Warp, Weft, and Way

A Group Blog of Chinese and Comparative Philosophy

Understanding Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution

Like many of you, I’ve also been trying to understand Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution by putting it in the larger context of Chinese history (from Confucius to 1989 and to the present).

I could not help but compare it with 1989. I hope this is understandable; this year is its 25th anniversary. It seems that when one tries to understand the motivations of the students and intellectuals in 1989, one has to take into account their concern for the common good, their strong elitist sense of their responsibility for the fate of the nation. And even those who identified themselves as liberal anti-traditionalists in 1989 could still be said to have been influenced by a long Confucian tradition of what it means to be a literati (shi). I have given a label to this tradition; I call it the “Athenian sub-tradition of Chinese republicanism,” in which the ideal of the common good is a central concept. This seems to be what Yu Yingshi was talking about in his recent address, which Kai Marchal mentioned in his post “Where are all the Confucians in Hong Kong tonight” a few days ago. Obviously I cannot do justice to such a complicated story here. For example, the 1989 generation very likely might have learned about this Athenian sub-tradition partly through the government’s patriotic education program.

Some of my friends have claimed that the same cannot be said about the motivations of Hong Kong students. I do not have a view on this for a variety of reasons (e.g., I was there in Beijing in 1989, and I am not in Hong Kong now; I know the generation of 1989 because I was one of them, and I confess that I do not know any Hong Kong high school students or college students). My guess is that perhaps the difference is just a matter of degree.

Nevertheless, it seems to me that the two movements share one thing in common: they both firmly belong to another sub-tradition of Chinese republicanism, the “Roman sub-tradition,” in which the central concept is that being free means to be a citizen in a republic as opposed to being dominated in a non-republic, whose paradigm is a slave. Here I’ll just give two pieces of anecdotal evidence. The first is a line from a poem posted in Beijing University in 1989:

“A slave with a full belly is still a slave.”

The second is a quote from Joshua Wong, the 17-year old high school student, a leader of Hong Kong Umbrella Revolution, in the New York Times article about him:

“When I heard the national anthem starting to play, I certainly did not feel moved so much as angry. When it tells you, ‘Arise! All those who refuse to be slaves!’ — why is our treatment today any different from the slaves?”

I think most of the students do not know much about the history of the terms they are using such as “slave” and “freedom”. Joshua Wong might not have been aware that the national anthem was inspired by a similar republicanist ideal of liberty (emphasizing the idea of a “free people” or a “free nation”). Around the turn of the twentieth century, republicanism took China by storm; through the popular print media, the republican ideas such as liberty (zi you), constitutionalism (xian zheng), people’s sovereignty (min quan), a republic (gong he), citizen (guo min), xin min (new people), and gong de (civic virtue) spread like wild fire. Some of these ideas are radically different from traditional Confucian political philosophy, but some are hybrids of ideas from Confucianism and ideas from Western republicanism. they were connected and unified by what I shall call the republican idea of liberty as non-domination, which is that the opposite of freedom or being free (zi you) is slavery (nu yu) or being a slave (nu li), and that people are free when they are citizens (guo min) in a constitutional monarchy (according to the Reformers) or a republic (according to the Revolutionaries). They are slaves when they are subjects in a tyranny or despotic country (zhuan zhi). Similarly, a nation is not free when it is dominated by other nations. This marked the beginning of the Roman tradition of Chinese republican tradition. You can find a lot of quotations from the pamphlets and magazine around the turn of the last century in this paper of mine:

https://www.academia.edu/7855327/Xiao_2014_Republican_Beginnings_Liberty_as_Non-Domination_in_the_Chinese_Republicanist_Tradition

October 5, 2014 Posted by | Chinese philosophy | Leave a comment

ISCWP Call for Papers for Pacific Division Meeting of American Philosophical Association, March 27-30, 2013 San Francisco

Dear Colleagues,

The International Society for Comparative Studies of Chinese and Western Philosophy (ISCWP) plans to sponsor one or two panels at next year’s Pacific Division Meeting of APA, which will take place at the Westin St Francis in San Francisco from March 27 to 30, 2013. We hereby invite submissions.

Our Goal: We would like to encourage submissions of individual papers that are comparative, as well as panels which combine philosophers working primarily in Chinese traditions with those working primarily in Western traditions, aimed at promoting more in-depth engagement between the two groups. We have not stipulated any specific themes for the panels, but the Board might organize a panel on “The Idea of Justice: Dialogues cross Traditions.” We especially welcome paper proposals on this topic.

Continue reading

August 9, 2012 Posted by | Chinese philosophy | Leave a comment

ISCWP Call for Papers for APA Eastern Division Meeting December 27-30, 2012

The International Society for Comparative Studies of Chinese and
Western Philosophy (ISCWP) plans to sponsor one or two panels at this
year’s Eastern Division Meeting of APA (American Philosophical Association),
which will be held on December 27-30, 2012, in Atlanta, USA.
We hereby invite submissions from the members.

Our Goal: We would like to encourage submissions of individual papers
that are comparative, as well as panels which combine philosophers
working primarily in Chinese traditions with those working primarily
in Western traditions, aimed at promoting more in-depth engagement
between the two groups. We have not stipulated any specific themes for
the panels, but would welcome suggestions. One possible topic is
Theory and Practice of Interpretation in the Chinese Commentary Tradition (jinxue 經學).
One of the paper proposals submitted for the Pacific Division meeting is on
“Context and Correct Meaning in Lunyu Zhengyi 論語正義.”

Continue reading

March 24, 2012 Posted by | Chinese philosophy | Leave a comment

Robert Bellah’s New Book “Religion in Human Evolution”

Looking back at the year 2011, I think Robert Bellah’s book Religion in Human Evolution: From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age (Harvard University Press, 2011) is arguably the most important book published last year. I hope the word “religion” in the title would not stop readers of this blog, who are interested in Chinese philosophy, from reading it. The book is really about civilization or culture (wen), which includes both religion and philosophy. One could understand the term “religion” in a very broad sense, which seems to be what Habermas does. In his blurb for Bellah’s book, Habermas says, “In the second part of his book, he succeeds in a unique comparison of the origins of the handful of surviving world-religions, including Greek philosophy.” In fact, since many of our readers believe that early Chinese thought is often both religion and philosophy, they might find this book especially stimulating. Continue reading

January 25, 2012 Posted by | Chinese philosophy | 2 Comments

Call for Papers for ISCWP Panels at the Pacific Division Meeting of APA, Seattle, April 4-7, 2012.

Dear ISCWP members:

The International Society for Comparative Studies of Chinese and
Western Philosophy
(ISCWP) plans to sponsor one or two panels at next
year’s Pacific Division Meeting of APA, which will be held in Seattle,
April 4-7, 2012. We hereby invite submissions.

Our Goal: We would like to encourage submissions of individual papers
that are comparative, as well as panels which combine philosophers
working primarily in Chinese traditions with those working primarily
in Western traditions, aimed at promoting more in-depth engagement
between the two groups. We have not stipulated any specific themes for
the panels, but would welcome suggestions. Continue reading

July 24, 2011 Posted by | Chinese philosophy | Leave a comment

2011 Is A Year of Interpretation!

It looks like 2011 will be remembered as a year of interpretation. As far as I know, there will be three international conferences on this very theme in June (so June will be the month of interpretation!):

1. There is the annual ISCWP Beijing Roundtable on Contemporary Philosophy, “Classical Texts and Philosophical Interpretation: In View of Studies of Chinese Philosophy and Development of Contemporary Philosophy” at Capital Normal University, Beijing, 3 June, 2011.

http://warpweftandway.wordpress.com/2011/05/10/2011-iscwp-beijing-roundtable-on-contemporary-philosophy/#more-1819

2. There is the international conference co-organized by Shandong University and SUNY Buffalo: “Interpretation East and West: An International Conference” at Shandong University, Jinan, Shandong, 2-6 June, 2011.Here is the program of the conference:

http://www.sps.sdu.edu.cn/sps60/cms/attachment/110523175814.doc

3. Finally, there is the international symposium “Reading Matters: Chinese and Western Traditions of Interpreting the Classics” at Leiden University, the Netherlands, 10-11 June, 2011.

http://www.hum.leiden.edu/news-agenda/iias-reading-matters.html

It is my impression that the organizers of these conferences have come up with the theme independently. I think there is something in the air!

I’ve always been interested in the fundamental question about interpretation, which is “How should we interpret and read texts today?.” Some might try to offer a general theory of interpretation as an answer to the question. Others might try to offer a radical “anti-theory” view, which is that one cannot (and should not) try to come up with any general theory of interpretation that is applicable to any text and any reader. Continue reading

May 29, 2011 Posted by | Chinese philosophy, Comparative philosophy, Hermeneutics | 6 Comments

   

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