Must Ruists practice what they philosophize about?
For my first post here, I’d like to invite opinions on a contemporary issue. I’ve been coming across a common critique of contemporary Ruism and I’m curious what people think about it. As a preface, let me say that I’m close to giving up on various permutations of “Confucian” and “Confucianism,” so I hope you’ll all bear with my use of “Ruism” and “Ruist” instead.
The critique, which is generally directed against New Ruists, particularly Mou Zongsan, is something like this: the essence of Ruism is a social practice which aims not at developing theories, but realizing the Way in society. Making it into an object of academic study, so that it becomes an isolated practice of theorizing, is a mistake. The 20th century turn of making Ruism into a kind of philosophy and carrying out philosophical research in philosophy departments is emblematic of this mistake. Since Mou Zongsan is often considered the arch-theorist of New Ruism, he tends to get the brunt of this criticism.
I suppose there is a hint of this idea in Robert Eno’s book, The Confucian Creation of Heaven, in which he argues something like this of early Ruism. The criticism I have in mind, however, is again directed at contemporary developments, notably the professionalization of Chinese philosophy as an academic discipline. Versions of this critique can be found in Taiwan in Lin Anwu, and in mainland China in Zheng Jiadong and especially Jiang Qing. In his 2004 book, Jiang goes on about how New Ruists have lost the Way and just debate among each other rather than connecting with society. He argues that Ruism is not a form of study (xue), but a way of living (dao), and calls for an attitude of shengming xinyang (which I am provisionally translating as “lived faith”).
Jiang has gone the furthest to live out this idea, as he left his academic position to establish a private academy dedicated to the study and transmission of Ruism. Not everyone is in a position to do that (I’ve heard Jiang’s academy is supported by some Chinese businessmen). Certainly there is something to what he says, as historically Ruists have tried to engage with their communities even when they were not able to attain high positions in government; I’m thinking of Zhu Xi in particular. Mou Zongsan was a very influential teacher, but I don’t know of any attempts of his to put his work in more accessible form for the larger public and I’m not aware of any work on his part to promote Ruism beyond the confines of academia.
So what do people think? Has Ruism become overly academic? Is there a conflict between promoting Ruism and maintaining objectivity? Zheng Jiadong makes the point that the modern university is not suited to the project of practicing Ruism, in part because of the demand for objectivity and in part because the system rewards theory rather than practice. I’d have to agree that seems largely true. But is this necessarily a problem? How important is practice? What constitutes practicing Ruism, anyway?