The State of a Civilisation

該內容僅提供英文版。 For the sake of viewer convenience, the content is shown below in the alternative language. You may click the link to switch the active language.

After the Future in China
Xu Zhangrun’s Triptych for Today

Humble Recognition, Boundless Possibility — Part II

 

In The Pirouette of Time we introduced Xu Zhangrun’s triptych ‘After the Future in China’. As we noted there, these essays are a bold attempt by a courageous and insightful writer to consider ways in which the past holds promise for a future that lies beyond the narrow limits of China’s present.

Xu Zhangrun is no malcontent, no one-issue dissident, nor is he a prickly individual preening to be heard. His voice is that of an engaged thinker who is both versed in the tradition and at home in the modern world. His is a voice of conscience, decency and hope. It is a voice that addresses pressing issues of the day while speaking within the long flow of historical debate. In his writing, Xu articulates what the philosopher Mikhail Esptein calls a ‘love of the future, not as a promised State, but as a state of promise’.

‘Humble Recognition, Boundless Possibility’ 低頭致意, 天地無邊 — the first of Xu Zhangrun’s three essays — was published in the Chinese edition of Financial Times on 5 December 2018. Due to the length of the original, and the annotations and commentary that supplement the translation, we are publishing that essay in five parts, the first of which appeared on 31 January 2019 under the title ‘Historical Awareness, Political Aspiration’. The second part, see below, is titled ‘Tradition & Civilisation’. The translation is followed by a bilingual version of the text with explanatory notes  that offer a guide to the political, cultural and historical dimensions of Xu Zhangrun’s argument.

‘Humble Recognition, Boundless Possibility’ is included both in Lessons in New Sinology and in China Heritage Annual 2019, the theme of which is Translatio Imperii Sinici. I am grateful to a kind friend who prefers to remain unnamed — perhaps we should call him Reader #1? — for reviewing the draft of this material. My thanks also to John Minford and Annie Ren for ‘The Tomb Gate’ 墓門, translated by James Legge from The Book of Odes.

— Geremie R. Barmé
Editor, China Heritage
8 March 2019

***

Related Reading:


The Tomb Gate

The Mu Men 墓門; allusive. On some evil person
who was going on obstinately to his ruin.

1.

Where through the gate in to the tombs we go,
Thick jujube trees, the ax requiring, grow.
Like them that man, who ill befits his place,
And through the state is reckoned a disgrace!
All know him bad, but to his course he’ll hold,
So long to evil has the man been sold.

2.

Where through the gate in to the tombs we turn,
Owls perched upon the plum trees we discern.
Such omen well may to that man belong,
Whom to admonish I now sing this song.
No welcome will the admonition find;
When overthrown, my words he’ll call to mind.

墓門有棘、
斧以斯之。
夫也不良、
國人知之。
知而不已、
誰昔然矣。

墓門有梅、
有鴞萃止。
夫也不良、
歌以訊之。
訊予不顧、
顛倒思予。

‘Odes of Chen VI’,
The Book of Odes,
trans. James Legge
《詩經 · 國風 · 陳風》


English Translation:

Humble Recognition, Boundless Possibility

— commemorating the inauguration of
‘Reform and Openness’ in 1978

Xu Zhangrun

Translated by Geremie R. Barmé

 

Part II: Tradition & Civilisation

 

Secondly, we humbly recognise the importance of China’s cultural traditions and the exemplars, or paradigms, of its civilisation. The reforms launched over thirty years ago were, in effect, a gradual disavowal of an attempt to replace in toto the culture and exemplary traditions of China — the very mainstream of our civilisation — with a form of Germano-Slavic ideology that had its roots in the nineteenth century. This was undertaken following an era [from the late-nineteenth century up to the mid twentieth century] during which China had been experimenting with various political ideologies and systems of thought — Western and Eastern, modern and traditional. That long-lasting period of groping in the dark proved treacherous for, to our peril, we learned that one bad choice could have disastrous consequences.

Let me enter as evidence the most obvious example, that of the Germano-Slavic Ideology mentioned above. When imposed upon the political life of our nation it proved in practice to be unspeakably cruel and pitiless. It authored untold horrors and fomented unfathomable suffering. Some readers may think that I am being extreme, but I would go even further and venture that the upheaval [under Mao] was tantamount to a Third Barbarian Invasion of China. That is to say, it was no less destructive than the Mongol Yuan conquest [in the twelfth century], or the Manchu occupation of China during the Qing period [from the mid-seventeenth century to 1912]. And it still isn’t over!

The spurious analyses of ‘The China Question’ made by the Marxist-Leninists had the most profound and widespread real-world consequences. Indeed, their mis-diagnosis of China’s body politic resulted in an epic loss of life and a veritable deluge of blood. It led to the most grotesque and agonising of all of the disasters visited upon China in its modern history.

Indeed, having been subjected to such agonies [and despite the formal dominance of Communist Party orthodoxy] China today [once more] offers a kaleidoscope of political ideologies. There is a market for such disparate things as cultural nationalism, as well as market neoliberalism; moderate communitarianism is also espoused, as are Republican ideals about a Great Unity. There is no denying that, in their various ways, they all follow a certain logic and can exert a particular appeal. Regardless, it has become increasingly evident that a more solid foundation, and lasting contemporary value, can be found in China’s Cultural Traditions and the Exemplary Aspects of Chinese Civilisation [discussed below]. But what I am talking about is traditions and exemplars that have been enjoying renewed recognition. They are traditions tempered by over a century of fierce anti-traditionalist critique and they have evolved in the process of being constant questioned and re-evaluated.

It is here that we find things at home that make it possible for the present to draw sustenance meaningfully from the wellsprings of the past while, at the same time, finding sufficient latitude to embrace both East and West. It is this body of thought and practice that, enjoying as it does a new level of acceptance, awaits now further thoughtful engagement and major reinvigoration, something that can be achieved by [if I may quote a famous expression from the classics] ‘inquiry, reflection, discrimination and implementation’.

From our present historical perspective, it is widely understood that many late-developing nations with ancient cultures went through a phase of radical anti-traditionalism as they struggled to survive and flourish in the modern age. Even a developed nation like France entered its modern era only after spurts of tumultuous advancement.

Following such tempests, most older nations have experienced a phase of reflection during which people reassessed and soberly affirmed aspects of their cultural traditions. This should not be dismissed simply as a reactionary phase or an overt ‘return to tradition’. Rather, it generally comes about as the result of a kind of reconciliation with the past and as part of a process of creative adaptation born of hard-won historical and civilisational self-awareness.

This is why we can better appreciate that, following the great winnowing of history, our people — both the civic population and officialdom — have to a great extent sought solace in the teachings of Confucius and Mencius. The groundswell of such interest may well have started out as being an understandable reaction to [the extreme era of national self-negation] that had proceeded it. But it is also why it is noteworthy that traditional festivals like Qingming [in early April] and the Dragon Boat Festival [Duanwu, in June] have been made into national holidays, and that advocates have successfully lobbied to celebrate the annual National Teacher’s Day on the 28th of September, Confucius’s birthday. The Number One Man in the Governing Party [Xi Jinping] even paid his respects at the Confucius Temple during a formal visitation to Qufu [the birthplace of Confucius in Shandong province]. All of these things are far more significant than they may at first appear.

My point is that, despite the depredations of [the autocratic tradition that dates back to] the harsh legalistic rule of the Qin dynasty, and the more recent policies of class struggle [pursued by the Communists under Mao Zedong] and the [latest] aberrations of autocracy, the core role of Chinese civilisation cannot be so easily usurped.

And here, when I talk about the Exemplary Culture Values of Chinese tradition [that have been through the process of negation, critique, re-evaluation and revitalisation touched on in the above], what I mean is Humanity and Love, Rational Wisdom, Sincerity and Decency. In other words, we find herein:

  • The universalism [of the Ming Confucian thinker Zhang Zai];
  • A humanistic spirit;
  • Ideas about the indivisible connection between heaven and humanity that has given birth to
  • An all-inclusive and mature view of human existence; along with
  • An enlivening sense of a politics that embraces superior ethical norms, and
  • A concomitant approach to culture, civility and education.

These are not mere abstractions for they find articulation in the practical world in which people act according to their superior understanding, to affirm the type of personal integrity of those committed to a higher cause — all of these are universally acceptable and acknowledged ideals; they are also at the cultural heart of China itself, both a mode of living as well as a model to which to aspire. And these very things are in many respects in consonance with the modern ideas encapsulated in the expression [used by the historian Chen Yinque in his 1929 encomium for the scholar Wang Guowei] ‘A Spirit Independent and a Mind Unfettered’, and related to a politics that embraces Democracy and the Rule of Law, as well as Human Rights and Social Inclusiveness.

Yes, all of this reveals that the cultural consciousness and political will of Our Country and Our People are struggling to return to the main thread of Chinese Civilization, in a manner simultaneously temperate but incisive, eager to nurture, to renew and to ascend to a higher level.

It was not so long ago that the expression ‘Chinese traditional culture’ was a widely used pejorative during the attacks on tradition, but many of those things have now been renewed and reaffirmed, evidence surely that the nineteenth-century Germano-Slavic ideology is essentially bankrupt. In this regard, the Maoist Fundamentalists have been on high alert, ever-fearful that 儒 [the Confucian] could well replace 馬 [Marx, that is, Marxism-Leninism]. Woe unto them: for this tension touches on a most sensitive issue, one of contemporary political relevance.

However, let me take a step back here and say that, at a time when the best and the worst in China are muddled together, it behooves us to be judicious in our analysis. So I must emphasize that what I mean by ‘Cultural Traditions’ are those things that contribute to a vital, living reality. Similarly, to my mind, the expression ‘Traditional Culture’ indicates all that is decrepit and ossified in China’s past, things that represent little more than the dregs of the culture. What is worthy of respect and justifies being transmitted to future generations is our vital cultural inheritance, not the fossilised remnants of the past. As fossils, they are lifeless and beyond resuscitation. In other words, what deserves attention, and our appreciation — the things to be enhanced and transmitted to posterity — are living traditions, those things that have proven over time to be worthy of emulation and that remain a source of inspiration today.

To be more precise — although it should hardly be necessary to say this — ‘Cultural Traditions’ are not just limited to Confucian traditions, nor indeed can ‘Confucian Ideas’ claim a monopoly over Chinese culture and its modes of expression. For the lives, hearts and minds of people today any academic school of thought — in particular, that vast intellectual enterprise marshaled under the capacious umbrella of New Confucianism — that might possibly play a significant role [in the nation’s life], as well as the various schools of thought engaged with the ancient desire to ‘cultivate self, succour family, contribute to society and work towards universal well being’, if they are really to be of some use, then they must at the minimum confront what I call ‘Four Great Challenges’. That is, we are obliged to adjudicate the value of the tradition in terms of how it measures up with respect to four broad areas of concern. In so doing, tradition must demonstrate its true worth as well as its long-term viability.

The Four Great Challenges relate to [the ways in which individuals or groups that champion vital Chinese Cultural Traditions regard]:

1. Power

In the first place, there is no avoiding the question of how one deals with Power. One must see how vital traditions enable choices to be made between The Way 道 [of moral and ethical probity] and Situational Realities 勢 [that is, from the status quo to how the positive and negative potentiality of power is perceived], as well as how conflicts between Virtue 德 and Position 位 are mediated. In particular, when the prevailing powers act with impunity, one cannot simply bury one’s head in the sand, or worse, meekly complying with their misdeeds, or [to employ another metaphor] by tacking one’s sails to the prevailing winds;

2. Social Reality

Secondly, one must honestly recognise existing social ills, and that recognition must include an ability to respond appropriately to injustice and the immoral behavior of malevolent power-holders. To that end, one must be prepared to assume the role of social critic;

3. The Limits of Human Nature

Thirdly, one must have the courage and depth of understanding to appreciate the evil propensity of human nature and its various political manifestations. Under no circumstances can one pretend to be oblivious or seek anonymity in collective silence, or, even worse: to stand idly by while discoursing on the profundities of the heart-mind as championed by Neo-Confucian thought while airily keeping above the fray; and,

4. Process and Probity

Fourth, last but by no means least, in responding pragmatically to these issues, one must demonstrate an appreciation of the importance of due process and decision making, as well as being mindful of the necessity to pursue rational ways and means to achieve goals, along with the wherewithal required for the pragmatic implementation of ideas. That is, one must devote oneself to how ideas and ideals can be realised in practice while avoiding aimless drift. Thereby one can focus on putting particular methodologies to the test while measuring oneself against viable moral standards.

With respect to these Four Great Challenges, I would observe that today’s New Confucians have made absolutely no contribution at all. The majority of this clutch of, let’s just call them ‘Neo-Cons’, simply don’t pass muster. Despite protestations about their sincerity, what they really are hankering after is the kind of largesse that power-holders once lavished on state Confucianism. All the while, they indulge a manufactured sense of loss, acting as though they have somehow fallen from grace; they are anxious to claw themselves back into a position of intellectual preeminence. Yet when confronted with the pitiless realities of China today, they prove to be puny and lacklustre. They have repeatedly shown themselves to be bereft both of the ability to understand and the wherewithal to respond to these realities and they cloak their craven hopes for personal benefit in the guise of academic contributions. Such efforts border on the risible.

The sycophantic posturing of the Neo-Cons is but a performance made all the more pathetic because by their pompous protestations that ’We will only collaborate if [the state] Respects Confucius’. Among them one finds hardly even a pretense of cleaving to meaningful values or moral standards. Meanwhile, for reasons best known only to themselves they lavish praise on The Leader and openly chant hosannahs to Authority. They blithely ignore the fact that the transition of China’s political system to modernity [discussed in Part I of this essay] is far from complete and that, at present, things are moving against the general trend of the country’s modern history. They shamelessly proclaim that ‘This [Xi Jinping era] is the best we’ve ever had it!’. But, then again, perhaps all of this only serves to reveal the vile mien of the kind of self-interested merchant-Confucian careerist personality that has long thrived in China.

Why don’t we just call it ‘apostasy’? — even given the present circumstances, these Neo-Cons remarkably and disingenuously actually believe that they are confronting an existential threat. Yet this heaving mass of Confucianites has nothing about it that recalls the steely rectitude of classic Confucians. Instead, at every turn they betray the teachings of the Sages who championed moral probity in defiance of temporal authority.

Moreover, in their pursuit of self-interest the Neo-Cons choose to treat the core thinking and message of Confucianism not as part of a broader, rational public discussion, but rather as inflexible Dogma. Here lies the nub of their emotional and intellectual paucity, for theirs is a betrayal of basic Confucian ideas about education, enlightenment and uplift.

In recent years, some Neo-Cons have found fellowship with the ‘New Leftists’ and ‘Second-generation Maoists’ who, like them, are also lip-smacking connoisseurs of Authoritarian Politics. It would seem that one of the reasons for this is that they recognise ‘there’s a little bit of me in you, and a little bit of you in me’.

So what of these Neo-Cons, then? Everything about them is askew, they are uncomfortable in themselves. Mouths o’er-brimming with garbage they prove themselves to be pathetic and craven even in the presence of the most lowly Party bureaucrats — see how they stir themselves at the prospect of even the most minuscule advantage! Yet, all the while, they have the audacity to claim to be true disciples of Confucius. It simply amazes me that these people feel absolutely no pressure or shame when they measure themselves against the ancient Confucian teaching about the need to cultivate yourself with the aim of becoming a person in whom natural propensities and an educated demeanour achieve a healthy balance.


Bilingual Text with Notes:

Humble Recognition, Boundless Possibility

— commemorating the inauguration of
‘Reform and Openness’ in 1978

低頭致意, 天地無邊
謹以此文紀念1978年開啓的「改革開放」

Xu Zhangrun
許章潤

Translated and Annotated by Geremie R. Barmé

 

Part II: Tradition & Civilisation

二、中國文化傳統與文明典範

 

Secondly, we humbly recognise the importance of China’s cultural traditions and the exemplars, or paradigms, of its civilisation. The reforms launched over thirty years ago were, in effect, a gradual disavowal of an attempt to replace in toto the culture and exemplary traditions of China — the very mainstream of our civilisation — with a form of Germano-Slavic ideology that had its roots in the nineteenth century. This was undertaken following an era [from the late-nineteenth century up to the mid twentieth century] during which China had been experimenting with various political ideologies and systems of thought — Western and Eastern, modern and traditional. That long-lasting period of groping in the dark proved treacherous for, to our peril, we learned that one bad choice could have disastrous consequences.

Let me enter as evidence the most obvious example, that of the Germano-Slavic Ideology mentioned above. When imposed upon the political life of our nation it proved in practice to be unspeakably cruel and pitiless. It authored untold horrors and fomented unfathomable suffering. Some readers may think that I am being extreme, but I would go even further and venture that the upheaval [under Mao] was tantamount to a Third Barbarian Invasion of China. That is to say, it was no less destructive than the Mongol Yuan conquest [in the twelfth century], or the Manchu occupation of China during the Qing period [from the mid-seventeenth century to 1912]. And it still isn’t over!

The spurious analyses of ‘The China Question’ made by the Marxist-Leninists had the most profound and widespread real-world consequences. Indeed, their mis-diagnosis of China’s body politic resulted in an epic loss of life and a veritable deluge of blood. It led to the most grotesque and agonising of all of the disasters visited upon China in its modern history.

其次,向中國文化傳統與文明典範低頭致意。三十多年的「改革開放」,在古今維度,一言以蔽之,就在於逐步拋棄以「十九世紀的日耳曼—斯拉夫式意識形態」取替「中國文化傳統—文明典範」的企圖,中國文明及其典範正宗。此間基本背景在於,近代中國嘗試過種種主義實驗過不少思想,西洋東洋皆有,古代現代齊至。其間,冥行擿埴禍福相倚,一旦選擇錯誤,則禍莫大焉。舉其顯例,則上述十九世紀日耳曼—斯拉夫蘇俄式意識形態及其政制,不幸降臨吾土,其刻薄寡恩暴戾恣睢,禍害深巨,最為昭著。某種意義上,語嫌誇飾,不妨說此為華夏文明歷經蒙元入侵滿清入主中原後的第三度蠻族入侵,而了猶未了。它們作為「中國問題」的誤診處方,危害深廣,致使人頭滾滾,血流成河,實為中國近代歷史中最為重大慘痛的負面事件。

Notes:

中國文化傳統與文明典範 Zhōngguó wénhuà chuántǒng yǔ wénmíng diǎnfàn: ‘Chinese cultural traditions’, which we translate as ‘culture and traditions’, are paired here with ‘exemplary Chinese civilisation’ or ‘civilisational paradigm’. What the author means by this double-barreled expression, particularly in the context of post-1840s China, is explained below. There he contrasts ‘Chinese cultural traditions’ — a vital, ever-evolving complex of ideas and behaviours that, despite their ancient origins, can boast a living, contemporary ‘essence’ — with ‘Chinese traditional culture’, that is, a mummified corpus of socio-political and cultural artifacts touted as a ‘nation essence’ 國粹 guócuì and manipulated by power-holders for the sake of narrow, pro-status quo and nation-building pursuits

文明典範 wénmíng diǎnfàn: a model, paradigm or exemplar worthy of emulation. 典範 diǎnfàn have featured in cultural transmission and political moralising for centuries; they can be classical writings, systems of thought and social practice, model works or outstanding individuals. A form of transmogrified tradition in the form of martyrs, model heroes and civic paragons has been used by the Communist Party since the 1940s to promote its version of idealised, and compliant, behaviour. Here we translate 典範 diǎnfàn as ‘exemplar’ in tandem with the term ‘paradigm’

十九世紀的日耳曼—斯拉夫式意識形態 shíjiǔ shìjì Rìěrmàn—Sīlāfū shì yìshí xíngtài: ‘a nineteenth-century Germano-Slavic form of ideology’ is the author’s tongue-in-cheek term for ‘Marxism-Leninism’ — Marx being German and Lenin Russian, or a Slav. This expression was introduced in Part I of this essay.

Here we would observe that, in this section, the author discusses what he regards as the failed — and bloody — decades-long effort of the Chinese Communist Party to impose the foreign ideology of Marxism-Leninism by discrediting and actively suppressing pre-existing Chinese cultural norms, values and ideas. The Communist enterprise unfolded from the 1920s, but it was only imposed on the Chinese Mainland as a whole from 1949. The new state ideology, and the socio-political system that it underpinned, replaced all other political arrangements and intellectual aspirations that had been a feature of the Republican-era (1912-1949). Although the author contrasts Party ideology with exemplary Chinese traditions, or paradigms, in his comments on New Confucians and the New Left below, by inference he acknowledges that Mao Thought — the Sinified version of Marxism-Leninism that evolved from the 1930s — was itself a virtuoso adaptation of aspects of pre-existing political and social practice, including Confucianism. Thus, we should be aware that, in general, to view post-1949 Chinese history predominantly in terms of a ‘foreign versus Chinese’ dichotomy mitigates against a more grounded appreciation of how the Communist Party and its policies, practices and language were and are constantly enriched as a result the ‘symbiotic relationship’ (some might even think of it as a ‘vampiric’ one) that it has enjoyed with the ‘host body’ of China. Below, it will become clear that the author regards retrograde elements of the Chinese tradition, and its host of careerist advocates, as being in sync with the priorities of the Communist party-state

正宗 zhèng zōng: ‘a true lineage’, ‘orthodoxy’ or ‘the authentic’. 正宗 zhèng zōng was common among competing Buddhist schools to describe legitimate master-disciple relationships and the transmission of teachings from one generation to another. In modern usage, 正宗 zhèng zōng indicates an accepted and venerable tradition, or something that is recognised within a particular lineage or form of orthodoxy. It is liberally applied to everything from schools of thought, tea culture and even to the promoting of supposedly authentic regional cuisine. From the late-nineteenth-century collapse of various kinds of hierarchy, from the political to the cultural and familial, competition over who exactly has inherited what from whom has been fierce

嘗試過種種主義 chángshì guò zhǒng zhǒng zhǔyì, 實驗過不少思想 shíyàn guò bù shǎo sīxiǎng: this is a short-hand description of the cultural, intellectual and ideological maelstrom that consumed China from roughly the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries. The claim is made that during those decades all kinds of political ideas were ‘sampled’ 嘗試過 chángshì guò or ‘experimented with’ 實驗過 shíyàn guò. The writer remarks that the various ‘isms’ 主義 zhǔyì and ‘bodies of thought’ 思想 sīxiǎng were of diverse origin — 西洋東洋皆有 Western as well as Eastern (that is, Japanese) — and drawn from a vast historical span — 古代現代齊至 from the ancient right up to the modern. We would observe that although a huge corpus of material related to alternative political and cultural systems was made available to Chinese activists and thinkers during those years though overseas study, foreign teachers in China and translation projects, the actual political practices of the late-Qing and Republican eras, as well as by the Communists in the areas under their control prior to 1949, ultimately drew on a relatively limited body of ideas

刻薄寡恩 kè bó guǎ ēn, 暴戾恣睢 bào lì zì suī: ‘pitiless and lacking in mercy’ and ‘cruel and willful’ — two expressions associated with tyrannical rulers.

刻薄寡恩 kè bó guǎ ēn has been used to describe famously cruel, albeit successful, rulers such as:

  • Ying Ji 嬴稷, King Zhaoxiang of the State of Qin (秦昭襄王, 325-251 BCE), great grandfather of
  • Ying Zheng 嬴政, founder of the Qin dynasty, known to history as the First Emperor of the Qin 秦始皇;
  • Liu Bang (劉邦, c.256-195BCE), founder of the Han dynasty, or Han Gaozu 漢高祖;
  • Zhu Yuanzhang (朱元璋, 1328-1398), founder of the Ming dynasty, Ming Taizu 明太祖; and,
  • Mao Zedong (毛澤東, 1893-1976).

These albeit notorious founding figures are also celebrated for their 雄才大略 xióng cái dà lüè, that is, ‘heroic ability and strategic genius’. These words were famously used to describe Liu Che (劉徹, 157-87 BCE), Emperor Wu of the Han dynasty 漢武帝. Thereafter this expression entered what could be described as China’s ‘thesaurus of tyranny’.

As for 暴戾恣睢 bào lì zì suī — ‘cruel and wilful’ — this phrase was used by Sima Qian 司馬遷 in The Records of the Grand Historian 《史記》to describe the infamously violent Robber Zhi 盜蹠:

Robber Zhi day after day killed innocent men, making mincemeat of their flesh. Cruel and willful, he gathered a band of several thousand followers who went about terrorizing the world, but in the end he lived to a ripe old age. For what virtue did he deserve this?

盜蹠日殺不辜,肝人之肉,暴戾恣睢,聚黨數千人橫行天下,竟以壽終,是遵何德哉。

Sima Qian, ‘A Biography of Boyi’
The Records of the Grand Historian
司馬遷《史記 · 伯夷列傳》
trans. Burton Watson
in A New Sinology Reader

(See also Zhuangzi 莊子, ‘Robber Zhi on Confucius’ 盜跖論孔丘, in A New Sinology Reader)

冥行擿埴 míng xíng zhì zhí: the concept of ‘feeling one’s way forward in the dark’ was used by Chen Yun 陳雲 in December 1980 when he described the economic reform policies initiated by the Party as a process of ‘crossing a river by feeling for the stones’ 摸著石頭過河. The metaphor came to be commonly associated with Deng Xiaoping

禍福相倚 huò fú xiàng yǐ: this comes from a line in Chapter 58 of the Tao Te Ching 道德經:

Fortune and Calamity
Are part of each other,
Calamity
Is latent within Fortune.

祸兮福所倚,

福兮祸所伏。

Lao-tzu, Tao Te Ching
trans. John Minford
New York: Viking, 2018, p.212

蒙元入侵 Měng-Yuán rù qīn, 滿清入主 Mǎn-Qīng rù zhǔ: ‘the invasion of the Mongol Yuan dynasty [1271-1368] and the Manchus whose Qing dynasty occupied and ruled [from 1644 to 1912]’. Until relatively recently, mainstream Han historian-patriots as well as political thinkers generally regarded the Yuan and Qing dynasties as being somehow ‘illegitimate’. Even the nomenclature used to describe them is negative — ‘the Mongol-Yuan’ 蒙元 Měng-Yuán and ‘the Manchu-Qing’ 滿清 Mǎn-Qīng. Other ‘native’ Chinese dynasties are generally known only by their formal names, such as Han, Tang, Song, etcetera, or the dynastic title prefaced with the surname of the ruling house, such as Li Tang 李唐 or Zhao Song 趙宋, although this, too, is a somewhat demeaning modern practice. To score a rhetorical point, here the otherwise open-minded author would seem to be following popular practice, and prejudice, for he also refers to the Yuan and Qing as ‘barbarians’ 蠻族 mánzú.

From the 1990s, as the Communists reconciled themselves with pre-revolutionary history, a more positive and unified ‘China story’ has been promoted. A seamless shorthand for dynastic history is found in the breathless expression ‘Tang-Song-Yuan-Ming-Qing’ 唐宋元明清. This formulation suggests the existence of a continuous, and unproblematic, high-imperial narrative arc. In reality, during this vast sweep of history, ‘China’ was often divided or ruled over by various dynasties and kingdoms that do not sit comfortably with modern myth making. By contrast, the three centuries of dynastic division, during which ‘alien regimes’ were dominant, are often lumped together as ‘Song-Liao-Jin-Yuan’ 宋遼金元. According to the Communist narrative, the People’s Republic of China is the summation and, to all intents and purposes, the culmination (end?) of history

入主中原 rù zhǔ Zhōngyuán: ‘[outsiders who] invade and dominate the Central Plains’, that is to conquer what is today thought of as ‘China Proper’, even if ‘China’ as it is now thought of is an invention dating from the modern era of nation-states

第三度蠻族入侵 dì sān dù mánzú rù qīn: ‘the third barbarian invasion’. The Mongol-Yuan and Manchu-Qing dynasties are often called ‘invasion regimes’ or ‘conquest dynasties’, that is, ruling houses established by peoples from outside of what is called ‘China Proper’ or the ‘Central Plains’ 中原, the term used here. The ‘Central Plains’ indicates the dominant civilisation that developed in the area around Henan province and the middle and lower reaches of the Yellow River. The identification of this area as a ‘heartland’ evolved with the establishment of increasingly unified, and subsequently, imperial rule. Concepts of territory, kingship and customs along the lines that they were thought to originated in the pre-Qin era would be evoked by later ruling houses, as well as modern Chinese governments, and promoted as representing an ‘essential’ Chinese cultural core. In reality, the history of non-Han peoples and rulership in the territory of Han-dominant China is both complex and controversial. See Thomas S. Mullaney, Introducing Critical Han Studies, China Heritage Quarterly, Issue 19 (September 2009)

The nature of post-Song dynastic China, and the significance of the ‘invasion dynasties’ in particular, have long been the subject of debate among historians. Some argue that the highly organised military empires of the Mongol-Yuan and Manchu-Qing irrevocably strengthened centralised and authoritarian government, the baneful legacy of which has been evident in post-Qing modern history. For an accessible overview of this topic, see Ge Zhaoguang, ‘The Crisis of the Prosperous Age in Eighteenth-century China’, Financial Times, 20 February 2019, 葛兆光:十八世紀中國的盛世危機, FT中文网, 20 February 2019

中國問題 Zhōngguó wèntí: ‘the China Problem’ is discussed at length in Xu Zhangrun, ‘China’s Moment in World History:  A “Chinese Consciousness” Created by the “China Problem” ’, introduced and translated by David Ownby. In that speech, Xu remarks that:

The evolution of “modern China” is a comprehensive process of economic nation-building, political nation-building, and cultural nation-building, which relates to China’s existence as a whole—its life, norms, and meaning.  And the point is a total transformation, a complete renewal.  Only in this way can we have a “modern China,” meaning an economic, political and cultural community in a modern context.  These are all part of a whole, and make up modern Chinese culture.

For a different set of questions, and a series of thoughtful answers, see The China Questions: Critical Insights into a Rising Power, Jennifer Rudolph and Michael Szonyi, eds, Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2018

血流成河 xuè liú chéng hé: literally, ‘a river of blood’, ‘awash in blood’, is generally used to describe a massacre or a scene of carnage (note: 血 xuè is often colloquially pronounced xiě). This metaphor appears in the official biography of Li Mi (李密, 582-619CE), an unsuccessful rebel leader. The relevant passage reads:

Fields were awash in blood and strewn with the bodies of the dead. The very mountains and rivers resounded with mounting outrage; Heaven and Earth were shaken by tearful mourning

屍骸蔽野,血流成河,積怨滿於山川,號哭動於天地。

—《舊唐書 · 李密傳

(Another common metaphor for a bloody massacre is 流血漂杵 liú xuè piāo chǔ: ‘a pestle could float on the tide of blood’; and then there is ‘the shields [of massacred soldiers] floated on a sea of blood’, 流血漂櫓 liú xuè piāo lǔ, from Jia Yi’s famous essay ‘On the Faults of Qin’ 《過秦論》.)

The expression 血流成河 xuè liú chéng hé remains in currency. For example, Chai Ling (柴玲, 1966-), the controversial student extremist who came to fame during the 1989 Beijing Protest Movement, used it during an interview prior to the 4 June Massacre when she controversially declared that: ‘I believe that only when the Square is awash in blood will all the people of China finally see with clear eyes’. 我想,也只有廣場血流成河的時候,全中國的人才能真正擦亮眼睛。(For more on this, see the 1995 documentary film The Gate of Heavenly Peace, on which I worked as lead writer and senior academic advisor.)

Indeed, having been subjected to such agonies [and despite the formal dominance of Communist Party orthodoxy] China today [once more] offers a kaleidoscope of political ideologies. There is a market for such disparate things as cultural nationalism, as well as market neoliberalism; moderate communitarianism is also espoused, as are Republican ideals about a Great Unity. There is no denying that, in their various ways, they all follow a certain logic and can exert a particular appeal. Regardless, it has become increasingly evident that a more solid foundation, and lasting contemporary value, can be found in China’s Cultural Traditions and the Exemplary Aspects of Chinese Civilisation [discussed below]. But what I am talking about is traditions and exemplars that have been enjoying renewed recognition. They are traditions tempered by over a century of fierce anti-traditionalist critique and they have evolved in the process of being constant questioned and re-evaluated.

It is here that we find things at home that make it possible for the present to draw sustenance meaningfully from the wellsprings of the past while, at the same time, finding sufficient latitude to embrace both East and West. It is this body of thought and practice that, enjoying as it does a new level of acceptance, awaits now further thoughtful engagement and major reinvigoration, something that can be achieved by [if I may quote a famous expression from the classics] ‘inquiry, reflection, discrimination and implementation’.

故爾,經此折騰後,今日中國,依舊是主義的萬花筒,舉凡文化民族主義和市場自由主義,溫文社群學說與大同共和理想,都有市場,都有活力,也都有一定的道理。但是,其之盡力粘連古今,悉心貫通中西的用意,也愈見明顯,就在於歷經百多年激烈反傳統思潮震蕩之後,經過批判梳理後的文化傳統及其文明典範的基礎意義與現代價值,已然重獲認同,有待持續慎思明辨而勃然發力也。

Notes:

折騰 zhēteng: literally, ‘to be restless’ or ‘to squirm’. In December 2008, the Party General Secretary Hu Jintao called for his comrades to pursue an approach described as the ‘Three Don’ts’: 不動搖, 不懈怠, 不折騰, officially translated as ‘don’t waver, don’t slacken, don’t get sidetracked’. Given the cluster of meanings attached to zhēteng, one could suggest that for Hu Jintao, as well as for his successor, the term could be translated as ‘sit still!’, ‘keep focused’, or even ‘don’t fiddle’ (for more on the term 折騰 zhēteng and its significance in the Hu-Wen era, see Heritage Glossary)

主義的萬花筒 zhǔyìde wànhuātǒng: ‘a kaleidoscope of isms [that is, political theories]’. As Amor Towles observes:

At the bottom of a kaleidoscope’s cylinder lie shards of colored glass in random arrangement; but thanks to a glint of sunlight, the interplay of mirrors, and the magic of symmetry, when one peers inside what one finds is a pattern so colorful, so perfectly intricate, it seems certain to have been designed with the utmost care. Then by the slightest turn of the wrist, the shards begin to shift and settle into a new configuration—a configuration with its own symmetry of shapes, its own intricacy of colors, its own hints of design.

Amor Towles, ‘Arachne’s Arc’
A Gentleman in Moscow
New York: Viking, 2016, p.174

Despite the appearance of intellectual quiescence under the Xi Jinping regime of censorship, the kaleidoscopic clash of theories, ideas and ideologies continues today, just as they have raged since the late-nineteenth century. As soon as there is some relaxation of ideological constraint, new patterns will reveal themselves and shards of thought will coruscate anew.

The traditions of the educated engaging in intellectual speculation and contestation for the sake of real-world implementation — known as 經世 jīng shì — flourished once more in the 1980s. That period was dubbed a ‘New Enlightenment’ (for more on this, see the note on Enlightenment 啟蒙 qǐ méng below). The relatively lively and freewheeling atmosphere of the decade evaporated with the Massacre of 4 June 1989 and, in the 1990s, the intellectual world was riven by hostile factionalism as intellectuals jostled for fame, influence and wealth. In 2013, a group of thinkers produced what is known as the ‘Oxford Consensus’ 牛津共識 Niújīn gòngshí in the hope of creating the basis for some kind of intellectual reconciliation. With the increased repression of the Xi era, and the craven careerism of some academics, even the modest proposals of the Consensus read like pie-in-the-sky utopianism. (For more on 經世致用, see 劉夢溪、余英時,《“經世致用”的負面影響》)

粘連古今 貫通中西 zhānlián gǔ jīn … guàntōng Zhōng-Xī: these expressions have been used over the generations to represent a kind of idealised cultural possibility, one that pays due accord both to the best of past and present realities while straddling the seemingly impossible divide between a supposedly holistic Chinese worldview and that of the ‘West’. Of course, reality is a pastiche of past and present, and Sinitic and foreign and thinkers have struggled to create something of a ‘unified intellectual-cultural field theory’ ever since the late-Qing. Among those who believed they had done so, the most famous was Mao Zedong. Today’s paean-belching propaganda apparatus makes similar claims for Xi Jinping.

Confucian China and Its Modern Fate, Joseph Levenson’s still-challenging magnum opus, offers an observation that, despite the passage of half a-century, is worth recalling here:

The museum where they posed Confucius may be a storehouse of value and inspiration. And ‘museumified’ is not ‘mummified’. Still, the ‘museumified’ Confucius does not speak; when he is no longer involved in the handing down of judgements, he is not very much involved in clamorous class struggle. One is neither quartering Botticelli, nor taking his as the last word for a contemporary jury, when one hangs him on the wall, far from the social context of his patronage. The critics, by and large, call him masterly. They also call him quattrocento. Confucius, too, is wise today for many revolutionaries, and may grow wiser as his patrons grow deader. But Confucius is also Chou [Zhou-era].

The first wave of revolution in the twentieth century had virtually destroyed him, and seemed to destroy with him a precious continuity, an historical identity. Many schools have tried to put these together again. The communists had their own part in the search for time lost, and their own intellectual expedient: bring it back, bring him back, by pushing him back in history. It was a long peregrination, from the Confucian tao, K’ung’s Way, to the past recaptured. 

—  Joseph R. Levenson, Confucian China and Its Modern Fate: A Trilogy
Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968, vol.3, p.82

激烈反傳統思潮震蕩 jīliè fǎn chuántǒng sīcháo zhèndàng: this century-long rupture includes the radical iconoclasm of the early Republic, the New Culture and May Fourth eras (c.1917-1927), the rise of the Communists and their strident attacks on social structures, traditions and culture itself; the Mao era from 1949 to 1978, including the radical iconoclasm of the 1966 Destroy the Four Olds and the Anti-Lin Biao and Anti-Confucius Campaign of from 1973 until Mao’s death in 1976. It continued during the 1980s ‘New Enlightenment’ which was, in many respects, a revival, or some might argue a continuation in new historical circumstances of May Fourth iconoclasm, for its iconoclasm was aimed at the edifice created by the Communist Party which itself had been born of May Fourth iconoclasm. An over-emphasis on ‘anti-traditionalism’ can, however, be deceptive for, even at the most extreme moments, various traditional practices, attitudes and even an overall mindset were either consciously or unconsciously in evidence

慎思明辨 shèn sī míng biàn: ‘to contemplate in depth and make clear distinctions’, a short form of one of the most famous passages in The Doctrine of the Mean one of the Four Books 四書 in the Confucian canon:

Sincerity is the way of Heaven. The attainment of sincerity is the way of men. He who possesses sincerity is he who, without an effort, hits what is right, and apprehends, without the exercise of thought;– he is the sage who naturally and easily embodies the right way. He who attains to sincerity is he who chooses what is good, and firmly holds it fast.

To this attainment there are requisite the extensive study of what is good, accurate inquiry about it, careful reflection on it, the clear discrimination of it, and the earnest practice of it.

誠者,天之道也;誠之者,人之道也。誠者不勉而中,不思而得,從容中道,聖人也。誠之者,擇善而固執之者也。博學之,審問之,慎思之,明辨之,篤行之。

The Doctrine of the Mean
trans. James Legge
《禮記 · 中庸》

From our present historical perspective, it is widely understood that many late-developing nations with ancient cultures went through a phase of radical anti-traditionalism as they struggled to survive and flourish in the modern age. Even a developed nation like France entered its modern era only after spurts of tumultuous advancement.

From our present historical perspective, it is widely understood that many late-developing nations with ancient cultures went through a phase of radical anti-traditionalism as they struggled to survive and flourish in the modern age. Even a developed nation like France entered its modern era only after spurts of tumultuous advancement.

Following such tempests, most older nations have experienced a phase of reflection during which people reassessed and soberly affirmed aspects of their cultural traditions. This should not be dismissed simply as a reactionary phase, a backlash, or an overt ‘return to tradition’. Rather, it generally comes about as the result of a kind of reconciliation with the past and as part of a process of creative adaptation born of hard-won historical and civilisational self-awareness.

This is why we can better appreciate that, following the great winnowing of history, our people — both the civic population and officialdom — have to a great extent sought solace in the teachings of Confucius and Mencius. The groundswell of such interest may well have started out as being an understandable reaction to [the extreme era of national self-negation] that had proceeded it. But it is also why it is noteworthy that traditional festivals like Qingming [in early April] and the Dragon Boat Festival [Duanwu, in June] have been made into national holidays, and that advocates have successfully lobbied to celebrate the annual National Teacher’s Day on the 28th of September, Confucius’s birthday. The Number One Man in the Governing Party [Xi Jinping] even paid his respects at the Confucius Temple during a formal visitation to Qufu [the birthplace of Confucius in Shandong province]. All of these things are far more significant than they may at first appear.

揆諸近代歷史,不少擁有悠久歷史與厚重文明的後發國家,也包括法國這一秉持狂飆突進方式挺進現代的先發國族,時當現代突破初期,求存求榮,都曾經歷過激烈反傳統主義。風雲震蕩之後,痛定思痛,多半會出現向文化傳統的再認同現象。就其優質層面來看,此非簡單復古。毋寧,其為創造性轉化後的歷史自覺與文明自覺,亦甚顯明。職是之故,不難理解,迄而至今,幾番挑揀,為何吾國官民一體,向孔孟正義多所回歸,而且,其勢洶湧,原是物極必反,有以然哉。這不,包括清明、端午成為法定假日,倡議立法規定孔誕為教師節,以及執政黨第一把手禮拜孔廟,再三致意,凡此種種,在在意味深長也!

Notes:

法國 Fǎguó: here the author is referring to the French Revolution of 1789. The American revolution also figures prominently in Chinese accounts of political modernity and social change, and the 1917 Russian Revolution is regarded by the Communists and their supporters as being of epochal significance. One could also argue, however, that it is the French revolution and its aftermath — terror, extremism, constitutional government, war, restoration, revived empire and ongoing political debate and upheaval that, time and again, have provided ideas and lessons for Chinese thinkers

痛定思痛 tòng dìng sī tòng: dating from the Tang dynasty this expression means ‘to ponder the meaning of one’s pain [and its cause] after the pain of actual experience has passed’.

Wei Junyi (韋君宜, 1917-2002) was an influenctial publisher and editor. Trained in the Yan’an era (and an active participant in the Party Rectification Movement described in ‘Drop Your Pants! — Ruling the Rivers & Mountains’) Wei became a major figure in the propaganda and publishing world during the Mao era. In her later years, she expressed regret over her callous political behaviour and titled her confessional memoir 思痛錄, A Painful Record of Pain Inflicted. The book belongs to a of semi-confessional memoirs which started to appear in the late 1970s. The general tenor of such works has been summed up in the line:

To realise one’s real self in youth, to lose your sense of self in your middle years and to regain a sense of who you really are at the end of your life.

早年實現自我, 中年失去自我, 晚年回歸自我。

Following its publication in 1998 the book became a best-seller and the author’s relative honesty was hailed the ‘Wei Junyi Phenomenon’. But it was a phenomenon only in so far as the notorious cultural hardliner was relatively candid about her past. It might have helped sell books, but it did not augur a more widespread fashion for truth-telling

復古 fù gǔ: ‘to return to the ways of the past’, or a ‘revival of the past’. The term 復古 fù gǔ is something of a leitmotif in Chinese thought, politics and literary history. In discussions of the pre-Qin and dynastic eras it may refer to attempts to seek renewal by a return to an idealised past, or efforts to revitalise present ideas, policies or cultural styles by means of emulating venerable precedent or exemplars. From the late-nineteenth century, 復古 fù gǔ has been used to describe everything from revolutionary interpretations of the past to trenchant bids to frustrate meaningful change individuals, groups or political parties promoting selective visions of the tradition.

The first noteworthy, if short-lived, 復古 fù gǔ movement of the modern era occurred in the 1910s. Controversy broke out soon after the founding of the Republic of China — the new, post-dynastic revolutionary state — when, in 1912, educators attempted to ban the formal worship of Confucius, long regarded as a moral paragon and sage-mentor, at institutions of higher learning. At the same time, Yuan Shikai (袁世凱, 1859-1916), the republican president, promulgated ‘An Order to Reinvigorate Morals’ 整飭倫常令 that promoted dogmatic Confucian social ideas, and which underpinned his own autocratic political ambitions. Over the following years, further attempts were made by local governments and conservative educators to impose Confucius worship throughout the country. Some political activists even advocated making Confucianism — a body of ideas and practices defined at the time in a particularly narrow, conservative fashion in emulation of dogmatic Christianity — the state religion or 國教 guó jiào in a bid to turn the republic into a ‘Confucian civilisation-state’ in line with similar efforts being made by major European nations and the Japanese Empire at the time.

尊孔復古 zūn Kǒng fù gǔ, or ‘worship Confucius and return to the past’, was a slogan closely identified with reactionary politics, including Yuan Shikai’s failed attempt in 1916 to establish a new empire by restoring dynastic rule with himself on the Dragon Throne. Progressive activists during the New Culture Movement (新文化運動, c.1917-1927), decried the deadening influence of the past. One of their rallying calls was ‘Put the Confucius Family Enterprise Out of Business’ 打倒孔家店. Scholars like the intellectual historian Yü-sheng Lin (林毓生, 1934-) have long argued that in the Chinese case, in contrast to other older cultures that have experienced phases of anti-traditionalism, the collapse of ‘universal kingship’ and what Lin calls the integrated ‘culturalistic-intellectualistic approach’ of dynastic China, sparked a totalising iconoclasm among the intelligentsia the effects of which would be felt for the rest of the century.

Meanwhile, the struggle with Confucian ideas, along with various political practices, social rituals and educational policies related to them, continued throughout the Republican era. New Confucian thinkers worked to adapt creatively pre-modern ideas to reflect and serve contemporary realities. Meanwhile, politicians reformulated hallowed elements of the tradition to pursue their own goals and, despite the rhetoric of revolution, by the mid 1930s Confucian ideas were being successfully adapted both by the Nationalists under Chiang Kai-shek as well as by the Communists. For his part, Chiang launched a New Life Movement that promoted both Confucian and Methodist values (Chiang had converted when he married Soong May-ling, who was a Christian), while Communist leaders like Liu Shaoqi drew on Confucius, and in particular Mencius, in the decades-long effort to make Marxism-Leninism more palatable.

After 1949, 復古 fù gǔ was re-articulated during the era of martial law on Taiwan, while on the Mainland New Culture Movement-era antipathy towards formalistic Confucianism continued, even as the ‘feudalism’ that the Communists so vehemently denounced was enjoying a new lease on life in a myriad of other ways. Overt attacks on the past reached an apogee during the ‘Smash the Four Olds’ mayhem of 1966-1967 and again when Mao Zedong launched a nationwide anti-Confucius campaign in the 1970s. However, even at the height of revolutionary extremism — first in the 1910s and again during the late 1960s and early 1970s — salient aspects of dynastic state Confucianism flourished in a covert manner.

During the ‘New Enlightenment’ on the Mainland in the 1980s, the early efforts of New Confucians during the Republic, on Taiwan and in Hong Kong were finally accorded a measure of recognition. Over time, ‘New Confucianism’ would flourish (for more on this, see Xu Zhangrun’s comments below). As we have repeatedly argued in our discussions of New Sinology since 2005, the Communists, like their predecessors, take an integrated, ‘culturalistic-intellectual approach’ to rulership. Over the recent decades, China’s ‘ultra-stable system’, to use an expression advanced by Jin Guantao and Liu Qingfeng, has ‘found its feet’ once more, and a process of post-dynastic yet imperially inflected reintegration of politics, ideology, rhetoric and cultural practice has flourished. Despite formal gestures in the direction of a modernised — albeit socially staid, economically stagnant and politically reactionary — form of state Confucianism, Xi Jinping’s particular brand of totalising revanchism also appeals to advocates of what, since the 1990s, has been known as ‘Maoist Fundamentalism’ (also mentioned by Xu Zhangrun below)

創造性轉化 chuàngzàoxìng zhuǎnhuà: ‘creative transformation’ or ‘transvaluation’. This has been the focus of political and cultural debate since the May Fourth era a century ago, and more radical thinkers have repeatedly questioned, and question still, whether such as ‘creative transformation’ of social, political, cultural and personal values is possible. While the Mainland case is still the subject of contestation, Taiwan would seem to be evidence that a Chinese polity can successfully evolve into a vibrant, democratic nation-state. This is one of the reasons why Taiwan is an ‘existential threat’ to the People’s Republic of China and its party-state belief system

歷史自覺與文明自覺 lìshǐ zìjué yǔ wénmíng zìjué: literally, ‘historical and cultural self-awareness’. Concerns about ‘self-awareness’ 自覺 zìjué run through post-dynastic Chinese history. For some, the disintegration of the integrative system of rulership and thought allowed for a meaningful reassessment of the meaning of what it means to be ‘Chinese’; for others the ongoing questioning related to identity and cultural politics threatens the melding of a self-confident new polity. The issues are complex and profound — as is the history of modernity in other climes — and they are coupled with a repeated refrain, that of ‘awakening’ 覺醒 juéxǐng, that is a call for socially active individuals and groups to confront China’s modern crises, its political needs, social backwardness and cultural aspirations.

The Communists, armed as they are with a Marxist-Leninist worldview and the belief that History is on their side, have consistently regarded themselves as masters of a particular form of ‘awareness’ or 覺悟 juéwù. Through ideological training and struggle those who accept the Party’s belief system acquire an awareness that allows them unique access to politically determined ‘truth’. From their earliest days, the Communists have been intent on controlling and guiding awareness, first of their elite cadre, then of all Party members and eventually those over whom they claimed dominion. Their hectoring pedagogy — known variously as propaganda, agit-prop, information, publicity, advertising, or public enlightenment — is aimed at instilling, raising and constantly moulding and further guiding people’s awareness. This on-going process should not be confused with ‘consciousness-raising’, a common refrain from the 1960s which was more about making people politically aware of social issues with the aim of encouraging progressive activism, broad social awareness and, ideally, behavioral and institutional change.

Under Hu Jintao, the Communists boasted of ‘Three Self-confidences’ 三個自信:

  1. Confidence in a Unique [quasi-neo-liberal, semi-socialist] Path of Development 道路自信;
  2. Confidence in a Version of Marxist-Leninist-Maoist (etc, utilitarian state-building) Theory 理論自信; and,
  3. Confidence in a System [dominated by one political party] 制度自信.

When celebrating the ninety-fifth anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party in 2016, Party leader Xi Jinping added ‘Cultural Confidence’ 文化自信 to the list. Subsequently, the ‘Four Self-confidences’ 四個自信 were written into the Party Constitution. Apart from the ‘Four Self-confidences’, the New Era of Xi Jinping also promotes ‘Four Comprehensives’ 四個全面 and ‘Four Awarenesses’ 四個意識

孔孟正義 Kǒng-Mèng zhèng yì: this can mean the correct interpretation of the ideas of Confucius and his successor sage, Mencius, or some form of orthodoxy. For this author it refers to a modern Confucianism advocated by various thinkers and political activists for over a century, one that embraces humanistic traditions while seeking to integrate into itself certain aspects of modernity, including political and social pluralism. In reality, the various strains of Confucianism have often been difficult, if not impossible, to delineate. As part of the return to tradition encouraged by the Communists since the 1990s, constant efforts are made by pro-Party Confucians to blur the distinction and to suffuse the language of Confucianism with Partiinost, that is the ‘Communist Party spirit’, and vice-versa

回歸 huí guī: ‘return’ or ‘regression’. ‘To return’ is to regain a meaningful path after having been waylaid or wandering into dangerous byways. It also means ‘home-coming’. Beijing employed the term 回歸 huí guī to describe the ‘return’ of the territory of the former British Crown Colony of Hong Kong even though it had been ceded under a treaty between the Qing and British empires. Hong Kong did not, in fact, ‘Return to the Fatherland’ 回歸祖國, rather it was subsumed by the second successor state to the Qing dynasty, the first successor state being the Republic of China

其勢洶湧 qí shì xiōnɡ yǒnɡ: an overwhelming or massive surge. Here again we encounter the important word-concept 勢 shì — tendency, potential, situation, propensity — as well as the popular metaphorical environment of surging waters, which we discussed in the first part of this essay in the context of 波 bō/ pō ‘wave’, 主流 zhǔ liú ‘mainstream’ and 潮 cháo ‘tide’: In addressing the ebb and flow of history, both here and elsewhere, the author frequently avails himself of such tidal metaphors

物極必反 wù jí bì fǎn: ‘when things reach an extreme they will move in the opposite direction’, or simply ‘backlash’. This is a constant theme in Chinese thought, politics and culture. A set expression derived from Hexagram XI 否 in the I Ching says 否极泰来 pǐ jí tài lái: ‘communion follows in the wake of obstruction’. Numerous other expressions describe this ebb-and-flow, one of the most common being found in Huainanzi 淮南子 where it says:

Things flourish and thereafter fall into decay;
joy in the extreme is followed by sorrow.

夫物盛而衰,
樂極則悲。

Similar ideas also appear in two of the most popular traditional novels. At the beginning of the fourteenth-century Romance of the Three Kingdoms 三國演義 the author declares that:

In the affairs of the world that which has been one eventually falls asunder, while that which has been in disunity eventually will be brought together.

天下大勢,合久必分,分久必合。

Then there is the famous ‘Well-Done Song’《好了歌》Hǎoliǎo gē in The Dream of the Red Chamber (紅樓夢, aka The Story of the Stone 石頭記), which contains the following verses:

Men all know that salvation should be won,
But with ambition won’t have done, have done.
Where are the famous ones of days gone by?
In grassy graves they lie now, every one.

Men all know that salvation should be won,
But with their riches won’t have done, have done.
Each day they grumble they’ve not made enough.
When they’ve enough, it’s goodnight everyone!

世人都曉神仙好,
唯有功名忘不了,
古今將相在何方,
荒塚一堆草沒了。

 

世人都曉神仙好,
只有金銀忘不了,
終朝只恨聚無多,
及到多時眼閉了。

Cao Xueqin, The Story of the Stone
Volume 1: The Golden Days
translated by David Hawkes
Penguin, 1973, p.63

清明、端午成為法定假日: in November 2007, the traditional festivals of Qingming, Duanwu (the ‘Double Fifth’) and Mid Autumn were made statutory holidays. For more, see New Sinology Jottings, in particular In the Shade 庇蔭 and Lee Yee, My Qingming; and, for Duanwu, see The Double Fifth and the Archpoet

孔誕 Kǒng dàn: ‘Confucius’s birthday’, short for 孔子誕辰日. The actual date of the Sage’s birth has long been disputed, although both Beijing and Taipei have agreed to celebrate it on the 28th of September.

Following the cultural reaction to anti-Confucian sentiment in the 1910s mentioned earlier, neo-traditionalists and patriots struggled to ‘rehabilitate’ the reputation and national role of Confucius. In 1939, the Republic of China announced that the 27th of August would mark the official Birthday of Confucius, although this was changed to the 28th of September 1952 so as to accord with the accepted scholarship of the time. It was decided that, given Confucius’s influence on Chinese pedagogy through the ages, the occasion would also mark National Teacher’s Day 教師節. On the mainland, Confucius was excoriated throughout the Mao era, and his reputation was only gradually revived after 1978.

After 1949, it was declared that henceforth Teacher’s Day would fall on 6 June but, in 1951, the date was changed to the 1st of May: it was reasoned that teachers as members of the proletariat teachers should also be acknowledged on a day that celebrated international workers’ solidarity. Following the purge of intellectuals in 1957, the celebration of pedagogy fell out of favour. In 1982, there was a failed attempt to make the 5th of May, Karl Marx’s birthday, Teacher’s Day. From 1985, as the 10th of September was gazetted as the start of the new school year, it was also decided to name it Teacher’s Day. In 2013, the government announced that henceforth its Teacher’s Day (which was combined with 1st of June, Children’s Day) would now be combined with Confucius’s birthday

執政黨第一把手 zhízhèngdǎng dì yī bǎshǒu: ‘The Number One Man in the Governing Party’, a tongue-in-cheek reference to Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Communist Party

禮拜孔廟 lǐ bài Kǒng miào: 禮拜 lǐ bài, meaning ‘visit’ or ‘visitation’, is used here to indicate, albeit tongue-in-cheek, a quasi-religious pilgrimage to a sacred site. The expression 禮拜 lǐ bài is also short for 行禮叩拜 xíng lǐ kòu bài, ‘to pay formal respects and kowtow’, although in the modern vernacular 禮拜 lǐ bài is commonly used to mean ‘week’, as well as ’weekly prayers’ or religious observance. Another word for Sunday is 禮拜天 lǐ bài tiān, the ‘day for worship’ (or the Sabbath, which, in Old Testament terms is marked from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday).

孔廟 Kǒng miào: the Temple of Confucius in Qufu, Shandong province which Xi Jinping visited on 26 November 2013. The temple consists of many structures devoted to the memory and worship of the original Confucius — Qufu was the birthplace of the Sage. When he popped in to the Confucius Research Institute located next to the temple, the Chairman surveyed a display of books produced by the institute and leafed through two particular volumes — A Complete Explication of ‘The Family Sayings of Confucius’《孔子家語通解》and ‘The Analects’ Fully Annotated 《論語詮解》. The media reported Xi’s remark with breathless delight: ‘I want to take a good look at these two books’ 這兩本書我要仔細看看. The Qufu Confucius complex consists of a large temple complex 孔廟, the Confucian Clan Mansion 孔府 and the Kong Family Graveyard 孔林. They are known as the ‘Three Kong’ 三孔.

For an account of the fate of Qufu during the Cultural Revolution, see Sang Ye and Barmé, ‘Commemorating Confucius in 1966-67 The Fate of the Confucius Temple, the Kong Mansion and Kong Cemetery 孔庙、孔府、孔林’, China Heritage Quarterly, Issue 20 (December 2009). See also Liu Xiaobo, Yesterday’s Stray Dog 喪家狗, Today’s Guard Dog 看門狗, translated by Thomas Moran, China Heritage, 4 January 2019

My point is that, despite the depredations of [the autocratic tradition that dates back to] the harsh legalistic rule of the Qin dynasty, and the more recent policies of class struggle [pursued by the Communists under Mao Zedong] and the [latest] aberrations of autocracy, the core role of Chinese civilisation cannot be so easily usurped.

And here, when I talk about the Exemplary Culture Values of Chinese tradition [that have been through the process of negation, critique, re-evaluation and revitalisation touched on in the above], what I mean is Humanity and Love, Rational Wisdom, Sincerity and Decency. In other words, we find herein:

  • The universalism [of the Ming Confucian thinker Zhang Zai];
  • A humanistic spirit;
  • Ideas about the indivisible connection between heaven and humanity that has given birth to
  • An all-inclusive and mature view of human existence; along with
  • An enlivening sense of a politics that embraces superior ethical norms, and
  • A concomitant approach to culture, civility and education.

These are not mere abstractions for they find articulation in the practical world in which people act according to their superior understanding, to affirm the type of personal integrity of those committed to a higher cause — all of these are universally acceptable and acknowledged ideals; they are also at the cultural heart of China itself, both a mode of living as well as a model to which to aspire. And these very things are in many respects in consonance with the modern ideas encapsulated in the expression [used by the historian Chen Yinque in his 1929 encomium for the scholar Wang Guowei] ‘A Spirit Independent and a Mind Unfettered’, and related to a politics that embraces Democracy and the Rule of Law, as well as Human Rights and Social Inclusiveness.

Yes, all of this reveals that the cultural consciousness and political will of Our Country and Our People are struggling to return to the main thread of Chinese Civilization, in a manner simultaneously temperate but incisive, eager to nurture, to renew and to ascend to a higher level.

It was not so long ago that the expression ‘Chinese traditional culture’ was a widely used pejorative during the attacks on tradition, but many of those things have now been renewed and reaffirmed, evidence surely that the nineteenth-century Germano-Slavic ideology is essentially bankrupt. In this regard, the Maoist Fundamentalists have been on high alert, ever-fearful that 儒 [the Confucian] could well replace 馬 [Marx, that is, Marxism-Leninism]. Woe unto them: for this tension touches on a most sensitive issue, one of contemporary political relevance.

畢竟,仁愛、理智和信義民胞物與人道精神天人合一的圓融智慧、王道政治的道德張力、詩禮文教的文明範式,以及知行合一的實踐理性、士志於道君子人格,本就是普世理念,也是華夏民族作息生聚的文明典範,恰與獨立思想、自由精神與民主法治、人權寬容的現代價值若合符契,豈是秦制苛法與階級鬥爭、專政偏鋒所能輕易取代者也。是啊,它不僅表明吾族吾邦的文化意識和政治意志掙扎重回中國文明主脈之勢,反視回照,即溫即厲,而且,期期於作育更張,更上層樓。曾幾何時,「中國傳統文化」蔚為貶義,備受摧殘,卻轉而復興有像,證明那個十九世紀的日耳曼—斯拉夫意識形態早已破產矣!就此而言,原教旨毛左申言必須防範「以儒代馬」,確也觸及了時事痛點噫嘻

Notes:

仁愛、理智和信義 rén ài, lǐ zhì hé xìn yì: these terms are grounded in modern Confucian thought. Mencius discussed the ‘Four Attributes’ 四端 sì duàn of human nature (see the note on the ‘Four Attributes’ below) as ‘human heartedness’ 仁 rén, ‘righteousness’ 義 , ‘propriety’ 禮 and ‘wisdom’ 智 zhì. In the Han dynasty, with the addition of 信 xìn, these were formalised as the ‘Five Constants’ 五常 of Confucian thought and, as such, were generally derided by progressive and revolutionaries alike from the May Fourth era. In Taiwan things took a different direction, and two major thoroughfares in the capital Taipei featured terms from the Five Constants: Ren’ai Road 仁愛路 and Xinyi Road 信義路.

Since the 1990s, as they proclaimed themselves to be a legitimate ruling government rather than an avowedly revolutionary political party, the Communists have made a more public show of embracing elements of the tradition that suit their rule. These ‘Confucian values’ have therefore been absorbed into language that reflects Party policy. Here, however, the author implicitly rejects both the reformulation of a narrow tradition as defined by cultural and political conservatives throughout the twentieth century, as well as contemporary Communist utilitarianism. The virtues of ‘humanistic love’ 仁愛 rén ài, ‘rationality’ 理智 lǐ zhì and ‘moral faith’ 信義 xìn yì are recast here as universally valid modern societal values

民胞物與 mín bāo wù yǔ: short for 民吾同胞, 物吾與也, ‘[to regard] all other people as one’s fellows and all beings as equals’, an expression meaning ‘shared fellowship with all’, ‘biophilia’ or ‘humanity’, that was formulated by the noted Buddhist- and Taoist-influenced Confucian thinker Zhang Zai (張載, 1020-1077, also known as ‘Master Hengqu’ 橫渠先生). Zhang was popular in the twentieth century, including with the independent Confucian thinker Ma Yifu (馬一浮, 1883-1967) who, in a series of wartime lectures, expressed the belief that Zhang’s famous ‘Four-sentence Teaching of Hengqu’ 橫渠四句 was a panacea for modern China’s benighted state:

Establish a heart-mind on behalf of Heaven and Earth;
Establish life for all living people;
Revive the lost learning of sages past; and,
Open the way to peace for ten-thousand generations.

為天地立心,
為生民立命,
為往聖繼絕學,
為萬世開太平。

In the new millennium Zhang’s ‘Four-Sentence Teaching’ has been promoted both by leaders of the Nationalists on Taiwan (Lien Chan 連戰) and the Communists (Wen Jiabao 溫家寶)

人道精神 rén dào jīngshén: ‘the humanist spirit’. This is generally contrasted with Revolutionary Humanitarianism 革命人道主義 as it is defined and promoted by the Communist Party. The latter is a form of humanism that must conform to the political priorities of the Chinese party-state. For a discussion of humanism and humanity in the context of modern Chinese political ideology, see Homo Xinensis

天人合一 tiān rén hé yī: ‘the Unity of Heaven and Humanity’. This ancient concept is favoured today both by environmentalists who emphasise the mutual dependence of the environment and all living things, as well as by cultural relativists who claim that China has a unique view of humanity, the world and the universe. The celebrated Sinologist Ying-shih Yü (余英時, 1930-) made the following observation on the subject:

The desire to return to the mother, the search for roots, these are cultural aspirations, something that we can appreciate intellectually as well as emotionally. As such I have nothing against this [view of ‘the Unity of Heaven and Humanity’]. Even more so because [as it says in the I Ching] to go means there will be a return, every advance also implies retreat, this is a kind of a revelation of Heavenly Principle and hardly surprising. The problem is that one often finds in the case of China that you haven’t even set out and you are already thinking of the return. You might talk about ‘the Unity of Heaven and Humanity’ but you don’t want to return before you even set out; you don’t want to be extreme and end up rejecting science and modern civilisation itself.

希望回到母體、尋根,這是一種文化要求,合乎學理,順乎人情,沒有什麼不好。何況有往必有復,有進必有退,天理昭彰,原該如此。問題是,中國有時還未及往,就想復。講「天人合一」可以,但不要無往而復,不要走向極端,走到不要科技,不要現代文明。

— 余英時、劉夢溪, ‘為中國文化與社會重建’
《中國網》, 29 September 2008

王道政治 wáng dào zhèngzhì: a ‘politics of the Kingly Way’, that is the way of virtue and benevolence as discussed in Mencius and regarded as being an ideal by Confucian statesmen. The way of the True King is contrasted with the Tyrant’s brutal and unforgiving behaviour, the ‘Way of the Tyrant’ or Hegemon 霸道 bà dào. In the modern context, ideally, the term ‘Kingly Way’ to describes a humane form of government that is responsive both to mass sentiment and needs. In recent years, the Communists have claimed the term 王道 wáng dào for themselves just as they have come to employ 德政 dé zhèng, ‘government by virtue’, another hoary Confucian term, to advertise their beatified state. Meanwhile, they also speak of their role in regional and international politics reflecting a uniquely Chinese ‘Kingly Way’, one that is opposed to the kind of hegemonic power 霸權 bà quán pursued by the United States. At its height of influence, the Japanese Empire also famously claimed that their anti-Western expansion in Asia and into the Pacific was a Realpolitik manifestation of 王道, or おうどう ōdō

詩禮文教 shī lǐ wén jiào: literally, ‘poetry, the rites, the arts and teaching’, translated here as ‘culture, civility and education.’ This is an encapsulation of two expressions. The first, 詩禮傳家 shī lǐ chuán jiā — ‘generational continuity within the family is [based on the teaching and learning of] poetry and ritual’ — comes from a passage related to The Book of Odes 詩 and ritual 禮 in The Analects:

Chen Ziqin [Gang] asked Confucius’s son: “Have you received any special teaching from your rather?” The other replied: “No. Once, as he was standing alone, and I was discreetly crossing the courtyard, he asked me: ‘Have you studied the Poems?’ I replied: ‘No.’ He said: ‘If you do not study the Poems, you will not be able to hold your own in any discussion.’ I withdrew and studied the Poems. Another day, as he was again standing alone and I was discreetly crossing the courtyard, he asked me: ‘Have you studied the ritual?’ I replied: ‘No.’ He said: ‘If you do not study the ritual, you will not be able to take your stand in society.’ I withdrew and studied the ritual. These are the two teachings I received.”

Chen Ziqin went away delighted and said: “I asked one thing, and learned three. I learned about the Poems, I learned about the ritual, and I learned about how a gentleman maintains distance from his son.”

陳亢問於伯魚曰:子亦有異聞乎。對曰:未也。嘗獨立,鯉趨而過庭。曰:學詩乎。對曰:未也。不學詩,無以言。鯉退而學詩。他日又獨立,鯉趨而過庭。曰:學禮乎。對曰:未也。不學禮,無以立。鯉退而學禮。聞斯二者。陳亢退而喜曰:問一得三,聞詩,聞禮,又聞君子之遠其子也。

— The Analects of Confucius
trans. and notes by Simon Leys
New York: W.W. Norton, 1997, pp.83-84
《論語 · 季氏》

The second — 文教 wén jiào — indicates how the written corpus of literature, history and thought — 文史哲 wén shǐ zhé — is used to educate people and uplift them through cultivation so they can achieve a kind of ethically appropriate mindset that will positively inform their behaviour. This process is called 教化 jiào huà, that is the positive transformation or inculcation of a person by means of education in appropriate thought and behaviour. We would note that 文教 wén jiào is also a modern expression for ‘the arts and education’ and we would further observe that the policy of ‘transformative [re-]education’ 轉化教育 zhuǎnhuà jiàoyù imposed in Xinjiang in recent years is also a form of 教化 jiào huà. (For an extended discussion of 文教 wén jiào by Xu Zhangrun see 文教的意義, 儒家網, 15 March 2019.)

A modern, politically defined articulation of 詩禮文教 shī lǐ wén jiào holds that ‘the essence of family traditions is study and good behaviour; the nation will rise on a foundation of culture and education’ 詩禮傳家 文教興國

知行合一 zhī xíng hé yī: ‘the unity of knowledge and action’, abbreviated as 知行 zhī xíng. This is a concept in the thought of Wang Yangming (王陽明, 1472-1529). Wang is regarded as a sage-like thinker in the Confucian lineage of Confucius, Mencius and Zhu Xi (朱熹, 1130-1200). He embraced elements of Buddhism in a philosophy that promoted practical action. His ideas had a profound influence on post-dynastic Chinese, as well as post-Shogunate Japanese, thought

士志於道 shì zhì yú dào: ‘the scholar sets his heart on the Way’, an expression from The Analects, Chapter 4.9, 《論語 · 里仁》

君子人格 jūnzǐ réngé: the ‘personality of the superior man’. The Analects champions the 君子 jūnzǐ, the learned, morally sound and socially adept individual. The ‘jūnzǐ ideal’ was the basis for the dynastic-bureaucratic empires of China from the time of the Han dynasty. Simon Leys describes it in the following way:

Originally it meant an aristocrat, a member of the social elite: one did not become a gentleman, one could only be born a gentleman. For Confucius, on the contrary, the “gentleman” is a member of the moral elite. It is an ethical quality, achieved by the practice of virtue, and secured through education. Every man should strive for it, even though few may reach it. An aristocrat who is immoral and uneducated (the two notions of morality and learning are synonymous) is not a gentleman, whereas any commoner can attain the status of gentleman if he proves morally qualified. As only gentleman are fit to rule, political authority should be developed purely on the criteria of moral achievement and intellectual competence. Therefore, in a proper state of affairs, neither birth nor money should secure power. Political authority should pertain exclusively to those who can demonstrate moral and intellectual qualifications.

Simon Leys, The Analects of Confucius, pp.xxvi-xxvii

In the 1980s, cultural critics like Zhu Dake (朱大可, 1957-) lambasted the revival of Confucian values. In particular Zhu satirised what he dubbed the ‘Confucius-Yan Hui Personality’ 孔顏人格 Kǒng-Yán réngé (Yan Hui 顏回 was Confucius’s favourite disciple) — a kind of culturally and politically pliant ‘new socialist person’ with Chinese characteristics. The contempt Xu Zhangrun expresses for pro-establishment New Confucians below recalls Zhu’s decades-old critique

普世理念 pǔshì lǐniàn: this updates these Chinese concepts in the context of modern universalism. The author discusses his understating of 普世 pǔshì and universal values in the third section of ‘Humble Recognition’, titled ‘Universal Human Nature’ 普遍人性

獨立思想、自由精神 dúlì sīxiǎng、zìyóu jīngshēn: ‘A Spirit Independent, a Mind Unfettered’. This celebrated line comes from the encomium that Chen Yinque wrote for Wang Guowei. As we noted in in ‘And Teachers, Then? They Just Do Their Thing!’ (China Heritage, 10 November 2018):

One of the most famous monuments to freedom of thought and the independent spirit is located on the grounds of Tsinghua University, the institution where our author, Xu Zhangrun, teaches. It is etched on a stele set up to commemorate the scholar Wang Guowei (王國維, 1877-1927), who committed suicide in 1927. The inscription on the stele was written by Chen Yinque (陳寅恪, 1890-1969), a major historian who survived into the People’s Republic only to die in the Cultural Revolution. Chen’s life itself was a monument to principled scholarship, and he remained a conscientious objector to the end

(Note: We transcribe the name 陳寅恪 as Chen Yinque, and that of his artist brother 陳衡恪 as Chen Hengque in keeping with our earlier practice. For more on this, see 姓名讀音 here)

秦制苛法 Qín zhì kē fǎ: the cruel or burdensome laws of the Qin dynasty, or its form of rule 秦制 Qín zhì, an expression that Sima Qian puts in the mouth of Liu Bang, founding emperor of the Han dynasty in The Records of the Grand Historian. As we have commented previously, the ‘Qin system’ 秦制 Qín zhì or ‘Qin-era form of rulership’ is a term used to condemn cruel and autocratic rule. Mao Zedong was given to comparing his rule and that of the Communist Party to that of the First Emperor of the Qin and Xu Zhangrun has previously referred to the Rule of Qin when discussing Xi Jinping’s authoritarianism. See, for example, the section on 秦制妙法, 新貴舊招 Qín zhì miàofǎ, xīn guì jiù zhāo in ‘And Teachers, Then? They Just Do Their Thing!’

Here one is reminded of Mao Zedong’s last poem, written in 1973, in which the man Lin Biao covertly referred to as the ‘First Emperor Qin’ chided the unfailingly sycophantic Guo Moruo 郭沫若. In his early scholastic work Guo had been critical of the Qin tyrant and Mao now took him to task for failing to appreciate the abiding appeal of ‘Qin governance’ 秦制 Qín zhì:

勸君少罵秦始皇,焚坑事件要商量。
祖龍魂死業猶在,孔學名高實秕糠。
百代都行秦政法,十批不是好文章。
熟讀唐人封建論,莫從子厚返文王。

偏鋒 pīan fēng: a common technical term in Chinese calligraphy meaning to be de-centered, off-course or aberrant. Here it is used to indicate behaviour or the pursuit of things in fashion that has negative results

即溫即厲 jí wēn jí lì: ‘amiable and incisive’, an expression taken from The Analects:

A gentleman produces three different impressions. Look at him from afar: he is stern. Come close: he is amiable. Hear what he says: he is incisive.

君子有三變,望之儼然,即之也溫,聽其言也厲。

— The Analects of Confucius,
trans. Simon Leys, p.95
《論語 · 子張》

(Xu also used this expression in his 2018 new year’s essay. See 許章潤, 世界體系中的「改革開放」, 30 January 2018)

更上層樓 gèng shàng céng lóu: ‘advance’, ‘move upward’, ‘enjoy the perspective from higher ground’, more often given as 更上一層樓. This rather clichéd line is a favorite of the author’s and he uses it to mean ‘progress’ or ‘advancement’. It is from the poem ‘Hooded Crane Tower’ 《登鹳雀楼》by Wang Zhihuan (王之涣, 688-742CE):

The bright sun rests on the mountain, is gone.
The Yellow River flows into the sea.
If you want to see a full thousand miles,
Climb one more story of this tower.

白日依山盡,
黃河入海流。
欲窮千里目,
更上一層樓。

trans. Stephen Owen

貶義 biǎn yì: ‘negative connotation’ or ‘pejorative’. Chinese has a rich lexicon of value-laden and moral-evaluative words. They can convey negative meanings 貶義 biǎn yì, positive and laudatory sentiments 褒義 bāo yì or they may be neutral in significance 中義 zhōng yì. The expression 褒貶 bāo biǎn means ‘to evaluate’, ‘critique’, ‘comment negatively’.

The history of politically and culturally charged vocabulary, usually referred to as ‘Writing in the Spring and Autumn Style’ 春秋筆法 or the ‘Expression of Profundity Through Subtle Language’ 微言大義, is discussed in New China Newspeak. Due to the political and cultural ructions since the nineteenth century many terms, both classical and modern, have gone through major linguistic transformations, taking on positive or negative connotations depending on the politics of the day.

Sound-byte China Watchers and soi-disant Experts on Things Chinese, business people and journalists of all stripes, as well as China’s own Communist apparatchiki and state academics are fond of the expression ‘The Correction of Names’, or the ‘Rectification of Names’ 正名 in discussing Party history and policy changes. Most are unaware that this concept is not mere Sinobabble or quotable Confucian sophistry; it touches on one of the central themes of Confucian-influenced thought and history from the earliest times: the use of value-laden language to form perceptions and to mould reality itself.

Sometimes referred to as ‘Expressing the Profound Meaning of the Spring and Autumn [Annals]’ 春秋大義, this form of evaluative writing reflects how power-holders, historians and writers more generally present ideas related to Right and Wrong 是非 shì fēi, the Aberrant and the Correct 邪正 xié zhèng (or Heterodox and Orthodox), Good and Evil 善惡 shàn è by means of positive and negative 褒貶 bāo biǎn ways of expressing judgments. Traditionally, this integrated moralistic worldview was of central importance to how history was written and how, in the form of precedent, it could be manipulated to inform and guide the present. The habits of the Spring and Autumn, combined with Soviet-Maoist-influenced ideological language and the guided media (that is, a regime of all-embracing censorship), are important in understanding the ‘Empire of meaning’ in the People’s Republic.

In the introduction to The Records of the Grand Historian 《史記 · 太史公自序》, Sima Qian declared, and I paraphrase, that by means of his evaluative editing of the Spring and Autumn Annals (an important account of the statecraft and history of the preceding centuries), Confucius had clarified the righteous way of the former kings, resolved doubts and delineated the true from the false. In the process he appraised all that was good and evil, worthy and reprehensible in the past; he selected what incidents to record, and how they were to be depicted; and, he passed judgment on why particular rulers flourished while others fell, thereby illuminating the Kingly Way. 夫春秋,上明三王之道,下辨人事之紀,別嫌疑,明是非,定猶豫,善善惡惡,賢賢賤不肖,存亡國,繼絕世,補敝起廢,王道之大者也。

An early, and frequently cited, example of Chinese moral-evaluative language is found in a discussion of three different ways to describe killing in Mencius. The three are:

shā: ‘to kill’, a neutral or morally apolitical term 中義詞 used when recording the murder of a person who is not guilty of crime;
shì: ‘to assassinate’, a pejorative verb 貶義詞 that depicts the morally indefensible murder of a good ruler or a superior, an act that contravenes the Will of Heaven and upsets the proper order of society; and,
zhū: ‘to execute’, or ‘to kill’ a criminal or a tyrannical ruler in an act that is morally justifiable. In such a context, the word has a positive meaning 褒義詞.

Or, as the discussion is recorded in Mencius:

The king Xuan of Qi asked, saying, ‘Was it so, that Tang banished Jie [an evil ruler], and that king Wu smote Zhou [a tyrant]?’ Mencius replied, ‘It is so in the records.’

The king said, ‘May a minister then put his sovereign to death?’

Mencius said, ‘He who outrages the benevolence proper to his nature, is called a robber; he who outrages righteousness, is called a ruffian. The robber and ruffian we call a mere fellow. I have heard of the cutting off of the fellow Zhou, but I have not heard of the putting a sovereign to death, in his case.’

齊宣王問曰:湯放桀,武王伐紂,有諸。孟子對曰:於傳有之。
曰:臣弒其君,可乎。
曰:賊仁者謂之賊,賊義者謂之殘,殘賊之人謂之一夫。聞誅一夫紂矣,未聞弒君也。

— ‘King Hui of Liang:
Book I, Part II, Chapter 8’
The Works of Mencius
trans. James Legge
《孟子 · 梁惠王章句下》

原教旨毛左 yuán jiàozhǐ Máo zuǒ: ‘Fundamentalist Mao Leftists’. This is a combination of the terms ‘Red Fundamentalism’ 原紅教旨主義 and ‘Mao Leftist’ 毛左. Pro-state Confucians, New Marxists and Maoist revanchists (not to mention their foreign fellow-travellers) share more than a little in common: be it in regard to their views of historical necessity, moral perfectibility, the mutability of humanity, the place of class and hierarchy in society, the leadership of an ideologically enlightened vanguard, and so on and so forth.

During the 1989-1992 ‘interregnum’, that is the period between the broad-based reform era of the 1980s and the economic-but-not-political reforms revived after Deng Xiaoping’s Tour of the South in early 1992, liberal elements within the Party and members of the elite were alert to the dangers posed by a reinvigorated form of Mao-era ‘fundamentalism’.

Following the repression of the April-June 1989 student-led mass protests, ‘Maoist nativism’ which had been a feature of inner-party power struggles and ideological debates since the 1970s gained ground, this time with more dedicated official support. The protests — simplistically characterised both in- and outside China as being a ‘democracy movement’ — had themselves reflected aspects of ‘populist’ sentiment sparked by inequalities resulting from the economic reforms.

Indeed, anxiety over Maoist revivalism reflected one of the ideological and systemic problems at the heart of the post-1978 reforms: the socialist-era welfare state was being undermined by what were essentially market-oriented neo-liberal policies which helped enrich a secretive party elite, while the social and political mechanisms that could ameliorate the decline of hard-won popular rights were stymied by one-party rule, dominated by the same secretive elite. Thus, basic freedoms, political transparency and popular advocacy — let alone a functioning legal system or the right to form independent unions or rural lobby groups — were repeatedly frustrated and, over time, the logic of a neo-liberal one-party economic order gave birth to a highly successful form of authoritarian state capitalism.

During the 1989 protests, some regarded the Party leader Zhao Ziyang as representing a pro-Western elite ideologically committed to selling out the interests of labouring people and undermining Mao-era policies in health, education and housing.

Over the past two decades, quasi-Maoist ideas have been articulated both by members of the intelligentsia — New Leftists as well as rat-bag Maoists — and some Party leaders, most notably Bo Xilai 薄熙來, Party Secretary of Chongqing until his fall in 2012. Since then, Xi Jinping, advised by ideologues like Wang Huning 王滬寧 and numerous intellectual enthusiasts who vie for official acceptance, have embraced elements of the Maoist canon and traditional conservative social values while shoring up a Party system that is, in effect, funded by global and local mass consumerism

以儒代馬 yǐ Rú dài Mǎ: ‘to replace Marxism with Confucianism’. Here 馬 is used to represent the broad spectrum of Chinese-style Marxist thought; 儒 indicates the ideas, political practices and moral aspirations covered by the nebulous term ‘Confucianism’.

Ever since the Communists came to power there had been repeated speculation both within the Chinese world, and among outside analysts and academics that, given the weight of tradition and the ever-pervasive influence of late-dynastic social practice and habits of mind, some form of Confucianism would inevitably replace the Sinified Marxism-Leninism of Mao and his followers. This is not an uncommon view in the post-revolutionary China of today, in particular among those who wilfully ignore the fact that despite claims that the Party respects tradition, the People’s Republic is essentially a syncretic Leninist-Maoist state.

The body of traditional thought summed up under the term 儒 , which includes the teachings and works of many pre-Qin-era thinkers apart from Confucius and Mencius — they are known as the ‘Hundred Schools of Thought’ 諸子百家 zhū zǐ bǎi jiā. In the modern era, this body of classical thought, and its accompanying exegeses form the basis of 國學 gúoxúe, ‘national scholarship’. This corpus of traditional learning was developed, formulated and codified over a millennium from the Song dynasty and it has been creatively inherited by the modern nation-state and it is constantly drawn upon as a ‘resource’ both by political pragmatists and cultural essentialists. (See The Practice of History and China Today, The China Story Journal, 26 August 2015.)

Since 1989 in particular, aspects of what is loosely termed ‘the tradition’, in particular elements of re-engineered dynastic State Confucianism, have been promoted as a way to broaden the Party’s ideological and quasi-religious appeal. The strategy of claiming cultural legitimacy for the Party has also played a role in united front efforts to embrace people in Taiwan and the Chinese diaspora. Furthermore, pro-Party ‘New Confucians’ have collaborated in this commingling of ideologies with enthusiasm since, in a very practical sense, it promises influence, fame and fortune. For the most successful of their number the Party’s trajectory parallels personal proclivity in what is a twenty-first-century version of 經世之學 jīng shì zhī xué, the way to apply Confucian ideas to dealing with real-world problems.

In the process, however, a number of Communist stalwarts, hard-line Party thinkers and populist Maoists have expressed concerns that over time Confucian authoritarianism could have too great an appeal and that, as part of the reassertion of hallowed traditional concepts and practices, other less easily corralled aspects of the Confucian worldview might also enjoy a revival. Such elements of Confucian thought that are not aligned with the state and its needs. Previously, we have given the example of Liang Shuming’s thinking, and in future we will discuss Chen Renbing (陳仁炳, 1909-1990) and his use of the writings of Jia Yi (賈誼, 200-168 BCE, mentioned earlier) in 1957. Here Xu Zhangrun discusses such things as humanism, charity, compassion, universalism, dissent against rulers deemed to be immoral and unrighteous, and so on — these can all pose a threat to the Party status quo that is both different from and in certain regards greater than that of the ‘Western values’ which are more easily, and frequently, dismissed as being unsuited to Chinese realities.

In his unparalleled, although not unproblematic, three-volume study of the fate of Confucianism in modern China, with some foresight, along with many misgivings, Joseph Levenson observed of the Communist ideal to mould the intelligentsia in general, and scientists in particular to be both politically engaged (Red 紅) and technically adept (Expert 專) that:

…the demand for ‘red and expert’, the redder the better, had long been heard in the land, and could doubtless be heard again. The question has been raised of a possible affinity between this demand and the Confucian preference for the highly indoctrinated universal man over the specialist. If the affinity existed, then the Confucian spirit might well be thought, in a sense, imperishable.

Joseph R. Levenson, Confucian China and
Its Modern Fate, vol.3, p.81

We would argue that within the stable of China’s house-trained intellectuals, in particular in the case both of Neo-Cons and New Leftists, an abiding ‘Confucian spirit’ does, indeed, appear to be imperishable.

As we have observed in our notes to Xu Zhangrun’s work, as well as in our study of Homo Xinensis, with the accommodation of Marxism-Leninist ideas to Chinese realities from the 1920s, and as part of the effort to make that radical foreign credo more appealing to a broader population, elements of Confucian thought were adapted to create a hybrid, Sinified ideology. This was a painstaking and gradual process involving, among other things, the importance of works like Liu Shaoqi’s lectures on the cultivated communist, as well as the writings of Mao, Hu Qiaomu 胡喬木, Hu Sheng 胡繩, Fan Wenlan 范文瀾, Ai Siqi 艾思奇 and various other historians, philosophers along with numerous policy-oriented Party thinkers. In 2021, this evolutionary enterprise will mark its first century. We will return to this topic below, when Xu Zhangrun quotes the famous line ‘there’s a little bit of you in me and a little bit of me in you’ 你儂我儂 nǐ nóng wǒ nóng

時事痛點 shí shì tòngdiǎn: ‘a sensitive spot in contemporary political affairs’. The nub of this debate is that Communist ideologues and their academic partisans are now more acutely aware than ever that, over time, political Confucian balderdash could be used to further subvert and eventually subsume Marxism-Leninism

噫嘻 yī xī: ‘that’s sad!’, an exclamation found in such classical works as ‘On the Sounds of Autumn’《秋聲賦》, a timeless composition by Ouyang Xiu (歐陽修, 1007-1072), a Song-dynasty scholar-official:

I said to my page boy, “What noise is this? Go and have a look.” When the boy came in again he said, “Equally white and clean are the stars and the moon, and the Milky Way hangs in the sky. There’s no human sound anywhere; the sound comes from among the trees.”

I said, “Well, that’s sad. It’s the sound of autumn, but why does it come to us?…”

余謂童子:此何聲也。汝出視之。童子曰:星月皎潔,明河在天,四無人聲,聲在樹間。 余曰:噫嘻,悲哉。此秋聲也,胡為而來哉。

trans. Wong Siu Kit, An Anthology of Ancient Chinese Prose
Hong Kong: Asian Education Times Ltd., 2007, p.556

However, let me take a step back here and say that, at a time when the best and the worst in China are muddled together, it behooves us to be judicious in our analysis. So I must emphasize that what I mean by ‘Cultural Traditions’ are those things that contribute to a vital, living reality. Similarly, to my mind, the expression ‘Traditional Culture’ indicates all that is decrepit and ossified in China’s past, things that represent little more than the dregs of the culture. What is worthy of respect and justifies being transmitted to future generations is our vital cultural inheritance, not the fossilised remnants of the past. As fossils, they are lifeless and beyond resuscitation. In other words, what deserves attention, and our appreciation — the things to be enhanced and transmitted to posterity — are living traditions, those things that have proven over time to be worthy of emulation and that remain a source of inspiration today.

To be more precise — although it should hardly be necessary to say this — ‘Cultural Traditions’ are not just limited to Confucian traditions, nor indeed can ‘Confucian Ideas’ claim a monopoly over Chinese culture and its modes of expression. For the lives, hearts and minds of people today any academic school of thought — in particular, that vast intellectual enterprise marshaled under the capacious umbrella of New Confucianism — that might possibly play a significant role [in the nation’s life], as well as the various schools of thought engaged with the ancient desire to ‘cultivate self, succour family, contribute to society and work towards universal well being’, if they are really to be of some use, then they must at the minimum confront what I call ‘Four Great Challenges’. That is, we are obliged to adjudicate the value of the tradition in terms of how it measures up with respect to four broad areas of concern. In so doing, tradition must demonstrate its true worth as well as its long-term viability.

不過,話說回頭,當此之際,泥沙俱下,必須嚴予分辨。文化傳統是活的,而傳統文化可能是死的,或者,不少皆為糟粕。所當致意而轉化的是文化傳統,而非化石般的傳統遺存。既為化石,就已無法轉化,因而,所當致力體悟傳承而發揚光大者,毋寧,乃文化傳統與文明典範也。進而言之,且不說所謂「中國文化傳統」非止儒學一脈,其文明典範更非儒義所能壟斷,即就當下世道人心而言,任何一種學說思想,特別是類如新儒學這類希冀有所作為的龐大思想體系,乃至於一切醉心於也似乎必須致力於修齊治平的意識形態,倘欲真切有所作為,都至少不得不面對下述四項重大考驗,而檢驗其德性,表明其成色,落定其功效

Notes:

泥沙俱下 ní shā jù xià: literally, ‘the flow [of the Yellow River] contains both silt and sand’, that is, things that can be destructive, such as silt 泥  — sedimentation of the Yellow River has repeatedly resulted in deadly flooding — as well as the are useful, or good, like sand and stones 沙 shāshort for 沙石

傳統文化 chuántǒng wénhuà: ‘traditional culture’ is an expression that the author employs to discuss Party-sanctioned and promoted elements of the past, now part of a monolithic ‘China Story’ 中國的故事 engineered and policed by the party-state. In this context, Joseph Levenson’s observation on the museumification of Chinese culture is worth recalling:

Ancient Egyptian culture, mummies and all, has also filled museums. But foreigners (including the modern Arabic- speaking, non-hieroglyphic Egyptians) are the curators. There lies the difference between the Pharaohs and Confucius. By making their own museum-approach to traditional Chinese culture, the Chinese kept their continuity without precluding change. Their modern revolution—against the world to join the world, against their past to keep it theirs, but past—was a long striving to make their museums themselves. They had to make their own accounting with history, throwing back a new line, and holding fast to it, while heading in quite the opposite direction.

Levenson, Confucian China and
Its Modern Fate, vol.1, p.124

Levenson concludes his trilogy on the fate of Confucianism with parable drawn from the Hasidic tradition, one that resonates powerfully with Xu Zhangrun’s discussion of contemporary Chinese politics and culture:

When the Baal Shem had a difficult task before him, he would go to a certain place in the woods, light a fire and meditate in prayer—and what he had set out to perform was done. When a generation later the ‘Maggid’ of Meseritz was faced with the same task he would go to the same place in the woods and say: We can no longer light the fire, but we can still speak the prayers—and what he wanted done became reality. Again a generation later Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sassov had to perform this task. And he, too, went into the woods and said: We can no longer light a fire, nor do we know the secret meditations belonging to the prayer, but we do know the place in the woods to which it all belongs—and that must be sufficient; and sufficient it was. And when another generation had passed and Rabbi Israel of Rishin was called upon to perform the task, he sat down on his golden chair in his castle and said: We cannot light the fire, we cannot speak the prayers, we do not know the place, but we can tell the story of how it was done.

 Levenson, Confucian China and
Its Modern Fate, vol.3, pp.124-125

糟粕 zāo pò: dregs or chaff. This term was famously used by Mao when speaking about the need to discard the chaff 糟粕 zāo pò of traditional culture while retaining its kernel or essence 精華 jīng huá. Or, as he put it: 去其糟粕, 取其精華 qù qí zāo pò, qǔ qí jīng huá.

On the occasion of the founding of the Chinese Traditional Opera Institute in Beijing on 3 April 1951, Mao was asked to elaborate on an old Yan’an era slogan — ‘Let a Hundred Flowers Blossom, Discard the Old and Promote the New’ 百花齊放, 推陳出新. He explained that:

Dated means Old; everything from the past is by its nature Outmoded, or what people call Tradition. Within Tradition there is a Kernel [positive essence], as well as Chaff. That’s why reform is necessary. ‘Promote’ can be interpreted to mean ‘push for’, ‘push over’, ‘overturn’; but, you see, it can also be interpreted as meaning ‘celebrate’, ‘pursue’, ‘advance’. Old operas have to be analysed on a case-by-case basis. Those democratic elements, their Positive Essence, should be celebrated, pursued and advanced; as for the Feudalistic Chaff, well, it should be shunned, pushed out, overturned. That’s the most appropriate interpretation [of my slogan].

陳者舊也,過去的事物都叫舊,也就是所謂傳統。傳統有精華,也有糟粕,所以要改革。「推」字可以作推開、推掉、推翻解釋,也可以解釋成推崇、推動、推進嘛。對於舊的傳統劇目要具體分析,其中民主性的精華要推崇、推動、推進;封建性的糟粕要推開、推掉、推翻,這就對了。

— 祝曉風, 易丹,
‘毛澤東「百花齊放,
推陳出新」題詞的故事’
《中華讀書報》
2004年7月19日

From the 1950s, one of the central conundrums of the authorities has been how to identify and differentiate between the ‘chaff’ and the ‘kernel’ of tradition. They employ a shorthand expression to sum up their policy goal, a winnowing process that has led to the repression and destruction of far more than it has preserved. The avowed aim is ‘to examine, critique and critically inherit the national cultural legacy’ 批判地繼承民族的文化遺產. Even the most generous observer would note that this has been applied unevenly and with questionable success. Identifying an approved and malleable kernel of the past is an endeavour that has been paired with an avowed need to ‘absorb elements of progressive foreign culture’ 吸收外來進步文化

轉化 zhuǎnhuà: ‘change’, ‘transmogrify’, ‘creatively adapt’. This term has been discussed in the above where it also relates to the concept of what Friedrich Nietzsche called ‘the revaluation of all values’, or ‘transvaluation’. The language here, and earlier, reflects a belief in a kind of ‘civilisational perfectionism’. Hardly unique to China, here the mindset is informed both by Confucian and Buddhist traditions, as well as having been influenced by a range of modern ideologies dating from the European Enlightenment and promoted by the Nationalist and Communist parties alike. It has resulted in a state-oriented, centralised belief that ideas, political attitudes, social values and even culture itself can be moulded and engineered according to some well-articulated plan. It was, and is, believed that through a combination of political will and large budgets, along with submissive cultural and educational establishments, governments, acting on the advice of wise men (women are rarely involved) can transform the nation. Similar views and approaches were common in ‘the West’ from the nineteenth-century. The neo-liberal approach to ‘creative industries’ is also partly informed by this kind of thinking

傳統遺存 chuántǒng yícún: ‘the remnants’ or ‘relics of tradition’. For a meditation on the word-concept 遺 , which informs the rationale of China Heritage, see our essay ‘On Heritage 遺’

體悟傳承 tǐ wù chuán chéng: ‘experience leading to realising [the nature] of transmission and continuity’. As the Communist Party continued efforts to reconcile its revolutionary history with its status as a ruling party with a civilian role in the 1990s, elements of tradition were more broadly incorporated into contemporary thinking, policy formulation and language. The term 傳承 chuán chéng, literally, ‘transmit and inherit’, originally popular in Taiwan, gradually gained currency on the Mainland. Indeed, many Taiwanese Chinese terms and usages untainted by decades of Communist overuse and abuse have been adopted by Mainland policy makers and the intelligentsia. An older official slogan framed the concept in terms of 承前啟後, 繼往開來 ‘advancing towards the future on the basis of the past; connecting to what has gone before while opening up a way ahead’

世道人心 shì dào rén xīn: ‘the ways of the world and the sentiment of the human heart-mind’

新儒學 xīn rú xué: New Confucianism, discussed below

修齊治平 xiū qí zhì píng: this is abbreviation for the terms 修身 xiū shēn、齊家 qí jiā、治國 zhì guó、平天下 píng tiānxià, which is the central theme of The Great Learning 大學 dà xué, one of the canonical Confucian Four Books mentioned earlier. The true 君子 jūnzǐ or scholar-gentleman of tradition, would find that:

Their persons being cultivated,
their families were regulated.
Their families being regulated,
their States were rightly governed.
Their States being rightly governed,
the whole kingdom was made tranquil and happy.

身脩而后家齊,

家齊而后國治,

國治而后天下平。

The Great Learning
trans. James Legge
《大學》

Here we translate an expression that deserves a more lengthy exegesis simply as: ‘cultivate self, succour family, contribute to society and work towards universal well being’

檢驗其德性, 表明其成色, 落定其功效: ‘measure their superiority 德性 dé xìng, demonstrate their real worth 成色 chéng sè and prove their sustainable efficacy 功效 gōng xiào’. The pattern here is: verb + 其 + nominal compound, which produces a three-part sentence, or tricolon, a rhetorical device favoured by the author. As we previously observed the ‘tricolon’, or 反覆 fǎn fù, or 排比 pái bǐ, ‘parallelism’ uses three terms or phrases that emphasise and strengthen the meaning of the sentence while building to a crescendo. Sentences using 排比 pái bǐ, a common feature of New China Newspeak can contain more than three elements. For examples, see Qian Gang, ‘Parallelisms for the Future’, China Media Project, 12 March 2019 

The Four Great Challenges relate to [the ways in which individuals or groups that champion vital Chinese Cultural Traditions regard]:

1. Power

In the first place, there is no avoiding the question of how one deals with Power. One must see how vital traditions enable choices to be made between The Way 道 [of moral and ethical probity] and Situational Realities 勢 [that is, from the status quo to how the positive and negative potentiality of power is perceived], as well as how conflicts between Virtue 德 and Position 位 are mediated. In particular, when the prevailing powers act with impunity, one cannot simply bury one’s head in the sand, or worse, meekly complying with their misdeeds, or [to employ another metaphor] by tacking one’s sails to the prevailing winds;

2. Social Reality

Secondly, one must honestly recognise existing social ills, and that recognition must include an ability to respond appropriately to injustice and the immoral behavior of malevolent power-holders. To that end, one must be prepared to assume the role of social critic;

3. The Limits of Human Nature

Thirdly, one must have the courage and depth of understanding to appreciate the evil propensity of human nature and its various political manifestations. Under no circumstances can one pretend to be oblivious or seek anonymity in collective silence, or, even worse: to stand idly by while discoursing on the profundities of the heart-mind as championed by Neo-Confucian thought while airily keeping above the fray; and,

4. Process and Probity

Fourth, last but by no means least, in responding pragmatically to these issues, one must demonstrate an appreciation of the importance of due process and decision making, as well as being mindful of the necessity to pursue rational ways and means to achieve goals, along with the wherewithal required for the pragmatic implementation of ideas. That is, one must devote oneself to how ideas and ideals can be realised in practice while avoiding aimless drift. Thereby one can focus on putting particular methodologies to the test while measuring oneself against viable moral standards.

第一,無法回避對於權力的態度,而必得在道勢兩端取捨,於德位之間從違。尤當公權恣肆缺德之際,總不能做縮頭烏龜,甚至於反而唯唯諾諾響應風從

第二,必得正視社會苦難,包括面對惡政窳治之不公不義而慨然回應,發揮社會批判效能

第三,勇敢而深切地關注人性之惡及其政制形態,絕不能視而不見,集體失聲,卻袖手談心性逍遙扮鴕鳥;

第四,最後但並非無關緊要的是,在回應與解決上述問題之際,對於程序和方式的選擇,有關程序理性與正當程序的思考設計,其之是否切應貼合,有無目的與方法的背反之虞等等,展現審慎的方法論思考與深切的道德緊張。

Notes:

道勢 dào shì: one’s sense of The Way 道 dào of moral decency and virtue and one’s attitude to Prevailing Power, here 勢 shì — ‘situation’ or ‘propensity’ — means the way in which power operates at any given moment

德位 dé wèi: ‘Probity and Position’, that is the relationship between the individual’s moral standing and the worldly position that they occupy. In the tradition, the two were often seen as being in conflict, or at least the relationship between them required constant reconciliation. One old saying holds that: ‘If one’s moral stature is unequal to the position one holds, disaster is inevitable’ 德不配位, 必有災殃. For more on this, see the note on 以德抗位 yǐ dé kàng wèi in the following passage

唯唯諾諾 wěiwěi nuònuò: As we noted in Xu Zhangrun 許章潤, And Teachers, Then? They Just Do Their Thing!, China Heritage, 10 November 2018:

諾諾 nuònuò: to be obsequious, compliant or fawning. The expression has two famous uses in relation to pre-Qin historical figures:

1. In Sima Qian’s ‘Biography of Lord Shang’ 《史記 · 商君列傳》 it says:

The refusal of one decent man outweighs the acquiescence of the multitude
千人之諾諾,不如一士之諤諤。

(Also used by Simon Leys as the untranslated epigraph in The Chairman’s New Clothes, his 1971 exposé of the Cultural Revolution. See Barmé, ‘One Decent Man’The New York Review of Books, 28 June 2018.)

The context of this quotation is: 趙良曰: 千羊之皮, 不如一狐之腋; 千人之諾諾, 不如一士之諤諤。武王諤諤以昌,殷紂墨墨以亡; and,

2. Han Fei 韩非, one of the thinkers behind the Qin autocracy, warned against sycophants:

A person who is already offering obedience before an order is given;
Someone who utters their compliance before a task is assigned.
Constantly examining their master’s countenance to gauge their wishes.

此人主未命而唯唯,未使而諾諾,先意承旨,觀貌察色以先主心者也。

‘Eight Kinds of Treachery’
Hanfeizi 《韓非子 · 八奸》

This is the source of the common modern expression 唯唯諾諾 wěiwěi nuònuò, ‘servile compliance’

響應風從 xiǎng yīng fēng cóng: this is usually written 風從響應 fēng cóng xiǎng yīng, literally, ‘to follow every breeze and respond to every sound’. The inversion of words in four-character set phrases is a rhetorical move that allows an author to employ a familiar, or clichéd, line in a way that makes the reader pause and appreciate the expression anew. For a discussion of the word 風 fēng, see ‘Mendacious, Hyperbolic & Fatuous — an ill wind from People’s Daily, China Heritage, 10 July 2018

人性之惡 rén xìng zhī è: ‘the dark side of human nature’ or ‘the evil essence of humanity’ was debated by New Confucians in the twentieth century who embraced ideas related to human evil found in philosophical Buddhism. For their part, Marxist-Leninists, who were deeply influenced by Enlightenment ideas about engineering human behaviour, have struggled the past century to re-tool humanity. As Benjamin Schwartz observed:

When one studies the moral orientations of non-Western civilizations, one ultimately finds that however much the moral systems of these civilizations may differ in their positive commitments, they tend to be in astounding agreement concerning the manifestations of moral evil. Greed, pride, vanity, the desire for ascendancy and fame, uncontrolled sensual passions, calculating ambition—all of these would be readily recognized as vices by Buddhists and Confucianists as well as by the mainstream of Western “traditional” ethics. These traditions may have quite divergent views of the degree of tolerance to be accorded to the self-regarding impulses, but in general the aggressive assertion of the ego is negated.

Benjamin I. Schwartz, ‘The Rousseau Strain in the Contemporary World’,
Daedalus, vol.107, no.3 (Summer, 1978): 193-206, at p.197

視而不見,集體失聲 shì ér bù jiàn, jítǐ shī shēng: ‘pretend to be oblivious or seek anonymity in collective silence’. A feature of Xu Zhangrun’s writings is his repeated critique of silence. See, for example, his ‘And Teachers, Then? They Just Do Their Thing!’, China Heritage, 10 November 2018. There we observed that:

What is noteworthy about Professor Xu’s outspokenness in 2018, and the defense of liberal ideas and economic policies by other members of the Unirule Institute of Economics in Beijing, is not that such views are uncommon within the intelligentsia — there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that they are indeed common — but that the academic liberal stars, as well as their fellow internationally fêted champions of left-wing thought, have been egregious in their silence. In their 1990s to 2012 heyday, these men and women enjoyed both state largesse and overseas kudos. As the limited freedom of expression grudgingly tolerated by Xi Jinping’s predecessors gave way to ever greater ideological policing, and while academic independence was being further eroded, the studied circumspection of this generally loquacious and always opinionated clutch of academicians has been noteworthy, if unsurprising. (For more on this topic, see Xu Zhiyuan 許知遠, Elephants & Anacondas, China Heritage, 28 June 2017.)

Furthermore, in our explanation of the expression 無聲 wú shēng — ‘silence’ or ‘voicelessness’ — in that same essay, we noted that:

The writer Lu Xun helped to popularise it in an era of protest and repression when he spoke of ‘voiceless China’ 無聲的中國 and his hope that in the future the young would speak up. Even Deng Xiaoping, who was no friend of free speech, famously used the expression ‘silence’ 無聲 in his closing remarks at a work meeting of the Communist Central Committee held in December 1978:

The worst thing for a revolutionary political party is to fail to listen to the people; it’s deeply worrying if there is nothing but silence [literally, if even the magpies and sparrows are quiet]. 一個革命政黨,就怕聽不到人民的聲音,最可怕的是鴉雀無聲。

Given Deng’s crucial role in the suppression of intellectual and academic freedom in the 1957 purge of ‘Rightists’, this was a hard-won realisation. However, it was soon followed by the silencing of a new generation of outspoken men and women; they were deemed the wrong kind of ‘people’. Most famous of their number was Wei Jingsheng (魏京生, 1950-), who was arrested in March 1979 after having published in samizdat form a pointed essay about Deng and the Party titled ‘Democracy or Autocracy Renewed?’ 要民主還是要新的獨裁. The silencing of the voices of men and women of conscience in China’s People’s Republic has continued in waves of varying intensity and unpredictable frequency ever since. Another common expression for this in the written language is 噤聲 jìn shēng, literally ‘silencing voices’

心性 xīn xìng: ‘the doctrine of mind-nature’, a feature of New Confucian philosophy related to the ‘concentration of mind on an exhaustive study of the nature of the universe’. 心性 xīn xìng and its philosophical importance are discussed in ‘A Manifesto for a Re-appraisal of Sinology and Reconstruction of Chinese Culture’ 為中國文化敬告世界人士宣言, written by a collective of New Confucians and published in Taiwan in 1958, referred to elsewhere in these Notes.

Mencius said, ‘He who has exhausted all his mental constitution knows his nature. Knowing his nature, he knows Heaven.

‘To preserve one’s mental constitution, and nourish one’s nature, is the way to serve Heaven.

‘When neither a premature death nor long life causes a man any double-mindedness, but he waits in the cultivation of his personal character for whatever issue; — this is the way in which he establishes his Heaven-ordained being.’

孟子曰:盡其心者,知其性也。知其性,則知天矣。存其心,養其性,所以事天也。殀壽不貳,修身以俟之,所以立命也。

‘Jin Xin:
Book VII, Part I, Chapter 1’
The Works of Mencius
trans. James Legge
《孟子 · 盡心上》

逍遙 xiāo yáo: ‘to wander’, ‘to be unfettered’, ‘carefree’, ‘blasé’. This alliterative term famously features in ‘逍遙遊’, the title of the first chapter of Zhuangzi 莊子 translated by Burton Watson as ‘Free and Easy Wandering’.

The expression 逍遙派 xiāo yáo pài, ‘carefree wanderers’ was popularised by the martial arts novelist Jin Yong who named a kungfu school ‘The Carefree Wanderers’ in his 1963 novel The Eight Divine Protectors 天龍八部 (also known in English as Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils). During the Cultural Revolution, which broke out on the Mainland only a few years later, those who tried to keep out of politics and remain above the fray were also known as ‘Unattached [they were hardly carefree or masters of kungfu] Wanderers’ 逍遙派 xiāo yáo pài.

With respect to these Four Great Challenges, I would observe that today’s New Confucians have made absolutely no contribution at all. The majority of this clutch of, let’s just call them ‘Neo-Cons’, simply don’t pass muster. Despite protestations about their sincerity, what they really are hankering after is the kind of largesse that power-holders once lavished on state Confucianism. All the while, they indulge a manufactured sense of loss, acting as though they have somehow fallen from grace; they are anxious to claw themselves back into a position of intellectual preeminence. Yet when confronted with the pitiless realities of China today, they prove to be puny and lacklustre. They have repeatedly shown themselves to be bereft both of the ability to understand and the wherewithal to respond to these realities and they cloak their craven hopes for personal benefit in the guise of academic contributions. Such efforts border on the risible.

The sycophantic posturing of the Neo-Cons is but a performance made all the more pathetic because by their pompous protestations that ’We will only collaborate if [the state] Respects Confucius’. Among them one finds hardly even a pretense of cleaving to meaningful values or moral standards. Meanwhile, for reasons best known only to themselves they lavish praise on The Leader and openly chant hosannahs to Authority. They blithely ignore the fact that the transition of China’s political system to modernity [discussed in Part I of this essay] is far from complete and that, at present, things are moving against the general trend of the country’s modern history. They shamelessly proclaim that ‘This [Xi Jinping era] is the best we’ve ever had it!’. But, then again, perhaps all of this only serves to reveal the vile mien of the kind of self-interested merchant-Confucian careerist personality that has long thrived in China.

綜此四端,不妨說,了無新儒學的聲音,現今中國的這撥新儒家大多不合格。其之信誓旦旦,要麼緬懷曾有的儒門闊綽,繼續徜徉於悲情敘事,汲汲於恢復往昔的思想中心地位,而無視其之面對現實之蒼白孱弱,早無解釋迎應之力。因而,此番作業,無異於以學術公器謀取一己之私,跡近笑話。要麼奴顏媚骨,儻論「只要尊孔,就當合作」,徹底放棄價值判斷與道德立場,進而不明所以地禮贊領袖,公然為威權放歌,無視政體轉型尚未完工與近年國族整體局勢逆轉之嚴峻,大言不慚「終於迎來了最好的時光!」經此彷彿一拍即合,在在暴露了千年延續的無骨市儈吃教陋儒本相

Notes:

四端 sì duān: ‘the four natural attributes’. In classic Confucianism 端 duān generally refers to innate goodness. Here Xu Zhangrun offers his own ‘Four New Attributes’, thereby adding to the supposedly innate attributes of humanity 德行 dé xíng articulated by the Confucian philosopher Mencius in the fourth century BCE. In Mencius, the 四端 sì duān feature in a memorable discussion about human nature:

The feeling of commiseration belongs to all men; so does that of shame and dislike; and that of reverence and respect; and that of approving and disapproving. The feeling of commiseration implies the principle of benevolence; that of shame and dislike, the principle of righteousness; that of reverence and respect, the principle of propriety; and that of approving and disapproving, the principle of knowledge. Benevolence, righteousness, propriety, and knowledge are not infused into us from without. We are certainly furnished with them.

乃若其情,則可以為善矣,乃所謂善也。若夫為不善,非才之罪也。惻隱之心,人皆有之;羞惡之心,人皆有之;恭敬之心,人皆有之;是非之心,人皆有之。惻隱之心,仁也;羞惡之心,義也;恭敬之心,禮也;是非之心,智也。仁義禮智,非由外鑠我也,我固有之也。

‘Gaozi,
Book VI, Part I, Chapter 7’
The Works of Mencius
trans. James Legge
《孟子 · 告子上》

Xu Zhangrun castigates the ‘Confucian merchants’ of contemporary China. They are the house-trained mainland scholars, as well as fellow-traveller academics from other parts of the Chinese Commonwealth and international academia

新儒學 xīn rúxué and 新儒家 xīn rújiā: ‘New Confucianism’ and ‘Neo-Cons’. Here the author is referring to the post-1978 revival of academic Confucianism and in particular the well-funded globalising Confucianism that has evolved during the post-1990s era of Mainland wealth and power. Given its gestation under the aegis of the Communist party-state, this variant of New Confucianism should not be simplistically equated with, or regarded merely as the natural evolution of, the efforts of independent-minded Confucian thinkers in the first half of the twentieth century, or on Taiwan and in Hong Kong after 1949. In this context, it is useful to consider a text mentioned earlier, ‘A Manifesto for a Re-appraisal of Sinology and Reconstruction of Chinese Culture’, which was written by a collective of New Confucians and published in Taiwan in 1958. (For the original, see 為中國文化敬告世界人士宣言.) Note: Mainland versions of this Manifesto tend to be bowdlerised. We would also observe that, since the 1980s, mainstream (that is, those seeking official approval) mainland New Confucians have adapted, or rather pickpocketed, elements of this important document. For a selection of recent essays by Mainland New Confucian writers in translation, see ‘Maps — Confucians’ on the site Reading the China Dream, which features English translations of key works by a range of contemporary thinkers

信誓旦旦 xìn shì dàn dàn: to make a pledge or sincere promise, a line from the classic The Book of Odes 詩經:

Back to my happy girlhood’s time,
With hair in knot still tied,
I wildly go; I’ll never know
Its smiles and chat again.
To me you clearly swore the faith,
Which now to break you’re fain.
Could I foresee so false you’d be?
And now regret is vain.

總角之宴,
言笑晏晏。
信誓旦旦,
不思其反。
反是不思,
亦已焉哉。

‘Odes of Wei IV’
The Book of Odes
trans. James Legge
《詩經 · 衛風 · 氓》

儒門闊綽 rú mén kuò chuò: literally, ‘the grandeur of the Confucian School’, or the largesse enjoyed by Confucianites

汲汲於 jí jí yú: ‘anxious for’, ‘desirous of’, a common expression that is notably found in Tao Yuanming’s ‘The Gentleman of the Five Willow Trees’《五柳先生傳》, one of the most quoted, and beloved, autobiographical sketches in the tradition. In it Tao (365?–427CE) says of his subject (that is, himself): 不戚戚於貧賤, 不汲汲於富貴 — ‘he was untroubled by poverty and not anxious for wealth’

學術公器 xué shù gōng qì: the practical or public role or benefit of learning or scholarship. The term 器 , ‘pot’ or ’vessel’ has, apart from its narrow lexical meaning, also referred to the dilemmas of education since the time of Confucius. The Sage famously declared that ‘an educated man is not a pot’ 君子不器, although later institutional Confucianism favoured the training of men to serve as scholar-bureaucrats.

The expression 學術公器 xué shù gōng qì comes from a line by the Republican writer and scholar Huang Jie (黃節, 1873-1935) who, when commenting on the work of the late-Ming philosopher Li Zhi 李贄, wrote:

Learning may well be for the benefit of All Under Heaven, but through it the most outstanding express a moral vision.

夫學術者天下之公器,王者徇一己之好惡。

Huang Jie, ‘A Colophon for Li Zhi’s A Book to Be Burned
黃節, 《李氏焚書跋

For more on pots, education and scholarship, see An Educated Man is Not a Pot 君子不器 — On the University, ed. G.R. Barmé, China Heritage, 2017

只要尊孔,就當合作 zhǐ yào zūn Kǒng, jiù dāng hézuò: ‘collaborate as long as Confucius is treated with worshipful respect’. This line is inspired by a famous observation made by Lu Xun:

[For unprincipled types] There is nothing more important than Confucius Worship, nothing more necessary than Adulation for Confucians. They will have no compunction about submitting to any regime that promotes Confucius and Confucians.

大莫大于尊孔,要莫要于崇儒,所以只要尊孔而崇儒,便不妨向任何新朝俯首。

Lu Xun, ‘Settling Scores’, 17 July 1934
魯迅,《算帳》, 1934年7月17日
trans. GRB

無骨市儈吃教陋儒本相: the author employs a litany of derogatory terms to deride the Neo-Cons, to wit:

無骨 wú gǔ: ‘to be spineless’, ‘lacking in moral integrity’ or ‘without fortitude’. This is a literary version of the expression 沒有骨氣 méi yǒu gǔqì. 骨氣 gǔqì is used to describe an unyielding, principled and fearless person; 有骨氣 yǒu gǔqì is an admirable quality. As this text was being prepared, the centenarian Communist Party member Li Rui (李銳, 1917-2019) passed away. An open critic of authoritarianism from the 1980s and celebrated as one of the few outspoken liberal members of the Party, Li was widely praised for his 骨氣 gǔqì. A ‘boneless’ 無骨 wú gǔ person lacks strong convictions and moral fibre. The Communists tirelessly promote the idea that they have 骨氣 gǔqì (as well as 志氣 zhìqì) and are the ultimate representatives of an unwaveringly principled, idealistic and proud nation

市儈 shì kuài: a term originally related to people engaged in small business and self-interested commerce. By extension it means ‘calculating’ and ‘self-serving’

吃教 chī jiào: literally, ‘to eat religion’, or make a living out of a particular school of thought or religion. It is hardly surprising that in an oral-oriented culture like that of China the verb ‘to eat’ 吃 chī is used in a broad range of contexts. 吃教 chī jiào refers to adherents of a religion or belief system who are primarily interested in material rather than spiritual benefits. The expression evokes the image of ‘rice Christians’, those who were attracted to the alien creed because missionaries offered food along with salvation. In an essay titled ‘Eating Religion’ 吃教 written in 1933 Lu Xun observed that:

Although converts believed they were sincere, outsiders had little doubt that they were only ‘eating religion’. It’s an expression that summed up the ‘true spirit’ of the believers and it can equally be applied to Confucians, Buddhists and Taoists. It also comes in handy when talking about heroic veterans for whom ‘revolution is a rice bowl’.

耶穌教傳入中國,教徒自以為信教,而教外的小百姓卻都叫他們是「吃教」的。這兩個字,真是提出了教徒的「精神」,也可以包括大多數的儒釋道教之流的信者,也可以移用於許多「吃革命飯」的老英雄。

Lu Xun, ‘Eating Religion’, 27 September 1933
魯迅,《吃教》, 1933年9月27日
trans. GRB

陋儒 lòu rú: a vile or pseudo scholar, that is, someone possessed only of superficial learning. Here this term is combined with the word

本相 běn xiàng: ’real face’, ‘true nature’ or ‘demeanor’. 本相 běn xiàng is used here like 真相 zhēn xiàng, ‘true mien’, or 本來面目 běn lái miàn mù ‘original nature/ appearance’. Thus, 陋儒本相 lòu rú běn xiàng means ‘[their] true nature is that of a sham’. We translate it as ‘vile mien’

Why don’t we just call it ‘apostasy’? — even given the present circumstances, these Neo-Cons remarkably and disingenuously actually believe that they are confronting an existential threat. Yet this heaving mass of Confucianites has nothing about it that recalls the steely rectitude of classic Confucians. Instead, at every turn they betray the teachings of the Sages who championed moral probity in defiance of temporal authority.

Moreover, in their pursuit of self-interest the Neo-Cons choose to treat the core thinking and message of Confucianism not as part of a broader, rational public discussion, but rather as inflexible Dogma. Here lies the nub of their emotional and intellectual paucity, for theirs is a betrayal of basic Confucian ideas about education, enlightenment and uplift.

In recent years, some Neo-Cons have found fellowship with the ‘New Leftists’ and ‘Second-generation Maoists’ who, like them, are also lip-smacking connoisseurs of Authoritarian Politics. It would seem that one of the reasons for this is that they recognise ‘there’s a little bit of me in you, and a little bit of you in me’.

So what of these Neo-Cons, then? Everything about them is askew, they are uncomfortable in themselves. Mouths o’er-brimming with garbage they prove themselves to be pathetic and craven even in the presence of the most lowly Party bureaucrats — see how they stir themselves at the prospect of even the most minuscule advantage! Yet, all the while, they have the audacity to claim to be true disciples of Confucius. It simply amazes me that these people feel absolutely no pressure or shame when they measure themselves against the ancient Confucian teaching about the need to cultivate yourself with the aim of becoming a person in whom natural propensities and an educated demeanour achieve a healthy balance.

若說「叛教」——現時代條件下,新儒學居然祭如刀鋒的一個譫妄念頭——則此脈者流,恰恰了無原典儒義之剛健正大,違迕了以德抗位的聖人之教。再者,在此作業過程中,不是將儒學儒義當作理性領域,卻奉之如教義,概為其心智缺陷所在,而根本背離了儒義本當蘊含的啓蒙意義。近年新儒學中人與倡言威權政治的「新左派」和「毛左二代」頗多勾肩搭背,你儂我儂,似乎於此可以找到部分答案。至於坐無坐相,站無站相,滿嘴污穢,面對一介小吏便懦弱不堪,眼前蠅頭小利頓時蠢蠢欲動,還敢以儒門中人自居,面對「文質彬彬,而後君子」古訓,真不知怎就能毫無無地自容之壓力。

Notes:

叛教 pàn jiào: ‘apostasy’, although in the tradition a more common term is 叛道 pàn dào, ‘to abandon The Way’, or as Confucius is recorded as having said:

The Master said: “A gentleman enlarges his learning through literature and restrains himself with ritual; therefore, he is not likely to go wrong.”

子曰:君子博學於文,約之以禮,亦可以弗畔[叛]矣夫。

— The Analects of Confucius
trans. Simon Leys, p.27
《論語 · 雍也》

A common expression for such arrant behaviour is 離經叛道 lí jīng pàn dào, ‘to diverge from The Classics and abandon The Way’. In the notes to the first paragraph of this section we commented on the importance of 正宗 zhèng zōng, orthodoxy or legitimate and accepted lineage. If one betrays or opposes the 正道 zhèng dào, The Correct Way and the Orthodoxy 正宗 zhèng zōng that it represents, or indeed political legitimacy 正統 zhèngtǒng, one has, in effect, 離經叛道 lí jīng pàn dào

原典儒義 yuándiǎn rú yì: ‘the meaning of Confucian thought based on original texts’, or ‘classical Confucianism’. Here the author makes it abundantly clear that he regards the essence of Confucianism as being reflected in:

  • the steely rectitude of classic Confucians 剛健正大; and,
  • the teachings of the Sages who championed moral probity in defiance of temporal authority. 以德抗位的聖人之教。

As we noted in the introduction to Imminent Fears, Immediate Hopes — a Beijing Jeremiad 我們當下的恐懼與期待 (China Heritage, 1 August 2018), Xu praised the modern Confucian thinker Liang Shuming (梁漱溟, 1893-1988) as a dàrú 大儒, a Great Scholar of Principle — here the term  儒, often clumsily translated as ‘Confucian’, means ‘a man whose learning and actions are grounded in Confucian principles of righteousness, fearlessness and probity’. We also noted that on the eve of the 120th anniversary of Liang Shuming’s birth on 18 January 2018, Xu offered the following appraisal:

Liang tirelessly travelled through the land for the betterment of all. True Confucian scholars [rúzhě 儒者] put Confucian thought into practice, they do so in their own lives and through their actions. They have a kind of religious sense of working for the salvation of the world. Nowadays there are those New Confucian Academics 新儒家學者 who might claim they are Confucian Scholars, but then they just head off to sing karaoke. Mr Liang was always mulling over issues to do with our Family-Nation-All-Under-Heaven. You must include these words when you write up your report. What’s the good of blathering on in the abstract if you don’t possess an all-encompassing perspective 眼界 and true insight 眼光. Most people simply don’t get it.

為蒼生起,奔走於大地。儒者是要實踐儒家學說,要身體力行,有一種宗教般的救世情懷,現在有一些新儒家學者,天天在說我是一個儒者,說完可能就唱卡拉OK去了。梁先生從來都是在家國天下這個大框架里來思考具體問題,你們寫文章,一定要把這句話寫進去。沒有這個眼界、眼光,瞎嚷嚷有什麼用?但這正是一般人忽略的問題。

以德抗位 yǐ dé kàng wèi: literally, ‘moral authority in conflict with secular power’. Xu Zhangrun discusses these ideas at length in his 2016 book Political Systems and Civilization — establishing nation, a constitution, teachings and the individual 政體與文明——立國 · 立憲 · 立教 · 立人.

Those devoted to loyal and meaningful service are traditionally described with such expressions as 賢良忠厚 xián liáng zhōng hòu, while individuals who preserve their integrity outside officialdom are celebrated as 名士風流 míng shì fēng líu. Such people are lauded for being ‘steely in resolve’ 錚錚鐵骨 zhēngzhēng tiě gǔ and ‘uncompromising to the death’ 寧死不屈 nìng sǐ bù qū, while others who slavishly serve the power-holders are decried for having ‘faces of slaves and bones of sycophants’ 奴顏媚骨 nú yán mèi gǔ, an expression the author used earlier.

A well-known source for the tradition of Confucian moral superiority and contempt for displays of worldly wealth is found in Mencius:

Mencius said, ‘Those who give counsel to the great should despise them, and not look at their pomp and display.

‘Halls several times eight cubits high, with beams projecting several cubits; — these, if my wishes were to be realized, I would not have. Food spread before me over ten cubits square, and attendants and concubines to the amount of hundreds; — these, though my wishes were realized, I would not have. Pleasure and wine, and the dash of hunting, with thousands of chariots following after me; — these, though my wishes were realized, I would not have. What they esteem are what I would have nothing to do with; what I esteem are the rules of the ancients. — Why should I stand in awe of them?’

孟子曰:說大人,則藐之,勿視其巍巍然。堂高數仞,榱題數尺,我得志,弗為也。食前方丈,侍妾數百人,我得志,弗為也。般樂飲酒,驅騁田獵,後車千乘,我得志,弗為也。在彼者,皆我所不為也;在我者,皆古之制也,吾何畏彼哉。

‘Jin Xin
Book VII, Part II, Chapter 34’
The Works of Mencius
trans. James Legge
《孟子 · 盡心章句下》

儒學 rú xué: ‘Confucianism’, a complex body of ideas and practices developed from the time of Confucius and Mencius through millennia of imperial rule. In the modern era ‘Confucianism’ as both a philosophy and quasi-religion very much developed in relation to the successful proselytisation of Christianity in China. In China today, the tension between Communists, Confucians and Christians continues to play out. See, for example, Eugenio Menegon, The Christian Conundrum of Yongzheng — Watching China Watching (XX), China Heritage, 13 April 2018; and, Lionel M. Jensen, Manufacturing Confucianism: Chinese Traditions and Universal Civilization, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1998

儒義 rú yì: the core tenets of Confucianism, that is, to put righteousness and principled behaviour 義 ahead of self-interest and the pursuit of profit 利 . A discussion of this features in the famous opening passage of Mencius:

Mencius went to see King Hui of Liang. The king said, ‘Venerable sir, since you have not counted it far to come here, a distance of a thousand li, may I presume that you are provided with counsels to profit my kingdom?’

Mencius replied, ‘Why must your Majesty use that word “profit?” What I am provided with, are counsels to benevolence and righteousness, and these are my only topics.

‘If your Majesty say, “What is to be done to profit my kingdom?” the great officers will say, “What is to be done to profit our families?” and the inferior officers and the common people will say, “What is to be done to profit our persons?” Superiors and inferiors will try to snatch this profit the one from the other, and the kingdom will be endangered. In the kingdom of ten thousand chariots, the murderer of his sovereign shall be the chief of a family of a thousand chariots. In the kingdom of a thousand chariots, the murderer of his prince shall be the chief of a family of a hundred chariots. To have a thousand in ten thousand, and a hundred in a thousand, cannot be said not to be a large allotment, but if righteousness be put last, and profit be put first, they will not be satisfied without snatching all.

‘There never has been a benevolent man who neglected his parents. There never has been a righteous man who made his sovereign an after consideration.

‘Let your Majesty also say, “Benevolence and righteousness, and let these be your only themes.” Why must you use that word — “profit?”.’

孟子見梁惠王。王曰:叟,不遠千里而來,亦將有以利吾國乎。

孟子對曰:王何必曰利。亦有仁義而已矣。王曰:何以利吾國。大夫曰:何以利吾家。士庶人曰:何以利吾身。上下交徵利,而國危矣。萬乘之國,弒其君者,必千乘之家;千乘之國,弒其君者,必百乘之家。萬取千焉,千取百焉,不為不多矣;茍為後義而先利,不奪不饜。未有仁而遺其親者也,未有義而後其君者也。王亦曰:仁義而已矣,何必曰利。

‘King Hui of Liang:
Book 1, Part I, Chapter 1’
The Works of Mencius
trans. James Legge
《孟子 · 梁惠王章句上 · 第一》

教義 jiào yì: ‘the meaning of the teachings’, in other words, those things that Xu Zhangrun regards as being the central tenets of Confucianism which, when betrayed by the kind of intellectuals that he excoriates here, leads to ‘apostasy’ 叛教 pàn jiào

啓蒙意義 qǐ méng yì yì: 啓蒙 qǐ méng, literally ‘to instruct or elucidate 啓 those who do not know 蒙’. This is one of the central elements of Confucian practice. Given the realities of human nature it aims at inculcating the best, refining sensibility and uplifting the heart-mind. Traditional instructional texts for the young included the Three-character Classic 《三字经》, The One Hundred Surnames 《百家姓》and The Thousand Characters《千字文》.

The word 啓蒙 qǐ méng acquired a new meaning and importance in the 1910s with the New Culture Movement or May Fourth Era (c.1917-1927), an era hailed as a Chinese Enlightenment that was, among other things, supposed to free the nascent republic from the political dogma of Confucianism so that it could evolve into being a modern, progressive nation-state. The term Enlightenment 啓蒙 qǐ méng came into vogue once more in the 1980s following the collapse of doctrinal Maoism. For an overview of this period, see Xu Jilin, ‘The Fate of an Enlightenment’, trans. G.R. Barmé and Gloria Davies, East Asian History, Issue 20 (December 2000).

In a previous note, we touched on Lin Yü-sheng’s powerful argument about the collapse of the totalising cultural-political ideology of tradition and how the Chinese Enlightenment of the 1910s resulted in new totalising visions for the nation. In China Heritage Annual 2019: Translatio Imperii Sinici we call this a process of ‘imperial transition’ that has, after a one-hundred-year-long history, contributed significantly to the New Epoch under Xi Jinping

For an overview of recent international scholarship on the May Fourth era, see Twentieth-century China: Special Issue: A Century Later: New Readings of May Fourth, Volume 44, Number 2, May 2019, in particular Ya-Pei Kuo, ‘A Century Later: New Readings of May Fourth (pp.135-137); and, Q. Edward Wang, The Chinese Historiography of the May Fourth Movement, 1990s to the Present (pp.138-149)

威權政治 wēi quán zhèngzhì: ‘authoritarian politics’. New Authoritarianism and Statism have been a feature of the Chinese intellectual landscape since the late 1980s, and both were promoted by thinkers and intellectual strategists as part of their search for influence, position and power. The term 威權 wēi quán relates also to 權威 quán wēi, which commonly denotes someone who is an ‘authority’ or ‘expert’ in a particular area. During the Cultural Revolution, leading academics and experts in all fields were derided as Reactionary Academic Authorities 反動學術權威 who had to be re-educated as patriotic servants of the Party and the People. As we noted in our five-part series on the 2018 Patriotic Education Campaign (see ‘Drop Your Pants!’), the Party’s approach to independent academics and thinkers in the Xi Jinping era is an updated version of a policy which has its roots in the Yan’an era, and the Stalinism that informed it

新左派xīn zuǒpài, ‘New Leftists’ and「毛左二代Máo zuǒ èrdài ‘Second-generation Maoist Lefties’: here the author lumps together two groups that are both quite amorphous. Those whose ideas, statements and writings can be identified with these categories have at various times accepted, rejected or self-identified as New Leftists or Neo Maoists (that is, ‘Second-generation Maoist Lefties’). The following comments expand on the remarks made about ‘Red Fundamentalists’ in the above.

The ‘old left’ was itself a descriptor of men and women who continued to support High Maoist thinking even after its political role was drastically reduced after 1978. In the 1980s, ‘Leftist’ 左派 became a term of derision even as those that it denoted continued to have a significant, if not crucial, role in the ideological life of the country. For a translated selection of ‘New Left’ writings, see ‘Maps — New Left’ on the site Reading the China Dream, and for more on the continuing influence of key Party ideologues like Hu Qiaomu and Deng Liqun, see our five-part series Drop Your Pants! The Party Wants to Patriotise You All Over Again, China Heritage, 8 August-1 October 2018.

In academic circles, a clutch of trans-Pacific New Marxists deeply influenced by American academic discourse (not to mention power, money, prestige, as well as publishing and job opportunities) gradually gained institutional support and enjoyed a sway over former elite liberal media outlets. Nurtured by state largesse while also feeding the anti-Western (that is, anti-universal values) propaganda of the government, while continuing to enjoy the blinkered doting of global academic fellow travellers, many of these smooth operators flourish in Xi Jinping’s New Epoch.

One of the unabashed leftist writers in the 1990s was the novelist Zhang Chengzhi (張承志, 1948-). In early 1966, Zhang was the first Beijing high-school student to call himself a ‘Red Guard’. In the heady days of 1966-1967 he became something of a media presence (pictures of him as a zealous student of Mao Thought appeared in the print media, although generally he was not identified by name). From the 1980s, as the economic reforms were dismantling the Mao-era legacy — including the social policies that had considerable popular support — Zhang spoke out. However, his support for Mao elicited outrage from younger liberal writers like the Peking University essayist Yu Jie (余杰, 1973-):

Zhang Chengzhi is unequivocal when he proclaims: ‘Despite everything I still champion the great age of the 1960s. I call on people to take the full measure of Mao Zedong, perhaps the last great man of Chinese history, and a solitary figure.’

Statements like this absolutely horrify me. In his inaugural address as rector of Freiberg University on 27 May 1943, Martin Heidegger extolled the Führer principle and the concept of the Führer being the natural leader of Germany, the embodiment of the nation’s reality and law. The Nazi sword of Damocles was hanging over his head as he spoke. It is quite a different matter for Zhang Chengzhi to talk as he does in 1990s China.

His statements beg the questions: as spokesman for the masses, what has Zhang got to say about the 30 million people who starved to death during the so-called three years of natural disasters. How does he react when contemplating the countless tormented souls of those who hanged or drowned themselves or were beaten to death [in the Cultural Revolution]?

Of course, the utopian vision of some proffered Great Harmony is a tantalizing one, but it is nothing more than a desert mirage. We must ask ourselves: how many silent corpses are buried in those pitiless sands?

I was born in 1973, so I never had the chance to experience the ‘great age’ of which Zhang Chengzhi speaks. But I do know one thing: poverty and ignorance, cruelty and violence, dictatorship and autocracy can never give birth to ‘purity.’

「我畢竟為六十年代——那個大時代呼喊了一聲。我畢竟為毛澤東——那位中國史上很可能是最後一位巨人的孤獨提出了一份理解。」(張承志《三份沒有印在書上的序言》,見《無援的思想》,華藝出版社。)讀到這段話時,我不禁心驚肉跳。一九四三年五月二十七日,海德格爾就任弗賴堡大學校長時,在就職演說中說:「領袖本人而且他一個人就是天然的、活生生的德國的現實和法律。」海德格爾說這句話時,納粹的刺刀正懸在他的頭上。而九十年代張承志說出同樣一句話時,卻是我口說我心。作為民眾的代言人,他對「三年自然災害」(真的是「自然災害」嗎?)中餓死的三千萬人的生命如何發言呢?他對無數懸梁的、投湖的、慘死要棍棒下的冤魂如何發言呢?大同世界的海市蜃樓固然迷人,但殘酷的沙漠中埋葬了多少無言的枯骨?一九七三年出生的我,沒有經歷過這樣一個「大時代」,但我至少有這麼一個基本的常識:貧窮與愚味、殘忍與暴力、獨狼與專制中絕不可能誕生「清潔」。

my translation from ‘Postscript’
In the Red: on contemporary Chinese culture
New York, 1999, pp.352-353

余杰, ‘皇帝的新衣——剖析張承志’
《火與冰——一個北大怪才的抽屜文學》
Beijing: Jingji ribao chubanshe, 1998, pp.301-302

(Yu Jie relocated to the United States in 2012.)

The moral fibre of New Leftist academics was sorely tested following the sentencing of Liu Xiaobo when, in January 2010, the cultural critic and translator Cui Weiping (崔衛平, 1956-) published an unofficial poll of leading thinkers, rights activists, lawyers and writers who condemned the absurd charges against Liu and the harsh sentence meted out to him by the Party-dominated legal system. (See 崔衛平, 劉曉波獲刑知識分子的看法, 24 December 2010). The voices of members of the New Left were clamorous in their silence. In 2018, when young Marxist activist students at Chinese university campuses declared their support for workers’ rights, members of the academic New Left were again silent. A number of the New Marxists who came to fame in the 1990s, and who have enjoyed both local and international success, have since become members of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

Among liberal academics, critiques of ‘Sino-Fascism’ became part of online debate from the Naughts when retro-Maoist and Neo-Leftist thinkers began lauding ideas related to ‘statism’, ‘neo-authoritarianism’ as well as theories originating with Carl Schmitt, the Nazi German jurist and political philosopher. (For more on Schmitt in contemporary China, see Flora Sapio, ‘Carl Schmitt in China’, The China Story Journal, 7 October 2015). And, more recently, the novelist Chan Koonchung 陳冠中 commented on the ‘right-ward turn’ of members of the so-called Liberal Intelligentsia. (See Sic transit gloria mundi — Ten Years of A Prosperous Age’, China Heritage, 14 February 2019)

你儂我儂 nǐ nóng wǒ nóng: ‘you in me and me in you’ is an expression inspired by the ‘You-Me Song’ 《我儂詞》 by Guan Daosheng 管道昇. Guan was the wife of the renowned Yuan-dynasty painter Zhao Mengfu (趙孟頫, 1254-1322) and she is said to have composed her ‘You-Me Song’ after learning that her husband was planning to take a concubine:

Surely was never so loving a pair!
For the potter took clay
And he fashioned a me
And modelled a you:
Then, when the whim took him,
He smashed both the urns
And set to again:
Kneaded and worked the clay,
Fashioned another me,
Modelled another you:
So that, you see,
My body is partly you
And you are partly me.

我儂兩個忒煞情多!
譬如將一塊泥
捏一個你
塑一個我:
忽然間歡喜啊,
將他來都打破
重新下手:
再團再煉,
再捏一個你,
再塑一個我:
那期間那期間,
我身子裡有你也
你身子裡也有了我。

trans. David Hawkes

One version of the ‘You-Me Song’ ends with the line: ‘In life we share a quilt, in death we will share a coffin’ 我與你生同一個衾,死同一個槨。

坐無坐相, 站無站相 zuò wú zuò xiàng, zhàn wú zhàn xiàng: the full expression 站相坐相走相 indicates correct posture, deportment and, more broadly, behaviour. One must know how to 坐、立、行 or ‘sit, stand and walk’. As the ancient expression puts it: 不學禮,無以立 ‘without studying the Rites, it is impossible to take one’s position [in society]’. 站有站相, 坐有坐相 is a colloquial summation of the rules governing posture. Education, whether at home or school, also focusses on how to behave, or, as we have previously noted ‘how to act like a person’ 做人, not only in dealing with others but also by conforming to social expectations

一介小吏 yī jìe xiǎo lì: ‘a minor official’, or petty functionary, that is a Party cadre of low rank and negligible power. 一介 yī jiè is a literary term meaning ‘one’ or ‘an individual’. Elsewhere Xu Zhangrun has referred to himself as 一介教書匠 yī jiè jiāo shū jiàng, ‘this worthless scholar’. In that context 一介 yī jiè was self-deprecating, here it is a derisive diminutive. Another common, more jocular, way of saying ‘petty bureaucrat’ is ‘Seventh-Rank Sesame-Seed-Sized Official’ 七品芝麻官.

In a one-party state even a lowly apparatchik can wreak havoc and intellectuals long ago learned to be wary of such figures. Here the author mocks academics who are easily cowed by anyone with power, no matter how insignificant

文質彬彬,而後君子 wén zhì bīn bīn, ér hòu jūnzǐ: This famous line comes from the sixth chapter of The Analects:

The Master said, “When nature prevails over culture, you get a savage; when culture prevails over nature, you get a pedant. When nature and culture are in balance, you get a gentleman.”

子曰:質勝文則野,文勝質則史。文質彬彬,然後君子。

— The Analects of Confucius
trans. Simon Leys, p.26
《論語 · 雍也》

文質彬彬 wén zhì bīn bīn came to mean ‘refined and elegant’. Previously, we have noted how Mao used the expression when writing about rural uprisings in the 1920s and how he employed it again in the early phase of the Cultural Revolution (see the section ‘Be Militant! 要武嘛!’ in ‘Homo Xinensis Militant’, China Heritage, 1 October 2018)