions and the idea that to talk about culture should mean talking about world culture and not just Chinese culture and that we should use the method of historical analysis of different kinds of philosophies to revitalise Chinese culture. But Yin HaiGuang was less radical. He advocated that there might still be some value in traditional Chinese thought. He fully realizes the struggles of Chinese intellectuals in debates surrounding the restoration or annihilating of tradition, westernisation and anti-westernisation and mish-mash of Chinese/Western cocktail cultures and thought that we should begin the tragic reconstruction of Chinese culture. But overall, he was still against the Communist way and thought that the ideals of liberty and democracy should be the way forward. His student Lin-YuSheng  thought that whilst we should creatively remodel Chinese culture, we should not sacrifice quality to speed through the ideals of liberalism. Chang Ho too, shares Lin’s idea. He thought that the Chinese tradition should be merged with the liberal tradition but that there should be mutual critiques by traditional thought and modern thoughts against each other and both of them were against the new Confucianists’ attempt to universalize confucianist ideals as if they were eternal truths.
 
However, whether the relevant approaches are socialist, liberal-democratic or new Confucianists, the problem is really one of the modernisation of Chinese society. The emphases and the particular methodologies and their theoretical or philosophical basis may differ, the aim is always the same: how to move China forward into the 21st century so that its thoughts, its practices may be more in line with the vlaues and practices of the rest of the developed world. Perhaps it is time to realize that  the age of monolithic ideology is long gone.  We have now entered into the so-called post-modernist age, where it is no longer possible to have a unified world view which purports to dominate all spheres of cultural life. Perhaps we should be less ambitious and simply accept that for as long as we live, there shall always be different ideas as to what is most important in people’s lives; that there is always a particular historical context, in terms of space and time, for each particular type of thought which however tortuously and despite its conscious or unconscious disguises , may underlie such thoughts; that it is far more important not to live in fear of difference and diversity; that perhaps the only sensible thing to do is to live with the thought that we can never hope to completely eliminate such differences; and that we may as well make a virtue out of necessity and live our own lives and let others live theirs their own way and thus value respect and tolerance above all else just so long that we do not harm other people by our thoughts words and deeds. Whilst we may like to be more positive, the world is such that we may very well be permitted only to be negative and must however reluctantly let this negative "no harm" principle be the guide for our thinking and civilized conduct. However, equally necesssary, we should always strive to realize our ideals but it is important to do so with the constant awareness that no matter how much we think that we are right or justified in thinking that what we are doing is a most worthy enterprise,  in the final analysis, it is no more than the views or even though a considered view of just a person or a group of persons in the community as a whole Enthusiasm for our own ideal does not by itself give us a right to trample on the different ideals of other people.Whilst we may personally like the society and the world to be run in a particular way, the world is made in such a diverse way on account of differences of personality, genetic make-up of different people, differences of geography, climate, race, culture, the accidents of history etc that it is practically impossible to assert that any one form of ideology is the best for the world as a whole. The only rational thing to do in such circumstances is to engage in a continuous process of dialogue to see if some form of consensus may be arrived at on what should be done by whom to whom, where,when and how on the basis of equality, mutual respect and reciprocity. 
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