Li Zehou and Confucian Philosophy 0824872894, 9780824872892

For more than a century scholars both inside and outside of China have undertaken the project of modernizing Confucianis

244 34 5MB

English Pages 410 [404] Year 2018

Report DMCA / Copyright


Table of contents :
Series Editors’ Preface
Response to Paul Gauguin’s Triple Question
1 Li Zehou and New Confucianism: A Philosophy for New Global Cultures
2 “Western Learning as Substance, Chinese Learning for Application”: Li Zehou’s Thought on Tradition and Modernity
3 Modernizing Confucianism: Li Zehou’s Vision and
4 Determinism and the Problem of Individual Freedom in Li Zehou’s Thought
5 What Should the World Look Like? Li Zehou, Confucius, Kant, and the World Observer
6 Li Zehou’s Lunyu jindu (Reading the Analects Today)
7 Li Zehou’s Reconception of Confucian Ethics of Emotion
8 Li Zehou’s Doctrine of Emotion as Substance and Confucian Philosophy
9 Li Zehou and Pragmatism
10 Li Zehou’s View of Pragmatic Reason
11 Li Zehou’s Aesthetics: Moving On after Kant, Marx, and Confucianism
12 Li Zehou, Kant, and Darwin: The Theory of Sedimentation
13 Li Zehou’s Aesthetics and the Confucian “Body” of Chinese Cultural Sedimentation: An Inquiry into Alternative
14 Modern Chinese Aesthetics and Its Traditional Backgrounds: A Critical Comparison of Li Zehou’s Sedimentation and Jung’s Archetypes
15 Li Zehou’s Aesthetics as a Form of Cognition
Appendix: Li Zehou’s Life and Works
Recommend Papers

Li Zehou and Confucian Philosophy
 0824872894, 9780824872892

  • 0 0 0
  • Like this paper and download? You can publish your own PDF file online for free in a few minutes! Sign Up
File loading please wait...
Citation preview

Li Zehou and Confucian Philosophy

C O N F U C I A N C U LT U R E S Roger T. Ames and Peter D. Hershock, series editors Confucianism: Its Roots and Global Significance Ming-huei Lee, edited by David Jones

Confucianisms for a Changing World Cultural Order Edited by Roger T. Ames and Peter D. Hershock

Li Zehou and Confucian Philosophy Edited by Roger T. Ames and Jinhua Jia

Li Zehou and Confucian Philosophy


University of Hawai‘i Press Honolulu East-West Center Honolulu

© 2018 University of Hawai‘i Press All rights reserved Printed in the United States of America 23 22 21 20 19 18    6 5 4 3 2 1

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: World Consortium for Research in Confucian Cultures. Conference (2nd :   2015 : Honolulu, Hawaii), author. | Ames, Roger T., editor. | Jia, Jinhua, editor. Title: Li Zehou and Confucian philosophy / edited by Roger T. Ames and Jinhua  Jia. Other titles: Confucian cultures. Description: Honolulu : University of Hawai‘i Press : East-West Center,   [2018] | Series: Confucian cultures | Presentations from a conference of   the World Consortium for Research in Confucian Cultures, held in 2015 at   the University of Hawai‘i. | Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: LCCN 2017059957 | ISBN 9780824872892 (cloth alk. paper) Subjects: LCSH: Li, Zehou—Congresses. | Neo-Confucianism—Congresses. |   Philosophy, Confucian—Congresses. Classification: LCC B5234.L4874 W67 2015 | DDC 181/.112—dc23 LC record available at

University of Hawai‘i Press books are printed on acid-free paper and meet the guidelines for permanence and durability of the Council on Library Resources. Composition by Wanda China Calligraphy by Peimin Ni

For Katie Lynch, who, in appreciating her own life, appreciated all of ours.


Series Editors’ Preface

Roger T. AMES and Peter D. HERSHOCK


Roger T. AMES and Jinhua JIA

ix 1

Response to Paul Gauguin’s Triple Question


Part I Li Zehou and the Modernization of Confucianism


LI Zehou


Li Zehou and New Confucianism: A Philosophy for New Global Cultures


“Western Learning as Substance, Chinese Learning for Application”: Li Zehou’s Thought on Tradition and Modernity


Modernizing Confucianism: Li Zehou’s Vision and I­ nspiration for an Unfinished Project


Determinism and the Problem of Individual Freedom in Li Zehou’s Thought




Karl-Heinz POHL


Ming Dong GU




What Should the World Look Like? Li Zehou, Confucius, Kant, and the World Observer James GARRISON

Part II Li Zehou’s Reconception of Confucian Philosophy


Li Zehou’s Lunyu jindu (Reading the Analects Today)

Michael NYLAN


135 137

viii Contents

7 8

Li Zehou’s Reconception of Confucian Ethics of Emotion


Li Zehou’s Doctrine of Emotion as Substance and Confucian Philosophy


Li Zehou and Pragmatism


Li Zehou’s View of Pragmatic Reason


Jinhua JIA

Byung-seok JUNG

9 10

Catherine LYNCH WANG Keping

Part III Li Zehou’s Aesthetical Theory and Confucianism


Li Zehou’s Aesthetics: Moving On after Kant, Marx, and Confucianism


Li Zehou, Kant, and Darwin: The Theory of Sedimentation


Li Zehou’s Aesthetics and the Confucian “Body” of Chinese Cultural Sedimentation: An Inquiry into ­Alternative Interpretations of Confucianism


Modern Chinese Aesthetics and Its Traditional ­Backgrounds: A Critical Comparison of Li Zehou’s ­Sedimentation and Jung’s Archetypes


Li Zehou’s Aesthetics as a Form of Cognition


Appendix: Li Zehou’s Life and Works


LIU Zaifu

12 13


Tsuyoshi ISHII






HUANG Chenxi

Contributors Index

379 387

Series Editors’ Preface

Confucian traditions are often regarded in purely historical terms and closely identified with a small set of texts that assumed canonical status more than two thousand years ago. But Confucianism has always been commentarial in nature, placing its textual and ritual traditions in critical and creative conversation with contemporary voices and concerns. Among the commitments of the Confucian Cultures series is to publish works that explore the relevance of Confucianism in contemporary, intercultural conversations. The present edited volume, Li Zehou and Confucian Philosophy, presents such a conversation, focused on the work of one of the most significant philosophers of the last half century in China. In keeping with Confucian tradition, the diverse perspectives from which the volume’s contributors engage Li’s work are unified by a shared commitment to appreciating the relevance of that work for the present generation. Attention is directed to Li’s own intercultural blending of Confucian, Kantian, and pragmatic perspectives; his view of emotion as the substance or infrastructure (qingbenti) of morality; and his distinctive conception of human subjectivity (zhutixing). Yet, as the end of the second decade of the twenty-first century approaches, it is perhaps Li’s conviction that beauty is the form or practice of freedom that most strikingly qualifies his work as contemporary. As a practice of adornment, acting freely is always in some measure acting for the sake of others. This insight is as important in the realm of the political as that of the personal, and it is one that is crucially relevant in a world wherein our futures depend on the quality of our interdependence. Peter D. Hershock and Roger T. Ames Series Editors


Introduction Roger T. AMES and Jinhua JIA

T he i dea f or t his volume grew out of presentations made at two conferences of the World Consortium for Research in Confucian Cultures, both held at the University of Hawai‘i. The inaugural conference, held in 2014 and themed “Confucian Values and a Changing World Cultural Order,” addressed these questions: What is the contemporary form of “Confucian” culture? What are its historical failings and limitations, and what does it have to offer for a newly emerging world cultural order? And how must Confucian culture be reformed in our generation if it is to become an international resource for positive change? One of the conference’s panels was dedicated to the work of the distinguished contemporary philosopher Li Zehou, and its presenters discussed these questions in relation to the philosopher’s work.1 With its second conference, held in 2015, the World Consortium initiated a continuing series of conferences on prominent thinkers who have made significant contributions to Confucian philosophy. With the theme “Li Zehou and Confucian Philosophy,” the 2015 conference focused solely on Li Zehou’s contributions. Twenty scholars attended the conference, including Li himself. With his fluent English and irrepressible philosophical acumen, Li was an active participant, offering five informal interventions. Later, he agreed to compile his remarks in the form of a dialogue entitled “Response to Paul Gauguin’s Triple Question.” Fifteen essays selected from the conference form the three interrelated sections of this volume, with five chapters in each section. An appendix contains a brief introduction to Li’s life and works. This monograph is properly entitled Li Zehou AND Confucian Philosophy rather than Li Zehou AS a Confucian Philosopher because Confucianism has been an important influence on Li’s thinking and because his oeuvre can certainly be resourced for the continuing evolution of Confucian philosophy in our time. But we want to advance the assertion that Li Zehou is a sui generis 1

2 Introduction

philosopher with broad global interests and thus, by definition, should not be tailored to fit any existing category, Chinese or Western. To explore the works of Li Zehou as a world philosopher (“with Chinese characteristics,” perhaps), we first need some historical and philosophical background to set our interpretive context. Mainstream professional philosophy in the world of the twentieth century and the beginnings of the twenty-first has been Anglo-European philosophy. This observation has been as true in Beijing, Tokyo, Seoul, Delhi, Nairobi, and Boston as it has been in London, Paris, and Frankfurt. That is, the indigenous philosophies of East Asia, South Asia, Africa, and indeed America have been largely marginalized within their own cultural sites by the dominance of the Anglo-European analytic and continental traditions as heirs to the early modern philosophical narratives of British Empiricism and Continental Rationalism. It is within this historical framework that—in seeking to understand the original contributions of Li Zehou as one of the great philosophical minds of our time—we must bring into focus important distinctions among what we might call “Chinese philosophy,” “Chinese thought,” “philosophy in China,” and “world philosophy,” respectively. In some academic quarters the distinction between “philosophy in China” and the history of “Chinese thought” has been registered by using the foreign term coined in late nineteenth-century Japan by Nishi Amane—“philosophy” (Ch. zhexue 哲學, J. tetsugaku)—to refer to Western philosophy as it has been taught in China, and the vernacular term “thought” (sixiang 思想) to refer to the history of Chinese “philosophy” as the exegetical explication of the Chinese canons of philosophy that continues to be integral to the curricula of departments of both philosophy and literature in China. Thus, to isolate and discuss twentieth-century “Chinese philosophy” per se, as independent of Western philosophy as “philosophy in China,” we need to thus distinguish yet again between the commentarial history of Chinese philosophy as “Chinese thought” (Zhongguo sixiang) and Chinese philosophy itself (Zhongguo zhexue). The Western philosophy curriculum as presented as “philosophy in China” in the Chinese academy has largely been able to ignore its own indigenous tradition. And the commentarial history of Chinese “thought” has often been taught—especially in “Chinese” and literature departments—without a perceived need to reference Western philosophy. At the same time, there has been over the decades a significant cadre of Chinese philosophers who have been shaped in their thinking and writing about their own tradition through a conscious appropriation of the Western canons, particularly German idealism and Marxist philosophy. The best among these original and hybridist Chinese “comparative” philosophers who have been using Western philosophy as a resource to philosophize about the Chinese tradition itself have come to be referenced under the rubric



“New Confucians” (xinruxuejia 新儒學家), a term coined in the mid-1980s to describe a philosophical “movement” that began in the early twentieth century and continues today. While this continuing New Confucian movement in Chinese philosophy has some relevance to the global philosophizing of Li Zehou, he is not numbered as one among them and in fact, in many ways, is perhaps best understood in contrast to them. In the broadest strokes, a defining characteristic of Chinese philosophy from earliest times—in particular, “Confucian” philosophy, or ruxue 儒學— has been its porousness. When Confucianism emerged in the Han dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE) as a state orthodoxy that would continue down into the twentieth century, it was a Confucianism that had absorbed into and fortified itself with many tenets from the competing “Hundred Schools” of Daoism, Mohism, Militarism, School of Names, Legalism, and so on. The influence of Indo-European learning as an invasive species in this philosophical ecology of early China began with the importation and ingestion of Buddhist philosophy from South Asia in the second century CE. This first wave of Western influence had such a profound influence on the indigenous philosophical narrative that the evolution of both neo-Confucianism and neo-Daoism can be understood only by reference to the response of these homegrown traditions to the powerful, inspirational forces of Buddhist thought. At the same time, East Asian Buddhist philosophy, which began as an alien transplant, became so thoroughly transformed in its relationship to the indigenous thought systems and cosmologies of Confucianism and Daoism that its later manifestations as Tiantai, Huayan, and Chan (Zen) Buddhist philosophies have matured within China’s own philosophical soil. Because of this syncretistic process, a conventional expression dating from premodern times frequently invoked to describe the composite narrative of Chinese philosophy has been literally “the fusion of the three teachings of Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism as one” (sanjiao weiyi 三教為一), an inclusive and penetrating tradition that stands in stark contrast to the discrete and exclusive self-understanding of the Abrahamic religious and theological traditions. The more recent wave of Western learning (xixue 西學) constitutes a second sea change in Chinese philosophy that might properly inspire an updated and revisionist version of this conventional expression from sanjiao weiyi to an open and inclusive “fusion of the four teachings of Confucianism, Daoism, Buddhism, and Western learning as one” (sijiao weiyi 四教為一). This second Western incursion began as early as the late sixteenth century with the arrival of Jesuit missionaries who, along with their religious scriptures, were armed with the Plato and Aristotle of Augustine and Aquinas and with the full corpus of classical Western philosophy. With the later arrival of Protestant missionaries, a Western foray into Chinese secular education continued gradually over the cen-

4 Introduction

turies, enabled especially by the translation into Chinese of large tracts of Western scholarship on medicine, astronomy, mathematics, and natural philosophy. The pace of philosophical change accelerated in earnest in the late nineteenth century with the introduction of post-Darwinian Western philosophers— T. H. Huxley and Herbert Spencer in particular—by reformist scholars such as Yan Fu (1854–1921) and Tan Sitong (1865–1898). For the century and a half that led up to the founding of Communist China in 1949, China had been a hapless victim of Western imperialism. Before the ideas of first Charles Darwin and then Karl Marx arrived in China, these transitional Western thinkers were already spawning revolutionary movements at home that challenged, at the most primary level, those persistent presuppositions grounding the full spectrum of disciplines within the European academy. In China, the popularity of evolutionary ethics, like the later appropriation of Marxist socialism, was driven in large measure by practical social concerns, of which professional academic philosophy was only a minor part. Still, the resonances that reformist thinkers found between these explicitly revolutionary foreign movements and philosophical sensibilities within their own tradition promised a way of renovating Chinese philosophy to respond effectively to the unrelenting Western aggression that was perceived as threatening the integrity of Chinese culture, if not its very survival. At the end of the day, what allows contemporary historians of Chinese philosophy to collect a truly disparate range of Chinese thinkers under the single category of “New Confucians” is their shared commitment to rehabilitate and apply their many fortified revisions of traditional Chinese philosophy as a tourniquet to control the hemorrhaging of what was a culture bleeding out after an assault from all sides. What is fundamental to the identity of these New Confucians is their own self-understanding that they are Chinese philosophers operating within the intergenerational transmission of the traditional lineage (daotong 道統) of Chinese philosophy. Given the porousness and synchronicity that have been the persistent signature of the Chinese philosophical tradition over the centuries, twentiethcentury Chinese philosophy, with all the hybridity it entails, should not be construed as a disjunction in kind from its earlier narrative. In fact, this aggregating philosophical amalgam can be seen as a continuing fusion of foreign elements that complement, enrich, and ultimately strengthen its own persisting philosophical sensibilities. For this reason the term ruxue conventionally translated as “Confucianism,” which can be traced back more than three millennia to an “aestheticizing” social class in the Shang dynasty history, can continue to be invoked as a name for an ostensively new and yet still familiar current in the always changing yet persistent identity (biantong 變通) of Chinese philosophy. Liang Shuming (1893–1988) is often quite properly identified as the first of the New Confucians. In his earliest writings Liang rehearses a kind of reverse



Hegelian narrative of the phasal development of philosophy that is then refined and amplified over his long professional career. That is, the first stage in philosophy is its Western phase, in which the human will is able to satisfy the basic needs of the human experience by disciplining the environment in which our lives are lived. The second, Chinese phase entails a harmonizing of this human will with its natural environment, with all of the joyful wisdom and satisfaction that such a reconciliation brings with it. The third and final phase is Buddhist philosophy, which provides an intuitive negation of the self-other dichotomy, and a true spiritual realization through a regimen of self-cultivation. In many ways, Liang Shuming’s own creative philosophizing is an extension of the “philosophy of heart-and-mind” (xinxue) advanced by Wang Yangming (1472–1529), which was so thoroughly colored by Yogācāra Buddhism’s notion of “consciousness-only” (weishi 唯識). Like Wang Yangming’s philosophy, that of Liang Shuming tends to be as much religious as philosophical—an existential and aspirational quest for Confucian enlightenment rather than an attempt to establish an expository, systematic account of some putatively objective reality. There seems to be a consensus among scholars that the most prominent and indeed most promising lineage among the New Confucians is that of the teacher and founder of New Confucianism, Xiong Shili (1885–1968), and his two celebrated disciples, Mou Zongsan (1909–1995) and Tang Junyi (1909– 1978). The greatest foreign influence on the development of Xiong Shili’s philosophy was the first wave of Western learning—Buddhist philosophy—with only a passing ripple of the European canons of philosophy. And probably the source of his most profound insights into the nature of the human experience was the Classic of Changes (Yijing), the first among the Chinese classics generally considered to be the cosmological ground of both Confucian and Daoist philosophical sensibilities. One way of focusing Xiong Shili’s lasting influence on New Confucianism is to recount briefly his core doctrine of “the inseparability of forming and functioning” (tiyongbuer 體用不二). His basic point is that “forming” and “functioning” are an explanatory, nonanalytical vocabulary for describing the dramatic and ceaseless unfolding of our experience. How we think, for example, and what we think about are two coterminous aspects of the same continuing process. The dynamic and creative continuity of experience is explained by a common source (ti 體), and the multiplicity and multivalence of experience are explained by the ongoing transformations among things and events ( yong 用). There is no ontological disparity between the phenomenal world of experience and its underlying living source. While a knowledge of the manifest world provides us with a kind of habituating, calculative understanding (liangzhi 良知) that enables us to discriminate among things and make inferences about them, it is natural understanding (xingzhi 性質) that provides us with the intuitive

6 Introduction

wisdom to fathom our experience and become fully moral within it. The former knowledge is the science provided most effectively by Western learning; the latter is the philosophical insight promoted most effectively by the indigenous traditions of China. Given the wholeness of experience that includes both the human mind and the experience of the world, Xiong Shili took the natural cosmology of the Classic of Changes to be a model for human self-cultivation. That is, human creativity and the advancement of cosmic meaning are inseparable aspects of the same reality. Xiong Shili’s protégées Mou Zongsan and Tang Junyi continued the Confucian lineage by translating and, in fact, transforming the foreign rivals they admired most into a vocabulary consistent with their own premises. For Mou Zongsan, Kant is the Western philosopher who began to understand the real nature of morality. Indeed, Mou Zongsan is so smitten by Kant that he appeals to Kant’s transcendental language to explain what is unique and distinctive about Chinese philosophy. Mou Zongsan makes it clear that whatever might be construed as “transcendent” in classical Chinese thought is neither independent of the natural world nor theistic. Far from giving rise to the dualism entailed by Western models of transcendence, classical China’s world order, according to Mou, is altogether this-worldly. It is Tang Junyi’s foremost contribution to world philosophy—his synoptic philosophy of culture—that has led some scholars to associate him explicitly with a Hegelian idealism. But on closer examination, we see that in the specific range of uncommon assumptions that Tang Junyi argues for as the ground of Chinese cultural uniqueness, he distances himself from German idealism and the homogenizing closure of Enlightenment teleology and universalism. Tang Junyi repeatedly insists that any traditional connection that Confucianism might have with the political forms of feudalism, monarchism, and patriarchism with which it has been historically associated, are accidental and transient. In his characterizations of Chinese natural cosmology, true to his teacher Xiong Shili, Tang Junyi begins by affirming the reality and sufficiency of empirical experience without seeking to go beyond it. Tang Junyi applies this natural cosmology in his extensive work on human nature. He disassociates the conversation among classical Chinese philosophers over the meaning of human nature from the contemporary science of psychology by asserting that in the latter case, there is a desire to treat the human being as an objective phenomenon. For Tang Junyi, it is the existential project intuited subjectively that is the fundamental distinguishing characteristic of the Confucian conception of human “nature.” In fact, it is precisely the indeterminate capacity for creative change that Tang Junyi identifies as the most salient feature of the contextualizing, initial human tendencies. What is “innate” in the nature of persons is most importantly the propensity for growth, cultivation,



and refinement. The crucial point here is Tang Junyi’s claim that Confucianism would place an emphasis on “second nature” as the primary locus of culture and as the resource for the enculturation of succeeding generations. In relating the development of New Confucianism philosophy in this past century, three other notable figures belong largely to the more traditional historical and exegetical stream of Confucian philosophy: Feng Youlan (1889– 1990), Qian Mu (1895–1991), and Xu Fuguan (1904–1982). With this context in mind, it can be simply stated that the contemporary thinker Li Zehou does not belong to this New Confucian lineage as a Chinese philosopher. On the contrary, he both understands himself and is seen widely as a world philosopher who draws upon philosophy in its broadest compass as a resource for his own philosophizing. And while he draws heavily upon Confucianism, Kant, and Marx as well, he does it as “philosopher Li Zehou” rather than as a Confucian, Kantian, or Marxist. At the same time, like Kant and Marx within their own European historical context, Li has been one of contemporary China’s most virulent social critics. His commentary on Kant, for example, is an integral and foundational element in his rejection of Maoist voluntarism—the idea that the power of the human will can accomplish all things. On Li’s reading, Mao’s voluntarism is not new but emerges out of and is consistent with the traditional Confucian position that human realization lies with the transformative powers of the unmediated moral will. For Li, unbridled confidence in the moral will—a belief that in Maoist China translated into practice as ideologically driven mass mobilization campaigns—has been responsible for China’s contemporary crises, from Western colonialization down to the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.2 The argument, simply put, is that Chinese philosophers from classical times have recognized a continuity between human beings and their natural environments captured in the phrase “the continuity between human experience and nature” (tianren heyi 天人合一). This continuity, however, has often been misunderstood to the detriment of the natural sciences. Instead of being a continuity between subject and object, respecting both the ability of the collective human community to transform its environment productively, as well as acknowledging the resistance of the natural world to this human transformation, it has been dominated by the belief that the moral subject holds absolute transformative powers over an infinitely malleable natural world. It has become a kind of raw subjectivism that discounts the need for collective human effort in science and technology to “humanize” nature and to establish a productive relationship between subject and object, a relationship that Li takes to be a precondition for human freedom. Where does Kant come in? Li Zehou sees Kant as confronting a problem

8 Introduction

similar to that of contemporary Chinese intellectuals. For Kant’s own world, he faces the philosophical challenge of how to reconcile mechanistic Newtonian science, Church dogma, and Leibnizian rationalism, on the one hand, with the freedom of Rousseauian humanism on the other? And for Marxist China, the challenge was again how to reconcile “deterministic” scientific progress and its political expression in a totalitarian socialism, on the one hand, with human freedom on the other? Kant’s epistemic move is to assert that the forms and categories of science do not exist independently of the human being but constitute an active structure of the human mind. Since this a priori structure of the mind acts to synthesize our experiences and to construct our world of scientific understanding, Kant would argue that scientific understanding, far from contradicting the possibility of human freedom, is an expression of it. Li Zehou appropriates this notion of “categories” of human understanding from Kant but thoroughly reconceives their formation and content by historicizing and particularizing them. How so? First, China has traditionally embraced, contra the passive Marxian “mirror” conception of mind, a resolutely active notion of heart-mind (xin 心), as expressed in the performative, “ontological” force of knowledge. Li extends this assumption by offering a theory of “sedimentation” ( jidian 積澱)—the form of the human cultural psychology (wenhua xinli jiegou 文化心理結構)—that is synchronic, diachronic, and evolutionary. The “structure” of human understanding—Li actually prefers the more processional translation “formation” for jiegou—is not an a priori given but is dynamic and emergent, a function of shared human experience that is historically and culturally specific. As human beings have transformed their various environments, the transformed environments have shaped their categories of understanding. Sedimentation is the accumulation of a contingent social memory through which each individual human being is socialized and enculturated. As commentator Woei Lien Chong observes, sedimentation begins at the level of the human species through the designing and making of tools: The process of the “humanization of nature” (ziran de renhua 自然的人 化) works in two ways: Human beings humanize external nature in the

sense of making it a fit place for them to live in, and at the same time, by this very activity, they humanize their own physical and mental constitution by becoming increasingly de-animalized and adapted to life in organized society.3

The argument moves from the human being as a species to specific cultural sites and experiences when Li Zehou insists that Chinese scholars must look to their



own traditional resources in shaping a vision for China’s future. Chong summarizes her conversations with Li in these terms: When it comes to cultural regeneration, in Li’s view, the Chinese should go back to their own heritage rather than start from premises derived from Western worldviews, such as Christianity, liberalism, and Freudianism. . . . These Western premises, Li holds, cannot take root in the collective Chinese consciousness, which is based on entirely different foundations.4

Jane Cauvel summarizes not two but three dimensions of sedimentation in her exploration of Li Zehou’s philosophy of art: We each have “species sedimentation” (forms common to all human beings), “cultural sedimentation” (ways of thinking and feeling common to our culture), and “individual sedimentation,” (those ways of looking at the world accumulated from our own individual life experiences).5

Li is certainly a world philosopher rather than a New Confucian, but a world philosopher with decidedly Chinese characteristics. With his theory of sedimentation, Li, like Kant, is able to reconcile causal science and human freedom, but in a way that, from the Chinese perspective, resists a Kantian metaphysics of the mind. What begins early in Li’s career as Kantian commentary becomes a turn in his philosophy consistent with the underlying premises of the Confucian tradition, releasing the dragon and imbuing it with new energy to continue on, undeterred. The Kantian categories, far from providing a basis for discovering universal claims, become a dynamic process for formulating and respecting cultural differences. This is a signal of Li’s continuing commitment to the aestheticism of the Confucian tradition and is consistent with his belief that the highest form of cultural sedimentation is expressed as art. We cannot do justice to the significance and complexity of Li’s philosophical career in this short introduction, and our expectation is that even this volume of essays by a truly international cast of distinguished scholars can at best survey some of the most distinctive contributions of a truly original thinker. Given that, in our own times, China is undergoing the greatest revolution in its history, syncretic Chinese philosophy will be influenced by events that might as yet remain unclear but are certain to precipitate a dramatic transformation in Chinese ways of living and thinking. That Li has been and continues to be a preeminent persona in this drama is clear. But perhaps more important will be Li’s reach and influence as a world philosopher. We have witnessed a sea change in the economic and political order of the world in our lifetimes, and we can

10 Introduction

anticipate that Li will be a singularly important force in shaping the changing world cultural order that will follow in its wake. Turning to the essays that constitute this present volume, the central theme of the first section centers on Li Zehou and the modernization of Confucianism. The project of modernizing Confucianism by scholars both inside and outside China has persisted for more than one hundred years. It is a significant effort, not only in its transformative effect on the modernization of China itself, but also in its contribution to the further development of humanity and the reconstruction of world cultural order in general. Among the numerous important contributions to this project, Li’s work stands out as remarkable and far-reaching, having exerted a profound influence on the continuing process of Chinese modernization. This section opens with Jana S. Rošker’s discussion of Li Zehou and New Confucianism. She observes that Li’s views on Chinese modernization, like those of the modern New Confucians referenced above, are grounded in the belief that such a transformation cannot be equated with Westernization. Rošker compares Li’s thought with the other voices in this conversation and offers a summary evaluation of the specific features of Li’s philosophical system, focusing on his attempts to creatively revision Marxist theory and to reform traditional Chinese philosophy, especially Confucianism. This essay casts a critical light on a number of intercultural methodological problems that are entailed by this approach. Despite the obvious difficulties that emerge in attempting to synthesize ideational systems rooted in different referential frameworks, Li’s philosophy is highly innovative and contributes significantly to contemporary philosophical debate at a global level. Rošker views Li’s works as an ongoing endeavor to rediscover and renew the Confucian ideational tradition, thereby not only aiding China on its path to future material and spiritual development but also making a unique and valuable addition to world philosophy. Karl-Heinz Pohl’s study concentrates on Li Zehou’s thesis of “Western learning as substance, Chinese learning for application” (xiti zhongyong 西體中 用), reversing the popular slogan “Chinese learning as substance, Western learning for application” (zhongxue wei ti, xixue wei yong 中學為體, 西學為用) that became a mantra during the self-strengthening movement in late nineteenthcentury China. Traditional Chinese scholars insisted that China should maintain its own Confucian ideology as what is “essential” in the Chinese narrative, while at the same time using Western learning for “practical application” in developing its infrastructure and economy. Li’s reversal of this formula reflects his new understanding of what is essential and its practical application, as well as what he considers to be the most productive relationship between tradition and modernity in China. Pohl discusses these issues in the context of the various debates on Chinese culture from the late nineteenth century until today. He



concludes that Li’s thesis—summarized as “one material civilization, multiple spiritual cultures”—reiterates his view that material welfare must serve as the basis of all considerations concerning “Chinese learning” or “Western learning,” on the one hand, and must accord with traditional neo-Confucian insight that “the principle is one while its manifestations are many” (li yi fen shu 理一分殊) on the other. Ming Dong Gu provides a survey of the century-long intellectual movement that has addressed the modernization of Confucianism. He observes that despite the tremendous effort poured into this movement, it still remains an unfinished task—at best, a work in progress. Its unfinished nature has to do with many factors—historical, political, economic, intellectual, and cultural—as well as the very nature of Confucianism itself. Gu argues that the task is unfinished mainly because the modernization process has subjected Confucianism to too many competing demands that involve diverse ideological, intellectual, and aesthetic agendas. Gu finds Li Zehou’s philosophical inquiry into ethics to be of great value and his study of Confucianism a source of inspiration. Gu examines Li’s vision and insights and his critique of the major trends in Confucian scholarship, concluding that Li’s view of the nature of Confucianism is of great importance because it may be the key to a fuller understanding of Confucianism and can serve as the starting point of a reconstruction that may help bring the modernization project to its most productive conclusion. Inspired by Li’s vision, approach, and scholarship, Gu classifies Confucianism into two large categories: Confucianism in its narrow sense (狹義儒學) and Confucianism in its broad sense (廣義儒學). Gu also conducts an experiment to formulate a framework for constructing Confucianism as broadly as possible and proposes a “Globalized Confucianism” (全球化儒學) that draws intellectual and spiritual resources from a hundred schools of thought around the world under the principle of “Confucianism as substance, other resources as application” (儒體他用). Andrew Lambert studies the tension between determinism and individual freedom in Li Zehou’s thought. He first describes the social determinism implicit in Li’s adaptations of Marxist ideas in notions such as cultural-­psychological formation and sedimentation. He then explores accounts of individuality and freedom in Li’s work that might provide philosophical justification for contemporary expectations of more personal freedom and a greater respect for human rights. Some of those accounts, particularly those that draw on Kant’s work on rationality and the will, might be problematic, but Li’s work in aesthetics does offer a novel account of freedom and a valuable form of individuality with Confucian characteristics. This freedom involves orienting desires and emotions toward shared communal objects and experiences that allow for the full coordination of desires and their capacity to generate aesthetic goods such as beauty, delight, and a sense of ease. This freedom is not merely possessed as a

12 Introduction

right but emerges from a variety of cultivated psychological responses that have their ground in stable social structures and human relationships. Finally, Lambert evaluates Li’s account of aesthetic freedom that incorporates the definitive characteristics of the Confucian tradition and its nuanced, important place in Chinese modernity. James Garrison uses Li’s conception of subjectality to develop an understanding of the political in terms of Kant’s “world observer.” Garrison examines Li’s employment of Kantian, Marxist, and Confucian premises in describing how a bodily, ritual self-consciousness emerges through social forces and how unconscious social forces in turn form through the historical sedimentation of ritual technologies of the self in a process he calls subjectality. Li’s idea of subjectality addresses the question of how tradition both accrues meaning and becomes unfamiliar to itself over time, thus dealing with species-level sedimentation and the development of collective unconsciousness. Subjectality requires the perspective of historical world observation, as understood by Kant and Arendt, but it adds to this with a specifically material account. The perspective of the world observer brings other requirements along with it—namely, a broadly aesthetic perspective on species progress and a kind of tempered optimism regarding human development. This in turn may ground genuine hope for the plight of subject self-consciousness, with this prior hope being in some way accessible within the unconscious historical sediment of humanity’s social and political life. Thus, Li puts himself in the position of the world observer and asks a question that Confucian sage-kings have long been uniquely able to appreciate: “What should the world look like?” The second section of the volume discusses Li Zehou’s reconception of Confucian philosophy, a theme closely following that of modernizing Confucianism in the first section. In order to modernize Confucianism and transform it to become an international resource for positive change, Li reinterprets and reconceptualizes major ideas of classical Confucianism, including an exciting rereading of the entire Analects, replete with his own philosophical speculations and his keen concern for the future of humanity. At the same time, Li attempts to integrate this reconceptualized Confucianism with other Chinese and Western ideational traditions. In the first chapter in this section, Michael Nylan evaluates Li Zehou’s Lunyu jindu (Reading the Analects today 論語今讀). Nylan discusses what she takes to be the strengths and weaknesses of Li’s heavily annotated “translation” of the Analects into modern Chinese. She suggests that Li wants to return the reader’s attention to this classical Confucian text in order to explore which aspects of the early teachings can be combined with insights from the Western philosophical tradition to better engage contemporary problems for China and, more broadly, for humanity in general. For Li, importantly, there is no one



Confucian tradition but, rather, a range of competing traditions, with the classical Confucian teachings found in the Analects, the Mencius, and the Xunzi portrayed as inherently more valuable, insofar as they can be better adapted in today’s world than the Song-Ming theories more prominent in late imperial China. Nylan contends that Li’s work in assessing the continuities among, and disjunctions between, varying Chinese traditions reflects years of serious thinking about the Analects. It is the single best introduction to the Analects in Chinese and is deserving of a wider circulation among Li’s Euro-American readers. Jinhua Jia’s study focuses on Li Zehou’s reconception of the Confucian ethics of emotion. Li coins the term “emotio-rational structure” (qingli jiegou 情理 結構) for his ethical theory—basically an innovative combination of Confucian ethics with Kantian rationalism—that emphasizes a balanced and integrated structure of the emotions and reason. Li uses the doctrine of “emotion as substance” (qing benti 情本體) to reconceptualize the core ideas and values of classical Confucian ethics. Jia first introduces Li’s exposition of the emotional basis of Confucius’ ethics with ren 仁 (humaneness) as the core concern. She then proceeds with a new interpretation of the term qing 情 (emotion) and an examination of its significance in the Confucian manuscripts excavated from Guodian in order to explore the development of the Confucian ethics of emotion during the Warring States period and to further support Li’s arguments. Finally, she discusses Li’s theory of emotio-rational structure and its possible inspiration for and contribution to the new construction of humanity and world cultural order. Byung-seok Jung discusses Li Zehou’s doctrine of emotion as substance from yet a different perspective. Jung starts from an introduction to the basic ideas of Li’s philosophy, indicating that a theory of historical ontology serves as the basis of his philosophical system, and the doctrine of emotion as substance then constitutes the axis of his historical ontology. Jung analyzes the contents of the doctrine of emotion as substance and finds that the views of an optimistic culture and a one-world theory are at its core. This in turn renews our understanding of the history of Confucian philosophy and can be regarded as a creative contribution not only to the modernization of Confucianism but also to the much-needed new arena of world philosophy. Jung pays special attention to Li’s distinction between “the philosophy of fate” and “the fate of philosophy.” The former stresses that philosophy must deal with the ultimate fate of humanity, while the latter asks the question, Where is philosophy heading? Li’s concept of emotion as substance thus seeks to alter the focus of philosophy to directly engage human beings and their lived experience. Catherine Lynch provides an examination of Li Zehou and pragmatism. She compares Li with American pragmatists from John Dewey to Cheryl Misak and Nicholas Rescher and contends that Li has a unique place within this move-

14 Introduction

ment, emerging as one of its most creative exponents. There have been earlier comparisons of traditional Confucian thought with Deweyan pragmatism, and Li mainly draws his theory of pragmatic reason from classical Confucianism’s thought and practice. Like all pragmatists, Li tries to show us a world that we know through human experience and practice, but his philosophy goes far beyond the realm of epistemology. Li’s distinctive contribution lies in his insistence that the making and using of tools is the original human practice and that from this, through a long historical process of accumulation and sedimentation, a cultural-psychological formation takes shape that eventually operates beyond discrete practices. In answering the question of how human beings are possible, Li gives us his anthropological historical ontology. Starting with the seeds of humanity in the making and using of tools, he arrives at pragmatic reason and human capacities that are continually evolving, accounting for the nature of humanity and for the human capacity to flourish and bring meaning to our individual existences. Lynch concludes that while Li’s historical ontology fits within the scope and aims of pragmatism, it also steers pragmatism into some new, productive directions. Wang Keping’s study presents another perspective on Li Zehou’s view of pragmatic reason. Wang notes that Li has been preoccupied with China’s reality in particular and the human condition in general and has attempted to work out a concise but strategic blueprint to address sociocultural issues and the possibility of human “becoming” in both Chinese and global contexts. All of this is partly embodied in Li’s view of pragmatic reason as it is developed mainly through two arguments. The first of these claims is largely drawn from Confucianism by looking into some key components such as usefulness, the moral sense, the inseparableness of emotion and reason, and historical consciousness. The second demonstrates Li’s individual observations such as his conception of techno-social substance and emotion-based substance in tandem with his analysis of psychological substance and cultural-psychological formation. Wang attempts to bridge the two arguments in terms of Li’s formulation of practical philosophy and aesthetics and by reconsidering the leading elements of pragmatic reason from a transcultural perspective. Li Zehou’s aesthetics has been generally regarded as one of his most remarkable contributions to world philosophy. His aesthetical theory is the only nonWestern work to be included in the section on aesthetics in The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism (2010). The third section of this volume revisits Li’s aesthetics from various perspectives, and the several authors also find a close connection between Li’s aesthetical theory and Confucian philosophy. Liu Zaifu, himself a renowned thinker in contemporary China, offers a discussion of the general characteristics and contribution of Li’s aesthetics. Liu contends that Li’s aesthetics is the product of a philosopher with enormous



philosophical and historical depth. Li explores the origin and universality of beauty with questions such as “how beauty arises, and how it is possible.” He investigates the genesis of beauty in association with the genesis of the human and defines it as the “humanization of nature.” Then Li further solves the question of how the human sense of beauty is possible, focusing on the philosophy of human nature and emphasizing the construction of a new sensibility with emotion as substance. Liu then describes how Li critically appropriates Kant and Marx, only to move beyond them to form his own innovative theory. Through a comparison of Li’s aesthetics and that of Cao Xueqin 曹雪芹—implied in his great novel, Dream of the Red Chamber (Honglou meng 紅樓夢)—and an analysis of Li’s The Chinese Aesthetic Tradition, Liu also makes the connection between Li’s aesthetics and Confucian philosophy. In her chapter titled “Li Zehou, Kant, and Darwin: The Theory of Sedimentation,” Marthe Chandler assumes that, similar to Dewey and Mead, Li Zehou interprets Kant in a way that makes him consistent with Darwin. Li argues that “subjectivity” encompasses more than consciousness and rationality; subjectivity also includes our material practices, social circumstances, and evolutionary development. Li finds Kant helpful in understanding the psychological-spiritual development of humanity, but he criticizes Kant for focusing almost entirely on the intellectual aspects of subjectivity and ignoring the historical, evolutionary development of our species. Li’s theory of sedimentation remedies this error by providing a historicist interpretation of Kant that is consistent with Darwin. By dispelling the question of whether Li’s theory is the kind of “just-so story” based on “armchair anthropology” that evolutionary psychologists are often accused of, Chandler explores Li’s theory of sedimentation within the context of recent discoveries in anthropology, research in social cognition, and studies of language development. She argues not only that Li’s theory of sedimentation is consistent with much of anthropology and social psychology but also that Li’s understanding of the dawo 大我 (the big self, or collective consciousness) as more fundamental than the xiaowo 小我 (the small self, or individual consciousness) would be a helpful addition to contemporary theory. Chandler concludes her chapter with a critical evaluation of Li’s claim that “beauty is the practice of freedom.” Through a study of Li Zehou’s aesthetics and the Confucian “body” of Chinese cultural sedimentation, Tsuyoshi Ishii finds both the necessity and the possibility of reinterpreting Confucianism. Ishii assumes that Li’s thesis “the humanization of nature” is an amalgam of Marxian historical theory and Kantian moral universalism that helps him narrate Chinese aesthetic history as the integration of the Confucian cultural organism, or the body of Chinese cultural-psychological formation. Incorporating historical Marxism into the Chinese legacy, Li’s Kantian interpretation of Marx eventually prepares for the

16 Introduction

revival of Confucianism in mainland China in the new millennium. At the same time, Li’s discourse on sedimentation dilutes the historical significance of revolutions and instead suggests a harmonious process of aesthetic Chinese historical practices since ancient times. Ishii also seeks the possibility of another interpretation of Li’s Confucian aesthetics by rereading his etymological study on the concept of beauty. Téa Sernelj makes a critical comparison between Li Zehou’s sedimentation and Carl Gustav Jung’s archetypes. Sernelj first identifies some traditional Chinese components, especially those Confucian ideas contained in Li’s aesthetic thought, and analyzes Li’s theory of sedimentation as the origin of aesthetic appreciation and the development of art. Then she examines Jung’s concept of archetypes, comparing it with Li’s notion of sedimentation. The differences manifested through the contrastive analysis of both concepts and their ideational backgrounds serve as an exposition of certain discursive or paradigmatic differences between Western and Chinese thought. Some scholars have proposed similarities between Li’s concept of sedimented mental forms and Jung’s psychological concept of archetypes. However, such superficial comparisons can lead to a serious misunderstanding of Li’s aesthetic thought and encourage certain problematic assumptions regarding the possible syntheses of Western and Chinese thought. Sernelj concludes that the static nature of Western categories often precludes a thorough examination of the diversity of cultural evidence, while Li’s complex yet always open system can be seen as a contribution to the future intercultural discussion of common aesthetics, ethics, and epistemology. Rafal Banka treats Li Zehou’s aesthetics as a form of cognition. Li’s aesthetic theory contends that the development of humans involves the shaping of human mind by means of aesthetics understood as an activity of pursuing and realizing beauty within human life. Thus, because aesthetics is not exclusively reserved for the realm of art, it can also be perceived as a way of organizing human experience. Although aesthetic activity and experience in Li’s theory are viewed through the prism of traditional Chinese philosophy (especially Confucian philosophy) as both means and measure of self-cultivation, it is interesting to examine how the aesthetic manages human understanding as well as our interaction with the world. This perspective brings Li close to a conception of aesthetics as mediation and cognition of reality in our experience. Thus, Banka presents Li’s aesthetic theory with reference to the organization of experience in order to determine the grounds on which this theory can be specifically understood as the shaping of the human mind, as well as the cognitive consequences that follow from it. Finally, Banka refers this aspect to the corresponding aesthetic theories of Dewey and Welsch to address the extent to which Li’s aesthetic experience can be linked with cognition. The authors of these fifteen chapters represent ten countries and regions



within East Asia, North America, and Europe. With diverse academic backgrounds and fields of study, they are nevertheless unanimous in expressing a high appreciation for the significant contribution of Li Zehou not only to an evolving Confucian philosophy but to world philosophy as well. Although each of their studies deals with a specific topic, together the three sections and fifteen chapters form a coherent narrative that reveals how Li creatively studies, absorbs, and reconceptualizes the Confucian ideational tradition in order to integrate it with Western philosophical elements and develop his own profound philosophical insights and his own original theories. At the same time, he transforms and modernizes Confucianism for the purpose of both coalescing with and reconstructing a new world cultural order. In exploring these themes, the authors also try to answer Paul Gauguin’s triple question (Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?) or Li’s restatement of it as a similar triple question: How is the human race possible? What is humanity? What is the philosophy of destiny? We hope that readers may find this volume helpful in their understanding of the complexities of Li Zehou’s philosophical thought, of the close relationship it has with Confucian philosophy, and of its significant contribution to world philosophy. We hope that readers may also find inspiration in this volume for thinking about a changing world cultural order in our present historical moment and, indeed, the future destiny of humanity. Notes 1. Several of the papers presented by the panel were selected to constitute a special issue of the journal Philosophy East and West (66, no. 3, July 2016). 2. Woei Lien Chong, “Mankind and Nature in Chinese Thought: Li Zehou on the Traditional Roots of Maoist Voluntarism,” China Information 11, no. 2/3 (1996): 138–175. 3. Ibid. 4. Ibid. 5.  Jane Cauvel, “The Transformative Power of Art: Li Zehou’s Aesthetic Theory,” Philosophy East and West 49, no. 2 (1999): 150–173.

Response to Paul Gauguin’s Triple Question LI Zehou

Daolin He (abbreviated below as Q, for “Question”):  In October 2015 the World Consortium for Research in Confucian Cultures and the University of Hawai‘i held a conference entitled “Li Zehou and Confucian Philosophy.” It’s said to be the first international academic conference with a living Chinese scholar of humanities as its theme. Li Zehou (abbreviated below as R, for “Response”):  I heard such comments, but I’m not sure, and it’s of no importance. Q: You yourself attended the conference and gave speeches in English. Would you care to trouble yourself to recall for me some of what you said? R: The main working language at the conference was English, but I didn’t submit and present a paper. I merely made some remarks in the discussion sessions. These remarks were casual and unscripted. Q: I would very much like to hear your remarks. Would you please recall some for me? R: Well, then, I’ll tell you the gist of those remarks in Chinese, and I may from time to time flesh out some points as our conversation leads. Q: That’s wonderful. So let’s proceed in your favorite dialogue style. R: What I remarked about at the conference has mostly been discussed before. This time I merely highlighted a few points. I took along with me one of my books, Historical Ontology [Lishi bentilun 歷史本體論] (third edition). The artwork reproduced on the book cover is one of the masterpieces produced by the Postimpressionist artist Paul Gauguin in his late years. Its title is Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? This triple question conveys precisely my lifelong inquiry. I presented the book cover to the scholars at the conference. 18

Response to Paul Gauguin’s Triple Question


Where Do We Come From?

Q: Indeed, this triple question exactly reflects the questions you have posed: How is the human race possible? What is humanity? What is the philosophy of destiny? R: Exactly. First, let’s talk about Gauguin’s first question: Where do humans come from? There are generally two answers. The first is that God created humans; then humans fell from the Garden of Eden. Finally, humans, having painstakingly redeemed themselves, return to Paradise after the Last Judgment. The mythology of the ancient Greeks also presents a lively world of the gods, with Zeus as their head. Thus, the answer has been given, and therefore Western philosophy rarely needs to touch on this question. Second, since Nietzsche declared that God is dead, social biology has become rather popular in academia. This theory holds that human beings come from animal gene mutation. Consequently, human society is merely a continuation of the animal world. Q: That is to say, humankind is a sort of hairless ape, and we are no different from animals. Animals too have social organizations and ethics. They even have some sort of political machinery. You can find plenty of literature on this topic. Books such as Desmond Morris’ Naked Ape and Frans de Waal’s Chimpanzee Politics are well-known, popular, and very influential. R: Since the theme of the conference was Confucian philosophy, I remarked that Chinese Confucianism agrees with neither of these two answers. Rather, it regards civilization and culture as historical products with a historical progression of formation and development. To put it briefly, it can be said that the human race creates herself. I’ve been maintaining this view for decades. Q: I don’t quite get it. Would you please expand on this idea for me? R: In the Chinese classics, we read that “heaven gives birth to all the people, and annexed to their faculties its law” (Shijing 詩經, or the Classic of Songs) and “what Heaven has conferred is called temperament” (Zhongyong 中庸, or Doctrine of the Mean). However, all these terms such as “heaven” (tian 天), “heaven’s mandate” (tianming 天命), “heaven’s Dao” (tiandao 天道), and “heaven’s will” (tianyi 天意) are rather vague and ambiguous. The Chinese tradition does not have a definite or standard conception of the Creator, nor does it have any narratives about creation. The heaven that gives birth to the people also often represents the sky of the natural world, which is quite distinct from the anthropomorphic God of the Old Testament, who acts, talks, give orders, and creates the world and humanity.


Response to Paul Gauguin’s Triple Question

Q: You often quote “In the beginning was the Word” from the New Testament to make a comparison with “heaven’s movement is ever vigorous” in the Classic of Changes (Yijing 易經). R: Indeed. At the conference I again quoted “In the beginning was the Act” from Faust to make a comparison with “In the beginning was the Word.” I further pointed out to the scholars there that “the Act” in my theory is the act of the human, rather than the act of heaven. In my opinion, just like the notion of “human nature is good,” the notion of “heaven’s movement is ever vigorous” is an emotional stance of Confucianism. It represents the Confucian “affective cosmology,” which is in fact merely an affective metaphor and the reflection of human acts, rather than an objective description of the facts. Q: I know that you can recite the first chapter of the Bible’s book of John. In the past, you had compared the Western notion of “logos-logic-languagereason” with the Chinese expression of “Dao origins in emotion” and “the ritual is generated from emotion.” R: True. Yet this time I emphasized that one of the most important characteristics of Confucianism is that it attaches great importance to history. The Classic of Changes and other classical Chinese texts describe the life of the highest antiquity as “they made their homes in caves and dwelt in the wilds.” They propose a definite historical course that contains consecutive historical periods: the age of Youcao (cave dwellers 有巢), the age of Suiren (making fire 燧人), the age of Fuxi (hunting and fishing 伏羲), the age of Shennong (farming 神農), and the age of the Yellow Emperor (many handmade tools used in every aspect of life). What always amazes me is that this description from a couple of thousand years ago is thoroughly compatible with today’s anthropological studies. Q: How is it so amazing? R: I am amazed that Confucian philosophy has such a strong consciousness of history. The Zhanguo ce (Strategies of the Warring States 戰國策) teaches, “Lessons learned from the past can guide one in the future.” Zhang Xue­ cheng 章學誠 (1738–1801) has a well-known aphorism, “All the six classics are history.” That is why I always say that the “Teacher” (shi 師) in the pentavalent traditional teaching “Heaven-Earth-Country-Parents-Teacher” is more than the simple notion of a teacher and mainly refers to history. What the teachers teach at school is also history. Chinese traditional educational textbooks for children such as the Classic of Three Characters (Sanzi jing 三 字經) are mainly selected from historical writings, in contrast to biblical stories and Greek mythology in the Western tradition. The tradition of

Response to Paul Gauguin’s Triple Question


Chinese historical writings has never been interrupted. It offers the richest historical literature in the world. Our historical writings, from the “six classics” to the Records of the Grand Historian (Shiji 史記), the Comprehensive Mirror in Aid of Governance (Zizhi tongjian 資治通鑒), the official history of every dynasty, and all sorts of anecdotal histories, all present massive accounts of basic life experiences and roughly realistic stories, with the ups and downs in this world and this life. These are the fundamental components of Chinese culture. The Chinese people have a strong consciousness of history, which is precisely the background, reliance, and footing of a Chinese who “lives a life.” It is expressed in our daily life, culture, arts, and literature. This is indeed the essence of Confucian philosophy. The human occupies an extremely high status in this philosophy: “As for the four kinds of Dao, only the human’s Dao can guide/educate people” (道四術, 唯人道為可道 也; from Xing zi ming chu 性自命出, in the Guodian manuscripts); humankind is able to “assist in the transformation and nurturing of heaven and earth” (zan tiandi zhi huayu 贊天地之化育) and “with heaven and earth form a triad” ( yu tiandi san 與天地參; from the Records of Ritual, or Liji 禮記). The reason is precisely that the human is the creator of history, who can “become the humane heart of heaven and earth” (wei tiandi lixin 为天 地立心; from Zhang Zai 張載, 1020–1077). Q: So you extend this thought to humanity with an emphasis on “the making and using of tools” as the origin of the human race. It is neither God nor gene mutation that creates humans, but humans themselves create a material civilization and spiritual culture that are distinct from the animal world, and thereby become humanity. Is this your way of carrying on the essence of Confucian philosophy? R: In this way, the difference between the Classic of Changes and the Bible is made salient. Thus, human beings are differentiated from gods as well as from beasts, because animals have only a history of evolution, without their own history. Confucians especially emphasize the difference between humans and the birds of the air and beasts of the earth. They certainly would not submit to today’s popular theories of natural evolution and social biology. Q: So you have answered Gauguin’s first question. R: It is rather interesting that these three questions of Gauguin’s had their origin in his childhood education in a Catholic school. In Gauguin’s triple question, the subject is “We” rather than “I.” It is the collective human race rather than the individual man. I was very pleased to read two of the conference papers that pay close attention to—or, I would say, agree with—my


Response to Paul Gauguin’s Triple Question

distinction between “the collective human” and “the individual human” and between subjectality and subjectivity.1 These ideas of mine were denounced by liberal scholars in China some time ago. However, up to this day, I still maintain that everything is a historical product. In contrast with the vast years of human history, the self-consciousness of the individual human is merely a recent achievement. That is also the case with infants as well as the artificial intelligence we have today, as we can hardly say that they have the consciousness of “I.” What Are We?

Q: Gauguin’s first question seems to have been answered. How, then, did you deal with the second question—that is, What are we? R: Well, I said to them, “We are a sort of animal that makes and uses tools and has the psychology we know as human nature.” Q: Presumably, no one would take issue with this point, that a human being is an animal. The crux of the matter is what you take to be human nature. You said in the 1970s that the concept of human nature, despite its wide use at all times and in all countries, does not have a generally established definition. This concept is still rather ambiguous and vague. Sometimes it inclines toward animal nature, while sometimes it goes beyond animal nature. R: To summarize my theory briefly, “human nature” mainly refers to the ­cultural-psychological formation that is particular to human beings but not shared by animals. Applied to individuals, it is the emotio-rational structure. Q: Aristotle says that man is a rational animal. He emphasizes that reason is peculiar to human beings and that animals don’t have it. That is why Western philosophy has largely dwelt on “the rational” rather than “the emotional.” Westerners revere reason, even to the point of giving reason supremacy. The scale or symbol of justice hanging in their courtrooms is the emblem of rational fairness. However, my puzzle is whence this “reason” comes. This puzzle of “from where?” is actually related to the first question. R: Well, my answer certainly would be, “It’s from sedimentation and from the making and using of tools.” However, sedimentation is not merely reason, because humans’ psychological structure is more than reason. In my essay “Reevaluation of Confucius” (Kongzi zai pingjia 孔子再評價), published in 1980, I indicate that the “psychological principle” implied in the “structure of humaneness” emphasizes emotion instead of reason.2 Human nature is not merely reason; it is the emotio-rational structure of the human mind.

Response to Paul Gauguin’s Triple Question


As we discussed earlier, reason has often been regarded as the “Word” of God (such as language-logic-logos, etc.). Conceived in this way, reason can have little to do with human beings’ substantial existence, biological instinct, existential necessities, and bodily desires. For instance, Kant’s transcendental pure reason is exactly this sort of reason. Q: You’ve been talking about emotion, emotion as substance, and the emotiorational structure. However, animals too have emotions. R: The emotion I talk about is the emotio-rational structure of cultural sedimentation, and it’s not at all the same as an animal’s emotion. Within this structure there is also a rational element, yet this rational element is distinct from mechanical rationality. As for these distinctions, I have explained them many times elsewhere. Q: I heard that you divided sedimentation into three levels in your remarks at the conference. I couldn’t recall if you had touched on this division before in your books. R: I believe I had, but I elaborated it in more detail this time. The first level, which I call primitive sedimentation—that is, the making and using of tools—enables the subjectality of human action to sediment into the subjectivity of general human psychology, including the establishment of a sense of order and form such as symmetry, balance, tempo, and rhythm. Certainly, it also includes body language (such as gestures and sign language) and vocal language (mainly semantic meanings). This is the emergence of reason. We should also mention feelings and experiences of conflict and harmony, of coordination and estrangement among different subjects. I truly enjoyed one of the presented papers written by an American scholar.3 It applies research materials from cognitive archeology, which is a new branch of archeology that has emerged only in the last twenty years or so. This presentation agrees with and corroborates my theory of sedimentation with evidence of changes in primitive stone artifacts and hands. In the Western tradition, the word “nature” often connotes something with a fixed meaning. What I mean by “human nature,” however, is in fact identical to human psychology. It is mutable, evolutionary, and molded by humans themselves from their animal biological base. I use the word “psychology” merely as a philosophical concept, which is not the same as the empirical science of psychology. Q: True, what you call “human psychology” and “emotio-rational structure” are solely philosophical concepts, and the details and verification are yet to be furnished by scientific developments. What, then, about the second level of sedimentation?


Response to Paul Gauguin’s Triple Question

R: Well, the second level is the different kinds of sedimentation in different cultures. Since there are substantial differences among social institutions, human relations, ideologies, religious beliefs, lifestyles, values, thinking patterns, and expressions of emotions, a diversity necessarily emerges among different cultures, producing different kinds of psychological sedimentation. I often remark that although Kant might not have gone to church or truly believed in the anthropomorphic God, the transcendental pure reason and the noumenon that transcend the phenomenal world he proposes still reflect, in my opinion, the shadow of God. The universal necessity he pursues is the philosophical manifestation of the cultural-psychological sedimentation of “two worlds.” Q: In Critique of Critical Philosophy, published in 1979, you propose to replace Kant’s universal necessity with objective sociality. This insight seems to have escaped people’s notice up to this day. R: Indeed, you are keen-eyed! The transcendental universal necessity Kant emphasizes is, just like those well-known Western ideas of jus naturale and “all men are created equal,” a sort of “self-evident” principle and law, which seems to have no need of any historical ground to support. Although not everyone or every scholar in the West reads the Bible or believes in God, Westerners still feel, to certain extent, that there is a God. The Chinese do not have this sort of psychological sedimentation. The notion “heaven” in the Chinese mind is, just as Wang Guowei 王國維 (1877–1927) says, some sort of halfdivinity and half-nature. “Heaven” is an abstract notion of the divine, but it is also the visible sky above our head. It is hanging over our life, yet it is not absolute, nor is it a universal necessity. On the contrary, people are fond of quoting the old saying “Man can conquer heaven.” People believe in and rely on all sorts of multivalent divinities that are sacred as much as secular and are often attached with historical legends, such as Emperor Guan (關帝), Mazu (媽祖), and Guanyin Bodhisattva (觀音菩薩). For many Western people, what is transcendental is absolutely transcendental, and there is no need to probe into its origin. The Chinese mind often has the urge to ask where the transcendental comes from and where its boundary is. The Chinese mind has only the conception of “going beyond,” and it is incapable of conceiving the notion of the transcendent in the sense of Western Christianity. This is due to the domination of the sedimented strong consciousness of history. Q: Western tradition lays emphasis on the transcendent and universal necessity, concepts that imply a sort of absoluteness, while the historicism you are talking about lacks such absoluteness. R: No. I believe that absoluteness is also a historical achievement or product. Be it intrinsic or extrinsic, it comes into being after having gone through a

Response to Paul Gauguin’s Triple Question

Q: R:

Q: R:


long period of historical accumulation or sedimentation. Time and again, I illustrate this with examples like the killing or honoring of elders, or the drowning or nourishing of infant girls. The Western conception of the absoluteness of universal necessity often comes from God, while the Chinese conception of the absoluteness of universal necessity emerges from the experience of humankind herself. As for the absoluteness of universal necessity in the natural sciences, I have discussed it in Critique of Critical Philosophy. Maybe I will expand on it sometime. These are indeed extremely complicated questions that cannot be resolved in a moment. What, then, about the third level? We reach the third level when the first two levels of sedimentation are applied to the individual mind. However, innate differences (such as physiological differences) or acquired differences (such as environment, education, and experience) mean that the cultural-psychological formation and emotio-rational structure sedimented in each individual mind cannot be the same. There is rather a great difference, just as each person has a distinctive DNA. Let’s use the analogy of DNA to underscore differences among individuals. However, the sedimentation I am referring to is not truly like DNA, because it is not immutable. Rather, it differs in accordance with the genetic differences of each person and individual differences of environment, education, activities, experience, and cultivation. That is why I always emphasize that sedimentation is an ongoing progression, formation, and process. I also mentioned this point to the scholars at the conference. That is to say, sedimentation is not reason overpowering sensibility, or the collective overpowering the individual, as some of your critics take it to be? It is exactly the opposite of those criticisms. Sedimentation ensures that each individual enjoys a multivalent and variant development, thereby allowing individuals to reach a subtler, richer, and more complex level of personality, which makes the intricacy of individual differences incomparable with that of any other animal. The humanization of nature gives human beings external suprabiological limbs and organs, enriching the realm of human life. Meanwhile, it also endows human beings with a superbiological psychology, thereby creating a rich realm of human nature. Emotions are associated with desires. Different kinds of combinations of emotion (including desire) and reason in various proportions, elements, sequences, and interplay thereby produce massive, even infinite individual differences. It is a bit like different combinations of DNA. It is precisely the individual differences of sedimentation that create the potential for a breakthrough and change in the original sedimentation. It is surely the different emotiorational structure of individuals that gives a person creativity. Creativity


Response to Paul Gauguin’s Triple Question

belongs to the individual. That is the case in every respect, including the creation of tools, technology, and spiritual culture. The subjectality of humanity includes production, activities, group relationship, social life, and so on. The subjectivity of human beings includes language, notions, religious beliefs, ideology, and so on. Because of individual differences in sedimentation, human beings can break through their subjectivity and thereby change their subjectality. This is not Marx’ simple formula that the economic base determines the superstructure and the superstructure in turn functions on the economic base. This process is more intricate and complex. To put it briefly, the sedimentation is shaped and formed on the physiological base of the individuals. This is the gist of what I call the humanization of inner nature. Where Are We Going?

Q: We have left unanswered Gauguin’s last question, Where are we going? This question seems to touch on your philosophy of destiny. R: As to this question, I admitted at the conference that I did not know how to answer it. It is the gravest question concerning human destiny today, because humankind now possesses the power to endanger and even destroy her whole race. Confucians give prominence to knowing the mandate of heaven (zhiming 知命) and the establishment of destiny (liming 立命). We today need not only to establish our individual destiny but also to establish a destiny for humanity, which is of course relevant to philosophy. Therefore, philosophy should not merely be concerned with language but should all the more be concerned with destiny. I was very pleased to read a paper by a Korean scholar at the conference, who mentioned the relationship between my theories about philosophy of destiny and the destiny of philosophy.4 I think that both individual and collective destinies are of great contingency. That is why I said that I did not know where human beings are going. I merely wished to touch on two thoughts of mine from a philosophical perspective. Q: Please tell me about them. R: The first is the psychological turn. The last century had a so-called linguistic turn in the field of philosophy that was very influential. Its impact spread into almost every discipline, with analytic philosophy and language philosophy dominating practically the whole century. As a result, formulas such as that philosophy aims at correcting language, that language is the house of Being, that there is nothing outside of the text, and so on became very popular. This trend was related to the swift development of high

Response to Paul Gauguin’s Triple Question


technology based on digital language, mathematical language, and theoretical physics during the same period. Of course, this development must continue, because it has brought significant improvements to our material life. People’s life span has been greatly increased. This achievement should be commended highly and cannot be denied by postmodernists and conservatives. However, the development of technology has brought with it many harms and disasters, such as ecological destruction, environmental pollution, growing disparity between the poor and the rich, apathetic and demoralized human relationships, and so on. Science and technology as techno-social substance are mainly about reason. The supremacy of reason has become the mainstream language of modern social order and human relationships, with the result that liberalism has prevailed and individualism has swollen. Meanwhile, the promoting and advocating of animal desires run counter to reason, which increasingly manifests the absurdity, isolation, and meaninglessness of individual existence. People have been increasingly attracted to violence, drugs, and a drifting lifestyle. The human has become a sort of double-faced animal of half reason and half flesh. Q: Therefore, your theories of emotion as substance, the emotio-rational structure, and “guanxi-ism” (human relationship; guanxi zhuyi 關係主義) are an effort to propose this psychological turn by employing the classical Confucian idea “Dao is generated from emotion” and the popular wisdom in Chinese everyday life “to be both sentimental and reasonable”? R: Wittgenstein remarks that Heidegger wants to break through the limitation of language and that he himself uses ethics to break through this limitation. I come up with theories like “emotio-rational structure” and “emotion as substance” because I also want to break through this limitation. By means of these theories, I wish to break free from the belief in the supremacy of reason. I do not come up with such theories in order to randomly use a concept like “emotion as substance” or to use it as a universal necessity. For instance, although I have this concept “emotion as substance,” I am in fact a Kantian in regard to ethics, not a Humean. I always stress that individuals follow morality only when reason rather than emotion is in control over their moral psychological structure. I also expressly elaborated on this view at the conference. I indicated that Hume could only be a supplement to Kant, that reason absolutely must not become a slave to emotions. Reason is the impetus of morality, while emotions are merely helping hands. I also indicated at the conference that my ethics has three main points. First, among the three elements of moral psychological structure (the will, ideas, and emotions), the first two elements belong to reason, with ideas as


Response to Paul Gauguin’s Triple Question

the content of reason and the will as the form of reason. However, this form has the absoluteness that is Kant’s categorical imperative. The categorical imperative is the form of the psychological structure, which is the free will. The historical sedimentation of relative ideas giving content to this form has conditioned the absoluteness of universal necessity. The second main point of my ethics is that I strictly differentiate ethics from morality. Ethics concerns the extrinsic (institutions, customs, norms, laws, etc.), while morality concerns the intrinsic (the will, ideas, and emotions). I also placed emphasis on the progression from the extrinsic to the intrinsic—that is, from ethics to morality. The third main point is my theory of two morals: traditional religious morals and modern social morals. I did not go into detail about this point at the conference because of time constraints. Q: There have been other scholars who made the distinction of ethics and morality. R: Indeed. I too mentioned at the conference that the famous American writer and philosopher George Santayana had already made such a distinction, but my idea is entirely different from his. My distinction is also different from that of other scholars. Q: Your reminder made me sharply aware of the distinction. Indeed, your theories of emotio-rational structure and emotion as substance are not as simple and straightforward as they appear to be. R: Certainly. We can be sure that the psychological turn in philosophy will not happen now. We may have to wait until the next century. However, philosophy should take a long view. I remarked at the conference that I hope the swift development of brain science and medical science in the future can provide important further evidence of what I call the emotio-rational structure, much as cognitive archeology in recent decades has corroborated my theory of primitive sedimentation from a scientific perspective. Q: Can it be said that your theories of cultural-psychological formation and sedimentation are exactly the opposite of Freudian theory? R: Freud thinks that human civilization suppresses the individual’s animal instincts and desires, which are repressed into the unconscious, to be expressed only in dreams, and so on. I agree with Freud in this view and regard it as a great contribution. Human civilization and culture indeed have a restraining and negative effect on individual psychology. However, if we take a one-sided approach and exaggerate the negative aspect, it may cause an overall negation of reason, as seems to have happened in the hands of postmodernists, thereby animalizing behaviors in the name of psychological “liberation.” My theory of cultural-psychological formation gives

Response to Paul Gauguin’s Triple Question

Q: R: Q: R:


more emphasis to the constructive influence of civilization and culture on shaping and molding human psychology. That is, human beings differ from animals not only in respect of possessing of reason, language, thought, and logic but also in respect of emotions and desires. For instance, a human being has the ability to turn sex into love, to turn animal pleasure into human aesthetic needs, and so on. This is the Confucian idea of “molding temperament.” In short, the psychology of human nature is shaped by humankind herself through learning, teaching, and molding. It is neither innate nor the result of natural evolution. This proposal should initiate a philosophical shift in the study of human nature and brain science. Thus, we come back to the importance of the strong consciousness of history we talked about at the beginning of our conversation, as well as the importance of education and study. As is said in the Classic of Documents (Shangshu 尚 書), “Teaching is half of learning.” The Records of Ritual also has a similar saying: “Teaching and learning help each other.” I would even summarize the theme of the Analects as “learning.” It is learning that makes a human being human, which is the heart of Confucianism. Would it be possible for me to hear about your second thought on the third question? I can only skim the surface of it now. Nevertheless, it will benefit me to hear it. Twenty years ago, I said that I hoped we could have a “second Renaissance.” The first Renaissance renewed Greek culture, liberated humans from the shackles of theology and God, and then brought about the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, and so on. Rationalism and individualism came into fashion, which also led to the postmodern deconstruction we have today. I hope the second Renaissance would take us back to classical Confucianism and liberate humans from the shackles of machines (high technology and various social machinery), so as to get us to reconsider and redefine humanity as the end and to discover and develop individual talent. With the attainment of harmony between humans, between nature and humans, and between body and mind as the goal, humankind can be expected to promote progress toward a bright future. However, the realization of this goal needs conscientious efforts by humankind herself. In response to the question of where humanity is going, I said that I did not know the answer, because history is full of contingencies. In my On Modern Chinese Intellectual History (Zhongguo jindai sixiangshi lun 中國近 代思想史論, 1979), I raise the thesis that contingency and necessity have become the utmost important topics for the philosophy of history. How come nations are mustering forces to put an end to terrorists and extremist


Response to Paul Gauguin’s Triple Question

groups today? It is because some of these groups may someday get hold of nuclear bombs and modern biochemical weapons to wipe out humanity, burning this world, which is seen as corrupt and evil in their eyes, and sending the whole human race to the paradise they preach. This is also one of the reasons that I have been repeatedly talking about the “one world” theory and the consciousness of history of Confucianism. But let’s stop here. Q: Then, are you optimistic or pessimistic about the direction that humanity is taking? R: Even if the future is looked on with optimism, such an outlook has to be cautiously voiced. Otherwise, we may make a laughingstock of ourselves. Notes 1. I coined the term “subjectality” to differentiate it from subjectivity. See Li Zehou, “Subjectivity and ‘Subjectality’: A Response,” Philosophy East and West 49, no. 2 (1999): 174–183. The two conference papers mentioned are included in this book as chapter 1, “Li Zehou and New Confucianism: A Philosophy for New Global Cultures,” by Jana S. Rošker; and chapter 5, “What Should the World Look Like? Li Zehou, Confucius, Kant, and the World Observer,” by James Garrison. 2.  Li Zehou, “Kongzi zai pingjia” 孔子再評價, in Zhongguo gudai sixiang shilun 中國 古代思想史論) (Beijing: SDX Joint Publishing, 1985), 18–22. 3. See chapter 12, “Li Zehou, Kant, and Darwin: The Theory of Sedimentation,” by Marthe Chandler. 4. See chapter 8, “Li Zehou’s Doctrine of Emotion as Substance and Confucian Philosophy,” by Byung-seok Jung.


Li Zehou and New Confucianism A Philosophy for New Global Cultures Jana S. ROŠKER

Li Zehou ’s t hought could be described as the search for a synthesis between Western and traditional Chinese thought, in order to elaborate a system of ideas and values capable of resolving the social and political problems of the modern globalized world. In most of his works, Li attempted to reconcile “Western” (especially Kantian and Marxist) theories with “traditional Chinese” (especially Confucian but also Daoist)1 ideas, concepts, and values, in order to create a theoretical model of modernization that would not be confused or equated with “Westernization.”2 Li’s ambition to “fill the old bottles with new wine” often took the form of the reversal or inversion of words or phrases that were central to his philosophical endeavors. Here I mention only three of these key phrases, which are described in greater detail below. 1. The most famous example is Li’s reversal of the nineteenth-century slogan “(preserving) Chinese substance and (applying) Western functions,” which became “(assuming) Western substance and (applying) Chinese functions” (zhongti xiyong 中體西用 became xiti zhongyong 西體中用). 2. Li likewise inverted Lin Yu-sheng’s (林毓生) “creative transformation” as “transformative creation” (chuangzaoxingde zhuanhua 創造性的轉化 became zhuanhuaxingde chuangzao 轉化性的創造). 3. Li also gave new meaning to Marx’ vision of a nonalienated relation between men and nature—that is, the “humanization of nature”—by 33


Li Zehou and the Modernization of Confucianism

reformulating it as the “naturalization of humans” (zirande renhua 自然

的人化 became rende ziranhua 人的自然化).

While the original phrases dated from premodern or modern times, their reformulations owed much to traditional (mostly Confucian) contents.3 Li’s mature philosophical thought was elaborated during the last two decades of the twentieth century, contemporary with an intense revival of Confucian thought in the People’s Republic of China (PRC). However, this revival and its most influential approaches differed in many ways from the theories of the so-called New Confucian (xin rujia 新儒家) stream of thought. This current first appeared in China in the early twentieth century, as the discourse that most clearly expressed the rehabilitation of traditionalism, and was then developed by some of the most prominent modern Chinese philosophers. The acknowledged precursors of this current were Xiong Shili and Feng Youlan, but Liang Shuming, Zhang Junmai, and He Lin should also be noted. These thinkers belonged to the so-called first generation of New Confucians, and they were followed by a second generation, whose leading exponents (Mou Zongsan, Tang Junyi, and Xu Fuguan) mainly lived and worked in Taiwan or Hong Kong. The current, third generation includes Chinese thinkers who live abroad (e.g., Tu Weiming and Yu Yingshi), as well as those based in Taiwan (e.g., Liu Shu-hsien) and the PRC (e.g., Guo Qiyong, Chen Lai, Zheng Jiadong, Tang Yijie, Zhang Liwen, Meng Peiyuan, and Mou Zhongjian). This current engaged in a wide-ranging effort to revitalize traditional (primarily Confucian and especially neo-Confucian) thought by means of new input and stimuli from Western philosophical systems. In its general tension toward syntheses, the spirit of German idealism was especially important, while its more theoretical components relied on the contents and approaches of the Viennese Circle. However, in their search for antidotes and alternatives to social alienation and the “vacuum of values,” these theorists looked primarily to the framework of classical Confucian thought. Although Li Zehou’s philosophy was clearly influenced by these approaches, he was critical of this stream of thought.4 In fact, he stated that while he could identify with Confucianism, he could “never accept New Confucianism,” which he saw as a continuation and modernization of the neo-Confucian School of the Structural Principle, a discourse he rejected without appeal.5 But if we examine Li’s views more closely, it becomes evident that his criticisms of this stream of thought were directed primarily at its presumed inability to produce a truly systematic philosophy. He certainly believed that its contributions to the preservation and modernization of Chinese tradition were of the utmost importance,6 declaring that “apart from the Sinicization of MarxismLeninism, the only stream of thought in contemporary Chinese intellectual and

New Confucianism


philosophical history that has provided a creative link to the Chinese tradition is the current of New Confucianism.”7 In order to create a modernized conceptual framework that could be applied as a theoretical foundation for specifically Chinese modernity, Li has tried to enhance and elaborate on some important concepts derived from classical Chinese philosophy. Hence, despite his declared aversion to New Confucianism, he utilized some of the same approaches and methodologies, and we can detect similarities between his ideas and those of leading New Confucians. In very different ways, both Li and the New Confucians emphasized a number of basic Confucian (and partly Daoist) concepts, such as the unity of heaven (nature) and men (天人合一), the function of human inborn qualities (人性), desires (欲), the mean (or equilibrium; 中 庸), and the human heart-mind (心). Both discourses were also concerned with the traditional binary categories of internal sage/external ruler (內升外往), and substance/function (體用). In any case, an attentive analysis reveals much common ground between Li’s work and New Confucian discourses.8 Both considered modernization as essentially a rationalization of the world, and in their search for its philosophical foundations, they both focused on questions related to ontology, which had been introduced by Western systems of thought. They also shared the common view that questions related to the ultimate reality of the cosmos, the substance of being, and the Absolute determined the meaning of life and were essential for the creation of a new value system compatible with both contemporary social conditions and the preservation of an integral cultural and personal identity. The crucial task, therefore, was finding the “proper” orientation, meaning a series of new, clearly marked signposts that pointed the way toward modern culture, while also providing the basic criteria for solving practical problems in the political and economic spheres. Without a framework of proper orientation, society would slip into a general spiritual malaise in which individuals and their actions would be determined by the purely mechanistic laws of technocratic utility.9 They also shared the conviction that future philosophy would be based on a synthesis of Chinese and non-Chinese traditions of thought. Like most New Confucian philosophers, Li sought to rediscover and renew the most enduring elements of the Confucian ideational tradition—that is, those elements that not only would lead China out of its social and institutional crisis but also could make a valuable contribution to the further development of world philosophy and culture: “Classical Chinese culture will no longer be valued merely for its ancient and exotic nature. Unlike Egyptian or Dunhuang studies,10 sinology will not become a discipline reducible solely to its historical significance. On the contrary, because of its profound meaning and its precious contributions, it will become an indispensable and very important part of contemporary world culture.”11


Li Zehou and the Modernization of Confucianism

Despite these similarities and points of agreement, many significant differences exist between Li Zehou’s ideas and the New Confucian stream of thought. However, before I attempt to describe and explain the reasons for these divergences, we must first examine Li’s view of the modernization process, which was a prime concern for most Chinese philosophers of the latter half of the twentieth century. Analyzing Li’s views of this transitional process will provide crucial insights into some of the key concepts, ideas, and methods that define his philosophical system, and will help clarify his contradictory relationship with the New Confucians. Problems of Chinese Modernization

Li’s exploration of traditional Chinese thought was inextricably interwoven with the problems of Chinese modernity. Because Li believed that classic Chinese philosophy was the first step in the transformation of the traditional into the modern, a profound understanding of this thought is a sine qua non for any realistic solution to the contradictions between the old and the new.12 Li argued that Chinese modernization passed through three interconnected phases between the mid-nineteenth century and the May Fourth movement, a view that endowed it with a significant historical dimension. The first phase, or the Westernization movement (洋務運動 or 自强運動, ca. 1861–1895), concentrated primarily on modern Western technology and science;13 the second phase, the Hundred Days’ Reform (戊戌變法, June 11–September 21, 1898) and the 1911 Revolution (辛亥革命), shifted the focus onto Western political institutions; and the third phase, or the May Fourth movement (五四運動, 1919), concerned itself mainly with value systems and cultural traditions.14 However, in Li’s reading, the modernization (or enlightenment) process came to a premature end in the nineteenth century,15 when it was supplanted by the urgent nationalistic priority of saving the country from foreign aggression ( jiuwang 救亡). As he states explicitly, “In my view, the enlightenment suffocated under the weight of saving the nation. This is a historical fact that cannot be changed.”16 The turning point in Chinese modernization, both politically and ideologically, was the May Fourth movement, which began in 1919 with student demonstrations against what China considered to be the unjust resolutions of the Treaty of Versailles. Over the next few years, these protests grew into a nationwide movement of “new intellectuals,”17 who agitated for the radical cultural and ideological reform of Chinese society. Known historically as the New Culture movement (新文化運動) and generally considered to be the origin of the Chinese enlightenment, the movement included patriotic and nationalist elements while, at the same time, harshly criticizing or even completely reject-

New Confucianism


ing the Chinese tradition, especially the Confucian state doctrine. Li Zehou noted that, despite their apparently conflicting agendas, the two components were actually complementary at the start. He concluded, however, that the enlightenment tradition of the May Fourth movement gradually disintegrated in the turmoil of this period, which necessitated the mobilization of all physical, economic, and intellectual resources in order to resist foreign aggression and preserve the sovereignty of China, while simultaneously laying the groundwork for an internal revolution.18 The historical outcome was that “socialist centralism, in which minorities submitted to the majority and the lower strata of society were led by their superiors,” prevailed.19 For Li, this principle represented “a revolutionary heritage, which was founded, promoted, and mediated at great length, until it acquired a diffused social status and became part of the general social awareness.”20 The new search for modernity that emerged in the 1980s seems to have unified all three of the aforesaid phases into a coherent process, albeit with a stronger focus on the cultural-psychological aspect and a relatively cautious approach to political-economic reforms.21 Both of these major areas were central to Li’s own thought. According to his anthropology of human practice (‌實 踐論的人類學), mankind evolved by developing two basic formations,22 the techno-social (工藝—社會結構) and the cultural-psychological (文化心理結 構).23 While the former corresponded to the collective (big self ) realm—which could be best understood by modern Western (especially Kantian) philosophical approaches—the latter belonged to the realm of the individual (little self )24 perception of the world and was best reflected through traditional Chinese thought.25 With respect to the central issue that defined modern Chinese philosophical discourses—that is, what position to assume vis-à-vis Western thought—Li inverted the famous slogan “(preserving) Chinese substance and (applying) Western functions,” instead proposing that China should “(assume) Western substance and (apply) Chinese functions.”26 We shall examine this position in detail below; however, we can note that Li’s view did not differ fundamentally from that of those thinkers who advocated the appropriation of Western technology and the preservation of Chinese institutions, value systems, and ideologies.27 The function was of immense importance, for it determined the concrete circumstances of people’s lives. This also led Li to modify Lin Yu-sheng’s proposal for a creative transformation of tradition to a transformative creation of tradition, arguing that the original phrase implied that China’s tradition must be transformed in accordance with Western paradigms.28 Instead, Li believed: We must not necessarily imitate and appropriate the already achieved form of the Western model as the object of our aspirations for “transfor-


Li Zehou and the Modernization of Confucianism

mation.” Instead, we should create new forms and models in accordance with the specific conditions of Chinese history and contemporary Chinese reality. . . . The basic emphasis should be on the “creation” of new [forms] and not on the “transformation” of already existing Western forms. “Creation,” of course, is much more difficult than “transformation,” since it implies many more attempts and possible mistakes, with many more necessary changes and urgent corrections. However, I still believe this effort is worthwhile, for it is the only way to discover the model and form that correspond in factual terms to specific Chinese circumstances.29

Li’s view on Chinese modernization cannot be separated from his general philosophy, which is based on the concept of so-called anthropological ontology (人類學本體論), a post-Marxist methodology he elaborated in an effort to move beyond traditional Marxist theory. Li’s Central Concepts: Innovations and Elaborations

Although Li accepted and advocated Marxist materialism, he opposed the dialectical view of social development. Like Marx, Li also emphasized the idea of humanizing physical nature (自然的人化). In his view, the process of the humanization of nature was twofold: men humanized nature by making it a better place for human beings to live in, but at the same time this very activity humanized man’s own physical and mental constitution, “deanimalizing” it and adapting it to life in organized society: Marx’s idea of . . . humanizing nature implies two levels. On the one hand, it means the humanization of external nature—that is, the humanization of mountains, rivers, and indeed the entire cosmos. . . . In the process of humanizing external nature, humanity creates material civilization. On the other hand, it is about the humanization of inherent nature—that is, a humanization of the senses, perception, emotions, and desires. . . . In the process of humanizing inherent nature, man created spiritual civilization.30

This humanization of nature also represented the basis of beauty, since it manifested itself as a process of human social praxis in which nature and human beings were historically unified.31 Hence, beauty could be taken as a measure of the historically formulated social development of humankind. This signified that the world of beauty represented the highest, or final, stage of human history. Because beauty was so intimately interwoven with axiology, it could

New Confucianism


not be considered as solely an aesthetic concept. As Li observed, “ ‘Humanized nature’ is much more than merely a question of aesthetics; it is a fundamental philosophical problem, which is linked to the cultural-psychological formation, sedimentation, and the shaping of inborn human qualities and thus also to the very substance and existence of human beings.”32 Here we must also take into account Li’s specific notion of the naturalization of humans, which appeared in his aesthetics as a counterpart to the Marxist humanization of nature. Li understood the former as a process by which humans, through their own actions, historically (i.e., through the evolutionary process) transformed physical nature into an integral part of their own nature (人性), in the sense of innate (rather than a posteriori or acquired) qualities. This internalization was closely linked to Li’s concept of sedimentation (積 澱), which represented a specific stage of human experience in which form and content, the natural and the sociocultural, and the senses and reason were unified to form a complex and coherent entity. In certain respects, it could be compared to Jung’s archetypes, which are embedded in the collective unconscious. However, Li’s sedimentation is a dynamic entity and therefore less ahistorical than Jung’s concept.33 Li’s interpretation of the relation between humanized nature and naturalized humans was based on the classical Chinese concept of the “unity of man and heaven (nature)” (天人合一). In Li’s view, this concept expressed the unification of nature and individual human consciousness, but it referred primarily to the unification of nature and the material actuality (including productive relations) of the entire human community: This “unity of heaven (nature) and man” not only includes the “humanization of nature” but also implies the “naturalization of humans.” The specific spirit of Chinese aesthetics, based on the complementarity of Confucianism and Daoism, can be found precisely in such a unity. . . . The theory of the unity of heaven (nature) and man represents a theory of the transformation of men and nature, since it embraces the humanization of nature, as well as the naturalization of humans. We thus have two different names for the same content.34

In principle, humankind has the capacity to exert significant control over its own destiny. However, the concrete level of this control (or autonomy) depended on its ability to overcome obstacles in the objective reality,35 which in turn depended on the level of technological development. In this sense, Li’s (and Marx’) humanization of nature could be equated with material civilization. But this capacity also depended on humankind’s ability to build communities—that is, to create and preserve a sense of shared meaning and cultural continuity:


Li Zehou and the Modernization of Confucianism

This [ability] is necessary because traditional, simple societal forms develop continuously into increasingly modern and complex ones, a deeply unsettling process in which the danger of alienation is ever-­ present. The effort to expand the sense of community to match society’s growth in size and complexity—from the ancestral village to the city, [to] the nation, and ultimately beyond the nation to embrace the whole of humanity—is what Li calls “spiritual civilization,” or “the humanization of internal nature.” In this process, aesthetic education plays an important role, since it provides a realm of freedom that does not exist in everyday reality, but which is necessary for that flight of the imagination that elevates us above our very personal concerns and interests. Moreover, it cultivates our sensitivity, increasing our capacity for “empathy” with other human beings.36

In both of these concepts—humanized nature and naturalized humanity— Li’s notion of subjectality (主體性) was of paramount importance. While this term continues to be translated as “subjectivity” in most English editions of Li’s work and in the English secondary material, Li himself has repeatedly declared this translation to be misleading,37 based on the fundamental distinction he made between the Chinese notions of zhuguanxing 主觀性 and zhutixing 主 體性. In his view, the first was an epistemological term, whereas the second was ontological. Their diverse semantic connotations thus imply significant differences in meaning. Rendering both terms as “subjectivity”38 could therefore lead to misunderstandings or, at the very least, reduce the precision of his thought. To resolve this problem, Li proposed translating the notion zhutixing with a term of his own coining, “subjectality.” This concept is closely linked to that of human practice, which Li understood differently from the original Marxist notion. While he agreed with Marx’ emphasis on the primary importance of objective conditions, productive forces, and the material base, Li diverged from orthodox Marxism in his conviction that the objective content of human practice could not be separated from all those factors that constituted human beings as autonomous subjects, especially their creativity, innovativeness, and willingness to act. Human action as a driving force for the humanization of nature consisted of two inherent ontological formations: the first, which was biological-technical in nature, Li called techno-social substance (工具本體), while the second, which was culturally determined, he termed psychological substance (心理本體). However, the concept of subjectality, in the sense of an objective human existential entity, was not limited solely to the level of individuals (including their ability to establish interactive relations with their environment) but also implied various kinds of human communities (societies, nations, classes, organizations). In parallel with these definitions, Li also identified two

New Confucianism


kinds of subjectality: the first referred to each individual’s identity; the second, to humanity as a whole: The so-called “subjectality” has precisely the following meaning. The subject of humanity appears through the social realization of material reality (based on material production). This is the objective level of subjectality. This level is elementary and manifests itself in the structural connection between technology and society, as well as in social existence. Simultaneously, it also embraces the subjective level of social consciousness, which manifests itself in culturally conditioned mental formations. Therefore, the mental formation of subjectality is not primarily the subjective awareness of an individual in the sense of their emotions, desires, et cetera. This notion refers chiefly to the products of human history that manifest themselves in formations of spiritual and intellectual culture, as well as in formations of ethical and aesthetic consciousness.39

In Li’s view, although Marx was interested in sociality, post-Marxist theories instead focused on the individually conditioned type of subjectality. The emphasis Li placed on the autonomous nature of this subjectality also reflected Kant’s influence. However, it would be a mistake to reduce Li to a mere derivation of these two important European thinkers. On the contrary, he used Marx as his starting point in order to reexamine issues first proposed by Kant, and then sought to resolve the problems that derive from these theoretical approaches.40 Ultimately, Li’s aim was to elaborate a more coherent theory of modernization that took into account specifically Chinese traditional elements, while at the same time attempting to find solutions to the more general issues of the modern era, such as alienation and exploitation. In this regard, his aims were certainly comparable to those of the New Confucians. Binary Categories and the Principle of Correlative Complementarity

In attempting to illustrate the similarities and differences existing between the New Confucians and Li Zehou, I shall focus only on Li’s reversal of the slogan “(preserving) Chinese substance and (applying) Western functions” (zhongti xiyong 中體西用), because it can be considered paradigmatic. Much has been said about Li’s provocative reversal of this celebrated slogan, but by examining the various treatments of the traditional binary category of substance and function that underlies it, we can learn much about the different approaches to the modernization of Chinese philosophical reasoning. However, before comparative analyses are made, the concept of binary categories (對立範疇) must be briefly described. Binary categories, which are


Li Zehou and the Modernization of Confucianism

fundamental to traditional Chinese philosophy, are a pattern of duality that seeks to attain the most real (possible) state of actuality through relativity, expressed via the relation between two oppositional notions.41 A. C. Graham demonstrates how, in this model, distinctions are seen in binary terms, primarily between pairs of opposites (with even shape and color reduced to round/ square and black/white).42 Once these oppositions have been established, and some recurring or persisting pattern recognized (e.g., square, black, small, soft, or heavy), we can distinguish an object—a stone, for example—from other things, in the same way that we cut out a piece of cloth or chop off a piece of meat. Hence, in this model, things are not seen as isolated, each with its own essential and accidental features,43 but instead are relative, with respect to their distinguishing characteristics.44 This structural pattern of binary oppositions differs fundamentally from the model of Cartesian dualism, the ideational pattern on which the paradigms of idealism and materialism are grounded. The Cartesian model involves a dialectic between the mutually exclusive polar opposites of thesis and antithesis that have been determined by an opposition that is also a contradiction. It creates a tension in which the mutual negation of thesis and antithesis forms a synthesis. Instead, the complementary model, which was dominant in the Chinese tradition of thought, is based on a noncontradictory opposition between two interdependent poles that do not exclude but complement each other. Some Chinese scholars have understood this difference as defining two basic types of dialectical reasoning: the Western, Hegelian model, which tends to look for divisions and contradictions, and the traditional Chinese form, which seeks to achieve a unity between such binary oppositions.45 Over the course of the millennial Chinese intellectual tradition, and in its prevailing systems of thought, ti and yong, in the sense of “substance” and “function,” were applied primarily in the complementary mode that defines the basic nature of binary categories. In the Classic of Changes, ti refers to the substance of the hexagram46 and yong refers to how the hexagram relates to others and to the overall context.47 Ti and yong, in the sense of “physical forms” and “applications,” were first used in the third century BCE by Xunzi,48 while Wang Bi (226–249) was the first classical philosopher to elaborate on this opposition specifically as a binary category, in his commentaries on Laozi.49 In the following centuries, the notion was gradually upgraded by other schools of Chinese philosophy, including neo-Confucianism and Buddhism, where it was used to illustrate the nondualistic, nondiscriminatory nature of the experience of enlightenment. It was mainly applied as a basic tool for interpreting various philosophical relations in compound and dynamic events. In fact, this category can be used to highlight unity and multitude, necessity and chance, cause and result, and so on. In the neo-Confucian sources, the binary category was

New Confucianism


mainly used to refer to the relationship between the ultimate nature of things and the physical manifestation—that is, when substance occurs as manifestation, though these two aspects are always seen as inseparable (體用一源 體用 不二). Despite the basic indivisibility and interdependency of both conceptual poles, by stressing a strict separation of vital potential (qi 理) and structure (li 氣), the rational neo-Confucian approach—especially in the works of Cheng Yi and Zhu Xi, the chief exponents of the School of the Structural Principle (Lixue 理學)—often resembled the idealistic dualisms of the Western type. The neo-Confucian current of the School of Mind (Xinxue 新學), through its main theorists, Lu Jiuyuan (Lu Xiangshan) and Wang Shouren (Wang Yangming), instead sought to reelaborate the traditional model of correlative binary categories on the basis of certain Buddhist influences. And it was this neo-Confucian current that would exert the greatest influence on New Confucian discourses. In order to clarify the differences between Li’s reinterpretation of ti and yong (which were based on sinicized Marxism) and the complementary relation that traditionally defined these oppositional concepts, I shall compare Li’s understanding of this binary category with that of Xiong Shili 熊十力. Xiong was one of the pioneers of the New Confucian movement and perhaps its most important representative, given that he was also the most influential teacher of the leading exponents of the second generation. His analyses of the tiyong category, which are based on an upgraded version of the School of Mind’s approach to binary categories, thus provide a central paradigm for the New Confucian worldview. Xiong Shili, Li Zehou, and the Intercultural Exchange of Substance and Function

In accordance with the principle of complementarity, Xiong Shili emphasized the essential oneness50 of this bipolar conceptual pair: Substance is a term that constitutes itself in its relation with function. But substance is an all-embracing function; it is a manifestation of the totality of all the particularities of function. While we can say that substance is a substance of function, this does not mean that it is an independent entity that can go beyond function or exist somewhere outside it. The fact that substance is the very substance of function means it [substance] cannot be found outside it [function].51

In our perception (and thus linguistically), we tend to treat substance and function as two different entities, whereas Xiong saw these concepts as two sides of the same coin. The domain that manifested itself as substance could not


Li Zehou and the Modernization of Confucianism

be directly perceived as concrete physical forms, because the latter appeared exclusively within the domain of function. And because substance was also the cause of or reason for all transformations, function was at the level of concrete actuality at the moment when transformations occurred. While substance was latent and subtle, function was explicit and manifest; while substance was a single unity, function was manifold and multilayered. However, these differences could be expressed only on a descriptive level.52 In a more elementary sense, substance and function were not two different entities with different natures but were a single entity that manifested itself through different qualities. Substance and function thus constituted a unity.53 This means that Xiong’s holism was more authentic and logical than neo-Confucian treatments of the principle of complementary bipolarity. By redefining and systematizing traditional paradigms of holistic ontology, Xiong also laid the theoretical foundations for a new Confucian pragmatism that stressed and actualized the well-known Confucian responsibility for living in the concrete social reality, an aspect that was also of paramount importance for Li Zehou. For Xiong, the transformation of being was not limited solely to the sphere of appearances—that is, to the sphere of function ( yong)—for it also represented the basic state of the substance (ti) of all beings. Substance in itself was immaterial; matter, like form, was a quality of function and arose from the process of never-ending change, which represented a continual state of both aspects of being. The dynamic process of transformation manifested itself in the alternating impulses of expansion and contraction, and the opening and closing of substance. These impulses defined the coming into being and the passing away of phenomena, which manifested themselves as its function.54 But Li Zehou had a very different understanding of the binary opposition of substance and function. His inversion of the aforesaid slogan was generally seen either as a provocation55 and an expression of a radically antitraditional, pro-Western stance56 or as a confused proposition lacking any theoretical foundation.57 His revised slogan was immediately attacked and harshly criticized, indicating that he had evidently touched a sore spot for many contemporary Chinese intellectuals.58 In my view, these attacks derived from the fact that most twentieth-century intellectuals—as opposed to Xiong Shili and other New Confucians—understood this bipolar opposition not as a binary category (as described above) but rather in the sense of an either idealistic or materialistic dualism, in which the concept of substance clearly predominated over that of function. Logically, this meant that, in Li’s model, China played a subordinate role with respect to the West. But Li never meant to imply anything of the sort. Because of the many criticisms he received, he was forced to explain his intentions repeatedly and in various ways.59 Li’s dictum of xiti zhongyong was not as antitraditional as the Chinese

New Confucianism


authorities have made it out to be. Even in the heady days of the antitraditional fever of the early 1980s, Li never endorsed the fashionable idea of “wholesale Westernization” and consistently made a balanced assessment of Confucianism in his three intellectual histories.60 In his most complete elucidation,61 Li began by defining both oppositional terms: ti as “body, substance, principle” (本體, 實質, 原則) and yong as “use, function, application” (運用, 功能, 使用). He also pointed out that the phrase had to be understood within the historical context in which it was first formulated, appearing as a response to both the neoconservative traditionalist currents and the iconoclastic advocates of radical Westernization.62 In order to demonstrate the mutability of semantic connotations with respect to the different contextual frameworks in which they appear, he summarized the changing political contexts of the original slogan. When it was first formulated in the mid-nineteenth century, it was a progressive expression directed against the conservative Confucian government, and only with Zhang Zhidong 張之洞 (ca. 1837–1909) did the slogan assume a neoconservative connotation. Hence, while the emphasis was originally on “Western function,” or the need to apply Western technology and know-how, with Zhang it shifted onto “Chinese substance,” as a catchword for indicating that the Chinese tradition had to be preserved at all costs. And this is the meaning against which Li directed his own modified slogan. At the same time, Li was also criticizing the radically pro-Western currents (quan pan xihua 全盤西化) that wished to abandon tradition, which they saw as the main obstacle to Chinese modernization, completely and without appeal. Indeed, at first glance, Li’s inversion appears to be essentially a question of terminology: I understand the word “substance” (ti) differently from others. In my opinion, it primarily expresses social substance. . . . I have always stressed that social existence represents the substance of society and that “substance” (ti) for me means social existence, which for the most part was not defined by ideology.63

Hence, the correct interpretation of the new slogan hinges on the understanding of the concept ti (substance). The proponents of the original motto viewed ti as the “substance of tradition,” whereas Li saw it in Marxist terms, as the material basis of society: The main flaw of the [slogan] “Chinese substance and Western applications” is found in the assumption that technology is application and not substance. But the exact opposite is true: technology is substance, because technology is connected with social existence, as well as with productive forces and the modes of production.64


Li Zehou and the Modernization of Confucianism

Here we must bear in mind that in Marxism, which is founded on historical materialism, the material base is paramount and absolute. Li tried to attenuate this absoluteness by incorporating many elements of a cultural-­psychological formation into his version of Marxism, which he saw as a return to original Marxism—that is, the “original historical materialism”65—in order to revive the “constructive aspects” of Marx’ philosophy. Li believed that Marxism, by emphasizing the class struggle and revolution instead of developing a constructive political, economic, and cultural theory, had become essentially destructive. For Li, the ideational, cultural, and artistic aspects of society could be developed only on a material-technological foundation. This interpretation of ti was in accordance with both original Marxism and original Confucianism.66 In this regard, Li explained that he understood Western substance (西體) primarily as modernization, which could not be equated with Westernization, even though modernization indubitably began in the West.67 Hence, the concept yong 用 (function), understood as the ideational superstructure, assumed a crucial significance for Li, for it defined the concrete circumstances of individuals in society. To illustrate this concept, he replaced the traditional terms “substance” and “function” with the more contemporary “hardware” and “software”: Even though the hardware of material life (refrigerators, air conditioners, televisions, etc.) are in unlimited use throughout the world, the software of human life (economic organization, political systems, customs, behavioral patterns, worldviews, value systems, particularities of thought, etc.) differ with respect to diverse political and cultural traditions.68

Li Zehou believed that identifying with one’s own tradition was a prerequisite for the development of any society or individual, and therefore Chinese function (中用)—that is, the methods of modernization that corresponded to specifically Chinese social conditions—was fundamental to the future of the Chinese state, society, and culture. Function ( yong) was immensely important, for it defined the mode of transition toward a modern society and thus made this transition easier and more rational.69 Materialism, Idealism, Confucius, and Marx

In his effort to synthesize Kantian and Marxist thought with certain basic approaches of the Chinese intellectual tradition, with which he saw many parallels, Li Zehou appears to get caught in his own snare. In order to attenuate the ultimately mechanistic and deterministic nature of Marxist theory, he tried to modify the so-called orthodox Marxist system by expanding the material base and incorporating “certain elements” that originally belonged to the ideational

New Confucianism


superstructure,70 though without actually defining in concrete terms the scope of this new base.71 At the same time, he underplayed the class struggle and the revolutionary imperative in order to make Marxism less “destructive” and more “constructive” and thus more suited to the “pragmatically optimistic” nature of the traditional Chinese (especially Confucian) worldview.72 However coherent Li’s efforts may appear, it is doubtful whether this synthesis of traditional Chinese thought and “early Marxism” still corresponds to that very influential political-economic theory known as Marxism, one of the dominant discourses of the twentieth century. Li’s relativization of his Marxist orientation by designating it a return to “original Marxism” only begs the question.73 As a theoretical system, Marxism is rooted in Hegelian dialectics; but because Hegel’s system was established on ideational foundations, Marx and Engels shifted it onto a materialistic base by combining it with Feuerbach’s materialistic system and transforming the latter from a contemplative materialism into a more practical and humanistic one.74 Marxism is thus a theory that applies a materialistic interpretation of historical development and a dialectical view of social transformation. These working theses then become the basic instruments for the critique and analysis of capitalism as a phase of dialectical development, in which the concept of class struggle—together with the concept of revolution—plays a crucial role. The former concept represents the contradictory negation (of the thesis by its antithesis), and the latter the sublation (Aufhebung) that leads to synthesis. Both concepts represent crucial elements in the theoretical model of the Marxist dialectics. In this materialistic developmental model, each stage of society is seen as being determined by the contradiction between the class that owns the means of production (technology) and the class that provides the necessary labor. At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production. This conflict manifests itself in the class struggle, which leads to an era of social revolution that results in a qualitatively new stage of society. Thus, social change occurs because of the struggle between two different social classes that contradict each other. In the Marxist dialectical model, the two contradictory classes represent the abstract categories of thesis and antithesis. As in any other dominant European theoretical model, this abstraction is static and, as such, cannot be made to conform to any aspect of real life. Indeed, this was the issue that troubled Li Zehou the most in his evaluation of Marxism, even if he never explicitly criticized this aspect of its theory. His criticisms were always directed against specific elements within the Marxist system (e.g., its tendency toward destruction, determinism, etc.) and never against the conceptual framework that defined the theoretical model of Marxist


Li Zehou and the Modernization of Confucianism

dialectics, as such. Yet Li’s many attempts to incorporate a dynamic component into the system of Marxist dialectic75 certainly indicated his dissatisfaction with the limitations of this framework. Given that his modifications altered or even eliminated some of the essential elements that define the Marxist model, it is doubtful that this new system could still be called Marxist or even neo-Marxist.76 On the other hand, Li’s view of Confucianism as a materialistic system was likewise difficult to substantiate.77 While it is certainly true that Confucianism (especially in the original teachings) is defined by a pragmatic and very worldly philosophy and that it generally does not deal with issues of metaphysics or transcendental religion, this does not make it a materialistic philosophy. Here we can point to the problematic nature of Li’s equation between his “philosophy of eating” (chifan zhexue 吃飯哲學)78 and materialistic philosophy, noting that an awareness of the crucial importance of the material and physical conditions of life for human (or any) existence is not sufficient to confirm a materialist worldview. Although in this context Li quite rightly criticized the model in which morality and the concept of a transcendental moral self were viewed as a basis for social development, it is doubtful whether the New Confucian discourse actually makes this assumption.79 This is evident in his critique of Xiong Shili’s view of the relation between ti and yong, which is obviously based on Li’s lack of understanding of the basic features of the complementary model. He showed that while Xiong’s model was based on the concept of the inseparability of substance and function (tiyongbuer 體用不二), he nonetheless advocated the primacy of the ideational noumenon (which represented the substance, or ti, in Xiong’s system). This view would certainly classify Xiong as a representative of idealistic philosophy. In analyzing Xiong’s problematic relation with Buddhism and the neo-Confucian School of Mind, Li wrote: Xiong continued to sustain these views, but at the same time he was dissatisfied with their actuality. Thus, he still advocated a separation of substance and phenomena, with the former still dominant over the latter, which was also seen as its result. The so-called concept of “nonblending” [bu za]80 also gave as a similar impression of pursuing an abstract noumenon.81

Li concluded that this approach led Xiong toward both idealism and solipsism. In Li’s view, Xiong’s lack of understanding of the material world and of the historical significance of technology resulted in a “humanistic philosophy of sensibility that was necessarily shifted onto the inner heart-mind and turned into an epistemological intuitivism.”82 Li’s conclusion that Xiong’s philosophy was both idealistic and solipsis-

New Confucianism


tic derived from his supposition that ti, in the sense of substance, could not be compared with the Western noumenon, which was something external to human mind.83 However, in this instance, Xiong was actually elaborating on the traditional complementary relation between substance and function (or between noumena and phenomena, matter and idea, subject and object, etc.). This was a model that superseded static categorizations of matter and idea or of body and mind. The correlativity of binary categories that were guided by the principle of complementarity did not imply a fusion of matter and idea into one prevailing, primary, and absolutely dominant idea. In fact, in the correlative pattern, there could be no spirit without a body, and vice versa. At the same time, all this by no means implied that in a correlative and complementary worldview there were no distinctions or boundaries between substance and phenomena. If that were the case, then the Chinese holistic world­view would create a reality in which everything was connected to everything else, and thus a reality that was unthinkable and impossible to describe or communicate. The fundamental difference between the dualistic and correlative models is that in the former the division between substance and phenomena (or any other bipolar opposition) was static and clearly drawn, whereas in the latter it was changeable and dynamic. In the first model an originally dynamic and changeable actuality was governed by the static and rational categorization of reality, the development of which was defined by the mechanistic laws of dialectics. After the Copernican Revolution, humankind (including Li Zehou, who is a modern Chinese intellectual) has been taught to see and conceive of reality in this way; the scientific, static categorization model has thus prevailed globally as a basic tool for perceiving and interpreting reality. Today it takes a lot of “thinking outside the box” to understand the features of a reality that is simultaneously wholeness and separation, identity and difference, self and the other. One of the main reasons for Li’s opposition to New Confucian philosophy is found in his conviction that its adherents have inherited the theory of idealistic dualisms first formulated by the neo-Confucians of the Song and Ming eras. Although Zhu Xi seems to have treated bipolar oppositional notions (e.g., structure 理 and vital creativity 氣) in an essentially dualistic way, there are still significant differences between Cartesian dualisms and Zhu Xi’s bipolarities. As Liu Shu-hsien points out: “From the metaphysical perspective, Zhu Xi can be regarded as a dualist. However, from the functional or practical perspective, he is a monist. Both aspects are interconnected; if we want to achieve a coherent understanding of Zhu Xi’s thought, we have to consider both.”84 Once again, it is clearly evident that traditional Western concepts and categories cannot simply be transferred and applied, as “tools,” in order to elucidate Chinese philosophical systems, which are based on completely different referential frameworks.


Li Zehou and the Modernization of Confucianism

A similar problem occurs if we consider Li’s critique of the New Confucian concept of immanent transcendence, an idea he considered to be an oxymoron,85 for transcendence could only mean transcending the phenomenal world and thus could not appear in an ideational system that denied the separation between noumenon and phenomenon. However, as was noted above, this separation has not been denied absolutely, even though the nature of this separation differs from the one implied in the dualistic model.86 Farewell to Revolution and the Search for the Long Lost Dynamic Unity

As was discussed above, Li Zehou’s critique of orthodox (or dogmatic) Marxism focused primarily on its mechanistic and deterministic nature and its “destructiveness.”87 In order to make the Marxist system more “constructive,” Li tried to eliminate the concepts of class struggle and revolution (which, however, means canceling the very foundation of the Marxist theoretical model), replacing them with the concept of the mean or equilibrium (zhongyong 中庸). At the same time, he tried to enhance the deterministic Marxist view of social development by, on the one hand, theorizing the significant impact of cultural-psychological formations on it88 while, on the other hand, expanding the humanization of nature (zirande renhua 自然的人化) through the concept of the naturalization of humans (rende ziranhua 人的自然化). Here Li was clearly aware of another inadequacy of Marxist theory, one that resulted from the static nature of its system. However, what he failed to perceive is that Marxism (like the thought of Kant or Hegel) is a philosophy, which is rooted in a different referential framework. Thus, Li’s attempts to modify it by incorporating dynamic concepts into its mechanistic system appeared to be extremely dubious in methodological terms. Despite these considerations, which find their rationale in the methodology of intercultural research, we cannot ignore Li’s innovative contributions to contemporary philosophical thought. In fact, once we make the necessary distinctions between his own philosophical system and his attempts to reconcile Chinese tradition with Western methods of philosophical reasoning, Li’s philosophy appears to be a genuine and unique contribution to contemporary thought. Based on his profound knowledge of traditional Chinese philosophical discourses, Li sought to modify and develop the static frameworks of postCopernican theories through the creation of a new concept of (proper) measure (du 度), which was rooted in the material-technological formation89 and represented a dynamic basis for historical ontology,90 governed by the human subjectality (zhutixing 主體性). The proper measure was the ever-changeable, flexible, undeterminable criterion91 of human (but also animal) adaptability, which enabled living beings to exist and develop.92 Du was necessarily change-

New Confucianism


able, dynamic, and different in every moment because the conditions of human life were also continuously changing.93 This view of human development is manifestly rooted in classical Chinese philosophy. Woei Lien Chong argues that Li Zehou, in both his social theory and his philosophy, wanted to hold fast to the mean, which he designated with the classic Confucian term zhongyong 中庸.94 To choose the mean was to develop a sense of the proper measure (du): “Since ancient times, Chinese thought has always stressed the mean [zhong] and harmony [he], which are nothing other than the objectivization of du.”95 But du, which was not a transcendent external force, a concrete object, or a pure abstraction but a human creation and product was closely linked to the concept of subjectality.96 Du was also a means for controlling human wishes and desires, but without seeking to minimize or eliminate them. The concept of the mean or equilibrium (zhongyong) was thus of paramount importance, for it made us aware of our limitations, while encouraging us to see and explore the unlimited space within this limited framework.97 This is another common thread that connects Li’s work to that of the New Confucian theorists, for whom the concept of zhongyong is also—and for very similar reasons—of fundamental importance.98 This search for a middle way, for a balance between human desires and their actual limitations—which presupposes negotiating with reality and trying to adapt to it without losing one’s own creativity and uniqueness—is reflected in Li’s political philosophy. Throughout his writings, he always advocated gradual adaptations instead of explosive changes, sensible reforms instead of sudden shifts, evolution instead of revolution.99 Li’s thought can thus be seen as a new kind of humanism, one that is not merely an abstraction of something innate within each individual but rather the ensemble of all our social relations, past and present. This kind of humanism forms a vital part of both Marxism and Confucianism100 and represents a core value of both these ideational systems that were so essential to the development of Li’s thought. Li Zehou is indubitably one of the most important philosophers of our time, whose thought aimed to respond to an era that is defined, not only by attempts to revive various traditions, but also by efforts to harmonize or reconcile such cultural heritages with the demands of the dominant economic, political, and axiological structures of a globalized world. By renewing and rethinking certain significant aspects of traditional Chinese values and knowledge, Li has made a substantial addition to contemporary philosophical debate. His work can be seen as an ongoing effort to rediscover and renew the Confucian ideational tradition, thereby not only aiding China on its path to future material and spiritual development but also making a unique and valuable contribution to world philosophy.


Li Zehou and the Modernization of Confucianism

Notes 1. In Li’s view, even though these two currents were established in opposition to each other, they remained complementary philosophical streams. The complementary relationship between Confucianism and Daoism constituted an important thread that runs all through traditional Chinese aesthetic thinking. Chinese philosophy, including aesthetics, has always been guided by the practical rationality of daily life, human relations, and political concepts, rather than by any abstract, rationalist theory. John Zijiang Ding, “Li Zehou: Chinese Aesthetics from a Post-Marxist and Confucian Perspective,” in Contemporary Chinese Philosophy, ed. Chung-ying Cheng and Nicholas Bunnin (Oxford: Blackwell, 2002), 253. 2. While Li acknowledged that modernization cannot be equated with Westernization (的確, 現代化並不是西化), he opposed radical neoconservative views that advocated a “purely Chinese” path to modernization, pointing out that all the material conditions of this social transformation came to China from the West. Li Zehou, New Dream of the Century (Shiji xin meng 世紀新夢) (Hefei: Anhui wenyi chubanshe, 1998), 170. 3.  Li’s passion for linguistic inversions went even further. For example, he epitomized Heidegger’s philosophy with the statement “We do not even know death; how can we possibly know life?” (未知死焉知生), which inverts the famous Confucian dictum “We do not even know life; how can we possibly know death?” (未知生; 焉知死?). Analects (Lunyu 論語), in Chinese Text Project: Pre-Qin and Han, accessed July 16, 2015,​ /‌analects. 4.  See Sylvia Chan, “Li Zehou and New Confucianism,” in New Confucianism: A Critical Examination, ed. John Makeham (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), 105. 5. Li, New Dream of the Century, 110. 6. Li Zehou, Walking My Own Way (Zuo wo zijide lu 走我自己的路) (Beijing: Sanlian Press, 1986), 322. 7.  Li Zehou, On Contemporary Chinese Intellectual History (Zhongguo xiandai sixiang shilun 中国现代思想史论) (Taipei: Fengyun shidai chubanshe, 1987), 321–322. 8. When Li writes about this stream of thought (see, e.g., his Walking My Own Way, 320–368), he does not include the third generation. He also limits his analyses to the work of Xiong Shili, Liang Shuming, Feng Youlan, and Mou Zongsan, the other exponents of the second generation being, in his view, too insignificant to warrant his attention. 9.  Jana S. Rošker, The Rebirth of the Moral Self: The Second Generation of Modern Confucians and Their Modernization Discourses (Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, 2016), 46. 10.  So-called Dunhuang studies are a relatively new international academic discipline that investigates Buddhist scriptures, documents, and paintings that were discovered in the late nineteenth century in an immured stone cave in Dunhuang, Western China (Gansu Province). The founders and pioneers of this discipline include Aurel Stein, Paul Pelliot, Arthur Waley, Sergei Fedorovich Oldenburg, Luo Zhenyu, Wang Guowei, and Ye Changchi. 11. Li, New Dream of the Century, 110. 12. Li, Walking My Own Way, 230. 13.  Li Zehou, The May Fourth Movement: Plural Reflection (Wu si: Duoyuan de fansi 五四; 多元的反思) (Taipei: Fengyun Shidai Press, 1989), 46. 14. Min Lin with Maria Galikowski, The Search for Modernity: Chinese Intellectuals and Cultural Discourse in the Post-Mao Era (London: Macmillan, 1999), 57.

New Confucianism


15. Woei Lien Chong, “Combining Marx with Kant: The Philosophical Anthropology of Li Zehou,” Philosophy East and West 49, no. 2 (1999): 120. 16. Li Zehou and Liu Zaifu 劉再復, Farewell to Revolution: A Critical Dialogue on Twentieth-Century China (Gaobie geming—Ershi shiji Zhongguo duitan lu 告別革命―二 十世紀中國對談錄) (Farewell to revolution: a critical dialogue on twentieth century China) (Taipei: Rye Field, 1999), 568. 17.  These were mainly intellectuals (both men and women), who were studying or had studied in Europe or Japan or at one of the modern Chinese universities that had adopted a Western curriculum. 18.  Li and Liu Zaifu, Farewell to Revolution, 568. 19. Ibid. 20. Ibid. 21. Ibid. 22.  結構 ( jiegou) = structure. However, Li preferred to translate this concept with the English word “formation,” for he considered “structure” to have a static connotation, whereas his jiegou 結構 was a highly dynamic concept. 23. Li Zehou, Four Essays on Aesthetics (Meixue si jiang 美學四講) (Guilin: Guangxi shifan daxue chubanshe, 2001; 1st ed., 1988), 87. 24. Here, Li was citing Kang Youwei’s (康有為) notions of the Great Self (society; dawo 大我) and the Small Self (individual; xiaowo 小我). Ibid., 52. However, at the turn of the twentieth century, both notions were also frequently applied by Liang Qichao 梁啟超 and Sun Yat-sen (Sun Zhongshan 孫中山). 25.  Lin with Galikowski, Search for Modernity, 68. 26. In his essay “A Short Explanation of the Motto ‘Western Essence, Chinese Functions’ ” (“西體中用” 簡釋), Li Zehou stated that Li Shu 黎澍 was the first to invert this slogan. Both were widely criticized for proposing this inversion. In Li Zehou, Historical Ontology (Lishi bentilun 历史本体论) (Beijing: Sanlian shudian, 2002), 154. 27. Li, New Dream of the Century, 174–177. 28.  Chan, “Li Zehou and New Confucianism,” 111. 29. Li, New Dream of the Century, 178. 30. Li, Four Essays on Aesthetics, 39. 31.  Lin with Galikowski, Search for Modernity, 54. 32. Li, On Contemporary Chinese Intellectual History, 238. 33.  Chong, “Combining Marx with Kant,” 129. 34. Li, Four Essays on Aesthetics, 87. 35.  See Chong, “Combining Marx with Kant,” 124. 36. Ibid. 37. See Li Zehou, “Subjectivity and ‘Subjectality’: A Response,” Philosophy East and West 49, no. 2 (1999): 174–183. 38. German and French likewise have only one word (Subjektivität and subjectivité, respectively) for both meanings. However, my native tongue, Slovene, like Chinese, differentiates between the epistemological (subjektivno 主觀性) and ontological (subjektno 主體 性) connotations of the term. 39. Li, Four Essays on Aesthetics, 43. 40.  Ding, “Li Zehou: Chinese Aesthetics,” 247.


Li Zehou and the Modernization of Confucianism

41.  Some well-known binary categories are yinyang 陰陽 (sunny/shady), mingshi 名實 (concept/actuality), liqi 理氣 (structure/phenomena), benmo 本末 (roots/crown), and the category that concerns us here, tiyong 體用 (substance/function). 42. A. C. Graham, Disputers of the Tao: Philosophical Argument in Ancient China (Chicago: Open Court Publishing, 1989), 286. 43. Rošker, Rebirth of the Moral Self, 148. 44. Of course, binary patterns as such are not specific to Chinese philosophy, as in their function of differentiation, they are basic to human thought. What distinguishes Chinese binary categories from traditional Western dualisms is the principle of complementarity, which represents a basic method for their functioning. See Jana S. Rošker, Traditional Chinese Philosophy and the Paradigm of Structure (Li) (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2012), 12–13. 45.  Ibid., 149. 46.  Book of Changes (Yijing 周易; also known as Classic of Changes), in Chinese Text Project: Pre-Qin and Han, accessed July 16, 2015, 47. Ibid., Shuo gua, 2. 48. “Xunzi” 荀子 (Master Xun), in Chinese Text Project: Pre-Qin and Han, accessed July 16, 2015, 49. Wang Bi 王弼, “Daodejing zhu” 道德經注 (Comments to Daodejing), in Chinese Text Project: Pre-Qin and Han, accessed July 16, 2015,​-de​-zhen​ -jing-zhu. 50. Jana S. Rošker, “Modern Confucian Synthesis of Qualitative and Quantitative Knowledge: Xiong Shili,” Journal of Chinese Philosophy 36, no. 3 (2009): 376–380. 51. Xiong Shili, Collected Works of Xiong Shili, Part 1: The New Theory of Pure Consciousness (Xiong Shili lunzhu zhiyi: Xin weishi lun 熊十力論著集之一: 新唯識論 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1992), 362. 52.  Jiyuan Yu, “Xiong Shili’s Metaphysics of Virtue,” in Contemporary Chinese Philosophy, ed. Chung-ying Cheng and Nicholas Bunnin (Oxford: Blackwell, 2002), 132. 53.  Rošker, “Modern Confucian Synthesis,” 378. 54.  Xiong also believed that the essential difference between his own New Confucian ontology and Western interpretations could be found in the Western concept of “objective reality” and his own understanding of “substance.” Rošker, “Modern Confucian Synthesis,” 380. While “objective reality” for Western philosophy denotes an “external” entity that is approachable through rational constructions, substance in Xiong’s sense was not only the elementary reason for existence but also the very core of any existence, given that it could also be identified with the individual spirit (or with the individual consciousness) of any individual. Xiong, Collected Works, Part 1, 362, 379. 55. Li, New Dream of the Century, 168–169. 56.  Chan, “Li Zehou and New Confucianism,” 110–111. 57.  Lin Daoqun 林道群 and Li Zhihua 李志華, “Visiting Sir Li Zehou” (Fangwen Li Zehou xiansheng 訪問李澤厚先生), in Pluralistic Reflections on the May Fourth Movement (Wu si duoyuande fansi), ed. Wang Yuanhua (Taipei: Fengyun shidai chubanshe, 1991), 258–259. 58.  Li Zehou, “A Simple Lecture on Western Substance and Chinese Function” (Man-

New Confucianism


shuo xiti zhongyong 慢說西體中用), in Li, On Contemporary Chinese Intellectual History, 311–341. 59.  See, for example, Li, New Dream of the Century, 168–200; Lin and Li, “Visiting Sir Li Zehou,” 258–259; and Li, Walking My Own Way, 252–256. 60.  Chan, “Li Zehou and New Confucianism,” 110–111. 61. Li Zehou, “Western Substance and Chinese Function Revisited” (Zai shuo xiti zhongyong 再說西體中用), in Li, New Dream of the Century, 168–201. 62. Li, New Dream of the Century, 169. 63.  Li Zehou, Following My Own Way: A Collection of Various Essays (Zou wo zijide lu— za zhu ji 走我自己的路—雜著集) (Beijing: Zhongguo mangwen chubanshe, 2002), 155. 64.  Ibid., 253. 65. Li, New Dream of the Century, 176. 66.  Ibid., 177. 67.  Ibid., 156. 68. Li, Following My Own Way, 383. 69.  Ibid., 385. 70.  Here, Li was strongly influenced by Immanuel Kant: “While Marx focused on the crucial aspect of the capacity of the collective human subject to engage in economic production by the use of ‘tools,’ Kant provided Li with the philosophical framework to reflect on the mental and ideal aspects of human nature, that is, the faculties of knowledge, ethics, and aesthetics.” Chong, “Combining Marx with Kant,” 121. 71.  Li and Liu Zaifu, Farewell to Revolution, 331–332. See also Lin with Galikowski, Search for Modernity, 50. 72.  Li Zehou, On Traditional Chinese Intellectual History (Zhongguo gudai sixiang shilun 中国古代思想史论) (Taipei: Huajing wenhua shiye, 1985), 36–37. 73. Li, New Dream of the Century, 176. 74. In his “Theses on Feuerbach” (1845), Marx criticized the Young Hegelians for misunderstanding “the essence of human beings” as abstract, isolated entities. For Marx, human nature could be understood only in the context of the economic and social relations in which people actually lived. He also argued that it was the underlying social and economic conditions that gave rise to religious beliefs and other ideational superstructures. Karl Marx, “Theses on Feuerbach,” Marxists Internet Archive Library, accessed July 17, 2015, 75.  See, for example, Li and Liu Zaifu, Farewell to Revolution, 65, 69, 75, 331; Li, Historical Ontology, 3, 7; and Li, On Traditional Chinese Intellectual History, 154, 298. 76. None of the most influential neo-Marxist theorists ever questioned the intrinsic nature of the Marxist dialectical model in such a radical (even if unconscious) way. Although Li was often described as a neo-Marxist by other intellectuals, he preferred to define himself as a proponent of the early Marx. Li, New Dream of the Century, 175. 77.  Ibid., 175–177. 78.  Ibid., 142, 176–177. 79. Ibid. 80. This phrase forms part of the neo-Confucian model of “indivisibility and nonblending” (bu li bu za). Lee Ming-huei 李明輝 describes this model as being “different on


Li Zehou and the Modernization of Confucianism

the theoretical and the conceptual level respectively” but being “indivisible at the level of concrete reality or existence.” Lee, “Liu Jishan’s Critique on Zhu Xi’s Theory of Li and Qi” (Liu Jishan dui Zhuzi liqi lunde pipan 劉蕺山對朱子理氣論的批判), Hanxue yanjiu 19, no. 2 (2001): 14. 81. Li, On Contemporary Chinese Intellectual History, 328. 82.  Ibid., 332. 83.  Ibid., 327. 84.  Liu Shu-hsien, cited in Lee, “Liu Jishan’s Critique,” 11. 85.  Chan, “Li Zehou and New Confucianism,” 120. 86. In this respect, Li also agrees with David Hall and Roger Ames’ critique of the concept of immanent transcendence. Li, New Dream of the Century, 110; David L. Hall and Roger T. Ames, Thinking Through Confucius (1987) and Thinking from the Han: Self, Truth, and Transcendence in Chinese and Western Culture (1998, esp. chap. 9) (both published by State University of New York Press, Albany). For a detailed introduction to this critique and Lee Ming-huei’s response to it, see Rošker, Rebirth of the Moral Self, 144ff.; Lee Ming-huei, “Liu Jishan’s Critique”; and Lee Ming-huei, “Once More on the Problem of ‘Immanent Transcendence’ in Confucian Thought” (“再論儒家思想中的 ‘內在超越性’ 問題”), in Proceedings of the Third International Sinological Conference: The Tide of Chinese Thought and Foreign Culture (第三屆國際漢學會議論文集: 中國思潮與外來文化), edited by Liu Shu-hsien 劉述先 (Taipei: Chinese Literature and Philosophy Institute, Academia Sinica, 2002), 223–240. However, Li subsequently agreed with Yu Ying-shih, a representative of the third generation of New Confucians, who tried to resolve this problem by renaming the concept of “immanent transcendence” (內在超越) as “inward transcendence” (內向超越). Li, Historical Ontology, 54. However, this change is somewhat reductionist, as it does not include the connotation of a creator that remains part of its creation. 87. Li, New Dream of the Century, 176. 88. Lin with Galikowski, Search for Modernity, 50; Chong, “Combining Marx with Kant,” 129. 89. Li, Historical Ontology, 1–4. 90.  Ibid., 2, 7. 91.  Ibid., 9. 92.  Ibid., 1. 93.  Ibid., 3. 94.  Chong, “Combining Marx with Kant,” 124. 95. Li, Historical Ontology, 3. 96.  Ibid., 2. 97. Li, On Traditional Chinese Intellectual History, 298. 98.  See Rošker, Rebirth of the Moral Self, chap. 7.4. 99.  See, for example, “We Want Reforms, Not Revolutions” (要改良, 不要革命), the final chapter in Li and Liu Zaifu, Farewell to Revolution, 371–392. 100.  See, for example, Marx, “Theses on Feuerbach,” 6; and Analects 4.3.


“Western Learning as Substance, Chinese Learning for Application” Li Zehou’s Thought on Tradition and Modernity Karl-Heinz POHL

Li Zeh ou ’s essay “Random Thoughts on ‘Western Learning as Substance, Chinese Learning for Application’ ” (Manshuo “Xiti zhongyong” 漫说 “‌西体中用”), written in 1986, is the last chapter in Li’s influential collection On Contemporary Chinese Intellectual History (Zhongguo xiandai sixiang shilun 中 国现代思想史论). Its title inverts the familiar slogan of the Self-Strengthening movement, which was popular in late nineteenth-century China, near the end of the Qing dynasty: “Chinese learning as substance, Western learning for application” (Zhongxue wei ti, xixue wei yong 中学为体, 西学为用). As is well known, this saying originated with Zhang Zhidong 张之洞 (1837–1909) in his essay “Exhortation to Study” (Quanxue pian 劝学篇), which appeared in 1898. At this period in history, Zhang spoke for many Chinese scholars who believed that China should maintain its own Confucian style of learning as the basis (“substance,” or ti 体) of society, while at the same time using Western learning for “practical application” ( yong 用) in developing China’s infrastructure, military, and economy. This chapter addresses the following questions: In his inversion of this relationship, what is, for Li Zehou, substance and what is practical application? What does he consider to be a fruitful relationship between tradition and modernity in China? How does Li’s thought fit in the context of his aesthetics as well as the various debates on Chinese culture from the late nineteenth century until today? Viewing Li’s thought in historical context, I will refer to four 57


Li Zehou and the Modernization of Confucianism

structurally different phases of dealing with tradition in China during the last 150 years: 1. Maintaining the Confucian tradition: This was the position of the SelfStrengthening movement (Yangwu yundong 洋务运动, 1870s–1890s)—a period of attempted reforms, in particular by introducing Western technological know-how to China during the last decades of the nineteenth century, after a number of military defeats and concessions to foreign powers. Today it is considered that the twofold goals of the movement— maintaining the Confucian basis of society while allowing only Western technology into China—failed with the defeat of China in the war against Japan (1894–1895). 2. Opening up of the tradition: During the Hundred Days’ Reform of 1898 (wuxu bianfa 戊戌变法), reformers around Kang Youwei 康有为 (1858– 1927) attempted institutional and educational changes according to Western models but with explicit reference to the Confucian tradition, in fact by claiming that reforms were the original agenda of Confucius. After one hundred days, a coup d’état led by conservatives around Empress Dowager Cixi (慈禧) ended the movement.1 3. Breaking with the tradition: During the May Fourth movement of 1919 (Wusi yundong 五四运动)—an anticolonialist and patriotic movement, but also an antitraditionalist and iconoclastic one, which actually lasted roughly from 1915 to 1921—Confucianism was seen as the main culprit for the problems of late imperial China. As it became a movement for a “new culture” (including a colloquial language and literature), the Western model advanced to a leading position in China, and complete Westernization (quanpan xihua 全盘西化) was demanded by its most radical proponents. During the further course of the movement, Marxism entered the stage, notably with the founding of the Chinese Communist Party in 1921. Li Zehou sees the May Fourth movement as a project comparable to the European Enlightenment, but according to his analysis, it could not succeed, because the need to save the nation from foreign imperialism decisively limited the goal of a Chinese enlightenment.2 4. Political instrumentalization of the tradition: A political instrumentalization of the tradition can be seen in various fields during later times in Chinese history up to today. For example, in an early phase (1930s–1940s), the use of “national forms” (minzu xingshi 民族形式, or traditional forms of art and literature) was proposed for propagating socialist ideas in the Communist-held regions of China. From the 1980s on, there was a drive to use tradition to consolidate the power of the party, as in the 1986 Central Committee resolution for the “building up

Western Learning Substance, Chinese Learning Application


of a socialist spiritual civilization” (shehuizhuyi jingshen wenming jianshe 社会主义精神文明建设) or, more recently, in appealing to Confucius and the Confucian tradition for the sake of strengthening national pride. In attempting to grasp Li Zehou’s contributions to the 150-year-long debate over Chinese tradition in this chapter, I first discuss aesthetics in modern China and the influence of Western thought on it. Next, I review Chinese tradition and modernity and consider Li’s evaluation of China’s tradition in the framework of its recent past. A concluding section places Li’s views in historical context. Aesthetics in Modern China: Encounters with Western Thought

Arts and aesthetics form particularly significant parts of a culture. Apart from language, the cultural framework of myths, images, and allusions, as well as references to literature, art, religion, and philosophy—in short, the symbolic and aesthetic orientation (shared literary or artistic sensibilities)—form the basis of all cultural identity everywhere on the globe. Regarding the modern period, aesthetics assumed a special place in China’s grappling with Western thought. First, aesthetics constitutes a realm relatively free of politics. For this reason, it attracted Chinese scholars at the end of the nineteenth century who wished to explore occidental thought freely and without political restraint. Second, the philosophy of art as part of aesthetics is a field that offered Chinese intellectuals the possibility of linking it with their own traditional ideas. This was important because—unlike the mainstream of Chinese traditional social and political thought, particularly Confucianism—the Chinese aesthetic tradition had not been discredited by the reception of Western ideas and the radical antitraditionalism of the May Fourth movement around 1919. On the contrary, when the Chinese, at the beginning of the twentieth century, began to define themselves in relation to the West, they understood their own culture as an essentially aesthetic one. Aesthetics is thus important for the understanding of all discussion on Chinese identity (“Chineseness”) up to today. The encounter with Western thought brought the Chinese, on the one hand, a wealth of fascinating new ideas. On the other hand, it allowed them to look for familiar concepts that could be aligned with their own tradition. The president of Peking University during the May Fourth period, Cai Yuanpei 蔡 元培 (1868–1940), was one of the first to formulate the cultural-aesthetic selfunderstanding of the Chinese. Through his studies in Germany he was familiar with occidental philosophy, particularly with Kant and Schiller. Cai regarded Westerners to be largely shaped by religion, whereas for China he held aesthetics (a combination of ritual, art, and ethics) to be the functional “spiritual”


Li Zehou and the Modernization of Confucianism

equivalent to religion in the West. For this reason he demanded for modern China “aesthetic education in the place of religion” ( yi meiyu dai zong jiao 以美 育代宗教).3 Because it was popular among culturally conservative intellectuals at this time to posit a Chinese “spiritual” culture against a Western “materialistic” one,4 the affirmation of “spiritual” aspects in Chinese aesthetics added to this understanding of Chinese culture. The famous scholar Wang Guowei 王国维 (1877–1927) represents the early encounter of Chinese with European ideas in the field of aesthetics. He coined basic aesthetic concepts for the twentieth century such as jingjie 境界 (aesthetic state of mind or consciousness) and yijing 意境 (aesthetic idea) to denote a perfect aesthetic fusion of artistic idea (or feeling) with a concrete scene.5 Wang first used the term jingjie only with regard to poetry and without any theoretical explanation, but the term soon gained a general aesthetic meaning, signifying both an aesthetic idea and a most sublime state of mind. Wang derived his concepts from Chinese tradition (using Buddhist vocabulary), but they are also imbued with meaning that he found in Kant and Schopenhauer (Kant’s “aesthetic idea”); hence, they represent early intercultural exchanges of thought between China and the West. In his article “The Spread and Influence of German Aesthetics in China,” Liu Gangji 刘纲纪showed that modern Chinese aesthetics has been largely formed by contending with the German tradition of aesthetics—that is, German idealism.6 Because of the enormous problems of translation, this tradition of aesthetics—from Kant and Schiller to Marx and Heidegger—was received in China with a phase shift of about a hundred years. Thus, it is not surprising that the discourse of twentieth-century Chinese aesthetics was largely shaped by the categories and questions of German philosophy of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The rather rigid reception of Marxism only reinforced this tendency. This fixation on the philosophy of German idealism to Marx also explains the Chinese translation of the Western term “aesthetics” as meixue 美学, or “study of beauty” if we retranslate the Chinese term back into English. The Chinese translation (which originally came from Japan) is for China somewhat misleading, if not unfortunate, because the category of “beauty”—in either its natural or its artistic forms—never played a significant role in traditional China.7 The modern Chinese aestheticians’ frantic search for beauty in their own tradition thus appears in many ways like a voyage headed in the wrong direction. However, as is not unusual with such voyages, it also led the aestheticians to discover unknown and interesting territory, such as quite a few parallels between Chinese and Western aesthetics as well as a creative appropriation of Marxist aesthetics in China. It is worth noting that, even in the ideologically rather rigid period between

Western Learning Substance, Chinese Learning Application


1956 and 1962, aesthetics was a field that allowed for a relatively free debate in China—within the confines of a Marxist materialist approach to it.8 Apart from the concept of beauty, the Marxian idea of “practice” (shjian 实践) was added to the discussion in 1930 by Li Zehou, who first came to prominence in this period as one of the leading scholars in aesthetics. During the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976), aesthetics ceased to exist as a topic of discussion. In the 1980s, however, China experienced an unprecedented aesthetics craze (meixue re 美学热), mainly brought about by the writings of prominent aestheticians such as Zhu Guangqian 朱光潜 (1897–1986), Zong Baihua 宗白华 (1897–1986), and especially Li Zehou. Li was the towering figure of this period. Apart from Marxian practice, he introduced other new concepts such as subjectivity (zhuguanxing 主观性) and “subjectality” (zhutixing 主体性), a term he coined himself.9 Taking his ideas as a fusion of Kantian and Marxian ideas10 (i.e., the notion of humanized nature from Marx’ “Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844”), practice was for Li materially productive activity, such as making and employing tools.11 Furthermore, he offered stimulating interpretations of the Chinese artistic tradition in his widely read The Path of Beauty (Mei de licheng 美的历程), which first appeared in 1981. Li once distinguished between a narrow and a broad explication of aesthetics.12 A narrow exposition would cover only written documents dealing with aesthetics (literary or art criticism and such), whereas a broad explication would deal with all aspects of material culture (beginning with toolmaking and cave drawings). Seen from this clarification, his book The Path of Beauty is a broad explication of Chinese aesthetics. Central to Li’s theory of aesthetics is the notion of sedimentation ( jidian 积淀) as a fusion of the social and the individual in a historical process, resulting in a cultural-psychological formation (wenhua xinli jiegou 文化心理结构). Over a long period of time, rational concepts sediment into aesthetic-sensual emotions; content sediments into form—that is, art. Li’s examples are taken from prehistoric art. For instance, he illustrates a development in the Neolithic period in China by showing how early sketchlike animal pictures (with concrete content, such as totem figures) turn into abstract lines and symbols on Yangshao and Majiayao pottery and Taotie bronze masks. Li explains: The social consciousness—the passions, concepts, and psychology of primitive humans—crystallized and concentrated in these pictorial symbols invested them with a meaning and significance that was beyond pure graphic representation. Primitive humans perceived in them properties and values that transcended pure psychological responses. In other words, these natural forms were sedimented with social values and con-


Li Zehou and the Modernization of Confucianism

tent, and man’s perceptual power and sensibility had acquired a rational quality. This unquestionably was the beginning of an aesthetic awareness and artistic creation.13

Hence, beauty is not merely beautiful form, but, with social content sedimented into it, it becomes “significant form” ( you yiwei de xingshi 有意味的 形式), a term Li adopted from the English art critic Clive Bell (1881–1964).14 Sedimentation is thus a culturally specific and sensually perceptible formation process of social and historical reality. While musing about the timelessness of art in the afterword to The Path of Beauty, Li addresses these issues, condensing them into his notions of cultural-psychological formation and even human nature: What is the key to understanding the mystery of the eternal nature of art? . . . Why is it that the aesthetic value and artistic style of works of long ago still accord with the sentiments and interests of people of our time? Why do they still evoke such intimate feelings in us? Is it that the sentiments accumulated and condensed in them are related to and act upon the psychological structure of people today? Is the human psychological structure a product of the accumulation and condensation of historical experience? If so, the secret of the eternal nature of art may reside therein. Or, it may be the other way round—that is, the universal human psychology resides in and is promoted by the eternal nature of art. . . . Psychological structure is a product of the sedimentation of human history and civilization; art is the psychology that reveals the soul of the times. Maybe this can explain human nature [renxing 人性] as related to art.15

This image of sedimentation is particularly descriptive. It suggests a tectonic structure of different deposits—that is, of history—where the deep layers, though not directly visible, are still formative in terms of providing structure for the layers above and are still accessible by excavation or drilling (i.e., through education). But sedimentation and psychological formation have to be seen in a broader context. If sedimentation can be understood as a fusion of the social with the individual in a historical process—that is, as historical content sedimenting into cultural or national forms and identity (including human behavioral and thought patterns and emotional attitudes, as well as art), psychological formation can also be understood as human nature—as a result of long-lasting processes of sedimentation (occurring over thousands of years). The term “human nature,” though of Confucian origin, thus gains here a universal significance. One may understand that such considerations, drawn up at the beginning of the

Western Learning Substance, Chinese Learning Application


1980s—apart from the comprehensive presentation of a great Chinese civilization manifested in tangible forms of traditional art—succeeded in giving that decade’s debate over a Chinese tradition and identity decisive if not triggering impulses. This brief overview of modern Chinese aesthetics and of Li’s specific contribution to it may suffice in order to place and evaluate it later in a broader context.16 Tradition and Modernity

Concerning the topic of tradition and modernity, let us first answer the question: What was “tradition” thought to be in the late nineteenth century? Interestingly, the current word for “tradition,” chuantong 传统, was apparently not used in the Chinese vocabulary at that time. Neither the 1938 nor the 1965 edition of the most common modern Chinese dictionary, the Cihai 辞海 (Sea of words), had an entry for chuantong; the word first appeared in editions of the 1970s. As a loanword from Japanese, like many others at this time, chuantong seems to have come into Chinese usage at the beginning of the twentieth century. Its literal meaning is “passing on” (chuan) the “united” teachings (tong); here tong must be understood in the sense of daotong 道统 or zhengtong 正统—that is, the orthodox interpretation of the Dao, as transmitted by the neo-Confucians of the Song dynasty. Today chuantong is described similarly as “tradition” in Western dictionaries (as behavior passed on within a group or society with symbolic meaning or special significance with origins in the past, conveying a sense of identity), as, for example, on the Chinese Wikipedia website.17 At the end of the nineteenth century, however, “tradition” was nothing but the well-known phrase “Chinese learning” (zhongxue 中学), used in contrast to “Western learning” (xixue 西学). Although the slogan “Chinese learning as substance, Western learning for application” (zhongti xiyong 中体西用) was coined in this form by Zhang Zhidong during the Hundred Days’ Reform in 1898, its content had been widespread among intellectuals since the 1860s.18 Using a well-known thought pattern of neo-Confucian metaphysics, tiyong 体用 (substance/function), Zhang criticized reformers like Kang Youwei from a conservative point of view. His stance was that it was necessary to maintain the orthodox Confucian basis of society, and if Western thought was to be accepted, then it should be done only to strengthen the material basis of society—particularly military equipment, in view of the European encroachment in China since the First Opium War (1839–1842). Zhang Zhidong’s use of the established tiyong formula was by no means orthodox in a Confucian philosophical way but was rather creatively clever. Li


Li Zehou and the Modernization of Confucianism

Zehou’s turnaround is likewise quite ingenious. In the 1980s it caused quite a stir in the intellectual circles. Some critics held, however, that it was basically the old formula, only in a new cloak.19 In particular, Li argues with reference to Marx’ distinction of “base and superstructure” ( jingji jichu 经济基础 / shangceng jianzhu 上层建筑). For Zhang, Confucian thought was the substance (base)—which for Li, however, in Marxist terms was superstructure. Following Marx’ example of turning Hegel’s dialectics (standing upside down) right side up, Li turns Zhang’s formula (standing upside down) right side up by stressing that only the real life of the people—the production mode and economics—can be considered the base (substance): Learning (xue), no matter if Chinese or Western, Chinese learning of Confucius or Western learning of Karl Marx, cannot . . . be substance (ti), at least not substance in the ultimate sense. Such “learning” is only psychological substance (xinli benti 心理本体) . . . , that is, a kind of theory or system of thought. In the strict sense, substance should be the final reality (benti) of social existence, the real daily life. This is the root, the basis and the point of departure.20

But what exactly is “Western learning as substance”? For Zhang it was the “Four Modernizations” (agriculture, industry, national defense, and science and technology) of the nineteenth century—that is, technology for warships and railroads, and so on. For Li it is also modern Western natural sciences and technology but includes the political, social, and economic thought that enabled the development of technological know-how, as well as the thought tradition of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution (of which Marx was an integral part). “Western learning as substance” thus stands for the modernization (according to the Western model) of social existence—that is, of the reality of daily life, which is determined by the mode of production. Against this backdrop of “Western learning as substance,” “Chinese learning for application” means giving the modernized life conditions a specific Chinese form. According to Li’s aesthetics, form is not something purely external or superficial but something that is molded by content—content sedimented into form, and hence a fusion of form and content. Moreover, in contrast to Zhang, for whom ti (base/substance) and yong (function/application) seem to mark two distinct realms, Li adheres to the traditional (Neo-Confucian) significance of ti and yong. That is, they are not two different entities/modes but are two aspects of the same issue (tiyongbuer 体用 不二).21 They cannot be separated into two, which means in Li’s context that modernization is Sinification.

Western Learning Substance, Chinese Learning Application


The question is, however, how to apply Western learning in a Chinese way. Here Li refers to his idea of the cultural-psychological formation. In Li’s view, however, this notion is somewhat ambivalent—it can have negative and positive contents.22 For China, Li considers Confucianism with its “pragmatic reason” (shiyong lixing 实用理性) to be most influential.23 Confucianism sees human behavior and actions as geared toward the goal of a harmonious interrelationship of people within society. Li believes that this pragmatic reason and the Confucian humanistic tradition have formed China more than anything else and have contributed to its long and uninterrupted civilization.24 According to Li, the characteristics of Confucius did not remain the same through the periods of history. People of later centuries perpetuated those attributes that they found suitable for their purposes. Hence, the Confucius who was ditched during the May Fourth movement had largely been the product of the neo-Confucian philosophy of the Song period, with its asceticism, nepotism, and conservatism. Li also considers the narrow-minded conservative mentality of Ah Q—the protagonist in the famous novella by Lu Xun 鲁迅 (1881–1936), which was based on a premodern small-scale rural economy—to be a late result of the Song philosophy. In the process of adaption—that is, “Chinese learning for application” (Sinification)—it is important not to let such negative factors destroy the positive ones. As a prime example of a negative Sinification of “Western learning,” Li deals extensively with the nineteenth-century Taiping Rebellion. The rebels can be seen in part as a heretical Christian group but also as a protocommunist peasant militia based on the Western value “equality.” Maoism and the Cultural Revolution are also, for Li, examples of how Chinese Marxism was shaped by such negative factors. Hence, Li argues, not for a wholesale discarding or a wholesale inheritance of “Chinese learning” (tradition), but for a selection and transformation of the tradition on the basis of a new consciousness, shaped by a modernized social existence. The positive elements of the tradition should be brought into this process, which he calls changing the hereditary factors ( yichuan jiyin de gaihuan 遗传基因的改换).25 In practice this means that during a time in which the way of life and the values are shaped and are endangered by commerce and high technology, the autochthonous Chinese ethical “pragmatic reason” should bear fruit.26 Moreover, Chinese morality giving priority to common and communal values, in contrast to private interests, should be maintained. Hence, elements of the tradition are to be understood as correctives of the excesses of modern life. According to Li, even Western capitalist societies possess elements of tradition as correctives of pure materialism, such as Christian virtues like charity.27 Other positive elements of the Chinese past are to be found in the rich tradition of Chinese aesthetics.28 Using Wang Guowei’s influential term jingjie


Li Zehou and the Modernization of Confucianism

(state of mind), Li Zehou and Liu Gangji had already stressed elsewhere that the most important characteristic of traditional Chinese aesthetics is the idea that an aesthetic state of mind (shenmei jingjie 審美境界) was regarded as the “highest and noblest state of mind to be attained in life.”29 A further idea, which Li elaborates on in the essay “Some Thoughts on Chinese Wisdom,” is the traditional notion of “unity of heaven/nature and man” (tianren heyi 天人合一). In view of impending environmental catastrophes (such as climate change), Li offers a new interpretation of “unity of heaven and man” in an ecological sense, as a harmonious relationship between human beings and nature. In this way a traditional maxim of Chinese thought could not only gain a contemporary corrective function but also assume a global or universal significance.30 Summing up, “Western learning as substance, Chinese learning for application” means to introduce a modern way of life to China and to adapt it with reference to Chinese traditional culture—that is, giving this modern way of life a Chinese form. Liu Kang interprets Li’s position in a broader context: Li claims that what constitutes ti in modern times is nothing less than a subjectivity that is well conceived and articulated, if not completely realized, by modern Western enlightenment. Li’s plea is to create a modern Chinese subjectivity by revitalizing the Chinese classic rationality of the “unity of man [sic] and heaven” based on the Marxian notion of a humanized nature.31

What was the reception of Li Zehou’s thought in the 1980s and 1990s? Li’s thesis of “Western substance, Chinese application” drew strong criticism, from both radically liberal intellectuals and orthodox Marxists. For radical liberals, Li holds on to the dichotomy of Chinese and Western, popular among Chinese intellectuals, which for them only leads back to the content and purpose of the old formula: modernization for the strengthening of the Chinese nation. They also accuse him of mixing up his ideas with Mao Zedong’s directive of “critical inheritance” (of Chinese and Western traditions). Hence, Li’s thesis would be leading back to Chinese tradition, to a renaissance of Confucian thought—that is, “unity of heaven and man,” which in light of the need for Chinese modernization would only be a hindrance. A representative voice of the radically liberal critics is Liu Xiaobo 刘晓 波 (1955–2017), the longtime incarcerated Nobel Peace Prize laureate of 2010 who has in the interim died in prison. As an enfant terrible in the intellectual scene of the late 1980s and assuming the pose of an “existential hero,”32 with much reference to the thought of Nietzsche as well as Sartre and Camus, Liu particularly took on Li as a target of his criticism. Liu “explicitly placed himself

Western Learning Substance, Chinese Learning Application


in the tradition of those Chinese modernizers who advocated ‘total Westernization,’ ” as Woei Lien Chong explains, and who “accused Li Zehou of trying to revive the ‘rationalistic’ and ‘despotic’ Chinese tradition.”33 Jing Wang summarizes Liu’s position in the 1980s in this way: Liu Xiaobo condemned Li Zehou because of the latter’s advocacy of Confucian ethics and the aesthetics of tianren heyi. For Liu, beauty resides not in harmony but in conflicts. The cultivation and endorsement of aesthetic and moral equilibrium leads to eclecticism and reveals a premodern state of mind that can only be characterized as “the extreme condition of slavedom.” To reconstruct Chinese national character, Liu insists that we negate thoroughly the three primary theoretical paradigms underlying traditional culture: the Confucian democratic model of minben (for the people), the model personality of Confucius and Yanhui, and the concept of tianren heyi.34

Orthodox Marxists, on the other hand, saw it this way: because Li Zehou’s “Western substance” includes Western bourgeois thought, his thesis is nothing but the demand for a “total Westernization” and the introduction of capitalism in China. This criticism increased considerably in the repressive period after the crackdown on Tiananmen Square protests on June 4, 1989.35 Hence, Li Zehou holds an in-between position. For radical Western-­ oriented liberals (Liu Xiaobo and others), he is a traditionalist or even a conservative reactionary. For hard-line Marxists, he is an advocate of “total Westernization.” In fact, although Li is not an orthodox Marxist (he explicitly rejects the ideas of revolution and class struggle), his stance has much in common with that of some of the orthodox Marxists when he stresses the significance of the tradition for a cultural identity (aesthetics). Also, his notion of critical inheritance is similar to that of Mao Zedong. Finally, Li maintains a basically Marxist line of argumentation, although he orients himself almost exclusively on the young Marx of the “Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844.” Li’s way of writing and terminology/vocabulary, however, is very much Marxian. (According to one critic, it belongs to the 1950s and 1960s.36) But Li also has much in common with the liberals. He supported the politics of reform by Zhao Ziyang 赵紫阳 (1919–2005). He defended the TV series Heshang 河殇 (Elegy on the Yellow River) against hard-line critics (who saw in it support of nihilism). According to Li, however, the criticism of Heshang was not directed against Chinese tradition as such but was a critique of the political social reality of the time, which was determined by conservative narrow-­mindedness— that is, the negative factors of tradition, or the so-called “yellow tradition” of Heshang. Like the authors of Heshang, Li argues for the necessity of an eco-


Li Zehou and the Modernization of Confucianism

nomic modernization, which includes liberalization of thought (Enlightenment thought, humanism as well as freedom and fraternity, not solely equality). In contrast to cultural functionaries, who advocate a revaluation of tradition for the sake of strengthening cultural identity and the nation, Li does not see tradition as something that can be instrumentalized ( yong 用, in its literal sense). On the contrary, Li’s interpretation of yong as “application of tradition,” on the one hand, is in a Chinese Confucian philosophical way—as a Chinese form that cannot be separated from its content of modernized ways of life (tiyongbuer 体用不二). His interpretation of ti (substance 体) as modernized modes of production and living, on the other, is in a Marxist way. He thus not only subtly undermines the position of orthodox Marxists with his own application of Marxist theory but also ingenuously ties Marxist and Confucian notions together in his interpretation of the tiyong formula. Let us finally turn to Li Zehou’s idea of cultural-psychological formation. For him it is a structure of cultural and social sedimentations over a long period of history that also addresses the question of cultural identity. On the one hand, this formation has to be inherited in a process of education: people of today have to become conscious of the forces of history that have shaped their present. On the other hand, this formation has to be constantly formed anew, for it is not determined by the sedimentations. Rather, it can be changed (in the sense of “changing the hereditary factors”) by positive elements of both the Chinese and the Western traditions. In fact, Li asks for a fusion of the best elements of both traditions, which might result in a new kind of Chinese identity and might even make a contribution to a world civilization (human future). In his book Reading the “Analects” Today (1998), Li gives the following explanation of his controversial thesis—which can be read today, almost thirty years after it was written, as an authoritative interpretation: Interestingly, when I advocated “Western substance, Chinese application,” I stood in opposition to the traditional and present position of “Chinese substance, Western application.” But considering that “substance” is both science and technology as well as productivity and its methods, when those who argue for “Chinese substance, Western application” allow and push for “Western application,” then their “Chinese substance,” necessarily, will not be able to persist and it will gradually be transformed, no matter if their proponents are conscious of it or not, no matter if they want it or not. . . . But gradual transformation (improvement rather than revolution) is exactly what the position “Western substance, Chinese application” stands for. Thus, “Western substance, Chinese application” can actually go through “Chinese substance, Western application” and in this way

Western Learning Substance, Chinese Learning Application


finally realize itself. Isn’t it paradoxical? Isn’t it just what Hegel called “cunning of history”37—a hide-and-seek game of history that we can lament about or rejoice in? This also means that “Western substance, Chinese application” will realize itself by going through the ways and theoretical framework of “Chinese substance, Western application.” The components and stages in the course of “Chinese application”—that is, when “Chinese substance, Western application” turns into “Western substance, Chinese application”—are part of the windingly progressing realization process of history, and this is not what was initially expected. But the course of history does not stop here; “Chinese application” can continue to creatively adapt itself to a finer and newer form of “Western substance” (the material life of modernization, which for more than one hundred years has been brought from the West to China).38

Li Zehou’s Position in Historical Context

Let us briefly resume the historical context of Li Zehou’s thesis. There has been an identity crisis in China for the last 150 years, after the impact of the West had been felt in China and beginning with the Opium Wars. In its early phase, at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, it was manifested in a heated discussion about “Chinese learning” (Confucianism) as the ideological basis of society. A first group wanted to maintain this “Chinese learning.” A second wanted to open it up to new ideas. A third group wanted to completely reject it. In the 1980s and 1990s a new debate arose about tradition and cultural identity in China. This was, however, also a discussion—on another level and carried out covertly—about the legitimacy of the new tradition, the new “Chinese learning”: Chinese Marxism as the ideological basis of society. It is interesting to note that the structures of the two debates are almost identical; only the content of “Chinese learning,” formerly Confucianism, had been replaced by Marxism, which was in fact, and ironically, a special branch of “Western learning.” The initiating factor for the new debate was similar to that of the nineteenth century: a new encounter with “Western learning” after the end of the Cultural Revolution. Again there were three groups: orthodox, radical liberals, and moderates. The orthodox group is comparable to proponents of the Self-Strengthening movement. Its members insisted on Marxism, the new “Western learning,” as the ideological basis of society (replacing “Chinese learning”) and wanted only the Four Modernizations as “Western learning for application.” Their relationship to the Chinese cultural tradition can be


Li Zehou and the Modernization of Confucianism

described as instrumentalization; they did appeal to the cultural heritage, but only in limited doses and mainly for the sake of maintaining the power of their Marxist ideology. Radical liberals held a position similar to that of the May Fourth movement radicals, rejecting tradition—both the old tradition (Confucianism) and the new (Marxism)—and demanding “total Westernization” in a new guise. Moderates are comparable to the reformers of the Hundred Days’ Reform of 1898—figures such as Cai Yuanpei. They wanted to open up the new tradition (Marxism) and sought for a harmony between the Chinese cultural tradition and new “Western learning.” Li Zehou’s position belongs to the moderate camp. And it might not be too far-fetched to draw a further analogy. Kang Youwei, in his time, introduced Western thought as reform but camouflaged it as the agenda of Confucius. In his works Study of the Reforms of Confucius (Kongzi gaizhi kao 孔子改制攷) and A Study of the “New Text” Forgeries (Xinxue weijing kao 新学伪经考), Kang argued that Confucius’ originally reformist ideas were forged after his death in the “Old Text” classics. Li’s approach is somewhat similar to that of the Hundred Days’ reformers in that he introduces new thought but portrays it as Marxist theory. Maintaining the framework of Marxist theory, he nevertheless attempts to open up the Marxist position. One could say that, like Kang, who aimed at showing Confucius to be a reformer, Li presents Karl Marx as reformer. In any case, Li tries to bridge the two traditions by seeking a “combination of Marx and Confucius”—by combining aesthetics (the basis of cultural identity) and sociopolitical thought in a unique way, as well as through his creative interpretation of ti and yong. In his 1999 article “Human Nature and Human Future: A Combination of Marx and Confucius,” Li summarized his controversial thesis “Western learning as substance, Chinese learning for application” in this way: “One material civilization, multiple spiritual cultures.”39 On the one hand, it is a message that reiterates his view that the material welfare must be the basis” of all considerations concerning “Chinese” or “Western learning.” But, on the other hand, it is— and probably not accidently—in accordance with traditional neo-Confucian thought, as expressed in this aphorism: “The principle is one, its manifestations are many” (li yi fen shu 理一分殊).40 Notes 1. Li Zehou dealt extensively with the Self-Strengthening movement and the various protagonists of the Hundred Days’ Reform in his book On Modern Chinese Intellectual History (Zhongguo jindai sixiang shilun 中国近代思想史论) (Beijing, 1979). 2. See Li’s chapter “Double Variation on Enlightenment and National Salvation”

Western Learning Substance, Chinese Learning Application


(Qimeng yu jiuwang shuangchong bianzou 启蒙与救亡的双重变奏) in his book On Contemporary Chinese Intellectual History (Zhongguo xiandai sixiang shilun 中国现代思想史 论) (Taipei: Fengyun shidai chubanshe, 1987). For a different view on the complexity and the repercussions of the movement, see Lin Yu-sheng, The Crisis of Chinese Consciousness: Radical Antitraditionalism in the May Fourth Era (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1979). 3. Liu Gangji, “The Spread and Influence of German Aesthetics in China” (Verbreitung und Einfluss der deutschen Ästhetik in China), Trierer Beiträge: Aus Forschung und Lehre an der Universität Trier, ed. Karl-Heinz Pohl, special issue no. 10 ( July 1996): 8–13. 4. Particularly influential were Liang Shuming 梁漱溟 (1893–1988) and his book Eastern and Western Cultures and Their Philosophies (Dong xi wenhua ji qi zhexue 东西文化 及其哲学) (Beijing: Shangwu Yinshuguan, 1921). 5. Adele Rickett, Wang Kuo-wei’s “Jen-chien Tz’u-hua”: A Study in Chinese Literary Criticism (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1977), 23–24. 6.  Liu, “German Aesthetics in China,” 8–13. 7.  Karl-Heinz Pohl, “Chinese Aesthetics and Kant,” in The Pursuit of Comparative Aesthetics: An Interface between the East and the West, ed. Mazhar Hussain and Robert Wilkinson (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2006), 127–136. As for Li Zehou’s view on beauty, see Li Zehou, Four Essays on Aesthetics: Toward a Global View, trans. Li Zehou and Jane Cauvel (Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2006), 47–79. 8. For a detailed account, see Gao Jianping, “The ‘Aesthetics Craze’ in China: Its Cause and Significance,” Dialogue and Universalism 3–4 (1997): 27–35. 9. Timothy Cheek (ed.), “ ‘Subjectality’: Li Zehou and His Critical Analysis of Chinese Thought,” special issue, Philosophy East and West 49, no. 2 (1999): 113–184. 10. Liu, “German Aesthetics in China,” 19–32. Particularly influential was Li’s Critique of Critical Philosophy: A New Key to Kant (Pipan zhexue de pipan: Kangde shuping 批判哲学的批判: 康德述评) (Beijing: Beijing People’s Press, 1979). See also Jane Cauvel, “The Transformative Power of Art: Li Zehou’s Aesthetic Theory,” Philosophy East and West 49, no. 2 (1999): 150–173; and Woei Lien Chong, “Combining Marx with Kant: The Philosophical Anthropology of Li Zehou,” Philosophy East and West 49, no. 2 (1999): 120–149. 11.  For a detailed discussion, see Liu Kang, Aesthetics and Marxism: Chinese Aesthetic Marxists and Their Western Contemporaries (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2000), 167–168. 12. Li Zehou, “Concerning a Few Questions in the History of Chinese Aesthetics” (Guanyu Zhongguo meixueshi de jige wenti 关于中国美学史的几个问题), in Li Zehou, A Collection of Writings in Philosophy and Aesthetics of Li Zehou (Li Zehou zhexue meixue wenxuan 李泽厚哲学美学文选), 472–473. 13. Li Zehou, The Path of Beauty: A Study of Chinese Aesthetics, trans. Gong Li­zeng (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), 9. Cf. the German translation: Der Weg des Schönen, ed. and trans. Karl-Heinz Pohl and Gudrun Wacker (Freiburg: Herder, 1992). 14. Li, Path of Beauty, 20. The notion of significant form was developed by Bell in his influential book Art, published in 1914. See also Susanne K. Langer, Feeling and Form (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1953), 33. 15. Li, Path of Beauty, 235–236.


Li Zehou and the Modernization of Confucianism

16.  In 1989 another overview of Chinese aesthetics by Li appeared: Huaxia meixue 华 夏美学, which was later translated into English by Maija Bell Samei and published as The

Chinese Aesthetic Tradition (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2010). Concerning Li’s aesthetics, see also John Zijiang Ding, “Li Zehou: Chinese Aesthetics from a Post-Marxist and Confucian Perspective,” in Contemporary Chinese Philosophy, ed. Chung-Ying Cheng and Nicholas Bunning (Oxford: Blackwell, 2002), 246–259; and Ban Wang, The Sublime Figure of History: Aesthetics and Politics in Twentieth-Century China (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1997). 17.  Chuantong zhi lishi yanchuan er lai de sixiang, daode, fengsu, yishu, zhidu deng 传 统指历史沿传而来的思想, 道德, 风俗, 艺术, 制度等 (Tradition refers to thought, morality, customs, arts, government systems, and others that are transmitted through history). 18.  For example, it was used by Feng Guifen 冯桂芬 (1809–1874) in his “Protest from the Jiaobin Studio” ( Jiaobinlu kangyi 校邠庐抗议), written around 1860. See Immanuel Hsü, The Rise of Modern China (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), 276–277. 19.  Fang Keli 方克立, “Ping ‘zhongti xiyong’ he ‘xiti zhongyong’ ” 评 “中体西用” 和 “西体中用” (A critique of “Chinese learning as substance, Western learning for application” and of “Western learning as substance, Chinese learning for application”), in Chuantong wenhua yu xiandaihua 传统文化与现代化 (Traditional culture and modernization), ed. Zhang Liwen 张立文 et al. (Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 1987), 326–340. 20. Li Zehou, “Random Thoughts on ‘Western Learning as Substance, Chinese Learning for Application’ ” (Manshuo “Xiti zhongyong” 漫说 “西体中用”), in Li, On Contemporary Chinese Intellectual History, 333. 21.  Ibid., 337. 22. Li deals with these issues in his essay “Reevaluation of Confucius” (Kongzi zai pingjia 孔子再评价), in On Traditional Chinese Intellectual History (Zhongguo gudai sixiang shilun 中国古代思想史论) (Beijing: Huajing wenhua shiye, 1986). 23.  For “pragmatic reason,” Li uses the terms shiyong lixing 实用理性, shijian lixing 实 践理性, and even shijian ( yong) lixing 实践(用)理性. In fact, the term shijian lixing 实践 理性 is the standard Chinese translation of Kant’s “practical reason,” which appears in the title of his second Critique. For Li’s use of the term in this context, see his “Reevaluation of Confucius,” 29. See also his later explanation in his “Notes on ‘Pragmatic Reason’ ’’ (Guanyu “shiyong lixing” 关于 “实用理性”), Ershyi shiji 二十一世纪 (Twenty-first century) 21 (Spring 1994): 98–103. 24.  Li, “Reevaluation of Confucius,” 29. 25.  Li, “Random Thoughts,” 337. 26.  Ibid., 320–321. 27.  Ibid., 338. 28. Ibid. 29.  Li Zehou and Liu Gangji, History of Chinese Aesthetics (Zhongguo meixueshi 中国 美学史), vol. 1 (Beijing: China Social Sciences Press, 1984), 33. 30.  Li Zehou, “On the Wisdom of China” (Shitan Zhongguo de zhihui 试探中国的 智慧), in Li, On Traditional Chinese Intellectual History, 37–38. 31.  Liu Kang, Aesthetics and Marxism, 177. The insertion of “[sic]” is Liu’s.

Western Learning Substance, Chinese Learning Application


32. Woei Lien Chong, “Philosophy in an Age of Crisis: Three Thinkers in Post– Cultural Revolution China; Li Zehou, Liu Xiaobo, and Liu Xiaofeng,” in China’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution: Master Narratives and Post-Mao Counternarratives, ed. Woei Lien Chong (Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2002), 230. In her essay, Chong gives a detailed account of Liu Xiaobo’s attack on Li Zehou. 33.  Ibid., 223. 34. Jing Wang, High Culture Fever: Politics, Aesthetics, and Ideology in Deng’s China (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), 321n130. See also Liu Xiaobo, A Critique of Choice: A Dialogue with the Ideological Leader Li Zehou (Xuanze de pipan: Yu sixiang lingxiu Li Zehou duihua 选择的批判: 与思想领袖李泽厚对话) (Taipei, 1989); and Geremie Barmé, “Confession, Redemption and Death: Liu Xiaobo and the Protest Movement of 1989,” in The Broken Mirror: China after Tiananmen, ed. George Hicks (Harlow, Essex: Longman, 1990), 52–99. 35. For the campaign by orthodox critics against Li Zehou, see issue no. 3 (1990) of the journal Dangdai sikao 当代思考 (Contemporary reflections), in which there are four articles attacking Li. 36. He Xin 何新, “Li Zehou yu dangdai Zhongguo sichao” 李泽厚与当代中国思 潮 (Li Zehou and the present trend in Chinese thought), in Guangming ribao 光明日报 (Enlightenment daily), May 16, 1988. 37. To my knowledge, Hegel did not speak of “cunning of history” but did speak of “cunning of reason” (List der Vernunft) in his Lectures on the Philosophy of History. Kant and Marx, however, seem to have used the phrase “cunning of history” (List der Geschichte). 38.  Li Zehou, Reading the “Analects” Today (Lunyu jindu 论语今读) (Beijing: Shenghuo, dushu, xinzhi sanlian shudian, 2004), 531–532 (20.1). 39. Li Zehou, “Human Nature and Human Future: A Combination of Marx and Confucius,” in Chinese Thought in a Global Context: A Dialogue between Chinese and Western Philosophical Approaches, ed. Karl-Heinz Pohl (Leiden: Brill, 1999), 129–144. 40.  See Wing-tsit Chan, A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1963), 449–450.


Modernizing Confucianism Li Zehou’s Vision and Inspiration for an Unfinished Project Ming Dong GU

Co n f u c i a n ism h as, since its founding, undergone three or four phases of development, depending on which periodization one follows. Whether one follows the three-phase periodization advocated by Mou Zongsan1 and Tu Weiming2 or the four-phase periodization adopted by Li Zehou,3 the last phase in both periodizations overlaps and covers the same historical period, beginning with the late Qing. Because the central objective of this phase is preoccupied with how to confront the challenges of modern times, it has effectively formed a century-long intellectual movement, which I wish to call the modernization of Confucianism. In a way, it is not without reason to say that all the phases, except for the initial one, may be described as a continuous project of modernization. Of course, it seems rather anachronistic to refer to all the phases of development as a process of modernization, because its premodern development has nothing to do with what we call modernity. But if we accept modernization as a process of renewal and renovation aimed at making an ancient idea adaptable to social changes and challenges because of historical development, my claim is not without grounds. But strictly speaking, it is the last phase in both periodizations that can be regarded as a phase of modernization in the true sense of the word. In my opinion, the true phase of modernization in China started after its defeat in the First Sino-Japanese War and the initiation of the Hundred Days’ Reform in 1898. Before this time, all efforts at renewing Confucianism were aimed at tinkering and patching. Only after the Hundred Days’ Reform did the efforts for renovation amount to a structural overhaul of Confucianism, which aims at 74

Modernizing Confucianism


reconstructing this time-honored state orthodoxy so that it not only can serve the purpose of national salvation but also can stand as a modernized ideology that governs the political, ethical, religious, intellectual, and everyday life of the nation. In the past, this endeavor has generally been viewed as an effort to rejuvenate the national spirit for national salvation, but in my opinion, it should be viewed as a large-scale intellectual movement to restructure the intellectual foundation of Chinese culture. Practically all major intellectuals of China and some non-Chinese intellectuals from Japan, Korea, Singapore, and some Western countries have participated in this large-scale project, but an overview of the efforts informs us that although substantial progress has been made, the modernization project has by and large remained an unfinished task. Why an unfinished task? This can be seen from the various perspectives— political, economic, intellectual, and cultural. First, in spite of the large-scale Confucian revival after the Cultural Revolution, Confucianism is still very much a heated topic of controversy. In the minds of many Chinese, Confucianism has remained a conservative, outmoded, and even pernicious ideology responsible for nearly all Chinese problems. The recent dramatic event in which a gigantic statue of Confucius was first established in Tiananmen Square amidst great fanfare and shortly afterward was removed to another, inconspicuous place is an eloquent testimony to the controversial nature of Confucianism today. Even if we disregard this largely political reaction to the Confucian revival, we must admit that Confucianism has not yet been successfully reconstructed into a vital and valid form of intellectual thought that can fill the ideological, emotional, and spiritual vacuum of the Chinese nation after the end of the Cultural Revolution. If we compare the present-day renewal of Confucianism with the similar projects in the Han, Song, and Ming times, the modest success of renovating Confucianism in our time would convince us that the project of modernizing Confucianism is still far from being a finished task. In this chapter, I examine Li Zehou’s vision, insights, and critique of the major trends in Confucian thought and scholarship in relation to the major efforts at modernization in the past century and hope to find inspirations for identifying appropriate approaches to bring the modernization of Confucianism to a finish, even a tentative one. Li Zehou’s View of Confucianism

Although Li Zehou professes that he is not interested in constructing a system of Confucianism, he nevertheless offers his vision, insights, inspirations, theoretical approach, and practical strategies for interested scholars to read, understand, and creatively transform Confucianism and supplies concrete guidelines for the common people. Ontologically, Li seeks to answer the question, What


Li Zehou and the Modernization of Confucianism

exactly is Confucianism? This seems to be a simple question to answer but conceptually is a thorny issue that resists an easy answer. In his preface to his Reading the “Analects” Today, Li makes a paradoxical statement regarding the nature of Confucianism: it is neither a religion nor a philosophy but is at the same time both a religion and a philosophy. To be more exact, he describes Confucianism as a “semi-religion” as well as a “semi-philosophy.”4 Li’s view is not a new idea in existing scholarship, for various scholars have already characterized Confucianism as a “secular religion.” What is novel in his work is the accompanying analysis that supports his ideas from a conceptual point of view. Li states that as a semi-religion, Confucianism does not lay emphasis on revelation, a personal god, miracles, and so forth, but at the same time, it is endowed with the qualities of a religion, in which people find their spiritual consolation, life’s purpose, and emotional home. If Confucianism does not possess the usual requisites of a religion, how is it able to acquire its status as a semi-religion? Li offers an explanation that is twofold. On the one hand, he says, “Confucianism does not preclude religious beliefs. In the triadic unification of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism, Confucianism imperceptibly infiltrates other religions and transforms itself into vital contents and substantial elements of the other two religions.”5 In other words, it is through a parasitic or symbiotic existence that Confucianism has been able to perform the function of a secular religion. On the other hand, Confucianism has been called rujia 儒教 (Confucian religion) because it is not just a compendium of commonsense sayings and aphorisms for life but also is endowed with a strong sense of religiosity due to its “ultimate concerns”: It ardently pursues the meaning of life and seeks understandings of, and insights into, the transcendental and ethical realm of Heaven and Earth. In real life, these qualities and functions of Confucianism can serve as a home for people (individuals) to find their social position, personal fate, and spiritual devotion. It is therefore a “semi-religion” without a personal god or magic or miracles.6

In what way can Confucius be regarded as a philosopher? Confucius as the founder of Confucianism was not keen on speculative reasoning or logical thinking but interested only in expounding his thoughts in terms of commonsense anecdotes, stories, and everyday experiences. For this reason, Hegel disparagingly refers to the Analects as a collection of commonsense sayings devoid of the conceptual rigor and logical force of a philosophy. Li admits that Confucius was not primarily interested in exploring the metaphysical conditions of the universe and human life and instead was wholly preoccupied with introspections of how to live one’s life fully under heaven and in society. Despite this, Li

Modernizing Confucianism


does not hesitate to regard Confucianism as a philosophy, because Confucius’ major concerns are profound meditations on rational terms as he was engaged in investigating, demonstrating, and discovering reasons and rational categories by way of edifications and practical answers to his disciples’ questions. Instead of making a sweeping generalization, Li cites quotations from the Analects, analyzes them, and demonstrates their philosophical orientation and intent: “Do it if you feel comfortable with it” [汝安则为之] is an argument for ethical behavior and conversion to traditional rites and rituals; “What elapses is like water, which flows day and night” [逝者如斯夫, 不舍昼夜] is an adherence to and pursuit of life’s meanings; “Who would be this person’s disciple if I am not one” [吾非斯人之徒而谁与] is a profound affirmation of human subjectivity.7

Li nevertheless admits that Confucius’ reasoning differs radically from Plato’s investigation of idea or form and from Hegel’s logical construction of philosophical systems. Confucius’ pragmatic reasoning has a special feature: it is filled with emotional qualities of poetry. Indeed, the Confucian system of teachings admonishes people to live not only morally and ethically but also poetically and artistically. In this sense, Confucius’ way of reasoning easily reminds us of the way Heidegger in the latter half of his career conducted poetic investigations of philosophical issues. In his reconception of Confucianism, Li employs his own concept, “pragmatic reason,” to characterize the general nature of Confucian thought. He uses one sentence to summarize its nature: “Confucianism is a Chinese philosophy of pragmatic reason.” In terms of Li’s “philosophy of eating” (chifan zhezue 吃 饭哲学; figuratively, philosophy of living), and Raymond Williams’ conception of “culture,” I would like to complement Li’s “semi-religion” and “semi-philosophy” with another aspect: Confucianism is also a whole way of life—material, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual. Thus, Confucianism is a triadic unification of philosophy, religion, and life. To capture the essence of Confucianism with one epithet, we may say that Confucianism is a Chinese philosophy of life. Li Zehou’s Ethics: An Inspiring Theory for Modernization

In attempts to modernize Confucianism, there is a general trend of emphasis on Confucian ethics. Major scholars and thinkers have noted the importance of modernizing Confucian ethics as the major strategy to transform Chinese culture. In this regard, Li Zehou and the modern neo-Confucians, or New Confucians (新儒家), share a similar orientation. This is especially the case with Mou Zongsan. In terms of epistemology, Li and Mou share a similar approach,


Li Zehou and the Modernization of Confucianism

influenced by Kant. Interestingly, Li and Mou are both heavily influenced by Kant’s philosophy. Li wrote his masterpiece, Critique of Critical Philosophy: A New Key to Kant; Mou translated Kant’s three critiques into Chinese and employed Kant’s ideas extensively in his philosophical inquiry. Both men come to the realization that the general trend in modern philosophy after Kant has moved in the direction of ethics. In terms of topics and themes for philosophical inquiry, both Li and Mou show strong interest in the core idea of Confucian thought: “sagely inside and kingly outside” (or inner sageliness and outer kingliness 内圣外王). But because of their different concerns, orientations, and understandings of Confucianism, each of them offers a different reconception of the Confucian core. Although there are various ways to understand the expression, “sagely inside and kingly outside” may be explained in terms of an individual’s personal cultivation and social engagement. The reconception of this idea by many later scholars and thinkers, including the neo-Confucians, does not depart radically from the main orientation expressed by another Confucian statement in the Great Learning (Daxue 大学), rigorously promoted by the Song Confucians: “Investigate things to acquire true knowledge, make thoughts sincere to rectify one’s heart, cultivate oneself to run a harmonious family, and participate in state affairs to maintain peace for all under heaven” (格物致知, 诚意正心, 修身齐家, 治国平天 下).8 Mou Zongsan provides a modernized reconception of this idea. In his view, because Chinese culture has a tradition of moral subjectivity but no tradition of intellectual subjectivity and political subjectivity, it is strong in inner sageliness and weak in outer kingliness. As a consequence, Chinese culture encountered serious challenges from Western culture in modern times. To modernize Chinese culture, it is necessary to reconceive and renovate the Confucian tradition of inner sageliness and outer kingliness. For this purpose, he proposes a theory to renovate the Confucian learning of inner sageliness so as to produce a new form of outer kingliness. In simple terms, his theory is to call on the moral subject who has attained sageliness to stoop down to the level of ordinary life, thereby engaging in activities of democracy and science. What forms the philosophical basis of his new theory is an integration of the heart-mind thought of Confucius, Mencius, Lu Xiangshan, and Wang Yangming with Kant’s philosophy. Mou’s theory is certainly modern and innovative in its ideas, but it has obvious drawbacks. For one thing, Mou overlooks the outer kingliness tradition pioneered by Xunzi, who investigated humans’ relations with the natural world and offered precious insights into the inner workings of the universe. The pity is that Xunzi’s line of Confucianism was not regarded as the orthodox line, a prejudice shared by Mou Zongsan and other neo-Confucians. For another thing, to argue that Chinese tradition lacks intellectual subjectivity and political subjectivity is to overlook the implications of the Confucian tenet “Investigate things to acquire knowl-

Modernizing Confucianism


edge, . . . and participate in state affairs to maintain peace for all under heaven,” which is the core of the Great Learning, sanctioned and promoted by Confucians from the Song through the Ming to the Qing. In the reconception of “inner sageliness and outer kingliness,” Li Zehou has an advantage over New Confucians. While the latter have an idealistic conceptual grounding, Li has formulated a practical philosophy based on his own ethical theory, with two kinds of morality at its core. Li’s ethical theory is an elaborate system that examines the interrelationships of humanity, human existence, government, law, religion, individual, family, community, and historical psychology. In his preface to his Outline of Ethics (伦理学纲要), Li states: Generally speaking, my book explores some of the most fundamental questions of ethics from the philosophical perspective of anthro-­historical ontology predicated on the Chinese tradition’s ontology of feelings. Starting with the question of “why is a human being human?” it classifies morality and ethics into a duality of inner and outer categories, further divides morality into religious and social categories, conceives humanity as a triadic unity of abilities, feelings, and ideas, and proposes such notions as “common humanity” and “a new round of reciprocal utilization of Confucianism and Legalism,” etc.9

Clearly, Li is following the philosophical trend initiated by Kant, who pays more attention to ethics in philosophical inquiries and upholds ethical ontology as the very basis of human beings’ fundamental difference from animals. And Li’s ethical theory covers a good deal of similar ground traversed by other thinkers, Chinese and Western. But there is a fundamental difference between his ethics and that of others. In contrast to the binary division in modern ethics between the ethics of political philosophy based on justice and human rights and the ethics of religious philosophy based on morality and goodness, Li advances his own dual conception of ethics into “religious morality” and “social morality.” What is more valuable is that Li has made elaborate efforts to explore how the two kinds of morality come about, how they are similar to and different from each other, and how they interact with each other in real life. Briefly, “religious morality” refers to a moral duty imposed on an individual, who, because he is a member of the humanity that nurtures him, must devote himself to the totality of human existence, including sacrificing himself. This moral duty is a categorical imperative, which must be obeyed unconditionally. Since this moral duty represents the totality of humanity’s existence, it transcends the interest of any group, nation, class, society, or time and is higher than any concrete historical event and endeavor. As a consequence, it acquires the sacred nature of heaven, God, and the divine.10


Li Zehou and the Modernization of Confucianism

If “religious morality” has the aura of otherworldliness, then “social morality” as a kind of moral duty or categorical imperative is, in contrast, this-worldly and located in a specific time, place, and society and is directly related to the collective interest and well-being of a specific social group, class, or nation. It is therefore relative and changeable. It consists of a set of ethical rules and moral principles that change according to different times, societies, circumstances, and interested concerns. The ethical rules and moral principles take the form of laws, regulations, contracts, customs, and habits, which are oftentimes imposed on the individual from outside and gradually transform into an individual’s selfconscious inner desires after a long period of historical conditioning.11 Both kinds of morality share the common ground of making laws for one’s own behavior; both are imperative orders and rules imposed by reason on one’s sensuous existence; both take the psychological forms of “good conscience.” Their difference lies in that while religious morality is related to one’s inner beliefs and represents the highest value one pursues in accordance with a motivating force such as the will of God, social morality is related to laws, customs, and circumstances and represents the duty and obligation one must fulfill in accordance with the demands of a social group. As Li puts it, “Whereas the former is the highest ideal, the latter is the minimum requirement for an individual.” The two kinds of morality are both separate and interrelated. Social morality often appears in the form of religious morality. In other words, “human rules and regulations may appear as the divine will.”12 With the two kinds of morality as his conceptual tool, Li offers his reinterpretation of the Confucian core by connecting “religious morality” with “sagely inside,” and “social morality” with “kingly outside.” In so doing, he charts a new course of the Confucian development in history and reveals how the two kinds of morality have exerted their positive and negative impacts on Chinese culture and society: The former (religious morality) developed from Confucius and Mencius to the Song Confucians into a quasi-religious endeavor devoted to the acquisition of a personal existence in which Confucianism and Daoism (Buddhism as well) complement each other, which was vigorously promoted by the Song School of Reason with the result of copious expositions. The latter (social morality) originated from Confucius, was carried on by Xunzi, and converged with Daoism and the Yin-Yang School in a complementary way to become a complete system of ethico-political rules and regulations predicated on the reciprocal application of Confucianism and Legalism, which dominated Chinese history for two thousand years. The former is “sagely inside” while the latter is “kingly outside.”13

Modernizing Confucianism


In Li’s philosophical inquiry into ethics, he draws a conclusion that the intertwining of religious and social morality is the root cause of the Chinese tradition’s “unity of politics and religion” (政教合一). It is also the root cause of why Confucianism is both a philosophy and a religion. Extending Li’s ethical theory, I wish to argue that this is also the decisive inner motivating force for the inclusiveness and tolerance of Confucianism; it is also the inner property that enables Confucianism to renew and renovate itself in the face of constant challenges. It is the guarantee that will enable Confucianism to modernize itself in keeping with the changes and challenges of time and circumstances. Basing himself on a critical review of the historical development of the Confucian tradition, Li Zehou offers a conceptual definition of Confucianism. Confucianism integrates religiosity and philosophy into a totality. It does not employ a personal god to regulate human heart and soul. Instead, it relies on an ideology and a politico-religious system based on the Heaven-Man relationship to regulate human beings’ physical and emotional activities. One of its distinctive features is to integrate religious morality and social morality into the Chinese form of “unity of politics and religion,” elevate it to the philosophical height of cosmology (yin-yang and five-agent theory) and ontology (heartmind 心性), and use it as a doctrinal belief.14 Rujiao 儒教 (Confucian religion) as a religion contains the dual meaning found in the Chinese word jiao 教, which refers to both human cultivation (teaching and education) and human belief (faith and religion). The Value of Li Zehou’s Approach to Confucianism

Li Zehou’s view of the nature of Confucianism is of great importance because it may serve as the key to a full understanding of Confucianism and the starting point of a reconstruction. But in the present-day Chinese academia, this key point has not been given its due attention. As a consequence, the elements of the dual nature of Confucianism have often been studied independently. Because Confucius is not a Christ-like figure who can work miracles and return the dead to life, and neither is he the guru of a religion and the son of heaven, most modern scholars ignore the religiosity of Confucianism and emphasize only the status of Confucius as a thinker and a philosopher. Even the few scholars of neo-Confucianism who attach importance to the religious nature of Confucianism tend to overlook its popular and practical function as a secular religion and instead indulge in producing highly conceptual and abstract scholarship meant for scholars in studios, not for the common people in society. Li does not mince words in his criticism of this tendency in neo-Confucianism and Confucian Fundamentalism. Casting great doubt on this purely philosophical approach, Li proposes a


Li Zehou and the Modernization of Confucianism

new approach that, grounded in the recognition of Confucianism as a “semireligion” and “semi-philosophy,” adopts a strategy to deconstruct Confucianism first and then reconstruct it into a modern form. In a deconstructive move, Li disentangles Confucianism in its historical development into two separate but closely connected entities: reality (religion) and theory (philosophy). Citing Dong Zhongshu’s construction of Confucianism as a unified cosmology encompassing politics, religion, and ethics and establishing itself on the yinyang and five-agent theory and the reciprocal influence of Heaven and Man, Li holds that this system is both a philosophy and a religion and at the same time is neither a philosophy nor a religion. It is a philosophy because it is based on the yin-yang and five-agent theory. It is not a pure religion because it does not have a personal god who controls the human world. But the totalizing system governs, rules, controls, and directs the state orthodoxy and ideology. Then Li analyzes the Song-Ming School of Principle’s system of Confucianism based on Zhu Xi’s thought. Zhu Xi constructs an ontology of the heart-mind that centers on “heavenly principle and human desires.” Again, Confucianism is both a philosophy and not a philosophy. It does not recognize a personal god at the center of Song-Ming Confucianism, but it takes the form of moral laws that unite religion, ethics, and politics and regulates human behavior and thoughts.15 Whether it is the pre-Qin system of Confucianism originating from Confucian classics, or Dong Zhongshu’s reconstructed Han system of Confucianism, or Zhu Xi’s reconstructed Song system of Confucianism, or the New Confucianism, all phases of Confucianism contain philosophical and religious denotations and connotations that require deconstruction. Li’s major move of deconstruction is mainly to analyze Confucian ethics and morality as two related categories. First, he treats ethics and morality as an individual’s inner faith, cultivation, and emotions (private morality of a religious nature); second, he views ethics and morality as social behavior, customs, rules, and regulations (public morality of a social nature).16 While the former refers to religious morality, the latter is public morality. After this disentanglement, he traces the formation of each kind of morality to its original sources. Confucianism of the original classics comes from the rites and rituals of shamanism. The rites and rituals in high antiquity required the leaders of tribal communities to possess a personality and an integrity that were an integration of religious, social, and political credentials and qualifications. These qualifications were reflections of the combination of religion, politics, and ethics, which gathered together elements of religious morality and social morality. The former (religious morality) developed from Confucius and Mencius to neo-Confucians of the Song dynasty into an individual’s personal pursuit of a quasi-religious realm predicated on the complementary relationship of Confucianism and Daoism (Buddhism), which was promoted to its zenith and

Modernizing Confucianism


promulgated among the populace by the School of Principle (lixue 理学). The latter (social morality) came into being as a result of the integration of Confucius’ and Xunzi’s teachings with ideas of Daoism, Legalism, and the yin-yang school of thought. It eventually became a complete set of politico-ethical rules and regulations predicated on the complementary workings of Confucian and Legalist ideas and dominated Chinese history for two thousand years. In his critique of Mou Zongsan’s employment of “self-conscious stooping down of good conscience” (良知自我坎陷说) to connect “sagely inside” and “kingly outside,” Li Zehou expresses his dissatisfaction with Mou’s unconvincing way of reasoning and interrogates how the former can be meaningfully transformed into the latter. In his own reconception, Li employs his ethical theory of two kinds of morality to make up for the inadequacy of Mou’s theory and offers a new approach to an adequate understanding: the sagely inner world operates on religious morality, while the kingly outer world operates on social morality: Through transformative creation, religious morality (sagely inner world) can become an individual’s pursuit of the meaning of life and the exalted human condition, which takes the form of religion, philosophy, poetry, and art. Through transformative creation, social morality (kingly outer world) can become the Chinese form of a modern political system, which emphasizes interpersonal harmony, community relations, social ideals, unity of sense and sensibility, personal cultivation through education, and resolution of conflicts through negotiation. This Chinese system is capable of converging with a democratic system of politics and opening up new and creative avenues for the future.17

After an elaborate deconstruction of Confucianism, Li continues on with a reconstructive move. Adopting a traditional Chinese cultural system that can be traced back to Xunzi’s thought and Confucius’ teachings, he creatively transforms it into a new system. The traditional system is predicated on the five categories of heaven, earth, ruler, blood relations, and teachers. After the Republican Revolution in 1911, the category of “ruler” was replaced by “country.” In Li’s philosophical reexamination of the system, he infuses modern ideas into the old system and creatively transforms the traditional system into a modern system that reconciles the conflicts between religious morality and social morality, tradition and modernity, and Chinese and Western cultural concerns.18 He makes elaborate moves to explain the new system’s continuity with the old system, the resourcefulness of the old system for modern times, and his own reconceptualizations. In his Anthro-Historical Ontology (Renleixue lishi benti lun 人类学 历史本体论), Li explains why it is necessary to replace “ruler” with “country.” In his view, the word “country” does not simply refer to any state, government,


Li Zehou and the Modernization of Confucianism

political regime, or political system but refers to a sort of psychological identification with a vague and comprehensive historico-cultural commonwealth. He identifies its advantages over the old system: The cultural system of “heaven,” “earth” (the natural world or divine soul), “country” (home-place and ancestral land), “blood relations” (parents, grandparents, ancestors, relatives, and friends), and “teacher” (teachers, historical experience and events) is still able to exert an impact on real life and to help construct modern social morality, urgently needed for Chinese society. It can gradually change the confusing and disorderly mixture of two kinds of morality and reconstruct a “land of rites and rituals” in which the two kinds of morality are independent of each other but work in coordination.19 Confucianism in a Broad Sense and a Narrow Sense

Having examined Li Zehou’s study of Confucianism in relation to other scholars’ views, I have found a major line of thought that distinguishes Li’s thought from those of others. All scholars and thinkers who study Confucianism focus on texts, teachings, and ideas primarily in the Confucian tradition, and only secondarily do they relate it to other schools of thought like Daoism and Buddhism, which have already become part of Confucianism; but few would even touch Legalism, which has always been viewed as directly opposed to Confucian teachings and completely incompatible with Confucianism. Li is an exception. He not only talks about “the complementary empowerment of Confucianism and Daoism” (儒道互补) but also discusses “the reciprocal application of Confucianism and Legalism” (儒法互用). This broadening of scope has inestimable value and significance. It has multiple implications for the modernization project: (1) it implies that Confucianism is not just one of the intellectual foundations of Chinese culture but the very foundation of Chinese culture, with other schools of thought serving as its pillars; (2) it behooves us to move out of the exclusive focus on orthodox Confucianism and to include other schools of thought; (3) it facilitates the transformative use of traditional resources and may enable us to pioneer new approaches to Chinese tradition and to create new knowledge; (4) it suggests that Confucianism has the potential of becoming a universal thought; and (5) it may inspire us to reconstruct Confucianism as a school of thought with a universal value. In his study of the crisis in the Chinese consciousness in modern times, Lin Yu-sheng advocated an approach to Chinese tradition that can be summarized by his expression: “creative transformation” (创造性转换). Dissatisfied with this approach, Li inverts the two words in Lin’s saying and offers his own approach:

Modernizing Confucianism


“transformative creation” (转换型创造). He offers his elucidation: “What I am now talking about is ‘transformative creation.’ Transformation is reformation. It is a kind of reformative creation, not a new construction after shattering the old.”20 Although the two expressions share much in common, they are quite different in essence. Both expressions represent a reformist orientation. Lin’s proposal lays emphasis on the transformation of traditional resources and therefore represents a reformist approach that aims to make use of creative ingenuity to turn traditional intellectual resources into intellectual thought with a modern form. This kind of approach may give one the impression of pouring old wine (traditional thought) into a new bottle (modern form). Li’s proposal also makes use of traditional resources, but it lays emphasis on the creation of new forms of intellectual thought out of the traditional resources. To continue the analogy used to describe Lin’s approach, we may say that Li’s approach aims at producing new wine out of old wine and storing it in a new bottle. Both approaches have their advantages and disadvantages. Assimilating the insights of both approaches, I advocate a new approach that aims at “integrated creation.” It calls for innovative integration of all intellectual resources, Chinese and foreign, past and present, with the ultimate purpose of creating a new consciousness and subjectivity, which may serve as the spirit of a new society, a new culture, and a new world order. Returning to the wine analogy, I may say that this approach seeks to produce a new wine out of all kinds of old wines and store it in a new bottle. In fact, this new approach underlies Li’s own approach to modernizing Confucianism. As I mentioned above, he has called on us to reconstruct Confucianism not only by making full use of traditional Chinese resources but also by discriminately absorbing Western intellectual resources in classical Western philosophy, including Marxism, liberalism, existentialism, and even postmodernism. Li Zehou’s approach to Confucianism has inspired me to propose a new approach that conceives two forms of Confucianism: Confucianism in its narrow sense (狭义儒学), and Confucianism in its broad sense (广义儒学). It may not be far off the mark to say that up to the present day, Confucianism has been studied mostly in its narrow sense. As I noted above, scholars and thinkers have mainly focused their attention on materials and resources most directly related to the Confucian tradition in history. Only secondarily have they studied and reconstructed Confucianism in relation to other schools of thought. Still less have they assimilated foreign thought. Even if foreign ideas are assimilated, the result is either a far-fetched yoking of Chinese and Western thought, as is the case with Kang Youwei and Tan Sitong, or an adoption of Western philosophical concepts to explicate Chinese ideas, as is the case with Feng Youlan. Even when they study and restructure Confucianism by using intellectual sources from other traditions, they have adhered to the predominant centrality of Confucian thought and allowed only limited use of other resources. In this regard, Li Zehou is truly a pio-


Li Zehou and the Modernization of Confucianism

neer who not only has studied Confucianism in relation to other Chinese schools of thought, including Daoism, Legalism, and Buddhism, but also engages in the reconstruction of Confucianism by infusing ideas from Western philosophical thinkers, including Kant, Hegel, Marx, Heidegger, and others. His approach should inspire us to reconstruct Confucianism in its broadest possible sense. In a way, the outcome of the broad approach may be termed “Confucianism as substance, other resources as applications” (‌儒体他用). In the next section, I take a cue from Li’s vision and approach and sketch out a framework for constructing Confucianism in its broad sense, illustrated by a diagram (fig. 3.1). When looking at this diagram, people will inevitably ask these questions: 1. Given that the diagram shows a diverse array of intellectual resources from various traditions, is it feasible to synthesize these diverse resources into a holistic system of Confucianism? 2. Given that the diagram shows an eclectic collection of ideas drawn from differing traditions, can the final synthesis still be called Confucianism?

Figure 3.1. Structural skeleton for constructing Confucianism in its broad sense.

Modernizing Confucianism


3. Even if this approach is feasible, is it not Confucian-centric or ­Chinese-centric? Can we envision its acceptance by people from other traditions? To the first question, my answer is affirmative, because this sort of synthesis is what Confucianism has undergone since its founding stage. Dong Zhongshu, Wang Bi, Guo Xiang, Zhu Xi, and many other thinkers have engaged in exactly this kind of endeavor and constructed a version of Confucianism that has served as the orthodox ideology for over a millennium. Among them, Dong Zhongshu and others successfully merged Confucianism with the yin-yang and five-agent theory. Wang Bi and Guo Xiang merged Confucianism with Daoism. Zhou Dunyi, Cheng Yi, Zhu Xi, and Lu Xiangshan completed the long process of merging Confucianism with the Classic of Changes, the Taiji theory, and Chan Buddhism. Feng Youlan innovatively reconstructed Chinese philosophy in terms of Western philosophy. Mou Zongsan combined Song-Ming Confucianism with Kant’s philosophical theory. Li Zehou has achieved even more impressive successes. Not only has he called on people to go in this direction, but he has also done considerable work to broaden the scope of inquiry in this direction. He has traced the lineage of Legalism from Han Fei and Li Si to their teacher Xunzi and located persuasive connections between Confucianism and Legalism in relation to “sagely inside and kingly outside.”21 Following this crucial connection, Li Zehou identifies two lines of thought development in Confucianism: one features Confucius, Mencius, Cheng Yi, Cheng Hao, Zhu Xi, Lu Xiangshan, Wang Yangming, Liu Zongzhou, and others; and the second includes Confucius, Xunzi, Dong Zhongshu, Wang Bi, Wang Tong, Li Deyu, Wang Anshi, Chen Liang, Ye Shi, Zhang Juzheng, Gu Yanwu, Huang Zongyi, Wang Fuzhi, Zhang Xuecheng, and Tan Sitong, among others.22 Both lines of thought can be traced back to the founder, Confucius, as their origin, before they separated into two main lines with quite different orientations and emphasis. The first line, headed by Mencius, tends to develop inwardly and emphasizes inner cultivation (sagely inside), while the second line, headed by Xunzi, tends to develop outwardly and emphasizes outer leadership (kingly outside). Li Zehou, however, has pushed the origin further back to pre-­ Confucius’ time and suggests that Confucianism originated from rationalized shamanism (巫), with the Duke of Zhou as its initiator. Li therefore advocates a return to the pre-Song way of referring to Confucianism as the “school of Duke Zhou and Confucius” (周孔之道) instead of the “school of Confucius and Mencius” (孔孟之道). The former covers both “sagely inside” and “kingly outside,” but the latter tends to be exclusively “sagely inside.” Li calls for an equal emphasis on both lines of thought and argues against the New Confucians’ overemphasis on the line of thought initiated by Mencius and promoted by Song-Ming Confucians: “My opposition to neo-­Confucianism is concrete.


Li Zehou and the Modernization of Confucianism

The Song-Ming School of Principle and neo-Confucianism are [both] partial to ‘sagely inside,’ which is a continuation of the line developed by Yan Hui and Zengzi. But the line of thought developed by Zi Zhang, Zi Gong, and Zi Xia is a different one.”23 Li agrees with Kang Youwei that the Analects of Confucius was written by Zeng Zi and his followers, who jettisoned the main spirit of Confucius. If the Analects had been composed by Zi Zhang, who was immensely interested in politics and government, it would have been entirely different.24 Li also argues that in pre-Qin times, there was no Daoism as it is known today. In the writings of Zhuangzi, considerable space is devoted to Yan Hui. I can add that considerable space is also devoted to Confucius and other reputed Confucian thinkers. Their inclusion by Zhuangzi is evidence that Daoism is related to Confucius. Moreover, the School of Legalism is also related to Confucius. In this connection, there are two lines of development. First, Zi Xia taught and trained a group of scholars who later became Legalists. Second, Xunzi, who was a contemporary of Mencius, taught and trained a group of scholars that included Han Fei and Li Si, who later became the representative thinkers of Legalism. Li Zehou cites Chen Yinke’s viewpoint to support his idea. Chen said that Li Si “received the teachings of Xunzi and assisted in establishing the system of the Qin dynasty [受旬卿之学, 佐成秦制], a system to which a faction of Confucianism attached itself.”25 Moreover, Li Zehou suggests that “Confucianism not only assimilated ideas from Legalism but also from Mohism, Daoism, the Yin-Yang school, and others.”26 My summary of Li’s major ideas on the relationship between Confucianism and other schools of thought is meant to show that inner connections exist among all the traditional Chinese schools of thought and that it is feasible to creatively integrate the useful sources from the various schools into a reconstructed Confucianism in its broad sense. In a way, I suggest that all schools of pre-Qin Chinese thought—including Mingjia (Logicians), Nonjia (Agriculturalism), Bingjia (Art of War), Zhongheng Jia (School of Diplomacy), and Xiaoshuo Jia (School of Small Talk)—can be brought meaningfully into this reconception of Confucianism. Take the School of Small Talk and the School of Diplomacy, for example. According to Ban Gu, Confucius is believed to have said that “small talk” is a school of thought in which a gentleman can dabble but should not be involved too deeply.27 In contemporary times, xiaoshuo as the modern form of fiction has already become the most important literary form. As such, it is valuable in cultivating people’s inner world and thus can be brought into line with “sagely inside.” In the present-day world of globalization, the School of Diplomacy has some resources that can be aligned with the Confucian notion of “kingly outside” and generate insights for regions, nations, and states in their efforts to achieve peace, harmony, and cooperation in avoidance of conflict,

Modernizing Confucianism


strife, and war. Of course, we must admit that this synthesizing process has just started, and its completion will require the imagination, ingenuity, and creativity of many thinkers. With regard to the second question, I am of the opinion that so long as “sagely inside and kingly outside” is used as the linchpin in assimilating and absorbing ideas and insights from other schools of thought and traditions, Confucianism will remain Confucianism. The key is how to go about doing the job of assimilation and integration. Unlike other schools of thought and philosophy in the world, Confucianism is endowed with an inner mechanism that is open, inclusive, and accommodating. Thinkers and scholars across the world have always marveled at the absence of religious wars in Chinese history. The religious conflicts and wars involving Judaism, Christianity, and Islamism, and the doctrinal conflicts and controversy involving Catholicism and Protestantism, confirm from a different perspective the unique quality of openness and inclusiveness in Confucianism. The third question raises a charge of Confucian-centrism and even Chinese nationalism, but this charge does not have a reasonable ground, because the reformulated Confucianism in my conception is essentially a kind of universal humanism in its broad sense. This is also the opinion of many scholars and thinkers, including Arnold J. Toynbee, the most erudite and sagacious historian and philosopher of history in our time. He unequivocally views the “Confucian Weltanschauung” as “humanism,”28 which may serve as the unifying spirit of the world. In an extended dialogue between Toynbee and Daisaku Ikeda, later published as the book Choose Life, both of them are concerned that humanity in modern times is in serious trouble even though industrialization and economic development have achieved impressive successes. They believe that unless disparate cultures, traditions, and civilizations across the globe merge into one world, humankind may destroy itself in a suicidal manner in this technologically advanced world. As Toynbee expresses it, “I believe that the human race will be unable to survive unless it achieves political unification quickly.”29 How can political unity be achieved? Both Toynbee and Ikeda agree that political unity needs to be established on a spiritual unity, which means that the human race needs to find a common religion or spiritual faith that can serve as the unifying glue and be accepted by people of all races and nations on a voluntary basis. Which civilization can possibly provide spiritual resources for a common religion and philosophy? Ikeda and many others were surprised by Toynbee’s response to that question: “The future unifier of the world will not be a Western or a Westernized country but will be China. . . . Perhaps it is China’s destiny now to give political unity and peace not just to half but to all the world.”30 Toynbee made this statement in 1973, when China was far less developed economically and materially, a situation he readily recognized in his talk. What, then, in Chi-


Li Zehou and the Modernization of Confucianism

nese civilization prompted him to express this opinion? Toynbee enumerated eight assets preserved by East Asia that “may enable it to become the geographical and cultural axis for the unification of the whole world.” Six of them are Chinese, and most of them are based on the political, social, ethical, and spiritual resources of Confucianism. The six Chinese assets are the political “model of a worldwide world-state”; “the ecumenical spirit” (all-under-heaven-ism in Chinese); “the humanism of the Confucian Weltanschauung”; “the rationalism of both Confucianism and Buddhism”; the spiritual reverence for the universe; and the pursuit of harmony between humanity and nature.31 Toynbee’s identified cultural assets of East Asia are basically a conglomerate of cultural values rooted in Confucianism, with elements of Daoism, Buddhism, and other schools of Asian thought. Toynbee’s conception is, in the final analysis, an integrated form of universal humanism, in line with my idea of global Confucianism inspired by Li Zehou’s vision and approach. Li Zehou once said that he is basically engaged in using Chinese thought to digest Marx, Kant, Hegel, and other Western thought with the aim of producing a Chinese thought based on his guiding principle: “Western thought as substance, Chinese thought for application” (西体中用). His principle is a chiasmatic inversion of Zhang Zhidong’s famous saying “Chinese learning as substance, Western learning for function” (中体西用).32 We must admit that Zhang’s saying is avowedly China-centric. But Li’s saying completely reverses the situation. Indeed, Li’s saying may be criticized by others as being Westerncentric. But in terms of Kant’s moral imperative—“Human beings are the ultimate purpose”—Li’s aphorism reflects a sort of human-centrism that aims at humanity’s full development irrespective of race, class, gender, ethnicity, and nationality. Even though all human beings belong to a group, class, race, and nation, we are bound together by our very humanity. In the reconception of Confucianism, not only should we find intellectual resources in the Chinese tradition, which can be brought into dialogues with intellectual thought in the Western tradition, but we should also seek intellectual resources in other, nonWestern traditions and assimilate them into the modernized version of Confucianism. In this way, Confucianism can indeed become a school of thought with genuinely universal values. As one example, tolerance is a very much talked about idea in this age of globalization, and the idea of tolerance is found in practically all traditions, including Judaic, Christian, Islamic, and Confucian. Although all traditions recognize the idea of tolerance, the Confucian way of tolerance has genuinely universal value. While tolerance in other traditions is predicated either on the communitarian model or on the liberal model, it is endowed with the undesirable denotations of bearing, enduring, suffering, and putting up with, as well as the negative connotation of moral distaste and disapproval. As Wendy Brown points out, “Tolerance [in the West] involves

Modernizing Confucianism


neither neutrality toward nor respect for that which is being tolerated. Rather, tolerance checks an attitude or condition of disapproval, disdain, or revulsion with a particular kind of overcoming—one that is enabled either by the fortitude to throw off the danger or by the capaciousness to incorporate it or license its existence.”33 In contrast, the Confucian way of tolerance is constructed on the model of moral virtue, similar to and more practical than Kant’s humanistic moral law couched in his categorical imperatives. By infusing both the liberal and the communitarian models of tolerance into the Confucian way of tolerance, we can formulate a new Confucian way of tolerance, which can be accepted by people of all races, nations, and ethnic groups. Besides the idea of tolerance, Confucianism contains other ideas that have universal value and appeal, such as benevolence, harmony, the Great Commonality, filial piety, and more. In my opinion, the concept of Confucian tolerance should serve as a viable example for reconceptualizing Confucianism into a global thought of universal values. A Hundred Schools of Thought into One

In the Spring and Autumn period and the Warring States period in Chinese history, there was an intellectual movement in which the so-called Hundred Schools of Thought contended with each other for authority, power, and dominance. Modern studies tell us that the Hundred Schools actually consisted of at most a dozen schools of thought during the Warring States period. Now, in the age of globalization, literally hundreds of schools of thought exist in the world. In restructuring Confucianism in the present day, we should merge this present-day “hundred schools of thought” into one (百家归一), which would be a new kind of Confucianism in the broad sense. I envision that, in the foreseeable future, another intellectual movement will appear in China in which the present-day hundred schools of thought contend, combine, and converge into one school with Confucianism at its core. On a worldwide scale, a similar intellectual movement will merge schools of thought from all traditions. This worldwide movement will be a true merging of the hundred schools, because the hundred schools are not restricted to philosophical thought in the Chinese tradition. To merge the hundred schools of thought in the world into one, we must construct a version of Confucianism in its broadest possible sense, one that I call globalized Confucianism (全球化儒学). A global Confucianism with universal appeal must draw intellectual resources from Chinese and non-­Chinese traditions. Only with this broad approach can we reconceptualize Confucianism into a universal thought—or a Chinese thought with universal values and appeals. Only then will the project of modernizing Confucianism come to a periodic finish.


Li Zehou and the Modernization of Confucianism

Notes 1.  Mou Zongsan, Moral Idealism (Daode de lixiang zhuyi 道德的理想主义) (Taipei: Taiwan xuesheng shuju, 1985), 2. 2. Zhou Qin, “The Global Significance of Local Experience: An Interview with Tu Weiming” (Bentu jingyan de quanqiu yiyi: Wei Shijie Hanxue chuangkan fang Professor Du Weiming), Shijie hanxue (World sinology) 1 (1998): 8–22. 3. Li Zehou, On the Four Periods of Confucianism (Shuo ruxue siqi 说儒学四期) (Shanghai: Yiwen chubanshe, 2012), 17. 4. Li Zehou, Reading the “Analects” Today (Lunyu jindu 论语今读) (Beijing: Sanlian shudian, 2006), 3. 5. Ibid. 6. Ibid. 7. Ibid. 8.  The English version is my translation. 9. Li Zehou, An Outline of Ethics (Lunlixue gangyao 伦理学纲要) (Beijing: Renmin ribao chubanshe, 2010), 1. 10.  Ibid., 10–11. 11.  Ibid., 11–12. 12.  Ibid., 12. 13.  Ibid., 6. 14.  Li Zehou, preface to Li, Reading the “Analects” Today, 5. 15. Ibid. 16.  Ibid., 5–6. 17.  Ibid., 6–7. 18. Li Zehou, Anthro-Historical Ontology (Renleixue lishi bentilun 人类学历史本体 论) (Tianjin: Tianjin shehui kexue chubanshe, 2008), 114–121. 19.  Ibid., 119. 20. Li Zehou, Records of Li Zehou’s Conversations in Recent Years (Li Zehou jinnian dawen lu 李泽厚近年答问录) (Tianjin: Tianjin shehui kexue chubanshe, 2006), 21. 21. Li Zehou, On Traditional Chinese Intellectual History (Zhongguo gudai sixiang shilun 中国古代思想史论), new ed. (Tianjin: Tianjin shehui kexue chubanshe, 2008), 306–311. 22.  Ibid., 211–233. 23.  Li Zehou, “Two Lines of Thought of Confucianism” (Ruxue de liangtiao xiansuo 儒学的两条线索), in Li, Conversations in Recent Years, 19. 24.  Ibid., 20. 25.  Quoted in ibid., 30. 26.  Li, “Two Lines of Thought,” 32. 27. Ban Gu, “Hanshu yiwenzhi” 汉书艺文志 (Records of literature and art in Han history), in Ban Gu, Qian Hanshu 前汉书 (History of former Han) (Shanghai: Tongwen shuju, 1894), juan 30, 30a. 28.  Arnold Toynbee and Daisaku Ikeda, Choose Life: A Dialogue, ed. Richard L. Cage (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), 249.

Modernizing Confucianism


29.  Ibid., 246. 30.  Ibid., 250–251. 31.  Ibid., 249. 32. Zhang Zhidong, “Exhortation to Learning,” in Sources of Chinese Tradition, vol. 2, comp. Wm. Theodore de Bary and Richard Lufrano (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000), 244. 33. Wendy Brown, Regulating Aversion: Tolerance in the Age of Identity and Empire (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2006), 26.


Determinism and the Problem of Individual Freedom in Li Zehou’s Thought Andrew LAMBERT

Li Zeh ou ’s wo rk can be understood as an account of a Chinese modernity, a vision for Chinese society that seeks to integrate three distinct philosophical approaches. These are Chinese history and culture, which Li understands as largely Confucian; Marxism, which has exerted such influence on a modernizing China; and Western learning more generally, as expressed by figures such as Immanuel Kant and Sigmund Freud. Li also frequently expresses the hope that a Chinese modernity will be one in which the importance of the individual is recognized and rights and freedoms are upheld.1 But this stance raises an important question: how are individuality and freedom understood in Li’s philosophical system? In this chapter, I examine what resources Li offers to help us conceptualize their place in a modernity with Chinese characteristics. Confucian culture is often regarded as authoritarian and hierarchical, less interested than more liberal traditions in an ideal such as freedom. So how does freedom relate to the Confucian root of Chinese culture, as construed by Li? And is his call for a China that respects individual freedoms a direct consequence of his theoretical commitments, or it is a more personal stance? Exploring the issues of individuality and freedom in Li’s work is important for another reason; it enables us to better understand Li’s philosophical framework and how the three major influences noted above are integrated. Specifically, questions of individuality and freedom arise at the intersection of two great philosophical thrusts in Li’s work. These are a deterministic thrust, derived from Marxist historical materialism, and his interest in personal free94

Determinism and the Problem of Individual Freedom


dom. Examining the conceptions of individuality and freedom that Li offers will tell us whether he can successfully navigate what appears, at least initially, to be a troubling tension between these two thrusts. A Tension in Li Zehou’s Work

A tension arises from Li’s reliance on a deterministic account of the relationship between society and the individual, on the one hand, and his account of the individual as a site of innovation and a starting point for social change. The Marxist component of Li’s theory suggests that the final explanation of why society is as it is, and why people act as they do, resides in the technological-social base of society. There is, however, something illiberal about this, since it implies that people’s actions are explained not by their own choices but by larger, sometimes unnoticed, social and economic forces. Li attempts to marry this foundation of historical materialism with Kantian accounts of the human psychology and cognitive structures. On the surface this approach is appealing, because it seems to bring with it Kant’s concern with freedom—that a person’s action—or more accurately, a person’s will—is not conditioned by external forces but is the product of that person’s own choices. But this amalgam of two influential philosophies brings its own difficulties. Specifically, it is not clear that Li has escaped the problem of determinism that arises when all human action is traced to an external material base. How do we know that the thoughts, feelings, and desires that lead to action are not themselves the product of external material forces, which we do not control? This tension might also be stated in terms of two chains of causal influence that flow in opposite directions. The first moves from external social forces in toward the individual, while the second flows outward from the individual, bringing about change in the world around the individual. There is a puzzle as to how these two elements of Li’s philosophical system fit together, as well as the question of whether he can articulate a viable conception of human freedom built on a deterministic foundation. What follows is an attempt to articulate that tension and to explore possible resolutions to it suggested in Li’s work, including the various conceptions of freedom that he considers. Can Li’s work bequeath a novel account of freedom—a freedom consistent with Confucian values—or is his work too invested in the kind of social determinism from which liberal reformers wish to escape? We are looking for an account of how the individual in Li’s system can be an agent of change in his or her environment while also being the product of that environment. In what follows, I first outline the tension in Li’s work. I describe the social determinism implicit in Li’s adaptations of Marxist ideas, in notions such as the cultural-psychological formation (wenhua xinli jiegou) and sedimentation


Li Zehou and the Modernization of Confucianism

(  ji­dian). I then explore accounts of individuality and freedom in Li’s work, which might provide philosophical justification for contemporary calls for personal freedom and respect for human rights. To anticipate what then follows, I argue that some of those accounts, particularly those that draw on Kant’s work on rationality and the will, are problematic; but Li’s work in aesthetics does offer a novel account of freedom and a valuable form of individuality with Confucian characteristics. This freedom involves orienting desires and emotions toward shared communal objects and experiences, which allows for the coordination of desires (not merely private desire satisfaction) and the capacity to generate aesthetic goods such as beauty, delight, and a sense of ease. This freedom is something cultivated, not merely possessed as a right, and emerges from a variety of cultivated psychological responses that are grounded in stable social structures and human relationships. First, however, a clarification is necessary. Li’s work is complex and multifaceted. He covers much ground, from Kant, Marx, and Heidegger to, more recently, Michael Sandel’s work on justice.2 Some have criticized Li for glossing too lightly over major thinkers and their ideas.3 Setting aside this reservation, Li describes his own work as opening up new lines of inquiry and offering suggestive but speculative theories, rather than systematically developing a single theme or idea.4 As a result, an attempt such as this to focus narrowly on particular themes or assertions in Li’s work is vulnerable to an objection—namely, that Li offers the grounds for a response elsewhere in his vast collection of writings. This possibility cannot be ruled out, although disparate comments and thoughts are not necessarily complete responses. More importantly, I hope that the following discussion will serve to unpack some of Li’s valuable contributions to Chinese thought and, as Li himself hopes, encourage more discussion of ideas broached but not fully explored in his writing. Determinism in Li’s Work: Historical Materialism

Li offers a theory of what he calls historical ontology or anthropological ontology. This is derived from Marx’ deterministic theory of historical materialism, which Li explicitly commends as a mode of social explanation5 but which features important differences. Li shares with Marx the conviction that the most fundamental explanation of human existence is rooted in the material and social worlds. Human life is ultimately to be understood in terms of the development of tool use and the evolution of productive forces such as science and technology. In his On Traditional Chinese Intellectual History, Li quotes approvingly from The German Ideology, in which Marx emphasizes how society and social structure determine the life of the individual, as the following quote illustrates: “Individuals find their conditions of existence predestined, and hence may have

Determinism and the Problem of Individual Freedom


their position in life and their personal development assigned to them by their class, and become subsumed under it.”6 As Li’s use of this passage makes clear, individual life is conditioned by a more fundamental social reality.7 Wanting to understand the nature of human life, we should not start from first-person experience and subjective reflection, for these are merely the outcome of productive forces and social practices. Instead, we must first understand the latter and how they give rise to the kind of consciousness and patterns of thought experienced at the personal and subjective level. However, Li’s ideas are to be distinguished from classical Marxism in several important ways. First, Li has little interest in class as a unit of social analysis; he focuses more on technology, social practices and their historical origins, and the effects of both on the individual person. Also, while Li’s work retains the notion of historical evolution, he discards the idea that society evolves through discrete stages of history. No objective blueprint or schedule of social evolution can be identified, and history does not progress toward a revolutionary conclusion.8 Science, technology, and productive forces do drive the evolution of human society, but their effects are understood, not in terms of broad social categories such as discrete historical epochs, but rather in terms of the psychology of the individual. This focus on the inner life of the individual is arguably Li’s most important difference from Marx. Unlike Marx, who might dismiss firstperson experiences as false consciousness or for failing to reflect deeper structural realities, Li grants theoretical weight to the structure of inner experiences. But he retains the deterministic thrust of Marx’ work: changing technology and social conditions generate and structure an individual psychology. Li’s use of the term “psychology” (xinli) here is very broad, including diverse aspects of human consciousness such as concepts, emotions, and desires. This direct link between productive forces or social practices, on the one hand, and the mental lives of individuals on the other is captured by Li’s idea of the cultural-psychological formation (wenhua-xinli jiegou). In Li’s words, “Human psychology is the product of our human history.”9 The exact causal pathways involved are, Li maintains, empirical matters rather than theoretical questions and are difficult to specify in the absence of advances in empirical psychology. Nevertheless, this framework for explaining human consciousness, or “psychology,” illustrates Li’s deterministic account of how society progresses. The deterministic nature of this framework can be articulated in at least three ways. The first is that all concepts have their origins in external social practices. In this, Li agrees with anthropologist Clifford Geertz’ claim that human nature is the product of history and culture.10 Even the most fundamental concepts and categories through which humans experience and make sense of the world originate in social practices. These include concepts such as time and causation. Li thus opposes philosophers, such as Kant, who claim a priori


Li Zehou and the Modernization of Confucianism

knowledge or categories of experience. Even ideas that seem to us to be commonsense, requiring no education and having no basis in any particular social practice are found, upon correct investigation, to be the product of some social practice (though it might be so ancient that we are no longer aware of the link between practice and thought). There is thus no a priori structure of human cognition or thought that is independent of social context and material forces. The individual mind is entirely rooted in the external world. A second feature of this system, which ties thought to external social practice, is the tendency toward cultural relativism at both the conceptual and evaluative (moral) levels. The forms of life or social practices determine the conceptual and normative frameworks through which communities and individuals understand the world. For example, those who lived in farming communities would understand the world in terms of those practices that constituted agricultural production. In the case of China, Li explains how a distinctively Chinese cultural-psychological formation can be traced back to Confucian culture and to the primitive agrarian society that preceded Confucius.11 Li identifies in that tradition two particular foundational social practices that structured people’s worldview: clan-based hierarchical social relationships and ritual, both of which date from prehistoric times. Clan structures, which gave rise to stable communities and prized seniority, shaped Confucian moral ideals such as humaneness (ren),12 while ritual was the attempt to codify early efforts to organize human use of tools to meet basic human needs.13 But ritual also had a psychological function: participating in ritualized practice served to implant ideas and ways of seeing the world into the minds of participants, bringing about shared social understandings that generated social order. People’s attention and thinking were drawn to the same things—such as the practices that produced and sustained crops in an agricultural society; they experienced the same emotions toward those features of the world, and those emotions were also reinforced through joyous, aesthetically striking ritualized songs and dance;14 and they experienced a sense of unity of harmony as a result of such social and emotional unity. Such shared norms and understandings were then formally codified as laws and institutions. In this way, social practices such as ritual determined subjects’ conceptual understanding, emotional dispositions, and sense of what was rational or reasonable. The role of social practices in structuring individual psychology and judgment can be traced down through Chinese history. Li also offers a similar historical and cultural analysis regarding how beauty evolved within the Chinese tradition and how this form of aesthetic consciousness is different from the kinds of aesthetic appreciation that emerged in non-Chinese cultural traditions.15 This theoretical approach has several strengths. Li’s theory and the theoretical defense of relativism therein allow for the Chinese (i.e., Confucian) tra-

Determinism and the Problem of Individual Freedom


dition to be treated as an independent historical and cultural tradition, not one to be understood through Western historical models (though clearly Li borrows from Marx to some extent). Different cultural traditions can, over time, interact and influence each other, but they do so as equals, such that any “Western” cultural tradition might take as much from China as China takes from it. Another strength of Li’s framework derives from the weight it grants to history and existing tradition in explaining both society and the life of the individual. The socially grounded holistic nature of this theory provides a plausible rationalization of Confucian values, in which history and tradition are so prominent. Li’s historical ontology enables him to defend the Confucian tradition, making the values and claims that define that it appear broadly reflective of truths about underlying reality. However, the relativism of this framework also creates difficulty for understanding how freedom and individuality fit into it. Given its implicit conceptual and moral relativism, the question arises of whether individuals can conceive of the world in ways independent of the historically rooted practices under whose influence they live. Similarly, the framework suggests that the subject’s normative judgments—what the subject considers reasonable, good, right, beautiful, and so forth—are conditioned by the social environment in which they live. Such a stance does not deny the possibility of critical reflection, but it does suggest that it arises only within a framework rooted in a preexisting social reality. Further, the importance of unity and shared socially responsive emotions raises questions about the relative importance of dissent, resistance, and individuality. A third deterministic force in Li’s work is his account of human nature as, in part, a biologically grounded human nature. Certain biological needs or dispositions are common to all members of the species and are reflected in certain social practices. The clearest example of this is Li’s account of filial conduct (xiao). The importance of this value in Confucian thought stems partly from the fact that it reflects a generic human nature—the affective bond between parent and child. Parents feel love toward offspring, while children feel respect and fear toward parents.16 The biological reality of this bond is, Li argues, expressed in Analects 17.21.17 Therein, Zaiwo questions the need for three years of mourning for parents; Confucius answers that cultivated persons find “no relish” in “fine food,” “no pleasure” in “music,” and “no comfort” in “lodgings.” For Li, this line is evidence of a deep psychological bond between child and parent that is rooted in biology. Presenting Confucianism as a form of naturalism, in which generic features of humanity shape the conceptions of ethics that govern human life, is plausible and has a textual basis. However, it raises questions for other parts of Li’s grander philosophical system. Specifically, it raises questions about how such biological forces fit with the cultural and social practices described above, and


Li Zehou and the Modernization of Confucianism

the role that each plays in determining individual psychology. Which aspects of that psychology are due to social factors and which are biological? Perhaps this question can be left open as an empirical issue awaiting investigation. What matters is that this form of explanation adds another deterministic element to Li’s theory. We should note, however, that Li himself also claims biology as a source of individuality and uniqueness.18 He insists that the particular biologically determined differences that arise between people (presumably, differences such as height and even temperament) can never be adequately captured by theory and must be accepted as a form of individuality. To what extent biologically determined differences between people are more significant than biologically determined similarities is a substantial debate that cannot be settled here. Suffice it to say that, given how appeals to biology in settling the question of human nature are inherently deterministic, there is scope for questioning whether Li’s appeal to biology further reduces the scope for a theory of undetermined, free human action. Since this is an open question, I will set aside the question of biological determinism in what follows. Let us summarize the deterministic strand of Li’s thought. Li’s theory provides an explanation of how various forces condition individual psychology without themselves being subject to the endorsement of the individual. Following Marx, material forces and technology determine the social practices that constitute society, and these in turn determine the inner lives of people in those societies, including both the conceptual schemes through which they order experience, their emotional responses, and their conceptions of rationality and the reasonable. Further, such processes are understood as arising within specific historical and cultural traditions, and Li’s work mainly focuses on the form such forces have taken within Chinese history. This is captured in the muchdiscussed slogan “xiti zhongyong” (“a Western root with Chinese application” 西体中用):19 a broadly Marxist ontology is applied to Chinese history. This means that Chinese social practices and accompanying psychology have been influenced by a civilization rooted in hierarchical clan and kinship relations and ritual practices. It was from this root in agricultural communities that Confucian thought emerged and sought to refine and respond to such circumstances. So what room does this account leave for individuality, such that a modern China can be the product of the cultural forces that created it, yet also grant greater recognition to individual persons as they emerge against such a background of culturally determined norms, thoughts, and feelings? Unlike classical Marxism, this account has no transcendental historical narrative or God’s-eye perspective that the intellect can draw upon to ascertain the fundamental laws of history—knowledge of which would constitute freedom from the confusion of everyday social life. The direction of social trends

Determinism and the Problem of Individual Freedom


and thus individual psychology cannot be charted in advance. If rational judgments and emotional responses are conditioned by our social lives, then the conceptual space for individual choice, unconditioned by social forces, diminishes. This suits the Confucian tradition and the idea that all selves are social selves, but it creates challenges for ideals such as freedom and self-­determination. For example, in a society in which being a filial son, receptive to parental need and opinion, is highly valued, it becomes harder to explain and positively value a person who does not behave in such a way but, rather, seeks to live a more independent life. As Li often discusses, the Confucian tradition frequently promotes the ideal of a thoroughgoing unity, perhaps best expressed in the idea of tianren heyi (unity of the cosmos and humanity). As the Liushi Chunqiu states, “Unity brings peace, and differences bring danger.”20 Given such an emphasis on unity, what prospects are there for a Chinese modernity that is molded by earlier social practices but can accommodate greater emphasis on individuality, without abandoning that past? This is not to claim that Li’s work lacks any responses to this question; rather, the deterministic forces contained within Li’s own theoretical framework present challenges to any account of how the direction of causation and influence flow the other way—from the individual out into the social world. Li hopes to provide such an account by drawing European Enlightenment thought, specifically, on Kant’s notion of the rational and autonomous subject. But how does this work, and is Li successful? Li on the Power of the Individual to Initiate Social Change

To understand the reverse process—that of the individual subject controlling and reordering the social world—it is useful to understand the point at which human action arises in Li’s system, at least from the subject’s point of view. As noted above, the inner life of the subject, xinli (often translated as “psychology”), is one element in Li’s cultural-psychological formation. Although I will use the term “psychology” here for the sake of consistency, it should be noted that xinli is broader in meaning than the English term suggests. Xinli refers to the point at which a person or subject encounters or experiences the world, and it includes all the reactions, feelings, motivations, and thoughts that a person has when confronting events in the world. Given this psychology, the human subject as active agent is captured by Li’s term zhutixing.21 This word is usually translated as “subjectivity” or “subjectality” (to underline the difference between it and passive notions of subjectivity). Li writes that zhutixing refers to a human person who has “the capacity of an active entity” and who has “an active capability in relation to its environment.”22


Li Zehou and the Modernization of Confucianism

In articulating this active quality of the human subject, Li follows Kant’s division of the human subject into the three realms of the intellect (cognition), the aesthetic, and the moral. Li emphasizes that the origin of the active quality lies within that part of the psychological formation that constitutes the moral realm, and the moral will in particular. In his “Fourth Outline of Human Subjectivity,” Li writes that “morality is prior to cognition.”23 Thus, despite the critical stance taken in his earlier work on Kant,24 Li in later work is drawn back to Kant’s account of the moral realm as a realm of freedom. In his Outline of My Philosophy (Zhexue gangyao),25 Li comes to view the categorical imperative, and the capacity to abide by it, as the ability that distinguishes humans qua humans (in contrast to animals, which lack this form of rationality). Li, pace Kant, still holds that all ideas and norms have their origin in social practice and experience; but he accepts that certain ideas or principles (including the categorical imperative) are so central to how a person thinks that they appear to be a priori or innate. Thus, although Kant was mistaken about the origins of the categorical imperative—claiming it to be the product of pure practical reason—he was correct in ascribing to it the highest possible moral worth. That is because the categorical imperative indicates a will, a morally good will, which is conditioned in a special and law-like way. At its simplest, the will is a conscious striving to bring about the ends that an agent seeks to realize. But such willing is vulnerable to the vagaries of desire and the emotions and is thus not free. Only a will that is structured by a commitment solely to those ends that could reasonably be endorsed by any rational agent is a truly good will. And in making one’s will conform to such universal law-like regularity, the subject attains freedom—from the deterministic empirical world and from the capricious influences of the body and human desire. The capacity to set one’s will in such a way that it cannot be swayed by empirical concerns is also a source of personal worth. Willful fortitude in the face of both the world and one’s narrower self-interest bestows the highest worth on human life. If humans are capable, as rational individuals, of obeying the categorical imperative, then they are worthy of respect qua individuals. Understanding the inner life of the human subject in this way would thus provide a theoretical justification for greater recognition of individual rights and individual freedoms in contemporary Chinese society. Appealing to Kant to develop an account of freedom consistent with the features of the Chinese Confucian tradition stressed by Li faces difficulties, however. Specifically, its relation to other elements of Li’s theory is puzzling.26 Furthermore, I believe that Li’s work contains other more interesting ideas, which could be developed into an account of freedom without relying on a Kantian framework.

Determinism and the Problem of Individual Freedom


Problems with the Kantian Notion of Freedom

Various problems accompany this attempted merger of Kantian and Marxist thought; here I consider three. First, it is possible to question Li’s appeal to Kant’s categorical imperative by directly questioning the value of appealing to the categorical imperative as the ground of freedom and individual dignity— that is, by questioning the assumptions made in Kant’s moral philosophy. The most direct challenge is to ask why binding oneself to a law, allowing oneself to be constrained by it, should be understood as a form of freedom. Kant’s answer was that this law-like structuring of the will was a form of pure practical reason, a higher former of rationality than instrumental reasoning. It insulated subjects from the deterministic forces of the empirical world and allowed the agents to be author of their own laws. But this idea requires belief in this special form of rationality, which many philosophers have rejected. Setting aside this question, there is the simpler objection that the categorical imperative presents a counterintuitive account of freedom. Rather than consisting of being bound to a law, freedom is often understood as liberating oneself from compulsion and rejecting laws or rules. Arguably, this is a more intuitively plausible and compelling notion of freedom. Furthermore, there is the objection that the categorical imperative amounts to an empty formalism—it permits too much and thus cannot serve to ensure that personal freedom is protected. Its lack of specificity means that it could be used to justify or permit policies or actions that threaten personal freedoms, since it is unclear whether the policies or actions are “universalizable” or not. As Li himself notes, Kant regarded this ethical commitment as being compatible with the restriction of voting rights to property owners.27 Hence, abstract moral principles alone, despite the well-meant supervisory role of rational reflection, do not guarantee the safeguarding of individual rights and freedoms that Li calls for. Rather than pursue such objections to Kant’s moral theory, however, I will focus instead on its relation to Li’s philosophical system. Problems Integrating the Categorical Imperative into Li’s Theoretical Framework

The first issue to be considered regarding integration of the categorical imperative into Li’s theoretical framework is how the categorical imperative can be a foundational principle, given that Li rejects Kant’s category of the a priori in human cognition. More specifically, given that such a form of rationality is not crucial to the Confucian tradition—a tradition in which, according to Li, pragmatic reasoning (shiyong lixing) dominates—then how could it come to hold a dominant place in the psychological formation of a subject immersed in that


Li Zehou and the Modernization of Confucianism

tradition?28 It might be a worthy moral ideal, one that all people should adopt, but this does answer the question of how it comes to have authority with the particular cultural-psychological formation that develops within the Confucian tradition. In fact, Li has an answer to this question, at least in theory. One of the appealing features of Li’s system is that the cultural-psychological formation of a group or tradition is unbounded—it is open to all influences, as long as these can be integrated into existing social practices and categories of understanding. Over time and through interaction with other cultures, globalized psychological formations could emerge. The Chinese tradition—as one set of social practices, along with concepts and feelings that make up individual ­psychology—could absorb other initially alien influences, including the idea of the categorical imperative. In a global marketplace of concepts and ways of thinking and feeling, the categorical imperative could emerge as the acme of reason, something to which subjects feel a strong commitment. Li seems to present the categorical imperative in this way, as a universal ideal toward which all people or cultures will evolve. This is a possibility. However, for at least two reasons we can ask whether it should be treated as such a foundational, authoritative norm. First, the appeal of Li’s original account was its implicit call for greater recognition of different cultural traditions, each of which might prioritize different moral principles or norms. Importing the categorical imperative into an account of Chinese modernity and freedom threatens to undermine this feature of Li’s work. This is particularly relevant in the case of China because, and here lies the second reservation, the Confucian tradition emphasizes commitment to personal attachments and family. Such commitments to nearest and dearest can conflict with commitments to the kind of impartiality represented by the categorical imperative, and such that it is not clear which should take priority.29 Thus, whether or not the categorical imperative will become a global foundational moral principle seems, according to Li’s own theory of culturalpsychological formation, to be an open question, one answered only by seeing how social and historical practices do, in fact, evolve. The Categorical Imperative Obscures Other Elements of Li’s Thought Relevant to Freedom

A further reason to resist the temptation to appeal to Kantian moral theory in the context of a Chinese modernity is that it obscures other important aspects of Li’s work, which can themselves form the basis of novel conceptions of freedom and individuality. The rich psychological picture of the human subject developed by Li, particularly in his work on aesthetics, differs from the more

Determinism and the Problem of Individual Freedom


restrictive psychology of action involved in upholding the categorical imperative. For instance, Kant famously does not grant any moral authority to feelings in the determination of action. But in Li’s psychology, feelings are reliable because they partly derive from and reflect social and historical order. Indeed, Li explicitly disagrees with Kant here: “I think he [Kant] places too great an emphasis on the rational faculties. Many other psychological functions participate in the free play [of ideas]; these include the emotions, sensations, desires, and the unconscious.”30 Here Li is talking about Kant’s conception of aesthetics, but the comment also applies to the contrast between the two accounts of how human action ideally arises. The Kantian view treats rational action as having a specific form. It is acting according to principle, which involves the willful “overruling” of potentially disruptive impulses. This kind of willful self-­control is the grounds of freedom and self-respect. In contrast, Li’s “psychology” of rational action is more nebulous, recognizing that a broader array of forces can be the source of reasonable conduct. Li’s psychology suggests a sensibility in which action arises from various mental events; these include emotions and intuitions that are not clearly connected to a principle or any systematic conception of action or desired ends. Such actions might merely seem, intuitively, to be appropriate. In addition to the recognition of different sources of rationality, there is also an issue of rational sensitivity. Emphasizing the conditioning of the will according to a specific principle diminishes sensitivity to the many factors considered irrelevant to that principle. But the psychological subject in Li’s work is responsive to a much wider set of influences, since his or her sensitivity is not the product of a single principle and can treat such influences as reasonable or rational. This can be thought of as an aesthetic sensibility, which grants motivational force to emotion, intuition, and even unconscious influences. In fact, it is Li’s work in aesthetics that furnishes his most interesting conception of freedom and individuality, one that is consistent with many of the features of the Confucian tradition that Li describes. Before turning to that account, we should note another major development in Li’s work that sits uneasily with attempts to elevate Kantian moral theory to a global ideal. In following Kant, Li has unwittingly accepted a host of cultural assumptions that are implicit in Kant’s narrow focus on the will but do not fit the cultural assumptions ascribed to the Confucian tradition. Kant was a puritanical moralist and, as Bertrand Russell notes, Puritanism has produced a morality that places great emphasis on the will—that is, free and knowing personal choice.31 But a Puritan morality of personal conduct might be of limited relevance to a tradition infused with Confucian values, which lacks any developed notion of will in the Kantian sense.32 Furthermore, Li has good reason to be wary of any conception of action that conveys religious ideas, such as Puritanism. This


Li Zehou and the Modernization of Confucianism

wariness derives from his claim that the Chinese tradition be understood as a “culture grounded in pleasant feeling” (legan wenhua 乐感文化), sometimes translated as a “culture of optimism.” The basic premise of legan wenhua is that the Chinese tradition features a “one world” view.33 There is only one realm from which ultimate human meaning can be derived, and it is the historical and social human world. No higher transcendental realm exists to guide conduct. This is confirmed in the ideal of a unity of the cosmic and the human (tianren heyi).34 The Chinese tradition thus contrasts with traditions that derive their ethical and social codes from a creator God. However, the will as the source of human action is important in the Puritanical moral tradition because it is the instrument through which the subject can make himself or herself worthy of entering a divine realm, a second world. It is redolent with self-denial and a flawed human nature (responsible intrusive passions), which is overcome by an appropriately conditioned will. Insofar as Li strongly opposes any suggestion of a transcendent world in the Chinese tradition, he is compelled to reject any construal of a human will derived from such metaphysical assumptions; and Kant’s work emerges from just such a religious orientation. In addition to making us wary of any account of freedom too firmly grounded in the notion of a moral will, Li’s notion of a culture grounded in pleasant feelings (legan wenhua) also serves as the starting point for a different conception of freedom and individuality. This is one grounded in pleasure and the aesthetic sensibility. Li’s idea of legan wenhua offers a different picture of the origins of worthwhile human action. Life is short and its hazards many, and such insecure conditions lead to an existential drive to make the most of life in this world, without recourse to a higher realm. Under such conditions, the highest human end is the ability to realize pleasure despite the circumstances; and in the Confucian tradition, such pleasure is primarily realized in the pursuit of the everyday social life and in particular through interpersonal relationships.35 This idea, combined with Li’s nuanced and realistic picture of psychology and rational action, can be used to develop an aesthetic notion of individual freedom that is consistent with Li’s account of the Confucian tradition. Freedom and Individuality in an Aesthetic Tradition

In developing his aesthetics, Li again follows Kant, accepting his threefold division of the realms of human experience into intellectual, moral, and aesthetic. While the kind of freedom developed via the categorical imperative resides in the intellectual or rational realm, it is possible to approach freedom through an account of the self as an aesthetic sensibility. The power to reorder and remake the world (freedom) resides not solely in intellectual capacity and conscious

Determinism and the Problem of Individual Freedom


willful striving but also in cultivated and reliable aesthetic responses, allied with practical skill and imagination. Li explains the notion of aesthetics in this way: “Aesthetics is the sedimentation of social entities (concepts, ideals, attitudes, and meanings) onto psychological functions, particularly the emotions and sensory cognition.”36 On this account, freedom consists in a kind of attunement to the social world in which the subjects are immersed, which enhances their capacity for action. An already-existing external social reality permeates and molds inner emotions or, to use Li’s term, humanizes inner nature (ziran de renhua).37 The freedom that this process, when coupled with the relevant practical training and skills, enhances is the capacity to contribute to the lives of those with whom one shares everyday life—that is, to lead them to aesthetic experiences broadly categorized as pleasant (le). This conception of freedom has strong affinities with a Confucian culture rooted in personal ties and pleasant feeling (legan wenhua). It is the logical consequence of a worldview lacking a transcendental realm of value, and it expresses traditional Confucian ideals such as delight or pleasure (le 乐), homeliness or repose (an 安), and ease ( yi 逸), which are much discussed in Chinese aesthetics.38 This account of freedom emerges from Li’s account of the cultural-­ psychological formation, which includes an aesthetic psychological formation.39 The human subject becomes increasingly sensitive to aesthetic experiences in two ways: through the increasingly aesthetic quality of the environment as it is shaped by human activity, and through individual education in, among other things, music and poetry, both of which cultivate an aesthetic sensibility.40 The result is an inner nature—thoughts, sensibility, dispositions, and motivations— that gradually harmonizes with external circumstances and social practices. The subjects become better able to respond to their environment and produce actions that, in their social milieu, bring about shared delight or, as Li also calls it, beauty. Aesthetic sensibility can serve as the basis for practical action in the social world because “musical harmony is similar in structure to the harmony of human relationships,” an idea rooted in the Xunzi and the Zuozhuan.41 The idea is that actions, like music, that powerfully convey sensuous experiences can influence human emotions and desires and thus can direct action and remove conflict. This conception of freedom as the developing of an aesthetic sensibility, and a practical ability grounded in that sensibility, can be sketched further by examining Li’s gloss on Analects 8.8, which reads: “Be awakened by poetry, be established by ritual, be perfected in music.”42 According to Li, this passage represents a developmental pathway to an enhanced level of agency or influence in the world. Let us consider each part of this three-part development account of character in turn, for each conveys an important aspect of aesthetic freedom.


Li Zehou and the Modernization of Confucianism

The phrase “Be awakened by poetry” echoes Confucius’ exhortation to his followers to read the Classic of Songs to develop a richer vocabulary (Analects 17.9). For Li, however, “Be awakened by poetry” is a reference not merely to poetry or sung verse but to all literary forms. Reminiscent of a plea for a humanities-style education, it is a call to be well read and familiar with all sources of basic knowledge about the world—politics, history, and so forth. Li describes such learning as “establishing the structure of the intellect,” or the “internalization of rationality.”43 The goal is to acquire a more sophisticated conceptual grasp of the details and subtleties of the surrounding world, within which the subject must live and act. There are two ways in which such learning contributes to an aesthetic conception of freedom. First, the literature and ideas that a subject acquires are those of a shared tradition, and this shared cultural understanding facilitates practical interactions. Any person embedded in the Confucian tradition will see the world through the common ideas of the classical texts and history, which have shaped the present. Furthermore, these ideas and concepts are not “cold” and inertly factual; they include a “warm” affective and motivating element. For example, heroic figures arouse emotions among all persons who are aware of their deeds. Ideally, a learned person can appeal to and utilize these shared images and motifs in directing the conduct of others, on account of this shared emotional resonance among members of that tradition.44 One example is how shared motifs in Confucian poetry consistently arouse certain emotions in the reader, as in a person who consistently feels sadness at witnessing the suffering of others. Li’s quote from Sui and Tang dynasties scholar Kong Yingda is apt here: “What one expresses in a poem is but one’s own personal heart; yet this ‘personal’ heart is actually the heart of the whole people.”45 Scholarly learning thus comes to have a practical impact on society. The second phrase in Analects 8.8, “be established by ritual,” expresses a further aspect of aestheticized freedom, one in which practical accomplishments are central. Within Li’s philosophical framework, the rites refer to the social practices that create and sustain a social or geographical community. Ritual is important for three reasons. First, “ritual” refers to the passive training of character and to the internalization of communal regulations.46 This might include forming the habit of daily greetings for parents. Habitually complying with norms enables subjects to function within the social practices that constitute their social world. The second reason is that the Confucian emphasis on ritual also involves an active component, in that a social philosophy based on ritual idealizes practical mastery. The human subject must act in various social settings and so must learn to manipulate the relevant physical objects appropriately; this requires an understanding of how they work and the laws that govern them. Unlike mere

Determinism and the Problem of Individual Freedom


ceremony, the relevant kind of rituals here requires application and practice to master—such as the six Confucian arts, which include charioteering and archery. While such practical learning and knowledge of governing laws is initially directed to objects treated in a ritual context, this basic mode of learning applies to practical conduct in general. It produces people who are able to work with and make use of objective laws of nature—in a manner that is described in Xunzi’s naturalistic account of tian (the cosmos or heavens).47 People must understand the laws that govern the behavior of objects that they use. A subject with such practical and theoretical know-how can, for example, plant and harvest crops successfully, as well as skillfully maintain good relations with others. Ritual is thus a means to being practically effective in the world in general. A third function of ritual in the classical Confucian account is the molding of a specific set of biologically grounded emotional responses. The emotional lives of humans can be ordered, and their emotional connections with others adjusted, through ritual practice. For Li, humans and animals share certain primitive desires and emotions—as Analects 2.7 notes, for example, dogs, horses, and humans all naturally have feelings for their parents. But what distinguishes the humans is the capacity to cultivate and refine such feelings. This is the purpose of ritual, and such refined feelings are constitutive of the Confucian ideal of humaneness (ren). For example, Li understands xiao 孝 (filial conduct) as an emotional sensibility, and ritual should refine the natural love of child for parents into the emotions of filial conduct, which he characterizes as respect and fear.48 Ritual thus cultivates the emotions integral to family life, enabling individuals to flourish therein. But the task of cultivating the emotions continues beyond the family. In order to become “humane” (ren), this emotional engagement must develop into a compassion for others that extends as far as the clan network extends. The key idea here, also captured by Li’s phrase “humanization of nature,” is that ritual serves to cultivate the emotional life of the subject. After all, individuals can fail to develop their emotional responses, remaining in tension with or baffled by the practices and emotions in their surrounding social world. The third phrase of Analects 8.8, “be perfected in music,” indicates the final element of a freedom that is rooted in the aesthetic realm: music. Li notes, “If the self-cultivation of the gentleman does not include the study of rites and music, it is impossible for him to become a complete person [cheng 诚].”49 How does music contribute to an account of freedom? The simplest answer is that it cultivates an emotional responsiveness— one who is exposed to and appreciates music has a fuller range of emotional responses.50 Furthermore, the coordination and attunement that musical mastery involves—appreciating which notes, rhythms, and melodies fit together; coordinating between music, voices, and instruments—is functionally similar


Li Zehou and the Modernization of Confucianism

to the workings of the emotional realm. Someone who appreciates musical harmony will also appreciate how emotions relate to and transition into each other and can find harmony among them. Consequently, the inner life of the “complete person” is characterized by heightened or more intense emotions, especially delight.51 The figure of Confucius illustrates this ideal, saying of himself, “This is the kind of man he is—so enthusiastic he forgets to eat, so joyful he forgets his sorrow, and totally unaware that old age is coming” (Analects 7.18). This education in affective coordination and complementarity, cultivated through musical training, translates to the human social world, where the same challenges of coordination and finding appropriate arrangements arise. Affective states cultivated by music become the foundation of thought and action. That is, the complete person’s practical responses to the world arise from emotional sensibilities and yet are reliable, or “on the mark.” This is partly because the emotional realm, although a higher realm of human experience, is not separated from the intellectual and practical dimensions of human cultivation but builds on the achievements of these other two realms. Li writes, “The aesthetic is purely sensuous but at the same time comprehends a history of rational sedimentation; it is natural but at the same time incorporates the accumulated achievements of society.”52 Cultivated persons in some sense embody the forces that Li identifies as driving social progress in general. Their rational sensibility reflects the sedimentation of traditional knowledge and social practices; they have achieved practical mastery, and their emotional reactions are structured by those social practices, enabling them to find beauty therein. This highest state of cultivation is what Confucius was referring to in Analects 2.4 when he declared that, at age seventy, he was able to “follow the desires of the heart without overstepping the bounds of right.” This achieved state, as Li notes, is a form of freedom.53 The emotions are unforced and spontaneous and yet have been successfully socialized so that they harmonize with practical and social norms. Further, someone with this degree of refinement can sense the mood of others, can identify practical needs, and has the skills and training needed to transform the mood or emotions of those with whom he or she interacts. The emotional impact of such practical skills is analogous to the effects of poets on their audience, although the latter work solely with words and not actions. This capacity to transform social interactions is one part of legan wenhua, a culture grounded in pleasant feeling. Further, in the Confucian tradition, this capacity is often understood to function in a specific context: kinship and human relationships. Li writes that “life’s significance emerges only in the context of interpersonal relationships within real-world society”54 and that what mattered most in Confucius’ intellectual milieu were “considerations of timebound interpersonal relationships and human emotion.”55 It is against such an

Determinism and the Problem of Individual Freedom


understanding of the most fundamental aims and purposes of human life—the creation of shared delight within networks of human attachment—that the value of such freedom becomes clear. Summarizing the Aesthetic Conception of Freedom

Li’s account of aesthetic cultivation and his interpretation of Analects 8.8 shows that there is a robust notion of individual freedom in Confucian thought, one that can inform how individual worth and dignity are understood in a Chinese modernity. It treats the diverse practical motivations of the human subject’s psychological formation (xinli jiegou)—including emotions and intuitions— as reliable and on an equal footing with narrower conceptions of rationality, such as self-consciously acting according to a principle. The rationality resides in the cultivated sensibility of the agent and the effectiveness in realizing aesthetic ends of beauty, ease, delight, and so forth. In his work, Li consistently stresses the role of the unconscious (wuyishi 无疑是) in determining action.56 However, “unconscious” here often refers to the fact that reasonable action can suggest itself to the subject, producing beneficial social results, without the subject understanding why that course of action presented itself when or as it did. This sense of the unconscious thus refers simply to what is not directly available to consciousness or what cannot be articulated.57 The lack of detailed justification for action does not imply a lack of freedom. Subjects must first understand the tradition—the many rituals and social practices that constitute it—from which their psychology emerges, while conditioning their psychology in the manner indicated by Analects 8.8; only then are their psychological responses trustworthy. But at the same time, because the lives of all members of a tradition are conditioned by the same technologies and social forces, the emotional responses of a properly trained subject can resonate with others. Such emotional responses are thus not capricious, irrational, or challenging to an otherwise free and rational subject, who must willfully resist them; their grounding in shared social practices bestows on them a veridical quality. Furthermore, when the Confucian tradition is understood as a culture in which this-worldly aesthetic goods such as pleasure are a primary aim, realized through networks of clan or human relationships, then understanding and creating what brings pleasure to others who share a social world is of utmost value. This involves the increasingly effortless capacity to put others and oneself at ease, guided by a rich array of psychological prompts—intuitions, emotions, practical knowledge. The ability to realize such a higher quality of interaction in everyday social life, particularly as shared pleasure, thus becomes an important conception of freedom. Arguably, such pleasures are not simply hedonistic and transient feelings


Li Zehou and the Modernization of Confucianism

of pleasure but are feelings that emerge as a result of deeper forms of accord and successful interaction between people. This is powerfully expressed in Mencius 4A27, which seems to suggest that the fruit of humaneness, the most powerful manifestation of it, is a musical expression of pleasure or delight that arises when human relationships are successful: “The most authentic expression of humaneness [ren] is serving one’s parents; the most authentic expression of rightness is following one’s elder brother. . . . When they come to the point where they cannot be stopped, then, without realizing it, one’s feet begin to step in time and one’s hands begin to dance.”58 Evaluating Li’s Account of Aesthetic Freedom and Its Place in a Chinese Modernity

Conceptualizing freedom in the aesthetic realm, while incorporating the definitive characteristics of the Confucian tradition, produces a nuanced account of freedom. This freedom is not understood as the mere absence of constraint or as crude desire-satisfaction. Rather, freedom becomes a capacity that is acquired only through effort and cultivation. A strength of this account is that aspects of Confucian social philosophy that initially appear conservative and ­constraining—the demandingness of, and need for attention to, personal attachments and roles—are recast as necessary ingredients of a more meaningful freedom. This account also suggests that a person might be most free when actions have a specific and limited focus—the local social world and the human relationships. It is here that a person’s actions have the most tangible effect and are most “meaningful”—as the emotional impact that accompanies the creation of memorable and moving shared social events. How does this conception of freedom compare with others? Clearly, it is a positive notion, requiring that a subject receive support to develop positive capacities. It thus contrasts with accounts of negative freedom that focus solely on noninterference. Li’s account suggests that a freedom that prizes noninterference is an empty freedom because it ignores substantive questions of what human nature is, how this arises through interaction with technology and social practices, and how this limits what a person can find satisfying. An individual’s thought can fail to track such a nature, and dissonance can arise between what a subject thinks will bring happiness and what, in fact, does. Libertarian ideals of freedom as isolation or independence are thus opposed at the level of metaphysics and foundational accounts of the self. A similar objection arises to the classic picture of freedom as being able to act on one’s desires. When freedom is understood in such terms, it ignores the origins of those desires and whether a person is really free in acting on them. The account of freedom derived from Li’s aesthetics suggests, for example, that

Determinism and the Problem of Individual Freedom


cruder, biologically rooted desires might be modified, transformed into socially responsive desires that are structured around stable external social practices and human relationships. Failure to cultivate one’s sensibility, acting instead from biological desires, is a failure to attain greater freedom. Since cultivated desires lead to greater shared pleasure and to the personal satisfaction in being able to direct and contribute socially, they are “higher” desires, indicative of greater freedom. Also, this alternative freedom brings with it a stronger sense of duty than is recognized on the classical liberal account. On the aesthetic view, freedom involves a commitment to social interaction and exchange, for this is the arena in which the aesthetic goods of beauty, ease, and pleasure are realized. This sense of obligation is not necessarily oppressive, however, but is an essential condition of realizing these shared affective goods. In the context of a modernity with Chinese characteristics, how does this notion of freedom fit with the contemporary calls for individual freedom and rights in China? It is not possible to address this question fully here, but take the example of freedom of speech. In the liberal democratic tradition, freedom of speech is sometimes understood as having the right to say whatever one wants. Clearly, the free exchange of ideas brings many benefits, such as the promotion of technological and economic progress. At the same time, even within liberal traditions the ideal of free speech is qualified, from the simple cases of prohibiting the shouting of fire in theatres to the more nuanced questions of whether hate speech should be permitted. Arguably, this aestheticized notion of freedom can contribute to the debate about the limits to free speech—and the kinds of goods it might conflict with. An approach that begins from the capacity to create ease and pleasure in everyday social networks suggests that speech should be treated as a social tool used to positively affect people’s aesthetic and emotional lives. The use of speech to bring about ease and delight thus imposes restrictions on how speech can be used, since it could bring about the opposite effects—increasing anxiety, animosity, and so forth. Unrestrained speech undoubtedly has many advantages, but focusing on the aesthetic realm of human experience reminds us that it is not the only human good, and there are times when a variety of human goods are available that cannot all be realized at the same time. Perhaps the sense of ease, homeliness, and a life imbued with a sense of le—pleasurable delight—can sometimes be a good to rival the ideal of unrestrained speech. Any claims in this area must be made with caution, but an honest and speculative extrapolation of the Confucian tradition into the present and future is exactly what Li Zehou has striven to promote. There are drawbacks to thinking of freedom as the skilled ability to generate and enjoy pleasure in networks of human relationships. Most obviously, focusing on the aesthetic realm and the subject’s immediate social world does not address broader political questions. For example, people could expend their


Li Zehou and the Modernization of Confucianism

energies on family and friends while living in an unjust social system and never directly confronting questions of political organization and human rights. The aesthetic in Chinese culture has sometimes been a refuge for writers who were prevented from addressing more substantive political questions of social organization. Li himself is mindful of this, citing it as a possible reason for the “aesthetics fever” that gripped China in the 1980s.59 However, against this concern, it seems entirely reasonable to claim that what most concerns people is often not abstract questions of rights and political systems but how their own lives— understood as local, limited affairs that are largely constituted by personal attachment and social interaction—can go as well as possible. And if this is the most basic existential question, as Li suggests, then the aesthetic conception of freedom is, after all, worthy of further exploration. I have argued that Li Zehou’s work on aesthetics offers a valuable notion of freedom, one in which the individual emerges from material and social forces but is not fully determined by them. This is not a freedom construed intellectually, something rooted in clarity of reason and the form and strength of the moral will. Rather, it is a freedom that emerges through education and gradual mastery of the concrete social practices that constitute the everyday life and interactions of the subject. The fruit of such training and enhanced sensibility is the capacity to create and share aesthetic goods. This is only one conception of freedom, and its importance must be assessed by placing it alongside other accounts of freedom, especially political freedoms about which this account has little to say. The scope of action for this freedom will be more limited than more individualistic notions of freedom as desire-satisfaction, but it is less prone to conflict and more easily made to serve a common good. The account is worthy of further investigation because of its innovative integration of aesthetic life and freedom and because of strong affinities with the Confucian tradition—a tradition that any viable vision of a Chinese modernity must address. Notes 1.  See, for example, Li Zehou, Four Essays on Aesthetics: Toward a Global View, trans. Li Zehou and Jane Cauvel (Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2006), 182. 2.  Li Zehou, “A Response to Michael Sandel and Other Matters,” trans. Paul J. D’Am­ brosio and Robert A. Carleo III, Philosophy East and West 66, no. 4 (2016): 1068–1147. 3.  John Zijiang Ding, “Li Zehou: Chinese Aesthetics from a Post-Marxist and Confucian Perspective,” in Contemporary Chinese Philosophy, ed. Chung-ying Cheng and Nicholas Bunnin (Oxford: Blackwell, 2002). 4. See, for example, Li’s mea culpa to this effect in the afterword of On Traditional Chinese Intellectual History (Zhongguo gudai sixiang shilun) (Beijing: People’s Press, 1985), 341–344; English translation by Andrew Lambert (forthcoming).

Determinism and the Problem of Individual Freedom


5.  For example, see Li, Four Essays on Aesthetics, trans. Li and Cauvel, 171. 6. Li, On Traditional Chinese Intellectual History, 66. Italics added. 7. The best-known formulation of this proposition is in Marx’ 1859 “Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy”: “It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.” In Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Selected Works, vol. 1 (Moscow: Moscow Foreign Language Publishing House, 1950), 329. For discussion of Li’s use of Marx and of Hegel, see Xin Gu, “Subjectivity, Modernity, and Chinese Hegelian Marxism: A Study of Li Zehou’s Philosophical Ideas from a Comparative Perspective,” Philosophy East and West 46, no. 2 (1966): 205–245. 8. However, arguably, Li does retain the ideal of humanity evolving toward a final, higher state. This state is one in which human psychology evolves to the point that beauty is recognized as the highest guiding value. See Li, Four Essays on Aesthetics, trans. Li and Cauvel. 9.  Ibid., 171. 10. Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays (New York: Basic Books, 1973), 47; Li, Four Essays on Aesthetics, trans. Li and Cauvel, 56, 101. 11. Li, On Traditional Chinese Intellectual History, chap. 1. 12. Ibid. 13. Li, Four Essays on Aesthetics, trans. Li and Cauvel, 177. 14.  Li holds that Confucian society grew out of shamanistic culture, in which charismatic figures led emotional rites and ceremonies, unifying and galvanizing the community (see his On Traditional Chinese Intellectual History). In its earliest forms, this culture also included petitioning deities for favorable natural conditions, such as rainfall. 15. Li Zehou, The Chinese Aesthetic Tradition, trans. Maija Bell Samei (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2009). 16. Li, On Traditional Chinese Intellectual History, 13–17. 17.  Li Zehou, Reading the “Analects” Today (Lunyu jindu) (Tianjin: Tianjin Academy of Social Sciences Press, 2007), 305. 18. Li, Four Essays on Aesthetics, trans. Li and Cauvel, 176. 19. This is a modification of the early twentieth-century reform movement’s slogan zhongti xiyong (a Chinese root with Western application). See Li Zehou, “The Western Is the Substance, and the Chinese Is for Application (Excerpts),” Contemporary Chinese Thought 31, no. 2 (1999–2000): 32–39. 20.  Quoted in Li, On Traditional Chinese Intellectual History, 82. 21. Li, Four Essays on Aesthetics, trans. Li and Cauvel, 40–42. 22.  Li, “The Western Is the Substance,” quoted in Ding, “Li Zehou: Chinese Aesthetics,” 247. 23.  Quoted in Ding, “Li Zehou: Chinese Aesthetics,” 255. 24. Li Zehou, Critique of Critical Philosophy: A New Key to Kant (Pipan zhexue de pipan: Kangde shuping) (Beijing: Beijing People’s Press, 1979). 25.  Li Zehou, An Outline of My Philosophy (Zhexue gangyao) (Taipei: Fengyun Shidai, 1990). 26.  This is not to claim that the categorical imperative is a bad ideal to adopt regarding ethical issues; nor is it necessarily incompatible with Li’s other philosophical commitments.


Li Zehou and the Modernization of Confucianism

Rather, focusing on it leads to the neglect of more fecund and suggestive aspects of Li’s work, which I address in the next section. 27.  Li Zehou, What Is Morality? (Shenme shi daode?) (Shanghai: East China Normal University Publishing, 2015), 51. 28. Some attempts have been made to understand Confucian ethics as similar to Kantian ethics, structured by a sense of duty and, arguably, instantiating something like a categorical imperative as a foundational moral commitment (see, for example, Sandra A. Wawrytko, “Confucius and Kant: The Ethics of Respect,” Philosophy East and West 32, no. 3 [1999]: 237–257). There are several reasons why this interpretation of Confucian ethics is misleading. Here I note just two. First, the Confucian emphasis on a consciousness of duty does not equate to the duty associated with the categorical imperative. There are many sources of duty—such as psychology and social obligation, both of which do appear in Confucian texts such as the Analects—but the duty associated with the categorical imperative is a rational duty, to uphold certain standards of reasoning, and there is no indication that the Confucians prioritized that form of duty. Second, while canonical texts such as the Analects recognized something like the Golden Rule (“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”; cf. Analects 15.23), this kind of rational or practical consistency is not identical with the demands of the categorical imperative. Kant himself insists that the categorical imperative and the Golden Rule are distinct (Li, Chinese Aesthetic Tradition, 48) and that the former is more demanding—the Golden Rule permits lying or a lack of benevolence as long as one accepts others will do likewise, but the categorical imperative prohibits lying while benevolence is an imperfect duty. 29. A helpful illustration of the depth of the conflict between impartiality and commitments to friends and family is provided by Marcia Baron in “Impartiality and Friendship,” Ethics 101, no. 4 (1991): 836–857. In her example, a family member in South America is on a waiting list for a major medical procedure. Given the waiting list, it is unclear whether the patient will die before the operation. However, another member of the family knows senior administrators at a hospital and can enable the patient to jump the queue and receive treatment ahead of others and ahead of the patient’s rightful turn. The question is, should the family use its connections with hospital administrators to jump the queue? It is not clear that the categorical imperative is the most fundamental ideal in this situation; nor, to repeat the earlier point, is it clear that is will offer any conclusive judgments even if it is applied. 30. Li, Four Essays on Aesthetics, trans. Li and Cauvel, 174. 31.  Bertrand Russell, The Conquest of Happiness (New York: Routledge, 2006), 55. 32. The term zhi 志 appears in classical Confucian texts such as the Analects and is used to emphasize individual resolve and application. See, for example, Analects 1.11, 2.4, 4.4, 4.9, and 5.26. But as noted earlier, this general idea of striving or determination is quite different from the will conditioned in the way Kant envisaged. 33. Li, On Traditional Chinese Intellectual History, 322–333. 34.  Ibid., 329. 35.  Li writes, “Life’s significance emerges only in the context of interpersonal relationships within real-world society,” in his Chinese Aesthetic Tradition, 55. 36.  Ibid., 7. 37. Li, Four Essays on Aesthetics, trans. Li and Cauvel.

Determinism and the Problem of Individual Freedom


38.  The idea that aesthetic education was of primary importance to a Chinese modernity was widely discussed by reformist thinkers such as May Fourth intellectual Cai Yuanpei. For details of Cai’s call for aesthetic education to replace religious teachings, see Liu Kang, Aesthetics and Marxism: Chinese Aesthetic Marxists and Their Western Contemporaries (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2000), 27–35. 39. Li, Four Essays on Aesthetics, trans. Li and Cauvel, 89. 40. Ibid. 41. Li, Chinese Aesthetic Tradition, 20. 42. Ibid., 49. Li also refers to Analects 7.6 to illustrate the “humanization” or socialization of incipient emotions and capacities: “Set your intention upon the Way, rely on its Virtue, lean on humaneness, wander in the arts” (ibid., 47). 43.  Ibid., 49–50. 44.  Ibid., 32. 45.  Ibid., 33. 46.  Ibid., 49. 47. Li, On Traditional Chinese Intellectual History, 107–124. 48. Ibid. 49. Li, Chinese Aesthetic Tradition, 49. 50.  Here Li draws on the close connection between music and emotions found in the Xunzi chapter “On Music,” in which particular tunes or notes are credited with being able to induce particular emotions in listeners, leading to the shared experiencing of an emotion or mood. Li is skeptical, however, about whether music correlates directly with the emotions such that, for example, a particular note codes for a particular emotion. See ibid., 18. 51.  This practical teleology in which pleasure or delight constitutes the highest goal is expressed in Analects 6.20: “To know something is not as good as to esteem it, and to esteem it is not as good as to take joy in it.” 52. Li, Chinese Aesthetic Tradition, 50. 53.  Ibid., 51. 54.  Ibid., 55. 55.  Ibid., 54. 56.  For example, he references Freud approvingly in relation to primitive instincts (see Li, Four Essays on Aesthetics, trans. Li and Cauvel, 147) and makes use of Carl Jung’s account of the collective unconscious (ibid., 87). 57. This idea is illustrated in Li’s account of Zhuangzi and how rejecting the many social rules of the Confucians and returning to nature could result in a more spontaneous and freer way of acting. Further, as Li notes, such a view was not ultimately distinct from Confucian thought but, rather, was incorporated into it (Li, Chinese Aesthetic Tradition, 105–116). 58.  In addition, the Confucian classics refer to le (pleasure), albeit only fragmentarily, as the product of successfully integrating into a cosmic metaphysical order. In the Mencius 7A4, for example, we find this: “The ten thousand things are complete within me. There is no greater delight than examining one’s person and finding oneself to be fully integrated [cheng].” 59. Li, Four Essays on Aesthetics, trans. Li and Cauvel, 23.


What Should the World Look Like? Li Zehou, Confucius, Kant, and the World Observer James GARRISON

As humans, we began working together with tools to produce food and shelter for survival. Some of these practices became rituals and, as such, they became rites. The rituals were not just habitual and efficacious ways to do something; they became the correct way. Then language described and reflected these rites, and we learned the good and bad ways to act. Morality emerged. Mores became codified into laws, and laws became the social structure of institutions. From this perspective, institutions are codified ritualized group behavior, far more complex than primitive ritualistic behavior but a natural evolution of it, and they shape human psychology. In the future, I think science will discover the major distinctions between animal psychology and human psychology, and how much debt humans owe to the history of culture. —Li Zehou

Collective Unconsciousness in Species-Level Subjectality and “Individual” Consciousness in Subjectivation

Consider the Confucian sage’s ability to appreciate the role of differentiation and deferral in meaning and significance, a particular skill and mastery of what Derrida would later call différance.1 Simply put, sages excel when it comes to the techniques of ritual propriety, or li 礼. Now, Confucian philosophy has developed on its own terms, li being very much one of them, and it thus has its own vocabulary for dealing with many of these issues. 118

What Should the World Look Like?


Li means ritual propriety, broadly connoting everything from the subtly ritual-habitual to grandiose formalities.2 Li, though rendered here in terms of a singular concept for the sake of smooth translation, is a bit more ambiguous, also connoting the plural form of ritual acts in a way that points to deep pluralism in the transactions of the everyday. To sum up, li is social grammar.3 Li, as Confucius puns, provides knowledge of where to stand.4 Li coordinates the where and when of social comings and goings. Li attends to gesture and comportment. Li describes how the players and the audience each take their various places and act just so at just the right time.5 Li forms a pair with yue 乐, music, or more precisely musical theatre, with connections to all arts.6 Li brings a convergence of bodily movement and moral excellence.7 Li is both a social grammar and a social choreography. Li encompasses what the classifications of academic philosophy might label the ethical and the aesthetic nature of the relational self. Li speaks to how language stands in society. Li connects the regulation of cultural expression and of society. Li sets up codes of difference and deferral in the basic historical movement of discourse. Li addresses much of what Derrida does with différance.8 Li expresses how the discursive climate defines how people live up (or down) to social role archetypes.9 Li describes the body that stands. Li relates linguistically to ti 体, the corpus, with a sense surpassing simple physical matter, pointing to the dynamic, ongoing arrangement of bodies.10 Li grounds self-cultivation, or xiushen 修 身 (literally, habilitating the person, the body). Li addresses the role of ritual in physical growth, coordination, and habituation. Li works in relational processes. Li thus deals with both “individual” human bodies and common bodies politic. Li provides knowledge of when to make a stand. Li conditions social relations. Li establishes bounds and bidirectional demands between ruler and adviser, parent and child. Li refers to a ritual-based sense of appropriateness, including knowing when and how to call out inappropriate failure to fulfill a name or role.11 And it is here that an element of myth operates in the Chinese account and in the account that leading contemporary philosopher Li Zehou advances. There exists a long tradition within Confucianism ascribing the establishment of language, music, and social order to mytho-historical sages like the muchlauded Yao.12 Here it is worth again recalling an observation made by Li Zehou: “Chinese sages transformed and rationalized the power of the shamans into rites and rituals and interpreted these powers as manifested in music and poetry to be constructive. Western scholars considered the powers of the muses attractive and powerful, but whimsical, and a threat to humans’ most treasured faculty: reason.”13


Li Zehou and the Modernization of Confucianism

With the constructive power of the arts so understood, Li Zehou blends Kantian, Marxian, and Confucian precepts to detail, not only how bodily and ritual self-consciousness arises through social forces, but also how unconscious social forces emerge as ritual technologies sediment over time. This is the meaning of “subjectality” as understood by Li Zehou, and this neologism addresses the historical roots of subject life and the use of collective cultural psychology as a tool in defining and refining human society. “Subjectality” is the term that he crafts to describe ritual’s formative role in human social life and its artful use as a tool for human survival. Briefly, Li uses Marx’ statements on the “humanization of nature” and the “naturalization of humanity” to explain how shamanistic art, music, and rituals were tools for social cohesion operant in the early material economy of humanity’s formative transactions with nature in pursuit of survival.14 Moving forward historically, Li sees Confucianism as being particularly apt (but not exclusively so) at describing and formalizing the culturalpsychological edifice sedimented in subject rationality.15 Here sedimentation is meant in a way similar to Pierre Bourdieu’s statement on bodily habit, or hexis, occurring such that “social necessity becomes [second] nature, converted into [sensori-]motor schemes and bodily automatisms.”16 Commenting on how the sedimenting of habit over time occurs in ways that outstrip any particular human being, Li traces the psychological construction of human nature to the history of tool usage, social interaction, and shamanic rites, with “the sediment of the human species (in its historical totality) [becoming] for the individual, the sediment of the rational for the sensuous, and the sediment of the social for the natural,” with the conclusion that “human beings alone possess some structure of cultural psychology.”17 And so, working in terms of the sedimentation of ritual, discursive, bodily practice, Li turns to Kant and Marx in his reconsideration of the Confucian framework of “being inspired by poetry, taking a stand with li [rites], and finding perfection in music”18 to describe how tools like ritual artifice form humankind’s suprabiological body, thus allowing for quasi-artisanal labor on an object, on a “noumenal humanity” akin to “Jung’s collective unconscious,” to provide an aesthetically structured source of internal freedom.19 This does not ascribe to human nature any kind of robust and spontaneous goodness, as happens with simple readings of Confucianism and Mencius. Summing up his own view on human nature, Li maintains, “Human nature is neither divine nature (since man has physical needs to maintain physical existence), nor animal nature (since man has the capability to control physical needs). Instead, it is the interwoven synthesis of the two aspects already mentioned.”20 Thus, Li loosely and somewhat implicitly follows the mainstream Confucian reading of the tradition’s secondary sages, Mencius and Xunzi, in his examination of what it is that distinguishes the human species from animals.21 Here

What Should the World Look Like?


Li reads the mainstream Confucian tradition quite narrowly, using insights particularly from Mencius to address how humans are naturally good at artifice.22 This means that humans have a capacity for building, cultivating, and ritualistically organizing ti-bodies in society, culture, and technology (in the dual sense of techne as art and craft). Li understands the sedimentation of artifice on a species level, albeit with his own particular notion of subjectality and the formation of Jungian collective unconsciousness.23 Li sees humans as being “adept” at artifice, at society, at culture, at artfully crafting techniques and technologies, from early shamanic rites to more developed and doctrinaire religions, governments, and regimes of discipline and punishment, to organize and order what for him is a distinctly material collective unconscious. To sum up, humans are “good” at making the “world” and making it look like something made, like an object of artifice. So the question emerges—what should the world look like? Working with the Confucian sage’s employment of ritual and bodily selfcultivation, Li casts the sage as an exemplar figure for understanding the proliferation of the dual processes that Marx calls the “humanization of nature” and the “naturalization of humanity,” where collective unconsciousness accrues and develops. As such, attunement to the material aesthetics of ritual in the body politic gives the Confucian sage special wisdom when it comes to this question of what the world should look like. And in this regard, Li holds that “the different formal structures, various proportions, balance, rhythm, and arrangements, which set out rules for socalled formal beauty, were first so because of the labors of human beings as they labored on and operated tools.”24 Li sees labor and the organization of labor as primarily aesthetic, for he writes, “Aesthetic experience arose first from daily labor. It is the feeling of form combining with a feeling of success, as the laboring skill harmonizes with the rhythms of nature.”25 Such aesthetic experience, shaped by daily labor, is deeply material, and it accrues over time into a sometimes-opaque mass of historical practice in the course of sedimentation. It is here that something like the language of forgetting enters the picture, albeit in terms of Jungian archetypes, of mytho-historic figures in the vein of Yao, the Confucian tradition’s ur-sage and bringer of ritual propriety. Li sees these Jungian archetypes and the development of collective unconsciousness primarily in terms of sedimentation, writing that “the unconscious is not any so-called ‘dim’ animal instinct but is a kind of nonconscious sedimentation achieved through conscious human exertion.”26 And so Li grapples with early human technical development vis-à-vis survival and mortality, and along with them, despite the lack of explicit phenomenological bearing on Li’s part, those familiar questions of authenticity, techne, and time appear. Writing more generally on the topic of mortality within the Confucian tradition, Li observes:


Li Zehou and the Modernization of Confucianism

If life has significance and value, then this allows the individual to end naturally without needing dread or grief; this is exactly the life-and-death ideal pursued by Confucian thinkers. If there must be grief, then that grief will really be about the very short span of life—time is too quick, and too short for understanding the value and meaning that one’s life has. . . . And so, on the one side, there is a weighty lamentation of human life’s impermanence, life’s short span, and on the other a solemn historical feeling and a striking sense of purpose.27

Li goes on to speak of emotionalized time in terms of attachment to existence and the course of humanity’s historical development, describing how “time, in the passage of human history, takes on accumulated emotional, affective significance, with the perception of [time] attached to human life and of rigid, objective [time] differing, [and] becoming entangled in feeling and emotion.”28 Claiming “emotionalized time” to be fundamental to the character of Chinese art and Confucian aesthetics, Li then links emotionalized time, oriented toward death, to something akin to Heideggerian authenticity: “If time lacks emotions, then it is just a mechanical framework and identical blankness. If emotions lack time, then they are nothing but animal instinct and empty life. Only [with emotionalized time]—looking forward (future), states of affairs (present), and memory (past)—is there genuinely vital human life.”29 Li’s Confucian, Kantian, and Marxian account of the development and proliferation of human technology points to authenticity being found in a specific mode of social artistry harking back to the sage. This means making conscious the “forgotten” sediment of collective unconsciousness as well as the dynamic through which such sediment accrues and loss is preserved through ritualized normative idealization in response to the challenges of survival. Here Li points to authenticity being found in emotionalized time, where emotion emerges through a certain relationship to human mortality transacted through ritual techniques. In my broader philosophical writings on ritual, this idea underscores how ritual serves as a pivot of sorts between time as a phenomenon that is measured by clocks and time on a phenomenological level situated between birth and death as subjects act in conditioned, patterned ways in order to secure recognition and continued existence. Li’s reading of subjectality therefore demands that this authenticity be located, at least to some extent, in what might be called the position of the world observer in evaluating human mortality on a species level. Having an authentic relationship to death, in which future expectation and present state of mind are tempered by past memory, requires an ongoing attempt to unearth unconscious historical sediment and make it available as material for future conscious exertion. Such sediment far outstrips the personal. This line of thinking thus calls

What Should the World Look Like?


for something of an anthropological and archeological sensibility in order to begin to come to grips with the long course of ritual technique running from the shamanic to the postindustrial age. At this point in considering artful human development along the lines of Li Zehou, Kant comes back into the discussion, albeit obliquely. A specific reading of Kant by Hannah Arendt (and put into conversation with Li’s own work on Kant) can point the way to what may be an unlikely account tying together aesthetics, art, purposiveness, human history, and the world observer. The key lies in a notion that comes out only in Kant’s later political writings, particularly in the decidedly aesthetic turn made in his consideration of the historical progress of peace. However, before this idea of species-level hope is brought to the general overarching problematic of society as productive/restrictive in individual subject life, what is first of issue is the connection of global events (here dealt with in terms of world progress toward peace) to aesthetics. Within the constellation of thought that includes Kant and Li, this has to do with the way in which the ideals of beauty and international right both allow for a specific type of rational public quarreling that reflects private impressions and interests. To boil it down, there is no science of the beautiful; matters of beauty cannot be settled by dispute (disputieren), being instead matters of quarrel (streiten).30 So it is too with international right, right? Kant and the World Observer

The major image of Kant and international right is that of his work Toward Perpetual Peace, which, much like contemporary mainstream free-market liberalism, treats international peace as inevitable, as a natural and necessary consequence of the purposive arc of world history and the need of people to engage in trade, agreement, common cause, and the like.31 According to this view, the world is arranged with resources distributed in such a way so as to conspire to lead individual nations, pursuing their own interests, to seek cosmopolitan interest. Thus, something like a permanent congress of nations is supposed to form, guaranteeing perpetual peace for a mix of reasons owing to both nature and human constitution.32 This makes it such that international right should prevail, owing to nature in the same way that gravity should prevail over raindrops, which is to say as an issue resolvable by rational, demonstrable dispute (disputieren).33 Thus, in Perpetual Peace there is a science of human events insofar as there is a science of events more generally. However, Perpetual Peace does not exhaust Kant’s thinking on the subject, and his later shift proves intriguing for how he goes on to regard human progress toward the ideal of international right more in terms of the ideal of beauty and nondemonstrable quarreling (streiten) over the beautiful.34 Kant strongly rejects his earlier optimistic assessment of Perpetual Peace in


Li Zehou and the Modernization of Confucianism

his later Metaphysics of Morals, in which he writes, “[If complete establishment of perpetual peace and ending war] also always should remain a pious hope, we certainly do not thus lie to ourselves with adoption of the maxim to work unceasingly toward it; for this is duty.” He goes on to decry approaches (like his own earlier view) that “see [reason’s] basic principles [as] thrown in with the other animal species to the same mechanism of nature.”35 Rather than endorsing a permanent United Nations–like organ and seeing human progress toward international right and peace as a “real” thing—really extant in the purposive structure of nature, as is the case in Perpetual Peace—in this later work Kant instead treats international right terminologically as an ideal, insofar as it allows humanity to strive to approximate what is not real in nature.36 Arendt’s Remarks on Kant

Hannah Arendt’s insightful reading of Kant’s political philosophy proves instructive here. Arendt argues that the shift in Kant’s view toward international right and peace being matters of judgment was tied to the French Revolution, which “awakened [Kant], so to speak, from his political slumber.”37 Ultimately, the reign of terror and its despotic, decidedly nonpublic “legislation” of rebellion would receive Kant’s scorn. This is significant because it is related to a diminishment of Kant’s optimism that reason and prudence would bring about perpetual peace and is further related to an emphasis on the theoretical publicity of international right, which Arendt links to the powerful idea that sociopolitical life, and indeed the progress of humanity toward some approximation of peace, is a spectacle open to observation.38 In Arendt’s reading of Kant, “publicness is already the criterion of rightness in his moral philosophy,” and morality then is “the coincidence of the private and the public.”39 Thus, right and peace, being public, ought to be observable in world affairs. Arendt rather smartly reads Kantian judgment as being something common to humanity (which follows from the condition of possibility of genuine nondemonstrable quarrel), and she sees judgment as having an underlying structure of purposiveness.40 Hence, progress toward peace, an ideal approximating the purposiveness of nature vis-à-vis human cultures, natural resources, and so on resembles striving toward beauty, an ideal where purposiveness without a purpose is the goal. Arendt realizes this and draws out the implications. Arendt is thus correct in claiming that, for Kant, judgment must boil down to the observer and not to the object.41 The world observer, and not the observed human world, is the key to any judgment concerning progress. And so, similar to how Kant raises intellectual taste above spirited genius in the consideration of the aesthetic attributes of artworks, Arendt holds that Kant similarly promotes the observer’s vantage at the expense of the human spectacle itself and

What Should the World Look Like?


of any particular human genius therein.42 Just as with judgments of beauty in art objects, the observation of human progress, and not necessarily the deeds of particular actors, serves as the locus for the ideal of peace. Curiously, it is the primacy of the observing perspective that may in fact be the reason for believing in the progress of humanity in the first place, despite the unlikelihood that its purposiveness is anything real, an idea cashed out by Arendt as hope. Arendt describes hope for a better world and for the possibility of human progress as sine qua non of action in Kant’s schema, though she herself sees the idea of progress as historically contingent.43 Such hope is not about certain, unblinking faith in progress, in peace, or in anything of the sort, and indeed Arendt catalogs Kant’s use of the term “hope” in describing the French Revolution and then describing the remaining “pious hope” for perpetual peace in his later thinking, even after the dashing of his earlier and grander claims of such progress being beyond dispute. Here, hope belongs to the post–Perpetual Peace part of Kant’s thinking, to the aesthetic turn in which hope drives what is decidedly the approximation of the ideal of peace. Of course, Arendt’s own approach to Kant, hope, and the idea of the world being a stage is not all smiles and sunshine, for she holds that “the alternatives for Kant are either regress, which would produce despair, or eternal sameness, which would bore us to death.”44 And hence it is that hope—which in Arendt’s specific reading of Kant means measured belief in progress toward approximating a quarrelsome notion of peace—stands as a transcendental dictate compelled by the condition of the possibility of observing the human world. Hope is not something that comes after the fact for the merely optimistic. Rather than being about any kind of audacity coming after the fact of experience, watching humanity brings with it an a priori necessity of hope. However, if the idea of viewing the human saga as a saga, as something like an artwork, represents an achievement by Kant (a point well argued by Arendt), then there is still more to the story. Even in Kant’s approach to beauty, heavy as it is on the observer’s perspective at the expense of the art object’s materiality, these other and perhaps lesser moments still exist. Setting aside the merits and drawbacks of Kant’s emphasis on the individual rational, judging subject, this account should not end with the world observer any more than Kant’s does with the art observer and beauty in art objects. Hence, there is the need to develop an aesthetic of human progress that accounts for the material object, here meaning the natural world. Li Zehou and Kant

My assertion here is that the work of Li Zehou, one of China’s most influential voices on Kant and aesthetics, speaks to this need by adding a much-needed


Li Zehou and the Modernization of Confucianism

account of world observation—in terms of the material dimensions of human survival within the broader environment—to Kant’s notion of the world observer vis-à-vis human progress in approximating an ideal of peace. Li blends Kantian, Marxian, and Confucian precepts to situate the root of beauty, but not in object artworks or in individual subjective imagination. Instead what matters in his account of beauty is the localized cultural sediment formed by human understanding and imagination on a species level as it accrues and surpasses the natural necessaries of survival.45 What does Li mean by “sedimentation”? Using “sedimentation” to refer specifically to “structures in process,” Li responds: By sedimentation ( jidian), I mean that human nature, which is a cultural psychological construction of uniquely human capabilities, was formed from the historical processes of using tools, social interactions, and the rituals of shamanism. What is human has been sedimented into individuals, the rational into the sensuous, and the social into the natural. Simultaneously, the humanizing of the animal sensory organs of primitive beings and the natural psychological structures acquired the qualities of human nature.46

Li goes on to say: As humans, we began working together with tools to produce food and shelter for survival. Some of these practices became rituals and, as such, became rites. The rituals were not just habitual and efficacious ways to do something; they became the correct way. Then language described and reflected these rites, and we learned the good and bad ways to act. Morality emerged. Mores became codified into laws, and laws became the social structure of institutions. From this perspective, institutions are codified ritualized group behavior, far more complex than primitive ritualistic behavior but a natural evolution of it, and they shape human psychology.47

It might seem as though Hegel would be the natural point of connection for this historical, materialist, quasi-Marxist approach to human development. However, Li states that “in certain respects, Kant was more perceptive than Hegel,” bemoaning the latter’s ceding of philosophy to epistemology and engaging in a kind of pan-rationalism that proved an “unhealthy influence on Marxism.” This perspective befits Li’s primary focus on Marx’ “Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844” and his seeming disinterest in later Marxism and its more pronounced Hegelian influence.48 Instead, Li points to “Kant’s

What Should the World Look Like?


great accomplishment [that] lay in raising the problem of subjectivity in a comprehensive manner,” using Kant’s clear distinctions as a framework for his own inquiry.49 Summing up Li’s engagement of Marx and Kant is Jing Wang (Wang Jing 王瑾), who writes: On the one hand, he [Li] recognizes that Kant is the true philosophical predecessor of Marx, for Kantianism prefigures the materialist thesis of the irreducibility of being to thought; and yet on the other hand, Li Zehou is eager to foreground the idealist framework of Kantian epistemology (to examine the “subjective psychological structure of human subjectivity” in terms of the Kantian triple inquiry into epistemology, ethics, and aesthetics) as a priori for the rejuvenation of Chinese Marxism.50

Therefore, in his influential take on Kantian philosophy, Critique of Critical Philosophy: A New Key to Kant, Li adopts major portions of the Kantian framework while at the same time significantly reworking its premises and orientation. Looking back on this early work, Li writes: I repeatedly emphasized the determining function of human practical activity in molding man’s whole psychological structure and processes. While practical activity progressively enlarges its field and content following the advance of history, the foundation, though not the totality, of this practical activity is in the use and making of tools.51

This idea is what leads Wang to observe: The Kantian influence is palpable in this definition as Li Zehou bestows upon reason an a priori synthesizing capability to order and constrain phenomena. . . . [But t]he question that plagues Li’s mind is certainly not the same that plagued Kant’s: How is knowledge possible? Whereas Kant is concerned about the nature of the restriction of human knowledge, hence the ultimate inadequacy of the human mind to grasp the “things in themselves,” Li is preoccupied with the application of human knowledge. A different question is raised: How can we produce knowledge for practical utilization?52

Li goes so far as to shake the foundations of the Kantian edifice of epistemology by claiming that “the origin of mathematics is not analysis or induction but rather the basic practical activity of man.”53 This same basic argument carries over to ethics, as Li talks about “moral heritage” likewise being a sediment of practical human activity: “The individual’s morality only exists by virtue of


Li Zehou and the Modernization of Confucianism

man’s self aware, conscious, rational control, and this belongs in the realm of the establishment of man’s subjectivity. Just as there is rationality sedimented in the sense intuition of epistemology, so there is rationality sedimented in man’s sensibilities of emotion, will, and wish.”54 This logic also applies to what Li sees as the historical development of proportion, balance, symmetry, sense, taste, and the domain of art and aesthetics in general.55 However, and this is crucial, it is only in aesthetic experience that the sedimented character of human practice shows itself freely in sensuousness, without being conditioned from the outset.56 With the conditions of the possibility of using knowledge rather than of knowledge itself driving things here, what emerges is an aesthetic emphasis on the historical practice of the whole of humankind. The question of the world observer thus returns. Here Li speaks of the collective “big I” and the individual “small I,” arguing that the locus of beauty cannot rest in the individual subject (genius or observer), because judgment and the apprehension of beauty are themselves the ongoing sedimentation of historical practice, which takes place on a level of species purposiveness beyond individual accident.57 Li mitigates this species focus somewhat by talking about residual Jungian archetypes sedimented in collective unconsciousness and the power of individual artistic genius to attune to this background hum, which he, specifically following Kant, identifies as a common sensibility, but what truly matters in Li’s take on Kantian purposiveness is the overall trend of human social practice.58 For Li, beauty’s root resides, not in art, but in the practice of the human species elevating survival and the relationship between humanity and nature beyond necessity.59 For example, this means making it so that “eating is not merely due to hunger but becomes dining” and “the relationship between the two sexes is not merely one of copulation but becomes love.”60 Thus, for Li, progress points to the general tendency toward an increasing aesthetic practice, an expansion of aesthetic activity, and a rising aesthetic appreciation that characterizes “the unceasing progress of the two parts of humanized nature [inner faculties and external world].”61 This approach to sedimentation allows for both the historical contingency and the felt necessity of cultural traditions, which is certainly not the case with Kant’s more regrettable writings on human progress and racial determinism.62 For Li, freedom and beauty are best understood as occurring where human understanding of form overcomes natural necessity, sedimented on a species level, but locally and without presuming a general, universally valid form of understanding as such. Beauty in human progress thus remains a topic of open quarrel, like the beauty of art objects as understood by Kant. Thus, the existence, nature, and end of any possible beautiful human progress remain open for discussion, being like matters of taste.

What Should the World Look Like?


However, simply discussing and being engaged in the issue of human progress presume something of the would-be world observer; it presumes hope that the observed world might in fact progress. This is where Arendt and her reading of hope come back into the conversation. Hannah Arendt and Li Zehou on Kantian Purposiveness in Human Affairs

In her Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy, Arendt does not take up Kant’s thinking within a project as creative as Li Zehou’s, given her more restricted task of expository lecturing. Nonetheless, her approach to purposiveness in human events within the framework of Kantian aesthetics ends up proximate to Li’s concerns. Moreover, her conclusion that hope is a condition of the possibility of world observation coincides with, yet crucially diverges from, Li’s location of beauty in the formal sedimentation of humankind’s surviving and thriving. However, what Li issues as a quasi-ethical injunction with the “should” of scientific dispute, Arendt approaches more in terms of the “should” of aesthetic quarrel—there should be progress. For Li, this means that technology and the humanization of nature should advance and neither stall nor go backward, since retrograde motion is by (his) definition “not a human ideal.”63 For Arendt, it means that human progress toward peace should advance forward even toward a hazy and indistinct goal, since this broadly Kantian notion of observing human purposiveness implies hope. Li’s “should” puts the human world on a level similar to that of physical objects, things with a demonstrable course and trajectory that should move this way and that. Arendt’s “should,” meanwhile, is more in the direction of nondemonstrable claims of beauty that one should find a particular object beautiful; it has more the flavor “If I were you, I would also hope; we should hope.” Therefore, the argument here is that, while Li Zehou takes up Kant’s terms with regard to purposiveness in the ongoing sedimentation of human practice, more could be added to his account by considering the implication of hoping for beauty brought by observing human purposiveness. Arendt does this, in part, by looking at Kant’s intellectual biography and then interrogating, in quasi-Kantian fashion, the conditions of the possibility of world observation of human purposiveness. In the end she finds hope for an engaging, interesting, and forward-moving human spectacle to be one of those conditions. Arendt’s language, at least in her lectures on Kant, stops short of the next step, given her narrower remit there, but it is possible to imagine Li advocating hope for a specifically beautiful human spectacle and, indeed, advocating the necessity of such hope. Even if world events dash ambitious disputative claims regarding human progress toward anything like perpetual peace, as they did for Kant, it might nonetheless be a necessary condition of human experience,


Li Zehou and the Modernization of Confucianism

each individually and all collectively, to hope for beautiful human practice to prevail. What is to be drawn from such hope? Though it may be oblique, such hope, expressed on a species level, can do something to improve the melancholy and rage that mark subject life on an individual level. The seeds of hope that can be found in Li’s work on subjectality are particularly noteworthy here because of the way that his aesthetics-based understanding of the perspective of the world observer connects to the formation of the field of the conscious and unconscious enacted by ritual normativity in subject life. Even if Arendt’s specific reading of Kant is somewhat narrow in scope, it is provocative when plugged into her larger philosophy—particularly her positioning of life and “natality” as counterweights to notions of being-towarddeath, which are more commonplace in phenomenological discourse—and especially when considered in terms of species-level survival and mortality. Instead of death, this notion of natality refers to the other side of the coin, to what is nascent, to what is initial and initiative, to the “new beginning inherent in birth,” without which being and being-toward-death would be impossible.64 Within Arendt’s wider framework, the Kantian notion of progress toward peace can be broken down into (1) deindividualized somatic labor undertaken by the group for the survival of the species, (2) work on artifacts that commemorate and give a sense of endurance to human labor, and (3) action that founds and preserves the political bodies that organize work and labor, thereby “creat[ing] the condition for remembrance, that is, for history.”65 For Arendt, all three— labor, work, and action—“are rooted in natality in so far as they have the task to provide and preserve the world for, to foresee and reckon with, the constant influx of newcomers who are born into the world as strangers,” with initiative action in the political realm making it so that “natality, and not mortality, may be the central category of political, as distinguished from metaphysical, thought.”66 Connecting all of this back into Arendt’s more focused reading of human progress toward peace on Kantian terms can help in fleshing out the meaning of hope vis-à-vis world observation. Hope, so considered, really does spring eternal. Action in the political realm always carries with it a sense of new beginning, for “without action and speech, without the articulation of natality, we would be doomed to swing forever in the ever-recurring cycle of becoming.”67 Thus, taking the view of a world observer with respect to the species-level sedimentation and development of humanity indicates how nascent creativity might be possible on a macro level, and this may situate hope for locating embryonic growth for oneself within the micro level of one’s own subject life. Here some starting points suggest themselves. First, with all of its connection to art observation, this talk of world observation points to the value of using Arendt’s insights into the political to reas-

What Should the World Look Like?


sess how appearance works more generally. Second, the move from theory to practice requires a juncture and a decisive turn in the form of memory with regard to ritual; but this must not be just about the kind of individual memory that common wisdom maintains is held in the head. Instead, given the topics under discussion, what is important is the kind of species memory of sediment that lives in the bones and plays out in the political realm of appearance. This is where the work that Li Zehou does to deepen the core Confucian insight into ritual and body, li 禮 and ti 體, is so important. Conclusion

Li Zehou employs Kantian, Marxian, and Confucian premises in describing the emergence of bodily, ritual self-consciousness through social forces and how unconscious social forces form through the historical sedimentation of ritual technologies of the self. This process, which he calls subjectality, addresses where tradition accrues and becomes unfamiliar to itself over time. Li’s idea of subjectality thus deals with species-level sedimentation and the development of collective unconsciousness, rather than on the individual development of self-consciousness. Subjectality requires a perspective of historical world observation. The perspective of the world observer brings certain other requirements along with it—namely, a broadly aesthetic perspective on species progress and a kind of tempered optimism regarding human development. This in turn may ground genuine hope for the plight of subject self-consciousness, with this prior hope being in some way accessible within the unconscious historical sediment of humanity’s social and political life. It may be true that the human drive to idealize the sediment of the past makes the ritualized approximation (once or twice removed) of those unconscious ideals into the condition of the possibility of joint survival. The human condition may indeed be marked by the constitutive irony identified by Hannah Arendt, whereby objects of necessity never arrive as such, despite the imperative force of implication. Perhaps it is necessary that the world always be a concept of common reason without any real-world object. In other words, the world may be an ideal, and if that is the case, that makes the question of the political— that is, of how different political parties relate to the world—an issue primarily of aesthetic quarrel that occurs prior to the demonstrable ethical disputes that mark the more superficial phenomena within the political world. In the face of this irony, and because of it, there is hope, and specifically hope for beauty, when one puts oneself in the position of the world observer and asks a question that Confucian kings and sages have long been in a unique position to appreciate: What should the world look like?


Li Zehou and the Modernization of Confucianism

Notes Epigraph: Li, Zehou and Jane Cauvel, Four Essays on Aesthetics (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2006), 177. This text appears only in the English-language version of 美学四讲. 1.  David L. Hall and Roger T. Ames, Thinking Through Confucius (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1987), 292–293. Cf. Ferdinand de Saussure, Cours de linguistique générale, ed. Charles Bailly and Albert Séchehaye (Paris: Éditions Payot et Rivages, 1995), 166–168; and Jacques Derrida, “La différance,” in Marges de la philosophie (Paris: Les Éditions de Minuit, 1972), 8–9. 2.  Roger T. Ames and Henry Rosemont, Jr., introduction to The Analects of Confucius: A Philosophical Translation (New York: Ballantine, 1998), 51. 3. Ibid. 4.  Confucius 孔子: Analects (孔子: 论语译注), ed. Jin Liangnian 金良年 (Shanghai: Shanghai Ancient Works Publishing House [上海古籍出版社], 2004), 8.8, 16.13, 20.3. 5.  Xunzi 荀子, 2 vols., ed. John Knoblock and Zhang Jue (Changsha: Hunan People’s Publishing House, 1999), 20.2, 20.3, 20.12. 6.  Analects 16.5, 17.11; Roger T. Ames, Confucian Role Ethics: A Vocabulary (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2011), 74; James Garrison, “The Social Value of Ritual and Music in Classical Chinese Thought,” teorema: Revista internacional de filosofía 31, no. 3 (2012): 212. 7. Mencius 孟子, Mencius: Modern Annotation, Modern Translation (孟子今註今 譯), 3rd ed., ed. Wang Yunwu 王雲五 (Taipei: Taiwan Commercial Press [臺灣商務印書 館 中華民國六十七年], 1978), 四一0 [410] 盡心篇第七: 七十九 堯舜章 [7.79]. 8. Hall and Ames, Thinking Through Confucius, 292–293. Cf. Derrida, “La différance,” 8–9, 12–13. 9.  Analects 13.3. 10. Ames, Confucian Role Ethics, 109. 11.  Xunzi 13.5, 19.3, 19.9. Cf. Analects, 12.11; and James Garrison, “Confucianism’s Role-Based Political Ethic: Free Speech, Remonstrative Speech, and Political Change in East Asia,” in Non-Western Encounters with Democratization: Imagining Democracy after the Arab Spring, ed. Christopher K. Lamont, Jan van der Harst, and Frank Gaenssmantel (Surrey, UK: Ashgate, 2015), 31–47. 12.  Xunzi 23.13. 13. Li Zehou, Four Essays on Aesthetics: Toward a Global View, trans. Li Zehou and Jane Cauvel (Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2006), 47–79. 14. Li Zehou, Chinese Aesthetics (华夏美学) (Guilin: Guangxi Normal University Press, 2001), 67–71. Cf. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Ökonomisch-philosophische Manuskripte aus dem Jahre 1844 Werke, vol. 40 (Berlin: Dietz, 1956), 537–546. 15. Li, Chinese Aesthetics, 67–69. 16. Pierre Bourdieu, La distinction: Critique sociale du jugement (Paris: Les Éditions de Minuit 1979, 552. 17. Li Zehou, Four Essays on Aesthetics (美学四讲) (Beijing: Joint Publishing [三联 书店], 1989), 113. 18.  Ibid., 67; Analects 8.8.

What Should the World Look Like?


19. Li, Chinese Aesthetics, 69; Li, Four Essays on Aesthetics (美学四讲), 109; Li Zehou: “Subjectivity and ‘Subjectality’: A Response,” Philosophy East and West 49, no. 2 (1999): 174–175. Cf. C. J. Jung, Die Archetypen und das Kollektive Unbewusstsein, Gesammelte Werke, ed. Lilly Jung-Merker and Elisabeth Rüf, vol. 9/1 (Zurich: Rascher, 1976), 13–17. 20.  Li Zehou, “Of Human Nature and Aesthetic Metaphysics,” in Diversity and Universality in Aesthetics, ed. Wang Keping, IAA International Yearbook of Aesthetics 14 (2010), 4. 21.  Li, “Subjectivity and ‘Subjectality,’ ” 175. 22. Li, Four Essays on Aesthetics (美学四讲), 75; Mencius, 二九一 [291] 告子篇第六: 二 湍水章 [6.2]. 23. Li, Four Essays on Aesthetics (美学四讲), 109. 24.  Ibid., 83. 25. Li, Four Essays on Aesthetics, trans. Li and Cauvel, 178. 26. Li, Chinese Aesthetics, 148. 27.  Ibid., 75. 28. Ibid. 29.  Ibid., 75–77. 30.  Immanuel Kant, Die Kritik der Urteilskraft, vol. 5 of Gesammelte Schriften (Berlin: Preußische Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1900), 293, 304. 31. Immanuel Kant, Zum ewigen Frieden: Ein philosophischer Entwurf, vol. 8 of Gesammelte Schriften (Berlin: Preußische Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1900), 360. 32.  Immanuel Kant, Die Metaphysik der Sitten, vol. 6 of Gesammelte Schriften (Berlin: Preußische Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1900), 365–368. 33.  Ibid., 338. 34. James Garrison, “Kant’s Aesthetic Judgment and the Progress of Peace,” in Sovereign Justice: Global Justice in a World of Nations, ed. Diogo P. Aurélio, Gabriele De Angelis, and Regina Queiroz (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2011), 179–197. 35. Kant, Die Metaphysik der Sitten, 354–355. 36.  Ibid., 350–351. 37. Hannah Arendt, Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), 16. 38. Kant, Die Metaphysik der Sitten, 381–383. 39. Arendt, Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy, 18, 49. 40.  Ibid., 76. 41.  Ibid., 61. 42.  Ibid., 61–62. 43.  Ibid., 50–51. 44.  Ibid., 51. 45. Li, Four Essays on Aesthetics (美学四讲), 69–70. 46. Li, Four Essays on Aesthetics, trans. Li and Cauvel, 88. 47.  Ibid., 177. 48. Li Zehou, “The Philosophy of Kant and a Theory of Subjectivity,” in Analecta Husserliana: The Yearbook of Phenomenological Research 21 (1986): 141–142. 49.  Ibid., 137.


Li Zehou and the Modernization of Confucianism

50. Jing Wang, High Culture Fever: Politics, Aesthetics, and Ideology in Deng’s China (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), 96. Cf. Li, “Philosophy of Kant,” 137. 51.  Li, “Philosophy of Kant,” 138. 52. Wang, High Culture Fever, 109. Italics in the original. 53.  Li, “Philosophy of Kant,” 139. 54.  Ibid., 143. 55. Li, Four Essays on Aesthetics (美学四讲), 83. 56.  Ibid., 121. 57.  Li, “Philosophy of Kant,” 143–144. 58. Li, Four Essays on Aesthetics (美学四讲), 109. Cf. Kant, Kritik der Urteilskraft, 293. 59. Li, Four Essays on Aesthetics (美学四讲), 69. 60.  Li, “Philosophy of Kant,” 146. Cf. Li Zehou, Critique of Critical Philosophy (批判 哲学的批判: 康德述评) (Beijing: People’s Publishing House [人民出版社], 2001), 413. 61. Li, Four Essays on Aesthetics (美学四讲), 116. 62.  Ibid., 115, 195; Li, Four Essays on Aesthetics, trans. Li and Cauvel, 176; Immanuel Kant, “Von der Verschiedenheit der Racen überhaupt,” Gesammlte Schriften, vol. 2 (Berlin: Preußische Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1900), 427–443. 63. Li, Four Essays on Aesthetics (美学四讲), 86. 64.  Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition, 2nd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 9. 65.  Ibid., 8–9, 214. 66.  Ibid., 9. 67.  Ibid., 246.


Li Zehou’s Lunyu jindu (Reading the Analects Today) Michael NYLAN

T his c h a pt er tak es as its subject Lunyu jindu 論語今讀 (Reading the Analects today), Li Zehou’s “translation” from classical Chinese into modern Chinese of one of the Four Books, a classic that long-standing tradition claims was generated within the immediate circles of Master Confucius (hereafter Kongzi 孔子) himself. Rather than blandly touting the inherent superiority of whichever brands of Chinese or Confucian “tradition” currently meet the approval of leading figures in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in establishment politics, academia, and the media, old Daotong truisms retrofitted for nationalistic purposes (Xi Jinping, Yu Dan, and many others come to mind),1 Li wants to deconstruct “tradition” ( jiegou 解構). He wants to return our attention to aspects of pre-Qin, Qin, and Han Confucianism, a millennium before the Daotong was conceived, seeing what aspects of early teachings can be combined with insights from the Western philosophical tradition, to better engage contemporary problems, specifically for China but more broadly for humanity in general. For Li, importantly, there is no single Confucian tradition but, rather, a range of competing traditions, with the classical Confucian teachings found in the Analects, the Mencius, and the Xunzi portrayed as inherently more valuable—insofar as they can be better adapted in today’s world—than the Song Learning theories dominant in late imperial China. The late neo-Confucians, in shifting their followers’ attention from ren 仁 (developed humanity) to li 理 (heaven-sent animating principle), sealed off from this too-sullied “one world” an idealistic morality that denigrated many activities once deemed eminently pragmatic and pleasurable, providing an analogy with what Kant did in early modernizing Europe.2 In line rather with the early thinkers steeped in classical 137


Li Zehou’s Reconception of Confucian Philosophy

learning, Li prefers to construe the world instead as a continuum joining the mundane social world of the living to the cosmos beyond in complex resonance patterns. Disciplines and systems of thought need translation whenever they cross time and space, and such creative reformulations at times can work to enhance the original insights offered by the earlier versions of a text or a set of oral teachings, as Kongzi, the protagonist of the Analects, emphasized through his injunction to wengu 温故 (impart new life to the old). Indeed, the decision to improve upon rather than slavishly imitate antique models has long been the hallmark of all classical and classicizing traditions, as studies on Hellenistic Rome and European neoclassicism routinely note.3 One of the delicious paradoxes of transmission is that through it something deemed very ancient can appear brand-new and fresh. (Prolonged practice in music, the arts, or athletics easily demonstrates that each practice session brings the practitioner some new adjustment, as Li Zehou himself remarks.)4 Kongzi and his followers among the classicists were transmitters who repeatedly modified earlier traditions, adjusting them to better suit the exigencies of the times, especially in ritual matters.5 Like another great twentiethcentury philosopher, Bernard Williams, Li is prepared to ignore many unpalatable features of premodern society, including the subjugation of women to men (though the airy dismissal of that problem as an artifact of the distant past underestimates how deeply rooted gender inequality is today in China and elsewhere).6 Mindful that the antique functioned as the primary cultural habitus or milieu for members of the educated political elite in early modern Europe, the important question Li raises in Lunyu jindu is whether reading the Chinese classics in general and the Analects in particular offers anything in the way of kindred benefits to groups today of educated elites intent on modernizing and improving China (and, to a lesser extent, the outlying areas of Japan, Korea, or the West). To that pressing question, Li Zehou answers a resounding “yes,” even as he supplants the more traditional way of reading the classics—which treats the Five Classics and Four Books as a rich repository of moral and stylistic m ­ odels—with his own vertiginously novel proposition: to use a small number of “foundational texts” (most especially the Analects) as the basis for developing a “pragmatic,” intensely “pleasurable,” and “aesthetic” set of capacities by which today’s Chinese can come readily to appreciate each other’s good points within the context of the great and good social and cosmic harmonies.7 For Li is mainly concerned with ethics, and aesthetics for him is merely “ethics on a higher level”—that is, an ethics with a pronounced spiritual dimension—so that Li’s conception of Confucian learning occupies a place akin to a “half-philosophy” and a “half-religion” (meaning that it shares aspects with both).8 One suspects that Li’s work—

Lunyu jindu


immensely popular in the 1980s in the PRC—served as ultimate inspiration for the Chinese Communist Party’s favorite slogan, “aesthetic harmony” ( youmei hexie 優美和諧).9 Regardless, Li insists that the vast majority of China’s citizenry in the PRC, in Taiwan, and in Hong Kong have “kept the faith” in their age-old historical identities—what he calls their cultural-psychological formation (wenhua xinli jiegou 文化心理結構). In other words, Li absolutely believes that no cataclysmic events in the twentieth century ever managed to kill off the bedrock Confucian teachings. As a result, Li’s Chinese “silent majority”10 allegedly, as a matter of both habit and inclination, grounds its activities in the decidedly Confucian propensity to use rituals to build community, order various hierarchies, and distribute goods in a way fully consistent with social justice, even in the face of mass defections by Western-trained intellectuals who tend to reject Confucian teachings as “outmoded” and “antiprogressive.” For Li, in consequence, the Analects is “very near to being the heart and soul of Chinese culture.”11 In addition Li casts the Analects’ teachings as a welcome, distinctively Chinese antidote for the chief ills of modern life ascribed to Western models, ills that include lack of autonomy, alienation, ugliness, the odd biases that stem from competing interest groups,12 and downright existential despair.13 (To this extensive list one might add the sheer “facelessness” of an increasing number of quasi-social interactions in the twenty-first century.14) To Li’s way of thinking, most if not all of China’s ills are imports from the West, and only true leaders in the true Confucian model, with a dose of democratic traditions, can afford numerous opportunities to others, though one cannot easily tell whether Li, in making this assertion, intends to describe or prescribe.15 Li’s readings of individual Analects lines generally seek to demonstrate that what he dubs “true” Confucian teachings tend to diverge from those teachings promoted either by the Southern Song neo-Confucian lixue (理學) advocates of True Way Learning (道學), fashioned by Zhu Xi 朱熹 (1130–1200) and his adherents, or by so-called New Confucians in Asia today, who overwhelmingly trace their lineage from Zhu or from Wang Yangming 王陽明 (1472–1529) in Ming.16 One example should suffice, that of Li Zehou commenting on Analects 9.13, in which the citation of the utterly conventional metaphor comparing the Way to a precious jewel prompts Confucius, in answer to a disciple’s facile question whether it should then be stored away or sold, to respond fervently, “Sell it! Sell it by all means!” Kongzi’s response provides the occasion for Li to opine, “Kongzi never once forgot his ambition either to become an ‘outer king’ [i.e., reigning king] himself or to have another person [like himself ] become such a king. He therefore compares himself to a fine piece of goods out for sale. This bears no resemblance to the Kongzi on offer from the Song-Ming lixue people.” That said, Li reserves his harshest condemnation for the proponents of


Li Zehou’s Reconception of Confucian Philosophy

postmodern theories, on the assumption that those theories deny the existence of a substantive self, describing people as a series of fragmentary parts. Were human beings only a bundle of contingent impulses and activities, Li argues, they would be nothing more than an unremarkable subspecies of the animals, lacking the distinctive deliberative, emotive, and volitional powers that constitute the full “consciousness” that serves as the precondition for building coherent personalities with remarkable insights.17 (The existential philosophers, whom Li admires, are always spared his criticism, though they would be nearly as comfortable with notions of contingency as the postmodernists.) In Li’s view, the human heart (xin 心) is central to human identity, as the faculty or capacity that allows aesthetic appreciation or “attunement,” which in turn provides an adequate grounding on which to develop a genuine personal identification with the community, the state, and the world at large.18 For Li, there are too few occasions for pleasure-taking in ordinary life if ornaments are missing; besides, beauty and goodness usually coincide for Li, as they did for the ancient Greeks.19 In outlining such ideas, Li is clearly a philosopher rather than a historian. Not only is he apt to sketch the distant past in the broadest possible strokes, but he also seems to ignore the latest scholarship on early China, as when he adheres to the outdated Republican-era narrative casting Dong Zhongshu and Han Wudi (r. 141–87 BC) as the key formative influences in the canonization of the classics (which he dubs the “Confucian Classics,” consciously or unconsciously adopting much of the language of Kang Youwei 康有為 [ca. 1899]).20 Similarly, Li adopts a series of wildly ahistorical correlations, including those merging “[imperial] scholar-officials” (shidaifu 士大夫) with modern “intellectuals” (zhishi fenzi 知識份子) and merging oral and literate cultures (with both bespeaking “constancy and serenity” for Li).21 Such conflations are hardly unintentional, I would argue. They are necessary predications for the intensely gratifying notion of China as “the oldest continuous civilization.” For example, Li writes, “What is surprising is that materials written in 500 BCE [Li assumes this date for the Analects] can still be read without difficulty, when the same could not be said of eleventh-century English.”22 Of course, such statements blithely ignore the huge barriers that impede understanding by native Chinese of antique cultures, as quickly becomes clear if a reader tallies up the egregious errors in translation by Yu Dan 于丹 (1965–). Why the need for Li himself to “translate” a book in Chinese from classical to modern language?23 And, presumably because of his Marxist training, Li comes perilously close to embracing a Hegelian unilinear and progressive view of human developmental history, even as he promotes a kind of Chinese exceptionalism that diverges from that universal pattern in thrilling ways. Last but not least, one finds it hard to locate Li’s harmonious society in a PRC corresponding to Jia Zhangke’s 2013 film, A Touch of Sin, to take one familiar example. Still, Li’s sketch of Chinese excep-

Lunyu jindu


tionalism wins him many Chinese readers, judging from the frequent reprintings of Lunyu jindu into Chinese in Chinese-speaking communities.24 Beginning with the premise that most early religion in China was simply “seeking good fortune and averting calamity” in a kind of premoral phase,25 Li portrays Kongzi as a “transmitter” who somehow managed “to convert the old mad emotionality of shamanic culture to the more philosophical leanings” that ultimately produced a distinctive Chinese Way incredibly rich in emotional potential.26 (Li repeatedly reminds us that when Kongzi heard the Shao music, he was so deeply moved that “for three months he did not think” about the food he was consuming.27) In the model of D. C. Lau and nearly all the modern Chinese interpreters of the Analects before him, then, Li assumes the manifest superiority of the Chinese Way, singular (which he then dubs “Confucian”); in a similar vein, he unhesitatingly identifies the “birds and beasts” with “nonChinese” in glossing several Analects passages liable to alternative constructions, even within Chinese traditions.28 Part of Chinese superiority, to Li’s way of thinking, stems from the surprising disinclination of early Confucian thinkers to designate a God or gods as the ultimate basis of morality or to trust overmuch to abstraction and logic, and part, from the concomitant insistence that the sacred character of human existence lies in this life, not the next. In consequence, says Li, the Chinese in general and Kongzi in particular developed “highly self-conscious” methods for instilling in themselves a deliberate preference for engaging in “humane” (ren 仁) activities,29 which gave the Chinese, despite adversities, a series of unique advantages in cultural survival or, better still, in attaining flourishing states.30 As if to illustrate that unusually strong Chinese capacity to survive and renew amid change, Li apparently feels no need to defend whatever aspects of the Chinese past that he takes to be in contradiction with democratic values. Accordingly, he ostensibly jettisons many of the teachings espoused by recent illustrious predecessors within the Confucian fold (e.g., Kang Youwei),31 even if chucking out inherited traditions proves much harder for Li than he realizes.32 According to Li, Chinese civilization in undeniably remarkable in several respects: it tolerated different points of view;33 it had no rigidly sectarian religions and hence no religious wars or religious orthodoxies;34 it minimized any “death wishes” for martyrdom or afterlife existence; it evinced comparatively little interest in individual salvation and transcendence;35 it focused on acquiring techniques and arts (“how to do something”) rather than ontological certainties (“what is Being?” or “what is the essence of this thing?”).36 Because the injunction “Hear the Way” is so radically different from “Know the Truth,” Kongzi is happily neither Jesus nor Plato. Happily, too, Kongzi keeps his disciples attending to this world, not the life beyond, in stark contrast to Jesus and Plato’s Socrates.37 In Li’s warm portrait, Kongzi was unusually, perhaps


Li Zehou’s Reconception of Confucian Philosophy

uniquely, clear about the need to balance “inner sageliness” (i.e., social and personal cultivation) with “outer kingliness” (governing family, state, and interstate relations), while also “accepting fate” and “forging one’s own destiny.”38 Therefore, quite astoundingly, Chinese culture celebrates neither Christian “guilt” nor Japanese “shame.” In their place, it enshrines pragmatic reason in a “culture attuned to pleasure” (legan wenhua 樂感文化),39 which duly accommodates intense feelings, even as it focuses on harmony, beauty, and proportion.40 (Li himself translates legan wenhua as “a culture of optimism,” but this translation hardly captures the subtleties of his extensive ruminations on the subject; hence my emendation, designed to encompass the full range of his ideas.) The genius of the Middle Way ascribed to Kongzi lies simply in this, Li says: it strives to make the pursuit of lofty principles coincide with the successful pursuit of pleasure in this life.41 Thus Li claims for early China what Bernard Williams earlier claimed for ancient Greece: sufficient wisdom to pose the question “How am I to live well?” without cordoning off morality and practicality from one another, as urged by Kant and thereafter by most of Western philosophy, as footnotes to Kant.42 In order to accomplish this, Chinese culture generally values orthopraxy (acting in conformity with one’s role) above orthodoxy (right belief ). Stark differences when “thinking, theorizing, talking,” may not necessarily force hard decisions or real-life consequences, and yet the Kongzi of Li’s account is not so stupid as to confuse dynamic pluralism with “everyone doing his own thing.”43 After all, societal order requires some minimum standard of conformity in its communal practices promising to induce togetherness.44 His cultural chauvinism notwithstanding, Li Zehou has lived with the Chinese classics long enough to casually toss off very astute observations, for example, that Kongzi was the first person, so far as we know, to elevate the importance of ren 仁 to a level equal to that of li 禮 (ritual activity), and Mencius was the first to pair routinely ren (humane activity) with yi 義 (appropriate action).45 One of the most interesting sets of discussions to be found in Li’s “translation” of and commentary on the Analects considers the notion of ming 命 (typically translated as “fate,” “decree,” or “mandate”). Li argues persuasively that ming designates that rather large area of human existence outside direct intervention and human control; thus ming corresponds to the coincidental (or at least “unplanned” or “unsought”) patterns whose convergence (equally unplanned and unsought) nonetheless affects individuals, larger social units, and even the cosmos itself. The wise person of the Confucian persuasion does not seek to break through the certain limitations on his or her individual existence. Instead the wise person undertakes to learn how to create a felicitous space within inescapable parameters not of his or her own choosing (a category that includes parents, native country, and often one’s profession).46 Ironically, for all the cheap talk in the Western tradition about transcending sociopoliti-

Lunyu jindu


cal and economic limitations, the recurring resort in Western cultures to terms like “fate” bespeaks a much higher degree of determinism, probably because of religious precepts and principles predicated on the existence of a divinely ordained order. By contrast, Kongzi’s teachings and those of his early followers “keep always to the human level,” says Li.47 Thus, Li denies, repeatedly and forcefully, the mainstream tradition that posits Heaven’s support for Kongzi, though he extravagantly admires the larger-than-life courage implicit in Kongzi’s supposed dedication to rescuing Chinese culture from itself (see below).48 In Li’s construction, Kongzi advocates two maxims that only superficially seem in contradiction: “understand your lot” and “make your own destiny.”49 A related discussion concerns various pitfalls and perils of modern-day life, in which Li deplores the ever-greater drive for specialization, on the grounds that overspecialization inhibits a person’s ability to see the bigger picture50 and thus precludes the attainment of that profound empathy that all Confucians in every time period (even the most benighted and bigoted) have deemed the “core” Confucian message.51 Li speaks openly of his fear that today’s leaders in China are losing sight of the profound Confucian belief that such feelings serve as “the [only secure] basis of social order.” The current leadership must instill this message in the people by example, even at the cost of some financial gain or “efficiency.”52 In Li’s vision, the fundamental desiderata of today’s society should therefore be (1) an improvement in all people’s living standards, which Li interprets as a necessary condition for moral development, in either the educated or uneducated;53 (2) some allowance made for pluralistic values; (3) an agreement to abide by communal standards embodied in the economy, in law, and in government, in place of selfishness;54 (4) a refusal to treat human beings as merely means to an end (modernization), lest one thereby disadvantage the “old, the weak, and women and children”;55 and (5) a restoration of trust and integrity to public life.56 In advancing these policy proposals, however vague, Li remains faithful both to the underlying message of the Analects and of Marxism, for both sets of teachings agree that those in power have the duty to “provide for the people.”57 Meanwhile, the spiritual dimension of Confucian teachings, so emphasized in Euro-American secondary studies by revisionist scholars, is somehow subsumed under patriotism and Chinese identity for Li, the two goals being occasionally conflated by Li, which together add up to the “sacred humanism” and “negative Golden Rule” that Li would have Chinese aspire to.58 Li’s analyses of all the Analects passages are premised on the belief that Kongzi invariably spoke in everyday language without “big words,”59 suiting his message to the precise needs and personalities of the persons he was addressing. That explains why Kongzi spoke to Zigong (a man of the world deeply engaged in high finance and court life) mainly about social justice, legal regulations, and the necessity for incorrupt officials in administration, while he spoke with


Li Zehou’s Reconception of Confucian Philosophy

Yan Hui and Zengzi, two disciples living in straightened circumstances outside the court, about cultivation and personal morality “within the framework of a sacred humanism.”60 Because so many of the Song-Ming lixue thinkers showed such disdain for practical reforms, Li must revise the standard narrative for Confucian history, if he is to convince readers that he is even approximately right. He can hardly wave a finger to do away with the orthodox Daotong (道統) first devised by Zhu Xi and company, given how many modern self-identified Confucian scholars throughout Asia rush to position themselves within that line of transmission, so Li proposes a drastic revision of the standard periodization for Confucian learning. Whereas the traditional Daotong narrative castigated Xunzi 荀子 and classical learning in the early empires as pernicious deviations from the True Way of Kongzi that were rooted in Xunzi’s rotten blueprint for imperial ideology,61 Li inserts the Han Confucians into the Daotong lineage as “second-wave” Confucians, in the belief that the Han thinkers, most especially Dong Zhongshu 董仲 舒 (ca. 179–ca. 104 BC) and Yang Xiong 揚雄 (53 BCE–18 CE), managed to retain many of Kongzi’s deepest insights, thanks in large part to Xunzi’s reliably excellent teachings on ritual and statecraft. For Li, as for the early Confucian master Xunzi, no true Confucian would ever celebrate the self-abnegation and asceticism identified with the Mediterranean and Indian religions, for desires are as natural as breathing, and denial of the body and bodily desires comes easily only to those poor souls who are truly dead or deaf to life’s infinitely rich possibilities.62 Li continues, But [in contrast to early Confucian teachings] the Lu-Wang adherents and Mou Zongsan consider heart-mind to be the “basis,” while still stressing a distinction between “the heart of the Dao” and “the human heart” and “the heart’s rule over the nature and feelings,” although such oppositions are not there in the original Confucian teachings. These later teachings require people to leave human desires entirely behind them, so as to strive for something higher.63

To Li’s way of thinking, it is the self-identified “third-wave Confucians” (i.e., the Song-Ming lixue proponents and the pious neo-Cons, including the famous teachers Mou Zongsan and Tu Weiming) who have betrayed Kongzi’s Way in their eagerness to embrace first Buddhist and later Western tenets, while elevating Western science and a range of postmodern theories to quasi-religious status.64 Indeed, in Li’s view, those neo-Cons, particularly Mou Zongsan, closed the chapter on third-wave Confucian learning.65 To the degree that they have overemphasized reverence, quiet contemplation, ratiocination, and a selfregarding and ostentatious piety, these third-wave Confucians have led their

Lunyu jindu


followers to forget that in an ideal society good actions lead “naturally” toward multiple gratifications in this “one world” (meaning, the social world of the living), so that even a less-than-ideal society such as that which prevails across East Asia today still affords the committed followers of Kongzi multiple opportunities to experience the commingled pleasures derived from a heightened sense of sociality and appreciation for consummate artistry.66 As an imaginative “howto” book, Li’s commentary (which he pronounces “the new fourth-wave”) is to set the stage for a welcome return or renaissance of Confucian practices stripped of their most egregiously foreign accretions and hence more conducive to distinctively Chinese forms of pleasure, sociality, and art.67 Li’s Kongzi, interestingly enough, remains an aristocrat throughout; Li exhibits no impulse to “democratize” Kongzi, casting him as an educational reformer intent on leveling status and class. To give an example, Li’s explication for Analects 3.7, which has archery illustrating the noncompetitiveness of aristocratic rituals, says, “Archery contests came down from antiquity. Before the advent of agricultural societies, people relied on hunting for their living, and shooting arrows was the main (perhaps the earliest) important skill. From this it evolved later into the Six Arts of Kongzi’s era (rites, music, archery, charioteering, writing, mathematics).” Zhu Xi’s Collected Commentaries styles those who compete in archery as local yokels,68 arguing that true gentlemen of great morality “entrust themselves to the idea that they are one body with all the myriad phenomena of existence,” an attitude that entirely obviates any need for competition. But Li counters with a virtual heresy: “it is not the case that every single word spoken by Kongzi is the gospel Truth.” Li then brings up a number of thinkers down through the ages who queried the truthfulness of Kongzi’s statements, in rhetoric he approves of.69 Elsewhere in the five successive passages in Analects 11.6–10 that are devoted to the death of Kongzi’s favorite disciple, Yan Hui, Li argues for a clear distinction in Kongzi’s teachings between the expression of personal feelings and a steadfast loyalty to the prescribed social system of the rites. “Kongzi steadfastly upheld the standpoint, system, and status of an aristocrat,” says Li, adding that in reality, “Kongzi was not at all like Mozi, Zhuangzi, or other thinkers.”70 Li’s translation of the Analects differs from other popular translations in the PRC, Taiwan, and Hong Kong (e.g., those by Kang Youwei, Qian Mu, and Yang Bojun) in that Li never tries to speculate about the meanings of many lines for which one cannot hope to ascertain the precise original historical context. Ergo Li’s tripartite format for his translation: part 1 renders the classical Chinese into standard modern Chinese; part 2 cites earlier readings that deserve particular praise or blame in Li’s reading; and part 3 appends a longish commentary for each line, tying the line to Li’s thoroughgoing preoccupations with the distant Chinese past in connection with contemporary identity issues. Astute readers


Li Zehou’s Reconception of Confucian Philosophy

will soon notice how often in specific passages Li’s rendering of the Analects’ language and its underlying meaning is totally at odds with earlier traditions. Analects 5.22 and 7.23 provide two prime examples of Li’s propensity to reshape centuries-long traditions. Traditional translation of Analects 5.22: The Master was in Chen, when he said, “Let’s go back! Let’s go back! The young people in our party are headstrong and careless; they are perfecting themselves in all the showy insignia of culture without any idea of how to use them.” [A negative assessment] Zhu Xi’s commentary 註: Now the Master’s first intention was he wanted his Way carried out throughout the empire. When it came to this time, he understood that to the end of his days his [ethical] Way would not be employed. Thus for the first time he wanted to complete the learning for later times so that his Way would be transmitted to future generations. [A negative ­assessment] Li’s unconventional translation into modern Chinese: The master was in the Chen kingdom when he said, “Let’s go back! Let’s go back! These students from my home district have commitments, abilities, reasoning, and refinements. I truly do not know how better to perfect them” [meaning they are near perfection by now]. [A positive assessment] Li’s Record 記: Kongzi met with troubles in Chen, to the point that he nearly starved. And so he let loose his feelings and said it would be better to go back. For if they went back, they had things they could accomplish; why suffer this punishment? The term kuang jian 狂簡 here should be explained as “having high aspirations, courage, discipline, and talent.” [A positive assessment] Traditional translation of Analects 7.23: “Heaven begat the power in me. What I have to fear from Huan Tui?” Cheng Shude’s (程樹德) Collected Explications (集釋): The Shiji says, “When Kongzi was passing through Song, he and his disciples were practicing the rites below a great tree, and when Huan Tui

Lunyu jindu


attacked that tree, Kongzi left it behind. A disciple said, ‘We could be quicker [in our retreat].’ The Master said, ‘Heaven gave birth to this charismatic power in me. Now what can Huan Tui do to me?’ They then straightaway made for Zheng.”

Li’s translation into modern Chinese: Kongzi said, “High Heaven gave me virtue. What can Huan Tui do to me?” Li’s Record 記: This passage is always cited by later people who wish to say that Kongzi had a kind of magical mission or he was endowed with some kind of mystical “sagely nature,” and he was not afraid because of Heaven’s own protection. In reality, this is merely a conventional expression of courage. Why must one use the stupid explications that divinize Kongzi? From a sense of responsibility was born his sense of mission in history, and therefore his belief in the existence of certain objective laws. So that was the source of this kind of brave talk that he used to hearten himself, which is like Mencius’ phrase, “[If in the right,] I would go forward, even if there were ten million people [against me]” 雖千萬人, 吾往矣.71 Still, this supreme faith in the ability of the Analects to guide modern life within the context of Chinese culture, when combined with forthright criticism of the True Way Learning lixue (理學) masters and the very idea of Daotong constructed in late imperial China, is bound to complicate Chinese readers’ cool assessments of Li’s claims, given just how difficult it is to apply neat categories to Li’s stances. As the historian John Makeham notes, it is hard to be certain whether Li Zehou is a New Confucian or not; he seems not to apply that label to himself, and even in Lunyu jindu, he reminds us of his greater interest in Lao-Zhuang thought and Mystery Learning.72 Li claims to be a Marxist or a post-Marxist, and for most New Confucians, that label is anathema. He is mentioned in passing a mere three times in a recent book on the third-wave Confucians. But Li often has been labeled a New Confucian by many analysts living in East Asia who are either anticommunist or anti-Confucian.73 Euro-Americans may be more inclined to locate a major flaw in Li’s powerful vision in the fact that Li confines his interests, when all is said and done, to the fate of Chinese intellectuals, as is abundantly clear in his entire corpus of writing: for example, Li says of Confucius (and his follower Xunzi), “To have missed this ‘very human beauty’ [a complement of natural beauty]—whether in real life, in the life of the mind or emotions, or in the creation and appreciation


Li Zehou’s Reconception of Confucian Philosophy

of art and literature—would have been a very great loss for Chinese intellectuals.”74 For such a capacious reader, that conclusion reflects a remarkably limited view of Confucius and one brilliantly countered by the opening assessment of Herbert Fingarette: When I began to read Confucius, I found him to be a prosaic and parochial moralizer; his collected sayings, the Analects, seemed to me an archaic irrelevance. Later, and with increasing force, I found him a thinker with profound insight and with an imaginative vision of man equal in its grandeur to any I know. I have become convinced that Confucius can be a teacher to us today—a major teacher, not one who merely gives us a slightly exotic perspective on the ideas already current. He tells us things not being said elsewhere; things needing to be said. He has a new lesson to teach.75

Obviously, as a Caucasian female who reads the early Confucian works fairly often, partly out of personal interest and partly because my main objects of historical inquiry read those same Chinese classics obsessively, I have to believe that these works have more universal value. I advise students to consider the representational effect that Li Zehou’s highly stimulating, if only partly plausible, narratives has of Chinese history.76 Having rejected a strict Christian upbringing, I find quite a few classical-era notions in Chinese works very helpful correctives as I go through life trying to figure out how to make my world work well for the members of my various communities. Still, I will not hold my breath for the day when one Chinese “intellectual” of cultivation acknowledges that nearly forty years spent reading in the Chinese classics, masterworks, and histories qualify a person of non-Chinese descent to speak with authority about early China. With some asperity I register the observation that a particular genetic makeup cannot guarantee facility in reading classical Chinese. Perhaps because Li’s “translation” of the Analects was prepared for several Chinese-speaking markets in the PRC, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, his default message touts the superior virtues of Chinese civilization in ways that are bound to be disturbing to outsiders, ways that often seem wildly aspirational rather than reality-based. Chinese barbarities have been known to exist alongside those of Euro-American nationals. Aside from that major caveat, I would urge all readers of modern Chinese to familiarize themselves with Li’s distinctive readings of the Analects, so that we can move this particular conversation forward. While I deplore what I see as Li’s occasional unreflective chauvinism and query his larger narrative about civilization and the specifics of history, I thoroughly applaud his desire to convey the superior flavor of parts of antiquity to today’s readers and to those of the future.

Lunyu jindu


Notes 1.  For the early construction of the Daotong, see Thomas A. Wilson, Genealogy of the Way: The Construction and Uses of the Confucian Tradition in Late Imperial China (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1995). 2. Bernard Williams regarded the philosophy of the ancients as preferable to that of Kant and Christian-inflected thinkers. See note 6 below. 3.  Viccy Coltman, Fabricating the Antique: Neoclassicism in Britain, 1760–1800 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), 71, 150, 162. 4.  See Li Zehou, Reading the “Analects” Today (Lunyu jindu 論語今讀) (Hong Kong: Tiandi shutu, 1998), 2.11, on wengu. Li uses the opportunity to talk about reading and writing and about the special character of Chinese logographs. (In what follows, all references to Lunyu jindu refer to Li’s annotations for passages in the Analects, following its standard paragraphing. Page numbers are generally not supplied, except for the introduction section, because the pagination varies in multiple editions. References to passages in the Analects itself will refer directly to the Analects.) 5.  Lunyu jindu 3.9 and 9.30 emphasize this. Li, in fact, disparages great figures such as Tolstoy and Turgenev, who denounced “the culture of their times” (Lunyu jindu 4.9). See the curious list of reformers (political and cultural) in Lunyu jindu 5.9. For the distinction between classicist and Confucian (both signaled by the term “Ru”), see Michael Nylan, “A Problematic Model: The Han ‘Orthodox Synthesis,’ Then and Now,” in Imagining Boundaries: Changing Confucian Doctrines, Texts, and Hermeneutics, ed. Kai-wing Chow, On-cho Ng, and John B. Henderson (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999), 17–56. For the classicists’ and Confucians’ adjustments to ritual, see, for example, Tian Tian, “The Suburban Sacrifice Reforms and the Evolution of the Imperial Sacrifices,” in Chang’an 26 BCE: An Augustan Age in China, ed. Michael Nylan and Griet Vankeerberghen (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2015), 263–292; and Michael Nylan, The Five “Confucian” Classics (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2001), chap. 4. 6.  Lunyu jindu 5.2. Compare Bernard Williams, Shame and Necessity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), 20, 251. For the difficulties of jettisoning the subjugation of women to men, see Rebecca Solnit, Men Explain Things to Me (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2014). 7.  Lunyu jindu 6.7 cites with approval the critique by Yuan Mei 袁枚 (1716–1798) of Song-Ming lixue: that its proponents left pleasure out of their teachings. Cf. Lunyu jindu 7.2. 8. John Makeham, ed., New Confucianism: A Critical Examination (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), 107. Umberto Bresciani, in Reinventing Confucianism: The New Confucian Movement (Taipei: Taipei Ricci Institute for Chinese Studies, 2001), 443, notes Li’s remarks that Confucian learning did not stress rigorous logic and abstract dialectic arguments (and hence was what Bresciani calls “a semi-philosophy” [?]) but aimed at “influencing the daily life of a person,” which was the traditional function of Western religions (hence “a semi-religion” [?]). His categories are so vague as not to clarify, however. 9.  The leaders of the Chinese Communist Party are not averse to absorbing powerful messages from their political opponents. They continue to hold power in part because they


Li Zehou’s Reconception of Confucian Philosophy

have been so nimble and flexible, in the post-Mao era, beginning with Deng’s famous “black cat, white cat” pronouncement. 10.  My word, not his, borrowed from Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew, and others. 11.  See the introduction to Lunyu jindu, 3. 12. See Lunyu jindu 4.10, which celebrates “impartiality” and sees partiality as a gross impediment to development of “humane culture.” 13.  On the last, see Lunyu jindu 1.14. 14.  See, for example, Pamela Druckerman, “The Clutter Cure’s Illusory Joy,” New York Times, February 15, 2015: “We’re . . . overwhelmed by the intangible detritus of 21st-century life: unreturned emails; unprinted family photos; the ceaseless ticker of other people’s lives on Facebook; the heightened demands of parenting; and the suspicion that we’ll be checking our phones every 15 minutes, forever.” 15.  Lunyu jindu 2.1, 2.3. Li still assumes that leaders can “save” subjects and citizens, through some miraculous power of attraction; his prose seems not merely descriptive when he writes of government officials, who are to set good examples. For that reason, Li seems to me to be overfocused on addressing today’s power holders in China. Those who disagree with me would counter by stating that Li’s objections to communitarianism and Communism stem from his belief that no government should mandate a single standard for goodness. I do not see the contradiction. See the introduction to Lunyu jindu, 9, for Li’s conviction that China would benefit from a modern democracy. At the same time, democracy is in the eye of the beholder, as George Orwell noted in Politics and the English Language (Evansville, Ind.: Herbert W. Simpson, 1947). 16.  Lunyu jindu 4.24 argues that the “New Confucians” are “purely academic,” being more intent on winning debates than on everyday practice; to Li’s way of thinking, they have lost the fundamental insight of the Confucian way. The lixue people are charged with “taking earnestness to the death,” thereby depriving everyday life of pleasure. See Lunyu jindu 5.10, for example. 17. See Lunyu jindu 9.4, 214–215, for example. Unlike Zhuangzi, Li insists that animals don’t feel mourning and that this feeling is the beginning of a people’s self-conscious identity and the person’s (“the individual heart’s”) cultural sense (see Lunyu jindu 1.9). Li consistently translates xin as “heart-mind,” again an anachronism; “heart” suffices for the early notions that encompass the rational faculties, as it would suffice in pre-Cartesian European discourse. Li doesn’t mention several powerful arguments against the scientists who reduce human nature to physical neurons; he might enjoy Marilynne Robinson’s Absence of Mind: The Dispelling of Inwardness from the Modern Myth of the Self (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2010). 18.  Lunyu jindu 3.4–5. There being no concept of original sin in any of the Three Teachings, the human equipment is deemed “perfectly adequate to the task of being moralized” (see Lunyu jindu 3.4). Lunyu jindu 4.6 insists that strenuous moral effort means that “there is no level of excellence that one cannot achieve.” 19. See, for example, Lunyu jindu 7.32, where Li decries undue solemnity because it stresses the familiar. In Lunyu jindu 4.1, Li grants that beauty and goodness are not synonymous. 20. NB: Thus Li glosses over the distinction between the pre-Qin junzi (“person of

Lunyu jindu


position or status”; a potential or actual candidate for government service) and the modernday “intellectual”; in much the same way, he glosses over the important distinctions between Ruxue (classicism) and the modern Kongzixue (Confucianism) (see note 5 above). Finally, he assumes the primacy of written texts over other aspects of “culture,” even though he admits that “reading books” plays a small part in the Analects, because most teaching was oral in the pre-Qin period (see Lunyu jindu 1.8). 21. For the first, see Lunyu jindu (throughout); for the second, see, for example, Lunyu jindu 5.7 and 5.13. Like Yu Yingshi and others who favor that merging, Li ignores the history of the term “intellectual.” Inside modern China, the term indicates little more than having a certain level of educational attainment, but the Western term carries more than a whiff of its origin, in the nineteenth century, when it described “socially alienated, theologically literate, antiestablishment lay intelligentsia,” typically tied to an independent source of financial support—not at all what our thinkers in early China or their contemporary proponents have aimed for. See Alister McGrath, The Twilight of Atheism (New York: Doubleday, 2004), 53. 22.  Introduction to Lunyu jindu, 11. 23. On this, see Michael Nylan and Thomas Wilson, Lives of Confucius (New York: Doubleday, 2010), chap. 7. 24.  For Yu Dan, see Lunyu xinde 《论语》 心得 (Insights into the Analects) (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 2006). Some of Yu’s errors have been corrected in the later printings and English translation. Lunyu jindu was first published in Hong Kong in 1998; reprints include those published in Hefei (1998), Taipei (2000), and Beijing (2004). 25.  See the introduction to Lunyu jindu, 4. 26.  Lunyu jindu 9.5. At points, Li equates the culture of (and belief in) “diviners and shamans” with the “Little Tradition” (i.e., that of the commoners) and Confucian culture with the “Great Tradition” of the educated elites. See Lunyu jindu 6.13. How anachronistic this is for the early empires was shown, in the early twentieth century, by Gu Jiegang’s (顧頡 剛) classic book entitled Qin Han de fangshi yu rusheng 秦漢的方士與儒生 (1935; reprint, Shanghai: Qunlian chubanshe, 1955). 27.  Lunyu jindu 6.3. 28.  Lunyu jindu 18.6. Cf. Li’s annotation for disputed lines such as Analects 3.5, for which Li offers only two out of the possible three readings, both of which favor the ZhuXia (seen as the precursors of the Chinese people today) over any non-Chinese groups. Cf. Lunyu jindu 9.14. It would be easy to dismiss Li as a Chinese chauvinist, but that would be too simplistic, for Li identifies no Other for the Chinese at any given time, only people whose culture allows them to be civilized earlier, in contrast to some who “get there later.” Li denounces the concept of “racial purity,” not to mention genocide (Lunyu jindu, 79). He is clearly uncomfortable also with “competition for competition’s sake” (Lunyu jindu 3.7). 29.  Cf. Herbert Fingarette, Confucius: The Secular as Sacred (New York: Harper and Row, 1972). On Kongzi as “highly self-conscious,” see Lunyu jindu 7.1–3. 30.  Lunyu jindu 5.10, speaking of invasions, famines, and other troubles. 31.  Lunyu jindu 8.9 remarks on the tortuous logic Kang Youwei employed to “rewrite” (i.e., repunctuate, and thereby change the meaning) the line “The people can be made to follow it [i.e., the Way]; they cannot be made to understand it.” As Li sensibly says, there was in


Li Zehou’s Reconception of Confucian Philosophy

Kongzi’s day no sense that the government should be “of the people and by the people,” only that it should be “for the people.” 32. To be fair, a rough contemporary of Li, Arthur Waley, experienced similar problems of entanglement with regard to Sir James George Frazer’s system of myth and ritual, as articulated in The Golden Bough (1911–1915; reprint, New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990). On Waley, see the editor’s introduction to the Norton Critical Edition of the Analects: A Collection of Essays plus a Translation, ed. Michael Nylan (New York: Norton, 2014). 33. Li talks of the Confucian-Legalist and Confucian-Daoist (thinking the Analects shares much with the Zhuangzi, if not so much with the Laozi) syntheses in Lunyu jindu 5.21. Elsewhere he mentions Buddhist ideals as well. 34. See, for example, Lunyu jindu 2.4, 2.16, 6.22, 11.11. Li celebrates Su Shi as the exemplar who combined an interest in Confucian, Buddhist, and Daoist ideas. 35. All these points are raised in Li’s introduction to Lunyu jindu, 5. See also Lunyu jindu 2.6. 36.  See, for example, Lunyu jindu 2.5, 3.20. 37. Introduction to Lunyu jindu, 6. See also Lunyu jindu 4.8. Lunyu jindu 3.12 says that since Kongzi’s teachings don’t mandate any specific beliefs, they don’t risk making certain kinds of unprovable statements. Li denounces Zhu Xi for making “Heaven” synonymous with li 理 (principle). Of course, battles rage over how much of our portrait of Socrates is colored by Plato’s idealism. I myself tend to accept the account offered by Alexander Nehamas in Virtues of Authenticity: Essays on Plato and Socrates (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1999), but the Socrates described by Gregory Vlastos is completely different. See his Socrates: Ironist and Moral Philosopher (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1991), 47–49. 38.  Lunyu jindu, 20; cf. Lunyu jindu 6.24. Li emphasizes that “fate” (ming) tends not to imply determinism; rather, it connotes “happenstance” or “coincidence,” the conjunction of several factors and larger societal patterns (Lunyu jindu, 20). Li also emphasizes that Kongzi was neither a revolutionary nor a conservative; he was most interested in how to effect cumulative improvements (Lunyu jindu 3.14). Cf. Lunyu jindu 6.10. 39. Introduction to Lunyu jindu, 21. Lunyu jindu 4.24 claims that the “Song-Ming lixue experts were certainly afraid of themselves and their own impulses.” He sees them as more Buddhist than Confucian, as a result. 40.  Lunyu jindu 1.12. 41.  Lunyu jindu 3.20. Cf. Lunyu jindu 4.2. Li draws our attention to the phrase “finding profit in ren [developed humanity]” in Lunyu jindu 4.2. 42.  Lunyu jindu 5.9 remarks that the topic of zhi 智, or practical wisdom, comes up repeatedly in the Analects, but it was seldom talked about by later thinkers. Modes of reasoning by “practical wisdom” are, of course, seldom regarded as “philosophy” in the postKantian world. See Henry Rosemont Jr., A Reader’s Companion to the Confucian Analects (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), chap. 8. A refreshing exception to the post-Kantian platitudes is found in Timothy Chappell, Knowing What to Do: Imagination, Virtue, and Platonism in Ethics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014). 43.  Lunyu jindu 3.2. 44. On togetherness as one of the chief works of homo faber, see Richard Sennett,

Lunyu jindu


Together: The Rituals, Pleasures, and Politics of Cooperation (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2012). 45. Note that Li, in company with Ames and Rosemont, regards these not as “virtue words” but as descriptions of activities. For Kongzi’s elevation of ren, see Lunyu jindu 7.1. 46.  See, for example, Lunyu jindu 7.12, 7.35, 9.29. For this reason, Li identifies Analects 9.17 (on the unceasing flow of the river, signifying change and flux over time) as “probably the most important single sentence of philosophy in the entire book.” Of course, Li left the PRC in the 1990s, so he does not think all parameters are set permanently. “Yielding” is, of course, the basis for ritual activities of all sorts (Lunyu jindu 4.13). Li, commenting on Analects 5.23, says that the traditional Chinese focus on harmony and pleasure has made for relatively little emphasis on human rights. But Li minces no words in condemning “clever politicians” (see Lunyu jindu 5.24). 47.  Lunyu jindu 2.4, 2.8. 48.  See, for example, Lunyu jindu 3.24, 7.23, 9.9, 9.11. 49.  Introduction to Lunyu jindu, 19–20. 50.  Lunyu jindu 2.12; said with respect to the phrase “the junzi is not a tool” (Lunyu 2.12). Li does not cite but would approve of Wendell Berry’s Standing by Words (West Stockbridge, Mass.: Lindisfarne Press, 1980), chap. 1. 51.  Lunyu jindu 2.15, which denounces self-satisfaction and selfishness. Li comments that there are only a few ideas that Han learning and Song-Ming lixue both identify as central. Cf. Lunyu jindu 4.14, in which Li defines the “one thread” as “likening [others] to oneself.” 52.  Lunyu jindu 3.4, 4.12. Note here that the inclinations, rather than the “heart” (xin), seem central to Lunyu 3.4. 53.  Lunyu jindu 4.16. One criticism Li makes of the Song-Ming lixue thinking is that it wishes to eliminate the profit motive, along with the desires—which denies the fundamental insight of Confucian teachings, to Li’s way of thinking. Here the superstructure (morality) depends on the economic situation. 54. Li remarks that family business should never be thought to be merely a “private affair” (Lunyu jindu 2.21). At the same time, Li says that the family unit is the “unswerving pillar” and support for Chinese society, on which modern society must be built, given the many radical changes coming to other institutions, which are bound to unsettle people for a time. Thanks to xiao (family feeling) “even now,” the ancestors can in some sense live on within their descendants, as Li remarks in connection with Analects 3.12. Li’s tart remarks about Jesus and Freud (Lunyu jindu 4.19) insist that “transformative creativity” (轉化性創 造) ought not to go so far as to make a person “turn his back on” his parents. 55.  Lunyu jindu 2.16. 56.  Lunyu jindu 4.22. 57. Li cites Analects 5.16 and other passages in support of his sociopolitical reform agenda. 58. See Lunyu jindu 5.12. 59.  Lunyu jindu 5.13. Li complains that the New Confucians love to traffic in words like “Being” and “transcendence,” as they “look down upon everyday experience” (ibid.). This makes them operate in what, to Li’s way of thinking, is a religious (and so “supersti-


Li Zehou’s Reconception of Confucian Philosophy

tious”) milieu requiring “abject contrition.” Cf. Lunyu jindu 5.18, 6.29 (which defines the zhong 中 of zhongyong 中庸 as “ordinary”). 60.  It is implied but not stated by Li that Yan Hui and Zengzi were at a higher stage of development than Zigong. See Lunyu jindu 5.12. Cf. Lunyu jindu 6.8, where Li says bluntly that the qualifications for holding office are pragmatic results “in the real world,” not inner purity of the heart. The incorrupt and the nouveau riche Li denounces in Lunyu jindu 6.14, 6.16. Note that I do not speak of “personal” or “individual” cultivation, for the main thrust of Kongzi’s teachings was on social cultivation and connection with the larger cosmic patterns. In Lunyu jindu 6.2, Li remarks, “Toward the cosmos and the [common] people, one [those in power] should adopt an attitude of reverence.” 61. On Xunzi’s insistence on incorporating desires into his social plan, see Michael Nylan, “Xunzi: An Early Reception History, Han through Tang,” in Dao Companion to the Philosophy of Xunzi, ed. Eric L. Hutton (Dordrecht: Springer, 2016), chap. 14. 62.  Lunyu jindu 2.8. 63. Ibid. 64. See, for example, Lunyu jindu 8.3. Li denounces the fragmentary nature of personal identity, as imagined by postmodern theory; he believes that the “search for the self ” is neither nonsensical nor fruitless. Li references Kongzi’s statement that he was “never obstinate nor egotistical” (Analects 9.4). 65.  Bresciani says that, in Li’s view, “Mou has closed the chapter for the New Confucians”; there is “no future left” for this philosophical school, in large part, Bresciani contends, because of Mou’s borrowings from Kant (Reinventing Confucianism, 397). 66.  Lunyu jindu 8.21 sketches the pleasures of working hard and “not noticing oneself ” while serving others. 67. See Lunyu jindu 7.1, 7.4, for unambiguous statements. 68.  See Zhu Xi 朱熹, Si shu zhangju jizhu 四書章句集注, in Yingyin Wenyuange Siku quanshu 景印文淵閣四庫全書, vol. (ce 册) 197, 2.31a. 69.  Lunyu jindu 3.7. 70.  Lunyu jindu 11.7. 71.  Lunyu jindu 7.23, citing Mencius 2A2 in relation to Li’s claim that there is no need to divinize Kongzi. 72.  Introduction to Reading the “Analects” Today, 3. 73.  But see Sylvia Chan, “Li Zehou and New Confucianism,” in New Confucianism: A Critical Examination, ed. John Makeham (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), 105–130. 74. Li Zehou, The Chinese Aesthetic Tradition, trans. Maija Bell Samei (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2010), 99. 75.  Introduction to Reading the “Analects” Today, 1. 76. One of Li’s book on aesthetics, The Path of Beauty: A Study of Chinese Aesthetics, trans. Gong Lizeng (Beijing: Morning Glory Publishers, 1988), sports a variety of outdated notions about enduring regional cultures. One of the best sources on the “representational effect” of rhetoric in history, as opposed to historical accuracy, is Louis Marin, The Portrait of the King, trans. Martha Houle (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988), 65.


Li Zehou’s Reconception of Confucian Ethics of Emotion Jinhua JIA

Li Zehou, one of the outstanding contemporary thinkers, coined the term “emotio-rational structure” (emotional-rational structure, or qingli jiegou 情理 結構) for his ethical theory. Li emphasizes a balanced and integrated structure of emotion and reason, and the core of this structure is an innovative combination of Kantian rationalism and Confucian ethics. Li admires Immanuel Kant’s rational ontology of ethics but criticizes his exclusion of human emotion and desire. Li advocates complementing Kantian rationalism with the Confucian ethics of emotion, which he calls emotion as substance (qing benti 情本體). He believes that such a balanced structure of emotion and reason will provide inspirations for the changing world and contribute to the new construction of humanity and cultural order. As is well known, the mainstream of Western philosophy has traditionally emphasized the dichotomy of reason and emotion. Emotions and passions have been described as irrational and subjective, totally divorced from or opposite to reason. In recent decades, however, this position has been challenged by a number of philosophers and psychologists. Scholars argue that emotion cannot be fully divorced from rationality, and it is not necessarily irrational or entirely subjective and private. On the contrary, they believe that emotion and reason form a continuum and that emotion plays a vital role in intelligent perception and rational evaluation.1 Sociologists also stress that emotional energy is the main motivating force in social life.2 Li Zehou’s study of the Confucian ethics of emotion started in the early 1980s, and his theses of emotion as substance 155


Li Zehou’s Reconception of Confucian Philosophy

and the emotio-rational structure provide pioneering contributions to this new intellectual trend. This chapter first introduces Li Zehou’s exposition of the emotional basis of Confucius’ ethics, with ren 仁 (humaneness) as the core concern.3 Then it proceeds with a new interpretation of qing 情, the Chinese character that denotes emotion, and an examination of its signification in the Xing zi ming chu 性自命出 (hereafter cited as XZMC) and other related Confucian manuscripts excavated from Guodian,4 in order to explore the development of the Confucian ethics of emotion during the Warring States period and to support Li’s arguments. Finally, the chapter discusses Li’s theory of the emotio-rational structure and its possible inspirations for and contributions to the changing world cultural order from the perspective of integrating Kantian rationality with Confucian ethics of emotion. Emotion as the Substance of Morality

Li Zehou’s exposition of the Confucian ethics of emotion starts with his discussion of Confucius’ concept of ren 仁 (to love human beings; humaneness) in the early 1980s. He acknowledges ren as Confucius’ central concept and analyzes it as comprising five major factors in the Analects: (1) the foundation of blood (familial) relations; (2) the principle of psychology; (3) humanism; (4) ideal character; and (5) all these four factors being guided by pragmatic reason (shiyong lixing 實用理性). Through the function of these factors, Confucius uses ren to interpret li 禮 (the ritual regulations) and internalize the social, ethical regulations as the individual’s own awareness and emotions. Of these five factors, Li says: The most important and notable is the principle of psychology and emotion; it is the key point by which Confucius’ thought and Confucianism are differentiated from other thoughts and schools. 最為重要和值得注意的是心理情感原則, 它是孔學儒家區別於其他學 說或學派的關鍵點.5

To understand Li’s philosophical elaboration of ren, we need to look at the etymological implication of the character first. Xu Shen 許慎 (ca. 58–ca. 147) describes ren as comprising ren 人 (human being, person) and er 二 (two).6 This has led some scholars to assume that the meaning implied in ren in the Analects is not based on a psychological notion and that the psychological, subjective use of ren in Chinese is a later development.7 However, Xu Shen’s description is limited to the standardized character of ren in the Han dynasty. Although he also lists two different Warring States scripts of ren, he does not trace it back to its earlier form.

Reconception of Confucian Ethics of Emotion


Among the Warring States seal scripts (xiyinwen 璽印文), there is one comprising shen 身 (human body, human being) and xin 心 (heart, mind; fig. 7.1a–b).8 Both Ding Foyan 丁佛言 and Guo Moruo 郭沫若 determine this script to be ren.9 Liu Xiang 劉翔 further examines all the available forms of ren in Warring States scripts and concludes that this script must be the original form for ren and that shen is both its semantic and phonetic etymon.10 It is noticeable that the early graph of shen depicts a human body with a bulging belly and a dot in the belly, which symbolizes a pregnant human body and therefore human beings and human life (fig. 7.2a–c); in Zhou-dynasty bronze inscriptions and Warring States scripts a horizontal line is often added under the belly as a decoration).11 Thus, the script ren that comprises shen and xin connotes the meaning of thinking, cherishing, and loving the human body, human life, and human beings in one’s heart-mind. Then it was changed, simplified, or borrowed to comprise qian 千 (thousand) and xin 心 (ren 忎; fig. 7.1c), as shen was quite similar to qian in structure and pronunciation in the writings of the Warring States period, especially in the writings of the Jin state (fig. 7.2d).12 This script is listed as an “ancient script” for ren in the Shuowen. Meanwhile, in some writings the constituent xin was omitted from the original script that comprises shen and xin, as it was a common practice in Warring States writings to omit one or more constituents. These omitted scripts gradually changed into various forms, including another “ancient script” listed as ren in the Shuowen, and eventually it was standardized as the script ren 仁 (fig. 7.1d–g).13 Later, when the Guodian (郭店) manuscripts were published, ren was indeed shown to be written as comprising shen and xin in numerous cases (fig. 7.1h–i).14 The Hanfeizi 韓非子 reads: “Ren means to love human beings with joy in one’s heart-mind” (仁者, 謂其中心欣然愛人也).15 This explanation perfectly decodes the semantic structure of the early script of ren, which comprises shen and xin.16 In the Analects, ren appears more than one hundred times,17 often under

Figure 7.1. Structural evolution of the character ren 仁.

Figure 7.2. Early structure of the character shen 身.


Li Zehou’s Reconception of Confucian Philosophy

the conversational context of Confucius’ reply to his disciples’ question “wen ren” (問仁). Since “wen ren” is usually interpreted as “asking what ren is” and Confucius’ answers to it differ all the time, ren has been regarded as “general virtue,” “ontological notion,” or even “surrounded with paradox and mystery”18 and has been translated variously as “agape,” “benevolence,” “love,” “humaneness,” “humanity,” “altruism,” “kindness,” “charity,” “compassion,” “magnanimity,” “goodness,” “human-heartedness,” and so forth. However, as Li Zehou indicates that traditional Chinese thinkers were seldom concerned with the question of “what is” but more interested in “how is”19 and therefore “wen ren” usually means “how to practice/cultivate ren.” This point can be verified with other similar questions such as “wen xiao” (問孝) and “wen zheng” (問政). Since the meanings of xiao and zheng are not ambiguous, these questions can be consistently explained as “how to practice/cultivate filial piety” and “how to govern.” The reason why Confucius offers different answers to different people is that everyone should practice humaneness, filial piety, or government according to their own personalities or contextual situations. For example, “Sima Niu asked how to practice ren. The Master said, ‘A person of ren is loath to speak’ ” (司馬牛問仁. 子曰: “仁者其言也仞”).20 According to his biography in the Shiji 史記, Sima Niu “talked a lot and was impatient” (duoyan er zao 多言而躁); this may be why Confucius instructed him to be “loath to speak.”21 The fundamental meaning of ren in the Analects, Li contends, is still “to love human beings” (ai ren 愛人),22 which connotes the psychological notion of emotion. Several other leading Chinese scholars hold a similar opinion. For example, Feng Youlan 馮友蘭 says: “Confucius’ discussions of ren emphasize humans’ true emotions and feelings” (孔丘論仁, 注重人的真情實感).23 Qian Mu 錢穆 says: “Ren is just emotion” (ren bianshi qinggan 仁便是情感).24 Li indicates that one of Confucius’ purposes in discussing ren is to restore and reinterpret li, or the rituals. Since the foundation of the Zhou rituals is the hierarchical system of familial relations, the starting point and substance of ren is xiao, or filial piety. Throughout the Analects, Confucius emphasizes full commitment in the sincere emotion of parent-child love. His discussion of the mourning rite with his disciple Zai Yu 宰予 (Zai Wo) most clearly displays this idea: Zai Wo asked, “About the three-year mourning, even a full year is too long. If the gentleman gives up the practice of the rituals for three years, the rituals are sure to be in ruins; if he gives up the performance of music for three years, the music is sure to collapse. The old grain is used up, the new grain ripens, and the fire is renewed by drilling woods, so after a full year the mourning can stop.” The master said, “Would you feel comfortable eating rice and wearing brocade?” Zai Wo replied, “Yes, I would.” “If you feel comfortable, then do so. The gentleman in mourning finds no

Reconception of Confucian Ethics of Emotion


relish in eating good food, no pleasure in hearing music, and no comfortableness in living in his home. That is why he gives up all of these. Now if you feel comfortable, then do so.” Zai Wo then went out, and the master said, “Zai Yu is so inhumane! A child cannot leave his parents’ arms until he is three years old. The three-year mourning is observed by all under heaven. Did Zai Yu not receive the three years’ love from his parents?” 宰我問: “三年之喪, 期已久矣. 君子三年不為禮, 禮必壞; 三年不為樂, 樂必崩. 舊穀既沒, 新穀既升, 鑽燧改火, 期可已矣.” 子曰: “食夫稻, 衣夫 錦, 於汝安乎?” 曰: “安.” “汝安則為之. 夫君子之居喪, 食旨不甘, 聞樂不 樂, 居處不安, 故不為也. 今汝安, 則為之.” 宰我出, 子曰: “予之不仁也. 子生三年, 然後免於父母之懷. 夫三年之喪, 天下之通喪也. 予也有三年 之愛於其父母乎?”25

Li gives special attention to this conversation and discusses it repeatedly in several of his works. According to Li’s analysis, Confucius directly explains the ritual of three-year mourning as an emotional and rational self-awareness that repays parents’ unconditional love for their children and displays children’s sincere love for their parents. He indicates that the implementation of this ritual relies on the psychological feelings of comfortableness. Here the key word is an 安, or comfortableness, which obviously refers to emotions and feelings. However, it is emotions and feelings that are not only natural but also elevated to a kind of rationalized awareness of filial piety as emotional repayment of parents’ love for and raising of their children. Confucius defines the familial foundation of the rituals as filial piety and constructs filial piety on the basis of parent-child love. Then he interprets the external rituals as people’s internal intentions, elevates the rigid, forceful regulations as their conscious concepts and free will, and changes the religious, mysterious ritual into daily emotions and life experiences. In this way, ethical regulations and psychological intentions are unified, and the rituals are humanized because of the acquirement of psychological support. The rituals are changed from heaven’s/gods’ orders to humans’ internal intentions and self-awareness, and humans are changed from following heaven/gods to following their own will and emotions. This change, Li asserts, is of epoch-making significance in traditional Chinese intellectual history. Li observes that from this basis of parent-child love, a person naturally extends his or her emotions to ren or general love/humaneness to other people and their well-being, as Confucius says: A young man should be filial at home and deferential abroad, be cautious and trustworthy in what he says, love the multitude at large, and closely associate with humane men. 弟子入則孝, 出則弟, 謹而信, 泛愛衆, 而親仁.26


Li Zehou’s Reconception of Confucian Philosophy

Or as Confucius’ disciple Youzi 有子 says: The gentleman devotes his efforts to the root, for once the root is established, the Dao will grow therefrom. As for filial piety and fraternal submission, are they not the root of humaneness? 君子務本, 本立而道生. 孝弟也者, 其爲仁之本與?27

The Guodian manuscript Wuxing 五行 more explicitly states this point: To love one’s father, and following this to love other human beings, this is ren. 愛父, 其繼愛人, 仁也.28

Mencius also says: Treat the elders in your own family as elders and extend this treatment to the elders in other families; treat the young in your own family as young and extend this treatment to the young of other families. 老吾老以及人之老, 幼吾幼以及人之幼.29

With parent-child love as the core, the emotion of loving kindness radiates from near to far, from intimate to distant, eventually reaching ren, or general love/ humaneness, the core concept of Confucian Dao. Here people’s love for others is extended from their biological, natural emotions for their family members. Li emphasizes that although ren is a higher category than xiao in the Confucian theory of morality, xiao is regarded as the root of ren by Confucius, and parent-child love provides the natural, humanized, and persistent foundation for people to cultivate and practice humaneness. Contemporary study in moral emotion uses two prototypical features for defining a moral emotion. The first is disinterested elicitors. The more an emotion tends to be triggered by eliciting events that do not directly touch the self, the more it can be considered a prototypical moral emotion. The second is prosocial action tendencies. Emotions generally motivate some sort of action as a response to the eliciting event. These action tendencies can be ranked by the degree to which they benefit either others or the social order.30 Confucius’ descriptions of xiao and ren are in unison with these two features. In elicitors, xiao, or filial piety, is strongly felt not only for one’s parents but also for other members of one’s clan and community (to be “filial at home and deferential abroad”); ren, or humaneness. further extends one’s loving kindness to all other human beings. In action tendencies, both xiao and ren lead people to love, help, and benefit others sincerely and selflessly and by doing so to harmonize family,

Reconception of Confucian Ethics of Emotion


community, and social orders. Thus, both xiao and ren can be defined as moral emotions, which form the basis of Confucian ethics. Li Zehou compares Confucian xiao with Christian ethics. The Christian tradition also requires children to honor their parents (the fifth of the Ten Commandments), but this is God’s commandment or rationalized, ethical principle. Here emotion is controlled by reason, and thus love is a rational requirement. The reason why people should love their parents and other people is that they must follow God’s commandment. Confucius does not link emotion to an external object of worship or a mysterious, ultimate realm. With an attitude of pragmatic reason, he allows emotion to permeate in interpersonal relations with the sincere emotion of parent-child love as the root, substance, and foundation. Here emotion is balanced with reason, and people’s love for others is extended from their biological, natural emotions. Thus, concept, emotion, and ritual, the three major factors of religion, all surround the unity of social morals and daily emotions. Without the need to build a theological edifice and belief system but with a down-to-earth orientation of morality and psychology, this is the key feature of Confucius’ concept of ren. In addition, because concept, emotion, and ritual are led to and fulfilled in a daily ethical-psychological mode, the Confucian psychological principle is the sincere emotion of ordinary people. This makes the Confucian concept of ren exclude religious asceticism and renouncement. Confucius does not have any concept of suppressing emotion and desire; on the contrary, he confirms the reasonableness of normal emotion and desire and advocates a rational regulation of them. Confucianism’s this-worldly tendency is closely related to its psychological principle. Li further indicates that because of this emotional, psychological principle, Confucius’ concept of ren presents a kind of classical humanism. Confucius uses ren to explain li with an original purpose of restoring the rituals, but eventually the means surpasses the purpose—ren, the ethical-psychological condition and representation of humanity, becomes more fundamental and important than the rituals: What can a person who is not humane do with the rituals? What can a person who is not humane do with the music? 人而不仁, 如禮何? 人而不仁, 如樂何?31

Confucius’ concept of ren stresses interpersonal relations and emotions as the substance of humanity that differentiates human beings from animals. As Mencius says, “Those who ignore their fathers and lords are no different from beasts” (无父无君是禽兽也).32 Without the social relationships, role obligations, and emotions of parents and children, lord and subject, husband and wife, and so forth, human beings would lose their humanity and become the same as ani-


Li Zehou’s Reconception of Confucian Philosophy

mals. Unlike many streams of early modern and modern humanism, which emphasize personal liberation and individual independence and freedom, classical Confucian humanism stresses interpersonal emotions, relational harmony, and mutual love, respect, and aid. Moreover, in relation to its external practice of humanism, Confucius’ concept of ren fosters the internal dispositions and qualities of individuals. Through learning and practice of the rituals under the regulation of pragmatic reason, ren and other moral emotions play an important role in the shaping, developing, refining, and perfecting of individuals. Renren 仁人 (humane person) or junzi 君子 (gentleman) becomes the designation for ideal character in the Analects. Based on familial relationships, Confucius defines the ethical emotions of parent-child love as the core from which emotions radiate to both the external humanism of general love and the internal refinement of ideal character. In this way, Confucius constructs a psychological mode with a rational and pragmatic orientation. Li summarizes Confucius’ concept of ren as follows: Confucius uses ren to explain li and, as a result, transforms external social regulations into an individual’s self-awareness. This is an invention in Chinese philosophical history that lays a foundation for the culturalpsychological formation of the Chinese people. 孔子以仁釋禮, 將社會外在規範化為個體的內在自覺, 是中國哲學史上 的創舉, 為漢民族的文化-心理結構奠下了始基.33

Since the late 1980s, Li has further explored the classical Confucian ethics of emotion and acknowledged it as regarding emotion as the substance of morality and fostering a tradition of “culture of optimism” (legan wenhua 樂感 文化). He points out: Classical Confucianism attaches special importance to the cultivation of human emotion. . . .34 In fact it regards emotion as the basis, substance, and origin of human nature and human life. . . It emphasizes that the emotion of parent-child love (filial piety) is the eventual, substantial relationship and the foundation for constructing humanity, or ren. Through the interweaving of the five relations of parent-child, lord-­ subject, brothers, husband-wife, and friends, various kinds of social emotions are formed and constructed to become “substance.” The education and cultivation of human nature and emotion are stressed as the foundation of society. 孔學特別重視人性情感的培育. . . . 實際是以情作為人性和人生的基礎, 實體和來源. . . . 強調親子之情 (孝) 作為最后實在的倫常關係以建立人/​ 仁的根本, 并由親子, 君臣, 兄弟, 夫婦, 朋友五倫關係, 輻射交織而組成  

Reconception of Confucian Ethics of Emotion


和構建各種社會性感情作為 “本體” 所在, 強調培植人性情感的教育, 以 之作為社會根本.35

Classical Confucianism values the phenomenal world and daily life and characterizes emotions as the way people perceive and experience the world and as the basis on which people live their lives and maintain their relations. Every day, every moment, people experience emotions stimulated from their various relations within their family and community: parent-child, lord-subject, brothers, husband-wife, and friends. Emotions are socially, ethically, and interpersonally defined and interwoven to become the substance of human life and community. In other words, emotions define and accompany the shared experience of human existence and society, and emotional energy is the main motivating force in social life. With ren as the core, moral emotions express themselves in morally respectable actions that harmonize interpersonal relations and maintain social order and sustainability.36 Then, in turn, morally respectable actions bring the moral agent a positive feeling of pleasure in his or her psyche. Confucius emphasizes the importance of the emotion of le 樂, or pleasure and optimism: To know something is not as good as to like it, and to like something is not as good as to take pleasure in it. 知之者不如好之者, 好之者不如樂之者.37

On the three levels of learning, pleasure is the highest achievement. Confucius describes himself as a person who has achieved this ultimate goal: He is the person who forgets to eat when he tries to solve a problem, who is so full of pleasure that he forgets any anxiety, and who does not realize the approach of old age. 其為人也, 發憤忘食, 樂以忘憂, 不知老之將至云爾.38

This self-portrait describes a person who has solved the problem of angst, has forgotten “the approach of old age” and the coming of death, and takes pleasure in every moment of his life. Throughout the Analects, Confucius stresses the pleasure of the learning and practice of the rituals that contain rationalized social and moral regulations for the purpose of cultivating the junzi, or gentleman, the ideal character of self-realization. The Confucian emotion of pleasure does not consist of shallow or naive feelings, because it is invested with emotional and rational commitment to moral virtue. Moral agents enjoy doing whatever they believe is morally worthy, even though they may encounter difficulties or tragic results:


Li Zehou’s Reconception of Confucian Philosophy

With a bowlful of rice and a ladleful of water, and living in a mean narrow lane, others could not endure this kind of distress, yet [Yan] Hui does not alter his pleasure. 一簞食, 一瓢飲, 在陋巷. 人不堪其憂, 回也不改其樂.39

Li indicates that such pleasure and optimism are the representation of ren: This kind of le (pleasure and optimism) is ren, an exalted state of human life; it is also the spirit of humanity. 此樂即仁, 乃人生境界, 亦人格精神. [The Confucian tradition] places the religious feelings derived from the highest and greatest pleasure/optimism on existence, living, life, and vitality of this world, so as to construct the substance of emotion. 將最高最大的樂的宗教情懷置于這個世界的生存, 生活, 生命, 生意之 中, 以構建情感本體.40

Because of its one-world orientation,41 the Confucian tradition affirms the values of human life, experience, and emotion and finds pleasure and meaning in the secular life of this world instead of the supernatural or transcendental realms. Chinese literati always express their strong feelings of everyday life in connecting to natural objects and their homelands, and they linger in and attach to interpersonal emotions. It is in this sense that Li views the Chinese Confucian tradition as “optimism culture,” in contrast to the Western “guilt culture” (zuigan wenhua 罪感文化) and the Japanese “shame culture” (chigan wenhua 恥感文化).42 However, in the theories of the Song-Ming neo-Confucians, heaven’s principle (tianli 天理), or ethical principle, has been separated from human desire/ emotion (renyu 人欲, or renqing 人情), and the former controls the latter. This theory is also called “mind-nature as ontological substance” (xinxing wei ben 心 性為本), which emphasizes human nature (in the ontological term) and ignores human emotion. The emotional content of ren is abstracted and reinterpreted as ontological nature and principle for all virtues, and the early Confucian “filial piety as the root of humaneness” (xiao wei ren ben) is reversed to become “ren as the ontological substance of filial piety” (ren wei xiao ben 仁為孝本). Li criticizes those neo-Confucian scholars for contradicting and straying from the emotional substance of classical Confucian ethics: Classical Confucianism regards emotion as substance, but this important feature has been ignored by later generations. 原典儒學以情為本是一個非常重要的特徵, 卻一直為後世所忽視.43

Reconception of Confucian Ethics of Emotion


Song-Ming neo-Confucianism spared no effort in pursuing the transcendental or prior rational noumenon of the so-called “heaven’s principle” and “mind of Dao,” but it fundamentally failed. 宋明理學對超驗或先驗的理性本體即所謂 “天理” “道心” 雖然做了極 力追求, 但在根本上是失敗的.44

Some other leading modern thinkers have issued the same criticism. For example, Liang Shuming 梁漱溟 says: “Although the teaching of Duke Zhou and Confucius is within the scope of rationality, it sets emotion as its root and substance” (周孔教化自亦不出于理知, 而以情感爲其根本).45 Qian Mu 錢穆 says: “Song-dynasty Confucians said: ‘The mind governs nature and emotion.’ Rather we can say that, in the whole of human life, Chinese Confucian thought emphasizes the ‘emotional’ portion of the mind more than the ‘rational’ portion” (宋儒說: “心統性情.” 毋寧可以說, 在全部人生中, 中國儒學思想, 則更著 重此心之 “情感” 部分, 尤胜于其看重 “理智” 的部分).46 Both Liang and Qian emphasize that emotion is more fundamental and substantial than rationality in classical Confucianism, while the neo-Confucianism changes this orientation. In the Western tradition, the study of moral psychology had traditionally focused on moral reasoning. Since the 1980s there has been a “moral-emotional correction,” and emotion has gradually become a central subject in moral psychology research. However, researchers have placed more weight on “negative” moral emotions such as contempt, anger, shame, and guilt than on “positive” moral emotions, and whether some major emotional experiences such as love can be seen as moral emotion is still under debate.47 Li’s study of the Confucian ethics of emotion, with the general love of ren as its core, provides a rich source for filling this gap. New Interpretation of Qing 情 and Its Signification in the Guodian Manuscripts

When Li Zehou first identified the importance of the classical Confucian ethics of emotion in the 1980s, scholars in general contended that the term qing did not connote emotion in the classical period, and the classical Confucian thinkers did not pay much attention to the issue of emotion. But in the late 1990s, when the newly unearthed Guodian bamboo manuscripts of the Warring States period such as the XZMC and others were published, scholars found that qing indeed implies the meaning of emotion and that the Confucian theory of emotion is a central theme in those texts. Thus, Li’s early arguments are supported by the new discovery. This section of the chapter is intended to provide a new interpretation of the term qing and its signification in the XZMC and other related Confucian manuscripts excavated from Guodian, in order to explore the development of the


Li Zehou’s Reconception of Confucian Philosophy

Confucian ethics of emotion during the Warring States period and to provide evidence for Li’s thesis of emotion as the substance of morality. In addition to ren (humaneness), xiao (filial piety), ai (love), and le (pleasure), in the Analects Confucius also discusses other emotions, such as gong 恭 (humility), jing 敬 (reverence), wei 畏 (awe), tong 慟 (grief ), and so forth. However, when qing 情, the Chinese character denoting emotion, appears twice in the Analects, it does not seem to directly refer to emotion. The same thing happens in the Mencius and many other classics. This leads Angus C. Graham to assert that in pre-Han literature qing never refers to passion (emotion). He argues that its basic meaning is “essence” and “what is essential” or “what is authentic,” though in the Xunzi and the Liji it becomes “imbued with emotional connotations.”48 Chad Hansen defines qing as “reality input” and “reality feedback,” which include responses to various emotions but do not refer to the emotional states themselves.49 Li Tianhong 李天虹 examines all pre-Qin texts, including the newly unearthed XZMC, and summarizes four basic meanings of qing: (1) sincere and genuine feelings; (2) emotion or dispositional emotion; (3) the facts of things and circumstances; and (4) the substance or principle of things.50 At about the same time, Christoph Harbsmeier also made a comprehensive examination of early texts and describes similar but more meanings of qing: (1) the basic facts of a matter; (2) underlying and basic dynamic factors; (3) basic popular sentiments or responses; (4) general basic instincts; (5) essential sensibilities and sentiments; (6) basic motivation and attitude; and (7) personal convictions, responses, and feelings.51 Building on Graham’s definition and Harbsmeier’s classification, Ulrike Middendorf further defines two groups of meanings of qing: when applied to things and situations, it is truth and faithfulness; and when applied to humans, it refers to all types of affective responses such as basic drives, sense perceptions, emotions, moods, dispositions, attitudes, preferences, desires, motives, and ritualized behavior patterns.52 With a diachronic method, Halvor Eifring proposes a three-stage semantic evolution of qing from basic instincts to emotions and then to love.53 Each of these scholars has identified one or more meanings of qing. Although some of their classifications may be too trivial, most of the meanings they indicate are evidential in early writings. In order to understand all of these different meanings coherently, an etymological analysis of the character qing may help explain its basic meanings and later semantic extensions and therefore lead us to a better understanding of its signification in early Confucian classics. Since qing is semantically and phonetically related to two other ­characters— sheng 生 and xing 性—our investigation must start with them. Sheng is seen in the oracle bone inscriptions (OBI) and the bronze inscriptions (BI) of the Shang-Zhou period, and its early structure comprises a sprout of a plant and a horizontal line, which symbolizes plants sprouting from the earth (fig. 7.3a–

Reconception of Confucian Ethics of Emotion


d).54 From the generation of plants, sheng further refers to the generation of all living beings, including humans, and then extends to the generation, production, and arising of all things in the universe, as seen from the compounds chansheng 產生 (to produce, to generate) and fasheng 發生 (to happen, to arise), which are applied to all things and circumstances. This etymology represents an important Chinese worldview that sees all things in the universe as organic, alive, and symbiotic, without a distinction between sentient and insentient, animate and inanimate, and living and lifeless.55 In many unearthed or transmitted pre-Qin texts, sheng 生 is also used to denote the meaning of xing 性, and the character that comprises the two constituents of xin 心 (忄) and sheng 生 is not seen in any excavated materials of the pre-Qin period.56 In the Guodian manuscripts, the character used to indicate the meaning of xing comprises the constituents of sheng 生 and mu 目 (eye; to see or inspect; fig. 7.4a–b). This character connotes the same meaning as xing 省 (to examine, to inspect), and it is only used as a phonetic loan for xing 性 in the Guodian manuscripts.57 Several Qing-dynasty scholars had already indicated that sheng 生 is the original graph and etymon for xing 性,58 and modern scholars in general agree with them. It seems that for a long time sheng connoted both meanings of sheng and xing. The etymological relation between the two is described in many early texts. For example, the Mencius 孟子 records Gaozi’s (‌告子) words thus: “What is by birth is called xing” (生之謂性).59 The Xunzi 荀子 also records: “What is so by birth is called xing” (生之所以然者謂之性).60 Xing comes along with the generation of something and refers to all the attributes, dispositions, and qualities this thing inherently possesses. Now we can come to qing for an etymological analysis. Qing is not seen in the OBI or the BI of the Shang-Zhou period. In the Guodian manuscripts, qing is written as either qing 青 or qing 情. In many other unearthed and transmitted texts, these two characters are also used interchangeably. In the Western Zhou BI, the graph qing 青 comprises sheng 生 and jing 井 (well; fig. 7.5a). Later, the constituent jing changes into various forms and is eventually fixed as rou 月 (i.e., rou 肉; fig. 7.5b–d).61 While sheng symbolizes the sprouting/generation of plants, qing means the green color of plants, which intrinsically comes along with their generation, as the Shi ming 釋名 (Interpretation of names) explains:

Figure 7.3. Early structure of the character sheng 生.

Figure 7.4. Phonetic loan character for xing 性.


Li Zehou’s Reconception of Confucian Philosophy

“Qing means sheng (generation); it is a pictograph of the color when an object is generated” (青, 生也, 象物生時色也).62 Thus, sheng must be the semantic and phonetic etymon for qing, while jing is just a phonetic constituent. From this etymology we can further deduce that qing 青 should be the original graph for qing 情, and the constituent xin 心/忄 (mind, heart) was added later.63 Modern scholars’ reconstructions of Old Chinese also convincingly show that the four characters sheng 生, xing 性, qing 青, and qing 情 all share the same final and belong to the same rhyme group (table 7.1).64 In addition, according to Wang Yuanlu’s 王元鹿 study, the character xin 心 did not appear until the Western Zhou, from which xin started to connote the meaning of heart-mind and mental activities, and many characters with a xin constituent emerged.65 The addition of a xin constituent to both sheng and qing for them to become xing and qing reveals the gradually developed understanding of the mental activities and psychological conditions these two characters connote. With the generation of plants as their metaphorical origin, both xing and qing derive from sheng, the generation of plants and the myriad things. Xing is the inherent attributes coming along with the generation of an object, the essential and identifying features of the object. Qing is the external expressions and manifestations of this object’s xing—color, appearance, circumstances, factual elements, material substance, dynamic patterns, and so forth. Applying this pair of xing and qing to human conditions, xing is the inherent dispositions, qualities, and sensitivities of a person, and qing is the external

Figure 7.5. Structural evolution of the character qing 青.

Table 1. Modern Scholars’ Reconstruction of sheng, xing, qing, and qing in Old Chinese rhyme group

old chinese

old chinese


( zhengzhang )

( zhengzhang )

( baxter - sagart )

sheng 生

geng 耕



xing 性




qing 青




qing 情




Reconception of Confucian Ethics of Emotion


expressions, reactions, and relations of the person’s dispositions and sensitivities, such as emotions (qinggan 情感), emotional countenances (biaoqing 表情), and contextually interrelated circumstances (qingjing 情境). In other words, xing is humans’ inherent, internal, dispositional aspect, while qing is the expressive, affective, factual, and interactive aspect of human experience.66 The XZMC explains this internal-external relation of xing and qing clearly: The qi of joy, anger, sorrow, and sadness is one’s dispositions. When these manifest on the outside, it is because objects have stimulated them. 喜怒哀悲之氣, 性也. 及其見於外, 則物取之也 (strip 2).67

A person possesses the internal dispositions, sensitivities, and qi, or energetic components potential, for various kinds of emotions; when these are triggered by external stimulus objects and events, then emotions of joy, anger, sorrow, or sadness arise and are manifested as countenances and actions.68 The following passages from classical texts describe this inner-outer relation, as well as the emotion process: Zixia asked how to practice filial piety. The Master said, “What is difficult to practice is the countenance on one’s face. 子夏問孝. 子曰: “色難.”69 When the people heard the sounds of your bells and drums and the notes of your pipes and flutes, they were all joyful with delightful countenance. 百姓聞王鐘鼓之聲, 管籥之音, 舉欣欣然有喜色.70 When their advice is rejected by their lords, they take offense and show resentment all over their faces. 諫於其君而不受, 則怒, 悻悻然見於其面.71 Countenance is the flower of emotion. 夫貌, 情之華也.72 When sorrowful, one cries; when pleasant, one sings and dances; when delightful, one donates; when angry, one fights. 哀有哭泣, 樂有歌舞, 喜有施舍, 怒有戰鬪.73

The facial response of joy or anger, the vocal response of crying or singing, the behavioral sequelae of dancing or fighting—all these are expressions, manifestations, and reactions of inner emotions stimulated by objects and events. It is interesting to note that se 色, the character that describes emotional counte-


Li Zehou’s Reconception of Confucian Philosophy

nance, literally means “color.” This is in accordance with qing 青, the original character for qing 情, which denotes the green color of plants. Thus, qing is the genuine expression and manifestation of emotions that are generated from one’s xing, or internal dispositions, and stimulated by external objects. When the stimulated emotion is spontaneously and genuinely expressed in countenance and action, it is called qing 情, just as qing 青, the color green, is the genuine appearance of plants. This is why qing implies the meaning of sincerity (zhen­ qing 真情) and genuineness (qingshi 情實). These ancient Chinese descriptions of the emotion process are partially in accordance with contemporary research on emotion psychology. Although there have been different opinions, in general the emotion process is described as including these components: (1) elicitation of a stimulus event or object; (2) cognitive appraisal of the stimulus; (3) physiologic response and facial-vocal expression; (4) subject experience of emotional state; and (5) behavioral tendencies.74 This description is to a certain extent similar to the implication of qing in early Chinese texts. On the other hand, the internal-external line of xing and qing cannot be clearly defined and divided, for emotion is a complex state of subjective experience characterized by not only psychophysiological expressions, biological reactions, and action tendencies but also dispositional tendencies, energetic components, mental states, embodied cultural codes, and cognitive appraisal of events and objects. In many cases of early Chinese texts, xing and qing are used interchangeably,75 and the two are even combined to form the compound word xingqing 性情 (affective disposition or dispositional tendency). Thus, with sheng 生 as the etymon for qing 青, and qing 青 as the original graph for qing 情, qing 情 indeed implies the various meanings in early texts observed by scholars: “what is essential or genuine”; dispositional tendency or affective disposition; the external facts relevant or responsive to a person, an object, or a situation; and humans’ emotional expression and experience and their dynamic interaction with the phenomenal world. Qing encompasses both factual and affective meanings and should be interpreted according to different textual contexts. With the addition of a xin, or heart-mind, constituent, however, the affective implication of qing is especially emphasized and has gradually developed to become its main meaning. Now it is time to analyze qing’s signification in the XZMC and other related Guodian Confucian texts.76 Qing appears twenty times in this short text, so it is surely one of its central concepts and themes. Although some scholars are still hesitating, most scholars interpret qing as emotion in this text. I basically agree with this interpretation but also add that in many cases qing may embody more than one meaning and therefore should be interpreted according to specific textual contexts. The XZMC is divided into two parts by the editors

Reconception of Confucian Ethics of Emotion


of the bamboo manuscript.77 The discussions of qing make up a major theme in both parts, with the first part talking more about the relationship between human emotion and experience and the ritual and music, and the second part talking more about the sincere and genuine feature of emotions.78 In many ways, the XZMC expounds and develops Confucius’ ethical theory of emotion as summarized by Li Zehou and discussed in the previous section. First, as indicated by Li, Confucius uses ren, the humane emotion, to interpret li, or the rituals, and internalizes the external social, moral regulations as the individual’s conscious concepts and moral emotions. Following this lead, the XZMC goes one step further to declare that the rituals originally begin with human emotion and experience: The Dao begins with qing, and qing is generated from xing. 道始于情, 情生于性 (strip 3).

The text indicates that qing is the manifestation of the qi, or energetic component, of delight, anger, sorrow, and sadness, which are potentially embodied in xing, or one’s disposition, so here qing mainly means emotion. The Dao refers to the humans’ Dao (rendao 人道), with the ritual regulations as its core, for the text further says: “As for the four kinds of Dao, only the humans’ Dao can guide/ educate people” (道四術, 唯人道為可道也 [strips 14–15]);79 and “The ritual regulations arise from qing” (禮作于情 [strip 18]). Another Guodian bamboo manuscript, titled Yucong er 語叢二, reads, “Qing is generated from xing, and li is generated from qing” (情生于性, 禮生于情).80 Both Dao and li (the ritual regulations) are described as beginning with or generated from qing, so obviously Dao and li are used interchangeably in these texts.81 Moreover, like the XZMC, the Yucong er states that the various kinds of emotions such as love (ai 愛), anger ( yun 慍), delight (xi 喜), and awe (wei 畏) are generated from xing, or one’s disposition.82 This also supports my interpretation of qing as mainly connoting human affective experience. The Zhou rituals are the unity of ethical, religious, and political regulations, all of which originated and developed from the basis of humans’ affective experience. It should also be extrapolated, however, that because the emotions of humans are stimulated by their interactions with external objects and situations, here qing also implies the factual experience of humans’ existential circumstances (qingjing 情境). Second, following Confucius’ emphasis on the importance of learning and practicing the ritual regulations in order to refine natural emotion and develop moral character, the XZMC discusses the important function and influence of the rituals, especially the ritual of music performance, in the refinement and regulation of role emotion and moral character. After stating that the rituals begin with human emotional experience, the text tells us:


Li Zehou’s Reconception of Confucian Philosophy

At the beginning, [the Dao/rituals] is close to qing, and at the end it is close to yi. 始者近情, 終者近義 (strip 3).

In this context, qing mainly refers to various kinds of basic emotions (and emotional judgments), and yi refers to the role obligations and emotions defined by the rituals, for the Liji says: What are called human emotions? They are delight, anger, sorrow, fear, love, aversion, and desire; people are capable of these seven kinds without learning. What are called human obligations? The father is kind, and the son is filial; the elder brother is nice, and the younger one is fraternal; the husband is dutiful, and the wife is obedient; the elder is gracious, and the younger is submissive; the sovereign is humane, and the subject is devotional. These ten are called human obligations. 何謂人情, 喜怒哀懼愛惡欲, 七者弗學而能. 何謂人義? 父慈, 子孝; 兄良, 弟弟; 夫義, 婦聽; 長惠, 幼順; 君仁, 臣忠. 十者謂之人義.83 What the gentleman defines as obligation is that both noble and humble have their tasks in the world. 君子之所謂義者, 貴賤皆有事於天下.84

At the beginning, the rituals emerge from human experiences and natural emotions of delight, anger, sorrow, fear, love, aversion, and desire. Through ritualization and rationalization, these experiences and emotions form the social, political, and ethical regulations, which in turn educate, refine, and nurture natural emotions to reach yi, the role emotions, obligations, and morals that appropriately fit everyone’s social and family status, such as lord, subject, father, son, husband, and wife. It is in this sense that Angus C. Graham defines yi as role conduct and obligation,85 and in an extended perspective Roger T. Ames defines the Confucian philosophy of morality as role ethics.86 The XZMC clearly describes this process of ritualization and rationalization: As for the Songs, the Documents, the Rituals, and the Music, their first emergence is generated by humans. . . . The sages classify the categories so as to synthesize them, observe their order so as to adjust them, comprehend the appropriate obligations so as to set regulations, and pattern the emotions so as to express and internalize them. After such, they are brought back for education. Education is the means by which virtues are generated within.

Reconception of Confucian Ethics of Emotion


詩, 書, 禮, 樂, 其始出皆生於人. . . . 聖人比其類而論會之, 觀其先後而逆 訓之, 體其義而節度之, 理其情而出入之, 然後復以教. 教, 所以生德於 中者也 (strips 15–18).

The classics of the Songs, the Documents, the Rituals, and the Music are the most important components of the Zhou rituals. They originate from human life and natural emotions, but they are not just a copy of human experience. The raw sources are arranged, ordered, and patterned by the sages and cultural heroes to become social, ethical regulations. These regulations are in turn used to educate people and foster their role emotion and moral character to reach consummation. In other words, natural emotions should be refined and regulated by the modes of music and ritual, in order to develop ideal character traits and high moral virtues. The Yucong yi 語叢一 presents the same argument: “The rituals are regulations and patterns based on human emotions and experiences” (禮因人之情而 為之節文者也 [strips 31 and 97]).87 The rituals come out of human emotion and experience but are further regulated and rationalized. The same idea is also seen in other Guodian manuscripts, the Xunzi, and the Liji.88 Thus, based on Confucius’ idea, the XZMC discusses the formation and function of the rituals with human emotion and its refinement as fundamental concepts. The rituals come out of human emotion and return to human emotion; during this process, natural emotion is refined, rationalized, and harmonized to become morally appropriate role emotion. As the XZMC says: “It [music] enters one’s mind and deeply touches it” (其入撥人之心也厚 [strip 23]). The Liji has a similar expression: “The gentleman returns to his emotion to harmonize his intention” (君子 反情以和其志). At the beginning of the Zhongyong 中庸, the refined, rationalized, and harmonized emotions are regarded highly as the foundation of the world, the manifestation of the Dao, and the sustainability of the world order: Before the emotions of delight, anger, sorrow, and pleasure are aroused, it is called moderation. When the emotions are aroused and are in accord with the regulations, it is called harmony. Moderation is the great root of the world, and harmony is the broad Dao of the world. When moderation and harmony are attained, heaven and earth maintain their proper positions, and all things are properly nurtured. 喜怒哀樂之未發, 謂之中; 發而皆中節, 謂之和. 中也者, 天下之大本也; 和也者, 天下之達道也. 致中和, 天地位焉, 萬物育焉.89

Contemporary research on emotion psychology has distinguished utilitarian emotions (basic emotions) and aesthetic emotions.90 According to this classification, the mental state and expression of moderation and harmony can be seen


Li Zehou’s Reconception of Confucian Philosophy

as aesthetic emotions.91 Since the attainment of moderation and harmony leads to social and cosmic order, however, they are also moral emotions in the eyes of Confucians of the classical period. Third, in accordance with Confucius’ discussion on sincere emotions, such as parent-child love and the humane emotion toward others extended from sincere filial affection, the XZMC directly identifies qing as sincere, genuine emotion: Trust is the presentation of qing. 信, 情之方也 (strip 40). All the sounds of music that proceed from qing are trustworthy. 凡聲, 其出於情也信 (strip 23). All human qing are delightful. If one acts with qing, even if one makes a mistake, there is no dislike; if one acts without qing, even though something is difficult to achieve, it will not be valued. 凡人情為可悅也. 茍以其情, 雖過不惡; 不以其情, 雖難不貴 (strip 50).

Defined by “trust,” “trustworthy,” and “delightful,” all the instances of the character qing in these passages can basically be interpreted as “genuine emotion.” As discussed earlier in this section, the character qing—with qing 青, the inborn green color, as its etymon—already embodies the meaning of genuineness and sincerity, and thus it is naturally trustworthy. Genuine emotion even becomes a yardstick for the emotional judgment of like and dislike: all actions based on it are delightful, even though they are accompanied by mistakes; all actions without genuine emotions are not valuable, even though they are achieved with great effort.92 In addition, as scholars have noted, the XZMC describes music as the most genuine expression of human emotion (strips 23–35).93 This concept can also be traced to the etymology of qing with the external voices, songs, and music as the spontaneous, genuine manifestation of the internal feelings and sensitivities. Fourth, the XZMC follows Confucius’ characterization of the moral agents’ positive feeling of pleasure and optimism and further describes their pleasant emotions of self-realization through the education and cultivation of the rituals. The XZMC reads: The gentleman admires the sincere emotions embodied in the rituals, cherishes the role obligations defined by the rituals, likes the regulations of the rituals, loves the appearances refined by the rituals, enjoys the Dao of the rituals, and delights in the education of the rituals. Therefore, the gentlemen revere each other.

Reconception of Confucian Ethics of Emotion


君子美其情, 貴其義, 善其節, 好其容, 樂其道, 悅其教, 是以敬焉 (strips


The sincere emotions, role obligations, moral regulations, and appropriate manners taught by the rituals bring both ethical and aesthetical pleasure to the moral agent—the gentleman. As a result, gentlemen revere each other and establish harmonious relationships among themselves and harmonious order in society. To sum up, the authors of the XZMC and other Guodian texts further develop Confucius’ ethics of emotion. By tracing the origin of the rituals, they discuss the interaction between natural emotions and the rituals of social and moral regulations. Moral regulations are generated and rationalized from the basis of human emotion and experience and then in turn regulate and foster moral, role emotion and ideal character. Thus, the rational, ethical principles are established on a psychological basis, and morality and psychology, reason and emotion, are integrated to shape ideal humanity and moral character. All of these ideas are also discussed or developed in other classical Confucian texts such as the Mencius, Xunzi, Liji, the classical commentaries to the Classic of Changes, and so forth.94 Emotio-Rational Structure

As discussed in the previous sections, Li Zehou summarizes four factors of Confucius’ concept of ren, or humaneness, with human emotion and psychology as its core, but he also indicates that all of these factors are under the regulation of pragmatic reason. Therefore, although emotion is the basis of his ethics, Confucius also rationalizes emotion to construct his theory, in order to foster ideal humanity with both emotion and reason. The authors of the Guodian Confucian texts, as well as other classical Confucian thinkers, further illustrate the process of the ritualization, rationalization, and refinement of human emotion and experience. This classical Confucian emotional-rational tradition, combined with Kant’s rational ethics, is the basis on which Li formulates his theory of the emotio-rational structure. Li declares that although he puts forward the thesis of “emotion as substance,” in his ethical theory he is aligned with Kant, not with David Hume (1711–1776). Li emphasizes that in humans’ inner moral-psychological structure, it is reason, not emotion, that dominates. Reason cannot become the servant of emotion; rather, reason is the motive dynamism of morality, and emotion is its supporting energy. The key of morality is the construction of the psychological mode of free will, and the feature of this mode is reason governing emotion. Unlike Hume, Confucius not only talks about emotion but also pro-


Li Zehou’s Reconception of Confucian Philosophy

motes both ren (humaneness) and li (ritual), on the one hand regarding natural emotions as the fundamental source of morality, while on the other hand attaching importance to rational regulation of them. In the conversation concerning the ritual of three-year mourning discussed earlier, Confucius’ emphasis on the psychological feelings of an, or comfortableness, contains both rational awareness (one must repay parents’ love and observe the ritual of mourning) and natural emotions (one’s sincere love of parents). When answering Yan Hui’s (顏回) question of how to practice humaneness, Confucius answers: “Restraining oneself and returning to ritual regulations constitutes humaneness” (克 己復禮為仁).95 Restraining oneself is the individual’s volition, and observing ritual regulations is rational conducts; both lead to the rationalized emotion of humaneness. Confucius’ answer clearly presents his emotional-rational ideal of humanity and morality. The concepts and contents of morals change along with times and societies, but the psychological mode of volition (restraining oneself ) is the absolute. Confucius has other famous expressions on the individual’s rational will: The three armies can be deprived of their commanding general, but even a common man cannot be deprived of his intention. 三軍可奪帥也, 匹夫不可奪志也. Only after the cold season comes do we know that the pine and cypress never lose their leaves. 歲寒, 然后知松柏之后凋也.96

The pine and cypress in the second passage symbolizes human’s staunch and unyielding will. Nevertheless, Li also indicates that rational volition and concept are not sufficiently elaborated and emphasized by Confucius, and traditional ethical concepts and rules have greatly changed in modern times. For example, many of the traditional rituals and morals such as the three-year mourning and the hierarchical obligations and emotions have long been out of date. In his ethical theory, Li innovatively distinguishes two kinds of morals—namely, traditional religious morals (chuantong zongjiaoxing daode 傳統宗教性道德) and modern social morals (xiandai shehuixing daode 現代社會性道德).97 Both types of morals are historical productions. In traditional societies, there is no distinction between social and religious morals (note that “social morals” and “modern social morals” denote somewhat different meanings in Li’s discussion of ethical theory), and religious morals originate from social emotions, beliefs, customs, and moral regulations. In the Chinese tradition, the ancient wu 巫 (Chinese shaman or medium) ceremonies (wushu liyi 巫術禮儀) are rationalized to

Reconception of Confucian Ethics of Emotion


become Zhou ritual regulations that synthesize religious, political, and ethical factors, and Zhou rituals in turn become the basis for classical Confucian ethics. Therefore, in Confucian ethical theory there are religious factors such as the beliefs and feelings toward heaven and ancestors, and the ambiguous concept of “heaven’s Way” (tiandao 天道) is always closely connected to “humans’ Way” (rendao 人道). Modern social morals are the production of early modern to contemporary times, with Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679), John Locke (1632– 1704), Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778), Immanuel Kant (1724–1804), John Rawls (1921–2002), and so forth as their representatives. Modern social morals are basically a rational construction, with the modern market-oriented economy, the social contract, individual values, and public reason as their foundation and fitting in with the needs of modern society. More importantly, after distinguishing traditional religious morals from modern social morals, Li discusses the complementary relationship between the two types of morals. Modern social morals should be established as the foundation because they fit modern social life, but traditional religious morals still can give play to regulative and properly constitutive functions ( fandao he shidang goujian 範導和適當構建) toward modern social morals. Thus, in accordance with his theory of two types of morals, Li advocates a combination of Confucian ethics and Kantian rationality in order to perfect the emotio-rational structure: My emphasis of the modern social morals that stress individual right is related to Kant, while my emphasis of the religious morals of the emotiorational structure comes from Confucius. 強調個體權利的現代社會性道德與 Kant 相關, 強調情理結構的宗教性 道德來自孔夫子.98

On the one hand, since Hegel, Kant’s ethical absolutism has been criticized for ignoring differences in various social and historical situations. Li’s argument that traditional religious morals originate from social emotions, customs, and morals can be applied to remedy this deficiency. Li also uses the Confucian ethics of emotion to remedy the exclusion of experience and emotion in Kantian ethics. The source of Kant’s formulations of the categorical imperative is the prior reason that transcends experience. Kant denies or seriously limits the contribution of emotion to the moral life. Traditional religious morals, with specific social, historical experience as their origin, are the experiential continuation of human existence. Morality is not originated from God or pure reason and is not separate from humans’ actual living. Although it is rational, it can be interrelated and interpenetrated with human experience and emotion. Kantian ethics is highly sacred but impractical to actualize. If we infuse the humane emotion


Li Zehou’s Reconception of Confucian Philosophy

of Confucian ren into the rational noumenon of Kantian morality, then we can substantialize the categorical imperative into human experience and emotionalize reason. Since the foundation of this emotio-rational structure is the continuation and sustainability of humankind, to infuse experiential ren into practical reason will not cause the latter to lose its universal sacredness, because the starting point of morality is not the experiential ren but the rational categorical imperative of humankind’s existential continuation. Because of its context of “two worlds,” the noumena of Kantian ethics are separate from experiential phenomena. The former influence and determine the latter but cannot be elevated from the latter. With its context of “one world,” the Confucian tradition sees noumena as manifesting in and establishing on phenomena. Li contends that if we establish Kantian rational absolutism as the human ethical noumenon and infuse it with the moral emotion of Confucian ren, then transcendental reason will become applicable for experiential actualization. On the other hand, in the Confucian emotio-rational structure, the reason is basically pragmatic and the contents are mostly traditional, both of which are challenged by the various forms of modern public reason and social morals. Kant’s ethical principle of respecting humans as ends rather than merely as means emphasizes the autonomy of individuals in their own decision making and has become the theoretical foundation for modern public reason and social morals. With the combination of Kant and Confucius as a basis, traditional religious morals can be appropriately applied to construct modern social morals, and the emotio-rational structure can be developed to accommodate various modern strands of public reason, including liberalism, justice, egalitarianism, individualism, utilitarianism, communitarianism, and so forth. Li’s slogan of “harmony above justice” (hexie gaoyu zhengyi 和諧高于正義) represents his vision of this renewed emotio-rational structure. Li indicates that justice, as well as other forms of public reason, is mainly rational, while harmony is the balance of emotion and reason. On the other hand, although harmony is a goal above justice and other forms of public reason, it cannot replace them. On the contrary, harmony must be built on a foundation of public reason. Only then can a true harmony of modern society and world order be fostered and developed. That is why Li prefers to translate his slogan as “harmony above justice,” not “harmony is higher than justice.” As a thinker who is deeply concerned with the future of China and the human race, Li Zehou has a goal of not only studying Confucian ethics and formulating his own ethical theory but, more importantly, uncovering the possible contributions that the Confucian ethics of emotion and the renewed emotiorational structure can make to the development of Chinese and world civilizations. Li urges the recognition of the classical Confucian tradition of stressing human emotions and relationships as a kind of faith and values:

Reconception of Confucian Ethics of Emotion


To infuse it into and have it permeate social life, order, and regulations that are based on individual right and interest, and to fulfill one’s secular obligations and duties (social, public morals) with a detached state and spirit (religious, personal morals). 注入滲透在以個人權利利益基礎上的社會生活, 秩序, 規範中, 以超世俗 的境界精神 (宗教性私德), 來履行世俗性的義務和職責 (社會性公德).

The result is to invest individual interest, the social contract, and the Enlightenment rationality with more of the warm hue of human emotions, affectionate feelings, and a harmonious atmosphere. Such a balanced structure of reason and emotion will lead to these benefits: More negotiation and settlement, more interpersonal help of one another, more self-government and self-discipline, a reduction in lawsuits, a depression of competence, and a weakening of cruel fighting. 更多的協商調解, 更多的人際互助, 更多的自治自理, 減少法庭裁決, 和 緩理性競爭, 削弱殘酷爭奪.99

Externally, the emotio-rational structure presents as emotion’s permeation of the modern system of democracy, freedom, and regulation of various forms of public reason; internally, it manifests as a resonant balance of emotions, desires, intentions, humanity, sense of duty and obligation, and concept of right and wrong. Conclusion and Perspective

Li Zehou uses the concept of emotion as the substance of morality to summarize the core ideas and values of classical Confucian ethics. A new interpretation of the term qing and its signification in the Guodian manuscripts support Li’s thesis. With the broad perspective of human development, Li further combines Confucian ethics with Kantian rationality to develop his theory of the emotiorational structure, with the hope that, through certain creative transformation and integration with various modern forms of public reason, the Confucian ethics of valuing human existence, human emotion, and harmonious social relations can become a general ideality and universal values that contribute to the remedy of the critical conditions of contemporary times and the new construction of humanity and world cultural order. It is with this purpose that Li Zehou has been advocating a return to classical Confucianism for a “second Renaissance.” The Renaissance was stimulated by the rediscovery and study of Greek and Roman classics. The great rediscoveries of ancient Chinese documents during the twentieth century, such as the


Li Zehou’s Reconception of Confucian Philosophy

oracle bone inscriptions and bronze inscriptions of the Shang-Zhou period and the bamboo-silk manuscripts of the Warring States–Han period, likewise call for a return to classical Confucianism and its origin from the ancient “wu-historian” tradition (wu-shi chuantong 巫史傳統). While the Renaissance humanism emancipated humans from the control of God, Li expects that the second Renaissance will aim for the emancipation of humans from the control of both material and social machines and that it will go beyond the limitations of Enlightenment rationality to reach a balance of reason and emotion in both psychological and cultural-institutional domains, in order to inspire fruitful actions for the sustainable development of the human race. Notes I would like to thank Li Zehou, Roger T. Ames, Catherine Lynch, Ming Dong Gu, Paul D’Ambrosio, and Nevia Dolcini for their helpful suggestions and comments on draft versions of this chapter. 1. See, for example, Antonio R. Damasio, Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1994); Martha C. Nussbaum, Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001); and Robert C. Solomon, Thinking about Feeling: Contemporary Philosophers on Emotions (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004). 2. See, for example, Randall Collins, Interaction Ritual Chains (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2004). 3.  This chapter’s discussions of Li Zehou’s thought are mainly based on these works by him: “Kongzi zai pingjia” 孔子再評價, in Zhongguo shehui kexue 中國社會科學 2 (1980): 77–96; Zhongguo gudai sixiang shilun 中國古代思想史論 (Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 1986), 7–51; Lunyu jindu 論語今讀 (Hefei: Anhui wenyi chubanshe, 1998); Jimao wu shuo 己卯五說 (Beijing: Zhongguo dianying chubanshe, 1999); Lishi bentilun 歷史本體論 (Beijing: Sanlian shudian, 2002); “Lunlixue gangyao” 倫理學綱要, in Zhexue gangyao 哲學 綱要 (Beijing: Beijing daxue chubanshe, 2011), 1–126; Huiying Sangde’er ji qita 回應桑德 爾及其他 (Beijing: Sanlian shudian, 2014); You wu dao li, shi li gui ren 由巫至禮釋禮歸仁 (Beijing: Sanlian shudian, 2015). 4. These bamboo manuscripts were excavated in Guodian, Hubei Province, in 1993 and first published in 1998. These texts have been determined as produced no later than 300 BCE. See Jingmenshi bowuguan 荊門市博物館, ed., Guodian Chumu zhujian 郭店楚墓竹 簡 (Beijing: Wenwu chubanshe, 1998), 59–66, 177–184. 5.  Li Zehou, Zhongguo gudai sixiangshi lun, 1. 6.  Xu Shen, Suowen jiezi 說文解字 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1963), 161b. 7.  See, for example, Herbert Fingarette, Confucius: The Secular as Sacred (New York: Harper and Row, 1972), 37–56. However, Fingarette does note that Confucius is affirmative about the role of personal will and appeals to activate it as a prime means of realizing the ideal life (134). 8.  Luo Fuyi 羅福頤, Guxiwen bian 古璽文編 (Beijing: Wenwu chubanshe, 1981), 264.

Reconception of Confucian Ethics of Emotion


9.  Ding Foyan, Shuowen guzhou bubu 說文古籀補補 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1988), 37b; Guo Moruo, Jinwen congkao 金文叢考 (Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 1954), 216b. 10.  See Liu Xiang, Zhongguo chuantong jiazhiguan chanshixue 中國傳統價值觀闡釋 學 (Shanghai: Shanghai sanlian shudian, 1996), 157–161. 11.  See Li Xiaoding 李孝定, Jiagu wenzi jishi 甲骨文字集釋 (Nangang: Zhongyang yanjiuyuan lishi yuyan yanjiusuo, 1970), 2719; Dai Jiaxiang 戴家祥, Jinwen dazidian 金文 大字典 (Shanghai: Xuelin chubanshe, 1995), 4502–4505; and He Linyi 何琳儀, Zhanguo guwen zidian 戰國古文字典 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1988), 1137–1138. 12. He, Zhanguo guwen zidian, 1138. 13.  Liu Xiang, Zhongguo chuantong jiazhiguan chanshixue, 157–161. 14.  Chen Wei 陳偉, ed., Chudi chutu zhanguo jiance [shisi zhong] 楚地出土戰國簡冊 [十四種] (Beijing: Jingji kexue chubanshe, 2009), 162–262. 15. Wang Xianshen 王先慎, Hanfeizi jijie 韓非子集解 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1998), 6.131. 16. The Guoyu 國語 records a discourse in 651 BCE: “Those who practice ren explain ren as loving one’s parents/relatives; those who govern a state explain ren as benefitting the state” 為仁者, 愛親之謂仁; 為國者, 利國之謂仁. See Xu Yuangao 徐元誥, Guoyu jijie 國 語集解 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 2002), 264. According to this quotation, some scholars assert that the original meaning of ren is to love one’s parents/relatives. However, here the discourse presents two different practices of ren, by the common people and the ruler, respectively. It does not indicate ren’s original meaning but tells us that there were different implications of ren. 17.  According to Yang Bojun’s 楊伯峻 statistics. See his Lunyu yizhu 論語譯注 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1980), 221. 18.  Wing-tsit Chan, “Chinese and Western Interpretations of Jen (Humanity),” Journal of Chinese Philosophy 2, no. 2 (1975): 107–129; Fingarette, Confucius, 37. 19.  Li Zehou, Lunyu jindu, 54. 20.  Analects 12.3. All the translations of passages cited from the Analects in this chapter are adapted from these translations: James Legge, trans., The Analects of Confucius, vol. 1 of The Chinese Classics (1885; reprint, Taipei: SMC, 1994); D. C. Lau, trans., Confucius: The Analects (New York: Penguin Books, 1979); Roger T. Ames and Henry Rosemont Jr., trans., The Analects of Confucius: A Philosophical Translation (New York: Ballantine, 1998); Michael Nylan, ed., The Analects: The Simon Leys Translation, Interpretations (New York: W. W. Norton, 2014). 21.  See Yang, Lunyu yizhu, 124. 22.  Analects 12.22. 23. Feng Youlan, Zhongguo zhexueshi xinbian 中國哲學史新編 (Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 1982), 1:134. 24.  Qian Mu, Kongzi yu Lunyu 孔子與論語 (Taipei: Lianjing chuban gongsi, 1974), 5. 25.  Analects 17.21. 26.  Analects 1.6. Some scholars explain the character ren 仁 in this passage as ren 人, which connotes the meaning of noble men. However, in corresponding to ai 愛, or love, in the previous line, ren should be ren 仁 here and connotes the meaning of renren 仁人, or humane men. See Yang, Lunyu yizhu, 5. In addition, Mencius says: “The substance of ren is


Li Zehou’s Reconception of Confucian Philosophy

to serve one’s parents” 仁之實, 事親是也; and “To love one’s parents, this is the practice of ren” 親親, 仁也 (Mencius 4A28, 7A15). 27.  Analects 1.2. Some scholars also explain the character ren 仁 in this passage as ren 人, or noble men. However, this explanation cannot be connected with the previous line, “once the root is established, the Dao will grow therefrom.” In relation to the Dao, here ren should be ren 仁, or humaneness, the core concept of Confucius’ Dao. See Yang, Lunyu yizhu, 2. See also next quotations in the text from the Wuxing and the Mencius. 28.  Chen Wei, Chudi chutu zhanguo jiance, 184. 29.  Mencius 1A7. 30. Jonathan Haidt, “The Moral Emotions,” in Handbook of Affective Sciences, ed. Richard J. Davidson, Klaus R. Scherer, and H. Hill Goldsmith (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 852–870. 31.  Analects 3.3. 32.  Mencius 3B9. 33.  Li Zehou, Zhongguo gudai sixiang shilun, 1. 34.  Li often uses “Kongxue” to refer to classical Confucianism of the pre-Qin period. 35. Li Zehou, “Lunyu jindu qianyan” 論語今讀前言, in Zhongguo wenhua 中國文 化 8 (1995): 32. 36.  A number of scholars have questioned Li’s use of the term benti and asserted that emotion cannot be seen as an ontological principle. However, in his concept of emotion as substance, Li does not imply the ontological model of “One behind the many” in the neo-Confucian theory or the Western metaphysical tradition. On the contrary, he indicates that emotion as the substance of morality does not involve any ontological principle or noumenon, because “noumenon manifests in real emotions and emotional reality” 本體即 在真實的情感和情感的真實之中 (Lunyu jindu, 10; Zhexue gangyao, 39–63). 37.  Analects 6.20. 38.  Analects 7.19. 39.  Analects 6.11. 40.  Li Zehou, Zhexue gangyao, 61–62. 41. Li, as well as a number of other scholars, contends that in the Confucian tradition the concept of heaven’s Dao is used to ambiguously unify the numinous, religious dimension with the politico-ethical dimension of humans’ Dao, without appealing to a transcendental God and world. See Li Zehou, “Shuo wushi chuantong bu” 說巫史傳統 補, in Shuo wushi chuantong 說巫史傳統 (Shanghai: Shanghai yiwen chubanshe, 2012), 45–96; and Roger T. Ames, Confucian Role Ethics: A Vocabulary (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2011), 55. 42.  Li Zehou, Lunyu jindu, 21; Li Zehou, Zhexue gangyao, 52–63. 43. Li Zehou, “Chudu Guodian zhujian yinxiang jiyao” 初讀郭店竹簡印象紀要, in Daojia wenhua yanjiu 道家文化研究17 (1999): 416. 44.  Li Zehou, Zhexue gangyao, 45. 45. Liang Shuming, Zhongguo wenhua yaoyi 中國文化要義 (Shanghai: Xuelin chubanshe, 1987), 119. 46. Qian, Kongzi yu Lunyu, 353. It is noticeable that in seventeenth-century Japan, when the Ancient Learning School (Kogakuha 古學派), with Ito Jinsai 伊藤仁齋 (1627–1705)

Reconception of Confucian Ethics of Emotion


as its representative, broke away from the metaphysical orientation of neo-­Confucianism, it returned to classical Confucianism and found that ren is not an ontological “principle of heaven” (tianli 天理) but rather refers to the empirical emotion of human love. See Ishida Ichirō 石田一郎, Ito Jinsai 伊藤仁齋 (Tokyo: Yoshikawa kobunkan, 1989), 30–41. 47. Haidt, “Moral Emotions,” 852–870; Jonathan Haidt, “The New Synthesis in Moral Psychology,” Science 316 (2007): 998–1002. 48.  Angus C. Graham, Studies in Chinese Philosophy and Philosophical Literature (Singapore: Institute of East Asian Philosophies, 1986), 59–65. 49.  Chad Hansen, “Qing (Emotions) 情 in Pre-Buddhist Chinese Thought,” in Emotions in Asian Thought: A Dialogue in Comparative Philosophy, ed. Joel Marks and Roger T. Ames (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995), 181–211. 50.  Li Tianhong, Guodian Chujian Xing zi ming chu yanjiu 郭店楚簡性自命出研究 (Wuhan: Hubei jiaoyu chubanshe, 2003), 31–59. 51. Christoph Harbsmeier, “The Semantics of Qing 情 in Pre-Buddhist Chinese,” in Love and Emotions in Traditional Chinese Literature, ed. Halvor Eifring (Leiden: Brill, 2004), 69–148. 52. Ulrike Middendorf, “Again on Qing: With a Translation of the Guodian Xing zi ming chu,” Oriens extremus: Zeitschrift für Sprache, Kunst und Kultur der Länder des Fernen Ostens 47 (2008): 97–159, esp. 127–128. 53.  Halvor Eifring, “Introduction: Emotions and the Conceptual History of Qing 情,” in Eifring, Love and Emotions, 12–22. 54.  For a detailed analysis of the character sheng, see, for example, Tang Junyi 唐君毅, Zhongguo zhexue yuanlun yuanxingpian 中國哲學原論原性篇 (Beijing: Zhongguo shehui kexue chubanshe, 2005), 6; and Liu Xiang, Zhongguo chuantong jiazhiguan chanshixue, 171–183. 55. For discussions of this worldview, see, for example, Graham, Studies in Chinese Philosophy, 8; and David L. Hall and Roger T. Ames, Anticipating China: Thinking through the Narratives of Chinese and Western Culture (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995), 187–190. 56.  The Song-dynasty scholar Xia Su 夏竦 (985–1051), however, records a xing that comprises sheng and xin from the Xiaojing 孝經; see Xia Su, Hanjian∙Guwen sishengyun 漢 簡·古文四聲韻 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1983), 67. 57.  Li Tianhong, Guodian Chujian Xing zi ming chu yanjiu, 60–61. 58. See, for example, Ruan Yuan 阮元 (1764–1849), “Xing ming guxun” 性命古訓, in Yanjingshi ji 揅經室集 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1993), 10.211–236; and Xu Hao 徐 灝, Shuowen jiezi zhujian 說文解字注箋 (Xuxiu Siku quanshu 續修四庫全書 edition), 10.353b. 59.  Mencius 6A2. 60. Wang Xianqian 王先謙 (1842–1917), Xunzi jijie 荀子集解 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1988), 16.412. 61.  See He, Zhanguo guwen zidian, 821. 62.  Liu Xi 劉熙 (b. ca. 160), Shi ming 釋名 (Congshu jicheng chubian 叢書集成初編 edition), 67. 63.  Ouyang Zhenren 歐陽禎人 already indicates this etymology; see his Xianqin rujia


Li Zehou’s Reconception of Confucian Philosophy

xingqing sixiang yanjiu 先秦儒家性情思想研究 (Wuhan: Wuhan daxue chubanshe, 2005), 85–88. However, he explains qing as an abstract, general concept, which is quite different from my analysis. 64.  See Zhengzhang Shangfang 鄭張尚芳, Shanggu yinxi 上古音系 (Shanghai: Shanghai jiaoyu chubanshe, 2003), 460–461; William H. Baxter and Laurent Sagart, B ­ axter-Sagart Old Chinese Reconstruction, 104, 114, 146, accessed October 31, 2014, http://en.wiktionary​ .org/wiki/Appendix:Baxter-Sagart_Old_Chinese_reconstruction; and William H. Baxter and Laurent Sagart, Old Chinese: A New Reconstruction (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 235–236. 65. Wang Yuanlu, “Xin zi tanyuan” 心字探源, in Wang, Putong wenzixue yu bijiao wenzixue lunji 普通文字學與比較文字學論集 (Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 2012), 222–238. 66. It should be noted that xing originally did not connote “human nature” in the sense of an essential human nature. That sense is a later, gradual extension. 67. All the citations of the XZMC in this article are from Chen Wei, Chudi chutu zhanguo jiance, 220–235. Chen Lai 陳來 explains wu qu 物取 as emotion stimulated by and resonating with objects; this is about the same as the Liji’s words: “[One] resonates with objects and is stimulated by them. . . . Then one’s feelings of like and dislike manifest” (感 于物而動. . . . 然后好惡形焉). See Chen Lai, “Jingmen zhujian zhi Xing zi ming chu pian chutan” 荊門竹簡之性自命出篇初探, in Zhongguo zhexue 中國哲學 20 (1999): 293–314. All the translations of the citations from the XZMC and other Guodian texts in this article are adapted from Michael Puett, “The Ethics of Responding Properly: The Notion of Qing 情 in Early Chinese Thought,” in Eifring, Love and Emotions, 37–68; and Scott Cook, The Bamboo Texts of Guodian: A Study and Complete Translation (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University East Asia Program, 2012), 667–750, 799–902. 68. Some scholars have indicated the internal-external relation between xing and qing, though my interpretation is different from theirs. See, for example, Chen Lai, “Guodian Chujian Xing zi ming chu yu ruxue renxinglun” 郭店楚簡性自命出與儒學人性論, in Chen, Zhubo Wuxing yu jianbo yanjiu 竹帛五行與簡帛研究 (Beijing: Sanlian shudian, 2009), 80. 69.  Analects 2.8. 70.  Mencius 1B1. 71.  Mencius 2B12. 72.  Xu Yuangao, Guoyu jijie, 376. 73.  Zuozhuan 左傳, Duke Zhao 25. 74. See, for example, Damasio, Descartes’ Error, 145; Antonio R. Damasio, “Fundamental Feelings,” Nature 413 (2001): 781; Peter J. Lang, “The Emotion Probe: Studies of Motivation and Attention,” American Psychologist 50, no. 5 (1995): 273; and Klaus R. Scherer, “What Are Emotions? And How Can They Be Measured?,” Social Science Information 44 (2005): 693–727. 75. See Xu Fuguan 徐復觀, Zhongguo renxinglun shi: Xianqin pian 中國人性論史: 先秦篇 (Taipei: Shangwu yinshuguan, 1969), 233. 76. The XZMC has a corresponding counterpart titled Xing qing lun 性情論, which is included in the Shanghai Museum collection of Chu bamboo manuscripts. See Ma

Reconception of Confucian Ethics of Emotion


Chengyuan 馬承源, ed., Shanghai bowuguan cang Zhanguo Chu zhushu 上海博物館藏戰 國楚竹書 (Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 2001), 1:69–118, 215–301. However, since the two texts are very similar and also the Shanghai collection is not from scientific excavation, this article does not cite it for comparison and discussion. 77.  Some scholars propose that the two parts originally must have been two different essays. 78. The XZMC also presents other important themes such as xing 性 and its relationship with qing. Because of the limited space, this chapter focuses only on qing. 79. Chen Wei reads the third dao 道 as dao 導. See Chen, Chudi chutu Zhanguo jiance, 222. 80.  Ibid., 253. 81. Some scholars have noted this point. See, for example, Li Tianhong, Guodian Chujian Xing zi ming chu yanjiu, 136–137. 82.  Chen Wei, Chudi chutu Zhanguo jiance, 253. 83. Zheng Xuan 鄭玄 (127–200) and Kong Yingda 孔穎達 (574–648), eds., Liji zhushu 禮記注疏 (Shisanjing zhushu zhengliben 十三經注疏整理本 edition), “Li yun” 禮 運, 9.1422c. 84.  Zheng and Kong, Liji zhushu, “Biao ji” 表記, 32.1640c. 85. A. [Angus] C. Graham, Disputers of the Tao (Chicago: Open Court, 1989), 11. An etymological study shows that role obligation is yi’s earlier meaning ( yiwu 義務), and later the sense of appropriate role conduct gradually extends to represent the general social standards of rightness ( gongyi 公義), righteousness (zhengyi 正義), propriety (heyi 合宜), and so forth. See Jinhua Jia and Kwok Pang-fei, “From Clan Manners to Ethical Obligation and Righteousness: A New Interpretation of the Term yi,” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 17, no. 1 (2007): 1–10. 86. Ames, Confucian Role Ethics, 159–210. 87.  Chen Wei, Chudi chutu Zhanguo jiance, 245. 88. See, for example, the discussions by Li Tianhong, Guodian zhujian Xing zi ming chu yanjiu, 56–59. 89. Zheng and Kong, Liji zhushu, 52.1661b–1662a. Translation adapted from Tu Weiming, The Insight of Chung-yung (Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 2008), 2; and Roger T. Ames and David L. Hall, Focusing the Familiar: A Translation and Philosophical Interpretation of the “Zhongyong” (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2001), 35. 90.  Scherer, “What Are Emotions?,” 706–707. 91.  Middendorf, “Again on Qing,” 106–107. 92. In view of qing’s signification as sincere emotion in the XZMC, some scholars propose that the two qing characters in the Analects (13.4, 19.19), which were previously explained as facts or sincerity, may also imply the meaning of people’s sincere emotion. See, for example, Meng Peiyuan 蒙培元, “Xing zi ming chu de sixiang tezheng jiqi yu Si-Meng xuepai de guanxi” 性自命出的思想特徵及其與思孟學派的關係, in Ganshu shehui kexue 甘肅社會科學 2 (2008): 36–43. 93. See, for example, Erica Brindley, “Music, Cosmos, and the Development of Psychology in Early China,” T’oung pao 92 (2006): 1–49; and Cook, Bamboo Texts of Guodian, 671–674.


Li Zehou’s Reconception of Confucian Philosophy

94. For the relation between the Guodian texts and these classics, see, for example, Pang Pu 龐樸, “Kong Meng zhijian: Guodian Chujian zhongde Rujia xinxingshuo” 孔孟 之間: 郭店楚簡中的儒家心性說, Zhongguo shehui kexue 中國社會科學 5 (1998): 88–95; Paul R. Goldin, “Xunzi in the Light of the Guodian Manuscripts,” Early China 25 (2000): 114–138; Tang Yijie 湯一介, “Dao shi yu qing de zhexue quanshi” 道始於情的哲學詮釋, Xueshu yuekan 學術月刊 7 (2001): 40–44; Puett, “Ethics of Responding Properly,” 37–68; Cook, Bamboo Texts of Guodian, 678–686; and Curie Virág, “Early Confucian Perspectives on Emotions,” in Dao Companion to Classical Confucian Philosophy, ed. Vincent Shen (Dordrecht: Springer, 2014), 203–226. For more discussions related to the concept of emotion in these classics, see, for example, Kwong-loi Shun, Mencius and Early Chinese Thought (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1997); Alan K. L. Chan, ed., Mencius: Contexts and Interpretations (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2002); T. C. Kline III and Philip J. Ivanhoe, eds., Virtue, Nature, and Moral Agency in the Xunzi (Indianapolis, Ind.: Hacking Publishing, 2000); James Behuniak Jr., Mencius on Becoming Human (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2005); and Bongrae Seok, Embodied Moral Psychology and Confucian Philosophy (Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2013). 95.  Analects 12.1. 96.  Analects 9.26, 9.28. 97. In earlier writings, Li uses the term zongjiaoxing daode 宗教性道德 (religious morals), but recently he has added chuantong 傳統 (traditional) in order to distinguish it more clearly from modern social morals. 98.  Li Zehou, Huiying Sangde’er ji qita, 118. 99.  Li Zehou, “Shuo ru fa huyong” 說儒法互用, in Li, Jimao wu shuo, 102.


Li Zehou’s Doctrine of Emotion as Substance and Confucian Philosophy Byung-seok JUNG

Var i ous t r en ds h ave emerged in the understanding and study of modern Confucianism. New Confucian scholars such as Feng Youlan and Mou Zongsan can be regarded as representative examples. Mou Zongsan’s books and unique interpretations of Confucianism have exerted a particularly significant amount of influence on people studying Confucianism in Hong Kong and Taiwan and the rest of the Chinese cultural sphere. Mou Zongsan’s viewpoint has been countered by an opposing school of thought led by Li Zehou. Li Zehou has publicly criticized the perception that Mou Zongsan’s and New Confucian philosophy constitute the third stage of Chinese Confucian tradition (第三期儒學), arguing instead that there are in fact four stages of Chinese Confucian tradition (儒學四期說), with New Confucianism regarded as belonging to the modern Confucianism of the Song-Ming dynasties.1 For Li, while Mou Zongsan’s main textbook, Substance of the Heart-Mind and of Human Nature (Xinti yu xingti 心體與性體), describes a philosophical system based on reason or morals, it remains unable to overcome the structure of heartmind and human nature theory (xinxing lun 心性論) inherent in the Confucianism of the Song-Ming dynasties. Li’s most strident criticism of New Confucians is what he perceives as their deviation from the fundamental spirit of the ancient Confucianism advocated by such sages as Confucius and Mencius. From what vantage point does Li Zehou criticize the limitations and difficulties associated with New Confucianism? In this regard, the doctrine of “emotion as substance” (情本體) can be accepted as Li’s main contribution to the field. However, this 187


Li Zehou’s Reconception of Confucian Philosophy

doctrine does not have the criticism of New Confucianism as its sole or overarching goal. Rather, it seems more appropriate to regard this doctrine as an attempt to create the new philosophy needed in the postmodern era, from the standpoint of a universal or world philosophy. Li clearly states, “The doctrine of emotion as substance is not merely national or Chinese but rather a global or mankind-level approach. However, it is an approach that understands the world on the basis of Chinese tradition, or ‘a mankind-level approach crafted with the Chinese eye.’ ”2 The interpretation of Li’s doctrine of emotion as substance as being mere criticism of New Confucianism, or as being a modern interpretation of the core elements of Chinese philosophy, inevitably runs the risk of underestimating the philosophical value of his work. Rather, Li’s doctrine of emotion as substance can be regarded as a creative approach capable of contributing not only to Confucianism but also to the much-needed sphere of world philosophy. Emotion has rarely been the central theme of Chinese or Western philosophy. What’s more, emotion has not been understood as substance. Through his doctrine of emotion as substance, Li attempted to place the emotion of everyday life into philosophy. This is in logical accord with his fundamental belief that philosophy should be a philosophy for man (人的哲學). Even the individual self is lost and disappears when the absolute ideology and its authority, forged by reason and rationality, are deconstructed, and when “God is dead” (Friedrich Nietzsche) and “man is dead, too” (Michel Foucault). How can one live one’s life in these days of loss of meaning and uncertainty? Li proposes the doctrine of emotion as substance as a response to this critical problem. This chapter begins with an explanation of the basic viewpoint of Li Zehou’s philosophy, the doctrine of historical ontology serving as his philosophical system, and the doctrine of emotion as substance constituting one axis of his doctrine of historical ontology. Thereafter, an attempt is made to analyze the concept and core contents of the doctrine of emotion as substance, as well as the culture of optimism and the one-world view that characterize the notion of emotion as substance and Confucian philosophy. Finally, a discussion of Li’s viewpoint is conducted in order to develop a new understanding of the history of Confucian philosophy from the standpoint of the doctrine of emotion as substance. Li Zehou’s Philosophical View and Doctrine of Historical Ontology

What is philosophy? In “Notes on Philosophical Inquiries” (Zhexue tanxun lu 哲學探尋錄), Li Zehou stresses that philosophy is not the sole possession of a few exceptional people. The essence of philosophy is “thinking,” and thinking is the prerogative of any ordinary person. Therefore, the realm of philosophy encompasses not only profound thoughts but also daily occurrences and absurd

Doctrine of Emotion as Substance & Confucian Philosophy 189

nonsense. In this regard, philosophy’s duty should be seen as that of defending and protecting the right to “think.” Where does this “right to think” originate from? It becomes possible only when the condition that “man is alive” is met, because a person can think as long as he or she is alive.3 Li considered the phrase “man is alive” (人活着) to be the starting point for philosophy. What does “man is alive” mean? Li maintained that “man is alive” is the first fact and that “being alive” is more fundamental than “the reason for being alive.” This is because “being alive” (活着) is an established fact. It is not a choice or decision made by an individual, but a fact. The fact that “man is alive” implies living in the world while coexisting with others, or “being with others, within the world,” as Heidegger said. This too is not a choice or decision made by an individual. “Coexisting with others”—namely, “living together in this world”—is simply taking part in everyday life. The fact that “man is alive” is related to the living of everyday life, such as having meals and wearing clothes.4 Li’s attempt to introduce the notion that “man is alive” as a starting point means that philosophy should not and cannot be removed from individual life. As such, philosophy must be related to humans and their lives. Li’s “man is alive” can be construed as having two meanings. These are in turn related to the theme or direction (contents) that philosophy should deal with. One is “a philosophy for human beings”5 in which the discussion on philosophical themes centers on human beings. The other emphasizes the historical meaning of “man is alive,” or that humans are historical beings. In addition, Li has also stated that the man in “man is alive” and the total process of history formed by humans are just the final reality of all phenomena. What is “a philosophy for human beings”? Li believed that philosophy was meaningless if it moved beyond people and that issues such as cosmology should be dealt with by science, not philosophy.6 As a result, his philosophy is generally devoid of any elements of the doctrine of nature substance (自然本體論). However, he metaphorically mentioned the important trends of modern Western philosophy. In his mind, modern Western philosophy was dominated by the following trends: “philosophy of animals,” in which all values are deconstructed and what we can see is considered true; “philosophy of mechanisms,” which is stuck in a precise analysis technique of languages; and “philosophy of soldiers” (in Heidegger’s sense), in which humans blindly rush forward toward death with an enormous sorrow.7 But even if those philosophical trends contribute to providing a new viewpoint, all of them are elements of an “anti-­philosophical philosophy” that cannot solve life’s urgent problems.8 Here Li argued that philosophy should be “for human beings” and encompass human nature, emotion, coincidence, and, more concretely, the fate of humanity.9 Li believed that philosophy dealt with the fate of humanity.10 What is the meaning of “fate”? According to Li, “fate should not be interpreted as ‘inevita-


Li Zehou’s Reconception of Confucian Philosophy

bility’ or ‘predestination’ . . . but as ‘coincidental,’ that is to say, every individual endeavors to understand and grasp the accidental existence and fate given to himself/herself—‘knowing fate’ (知命) and, on the basis of these, establish himself/herself—‘establishing fate’ (立命).”11 If indeed the main theme to be addressed by philosophy is the fate of humanity, then it cannot be studied with a scientific method. Because fate is not prescribed and cannot be clearly observed, its laws cannot be found. On the contrary, it is filled with coincidence and subjective will, and the personal desires and emotions of an individual also play an important role. As such, the inevitability and laws of fate cannot be grasped based on scientific reasoning. As Li put it, “Philosophy is the poetry of life and acquires an everlasting charm because it deals with the fate of humanity.”12 He defined philosophy as the learning (學問) of combining science and poetry, not simply as the study of linguistic analysis or scientific methodology: Because of its inclusive nature, philosophy includes elements of science and poetry. On the one hand, it contains the scientific elements needed to achieve a general comprehension of the basic developments in objective reality (nature and society). On the other, it also contains the expressions of human subjective intentions, desires, and sentiments in a specific age and society. These philosophical expressions reveal ideas that are subtle and obscure, unable to be grasped and defined by science, and yet which have to do with the existence of human beings, with the value and significance of life, and with the fate and poetic feelings of persons.13

Li’s definition of philosophy as the learning of combining science and poetry would seem to imply that philosophy contains both the characteristics of science based on reason and those of poetry rooted in emotion. The key is how these two types of characteristics are harmoniously connected. Li believed that while excessive emphasis on reason led to the “philosophy of mechanisms,” overemphasis on emotion resulted in the “philosophy of animals.” Another important meaning of the phrase “man is alive” is that a human is “a historical being,” rather than a living and physiological being. Li’s “philosophy of man” is rooted in an approach that centers on and is based on humans, or the “subjectivity of mankind,” as a counter to objective nature. Li earnestly introduced his unique philosophical system—namely, “a doctrine of anthropological historical ontology,” “a doctrine of historical ontology,” or “a doctrine of anthropological ontology”—in which humanity, history, and substance are inherently connected: Such terms as humankind, anthropology, and anthropological ontology used in my previous works are quite different in connotation from those

Doctrine of Emotion as Substance & Confucian Philosophy 191

employed in Western philosophical anthropology, which stresses the biological connotation while leaving out the sociohistorical ones. On the contrary, what is stressed here is social practice as the concrete process of the historical development of human beings as a whole. This is the social existence of humans, which transcends their biological nature as a species creature. This is also what I mean by subjectification.14

The word “anthropological” as employed in “a doctrine of anthropological historical ontology” or “a doctrine of anthropological ontology” does not refer to a branch of anthropology or philosophical anthropology. In fact, Li was emphasizing the concrete process of human development as the totality of history. It is the subjectivity of humans that exceeds biological limits. Through this concept, he argued for human substance (人本體) rather than god substance (‌上帝本體) or nature substance (自然本體) and referred to his system as “a doctrine of anthropological ontology” or “a doctrine of anthropological historical ontology.” Aware of the obvious hidden meaning embedded in “a doctrine of anthropological historical ontology,” he subsequently renamed it “a doctrine of historical ontology” to evade several misunderstandings associated with the word “anthropology.” The history referred to here implies that of humanity, not of nature. “A doctrine of historical ontology” emphasizes the fact that it regards the total historical process of man and nature as the final reality of all appearances and includes the meaning “I am alive.” It does not mean to get out of the life of a living individual. If it is separated from the life of each living individual, then how can there be an ontology of anthropological history? Therefore, “a doctrine of historical ontology” or “a doctrine of anthropological historical ontology” is not an abstract object, nor a certain paradigm, nor conception, nor absolute spirit, nor ideology. It is just the vivid daily life of man itself. A man as this vivid individual has only to be born, live, and survive within a certain group that is under invariable temporal-spatial conditions, and always to “live in this world” and to “be together with others.”15

The theme of philosophy is to study the fate of humanity and to formulate philosophical questions such as “Why does a person live?” and “Does he or she live well?” But the matter of meaning and value of being alive must be based on the fact that “man is alive.” A doctrine of historical ontology must focus on the daily life of a vivid human (individual) rather than a certain paradigm, conception, absolute spirit, or ideology. Out of this point, the object of research based on the doctrine of historical ontology is expanded to include the psychology


Li Zehou’s Reconception of Confucian Philosophy

and emotions of sensuous individuals from all of humankind or history. As Li observed, “The doctrine of anthropological historical ontology starts from reason (mankind, history, inevitability) and concludes with emotion (individual, incident, psychology).”16 This doctrine represents a form of subversion of traditional philosophy, which begins with emotion and concludes with reason. Li’s doctrine of historical ontology regards psychological substance and emotion as the substance of man as an individual. The Doctrine of Emotion as Substance and the Return to Individuals

Li Zehou believed that the fate of humanity constituted the main theme that should be addressed by philosophy. He maintained that his own philosophy represented a historical ontology, and he argued that philosophy should return to the basis that “man is alive.” He converted the question raised by Kant, “How is cognition possible?” into that of “How is humankind possible?” and then developed his own philosophical viewpoint: Since the fate of human beings is the primary concern of my philosophy, I must consider the possibility of humanity, its root and stem. Questions such as the possibility of cognition, morality, and aesthetic appreciation originate from and are subordinate to the question of the possibility of humanity. For me it is through the processes of using, making, and renewing instruments that humanity forms social existence, which then constructs human cognition (symbols), human will (ethics), and human enjoyment (appreciation of beauty). As these psychological constructions evolve, the rational dissolves into the sensuous, the social into the individual, and the historical into the psychological. Certain unconscious sensuous states turn out to be the result of millions of years of human historical development.17

The doctrine of historical ontology is an attempt to determine a response to “how is mankind possible?” by examining the way that humankind has survived for millions of years by using instruments and has, through reason, order, or aesthetics, constituted experiences from these concrete activities. From this emerge the issues of “techno-social substance” and “psychological substance.” The doctrine of historical ontology is composed of these two substances and emphasizes the vital role that the techno-social and the individual psychological have in the survival of humankind. These two, respectively, are developed in the two directions of humanism and human nature, and they represent dual substances. On the basis of the above viewpoint, Li highlighted the importance of psychological structure and clearly explained the primary task in terms of its

Doctrine of Emotion as Substance & Confucian Philosophy 193

study: “Our primary task in the study of the psychological construction is to explore how deep-level history—the study of multidimensional structures under the apparent historical phenomena—changes through sedimentation into deep-level psychology, the multidimensional structures of mind.”18 Deeplevel history, the diverse elements existing under historical phenomena, has sedimented within the psychological structure. This process is related to the cultural-psychological formation, or how culture has sedimented within psychology through history. The structure of cultural psychology—constituted through the accumulation and sedimentation of history, as a form of existence that only humankind possesses—is a type of human nature formed through the sedimentation of culture on the foundation of natural physiology-psychology. What is being sedimented within this psychological structure includes various elements of truth, virtue, and beauty.19 More to the point, these elements include recognition by the construction of reason, morality by the solidification of reason, and aesthetic appreciation by the dissolution of reason. These represent an emotiorational structure in which reason and emotion are entangled in a complicated manner. This complex emotio-rational structure represents nothing more or less than human nature, or human psychology. Out of this human nature structure emerges emotion as substance, which rises in opposition to heart-mind and human nature as substance. Li Zehou did not mention the notion “emotion as substance” from the outset. This phrase is related to others, such as “psychological substance” and “new sensuousness.” These phrases in fact emerged in a chronological manner. The term “psychological substance” was introduced first, followed by “emotion as substance” and “new sensuousness.” Discussing aesthetic perception in Four Essays on Aesthetics (Meixue si jiang 美學四講), he stated, “I am talking mainly about the construction of a new sensuousness related to the philosophical issue of building emotion-sense substance,”20 thus revealing his belief that new sensuousness and emotion as substance boast the same contents. After the 1990s, Li began to mention “emotion as substance” in earnest. How are emotion-sense substance (情感本體) and emotion as substance different? Whereas emotionsense substance is focused on humankind and its emotional structure, emotion as substance is mainly concerned with individuals and their daily lives. Li’s philosophical direction was as such altered to revolve around the daily world of an individual, therefore implying that he regarded the individual’s daily emotions as the core of philosophy. But how can emotion be regarded as substance? Many people have questioned the notion of “emotion as substance,” often asking if “emotion as substance” is a criticism of the concept of “substance” or of “the doctrine of substance.” This question can be construed as pointing to differences between the


Li Zehou’s Reconception of Confucian Philosophy

general concept of “substance,” “a doctrine of substance,” and Li’s viewpoint. Li had mentioned a series of concepts related to substance—for example, historical substance, instrumental substance, psychological substance, and emotional substance. That being the case, in what sense was Li employing the concept of substance? In response to objections raised by other scholars regarding his notion of substance, Li made several points of his own. First, he argued, “Substance is the final reality whose meaning of existence cannot be questioned, and [it] transcends the cause and effect of experience. Removing substance from psychology is like removing God from heaven. Removing substance from psychology is like breaking up science and mechanism. Therefore, the final reality of substance is actually within the sensuous structure of human beings.”21 He added that the substance transcending the cause and effect of experience is not a transcendental substance conflicting with or separated from the phenomenal world. That being the case, what is substance on earth? To this question, Li answered, “Substance is not noumenon distinguishable from the world of phenomena raised by Kant, but only means the reality of origin, root, and finality.”22 Namely, substance is in phenomena, and both substance and phenomena belong to one world. Li asserted that, viewed from this standpoint, “so-called emotion as substance regards emotion as a final reality and root of life.”23 Later he gave a more precise explanation: “Emotion as substance is nonsubstance, not substance in a traditional sense. This metaphysics does not have the meta, and the meta is among the physical. . . . The reason emotion as substance is still called substance is that it is only a true meaning [眞諦] of life, truth of being, and final meaning.”24 These definitions of the concept of substance and the doctrine of substance are closely related to the Chinese philosophy of Confucianism. Emotion (emotion-sense) is not treated as an important philosophical theme in traditional philosophy, because it is thought to be the revelation of pure subjectivity or the violent feeling of being uncontrollable after an external stimulus. Therefore, emotion is disregarded by many philosophers. In contrast to this notion, the concept of emotion mentioned by Li is a rationalized one in which reason is sedimented into emotion-sense, and the problems with this emotion or emotion-sense are related to psychological substance. Psychological substance does not lie within the realm of psychology, which is experiential and scientific, but belongs to the realm of philosophy. In addition, psychological substance is a sensitivity structure into which history is sedimented. This sensitivity structure can become substance because it is no longer a biological being in nature but now transcends limited experience.25 The sedimentation of reason into emotion means that the senses of animal nature are humanized and the psychological structure of nature becomes humankind’s. Therefore, emotion contains goodness and reason. This emotion

Doctrine of Emotion as Substance & Confucian Philosophy 195

is separated from the emotion expressed as blind impulse or exposure of instinct because it contains truth and rationality within itself. Li added that this psychological substance develops in three directions: recognition or logical ability; ethics and moral consciousness; and emotion and sense.26 In his discussions of psychological substance, Li emphasized the problem of emotion. Emotion originally belonged to the realm of psychological substance. However, he elevated emotion to the level of substance. Li’s core intention to elevate emotion to the level of substance is active affirmation of the importance of the real life and living conditions of an individual. Asked during an interview, “What do you believe?,” Li responded, “I think it is emotion. The meaning of life lies in emotion. Even relations between humans and God, ultimately, are questions of emotion, not a relation to recognition.”27 He criticized the materialistic historical view that excessively emphasizes the objective law of society, and he argued that more attention should be paid to the survival of average ordinary individuals, while also focusing on how a real individual speaks for and decides his or her own fate based on his or her power. Individuals engaged in real life will always be concrete, sensitive, and heterogeneous. He added: What is a psychological subject, if not substance? Traditional philosophy always advances from sensitivity to reason, and anthropological historical substance starts from reason (humankind, history, and inevitability), ending in sensitivity (an individual, incident, psychology). . . . Because, without this emotion, way substance, heart-mind substance, and beings and heaven, do not exist any longer.28

Li Zehou drew emotion as substance away from psychological substance (cultural-psychological formation) and incrementally moved his focus to the psychological emotion of individuals. Since the 1990s he has focused on emotion as substance and given attention to the living conditions of individuals. Therefore, we can see that he once again became interested in the question of the emotions of a social group, or the theory of two types of morals—namely, religious and modern social morals. Approached from this standpoint, the question of emotion as substance is not limited to an individual being but is enlarged and developed to encompass the existent state of the whole society. As such, the formation of emotion as substance appears to go through a process from humankind to the individual and then back to humankind again. Irrespective of the change of viewpoint from humankind to the individual or from the individual to humankind, what remains unchanged in Li’s philosophy is that emotion can be equated to substance. Thus, we can surmise that the starting and key points of his philosophy lie in the individual state of currently being alive.


Li Zehou’s Reconception of Confucian Philosophy

Emotion as Substance and the One-World View of Confucianism

Explaining that emotion as substance is the core of a culture of optimism, Li Zehou clearly argued that this notion in actuality represents the key point of the Chinese philosophy of Confucianism.29 He subsequently added, “A culture of optimism makes emotion substance and emphasizes life, livingness, and the existence of sensitivity. Because of this, the natural desires of a person cannot be renounced and must not be depreciated.”30 Li said that the characteristics of Chinese culture centering on Confucianism constitute a culture of optimism. Through this culture of optimism, he uncovered the philosophy of emotion and drew out a new viewpoint of emotion as substance: Because Western culture is called the culture of sin awareness, Chinese culture is outlined in contrast to it: some call it a culture of shameful awareness31 (Those who conduct themselves with a sense of shame32), and others, an awareness of concern33 (The author of the Classic of Changes may have had such concerns34). I think that this is nothing more than imitating a meaning of sin awareness, and so it is much more appropriate to refer to it as a culture of optimism.35

Through the comparison of Chinese culture with the Western culture of sin awareness and the Japanese culture of shameful awareness (viewpoints advocated by Ruth Benedict and Japanese scholars), Li searched for a culture of optimism in establishing the characteristics or spirit of Chinese culture based on Confucianism. In The Analects of Confucius (Lunyu 論語), Li found these statements: Having studied, to then repeatedly apply what you have learned—is this not a source of pleasure? To have friends come from distant quarters—is this not a source of enjoyment?36 Confucius is driven by such eagerness to teach and learn that he forgets to eat, enjoys himself so much that he forgets to worry, and does not even realize that old age is on the way.37 To eat coarse food, drink plain water, and pillow oneself on a bent arm— there is pleasure to be found in these things.38

The spirit expressed in these statements became for Li a way to view not only Confucianism but also the universal consciousness or subconsciousness of the Chinese people, as well as a kind of structure of cultural psychology. This is why “pleasure” has the practical meaning of substance in Chinese philosophy.39

Doctrine of Emotion as Substance & Confucian Philosophy 197

Joy or pleasure, as expressed in the quotations above from the Analects, is the pleasure of this world, not the ecstasy of the afterworld pursued in many religions. The greatest objects that Chinese Confucian philosophers try to achieve—namely, the Way of Heaven, the Mandate of Heaven, and human nature—are fundamentally aesthetical. These goals are not scientific, speculative, or philosophical but completely practical, emotional, and psychological. Therefore, the ultimate realization or embodiment of them—namely, the process or level of the unity of heaven and human beings—is closer to religious practice or experience than to something speculative or philosophical. In this respect, Li argued that even if Confucianism is not religion, it belongs to the highest realm, transcending morals and equivalent to religious experience, and he called this realm an aesthetic one. The aesthetic consciousness of Confucianism is not only simple sensitive pleasure but also the satisfaction of the mind and salvation, meaning the spiritual recurrence of humans toward heaven. Therefore, the aesthetic realm of Confucianism can be said to be not only simple joy or the pleasure of sensibility but also the satisfaction of the mind or salvation.40 On occasion, Li classified emotion into stages and analyzed the religious level or experience associated with each stage. He also classified aesthetics into three stages: pleasures of the ear and eye (悦耳悦目), pleasures of the mind and heart (悦心悦意), and pleasures of lofty aspiration and moral integrity (悦志悦 神).41 The stage of pleasures of lofty aspiration and moral integrity can be said to belong to the religious stage or experience, according to Li: “This stage of Confucianism transforms the emotion of being within and beyond the world into an origin, a basis, an actual being, and substance.”42 That is why “pleasure has . . . the meaning of substance in Chinese philosophy,”43 as well as the meaning of “religious emotion.”44 The philosophical background of the culture of optimism, constituting one of the characteristics of Chinese culture, is the establishment of one world (namely, this world). In other words, the metaphysical world that transcends this world or a religion with a personalized god is not necessary to achieve a separate kingdom of heaven. Out of this fact arises a one-world view. Li himself made it clear that “the theory of substance,” representing one of the key points of his philosophy, is also based on the one-world view: I wish to clarify my use of ontology and noumenon. Both terms are meaningful in Western philosophy but have different meanings when used from the perspective of the Chinese one-world view. We have no philosophical questions of being, or different realms of phenomenon and noumenon, for ours is not a dualistic world view. We translate noumenon as benti, a word coined from ben (root, origin) and ti (stem, body). Bentilun literally means a discussion, theory, study, or view of benti, and this


Li Zehou’s Reconception of Confucian Philosophy

compound was adopted to translate ontology in Chinese. So instead of a study of being, bentilun is a study of the ben (root, origin) and ti (stem, body) of things. Clearly, this approach views the origin of things from a more biological and historical perspective than from that of metaphysics. I suggest that the root and body of human practice is benti and, further, that human emotions (subjects) and tools (objects) are benti. I like to call bentilun, the study of benti, or historical ontology, and emphasize that bentilun is the study of the root and body of things. In addition, within the Chinese one-world view, the existence of everything is connected with the existence of human beings; hence being cannot be separated from the existence of human beings.45

Li made it clear that the concept and doctrine of substance originate from the one-world view mentioned in Chinese Confucianism. In this regard, the key points of his philosophy do not deviate from that one-world view. He argued in favor of a doctrine of historical ontology and a doctrine of emotion as substance based on a one-world view in which there is no distinction between the phenomenal world and the substance world, and furthermore there is no separation of the human world from the transcendent world. The myriad things formed in this one world are all related to, and cannot be separated from, human beings. In this respect, it is only natural that the core of Li’s philosophy should be nothing other than human beings and their history. Therefore, above all, philosophy should return to the fate and life of human beings—namely, the establishment of the fundamental proposition that “man is alive.” This focus is clearly evident in the elevation and humanization of life found in traditional Confucianism. In Li’s philosophy, one of the prescriptions for achieving emotion as substance is the active affirmation of real life and living. Active affirmation involves the rejection of religion centering on the kingdom of heaven. Seeking deliverance of the soul while denying and abandoning life, home, and marriage is a concept very unfamiliar to the Chinese people. Everything from actual food, clothing, shelter, and conduct to health, longevity, and joy—all reveal the nature of a doctrine of emotion as substance in Chinese culture, in which one searches for happiness in everyday life by elevating living and affirming life.46 On this point, Li commented: From primitive times to the present, funeral rites and music humanize the animal terror of death. They mold and change it from an instinctive fear to deep and sad feelings, thereby enriching life and enhancing its value. A similar process occurs with sexual love, material love, and other instinctive drives: all mold and transform the instinctive desires and impulses into powerful life forces, which appear and develop in an individual’s flesh,

Doctrine of Emotion as Substance & Confucian Philosophy 199

blood, and conduct or the psychological-emotional constitution. For this reason, art and aesthetic experiences do not belong to the realm of ethics and epistemology and cannot be replaced, understood, and expounded by intellectual knowledge. Entirely free from conceptual definitions and the restriction of moral norms, both art and aesthetic experience enjoy a free world of creation that originates from the depth of life itself.47

The humanization constituted by subliming and converting instinctive emotion is not made by order of a transcendent god. Li has said: “The power of this kind of life is distinct from the instinctive life pursued by animals, and emotion ‘is finally humanized’ thoroughly, even if it is based on animal instinct biologically. That is what I call emotion as substance.”48 Reason does not have control over emotion here but permeates and sediments into it. Animal instincts, through the permeation and mediation of reason, are fused into one without the separation of reason from desire. The substance of emotion takes its place in the emotional life of all individuals and is itself the state of the most sincere and fundamental being. Therefore, it no longer makes or demands either a “transcendent being” with control over the individuals within the real world or a more perfect “ideological world.” The Tradition of Confucian Philosophy from the Perspective of the Doctrine of Emotion as Substance

Even though Li Zehou was influenced by several ideas when establishing his concept of emotion as substance, his main points could already be found in Chinese philosophy, particularly in Confucianism. Based on his concept of emotion as substance, Li effectively rearranged the history of Confucian philosophy. He emphasized that the core of classical Confucianism, or original form of Confucianism, lies in “emotion” and that the philosophy of Confucianism is in the position of “a doctrine of valuing emotion,” which attaches importance to emotion. Going one step further, he attempted to find the root of the doctrine of emotion as substance in the tradition of shamanism. Classical Confucianism such as that advocated by Mencius and the Guodian Bamboo Slips (郭店竹簡) contains many discussions of emotion, such as the passage “Would you then be comfortable?”49 found in the Analects in a conversation between Zaiwo 宰我 and Confucius regarding the three-year mourning period; Mencius’ “mind of pitifulness”;50 and the passage “The way begins from emotion, and emotion generates from human nature” found in the chapter “Destiny as the Provenance of Human Nature” in the Guodian Bamboo Slips.51 These examples all identify emotion as a root and starting point. Confucianists regard emotion as the basis of the way of humanity and, moreover, as


Li Zehou’s Reconception of Confucian Philosophy

the basis for the occurrence of the way of heaven. Even though the benevolence of human nature mentioned in Confucianism has a rational and objective universality, it is not purely formal, nor is it the ideal of a transcendent pure form separated from sensitive experience, but it exists in emotion and is embodied through emotional activity. Confucius and Confucianism refer to humaneness (仁) through emotion (filial piety) between parents and children. Li Zehou has argued: Clan blood relations constitute the concrete social origin of Confucian humanism, while filial piety and fraternal duty are the direct, unmediated expression of that origin. (“Filial piety and fraternal duty—are these not the very root of humanity?” [Analects 1.2]. “The gentleman is generous with his kin, and the people are incited to humaneness” [Analects 8.2].) Both the possibility of filiality and its indispensability are rooted in human psychological emotion.52

This means that benevolence is not profound and far off but starts with the individual and his or her surroundings. That is to say, the root of perfect virtue is to “obey one’s parents and respect seniors.” To spread perfect virtue throughout an entire society and nation, a superior individual should treat close kinsfolk sincerely, and then the people will naturally move toward perfect virtue. Filial piety and brotherly love, which are the natural expression of emotion between parents, children, and siblings, are emotions that all members of society have in common. Confucius endowed the foundation of common emotion among close people with some universal social implications and functions. Rather than constituting a theory, his philosophical view was directly based on and appealed to emotion or other psychological elements. His method can be referred to as a convergence of reason and emotion. In the context of a discussion of the three-year mourning period prescribed for one’s parents by ritual, Confucius said, “How inhumane Yu is! When a child is born, for three years it does not leave the embrace of its parents. . . . Yu also received three years of his parents’ love” (Analects 17.21). Confucius does not appeal here to the gods, but to human beings; not to external regulations, but to internal emotions. The fact that he looks to a human psychological emotion—the love between parent and child—for the ultimate basis of humaneness, is a simple yet significant observation. For, fundamentally, humaneness is a consciousness of one’s human nature—a nature that is fundamentally biological or animalistic (as expressed in the parent-child relation), and yet distinct from the animal (as expressed in filiality). In this view, these emotions of our

Doctrine of Emotion as Substance & Confucian Philosophy 201

human nature are both the ultimate reality and the very essence of what it means to be human. This is the starting point of Confucius’ humanism, and indeed of all Confucian humanitarianism, as well as of its theory of human nature.53

Confucius refers to benevolence through emotion (filial piety) between parents and children. He converted natural relationships between parents and children into the awakening of human nature called filial piety by means of emotion. This was never a result of the restraint of external heteronomy. The three-year-mourning period is a formal system. But Confucius attached importance to internal emotion, not the system itself, and thought that this system was meaningful only to a truly filial person. Thus, Confucius transformed the heteronomous form of courtesy, which excludes spontaneity and the independent determination of human beings and in turn leads to unconsciously blind obedience, into internal psychology—namely, emotion. From the Qin-Han period onward, the emotion that Confucius regarded as playing an important role was divided into emotion and human nature. This subsequently evolved into the belief that human nature is goodness and emotion is evil. During and after the Song-Ming period, the emergence of the admonition “Preserve the heavenly principle and remove human desire” marked the advent of an absolute form of moral law, rejecting desire. Active recognition of human desire emerged during the age of Kang Youwei 康有爲, Tan Sitong 譚嗣同, and the May Fourth movement—that is, from the mid-Ming dynasty until the end of the Qing dynasty—but it remained lacking in philosophical demonstration. For his part, Li Zehou argued that emotion was buried under the moral metaphysics of New Confucianism.54 He objected to the view that the New Confucianism led by Mou Zongsan should be regarded as the third stage of Chinese Confucian tradition, criticizing this variant as nothing more than the modern version of the School of Principle of the Song-Ming era (現代宋明理學). Li divided the errors associated with the doctrine of three stages of Chinese Confucian tradition into two parts. For Li, the first error was the generalization of Confucianism as a moral theory of heart-mind and human nature. In this regard, Confucius had hardly mentioned the matter of heart-mind and human nature. Moreover, although Mencius made mention of the matter to some extent, he attached more importance to social and political issues. The concept of heartmind and human nature mentioned in the Guodian Bamboo Slips was not an abstract philosophical concept saliently different from that of emotion. Li argued that the three stages of Chinese Confucian tradition, with its identification of an abstract moral theory of heart-mind and human nature as the fundamental basis of Confucianism, constitute not only a marked deviation from classical Confu-


Li Zehou’s Reconception of Confucian Philosophy

cianism but a violation thereof. Li contended that “Mou Zongsan’s introduction of a philosophical system based on reason or morality via the sole application of the rational framework and logical category of Western philosophy basically ensures that the position of emotion cannot be discovered.”55 The second error that Li identified in the doctrine espoused by the three stages of Chinese Confucian tradition was its denial that Xunzi 荀子 and Dong Zhongshu 董仲舒 led the Confucianism of the Han dynasty. Li believed that the value of the Han-dynasty Confucianism was equivalent to that of the neo-­ Confucianism of the Song-Ming era. Moreover, he maintained that the Handynasty Confucianism exercised control over Chinese society and its people for a longer period of time, with its influence continuing to be felt today. For Li, any effort to eradicate it was a reckless action.56 Thus, he denied the doctrine of the three stages of Chinese Confucian tradition and asserted the existence of four stages of the tradition. His view was that the classical Confucianism of Confucius, Mencius, and Xunzi represented the first stage, the Confucianism of the Han dynasty constituted the second, the Confucianism of the Song-Ming period was the third, and the Confucianism of the present and future was the fourth. Li criticized Mou Zongsan’s view that “inner sagehood results in a new outer kingship” (內聖開出新外王) does not go beyond the realm of Song-Ming neo-Confucianism.57 He maintained that Mou’s “transcendent and inherent” view was laden with a fatal contradiction. Under Confucian tradition, Li noted, “the doctrine of inherence and transcendence” denies heaven and is established on the basis that “the mind of man is identical to the one of heaven” and “the real nature of man is akin to the one of heaven.” Therefore, Li concluded that Mou’s view was posited on the basis that inherent moral nature of humans is transformed into substance: “Mou Zongsan imitates the structure of ‘the twoworld viewpoint of the West’ (heaven and the human world, ideological world and real world, substance and the phenomenal world) and regards heart-mind and human nature as inherent and, simultaneously, transcendent.”58 In Mou’s system, the mandate, the way, and the will of heaven are all related to the emotional attitude of humans, and the mind of natural sympathy and pitifulness is both emotional and psychological. Benevolence and the natural sympathy that renders people incapable of moving beyond sensibility are expressed as transcendent or transcendental. Therefore, Mou’s logic inevitably leads to the enormous contradiction in his system of being both transcendental (not related to emotion but transcendent) and empirical (related to emotion and inherent) or both holy (God) and secular (world).59 Even from a historical standpoint, Mou’s philosophy is never in accord with the tradition of Chinese classical Confucianism. Li Zehou introduces the creative view that the origin of Confucians’ regard of emotion as being of great importance can be traced back to the shaman era that preceded Confucius:

Doctrine of Emotion as Substance & Confucian Philosophy 203

This has its origin in two sides, history and reality. The historical side is related to the shaman ceremonies of ancient times. Loyalty and reverence of the mind were very important elements of the primitive shaman ceremonies because they were related to the advent of mystical abilities or beings. The absence of this state of mind was regarded as profane and bound to bring about calamity. . . . Over time, the external aspect of the primitive shaman ceremonies was converted into the system of rites, and the pursuit of inherent loyalty and reverence was converted into classical Confucianism—i.e., the analysis and rational understanding of heartmind, human nature, and emotion found in the Guodian Bamboo Slips. The Duke of Zhou [周公] regarded the making of rites and music as the final process in completing the rationalization of the external shaman ceremony. Confucius’ understanding of courtesy as benevolence is regarded as the final process in rationalizing the emotion of internal shamanism. . . . Direct rationalization of shaman ceremonies brought forth the mutual convergence of emotion and principle.60

Li stressed that the tradition of shamanism was one of the historical origins of Chinese philosophy. In this regard, while Confucianism rationalized shamanism, it still maintained its tradition. For example, while revolving around the worship of ancestors, Confucianism demands sincerity and devotion at the time of memorial services for ancestors. The tradition of shamanism formed the in-depth psychological structure of Confucianism and, mixing reason and emotion (or desire) together, did not allow it to give more weight to either side. Li’s belief that the origin of emotion dates back to the tradition of shamanism would appear to further solidify his philosophical system. The view outlined above helps shed some further light on the meaning of reverence ( jing 敬) and dignity (zhuang 莊) as introduced in the Analects. While the notions of reverence and dignity originally emanated from shaman ceremonies for the spirits, heaven, and earth (or ancestors), there is a very strong emotional element within them. The Analects and Confucianism secularize and rationalize these concepts. However, these concepts still maintain the emotional characteristics of religious tradition.61 As Li explained: “Reverence” is an inner attitude and emotion of fear and respect that must inevitably and necessarily result from the ceremonial processes of the rites and music. . . . Confucius has put the inner, psychological attitude first, believing that it is here we find essential human nature and selfconscious humanity. He points out that without this conscious humanity even the sacred tradition of rites and music becomes a dried-up shell, a worthless heap of regulations.62


Li Zehou’s Reconception of Confucian Philosophy

Li clearly identified the notion of emotion as substance as the main point of Confucianism and focused on the relationship between shaman culture and the concept of emotion as substance. Shaman culture ensured that religion and politics failed to develop independently in China; moreover, because ethics, religion, and politics were based on the system of rites rooted in sacred shamanism and endowed with the function of religious dignity, they became one and formed a ruling structure and ideology. Li maintained that this resulted in Confucian moral principles and politics permeating and being entirely covered by sacred religious emotion. Rationalized emotion—which began from fear during the Yin dynasty and then went through reverence during the Zhou dynasty, before developing into Confucius’ benevolence—became the main characteristic of Confucianism. Thereafter, it continued to develop, becoming the universal law of the Han dynasty and the moral law of the Song and Ming dynasties. Emotion, including benevolence and love, became the substance of natural laws. The characteristics of emotion substance or emotion took their place as one soul within all philosophical contents of Confucianism. Thus, the main point of Confucianism is emotion as substance, not heaven substance, force substance, principle substance, or nature substance.63 This appears to be the conclusion reached by Li Zehou. In addition, issues linked to religious morals in the doctrine of two types of morals and to half-religious and half-­ philosophical characteristics of Confucianism can be understood more clearly when approached from the view that religious emotion in the tradition of shamanism is the origin of emotion as substance. “Philosophy of Fate” and “Fate of Philosophy”

The notion of a “philosophy of fate” will remind most people of fortunetelling. In fact, some people do not discriminate between philosophy and fortune-­telling. However, the notion of “philosophy of fate” introduced herein originates from Li Zehou’s statement that philosophy deals with the fate of humanity, which implies that studying the fate of humanity is the function of philosophy. The latter idea—that is, the “fate of philosophy”—is closely linked to the present position faced by philosophy: the question of where philosophy is headed. How are these two notions regarding fate connected? What reciprocal connection do they have? Li always claimed that philosophy is meaningless if it is allowed to exist outside of human beings. In this respect, he believed that philosophy should explore humans and their fate. He argued that the theme of philosophy should be the “philosophy of man” and that philosophy should include the study of human nature, emotion, incident, and, more concretely, “the fate of human beings.” He went on to identify philosophies that existed outside of the ‘‘phi-

Doctrine of Emotion as Substance & Confucian Philosophy 205

losophy of man” as “animal philosophy,” “instrument philosophy,” and “soldier philosophy.” Moreover, Li once criticized Mou Zongsan because “he mentions very complicated principles unrelated to daily life in a practical respect, much as one would explain a textbook, staying within the narrow confines of academia while seemingly unconcerned with any of the issues faced by modern society and the general public.”64 This criticism saliently describes the present state of philosophy. Where is philosophy heading? Put differently, does philosophy have a leg to stand on, or is its future hard to predict? These questions point to the crisis that philosophy is facing. This crisis arose as street philosophy, was converted to rostrum philosophy, and philosophers put up a high fence to prevent communication with the general public. Although philosophy stuck in an ivory tower was full of theoretical debates, it was also forsaken by its neighbors as the eyes of wisdom with which to contemplate happiness, and the world gradually deteriorated. Li maintained that a philosophy that emphasized wisdom as the function of philosophy was rooted in guidance and awakening:65 “The function of philosophy is not to make a complicated and professional theory, but to provide people with viewpoints, angles, judgments, and directions for thought. Simply put, its function is to provide people with a realm for the life and mind.”66 That means that, above all, philosophy should return to the basic premise that “man is alive.” Li Zehou’s concept of emotion as substance is evidently meaningful in that he not only sought to shift the focus of philosophy from discussions of the problems before and after “life” to living human beings but also tried to make it the main theme of philosophy. Such a philosophy should not be seen as being absorbed by the development of a countertheory to a theory but as having altered the philosophical focus to the notion of “man is alive” as substance. In this respect, Li’s concept of emotion as substance should be considered to be a return to philosophy itself, and not an anti-philosophy. Particularly, his definition of philosophy as adding poetry to science draws attention to the theme of moving beyond the emotionlessness of philosophy, which in turn evokes the notions of the “philosophy of fate” and the “fate of philosophy.” Notes 1. Li Zehou, New Dream of the Century (Shiji xin meng 世紀新夢) [] (Hefei: Anhui wenyi chubanshe, 1998), 109. 2.  Li Zehou, Should Chinese Philosophy Go on Stage? (Gai Zhongguo zhexue dengchang liao? 該中國哲學登場了?) (Shanghai: Shanghai yiwen chubanshe, 2011), 80. 3. Li Zehou, Pragmatic Reason and a Culture of Optimism (Shiyong lixing yu legan wenhua 實用理性與樂感文化) (Beijing: Sanlian shudian, 2005), 163. 4.  Ibid., 243.


Li Zehou’s Reconception of Confucian Philosophy

5. Li Zehou, Four Essays on Aesthetics (Meixue si jiang 美學四講) ] (Beijing: Sanlian shudian, 1989), 266. 6. Li, New Dream of the Century, 242–243. 7. Li, Pragmatic Reason, 165–166. 8.  Ibid., 166. 9.  Ibid., 248. 10. Li Zehou, Four Essays on Aesthetics: Toward a Global View, trans. Li Zehou and Jane Cauvel (Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2006), 28. 11. Li Zehou, Reading the “Analects” Today (Lunyu jindu 論語今讀) (Hefei: Anhui wenyi chubanshe, 1998), 20. 12. Li, Four Essays on Aesthetics, trans. Li and Cauvel, 28. 13. Ibid. 14. Li Zehou, Critique of Critical Philosophy: A New Key to Kant (Pipan zhexue de pipan: Kangde shuping 批判哲學的批判: 康德述評 (Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 1979), 94. 15.  Li Zehou, Historical Ontology (Lishi bentilun 歷史本體論) (Beijing: Sanlian shudian, 2002), 32. 16. Li, Pragmatic Reason, 190. 17. Li, Four Essays on Aesthetics, trans. Li and Cauvel, 40. 18. Ibid. 19. Li, Pragmatic Reason, 19. 20. Li, Four Essays on Aesthetics, 304. 21. Li, Pragmatic Reason, 237. 22.  Ibid., 55. 23. Ibid. 24. Li, Should Chinese Philosophy Go on Stage?, 75. 25. Li, Pragmatic Reason, 236. 26.  “The constitution of human nature from historical sedimentation, the humanization of inner nature, the cultural-psychological construction, and the emotional development, all refer to the same process. It evolves in three ways: the first is human recognition, logical faculties, and thinking patterns; the second is human ethics, morality, and volition, and the third is human emotion, including aesthetic sense and taste” (Li, Four Essays on Aesthetics, trans. Li and Cauvel, 89). 27. Li, New Dream of the Century, 243. 28. Li, Pragmatic Reason, 190. 29.  Ibid., 55. 30.  Ibid., 79. 31.  Herbert Fingarette is a good example of this school of thought. 32.  Analects, Zilu, 行己有恥. The translated version of the Analects (Lunyu) was based on The Analects of Confucius: A Philosophical Translation (New York: Ballantine, 1998), by Roger T. Ames and Henry Rosemont Jr. 33.  Regarding awareness of concern, see the work of Xu Fuguan 徐復觀. 34. See Classic of Changes, Xici 2, 作易者, 其有憂患乎? 35.  Li Zehou, On Traditional Chinese Intellectual History (Zhongguo gudai sixiang shilun 中国古代思想史論) (Hefei: Anhui wenyi chubanshe, 1985), 309.

Doctrine of Emotion as Substance & Confucian Philosophy 207 36.  Analects, Xueer, 學而時習之不亦說乎, 有朋自遠方來不亦樂乎. 37.  Analects, Shuer, 發憤忘食, 樂以忘憂, 不知老之將至云耳. 38.  Analects, Shuer, 飯蔬食飮水, 曲肱而枕之, 樂亦在其中矣. 39. Li, On Traditional Chinese Intellectual History, 309. 40. Li, Pragmatic Reason, 330. 41. Li, Four Essays on Aesthetics, trans. Li and Cauvel, 116–122. 42. Li, Reading the “Analects” Today, 29. 43. Li, On Traditional Chinese Intellectual History, 309. 44. Li, Pragmatic Reason, 185. 45. Li, Four Essays on Aesthetics, trans. Li and Cauvel, 40. 46. Li, Pragmatic Reason, 104. 47. Li, Four Essays on Aesthetics, trans. Li and Cauvel, 151. 48. Li, Pragmatic Reason, 104. 49.  Analects, Yanghuo, 於汝安乎. 50.  Mencius, Gongsunchou 惻隱之心. 51.  Guodian Bamboo Slips, 性自命出, 道始于情, 情生于性. 52. Li Zehou, The Chinese Aesthetic Tradition, trans. Maija Bell Samei (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2010), 40. The parenthetical quotations are in the original. 53.  Ibid. The ellipsis and the citation within the quotation are Li’s. 54. Li, Pragmatic Reason, 56. 55. Ibid. 56. Li Zehou, Five Essays from 1999 (Jimao wu shuo 己卯五說) (Beijing: Zhongguo dianying chubanshe, 1999), 2–3. 57.  Ibid., 5. 58. Ibid. 59.  Ibid., 6. 60. Li, New Dream of the Century, 206–207. 61. Li, Reading the “Analects” Today, 18. 62. Li, Chinese Aesthetic Tradition, 41. 63. Li, Reading the “Analects” Today, 79. 64. Li, Five Essays, 11. 65. Li, Pragmatic Reason, 148. 66.  Ibid., 149.


Li Zehou and Pragmatism Catherine LYNCH

In t reatm en ts of the relation of Chinese thought to pragmatism, pragmatism most commonly refers to the philosophy of John Dewey, and such treatments look to the Chinese past, whether recent or distant, not to contemporary Chinese philosophy. Nearly a century ago Dewey became the foremost exponent of pragmatism, both in the English-speaking world and elsewhere around the globe. In China, Dewey’s student Hu Shi was a seminal figure in the New Culture movement (1915–1921). Dewey himself had a direct effect on Chinese intellectuals during the period he spent lecturing and teaching in China between May 1919 and July 1921, with his most immediate impact in the arena of education.1 Beyond studies of Dewey’s modern influence in China at a critical juncture in its history, there have been comparisons of traditional Confucian thought with Deweyan pragmatism. David Hall and Roger Ames’ The Democracy of the Dead, published in 1999, is a prominent example.2 Another example is Joseph Grange’s John Dewey, Confucius, and Global Philosophy, published in 2004.3 While these authors, like good pragmatists themselves, look forward toward a revived pragmatism engaged with contemporary problems, the generally accepted picture of American pragmatism’s career is that, with the exception of its revival in an extreme form by Richard Rorty in the 1970s, it was displaced as an active philosophy by analytic philosophy after John Dewey’s death in 1952. Yet pragmatism has recently been declared not dead at all. Both Nicholas Rescher, in a 2007 essay,4 and Cheryl Misak in her 2013 book, The American Pragmatists,5 argue persuasively that a pragmatic tradition that began in the latter half of the nineteenth century, most importantly in the philosophy of Charles Sanders Peirce, has continued unbroken, even within the analytic theo208



ries of Clarence Irving Lewis and Willard Van Orman Quine. Misak, together with Rescher, sees this ongoing tradition as very much alive and growing today in the work of contemporary philosophers in the United States and throughout the world. The philosophy of Li Zehou, one of China’s most creative contemporary thinkers, can be seen as part of this trend.6 If one takes John Dewey to be a representative pragmatist figure, one can make a comparison between pragmatism and Li Zehou’s philosophy. Li himself points out his commonalities with Dewey,7 and there are many ways in which their ideas overlap. Li also points out ways in which his ideas depart from and go beyond those of Dewey, such that Li’s own philosophy, he argues, must be seen as distinct from Dewey’s pragmatism. If, however, along with Cheryl Misak, one understands pragmatism as a broad, still-developing tradition, then Li Zehou can take his place within that tendency and emerge as one of its most creative exponents. 1

While not identical in their philosophies, Cheryl Misak and Nicholas Rescher coincide in their basic characterizations of the pragmatist tradition. American pragmatists start with the epistemological question of truth and meaning. As Misak states it, “It is the view of truth and knowledge that is most associated with pragmatism and marks it off from other traditions.”8 Pragmatism first emerged in the United States in the 1860s and 1870s, a time when philosophy’s relationships with both religion and science were changing. Philosophy was separating from religion, and simultaneously the scientific method was brought into and began to inform philosophy, while science itself became a topic for a new philosophy of science. Pragmatists, Misak shows us, are committed to the idea that knowledge, beliefs, and theories must be linked to experience, that theories arise out of practices.9 The founding pragmatists rejected what was then called metaphysics, as well as any supernatural explanations separate from the physical world. Although in this sense early pragmatists were empiricists, they were also opposed to the empiricist ideas that beliefs are connected atomistically to discrete experiences or that matter or physicality has ontological priority. The connection between beliefs and experiences is complex for pragmatists. Rather than starting with the external world on the one hand and our internal beliefs on the other and asking if the one corresponds to and represents the other, pragmatists see a third element, human practice, in between and linking the external and internal. Starting from human experience and practices, the “overarching issue” pragmatism faces, says Misak, is this: “How can we make sense of our standards of rationality, truth, and value as genuinely normative or binding while recog-


Li Zehou’s Reconception of Confucian Philosophy

nizing that they are profoundly human phenomena? How do normativity and authority arise from within a world of human experience and practice?”10 Misak and Rescher describe a host of differences among pragmatists in their specific ways of working out these problems, but they both describe the same broad divide running through pragmatist thought. On one side of the divide is what Rescher calls a “pragmatism of ‘what works for X’ in proving efficient and effective in the realization of a particular person’s (or group’s) wishes and desires,” and on the other side a “pragmatism of ‘what works impersonally’—though proving efficient and effective for the realization of some appropriate purpose in an altogether person-indifferent way.”11 Misak makes a similar distinction and lines up philosophers in largely the same ways, saying, “Roughly, it is a debate between those who assert (or whose view entails) that there is no truth and objectivity to be had anywhere and those who take pragmatism to promise an account of truth that preserves our aspiration to getting things right.”12 Misak puts Dewey in the first camp, while Rescher asserts that he straddles the divide. Li Zehou, were we to take him to be a pragmatist, would fit comfortably in the latter camp. 2

Cheryl Misak claims that “a major Kantian thesis that runs through pragmatism is that we need to assume certain things if we are to go on with our practices,”13 although for Peirce, for example, these assumptions have no inherent “necessity” but are “merely required if we are to continue with a practice that we do not contemplate abandoning.”14 Li Zehou is well known for his book on Kant,15 and he also takes up Kant’s a priori forms of intuition and a priori concepts, those involved in the interaction between sensibility and understanding that allow human knowing. But Li argues that these intuitions and concepts are not in fact a priori nor are they things that we merely assume, but that they have an origin in human practice. More specifically, the practice Li describes, as we shall see, begins with the earliest primitive people using and making tools and accumulates as human practice over the long reach of humankind’s history in a continuously sedimenting cultural-psychological formation. Here Li has added into Kant what he considers to be the basic philosophical approach of Karl Marx (not Marxism, but Marx himself ), a historical materialism focused on a philosophy of practice and the idea of “humanized nature.” Li further suggests that his combination of Kant and Marx is supported by his background in Chinese culture, a culture that does not separate reality into two worlds but sees everything, mundane and supermundane, as inhabiting the same world. According to Li, Chinese culture tends to look for the roots of things in prior history rather than seeing them as independent of experience: “Chinese people emphasize that the thinking subject cannot be separated from the acting sub-



ject, the consciousness cannot be separated from the material (bodily) existence of human beings.”16 From this cursory account of the three major springs of Li Zehou’s complex philosophy—Chinese culture, Marx, and Kant—we can already begin to see affinities between it and pragmatism. For both, human knowing comes from practices, not some supernatural source, and for both the relationship between beliefs and experience in the material world is complex. Indeed, Li has proposed “reviving Dewey, supplementing his deficiencies, and connecting and integrating him and Marx with a reconstructed Chinese tradition.”17 This proposal is from a relatively recent essay, “The Logic of Pragmatic Reason” (实用 理性的逻辑), first published in 2004 and republished in 2011 as a chapter in the section on epistemology in Li’s book Outline of My Philosophy (哲学纲要).18 Since pragmatism, as we have seen, takes the epistemological problem of how we know something to be true or meaningful as its starting point, and since Li in this essay explicitly refers to Dewey’s pragmatism, this essay on epistemology might be a good place to look at a small portion of Li’s philosophy in more detail. 3

In his essay “The Logic of Pragmatic Reason,” Li Zehou deals with the question of the sources of human logic—formal logic, mathematics, dialectical logic—and the problem, which Misak highlights, of what makes logic authoritative. Logic is not, as many philosophers have argued, induced from the nature of language and thought itself at a remove from the concrete world, nor is it simply deduced, a reflection of the objective world. Rather the basic rules of logic, Li argues, arise from the relative stability demanded by practical activities. Mathematics, for example, comes not from induction but from the actual practical operations performed by the earliest people in maintaining their lives. In an article summarizing ideas published in Critique of Critical Philosophy, his 1979 book on Kant, Li wrote, “Thus certain elements and forms of primitive operations, like counting, relating, or ordering, give rise to such abstractions as the natural numbers, plus, minus, equation, and the associative, communicative, and transitive properties.”19 It is the long history of humans objectifying, abstracting, and symbolizing the formal aspects of operational activities that produced the basic regulations of calculation.20 Aware of the overlap of his focus on operational activities with the research of Jean Piaget on the cognitive development of children,21 Li finds that his insight is also strikingly similar to that of Dewey. Dewey held that mathematical ideas originate in concrete activities and only later, as abstracted symbolic systems, are freed from direct operation, hence giving the appearance of inde-


Li Zehou’s Reconception of Confucian Philosophy

pendence from application. For Dewey it is not merely experience that is the source of mathematical ideas, but activity, action itself. “As to origin in overt operations there can be no doubt,” Dewey wrote, adding: Operations of keeping tally and scoring are found in both work and games. No complex development of the latter is possible without such acts and their appropriate symbols. These acts are the originals of number and of all developments of number. . . . Carpentry and masonry for example cannot go far without some device, however rude, for estimating size and bulk.

And again: “The origin of counting and measuring is in economy and efficiency of such adjustments. Their results are expressed by physical means, at first notches, scratches, tying knots; later by figures and diagrams.”22 In this we can see what Li and Dewey have in common. As Li himself describes it, he and Dewey are both opposed to the notion that human cognition comes from a priori forms and concepts; they both see human cognition, and indeed also morality and aesthetics, as coming from human experience. Li and Dewey are similar in that they both take human beings’ material existence as fundamental. And they both focus on action, stressing that it is the human activity of practical operations that produces symbolic operations. Further, Dewey and Li both emphasize that mathematics and logic are not things with substance but are simply tools of cognition, methods and not the nature of things themselves. They are both oriented toward the future.23 In Dewey’s description of the sources of mathematics, there are inklings of other ideas that are also in Li’s philosophy. Dewey speaks not only of operations but also of the use of tools, “some device.” And he appears to see the development of mathematics as a historical process that evolves from early notches and scratches to later figures and diagrams. But Dewey fails to build on these notions. For Li the figure of humanity’s use of tools over the course of history is at the very heart of his thought, and it is what allows him to develop a philosophy that goes well beyond Dewey and indeed other pragmatists. 4

Whereas the starting point for pragmatists, in Misak’s telling, is an account of human cognition, Li Zehou’s answering of the question of how it is possible for something to be true or to have meaning begins with an account of the sources of humanity, answering the question of how human beings are possible. To answer that question, Li gives us an anthropological historical ontology (人类 历史本体论)24 in which humankind over time develops with an evolving prag-



matic reason (实用理性), and humanity itself originates in practice and more particularly in the material productive activity of the using and making of tools. It is in this that human beings first become human as distinct from animal. Li maintains that the question of how human beings are possible is the most important question, and it is one that others have tended to overlook. Once, it could be assumed that the answer lay ready to hand, with God. Hence, while problems concerning the nature of divinity were central, the question of how human beings are possible was not in itself pertinent. Now, especially since Nietzsche has declared that “God is dead,” biological evolution in turn might be assumed to address the question adequately. Biological evolution in general, and the mutation of genes in particular, however, does not treat the question of wherein human evolution becomes specifically human, the question of what makes for distinctly human beings as opposed to animals. Nor does biology account for the vast historical canvas of human experience and creations.25 Traditional Confucianism, on the other hand, does repeatedly raise the question of the distinction between human and animal. While it is against this Chinese background that Li is stimulated to pose the crucial question of how human beings are possible, his answer is radically different from the Confucian focus on human morality. Li’s ideas about the distinction between humans and animals and the origins of the possibility of humankind go back at least to the early 1960s. In an essay written in 1964 but not published for two decades, “An Outline of the Origin of Humankind,” Li pointed to Karl Marx’ and Friedrich Engels’ emphasis on the importance of tools in productive labor.26 They did not exploit this insight however, and at the end of the 1990s Li wrote, In the theory of the structure of “productive forces,” Marx states that its most active element is “productive instruments,” which play a determinative role in the development of productive forces, the social economy, and human history. Engels even argued that the labor involved in making tools played the decisive role in the transformation of ape to man. . . . But neither Marx nor Engels was able to develop these important concepts to any extent. . . . More importantly, both Marx and Engels never developed a real theory of the relation between human psychology and the making and using of tools.27

The using and making of tools is exactly the critical point in the origins of humanity for Li. It is what separates human beings from other apes and from animals in general. This separation did not occur suddenly, nor was it inevitable. According to Li, “Countless and extensive life-supporting activities involving the use of natu-


Li Zehou’s Reconception of Confucian Philosophy

ral tools (branches, stones, and so forth) must have constituted primitive labor which slowly differentiated humankind from the apes.”28 Li points to changes in human limbs that accompany tool use, and in his 1964 essay he focused on the hand in particular. In contrast to the then current attention to the evolution of an upright walking posture, Li wrote: More attention should be paid to the gradual evolution of the forelimb of the apes from an organ originally used for climbing and crawling to one specialized in the manipulation of tools. That is, the sole use of natural tools for life-supporting activities, such as digging, dissecting, hunting, self-defense, and so forth, led to a series of physiological changes, among which the most important was the formation of the human hand with a thumb opposite four fingers.29

Interestingly, current researchers, taking just this tack, have recently looked at the density and shape of the metacarpal bones in hands across multiple species. Previous evidence had shown Homo habilis to have been making tools 2.4 million years ago, Homo erectus may have had a relatively modern hand 1.9 million years ago, while some 200,000 years ago Neanderthals had developed hands capable of powerful and precise grasping of tools. Now, however, it appears that other genera, the “dead-end” Australopithecus africanus as well as some Pleistocene hominins, also evolved hands adapted to tool manipulation rather than climbing trees and did so much earlier than expected, some 2 to 3 million years ago.30 Early use of natural objects as tools was accidental. Other species also use tools, and chimpanzees, which share the great majority of their genome with humans, are a prime example. Li maintains, however, that “the fundamental line of demarcation between man’s practical activity and the life activity of animals lies in the use and making of tools.”31 The point lies in “life activity.” Of all animals, only for humans “is the use of tools as an activity universally necessary for fundamental existence.”32 Humans’ very life and continued existence rely on the manipulation of tools. Chimpanzees’ do not. While theoretically chimpanzees could move toward a universal reliance on tools, they have yet to do so, and there have been no evolutionary pressures on their hands to change. The use of tools by chimpanzees does no more than confirm that there was a biological basis for the emergence of tool use in humans. The biological basis for tool use and manufacture in the physical form of the human hand and the technological basis in the tools themselves are two aspects of the demarcation between other animals and humans. More interesting to Li is the accompanying dimension of human culture and psychology. He wants to discover the relationship between the biological and the specifically human dimensions in an external techno-social structure and an internal



cultural-­psychological formation.33 In linking the two, it is not the hands nor yet the tools in themselves that are critical but their activity, the actions of hands, and of arms and legs, in using tools. This activity is not instinctual. As Li observes, it took conscious attention and over time became increasingly regularized: As a result of their successes and transmission from individual to community, these primitive labor activities were continuously reinforced and consolidated. In the course of time, they increasingly shed their accidental, unique, and tentative nature related to the environment and conditions surrounding individual motion, becoming more and more standardized and simplified.34

Arising in motion itself, this early manipulation of tools “in fact involves thought—it is a kind of motor thinking.”35 The earliest human thought took place in and through the movements of human limbs together with their extensions in tools as suprabiological limbs. Self-aware attention in increasingly regularized, not random, motions provided the foundation for the emergence of a specifically human consciousness, consciousness as a subject capable of acting on the world. This human subjectality, as Li terms it,36 is at once individual and also already social. Activities of using and making an ever-increasing, limitless diversity of tools involved community cooperation as well as social transmission of skills. The continued existence of the community, moreover, demanded social consistency. Primitive groups grew into shamanistic societies with strict requirements for identical practical activities. As larger, complex shamanistic societies succeeded primitive groups, social interaction and communication involved human language. And it is human language that twentieth-century philosophy has commonly taken to be what distinguishes human beings from animals. Some animals, including primates, have language in that they communicate actionable information about things or events with unique sounds, referential calls. Although it has recently been shown that these calls in chimpanzees are not as innately rigid as had been assumed and can be socially learned, animal referential calls still are not the semantic signals of human language, and animal language lacks human grammar.37 While human language is important, Li rejects this modern philosophical focus on language as the foundation of what makes us human. Even Ludwig Wittgenstein, who championed the determinative role of language, at the end of his life began to think that it was the practice of language in context, not the words and sentences themselves, that was fundamental.38 Li takes us back to the earliest human practice, returning to the use and manufacture of tools as prior to human language.


Li Zehou’s Reconception of Confucian Philosophy

The praxis of material production is the root, the foundation; it is the prior activity both historically and logically. The crux of the “priority” lies first in experience, whereby material production transfers, preserves, and accumulates causal laws into linguistic and symbolic systems. This process provides language with semantic meaning, giving rise to human knowledge which is transmitted from one generation to the next.39

Li takes the semantic aspect of human language, rather than the phonetic or grammatical, as key. Semantic content, Li argues, developed not from animal referential calls but out of the meaning derived in the midst of motor thinking. Early operational activities were preserved, transmitted, and regularized over many generations. Furthermore, Li asserts: The forms of these movements are in essence the earliest patterns in which the causal relationships (regularities) of the objective world are reflected in the subject (that is, these objective causal regularities and forms are preserved in these skills). The point is that these patterns are manifested in motor activity rather than in language. Through these motor forms, the causal relationships which are already known and summarized are applied to new things which are not yet known.40

Operational activity provides early semantic content while “such motions can ultimately be developed and simplified into a set of symbolic sign structures, thus becoming an interactive medium for the transmission of experience—for example, manual signs.”41 In this way, Li posits that the earliest human language was in fact sign language. Although it may be that gestural language and spoken language could have developed together in chronological terms, philosophically at least sign language has priority.42 5

The answer to the question of how human beings are possible, then, lies in the using and making of tools. Tool using-making in all its diversity is at once necessary and sufficient to produce human beings. But the use and manufacture of tools is the source of the possibility of human beings. What makes us human, our human nature, though its foundation is in tool using-making, is certainly not limited to this, according to Li: All sorts of knowledge and forms of natural laws are first preserved and accumulated within this sort of human practical activity, then turned into the information systems of languages, symbols, and cultures, and finally



are sedimented in the structure of humans’ psychology. Not language but the practice of using and making tools is the link between the natural world and human beings. It transforms the natural laws and natural struggles into the forms of human society, human nature, even the human brain. In this way there emerged a human subjectality of cognition which enables humans to know the world in their super-biological modes.43

Human society and human nature take shape only gradually and only many, many generations after the initial accidental use of tools. For Li Zehou, human nature, human psychology, is not something fixed or given. It is characterized by human pragmatic reason, a human subjectality of cognition, and this human reason, formed over millions of years, is continuously accumulating and changing. As Li’s use of his term “subjectality” in the place of “subjectivity” indicates, human reason is not separate from the animal and the sensual. Rather, human reason, emerging out of practices that originate with animals, becomes internalized, the rational sedimenting into the animal. Human beings are rational animals. Their cognitive ability is not opposed to its animal origins, and the human psychology has an emotio-rational structure (情 理结构), where reason is melded into animal sensibility. Over a very long history, human practice—in its narrow sense entangled with material productive activity and then in its broad sense in symbolic practice—continuously accumulates and sediments into what Li calls a ­cultural-psychological formation (文化心理结构): “Human beings are different from animals not only due to their material civilization but also due to their structure of psychology, which is both social and built on animal, physiological mechanisms. This cultural-psychological formation, which is the concrete embodiment of human nature, distinguishes humans from animals.”44 From the start, this process of formation envelops human epistemology as well as ethics and aesthetics. And this brings us back to our discussion of symbolic thinking and logic, the point at which Li’s theories overlap with those of John Dewey. For early humans, Li points out, the move from presymbolic ways of knowing the world to symbolic cognition was a great leap.45 It involved a creative, active cognitive ability that Li has variously called “free intuition” and “intellectual intuition”: “This structure of knowing is a kind of ability to symbolize which includes an intellectual intuition neither inductive nor deductive. (Kant thought that only God has intellectual intuition; in fact this is not so.)”46 Interestingly, although in a different context, C. S. Peirce also found it necessary to identify in his work on logic “a third mode of reasoning, in addition to deduction and induction,” which he called abductive inference. Cheryl Misak characterizes this from of reasoning as “fundamentally creative.”47


Li Zehou’s Reconception of Confucian Philosophy

The success of practical activity presumes a grasp on an orderly world established in the midst of the perceptual activity of physical operations. With the internalization of this experience as an understanding of the world, free intuition abstracts from these perceptual activities to mathematics and logic. Mathematics is not the product of induction at a remove from the concrete world. This is a process that is common to the history of all of humankind, despite differing cultures and languages in different societies, and mathematics is a means of cognition that transcends time and space. It is this common origin in the perceptual activities of successful practical operations in an orderly world that entails the universally necessary character of mathematics and logic, one example of how it is possible that, as Misak puts it, “normativity and authority arise from within a world of human experience and practice.” There are of course other forms of logic beyond mathematics and formal logic, and some pragmatists have accounted for this by arguing that different frameworks are appropriate for different practical situations. Li accounts for this with the historical building up of pragmatic reason. In particular, he writes of two levels of cognition. The first is the operational level of mathematics and formal logic, which, as we have seen, over time yields the universal laws of symbolic systems. These laws are limitless and universal and not dependent on any particular goal. At this level one can in a sense say with Dewey that knowing is doing. The second of Li’s levels is the existential level, and at this level knowing and doing begin to move further apart. Dialectics belongs at this level. While ultimately beginning in operational practice, human practice gradually accumulates a vast amount of experiences with the natural world and in social interrelations. In the midst of repeated mistakes made attempting to reach goals, dialectical logic emerges as a matter of maintaining the fundamental existence of human life. The dialectical forms of knowing have already pulled apart from formal symbolic systems and from immediate operational activity and are focused on the realistic, hence limited potentials of achieving goals.48 Take, for example, the notion of cause and effect. Li sees the idea of causality as transitional between the operational and existential levels of human cognition. As human subjects use a wide array of tools, they are involved in a great number of objective cause-and-effect relationships. These are preserved in set productive practices and gradually pass into language and the conceptual system in the context of ritually regulated shamanistic societies. The concept of cause and effect comes not from static observation and deduction but from practical activities connected with concrete things. Finally, the idea of cause and effect results in abstract rules, such as the rule that all effects have causes, and then very late in human history emerges as dialectical categories— in China, for example, taking such form as the ideas of yin-yang and the five elements.49



When the notion of causality, which originated in practical operations, transitions to the existential level, it gradually produces the dialectical category of necessity and the related category of contingency. At a remove from individual operations, dialectical causality in China is not linear but has multiple sources in a web of causes. Hence, both necessity and contingency are involved in dialectical thought. The dialectical logic of pragmatic reason is not fatalistically deterministic but leaves room for potential and contingency as well as necessity, including the potential and accidental elements of peoples’ choices and decisions. As Li puts it, “People have the freedom to choose, determine, and create their own fates. Contingency and necessity, potential and reality, these two sets of dialectical categories elevated from the operational-level ‘cause and effect’ become the historical theme of human life—human existence.”50 6

Li Zehou and American pragmatists such as John Dewey share the idea that knowledge and beliefs are linked to experience and arise out of practices. They come at this conception from different perspectives, however, and that makes a difference. The pragmatists began in an environment that was pulling away from the old metaphysics and beginning to accommodate modern science. Li, on the other hand, pushes beneath the question of how humans can know something to be true to the question of how humans themselves are possible and then asks what human nature is. In his essay “The Logic of Pragmatic Reason,” Li has suggested what he perceives as the consequences of these differing perspectives, taking Dewey as representative of pragmatism in general. There is much that is similar. Both Li and Dewey “oppose a priori-ism,” and both “consider that knowledge, morality and aesthetics all come from experience.”51 Dewey, like Marx, turns away from idealism and toward the experience of practice in daily life. Humankind’s material existence is fundamental, although not in the sense of the old materialism, and reason is not a priori or innate but acquired, a product of practice. In particular, Li finds himself in accord with Dewey in finding the operational activities of work to provide the basic content of humans’ experiences. Symbolic operations abstracted from this foundation take on an independent character that can be detached from specific experiences, but logic, for example, is not something with substance. Reason cannot be reified. It is a means of cognition, a method humanity uses to deal with objects, rather than the nature of things or objects themselves.52 Despite these important areas where Li finds himself in agreement with Dewey, Li complains that Dewey’s view of human beings is too narrow. Dewey fails to ask what distinguishes humans from animals and thus misses much that is unique and meaningful in humanity:


Li Zehou’s Reconception of Confucian Philosophy

Dewey takes practical operations and community relationships as the greatest achievements, as everything; he ignores individual existence and its psychological form (human capacities). Philosophically speaking, the result is that humanity loses its self and becomes a mechanism for animal adaptation to the environment.53

Even though Dewey understands that logic and mathematics, for example, develop to be independent of specific experiences, that symbolic operations are independent of the discrete operations of labor, he limits himself to these operational aspects and overlooks the ways in which human existence and activities transcend those of animals. Li points out that with this narrower focus, everything is an instrument for Dewey. What is useful is what is true, and to know is to do: For Dewey, to transform a disordered, uncertain world (situation) into a certain world that is controllable and has a fixed order, this is everything. Logic and aesthetics, science and art, all serve this aim; beyond this, to affirm the existence of any independent objective entity, no matter if it be material, spirit, reason, or heart, all are meaningless and impossible to acknowledge. “To know” is “to do;” operational activity is everything.54

For Li, however, knowing cannot be reduced to doing. Human cognition has its historical origins in doing, but it does not remain there. While early human operational activities in the form of using tools do allow humans to begin to control their environments, Li argues that, over time, accumulating experience takes humans beyond the animal and forms a human pragmatic reason that sediments in human psychology. As we have seen in Li’s account of epistemology, dialectical thinking emerged at a remove from practical operational activities. Human nature with its human capacities, while rooted in animal nature and the natural world, also transcends it to become superbiological. Knowing is not merely doing, and over the long reach of history human cultural-psychological formations include “not just logic and mathematics but also . . . other epistemological categories (such as dialectics), as well as moral will, aesthetic need, and so on.”55 Dewey’s laboratory science does not fit all of human experience, and it cannot account for the meaning of human existence, for the individual’s freedom to choose in the midst of “contingency and necessity, potential and reality.” While Dewey remains with the laboratory and neglects the depth of history, his approach also has trouble accounting for a world with universally necessary standards and values. As Li understands Dewey, all truth is instrumental and nothing further can be said about the existence of anything apart from this.



Li, on the contrary, finds that humans operate in a world about which they can say something. Humanity’s common history beginning from the operational activities of tool use is the source of the universally necessary causal laws of an objective world. Laws, standards, and values come from the historic building up of pragmatic reason, and they do so in the interaction of humans with the world; they do not depart from it. “Pragmatic reason,” says Li, “sets the thingin-itself as the source of experience and the object of belief.”56 There is no metaphysical or supernatural source of human cognition, nor is it simply given in one-to-one correspondence by an empirical world. On this Li and Dewey agree. Li, however, can go further than Dewey’s instrumental understanding of the world because human beings for him are exactly creatures in and of that world: “Pragmatic reason is not ‘experimental empiricism’ or ‘the logic of the laboratory,’ rather it is the logic of humans’ historical existence. It does not belong to pragmatism but to anthropological ontology.”57 7

Even while limiting ourselves to this quick look at some aspects of Li Zehou’s treatment of logic, we can see that Li’s philosophy goes far beyond the realm of epistemology. Li perhaps misunderstands the pragmatic tradition as stopping at Dewey’s instrumentalism and laboratory logic. Other pragmatists want to and do account for more than this. Like all pragmatists, Li tries to show us a world that we know through human experience and practice. His distinctive contribution lies in his insistence that the using and making of tools is the original human practice and that from this, through long historical accumulation and sedimentation, a cultural-psychological formation takes shape that eventually operates beyond discrete practices. In answering the question of how human beings are possible, Li gives us his anthropological historical ontology. He starts with the seeds of humanity in the using and making of tools. He arrives at pragmatic reason and human capacities that are continually evolving, accounting for the nature of humanity and for flourishing, free human capacities and meaning in individual existence. Neither a result of biological evolution nor given by God or the supernatural, humanity is the product of a protracted history made by humans themselves. While Li Zehou’s historical ontology fits within the pragmatic tendency, it also takes it into new and larger territory. Notes 1. See, for example, Robert W. Clopton and Tsuin-chen Ou, eds., John Dewey: Lectures in China, 1919–1920 (Honolulu: University Press of Hawai‘i, 1973); Jerome B. Grieder, Hu Shih and the Chinese Renaissance: Liberalism in the Chinese Revolution, 1917–1937


Li Zehou’s Reconception of Confucian Philosophy

(Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1970); Barry Keenan, The Dewey Experiment in China (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1977); and Barbara Schulte, “The Chinese Dewey: Friend, Fiend, and Flagship,” in The Global Reception of John Dewey’s Thought: Multiple Refractions through Time and Space, ed. Rosa Bruno-Jofré and Jürgen Schriewer (New York: Routledge, 2012), 83–115. 2. David L. Hall and Roger T. Ames, The Democracy of the Dead: Dewey, Confucius, and the Hope for Democracy in China (Chicago: Open Court, 1999). 3. Joseph Grange, John Dewey, Confucius, and Global Philosophy (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2004). 4. Nicholas Rescher, “Pragmatism,” in Columbia Companion to Twentieth-Century Philosophies, ed. Constantin V. Boundas (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007), 128–142. 5.  Cheryl Misak, The American Pragmatists (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013). 6.  For a biographical sketch, see Catherine Lynch, “Li Zehou,” in Biographical Dictionary of the People’s Republic of China, ed. Yuwu Song ( Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland and Co., 2013), 188–191. 7. See, for example, Li Zehou, “The Logic of Pragmatic Reason” (Shiyong lixing de luoji 实用理性的逻辑), in Outline of My Philosophy (Zhexue gangyao 哲学纲要) (Beijing: Beijing daxue chubanshe, 2011), 146–184. 8. Misak, American Pragmatists, x. 9.  Ibid., x, 246. 10.  Ibid., xi. 11.  Rescher, “Pragmatism,” 130. 12. Misak, American Pragmatists, 3. 13.  Ibid., xi. 14. Ibid. 15. Li Zehou, Critique of Critical Philosophy: A New Key to Kant (Pipan zhexue de pipan: Kangde shuping 批判哲学的批判: 康德述评) (Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 1979). 16.  Li Zehou, “Subjectivity and ‘Subjectality’: A Response,” Philosophy East and West 49, no. 2 (1999): 180. 17.  Li, “Logic of Pragmatic Reason,” 158–159. All translations from this essay are mine. 18.  Ibid., 146–184. The discussion that follows draws largely on this essay. 19. Li Zehou, “The Philosophy of Kant and a Theory of Subjectivity,” trans. Catherine Lynch, Analecta Husserliana: The Yearbook of Phenomenological Research 21 (1986): 139–140. This essay is a translation, after revisions by the author, of Li Zehou, “Kangde zhexue yu jianli zhutixing lungang” 康德哲学与建立主体性论纲, in Lun Kangde Heige’er zhexue 论康德黑格尔哲学 (On the philosophies of Kant and Hegel) (Shanghai: Renmin chubanshe, 1981), 1–15. 20.  Li, “Logic of Pragmatic Reason,” 151. 21.  Li, “Philosophy of Kant,” 140; Li, “Logic of Pragmatic Reason,” 151–152. 22. John Dewey, The Quest for Certainty (1929; reprint, New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1960), 155. 23.  Li, “Logic of Pragmatic Reason,” 156, 159. 24. Li Zehou sometimes uses the terms “anthropological ontology” (人类本体论)



and “historical ontology” (历史本体论) as well as “anthropological historical ontology” (人 类历史本体论), referring to the same concept but with differing emphases. Ian Hacking has also used the term “historical ontology.” Indeed, Hacking and Li independently published books with this same title in the same year: Ian Hacking, Historical Ontology (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2002); and Li Zehou, Lishi bentilun 历史本体论 (Historical ontology) (Beijing: Shenghua-dushu-xinzhi sanlian shudian, 2002). Despite these superficial similarities, the uses of this term by Hacking and Li are quite distinct. Borrowing the term from Michel Foucault, Hacking wants to combine history and analytic philosophy (Hacking, 5). He is concerned, not with the possibility of humankind as is Li Zehou, but more narrowly with “the coming into being of the very possibility of some objects.” Hacking explains what he means by “objects”: “Not just things, but whatever we individuate and allow ourselves to talk about. That includes not only ‘material’ objects but also classes, kinds of people, and, indeed, ideas” (2). For Hacking, “[Historical ontology] is conceptual analysis, analyzing our concepts, but not in the timeless way. . . . [C]oncepts have their being in historical sites. The logical relations among them were formed in time” (25). 25.  Li Zehou, From Shamanism to Ritual Regulations and Humaneness (You wu dao li, shi li gui ren 由巫到礼,释礼归仁) (Beijing: Shenghua-dushu-xinzhi sanlian shudian, 2015), 232. 26.  Li Zehou, “An Outline of the Origin of Humankind,” in Li Zehou, ed. Woei Lien Chong, special issue, Contemporary Chinese Thought 31, no. 2 (1999–2000): 20–25. Translation of “Renlei qiyuan tigang” 人类起源提纲, in Li Zehou zhexue meixue wenxuan 李泽 厚哲学美学文选 (Collected writings by Li Zehou on philosophy and aesthetics) (Changsha: Hunan renmin chubanshe, 1985). 27.  Li, “Subjectivity and ‘Subjectality,’ ” 178–179. 28.  Li, “Origin of Humankind,” 21. 29.  Ibid., 20–21. 30.  Geoffrey Mohan, “Tool Making Arose Earlier among Human Ancestors,” Los Angeles Times, January 22, 2015,​ -hands-evolution-20150122-story.html; Matthew M. Skinner et al., “Human-like Hand Use in Australopithecus africanus,” Science 347, no. 6220 ( January 23, 2015): 395–399. 31.  Li, “Philosophy of Kant,” 138. 32.  Ibid., 148. 33. Li Zehou, “A Supplementary Explanation of Subjectivity,” in Li Zehou, ed. Woei Lien Chong, special issue, Contemporary Chinese Thought 31, no. 2 (1999–2000): 27. Translation of “Guanyu zhutixing de buchong shuoming” 关于主体性的补充说明 [1983], in Li Zehou lunzhuji 李泽厚论著集 (Collected works of Li Zehou) (Taipei: Sanmin shuju, 1996), 1:119–123. 34.  Li, “Origin of Humankind,” 23. 35. Ibid. 36.  There are two distinct words in Chinese, 主体性 and 主观性. Both are translated with the word “subjectivity” in English, which makes no distinction between the two concepts. Li is using the first word and chooses to invent a new translation in English to emphasize that he wants to do something new. See Li, “Subjectivity and ‘Subjectality.’ ” 37.  See, for example, Geoffrey Mohan, “Chimps Learn Each Other’s Grunts, But Is It


Li Zehou’s Reconception of Confucian Philosophy

Language?,” Los Angeles Times, February 5, 2015,​ -sci-​sn-is-human-language-chimp-grunt-20150204-story.html. 38.  Ray Monk, Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius (New York: Penguin Books, 1990), 578–579. 39.  Li, “Supplementary Explanation,” 30. 40.  Li, “Origin of Humankind,” 23. 41. Ibid. 42. A student in the field of cognitive archeology, which attempts to understand the thought and symbolic structures of early peoples through the material cultures they left behind, James Hicks has looked at the hand axes of Homo erectus to arrive at conclusions that seem to provide support for some of Li Zehou’s ideas. Some 1.9 million years ago, Oldowan hand axes were replaced by Acheulean. Unlike the earlier axes with simple sharp edges that were then discarded, the new axes were plentiful, overdesigned, much more carefully made than necessary for simple use, with careful three-dimensional symmetry, and sometimes not used at all in immediately practical ways. Homo erectus had a presymbolic mind. Hicks pre­sents an argument that in successful societies that still lacked complex human speech, Acheulean hand axes had a rhetorical value: “These beautifully rendered forms may have emerged as a material, socially cohesive, non-symbolic rhetorical practice based on highly evolved knapping skills” (slide 20). In this, Hicks sees the emergence of human consciousness, an experience of self-awareness across time and place. Of course, while he focuses on the importance of material practices before the appearance of human language and symbolic thinking, Hicks does not at all replicate Li Zehou’s theories. James M. Hicks, “The Presymbolic Mind of Homo erectus” (2014),​_­Presymbolic​ _Mind​_of_Homo_erectus. See also Lambros Malafouris, How Things Shape the Mind: A Theory of Material Engagement (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2013). 43.  Li, “Philosophy of Kant,” 139, with slight modification of the original translation. 44.  Ibid., 137. 45.  Li, “Logic of Pragmatic Reason,” 150–151. 46.  Li, “Philosophy of Kant,” 139. 47. Misak, American Pragmatists, 47–48. 48.  Li, “Logic of Pragmatic Reason,” 159–160. 49.  Ibid., 160–162. 50.  Ibid., 162. 51.  Ibid., 159. 52.  Ibid., 154–157, 159. See also Dewey, Quest for Certainty, 140–169. 53.  Li, “Logic of Pragmatic Reason,” 158. 54. Ibid. 55. Ibid. 56.  Ibid., 159. 57. Ibid.


Li Zehou’s View of Pragmatic Reason WANG Keping

A s det ec t ed in most of his writings, Li Zehou has been preoccupied with the China reality in particular and the human condition in general. The China reality is mainly concerned about what to do to develop material productivity and secure necessary provisions in order to feed the large population that used to live at a starvation budget. Thanks to the reform and open-door policy in the past three decades or so, the majority of Chinese citizens have now benefited a great deal from the socioeconomic achievements and have enjoyed a tremendous improvement of their living standards. Nevertheless, there are still seventy million people struggling under the poverty line at present stage. Just imagine: what contribution would China, with a population that occupies a fifth of the world total, make at a time when the problem with food supply is completely resolved by self-reliance? As for the human condition in Li’s consideration, it is related to the process of human evolution, the state of human living, the possibility of human becoming and fulfillment at large. In search of possible solutions to the formidable tasks aforementioned, Li’s philosophizing features a close interaction between practical expectation and theoretical hypothesis, as well as a rediscovery of classical Confucianism in comparison with Western ideas. By so doing, he has worked out an alternative to the sociocultural issues and human concerns in both Chinese and global contexts. All this is chiefly reflected in Li’s view of pragmatic reason (shiyong lixing) per se. His view as such evolves through two primary stages, which can be perceived as the first argument and the second one because of their respective but complementary components. The first argument is largely drawn from Confucianism by looking into the typical aspects of pragmatic reason, including 225


Li Zehou’s Reconception of Confucian Philosophy

usefulness ( youyong xing), ethicalness (lunli xing), emotio-reasonable inseparableness (qingli bufen), historical consciousness (lishi yishi), quasi religiousness (zhunzongjiao xing), and openness (kaifang xing) to the necessity of transformational creation. The second argument demonstrates Li’s individual observation and changes the pragmatic reason of Chinese tradition into that of historical ontology. At this point, he lays down a theoretical keystone that consists of three leading assumptions: history constitutes rationality (lishi jian lixing), the empirical changes into the transcendental ( jingyan bian xianyan), and psychology turns into substratum (xinli cheng benti).1 Along this line of thought, he goes on to propose the notions of appropriate measure (du) and emotional root (qing benti).2 The discussion in this chapter is divided into four parts: the first argument in the 1990s, the second argument in the new millennium, Li’s philosophical alternative in view of pragmatic reason, and a tentative remark on Li’s worldpicture in comparison with Albert Einstein’s Weltbild. The First Argument

Li’s first consideration of pragmatic reason can be dated back to his 1985 essay on China’s wisdom3 and to a more specific interpretation in 1993.4 As he asserts thereby, pragmatic reason played a crucial role in shaping the Chinese tradition with regard to the mode of thought and the ideas about human living. Moreover, it gave rise to the joy-conscious culture (legan wenhua).5 in striking contrast to the sin-conscious culture (zuigan wenhua) underlined by Western Christianity. The joy-conscious culture contains “an ontological meaning in Chinese philosophy” in an optimistic and aesthetic tone, whereas its sin-­ conscious counterpart implies the original sin and hidden pessimism in search of transcendent self-redemption. In respect to Chinese pragmatic reason according to Li’s viewpoint, it can be conceived as “a creative principle in a dynamic or living process”6 of historical accumulation, cultural formation, and psychological sedimentation from which certain “absolute values or moral norms of objective and universal necessity could be developed.”7 It was endogenously fostered in early Confucianism but stays open to further modification with the passage of time. In brief, it displays six key aspects: ethicalness, usefulness, emotive-cum-reasonable inseparableness, historical awareness, quasi religiousness, and openness to future reconstruction. In the first place, ethicalness (lunli xing) or moral sense (daode gan) as a crucial dimension of Chinese pragmatic reason has been stressed all along in Confucianism. It shares something in common with Kant’s advocate of the “categorical imperative” grounded on practical reason, for both of them emphasize

View of Pragmatic Reason


the necessity of moral perfection and ethical conduct for both personal cultivation and final happiness. On the account of this similarity, Li brings forth the notion of pragmatic reason in order to distinguish it from Kant’s expectation of practical reason. Li deploys his notion in order to deny the existence of reason a priori as well as transcendental comprehensive judgment, because what pragmatic reason pursues has little to do with Kantian metaphysics and theo-ethics. As a rule, it refuses to keep reason in the supreme position but uses it as an instrument to serve human existence or living as its highest purpose. It has no transcendental quality and never disconnects itself from experience and history. In a word, it is derived from a philosophical generalization of empirical reasonableness in the historical process. With a focus on the possibility of human becoming, it advises one to be morally cultivated to the extent that one behaves well within the private space and the public space. That is, one must be responsible for one’s family by fulfilling such requirements as being pious to the old, kind to the young, and loyal to the spouse when married. And meanwhile, one must be observing the public codes of conduct, including being trustworthy to friends and reciprocally considerate of neighbors in the community. Such moral obligations are prone to become extensive and demanding. According to Confucianism, there are five constant virtues, including humaneness (ren), righteousness ( yi), rites (li), wisdom (zhi), and trustworthiness (xin), in addition to five character traits of being temperate (wen), kind (liang), courteous ( gong), restrained ( jian), and magnanimous (rang). These two sets of virtues aim to develop a person into a fine personality of gentrice or nobility ( junzi renge). Second, usefulness ( youyong xing) as a primary aspect of Chinese pragmatic reason is somewhat identical to its counterpart in American pragmatism. Both of them apply a similar criterion to measuring truth and its value and accordingly maintain that truth should be practically useful or functional in the pure sense of this term. Mutually they are more concerned with taking effective and right actions than with abstract or metaphysical theories in the domain of living experiences. Yet Chinese pragmatic reason differs from Dewey’s pragmatism in that the former stresses and even incorporates a belief in the adaptation to an objective principle or ordination. This principle lies in the heavenly Dao or destiny independent of human thinking. However, it cannot be separated from the human Dao, because the latter should follow the former such that they are onein-two or two-in-one in a dialectical link. In actuality, this kind of usefulness can conduce to a down-to-earth stance, a stance that is well denoted in a popular allegory: “A good cat, whether it is black or white, is the one that catches the mouse.” This cat allegory implies that the external distinction between the apparently discrepant means is not as valuable or valid as the actual attainment of the final end. As discerned in their quotidian acts, for instance, many Chinese


Li Zehou’s Reconception of Confucian Philosophy

people would hardly confine themselves to any stereotyped or conventionalized track when handling varied matters. Instead, they would make a working choice from all the means available, according to their pragmatic judgment. In such a case they would make their choice while disregarding whether it is traditional or modern, national or global, endogenous or exotic. They pay more attention to the fulfillment of the end rather than the type of the means. Third, preoccupied with the equilibrium of human becoming, Chinese pragmatic reason tends to interlink the two indispensable elements of human nature: emotion and reason. It is therefore characterized with a form of ­emotio-reasonable inseparableness (qingli bufen), almost always attempting to procure a balance between them, a balance that is acclaimed to do things and treat humans altogether in a fair manner by gratifying both emotional and reasonable needs in order to sustain the quality of life. Emotional needs are principally guided to assuring an equitable and reciprocal enhancement of human relationships, whereas reasonable needs are chiefly oriented to doing justice to human activities according to the established rules and regulations in both written and unwritten genres. These two types of needs are to be harnessed properly and cooperatively rather than rigidly and separately, because they are supposed to go hand in hand on most occasions. Very often they are adjusted or moderated by virtue of the golden mean (zhong yong) as the rule of timely correctness (shi zhong). Any act of slanting to the extremes would be thought of as being out of balance, eventually failing to meet the ideal of being both emotively and reasonably satisfying at an equivalent level. As noticed in either artistic expression of artworks or individual conduct in social encounters, what is reasonable tends to penetrate into what is emotive, and vise versa. Thus, there arises a hidden control of excessive passions and inflexible reasoning in both domains, for the principle of suitability and moderation is always commended for the sake of moral and aesthetic exaltation. Nevertheless, the pursuit of this balance would entail a kind of tension between the legal verdict and the affectionate mentality in many cases, which would produce some negative impact on the all-round implementation of the rule of law in spite of the social changes that have taken place ever since the modernization of China from the late nineteenth century onward. Fourth, Chinese pragmatic reason is intimately leagued with historical consciousness (lishi yishi), aside from its certain materialistic inclinations. Such awareness is deeply rooted in Chinese ideology itself. It is keen on “the objective investigation, consideration, and calculation of things and events from a longterm, systematic perspective,” and it is “less interested in the transient gains and losses, successes and failures of the present.”8 It thus differs from other forms of instrumental or speculative reason. Inclined to get the gist of historical lessons in order to serve the specific interests of social life, it bears no hindrance to

View of Pragmatic Reason


prevent people from learning new and exotic things so long as they are needed and relevant to practical objectives. Moreover, it helps elevate historical awareness up to the level of a worldview that embraces the trinity of the past, the present, and the future, and it meanwhile stresses the oneness between heaven and humankind. Being peculiar to Chinese cultural heritage, pragmatic reason works “to fuse the philosophy of nature and the philosophy of history so that the views of history, epistemology, ethics, and dialectics emerged, leading to the rise of a kind of historical reason imbued with emotion and feeling. (The focus on history reflects the concern with experience, and the emotional dimension reflects the concern with human relationships.)”9 Notably, the spirit of pragmatic reason is mostly derived from classical Confucianism and is conducive to a kind of paradigmatic character and mode of thought, all of which remold the Chinese mentality, which tends to avoid extremes by striking the mean in living experiences and everyday routines. “Striking the mean” refers to the doctrine of “excess [is] like inadequacy” ( guo you bu ji), because neither state satisfies the golden mean as the rule of correctness. Those who embrace the mean are inclined to be more cool-minded, more warmhearted, and nonviolent and less interested in fantasy or novelty: [They may value] higher insight but make light of logic; they are fond of history in order to make it serve life in the present; they aim at the preservation of harmony and stability in the existing organic system, have a high regard for human relationships, reject risk taking, and do not have a high regard for innovation. . . . All these factors bring many strong points as well as short-comings to science, culture, ideology, [and] patterns of conduct of the Chinese people. On the road of adapting to the modern and contemporary life of rapid change and scientific advancements, China seems to walk haltingly and with difficulty.10

Fifth, the quasi religiousness (zhunzongjiao xing) of Chinese pragmatic reason is unique to Chinese culture, distinguishing it from any other cultures in existence. Chinese pragmatic reason inherited some of its intrinsic and problematic tendencies from Confucianism, in which religion and philosophy operate in synthesis. This being true, Confucianism could be seen as either a quasi religion or a quasi philosophy. In spite of the absence of a religion—such as Christianity, for instance—Confucian ethics is still bestowed with certain religious characteristics that are to be exercised in a secular society of this-worldly matters. As a result, it would foster the Chinese type of “unification of the state and the church” by which ethics was identified with politics and vice versa. Once a new movement or revolution was launched, it would spur up a type of quasi-religious faith sustained by a quasi-religious enthusiasm. In certain histor-


Li Zehou’s Reconception of Confucian Philosophy

ical events such as the New Culture movement in the early 1920s and the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s, there arose the problem of too much fanaticism and too little cool-minded reasoning. Accordingly, such movements did much more harm than good in many realms. Last but not least, Chinese pragmatic reason features openness (kaifang xing) to the future and calls for timely modifications in accord with changing circumstances. That is because Chinese pragmatic reason itself is not a closed or immutable concept. Like Li Zehou’s notion of “cultural-psychological formation,” it is not rigid but is a dynamic progression. It is always in a state of continuous development, reconstructing itself and sedimenting in the historical process. It lays emphasis on change, expansion, innovation, and advancement; creates no roadblock to obstruct the modernization of China proper; and asks for solid research and transformational creation. Hence, on the one hand, it must retain and carry forward a calm, rational, and realistic stance toward empirical, historical, and actual effects in order to obtain a clear distinction between morality and politics, and on the other hand, it must keep and enhance an optimistic and tenacious attitude toward life so as to rebuild the psychical plane for the ethics of inward sublimation. By applying Chinese pragmatic reason, the Chinese people may break through the conventional unification of the state and the church that still persists today and may overcome the tendencies of moral decline and crisis of faith that are worsening at the present time.11 When exposing the basic features of Chinese pragmatic reason, Li makes a relevant use of “otherness” to shed light on them all. Here “otherness” refers to other cultures, other traditions, other philosophies, and other thinkers. For instance, Li looks into the aspect of ethicalness or moral sense with reference to Kant’s consideration of practical reason and the categorical imperative, into the aspect of usefulness with reference to Dewey’s conception of truth and utility, into the aspect of quasi religiousness with reference to the Christian tradition, and so forth. Quite observantly, Li himself never neglects the flaws of Chinese pragmatic reason. As he points out, it is due to its shadowy influence in Chinese ideology that human emotion is confined to human relationships and that human reason can hardly go beyond the limits of the empirical field. This being true, Li continues: “Chinese philosophy and culture were generally not directed to the type of investigation that is based on rigorous reasoning and abstract theorizing. Rather, they gave preference to and were even content with vague, holistic reasoning and intuitive understanding in their pursuit of truth and enlightenment through a kind of analysis that is not purely logical, intellectual or formal.”12 Of course, Chinese pragmatic reason has other weaknesses, which are revealed in the Chinese mode of thinking and the Chinese way of life. For example, the exercise of theoretical exploration is very often motivated by practical drives. That is to

View of Pragmatic Reason


say, it is dependent on problem-solving intentions rather than curiosity-oriented gratifications. Hence, theoretical thinking is apt to be carried out when seeking a solution to a problem and is likely to be suspended once the problem is resolved. Such attitudes and practices tend to impede the development of scientific probing and the maturity of theoretical speculation in certain realms. To tackle the negative factors of Chinese pragmatic reason, the introduction of both an open stance and a transcultural approach is suggested. Li argues that while attempting to retain the good things of Chinese culture, philosophers face an enormous and difficult task of figuring out how to seriously investigate and assimilate the strong points of other cultures, such as “the astonishing profundity and power of German abstract thought, the spirit of sobriety and clarity in the tradition of Anglo-American empiricism, [and] the melancholic and profound transcendent needs of the Russian people,” and how to do so “in such a way that Chinese pragmatic reason can take a big stride and re-establish itself on a higher level.” Li adds that “this will also be a historical process.”13 Apart from the merits of those three sources, it seems to me that the pioneering spirit and scientific creativity of the American way should be included as well. Obviously, this is an arduous and complicated project for Chinese philosophers to accomplish in the present-day context of globalization. The Second Argument

The first decade of the new millennium witnessed what Li Zehou has done for the transformational creation of pragmatic reason. His endeavors and achievements in this regard are mainly displayed in his treatises published in 2002 and 2005,14 which bring forth his second argument, for a renewed mode of pragmatic reason. In brief, Li’s second argument comprises a new framework in contrast to the first one. This does not necessarily mean that one argument severs its hidden link with the other, for both of them are exposed and formulated from a historical and empirical viewpoint. Nevertheless, the second argument differs from the first one in being largely grounded on a theoretical keystone from Li’s historical ontology. That keystone is made up of at least three leading hypotheses. The first hypothesis is that “history constitutes rationality.” According to Li, rationality is secondary to the priority of human living—that is, the former is valuable and meaningful only when it is employed as a tool for the latter. Rationality evolved over the course of history and originated from reasonableness due to instrumental functions. According to Li’s conclusion, pragmatic reason is just a philosophical generalization of reasonableness, because it negates any form of speculative reasoning a priori. It emphasizes relativity, uncertainty, and nonobjectivity, but it is not relativism at all, for it is determined by the


Li Zehou’s Reconception of Confucian Philosophy

absolute norm of “human living” or the “philosophy of eating.” Moreover, it upholds that “objective sociality” qua “universal necessity” is established and complied with by human beings during the process of historical accumulation. To reiterate: pragmatic reason in Chinese tradition is not a priori, fixed, and absolute at all. It is close to reasonableness that is historically constructed and empirically attested. It can be called historical reason “because it is attached to human history (i.e., the temporal process of the actual existence, living, and life of humankind as a whole) and thus comes into being and grows along with it. It is so alterable and adaptable that it is molded into appropriate measure (du).”15 The second hypothesis is that “the empirical changes into the transcendental.” As noted in the moral scope, what is compulsory to an individual comes from within. This sensibility helps an individual self-consciously curb his or her desires and wants, ranging from food and sex to varied “private interests,” and it renders an individual’s conduct, consciously or unconsciously, as fitting into the norms. Such work leads to the “solidification of reason” (lixing ning ju) in terms of human psychology and willpower (free will). The “solidification of reason,” as coined by Li, is consequently the outcome of the self-conscientious manipulation of sensational faculty by its rational counterpart. As each person becomes a member of the human group through longtime education and training via rational faculty, his or her moral sense, attributed to humankind alone, is psychologically the fruit of the solidification. The solidification of this kind is so powerful that it dominates the sensational aspect of human existence. It is therefore called the “categorical imperative” by Kant, the “heavenly principle” by Zhu Xi, and the “good conscience” by Wang Yangming, all of which bear universality and absoluteness as much as what are divined into either the “heavenly Dao” of everlasting permanence or the “historical necessity” of omnipresent applicability. In effect, the categorical imperative, heavenly principle, and good conscience all lead humans to acknowledge the meanings, values, and responsibilities of life, as if they are an anchor dropped to stabilize a floating boat. These moral rules are there to regulate and normalize human conduct from inward without any mental resistance or cognitive disputability. They are overriding and rational as well, but they demand empirical feelings, faith, piousness, and fear to support the actual performance of conduct.16 All this reveals the probability that moral rules such as the categorical imperative, the heavenly principle, and the good conscience are formed by the empirical in the historical process of human praxis and civilization. They are then developed into what is transcendental or divinely supreme in guiding human behaviors from within as they are self-consciously chosen through the power of free will. The third hypothesis is that “psychology turns into substratum.” This hypothesis is in a way elicited from Heidegger’s Dasein, a philosophy that is shrouded in a veil of such haunting feelings as the “care” and “fear” evoked by

View of Pragmatic Reason


the capricious uncertainty of death. These feelings are associated not only with empirical psychology and human self-consciousness but also with the existential status quo of us moderns. They are of an ontological quality that nurtures the process of human living haunted by care and fear. Talking about Heidegger’s historical ontology, Li affirms: He proposes it by formulating two types of rationale with due modifications: one is the techno-social substratum [gongju benti], connected with Marx, and the other is the psychological substratum [xinli benti], linked with Heidegger. When combined with Chinese tradition, the former is conducive to pragmatic reason, while the latter to joy-conscious culture. Both of them take history as what is most fundamental and therefore become integrated in the historical being of humankind [renlei de lishi cunzai].17

Such a kind of “historical being” is hereby underlined by the crucial role of historical ontology concerning human living and human becoming. It is noteworthy that Li reemphasizes the fundamentality of historical ontology from time to time. He even goes so far as to round it out by juxtaposing it with other sources, as in this example: Historical ontology comes from Marx, Kant, and Chinese tradition but deviates from them to quite some extent. More specifically, it differs from Marx, who merely heeds the social aspect of Homo sapiens but ignores the psychical dimension of the individual. It differs from Kant, who ascribes the psychological form to the superhuman reason but neglects its origin of historical living in actuality. It differs from Chinese tradition that lays an excessive stress on usefulness but makes light of the vital importance of abstract speculation. However, historical ontology as such absorbs and integrates them all. It generally brings forth its key arguments via the concepts of pragmatic reason and joy-conscious culture and intends to deal with the issues of psychological constitution concerning an all-round realization of personal potentials in modern life.18

To my mind, Li is obliged to upgrade his philosophy of historical ontology, given that he is deeply concerned with the primacy of human living and the possibility of human becoming in the postmodern era. Moreover, he finds the human race confronted with a lot of challenges and problems related to human culture and psychology during this historical phase. He does not hesitate to prescribe his remedy, to which we will return later. Here let us look at the logic of pragmatic reason as an integral part of


Li Zehou’s Reconception of Confucian Philosophy

Li’s second argument in accord with historical ontology. Closely leagued with empirical reasonableness as the kernel of pragmatic reason, the logic in question is indicated in the notion of appropriate measure. This measure is dependent on the techno-social substratum in principle, but it possesses a rootlike character (zhutixing) such that it is considered to be “the first category of anthropological historical ontology.”19 It is present in the praxis of human production rather than in existing objects or consciousness alone. Its rootlike character functions as a fundamental source related not only to man-made (subjective) invention but also to natural (objective) discovery. In this regard, human praxis is elementary, whereas the subject-object dichotomy is secondary in view of appropriate measure.20 In other words, the measure itself implies a good command of the most proper measurement and proportion for humans to handle all matters encountered. It means technical correctness, suitability, and effectiveness as though it is approximate to what ancient Greeks thought of as pan metron ariston, or the best measure for all. It is actualized and objectified in what ancient Chinese conceived as the mean (zhong) or harmony (he) and is applied to all domains, ranging from the art of music to the art of war and the art of politics. In this sense, it can be somewhat identified with the principle of ultimate appropriateness and best proportion in both qualitative and quantitative considerations for the changing situation or specific time-space involved. It is not easy for individuals to achieve its ideal, but it remains so crucial and desirable that, without it, humans could not preserve their existence, their species, and even their personal life. For this reason, Li treats appropriate measure as the first category in contrast to Hegel’s classification of quality as the first category, quantity as the second category, and measure as the third category. Such distinction is set out between Li’s concern with how human living is possible in view of historical ontology and Hegel’s concern with defining what things are in terms of metaphysical ontology. In my observation, the concept of appropriate measure is assumed to operate on three major planes. First and foremost, it works on the plane of material and symbolic operations that engages physical and spiritual praxes, such as productive activities, language communications, artistic creations, scientific explorations, religious prayers, and so forth. All this is pointed to the “solidification of reason” and the “internalization of reason” as a consequence of human engagement with intellectual power and constant labor. Next, it serves on the plane of dialectical wisdom as it goes through the operational field to the existential counterpart. It is mirrored, for example, in the Chinese notion of “complementary interaction between yin and yang,” the Greek theory of “unity in diversity,” and the Western doctrine of “unity of opposites.” Subsequently, it performs on the plane of unique creation. It is herein characteristic of best appropriateness that is neither too much nor too little. It is employed to create what is artistically

View of Pragmatic Reason


beautiful so as to foster the sense of beauty among those who are contemplating the beautiful. On this account, it is used to procure beauty (mei)21 throughout human activities encompassing material productions, living behaviors, and so on. It delivers a pleasant feeling of mental freedom as the origin of the sense of beauty itself. Meanwhile, it serves as the foundational stone of the beautiful instead of beauty in itself. Accordingly, beauty represents the free operation of appropriate measure and the sufficient manifestation of human capacity. However, the measure itself is still a “skill” ( ji), and the beauty is “art” ( yi). Art is above skill, owing to art’s free and creative use of skill.22 In the final analysis, the concept of appropriate measure contains a rootlike trait in its causality-based operation, as is shown in the foregoing formulation of the three planes. Incidentally, an examination of the second argument is not complete without mentioning the joy-conscious culture. In Li’s thought, this kind of culture and the appropriate measure are typical of Chinese tradition, complementary in effect when it comes to coping with the current issues of the human condition. As explicated in Li’s book Historical Ontology (Lishi bentilun), the joy-conscious culture in a Chinese context has a threefold implication. First, it signals a culture of worldly happiness that embodies the basic tendency of Chinese tradition, a culture that centers around human living and material life directed to worldly happiness and relational harmony. Second, it signifies a culture of optimism as it focuses on the general theme of human living and probes its possibility from a humanistic and optimistic viewpoint. It retains veritable confidence in human power and initiative despite the historical progression through tragic events and maintains that a bright prospect will come along and ameliorate the human condition, so long as humans pluck up their courage and persevere through the hardships and challenges along the way. Third, the joyconscious culture indicates a culture of music and aesthetics, because the Chinese word le (joy) is also pronounced as yue (music). In Chinese heritage such joy (le) is symbolic of the essence and function of music ( yue), both of which are regarded as integral parts of human nature in light of the teleological pursuit of final joyfulness or happiness. It is accordingly reckoned that such a culture helps facilitate the final accomplishment of human nature by virtue of musical appreciation and aesthetic sensibility at its best.23 Notably, the joy-conscious culture finds its kernel in the emotional root, which is in fact a sustaining part of the psychological substratum or culturalpsychological formation proper. Such a culture is prone to work against the theory of identifying moral order with cosmic order, against the principle of taking the moral state of being for the highest realm in human life, and against the notion of ruling all by the so-called supreme rationality itself. Instead, it upholds that humans as humans ought to return to their natural but free state of being, in a spiritual sense. It proceeds to treat humans as the final purpose and


Li Zehou’s Reconception of Confucian Philosophy

grounds humans on the emotional root instead of the mere appetite-based root (for animals) or the pure rational root (for divinities).24 On a related note, the concept of emotion (qing) in Confucianism denotes essentially the enculturated love of humans, the love that stems from an instinctive animal eros, enculturated to an innate compassion (ceyin), nurtured to an affection for relatives (qinqin), extended to a love of people (renmin) and a treasuring of things (aiwu), and eventually exalted to the universal love of all beings in the world ( fan aizhong). In Li’s opinion, qing as emotion is no longer restricted to the old scope of such natural feelings as pleasure, anger, sorrow, joy, shock, fear, and grief (xi, nu, ai, le, jing, kong, and bei). It is renewed to cover seven types of affection—for relatives (qinqing), friends ( youqing), lovers (ai­qing), human relations (renji guanxi qing), homelands (xiangtu jiayuan qing), collective endeavors for the common good ( jiti fenjin qing), and science and art (kexue yishu qing). These seven types of emotion are humanized and permeated by social rationality.25 In this setting, the term “emotional root” is metaphorically used for the fundamental source of generative power and growing potential that is correlated with the emergence of the human Dao (rendao), the basis of aesthetic metaphysics (shenmei xingershangxue), and the mode of joy-conscious culture, among others. It is therefore the primary cause of growth or change in the process of human becoming.26 As revealed in the Guodian manuscripts from ancient China, the Dao is said to be generated from emotion (dao you qing sheng), suggesting that the human Dao came from human emotion, even though it attempts to tame human emotion to the due degree by virtue of its intrinsic interaction with moral codes or social norms. On this account, Li assumes that the root of humanity is not what is rational but what is aesthetic, owing to the mutual fusion of the emotional and the rational aspects. He therefore plays up the emotional root while playing down the fundamentality of human nature (xing benti) and the fundamentality of heavenly principle (li benti) in neo-Confucianism. He even goes so far as to promote a new shift from moral metaphysics to aesthetic metaphysics for the sake of human living today. As he repeatedly proclaims, emotion involves an allocation and integration of varied proportions of human nature (morals) and human appetite (instincts). It can never constitute some type of fixed framework, system, or “substance” (in terms of either outward or inward transcendence).27 In Li’s view, the emotional root is more influential on the human race, because it is deeply set in the sedimentation of reason (lixing jidian) in its narrow sense rather than in the solidification of reason in its ethical sense. This is in a way justified by the hard fact that humans come first from Nature and then go beyond Nature when they have grown into cultural-moral beings. However, they cannot stay all the time within the state of going beyond Nature, because physically they are natural beings, and eventually

View of Pragmatic Reason


they return to Nature after all.28 Hence, humans are exposed to two historical events: the humanization of nature and the naturalization of the human.29 A Philosophical Alternative

The two arguments described above disclose Li’s reconsideration of pragmatic reason in the Chinese tradition and his transformational creation from a transcultural horizon. They in fact contribute a significant part to his practical philosophy of humanism, which is based on the teleological rationale of his anthropological historical ontology. As a thinker with deep humanistic concern, he treats philosophy as an exploration of the spectrum of human fate and constantly looks into the status quo of the human condition in general and the possibility of human becoming in particular. Like Kant, he is highly aware of that form of cognition referred to as practical rather than theoretical, for practical cognition is directed toward the act of doing and theoretical cognition toward the nature of being. He confesses that he himself enjoys both forms of cognition but prefers the practical tactics because of his engagement with how to address the issues and challenges in human living under current circumstances. With respect to Li’s humanism as an alternative, it is often found to be distinct because it proclaims its inquiry into a philosophy of eating (chifan zhexue). Starting with Engels’ emphasis on the food supply as the primary prerequisite of human practice, it utilizes this sardonic term as a counterargument to challenge those who indulge in elusive and speculative theorizing while sneering at down-to-earth modes of thinking. Li paves a path along which he walks on his own, ignoring any contemptuous mockeries or criticisms. Quite deliberately, he deploys his philosophy of eating, not merely as a seemingly nonphilosophical notion to ridicule himself and other self-important critics alike, but also as a rhetorical device to arouse public attention to his philosophical enterprise, humanistic concern, and teleological pursuit. Examining his thoughts holistically, one may discover that his approach to philosophizing hankers after a moderate equilibrium between practical cognition and its theoretical counterpart. As regards his transformation of pragmatic reason, Li strives to promote a synthetic whole by combining the practical aspect with its theoretical counterpart. Yet he thereby applies two distinct notions to enrich the rationale of pragmatic reason: one is the pragmatic character (shiyong xingge) related to Chinese pragmatism in particular, and the other the abstract speculation (chouxiang si­bian) related to German idealism. He does so in order to enhance the usefulness of pragmatic reason and to increase its profundity. As he pronounces: Pragmatic reason takes its service for human existence as the final objective. It neither resorts to anything transcendental nor separates itself


Li Zehou’s Reconception of Confucian Philosophy

from experience and history. It worked to facilitate the advancement of technique in ancient China but failed to produce such axiomatic systems of mathematics and abstract speculations of philosophy as those of Hellenic Greece. It therefore encounters big challenges in the modern arena. However, its pragmatic character enables Chinese people to acknowledge their cultural weaknesses and, at the same time, to redouble their efforts to receive and incorporate the elements of abstract speculation and scientific systems from other cultures that they find beneficial to human beings altogether.30

For Li, his expression “human existence as the final objective” is synonymic of human living (ren huo zhe). It is of the most critical necessity in comparison with other concerns. To Li’s mind, the hard fact of human living is the determining factor for the possibility of either human becoming or human fulfillment. It usually involves a threefold challenge: the existent miseries of birth, aging, disease, and death; the omnipresent manipulation of social discourse’s power and the productive patterns it inspires in human interaction; and the difficulties in adapting oneself to the antimony of advancing history and declining morality during dynamic spans of social change.31 Upgrading the quality of human living is about more than making ends meet. Human living has at least four cardinal dimensions: the material, the epistemological, the ethical, and the aesthetic. More specifically, the material dimension deals with what to live on ( yihe huo) in terms of fair satisfaction of basic needs, the epistemological dimension with why to live (weihe huo) in terms of sound knowledge of what life and death really mean, the ethical dimension with how to live (ruhe huo) in terms of observant compliance with public and private morals, and the aesthetic dimension with how well to live (huo de zenyang) in terms of a self-conscious motive for human fulfillment or perfection through the free intuition (knowing) of the world (ziyou zhiguan) and the free appreciation of beauty (ziyou shenmei). The discussion that follows below focuses more on the material and aesthetic dimensions in order to manifest the useful and speculative worth of pragmatic reason. Naturally, Li’s philosophy of eating stands out as it looks for a feasible solution to secure the material dimension of human living. Such concretization ostensibly relies on the ample supply of daily necessities that turns out to be the precondition for addressing other dimensions of human living. It follows that the actualization of the material dimension is the overriding task of Li’s practical philosophy. It is to be reified by human labor that proceeds to using and making tools while procuring appropriate measure in the historical process of civilization. Nevertheless, the actualization therein is not individual but social matter,

View of Pragmatic Reason


for it is sought after by all humans or communities. Hence, Li himself keeps an eye on the situation of China in this respect and gives much attention to the social development and reform process from a pragmatic perspective. With a historical and reflective judgment on empirical reasonableness, he advocates his proposal on the progression of China reform. His proposal is composed of four successive steps: economic development ( jingji fazhan), individual freedom ( geren ziyou), social justice (shehui zhengyi), and political democracy (zhengzhi minzhu). He calls this proposal the theory of the four-item sequence (si shunxu shuo)32 and defends it when it is criticized by those who object to it. Li elaborates on the four-item sequence: The four items in the sequence are permeating into each other rather than being sharply divided into separate phases. They are so ordered in accord with their respective levels of importance and urgency. Nevertheless, they are to be treated as a whole instead of a mechanical and rigid regulation. They are characteristic of flexibility and changeability in the course of specific events and situations. This being the case, it remains crucial to manipulate the complicated interconnections among them when it comes to different periods and different issues. It is thus related to my emphasis on the art of appropriate measure (du de yishu).33

Quite persistently, he has continued to champion this sequence since 1995, when he initially proposed it. He is mindful that how to feed China’s large population through economic growth has priority over all other affairs in one sense and, in another sense, that any reform that leaves the populace hungry or starving is bound to be rebuffed or end up in chaos. Moreover, any radical reform that runs the risk of making individual liberty and political democracy the first priority under premature conditions could be more destructive than constructive, for it would violate the social reality in China at present. This point is evinced by the bitter experiences in the history of China and of some other countries across the world. Yet Li’s proposal is sharply attacked by those who claim themselves to be either new liberalists or populists. He is derided as being either conservative because he is advanced in age or cowardly because he has lost courage. Nevertheless, he marches on and goes so far as to declare that “harmony is above justice” (hexie gao yu zhengyi). I personally have sympathy with him on the point of positing economic development as the first priority, but I can hardly agree with him on the point of placing political democracy behind individual freedom and social justice, even though he has accounted for the interpermeating relationship of the four items in the sequence. In practice, the sequence could be adopted, the interrelationship of the items suspended, and the art of appropriate measure neglected. Hence, I grow a bit skeptical of


Li Zehou’s Reconception of Confucian Philosophy

the theory as I think about how individual freedom and social justice might be possible and authentic without the relevant institutionalization of political democracy. I firmly believe that political democracy can be secured and sustained only by rule of law, instead of rule by law, and my belief is the same with regard to individual freedom and social justice. This seems to be the working logic, as it is justified by historical experiences time and again. As for Li’s advocacy of harmony above justice, that notion involves a similar problem on one hand, and on the other, it has already proven to be more costly and less feasible by the recent experimentation in China with “building a harmonious society” ( goujian hexie shehui) via “maintaining social stability” (weihu shehui wending). As revealed through this dangling experimentation, judicial procedure would fall into jeopardy of being weakened or abused for the sake of so-called social harmony and stability alone. Bitter lessons of this kind were easily available all over China in the past decade or so, when fine-sounding political catchphrases were rampant, certain civil lawsuits resulted in harsh treatments, and the violation of some civil rights became legal. That is one of the chief reasons why the new government in China has waged a campaign of reinforcing the full-scale rule of law at such a high pitch at the present time. Now let us turn to Li’s approach to the aesthetic dimension of human living. Since this dimension is mainly concerned about how well can humans live, its possible fulfillment lies in the insight into the human condition and its relevant improvement via aesthetic sublimation. As discerned in each affluent society nowadays, the leading problems with the human condition are shifting to those with the cultural-psychological formation. They are predicted to cause mental ills and morbid acts like anxiety, depression, mal du siècle, and suicide, among others. The cultural-psychological formation is threefold at least. That is to say, it is human, in terms of the human species; it is cultural, from an environmental viewpoint; and it is individual in an elementary sense, due to the process of cultural-psychological sedimentation. In Li’s opinion, all cultural-psychological issues can be properly treated through aesthetic sublimation, owing to the dynamic organism of his practical aesthetics as the first philosophy. In this regard, the free appreciation of the beautiful is considered to be the final destination in Li’s system of subjectality (zhutixing), for it works together with free intuition as a process of rational sedimentation for the acme of humanity formation. More specifically, the beautiful as such is created out of the organic synthesis of both lawfulness and purposefulness and therefore is perceived as the glory of both the true and the good in essence. The free appreciation of the beautiful also corresponds to the highest realm of human living, allegorical to heaven-human oneness (tianren heyi). This oneness arises out of the material reality via the humanized nature that is involved in the remolding of both the outer and the inner worlds. It is due

View of Pragmatic Reason


to the productive power of techno-social instruments rather than the individual spirit itself, the instruments that provide the foundation for three things: the development of humankind and the individual; the existence and advancement of social structure; and the individual psychological formation.34 According to Li, the Chinese conception of contemplating the beautiful (shenmei) differs from the Western notion of aesthetic involvement. It stays above the religious vision for at least two momentums: the first lies in a hidden, substantial, and supermoral state of being, which will lead to the possibility of moral realization beyond life, death, and any kind of interest; the second is characteristic of the intrinsic mélange between the collective and the individual, in which the historical, psychological, social, personal, rational, and perceptual aspects become united in the threefold mechanism of psychology, individuality, and sensibility. All this then inclines toward the consequence of rational sedimentation, wherein the potential of individuality ( gexing qianneng) in general is fully nurtured and manifested.35 In my view, the free act of contemplating the beautiful performs a crucial role in the pursuit of inward sublimation that depends on moral cultivation from within rather than religious redemption from without. As shown in Chinese tradition, inward sublimation and heavenhuman oneness enhance and facilitate one another, to the extent that both of them aim to go beyond any interest-ridden concerns and obligations. With the help of rational sedimentation and personality potential, what the free act hankers after could generate a positive ambiance for human fulfillment and perfection at its best. With regard to the second argument for Li’s view of pragmatic reason, Li’s articulation of the appropriate measure parallels that of “illuminating the true through the beautiful” ( yi mei qi zhen), and both are directed toward the special role of his practical aesthetics. Correspondingly, his formulation of emotional root accompanies that of “accumulating the good through the beautiful” ( yi mei chu shan), both of which are oriented toward the internal value of his practical aesthetics. All this is due to Li’s conviction that the beautiful is symbolic of both the true and the good. The aesthetic illumination in this case serves as a kind of enlightenment that enables the contemplator of the beautiful to gain insights into the epistemological worth of the true and to raise his or her moral consciousness of the good. To my mind, what underlies the agency of appropriate measure can be perceived as three interrelated principles operating in three domains. One is the principle of suitableness, with a focus on functional effectiveness and productiveness. This principle is intended to do work according to appropriate measure ( yi du lao zuo). When applied to the aforementioned physical and spiritual operations, this principle is more helpful and fruitful for preserving human living and tackling the problems with the philosophy of eating. The second is the


Li Zehou’s Reconception of Confucian Philosophy

principle of correctness, with an emphasis on the relevance of cognition and the soundness of judgment. Its purpose is to attain dialectical wisdom according to appropriate measure ( yi du huo zhi). Such wisdom is necessary for sorting out the delicate and confusing phenomena in the human world and is attainable only by doing so in accord with changing time and space. This second principle is no easy matter at any rate and requires constant trial and testing in living experiences. The third is the principle of creativeness, with stress on the power of imagination and the exercise of free intuition. It is designed to create the beautiful by means of the measure ( yi du li mei). It demands a good mastery of skill ( ji) and a fine sensibility of art ( yi). Then, only by free application of the skill can the beautiful be produced and appreciated. However, this is not enough, because the beautiful is to be used for a higher purpose. That is, it is employed to illuminate the true, embodying the “logical” nucleus of pragmatic reason that delivers no specific methodology at all.36 All this naturally points to the subsequent theses. First and foremost, what is to be kept in mind is the meaning of “illuminating the true through the beautiful.” It means gaining real knowledge of a new type of thing in itself that, in Li’s view, is identified with the “coexistence of humankind with the cosmos” (ren yu yuzhou de gongzai). This is a metaphysical assumption without which aesthetic experience would have no origin, and the sense of form would be nowhere to be found. The existence of the cosmos is like an unknown object a priori, whereas the creative and cognitive power of a man-made operational-symbolic system is like the subject a priori. The two are unified on the basis of human praxis from the outlook of historical ontology. With the help of “illuminating the true through the beautiful,” Homo sapiens manages to peep into the mysteries of the cosmos and to secure a position for human existence therein. It is via such an active life full of contingency and spontaneity that the communication between humans and the cosmos is rendered possible. It is therefore a must to have a metaphysical assumption of such a thing in itself—namely, the physical concordance and coexistence of humankind with the cosmos—because it will shift into an indispensable premise that makes it possible for humans to bestow different kinds of order on the cosmos or nature.37 As for the effect of emotional root, it is as subtle and desirable as it is. I suppose that it can be perceived in three ways at least with regard to its main functions. First, it encourages humans to treat things with emotion ( yi qing dai wu). Doing so may enable them to extend their affection for family members to neighbors and ultimately to all peoples and all things alike, as in the Confucian notion of universal love for all ( fan ai zhong). Second, it advises humans to nourish morality with emotion ( yi qing yu de). In this case, emotion itself is humanized, enculturated, and duly moderated by moral codes or social norms.

View of Pragmatic Reason


Eventually it helps humans become moral or cultural beings in a teleological sense. Third, it leads humans to contemplate the beautiful with emotion ( yi qing shenmei). At this stage, it directs them to make the most of their sense of beauty from the aesthetic experience that is pleasant to the ear and the eye ( yue er yue mu), guides them to go beyond this level and move up to the aesthetic feeling pleasant to mind and mood ( yue xin yue yi), and enlightens them to the aesthetic exaltation of intellectual intuition and spiritual freedom ( yue zhi yue shen). Coincidently, Li orients the emotional root toward his practical aesthetics as the first philosophy. Just as he does with appropriate measure, he bestows such aesthetics with a primary credit so as to resolve the critical issues related to the cultural-psychological formation of modern humans. In his belief, such aesthetics has more to do with anthropological ontology in one sense and with psychology a priori in another sense, thus helping advance human fulfillment as the final telos. Then how is it possible to attain the telos? According to Li’s alternative, it is to illuminate the true through the beautiful with the help of the appropriate measure and meanwhile to accumulate the good through the beautiful with the help of the emotional root. What to do in the first case is related to the hypothesis of the thing in itself as a logical premise for humans to obtain more knowledge of the cosmos; what to do in the second case is related to the assumption of the thing in itself as a sufficient condition for humans to choose emotion and faith.38 The thing in itself is in its new form of human coexistence with the cosmos, a form that resembles the Chinese conception of heaven-human oneness. As reconfirmed in Li’s analysis, the two modes of action here are relevant to the cultivation of sound emotions that will help foster both the genuine growth of human soul and the cultural development of human nature. They are all apt to facilitate and lift human fulfillment by harmonizing four parts—the individual, the personal, the natural, and the social—into an organic whole. Hardly any other alternative is as effective and reliable as this one. It is often evinced in history that neither human enculturation nor character building can be carried forth merely by means of outward imperatives, religious regulations, or revolutionary isms, for human individuals differ from one to another. For instance, some individuals may be prone to solicit prostitutes when ethical demands have collapsed or been cast aside.39 As an example, most of the Red Guards during China’s Cultural Revolution demonstrated such behavior. Quite naturally, I assume that Li’s approach to practical aesthetics as the first philosophy results in his recommendation of aesthetic metaphysics, an aesthetic metaphysics that is designed to enhance inward sublimation through aesthetic wisdom. This sublimation can be thought of as the outcome of higher spiritual or moral cultivation. It is alleged not only to help humans become what they are in empirical time-space by exercising otherworldly values in this-worldly life


Li Zehou’s Reconception of Confucian Philosophy

but also to help them improve human capacity so that this-worldly cares and fears can be faced with free intuition and contemplative serenity. Accordingly, aesthetic wisdom can be granted as the substratum of such intuition, serenity, and sensibility altogether. In order to justify the intrinsic logic in this regard, Li reconsiders the possibility of human becoming with particular reference to human nature and human capacity in terms of his anthropological historical ontology. He therefore asserts that human nature is the interwoven synthesis of divine nature and animal nature, owing to the fact that humans rely on certain physical needs to preserve their corporeal existence, and meanwhile they apply their acquired ability to manipulating such needs and guiding them to noble purposes. What underlines human nature is human capacity. This capacity mainly refers to the moral psychology that distinguishes humankind from other animal species and is supposed to comprise three key elements—namely, the solidification of reason, in terms of human moral psychology and willpower (free will); the internalization of reason (lixing neihua), in view of the human cognitive faculty for logic, mathematics, and dialectic concepts; and the melting of reason (lixing ronghua), in accordance with the dynamic condition of aesthetic sedimentation (shenmei jidian) as is characterized with aesthetic competence.40 More specifically, the psychological ground of the solidification of reason might be an auxiliary for establishing a special channel between the ­cognition-thinking area and its emotion-will counterpart in the central nervous system, evolved in the long process of practice (by the human race as a whole) and education (received by individual beings). Li identifies this process with the cultural-psychological formation (wenhua xinli jiegou), or the sedimentational form of human capacity (renxing nengli de jidian xingshi). Therein the internalization of reason and the melting of reason resemble each other to a certain extent. The long process of practice parallels that of history. They are interwoven in that human practice involves historical progression originated from the using and making of tools, whereas human history goes along with human evolution through human practice. As regards the human capacity and the human nature of each individual, they are interconnected in one’s own cognitive, moral, and aesthetic competence as a result of practical and historical interaction. In most cases, human individuals tend to become what they are because of different kinds of innate gifts, upbringing habituations, educational performances, and so forth. Particularly on this account, Li moves on to promote his aesthetic metaphysics, in which he puts forward the Kantian idea of “purposiveness without purpose,” which targets the whole of humankind and involves illuminating the true through the beautiful, accumulating the good through the beautiful, and “making life worth living through the beautiful” ( yi mei li ming). Nevertheless, Li differentiates his thinking from the Kantian in that he develops his aes-

View of Pragmatic Reason


thetic metaphysics for the highest possible attainment of human fulfillment in a complete sense (renxing wanquan shixian) by means of integrating the rational with the emotional via universal love. He does so from the viewpoint of historical ontology with reference to natural law and pragmatic reason, whereas Kant moves from aesthetic judgment to teleological judgment, according to which he advocates his position of the highest good (i.e., the maximal possible human happiness as the product of human virtue, which is seen as the ultimate end of nature) from the perspective of theo-ethics with reference to moral law and speculative reason. Li is more concerned about the becoming of humans as whole beings in view of the synthesis of the rational and the emotional dichotomy, whereas Kant is more concerned about the cultivation of humans as moral beings in view of his practical reason interacting with his theo-ethical awareness of the highest good and the categorical imperative. Moreover, Li’s theory of practical aesthetics retains its stress on the generative potency of emotional root to balance the dominance of rational power in general and the excess of instrumental rationality in particular. In this case, emotional root is working with humane love that has eros and agape intertwined in a complicated and interactive manner. Since any conceptual vision of the other world is absent in Confucianism, the necessity of aesthetic metaphysics is proposed to address the sociocultural ills today, the ills that exert much negative influence on human mentality and human living at the same time. According to this aesthetic metaphysics, aesthetic engagement is meant to go beyond mere pleasures and animal desires and strives for “detachment and emancipation” (chaoyue) in a spiritual scope: [Aesthetic engagement] is intended to pursue a superbiological state as a higher realm of life. However, it is not a pure spiritual scope because man cannot abandon the physical body, as ascetic monks did in the Dark Ages. On the contrary, man can only look for any detachment and emancipation within the physical body itself. This could be felt in the mysterious experience of heaven-human oneness as an outcome of the correspondence between the body-mind cultivation and nature-cosmos rhythm in the “naturalization of the human.”41

In actuality, the emotional root implies a kind of “cherishing” or inclination to cherish humans, changes, events, occasions, and incidents in time, only to usher them into the realm of Dasein. Li describes what occurs under such circumstances: If one wants to grasp the infinity and reality in his limited span of life equated to his incidental and finite physical existence, “cherishing”


Li Zehou’s Reconception of Confucian Philosophy

becomes a necessary and sufficient condition. Instead of seeking any homogenized mind, reason, or vital energy [qi], “emotional root” only admits all occasional things and events in this short span of life alone, because man as man “cherishes” the short and contingent life, events, and things encountered. Every individual owns a poetic sense of existence that enables him to experience the eternity of temporality in the “emotional root” of “cherishing” in spite of his being a passing traveler “in time.”42

Granted, a momentary cherishing could repeat itself so often that it would seem to be escorted by an eternal return. This peculiar experience and perception make an extraordinary difference to human living and becoming. Furthermore, man is self-awakening in his own way. He accepts his accidental and temporal existence and struggles to survive without blaming God or others. He tries to learn from the bottom and then moves up to the top. This statement metaphorically means to seek spiritual freedom through personal cultivation. . . . Therefore, the ideas about “what is man?” and “man as the end” will eventually be realized in the human creation of the fully fledged “aesthetic double helix,” in the emotional root of temporality and in the pursuit of aesthetic metaphysics.43

It seems to me that, after all, Li’s aesthetic thinking is transcultural or intercultural in principle. It integrates Chinese tradition with its Western counterpart while deviating from both of them as a result of transformational creation. His conception of aesthetic metaphysics finds its ontological basis in the hypothesis of the coexistence of humankind with the cosmos, which bears the hidden idea of heaven-human oneness. Such coexistence involves the process of both human becoming and human fulfillment by virtue of the external and internal constitutions. The external constitution is largely determined by the appropriate measure and the techno-social substratum stemming from the practical substance and is embodied in the dynamic interaction between the two main domains of human activities known as the humanization of nature and the naturalization of humanity. Then the internal constitution is essentially shrouded in the cultural-psychological formation and reflected in the complementary exercise of either illuminating the true through the beautiful or accumulating the good through the beautiful. The former is expected to obtain a balanced development of humanity in concord with the entire cosmos, and the latter to facilitate the inward sublimation via aesthetic wisdom grounded on the emotional root. All this is designed to resist the rampant excess of both anthropocentrism and instrumental rationality. Well, it is noteworthy that Li’s theory of aesthetic metaphysics appears rather

View of Pragmatic Reason


ambitious with its aim to reduce cultural-psychological problems for the sake of human fulfillment via inward sublimation. It provokes either skeptical or critical rethinking. That is, it strikes some as an aesthetic utopia for its being unable to remove the problems in everyone, whereas it impresses others as a practical alternative for its being helpful to subdue those problems one way or another. In any case, it is there to be cross-examined and attested in the time to come. Li’s Sui Generis World-Picture

A panoramic view of Li’s writings proves that his philosophizing surveys the ideas of Kant, Hegel, Marx, Dewey, Piaget, Freud, Nietzsche, Weber, Heidegger, Hayek, Rawls, Chinese Confucianism, Daoism, Zen Buddhism, and postmodernism, among many others. He rethinks and selects the relevant ones to build up his structure of thought from the angle of pragmatic reason. He does so by means of both critical reflection and transformational creation in the light of transcultural investigations and reconstructive motives. In his autobiography from 2003,44 Li lists some of his leading ideas as he agrees with Gilles Deleuze on the point that philosophy is the fabrication of concepts to ponder the world. The concepts Li has fabricated on the incomplete list given by himself are up to fourteen in number, among which we see “humanization of nature” (ziran de renhua), “sedimentation” ( jidian), “cultural-­ psychological formation” (wenhua xinli jiegou), “naturalization of the human” (ren de ziranhua), “pragmatic reason” (shiyong lixing), “joy-conscious culture” (legan wenhua), “emotional root” (qing benti), and “appropriate measure as the first category” (du zuowei diyi fanchou), and so on. We may hereby extend the list by adding such key concepts as “subjectality” (zhutixing), “techno-social substratum ( gong ju benti), “psychological substratum” (xinli benti), “aesthetic metaphysics” (shenmei xingershangxue), and “historical ontology” (lishi bentilun), so as to compose a sketch of his philosophy concerning human living and human becoming. It is by this sketch that Li tries to sum up the fruit of his most evocative thoughts, declaring that he “[intends to] provide a philosophical perspective when probing into the status quo of the world and China altogether, and hopes that such a large and populated China with a long history will find her own modernity during the process of ‘transformational creation in culture.’ ”45 It seems to me that Li’s philosophical sketch highlights his sui generis worldpicture in outline. He portrays it by virtue of conceptual guidelines instead of articulate details. This accords with his preference for the “grand narration” of core arguments instead of “trivial professionalization” (suoxi de zhuanyehua)46 that relies on elaborate and minute proofs. Incidentally, Nietzsche once gave a warning about excessive professionalization because of its harmful consequence


Li Zehou’s Reconception of Confucian Philosophy

that was most liable to take a special kind of knowledge as the end rather than the means. Li shares sympathy with Nietzsche on this point, for both of them are individual thinkers instead of presumptuous specialists in a narrow area. In actuality, Li himself attempts to stimulate his readers to think and rethink critically what he says and writes. It is for this reason that he works as a midwife of thought rather than a transmitter of information, for he avows that any information of whatever kind is easily accessible via computer database nowadays. Actually, since the 1980s he has been both an intellectual tutor and an inspiring source to several generations in China who happen to be interested in either aesthetics or philosophy, thus serving to emancipate them from the shackles of rigid ideology and inert thinking. Above all, Li devotes all his energy and time to looking for a possible remedy to the issues derived from the social reality across China and the world. Being aged, he often claims a sense of mission to work for humankind at large. His world-picture is somewhat allegorical to Einstein’s Weltbild in my eyes. As luck would have it, Li makes a particular reference to Einstein’s statement as follows: Man tries to make for himself in the fashion that suits him best a simplified and intelligible world-picture; he then tries to some extent to substitute this cosmos of his for the world of experience, and thus to overcome it. This is what the painter, the poet, the speculative philosopher, and the natural scientist do, each in his own fashion. Each makes this cosmos and its construction the pivot of his emotional life, in order to find in this way the peace and security which he cannot find in the narrow whirlpool of personal experience.47

This is the Weltbild that Einstein recommends in his address delivered at a symposium in honor of Max Planck’s sixtieth birthday in 1918. Ostensibly, Li appreciates it so much that he first places the statement on the front page of his Historical Ontology and quotes it again to support his argumentation later amid the text.48 In Einstein’s opinion, such a world-picture denotes a positive motive in contrast to the negative one that leads people to art and science, as Schopenhauer advocates. It is designed to keep one aloof from everyday life, with its painful crudity and hopeless dreariness, and from the fetters of one’s own ever-shifting desires. Einstein says that it “may be compared with the townsman’s irresistible longing to escape from his noisy, cramped surroundings into the silence of high mountains, where the eye ranges freely through the still, pure air and fondly traces out the restful contours apparently built for eternity.”49 As assumed by Einstein, his Weltbild is somewhat paradigmatic, as it is offered in advice to the physicist:

View of Pragmatic Reason


He must content himself with describing the most simple events which can be brought within the domain of our experience; all events of a more complex order are beyond the power of the human intellect to reconstruct with the subtle accuracy and logical perfection which the theoretical physicist demands. Supreme purity, clarity, and certainty at the cost of completeness.50

In his account of the key characteristics of Einstein’s Weltbild, Li seems to pursue his own goal. He draws out a similar kind of Weltbild so as to suit humankind at its best in one sense and sets up “the pivot of his emotional life” in another sense. He thereby breaks through the “narrow whirlpool of personal experience” about the picture of China proper and embraces the mission to offer his “simplified and intelligible world-picture,” symbolic of his cosmopolitan mentality as a consequence of his stay in the United States for more than two decades. From his seventies onward, Li repeatedly proclaims himself to work for humankind in its entirety. His writing style and thoughtway in his output justify “the simplified and intelligible” aspects of the his own Weltbild. The world-picture Li provides features his lifelong preoccupation with the possibility of human becoming in terms of the natural law. But the natural law is of a new type because of its pragmatic orientation. Traditionally, the natural law of morality is identified mainly with human nature and free will. But to Li’s mind the natural law itself has a cultural character. That is, he associates human nature with human culture but considers human nature not to be a product of personal free choice alone. Instead, he treats the cultivation of human nature as the consequence of developing human capacity through human culture in the dynamic process of human practice and historical progression. That being the case, the function and evolution of the human brain in the context of cultural pluralism must be taken into consideration, for the human race as a whole has been living not on an island but in a global village, ever since the advent of transcultural interaction in history. This fact will surely affect the human brain in terms of its connections with human capacity and human nature. As noticed in the development of brain science at its current stage, the discovery of the double-helix phenomenon provides an impressive justification in this regard. As more discoveries in this field are made in the future, it is hoped that we will be able to gain some insights into the unknown mystery of human becoming. I really expect so, even though it will be no easy matter at all. Notes 1. This compound word benti can be divided into ben and ti. Etymologically and semantically, ben means “root” and “fundamental source,” which can be taken as a rationale


Li Zehou’s Reconception of Confucian Philosophy

in an abstract sense, and ti means “body” and “organic power,” which can be seen as the basis upon which property and function rely. As regards Li Zehou’s conception of benti, the word is used to suggest something fundamental, primary, and most important in the light of his anthropological historical ontology (renleixue lishi bentilun), which is often shortened to historical ontology (lishi bentilun). In my observation it is therefore rendered as “substratum” or “root” according to the specific terms used in specific contexts. Incidentally, it is first and foremost distinct from the Kantian term “noumenon,” which is referred to as the unknowable “thing in itself.” It is also different from the notion of “substance,” as used in the Western intellectual history to mean ousia in Aristotle, God in Descartes, or the absolute in Hegel. Moreover, it has deviated from the usage of benti in neo-Confucianism, where it would be employed to indicate such things as the primary essence of the ultimate void without form, the fundamental source of the heavenly principle of naturalness, the knowledge of good conscience in human mind, and so on. Recent discussions of this topic can be found in Qian Shangang, Benti zhi si yu ren de cunzai: Li Zehou sixiang yanjiu (Thinking of substance and human existence: A study of Li Zehou’s thoughts) (Hefei: Anhui University Press, 2011), 5–6; and Han Fengming, “ ‘Tianren heyi’ shi benti zhengming” (The justification of substance in view of “heaven-human oneness”), in Zhexue yanjiu ( Journal of philosophical research), no. 6 (2013): 46. 2. Li uses this term somewhat metaphorically to mean “fundamental root” (bengen), which contains generative power or growing potential. For the emotion of humankind is so vital to human living that it is correlated with the emergence of the human Dao (ren dao), the origin of psychological substratum (xinli benti), the mode of joy-conscious culture (legan wenhua), and the basis of aesthetic metaphysics (shenmei xingershangxue), among others. I hereby translate it as “emotional root” instead of “emotional substance,” owing to the account given in note 1 above. 3. Li Zehou, “Shitan Zhongguo de zhihui” (Some tentative remarks on China’s wisdom), in Zhongguo gudai sixiang shilun (On traditional Chinese intellectual history) (Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 1985), 299–322. Also see Li Zehou, Xinban Zhongguo gudai sixiang shilun (On traditional Chinese intellectual history, reprint) (Tianjin: Tianjin Academy of Social Sciences Press, 2008), 234–255. Its selected passages in English translation are available in M. E. Sharpe, trans., “Contemporary Chinese Thought: Li Zehou,” Translation and Studies 31, no. 2 (2000): 44–65. 4.  Li Zehou, “Guanyu ‘shiyong lixing’ ” (About “pragmatic reason) [1993], in Shiyong lixing yu legan wenhua (Pragmatic reason and a culture of optimism) (Beijing: Sanlian shudian, 2005), 325–332. 5.  Li offers his English rendering of legan wenhua as “culture of optimism.” However, he once brought forth this notion in contrast to zuigan wenhua, as “sin-conscious culture” with regard to the Western tradition that is Christianized by the deep-set conception of original sin. In addition, he is aware that legan wenhua is tridimensional in Chinese heritage, whose interpretation is to be discussed later. I therefore tend to translate legan wenhua as “joy-conscious culture” according to the Chinese tradition proper, even though it is characteristic of some kind of optimism as regards its hidden and positive stance toward varied possibilities of human living. 6. Li, Zhongguo gudai sixiang shilun, 329.

View of Pragmatic Reason


7. Li Zehou, Li Zehou jinnian dawenlu (Interviews with Li Zehou from 2004 to 2006) (Tianjin: Tianjin Academy of Social Sciences, 2006), 205. 8. Li, “Some Tentative Remarks,” excerpts in Sharpe, “Contemporary Chinese Thought,” 49. Also see the original text: Li, “Shitan Zhongguo de zhihui,” 305–306. 9. Li, “Some Tentative Remarks,” excerpts in Sharpe, “Contemporary Chinese Thought,” 50. 10. Ibid. 11.  Li, “Guanyu ‘shiyong lixing,’ ” 331–332. 12. Li, “Some Tentative Remarks,” excerpts in Sharpe, “Contemporary Chinese Thought,” 50. 13.  Li, “Shitan Zhongguo de zhihui,” 243. The translation is from Sharpe, “Con­tem­ po­rary Chinese Thought,” 51. 14. Li Zehou, Lishi bentilun (Historical ontology) (2002; reprint, Beijing: Sanlian shudian, 2005); and Li, Shiyong lixing yu legan wenhua. 15. Li, Lishi bentilun, 43. 16.  Ibid., 49–51. 17. Ibid., 92. In the 2006 edition of the book, the Chinese expression “renlei lishi de benti” should be “renlei de lishi cunzai,” according to the context concerned. 18. Li, Shiyong lixing yu legan wenhua, 108. 19. Li, Lishi bentilun, 10. Li Zehou keeps this book of his in a very important position. He sometimes refers to it by alternate titles: Renleixue bentilun (Anthropological ontology) and Renleixue lishi bentilun (Anthropological historical ontology). 20.  Ibid., 13. 21.  The Chinese notion of mei is semantically closer to the Greek idea of kallos, because it is tridimensional: First, it refers to something beautiful in terms of its fair shape or appearance; second, to some moral conduct that is judged in terms of goodness or righteousness; and third, to some virtuous and higher personality ascribed to a kind of nobility. 22. Li, Shiyong lixing yu legan wenhua, 42. 23. Li, Lishi bentilun, 408. 24. Li, Shiyong lixing yu legan wenhua, 71–72. 25. Li, Lishi bentilun, 108. 26. Li, Shiyong lixing yu legan wenhua, 55. 27. Li Zehou, “Zhexue tanxun lu” (An inquiry into philosophy) [1994], in Shiyong lixing yu legan wenhua, 187. 28. Li, Shiyong lixing yu legan wenhua, 70. 29. Li Zehou, “Shuo ren de ziranhua” (About the naturalization of the human), in Lishi bentilun. 30.  Li Zehou, “Ke xuwu yi zeyou” (An autobiography of Li Zehou) [2003], in Shiyong lixing yu legan wenhua, 364. 31. Li, Lishi bentilun, 125. 32.  Li Zehou, Lunli xue (Ethics) (Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 2010), 189. 33.  Li Zehou, “Shuo lishi beiju” (About the tragedy of history), in Lishi bentilun, 234. 34. Li Zehou, “Guanyu bentixing de buchong shuoming” (A supplementary explication of subjectality) [1983], in Shiyong lixing yu legan wenhua, 231.


Li Zehou’s Reconception of Confucian Philosophy

35.  Ibid., 230–231. 36. Li, Shiyong lixing yu legan wenhua, 45. 37.  Ibid., 53–54. 38.  Ibid., 111. 39. Li, Lishi bentilun, 123. 40. Li Zehou, “Of Human Nature and Aesthetic Metaphysics,” in Diversity and Universality in Aesthetics, ed. Wang Keping, IAA International Yearbook of Aesthetics 14 (2010): 4–5. 41.  Ibid., 8. 42.  Ibid., 11–12. 43.  Ibid., 13. 44.  Li, “Ke xuwu yi zeyou,” 371. 45. Ibid. 46.  Ibid., 357. 47. Albert Einstein, “Principles of Research,” in Ideas and Opinions, ed. Carl Seelig, trans. Sonja Barmann (New York: WINGS Books, 1954), 225. It is the address delivered at a celebration of Max Planck’s sixtieth birthday (1918) before the Physical Society in Berlin, first published in Einstein’s Mein Weltbild (Amsterdam: Querido Verlag, 1934). Max Planck (1858–1947) was for many years professor of theoretical physics at the University of Berlin. By far the most outstanding of his contributions to physics is his quantum theory, which he advanced in 1900 and which has provided the basis for the whole development of modern atomic physics. 48. Li, Lishi bentilun. Also see Li Zehou, Lishi bentilun / Jimao wu shuo (Historical ontology / Five essays from 1999) (2003; reprint, Beijing: Sanlian shudian, 2006), front page, 111. 49.  Einstein, “Principles of Research,” 225. 50. Ibid.


Li Zehou’s Aesthetics Moving On after Kant, Marx, and Confucianism LIU Zaifu

An Aesthetical View with Philosophical and Historical Depth

If it is agreed that Li Zehou’s thoughts on beauty form a systematic aesthetics, then the next question is, What is the pivot of this system? In other words, what is the general characteristic of Li’s aesthetics? I would say that Li’s aesthetics is the aesthetics of a philosopher. Even though it contains the aesthetics of an artist, the general characteristic of this aesthetics is its philosophical and historical depth. Therefore, when Li defines beauty, his definition is not a definition from the perspective of the arts; it is, rather, a definition from the perspective of philosophy and history. I began my academic life with the study of literature; therefore I am quite sensitive to concepts of imagery. In order to explain more fully the thesis I propose, I will illustrate it with Nietzsche’s aesthetics of man and woman. One caveat has to be added here, which is that Li is not fond of Nietzsche and thus might not approve of this approach. Li says: Nietzsche holds that if the arts and aesthetics were to be studied from the viewpoint of the receiver—that is, the one who appreciates beauty—then there would be only an aesthetics of woman. Nietzsche stresses that the study of aesthetics should proceed from the viewpoint of the creator— that is, to study the creation of art from the perspective of will to power. I do not agree with this view. In fact, Kantian aesthetics, in which Nietzsche finds much to criticize, has already distinguished between genius 255


Li Zehou’s Aesthetical Theory and Confucianism

and taste. Kant holds that creation needs genius; otherwise the result can only be mediocre. However, taste is comparatively more important.1

Here, Li discusses Nietzsche’s conception of a “feminine” aesthetics. He does not like what Nietzsche says for two reasons. First, Nietzsche advocates a chauvinism that shows contempt for the female; second, aesthetics should include the perspective of creators as well as that of viewers. Neither the creation of the genius nor the aesthetic taste of the audience should be overlooked. Without aesthetic taste, whence comes the creation of the genius? Obviously, Nietzsche goes to extremes. Nevertheless, if we take “masculine aesthetics” to refer to the spirit of philosophical and historical depth, while “feminine aesthetics” refers to appreciation, then it can be said that Li’s aesthetics is truly a “masculine aesthetics” (of course, this is only imagery borrowing without involving any gender discrimination). In other words, Li’s aesthetic grip is at once Platonic, Kantian, and Hegelian. He defines beauty from philosophical and historical perspectives in terms of “the construction of emotion as substance,” and the focus of his discussion is “the essence of beauty” rather than “the object of appreciation.” That is to say, instead of dwelling on particular aesthetic qualities, such as expression, transference, distance, symmetry, and rhythm, what he discusses is exactly the philosophy of beauty. Li expressly states as much: As to the process from the aesthetic object to the essence of beauty, it is a question of multiple levels, which cannot be jumbled together. In fact, more than two thousand years ago, Plato raised this distinction. He said that beauty was not a beautiful woman, nor a beautiful vase. That is to say, beauty is neither a particular aesthetic object nor an aesthetic quality; it is, rather, the idea of beauty—that is, “beauty itself.” Hegel praises Plato in Lectures on the Philosophy of Fine Art, where he says that “Plato, in a deeper way, began to demand of philosophical inquiry that its objects should be understood not in their particularity but in their universality.” Whitehead says that philosophy is a series of footnotes to Plato. In other words, philosophy merely continues the effort of answering the philosophical questions Plato raised. To some extent, it can be said that this book [Li’s Pragmatic Reason] also attempts to solve the philosophical question of beauty that Plato raised by means of the theory of a practical philosophy of subjectality (that is, anthropological ontology). It is a study of the nature of universal necessity and the origin of beauty.2

Here we can locate Li’s difference from Zhu Guangqian 朱光潛. Thirtytwo years Li’s senior, Zhu Guangqian is the first Chinese scholar in the twen-



tieth century to distinguish himself in the study of beauty. He also discusses the relation between creation and appreciation; his well-known statement is expressed in the following two passages: Beauty does not lie merely in the object, nor merely in the heart. It lies in the relation between the heart and the object. . . . The heart manifests its delight through the form of the object. . . . Creation manifests its delight through imagery; it can be said that delight is given image, while in appreciation, which takes delight in perceived image, the image becomes delightful expression. Therefore, beauty is that which the heart feels the “just right” [qianhao 恰好] pleasure upon seeing the delight given image, or seeing the delightful expression of image. Creation contains appreciation, while appreciation in turn contains creation. For instance, in composing “While gathering chrysanthemums at the eastern hedge, leisurely I cast my gaze to behold the Southern Mountain,” Tao Yuanming would have first realized a particular delight. . . . Only when he felt it to be delightful did he want to retain traces of the delight by means of conveying it in characters and communicating the delight to others. When this poem is printed on paper, it is merely some signs. . . . If I feel it is beautiful, I have to recognize these characters and see his intention and delight in these characters. In other words, I have to transport myself to the place where Tao wrote this poem. . . . Tao transforms delight into imagery, then into signs, whereas I transform signs into imagery, then into delight.3

From these crucial passages, we become clear about two points. First, Zhu defines appreciation as the origin of aesthetic sense. That is, appreciation brings about delight, and the manifestation of delight in imagery brings about beauty. Second, he defines beauty as creation (imagery) subsequent to appreciation. Therefore, the essence of beauty resides in the interaction (relation) between these two. Here attention should be paid to the implication of creation in Zhu’s theory, which is an example of expressing delight by means of signs and images. The activity of creating literature and art is a cycle of appreciation transforming into a work of art and a work of art being appreciated. If appreciation is the realization of beauty, then a work of art is the materialization of beauty. In this way, beauty and aesthetic sense become the same, without any distinction. To Nietzsche, this theory would be a “feminine” aesthetics. On the other hand, Li first of all makes a very clear distinction between beauty and the sense of beauty, in terms of which he criticizes Western aestheticians:


Li Zehou’s Aesthetical Theory and Confucianism

Many Western aestheticians take beauty to be the object of aesthetics, while the object of aesthetics is in fact the result of imposing an aesthetic attitude (mental state) onto a material object. Therefore, they think that beauty is created by the sense of beauty, and [that] the sense of beauty and beauty are the same thing. It cannot be right to explain in this way the origin of beauty, though it makes some sense as an explanation of the phenomena of aesthetic sense. Ugly objects, because of the mediation of the aesthetic attitude, can also become aesthetic objects. Moreover, the same object, because of different aesthetic mentalities, can be beautiful and not beautiful at the same time to different persons or can be at one time beautiful and at another time not beautiful to the same person. I cannot submit to a theory of mechanical reflection; I lay stress on the initiative of subjective consciousness in aesthetic activities. However, the question of initiative is not simply solved by drawing an equal sign between the aesthetic object and the source of beauty or between beauty and the sense of beauty. On the contrary, I always hold that the course from the essence and origin of beauty (a philosophical question) to phenomena (including many psychological questions) is not as straightforward and simple as it appears to be. Special attention should be paid to many important issues in the transition from one to the other. . . . Plato hoped to find the idea of beauty, thinking that a thing becomes a beautiful object when the idea pours into it. . . . As I said earlier, one should make a distinction between these two questions: how does beauty fundamentally arise (a question concerning the essence and origin of beauty), and why do you have the feeling of beauty about a certain thing? That is to say, why is a thing an aesthetic object for you (or for an individual or for a group of a certain society or era)?4

From this passage, we can grasp that the overall characteristic of Li’s aesthetics is to search for the idea of beauty. That is, he treads the path of Platonic philosophy to explore the origin and universality of beauty. Li has reflected for thirty years on this general theme—that is, “how beauty arises in its origin, and how it is possible.” The question of why we have the feeling of beauty for an object is his secondary concern. In the 1950s the aesthetic debate in mainland China was largely a debate between Li Zehou and Zhu Guangqian. In Li’s opinion, Zhu’s theory of the relation between the aesthetic object and the aesthetic sense and of psychology of literature and art is merely a theory of the phenomena of beauty and aesthetic methodology. It could not be called a philosophy of beauty, or in other words, it is not an ontology of aesthetics. Li’s ambition in aesthetics is to realize an ontology of beauty that can finally solve the riddle of the philosophy of beauty by verifying the idea of beauty, which Plato proposed yet was unable to defend successfully. Li himself has never voiced this ambi-



tion, yet one can discern the boldness of vision in his writing. In recent years, he has been revising over and over again his aesthetic arguments in order to give them more depth and succinctness. He repeatedly gives explanations about “establishing a new sensibility,” about “constructing emotion as substance,” and framing an aesthetic mathematical formula. All these efforts expound on the “idea of beauty” as he understands it. He amplifies the outlook and thought level of aesthetics and gives it historical depth. As a result, the conception of the essence and origin of beauty is no longer constrained by the immediate aesthetic object, aesthetic experience, and aesthetic attitude; rather, it deals directly with the question of how it is possible that human beings, after having broken free from the animal realm (the natural world), come to have an aesthetic sense. In other words, the fundamental concern of Li’s aesthetics is the question of the origin of beauty and the sense of beauty. In order to illuminate the central point of Li’s aesthetics, let us review his definition of aesthetics: In the aesthetic realm, the word “beauty” has several meanings, or several folds of meaning. The first is the aesthetic object, the second are the aesthetic qualities, and the third is the essence and origin of beauty. Therefore, close attention has to be paid to which aspect of meaning the word “beauty” refers to. Does your use refer to the aesthetic qualities of the object? Or to a particular aesthetic object? Or to the origin of beauty? Hence, when posing the question “What is beauty?,” if you are asking what a beautiful thing, a beautiful object, is, then it is basically a question about the aesthetic object. If you are asking in what objective qualities, elements, and conditions the beauty of an object or thing consists, then it is a question about aesthetic qualities. If you are asking what these aesthetic qualities become, how beauty originally arises, and how beauty is fundamentally possible, this is the question about “the essence of beauty.”5

In order that he might make this point more salient, Li drew a chart to illustrate his definition of beauty (fig. 11.1). Once having grasped these implications of beauty, we can comprehend that the central point of Li’s aesthetics is not to investigate the aesthetic object and aesthetic qualities per se; rather, it is to understand the essence and origin of beauty. Therefore, in this sense, Li’s aesthetics can also be called genetic aesthetics. Since the word “essence” in “the essence of beauty” results in ambiguity and can easily be misunderstood, Li adopted another expression, “the origin of beauty,” when he discussed the essence of beauty in later years. The logic in adopting the new term is that once the root of beauty is located, the essence of beauty cannot be anywhere else but in the same spot. So what, then, is the root of beauty? How is beauty gen-


Li Zehou’s Aesthetical Theory and Confucianism

Figure 11.1. Li Zehou’s definition of beauty.

erated? How should we define beauty? These questions have been troubling Li and compelling him to search for an answer. His answer is the well-known philosophical and historical thesis: the humanization of nature. Li has time and again expounded on this thesis: Then, where on earth is the root of beauty? The root (or origin) is the “humanization of nature,” a theory I have been advocating. I regard the theory of humanization of nature as a concrete expression or application of Marxist practical philosophy in aesthetics (though not confined to aesthetics). In other words, the essence and origin of beauty come from practice, and thereby some attributes and forms of objective things acquire aesthetic qualities. These objects eventually become aesthetic objects. This is an aesthetic view of a practical philosophy of subjectality (anthropological ontology).6

He has also stated: That “nature evolves for the human” is a profound philosophical thesis. This question also precisely locates the essence of beauty. The unity of opposites between nature and humanity is historically sedimented in



aesthetic psychological phenomena. It is the achievement of particular emotions that make a human human and mark the difference between the human and the animal; it is a condensed manifestation of the humanization of nature and the objectification of the human. Hence, from the viewpoint of a materialistic theory of practice, there is no need of God and teleology in order to bridge the gap between knowledge and ethics, nature and humanity, or the whole (society) and the individual. All that is needed is aesthetics. Among the trinity—the true, the good, and the beautiful—the beautiful is the unity of the first two, and it is a historical achievement resulting from the interaction of the first two. Beauty is more than a question of appreciating the artwork or the artistic creation. It is rather a fundamental philosophical and historical question: the humanization of nature. That is why aesthetics is not merely some principles or psychology of art.7

Li defines the essence and the root of beauty as the humanization of nature. This definition implies the genesis of beauty as well as the philosophical and historical characteristic of his aesthetics. Hence, grasping the concept of the humanization of nature is the key to the whole scheme of Li’s aesthetics. As to this concept, Li sometimes explains it in simple terms: “The humanization of nature has a dual nature—that is, the technical-social world and the ­psychological-cultural world. To put it briefly, it is the objective technicalsocial substance and the subjective psychological substance.”8 That is to say, the humanization of nature proceeds in two directions: one is the humanization of external nature that brings about a technical-social world, while the other is the humanization of inner nature that brings about a psychological-cultural world. The root of beauty is the humanization of external nature. In other words, human beings create beauty through the labor and the use of tools—that is, in the material, practical activities of transforming the world. In the context of Chinese discussions about aesthetics (the aesthetic debate), Li stresses that even though his opponents also attempt to talk about practice, about “the objectification of the essence of human,” and even about “the humanization of nature,” the implication of their arguments is wholly different. He says that the sorts of practice and humanization of nature his opponents (including Zhu) talk about are actually activities of imagination and consciousness. What they dwell on is the artistic and spiritual practice, whereas the practice Li refers to is the labor of material production, which is the historical practice of transforming the world. In his Four Essays on Aesthetics, he thus criticizes Zhu: That the objectification of humanity’s subjective consciousness, wish, imagination, emotions, and will (that is, humanity’s intrinsic strength)


Li Zehou’s Aesthetical Theory and Confucianism

into symbols, signs, and artworks—that is, the unification of the subjective (consciousness) and the objective—produces beauty. I cannot bring myself to submit to this view. That being said, I do not mean to say that subjective will, emotions, and thought are of no importance. What I do mean is that from the philosophical perspective, they cannot function on the level of the ultimate origin of beauty but are effective only on the phenomenal level of beauty—that is, on the level of constituting the aesthetic object.9

Thus, the search for the ultimate origin of beauty gives historical depth to Li’s grasp of the philosophy of beauty. He steps beyond the experience of beauty and the sense of beauty in everyday life. When reflecting on the root of beauty and the sense of beauty, he does not stop at the mundane level of aesthetic experience. Rather, he investigates the genesis of beauty in association with the genesis of the human, and the essence of beauty in association with the essence of the human. In so doing, he leaves a traceable clue in his aesthetics. That is, he maintains that beauty is not created by the aesthetic sense; rather, it is created by the historical practice of human beings. In other words, beauty is not a product of the aesthetic sense. It is the fruit of history—the fruit of the sedimentation of humanity in the course of historical practice, or the fruit of the humanization of nature. The humanization of external nature produces techno-social structure and technology, while the humanization of inner nature produces culturalpsychological formation, human nature, and emotion as substance. Li’s theory of historical ontology is actually about these dual substances, while the ultimate reality is emotion as substance. In Outline of My Philosophy, he concludes that emotion is the ultimate reality, which is to say that he sees the humanization of inner nature as the ultimate reality. In recent years, he has been emphasizing the construction of a new sensibility, highlighting the humanization of inner nature. His main concern is to investigate the origin of the aesthetic sense. In Pragmatic Reason and a Culture of Optimism, he states: That which I call “new sensibility” refers to the psychological substance that humankind itself has constructed in the course of history. It is still a sort of animal physiological sensibility, yet it differs from animal psychology. It is the fruit of the humanization of the human flesh—that is, of the physiological sensibility. That is why I also call it “the humanization of inner nature.” . . . The humanization of nature has two aspects. First, it concerns external nature—that is, the mountains, rivers, and territories. It refers to the achievement of the whole history that humans have produced directly or indirectly through the transformation of nature by means of their labor. Moreover, it mainly refers to the changes that have



occurred in the objective relationship between nature and humans. Second, it is the humanization of inner nature—that is, the humanization of emotions, needs, senses, wishes, and even the sense organs of the human being. It enables the inner nature of physiology to be transformed into human. This is the molding of human nature. . . . Aesthetically, the former (the humanization of external nature) allows the objective world to attain the reality of beauty, while the latter (the humanization of inner nature) allows the psychology of the subject to acquire aesthetic emotion. The former is the essence of beauty, while the latter the essence of the sense of beauty. Both are achieved through the whole course of social practical history.10

Li’s theory of the humanization of nature contains two aspects: the root of beauty and the root of the sense of beauty, yet the center of gravity is clearly the latter. Hence, we should be able to go the extreme to say that the nub of Li’s aesthetics is his theory of aesthetic sense. He makes an effort to construct a Platonic “idea of beauty,” which is actually the idea of aesthetic sense, the idea of new sensibility. It is clear from what has been said that Li’s aesthetics endeavors first to solve the question of how beauty is fundamentally possible, then to solve the question of how the human sense of beauty is fundamentally possible. Although both are philosophical questions, the former focuses mainly on the philosophy of history, while the latter focuses on the philosophy of human nature and has greater bearing on literature and the arts. Concerning the latter, a brief outline of Li’s thoughts can be phrased as follows: Human nature is not innate or sent by Heaven, nor is the sense of beauty innate or sent by Heaven. The sense of beauty arises from the humanization of sense organs and desires. The socalled humanization of sense organs refers to the humanization of the ears, eyes, mouth, nose, and tongue of the human being. The sense organs of the animal are entirely utilitarian, with everything being for its survival, while the sense organs of the human, although to some degree inevitably controlled by bodily desires, have nevertheless gradually broken free from utilitarian constraints during the long history of humanization, so that by now they are no longer merely bodily sense organs serving individual survival. They are, rather, a sort of social product. That is why Li also calls the sense of beauty a sociality of sensibility. As Li puts it, “What aesthetics intends to solve is precisely the sociality of sensibility.” We can take this statement as his way of saying that what aesthetics intends to solve is the raising of human bodily sense organs up to the level of sociality and fine human nature. For instance, it is to raise up the ear with which animals hear sounds to the ear with which the human listens to music; it is to raise up the eye with which animals see things to the eye with which the human sees


Li Zehou’s Aesthetical Theory and Confucianism

beauty; it is to raise up the teeth and tongue with which animals eat to the teeth and tongue with which the human feels joy and pleasure in tasting delicious food. This is the first aspect of the humanization of inner nature. The second aspect is the humanization of desires, the cultivation or molding of bodily animal desires. As the old saying goes, humanity has seven emotions and six desires. It is the nature of human beings to have desires, including sexual desire. If sexuality is merely a sort of desire, a utilitarian desire for producing offspring, then it would be the same as an animal instinct. Only when it is raised up from natural instinct could sexual desire turn into love, which allows the natural relationship to become a distinctively human relationship. As a result, natural organs become aesthetic organs. Only at this level does the human acquire a genuine feeling of freedom. The humanization of inner nature is precisely the essence of beauty and the origin of the sense of beauty. If it can be said that Kant’s view of aesthetics contributes a classical definition of beauty as nonutilitarian, then Li’s view of aesthetics, which rises above the animal body and its needs and enjoyment, contributes a definition of beauty as transcending natural instinct. When pondering Li Zehou’s theory of the essence of aesthetic sense, I am often reminded of some passages in Cao Xueqin’s Dream of the Red Chamber (Honglou meng 紅樓夢). It occurs to me that in that novel Jia Baoyu 賈寶 玉 is originally a piece of stone. After having been inspirited with a soul, he is embodied with a human form and comes to live in the human world. At the beginning he is full of natural desires. He is fond of licking rouge off the cheeks of maids and ogling the full bosom of his cousin Xue Baochai 薛寶釵. Nevertheless, under the imperceptible influence of another cousin, Lin Daiyu 林黛玉, his bodily desires aspire upward toward true love, and his love becomes increasingly genuine and profound, until he eventually becomes a man of poetic sentiments with a compassionate heart. I distinguish four levels of the implications of Dream of the Red Chamber—the levels of desire, of emotion, of the soul, and of emptiness. The humanization of inner nature is the process of desire transforming into emotion, and emotion transforming into the soul. At the level of emptiness humans scrutinize from a metaphysical height their own desire, emotion, and soul. This emptiness is a philosophical reflection of the humanization of nature. Historical Ontology: The Complement of Marxism and Kantianism

The concepts “humanization of nature” and “nature evolving for humanity” are actually the essence and origin of beauty. Beauty is not simply a question of appreciation or the creation of artistic works; it is a fundamental philosophical and historical question. Li Zehou expressly argues for this crucial thought in



chapter 10 of his Critique of Critical Philosophy. In that chapter, one can find his conclusion on the theory of the essence of beauty. The conception that “nature evolving for humanity” sees humanity as the ultimate end of nature as a whole (and here “human” refers to “the cultural-moral human”) is a Kantian thesis. As a consequence of this grand thesis, yet another more complex and profound question arises—namely, that of how nature evolves for humanity (or how nature transforms in the direction of humanity) and what the mediator of the transformation is. These are the very questions that troubled Kant. In his resolve to answer these questions, Li endeavors to move on after Kant and to find a different solution. Li’s work on Kantian philosophy is titled Critique of Critical Philosophy, because Kantian philosophy is called critical philosophy. Attempting to move on after Kant, Li proceeds by way of an innovation of the critical philosophy. So, with what critical weapon does Li arm himself ? What is his philosophy of innovation? In Li’s works, this weapon seems to be Marx’ historical materialism, or the theory of practice. However, an alert reader would further discover that this weapon is actually of Li’s singular innovation, his historical ontology. As I mentioned above, this historical ontology is not simply a replication of historical materialism. Rather, it entirely discards such doctrines as an economic base determining the superstructure, relations of production, and class struggle. It only builds on the more solid premise and basis of historical materialism, which is that only after having satisfied all the material necessities (clothing, food, housing, and transportation) could humans engage in spiritual construction (culture, ideas, ideology, and so on). Li never dwells on concepts such as relations of production. His only concern is the great historical impact of the making and transforming of the tools of production. The human race creates an external techno-social substance through the practical activities of improving tools, as well as creating cultural-psychological substance, especially emotional substance. Kant laid special emphasis on the latter, whereas Li, before setting out to “reform” Kant, has already “reformed” Marx’ historical materialism. In other words, Li employs Kant’s doctrine of subjectality to complement Marx. Then Li goes on to critique Kant, by turning to innovation. Critique of Critical Philosophy is the fruit of this critical project. If one were to express the thesis of this work in one succinct sentence, it would be that Li transforms Kant’s grand question, “How is knowledge possible?” into his own grand question, “How is humanity possible?” In other words, Li’s goal is to transform Kantian epistemology into an anthropological historical ontology. Li’s project of critique and reformation is rather intricate. This project involves both an assimilation and a rejection of the Kantian aesthetic system, as it shifts the foundation of the whole system of aesthetics from the transcen-


Li Zehou’s Aesthetical Theory and Confucianism

dental to the practical. Moreover, Li adopts, discards, and reforms Marx’ materialistic view of history. As a student of aesthetics, I know intimately from my research experience that the upmost matter for a scholar is to take care not to get trapped in a net of concepts, be they concepts of Kant, Marx, or Li. What one needs is a penetrating reading of the text in order to grasp the central question, How is it possible that nature evolves for humanity? Kant answers that it is made possible by transcendental aesthetic judgment. This so-called judgment is a faculty constituted by the purposiveness of nature in association with the subjective feeling of pleasure in humans. In other words, it is a progress from pure beauty to dependent beauty, from the object to the subject, from the necessity of nature to cultural and moral activities of the free spirit. This is the mediator (bridge) for nature evolving for humanity. Li holds that Kant’s answer is actually a solution from the point of view of subjective idealism. He argues, “Such an approach—regarding aesthetics as a form of subjective purposiveness—cannot possibly solve the grand question of nature evolving toward the human.”11 The question that concerns Li most is why nature, which is usually limited to casual necessity, could evolve for humanity with subjective purposiveness. In answering this grand question, Li criticizes Kant’s teleology for assuming that the faculty of judgment relies on a transcendental and mystic psychological power, which causes Kant to lean toward fideism, toward religion and God, and toward a spiritual world of the mystics, eventually leading him to return to a belief in the teleology of nature. Li puts forward a superb criticism in this regard in the section “On Humanity as the Ultimate End of Nature” in Critique of Critical Philosophy. He argues that a teleological question is implied when we ask why a thing exists. However, a teleological explanation cannot be found in nature itself. Therefore, all that Kant could do was to hope for an “intellectual being possessed of a supersensibility.” This being possesses an intellectual intuition, which is not shared by human beings. However, such a transcendent hypothesis belongs to the so-called noumenal world. In other words, natural beings and their organic laws belong to the unknowable world of supersensibility (where teleology and mechanism are combined into one). In this way, in the Kantian conception, the final cause of the world and the whole of nature is a hypothetical “designer”: God. That makes teleology more than a mere regulative principle for inquiring nature. It actually directs us to a supersensible substratum. In so doing, Kant invites God back in the epistemological perspective. That is, he approaches God by a detour through nature and approaches teleology by a detour through mechanism. In the ethical perspective, he proceeds from a moral ontology toward a moral theology. It is at this point that Li begins his reform project. He affirms that humanity is the ultimate end of nature and that it is by relying, not on the psycho-



logical function of intellectual intuition, but on social and practical activities, with the improvement of tools as their main content, that humanity as a whole attains freedom and liberation from nature—that is, moves forward from the realm of necessity to the realm of freedom. Humanity is a historical being, while nature evolves for humanity and the humanization of nature is a historical achievement, or what humanity attains in the great practical activities that transform the natural world (external nature) and transform humanity itself (inner nature) in the long course of history. By the term “historical sedimentation” Li means that humanity (the subject), in its practical activities in the course of history, internalizes reason in its psychological emotion as substance; meanwhile, humanity externalizes reason in a techno-social substance. In other words, society, history, and reason sediment into the individual sensibility and intuition. The so-called intellectual intuition is in fact also a historical product, of practice as well as of sedimentation. Consequently, the conception of nature evolving for humanity no longer depends on a supersensible designer but depends only on itself—that is, on the historical practical activities of the subject. Thus, Li brings the basis of Kantian philosophy from the ether down to earth. He shifts the transcendental to the practical, and the process of judgment to the process of history. In short, epistemology and teleology are replaced by historical ontology. Li’s critical reform project is actually a complementary and interactive project between the theories of Marx and Kant. In its January 2007 issue, the magazine Reading published an interview with Li entitled “Moving On after Kant and Marx” (Xun Kangde, Makesi qianxing 循康德, 馬克思前行). In the interview, Li plainly states that his starting point is Kant and Marx. The subtlety of placing Kant before Marx implies a chronology as well as a revision of the former with the aid of the latter, though it cannot demonstrate his own grand line of thought—from constructing a techno-social formation to constructing a cultural-psychological formation. Therefore, he told me in a conversation in March 2015: Although I do talk about the philosophy of art and aesthetic psychology, my main concern is with these questions: How does the aesthetic sense arise? How is beauty possible? What is the origin of beauty? I want to change the expression “moving on after Kant and Marx” to “moving on after Marx and Kant,” which is to say that I am going not from Kant to Marx but from Marx to Kant—that is, from Marx’ techno-social formation to Kant’s cultural-psychological formation. It still is the same general line of thought on humanity as the subject of practice. Kant is singular; he demonstrates that God and religion are matters of emotions. The existence of God cannot be proved by reason, and it is not a question


Li Zehou’s Aesthetical Theory and Confucianism

that epistemology can solve. It is a hypothesis for the satisfaction of the emotions. It is because he raised the [question of ] cultural-psychological formation—that is, the question of human nature—that one can describe Kant’s conception as a transcendental psychology. However, this question still needs further investigation and discussion. Human nature is not given by God, nor is it innate or biological. Quite the contrary, it is the humanization of nature that is sedimented in the course of history (in regard to the human race) and by means of education (in regard to the individual). Therefore, I see the human race as a historical being, in both its external and inner aspects. That is also what I mean by the concept of the humanization of inner nature. I conceived this thought in the 1960s and ’70s.

This confession of Li’s is extremely important. It shows clearly that he is not simply employing Marx’ ideas to reform Kant, nor the other way around. Rather, he conceives his own theory of historical ontology and acknowledges the significance of Kant’s raising the question of humanity’s cultural-­psychological formation: what makes humans human? Meanwhile, he gives an answer to the question that Kant deems unanswerable. Up until this point, Li has talked only about the move from Kant to Marx (or from Marx to Kant). He has not mentioned Hegel. However, Hegelian philosophy greatly influenced Li’s theory of aesthetics, with its pronounced lean toward philosophy and history. Therefore, in studying Li’s aesthetics, one cannot overlook Hegelian philosophy, even though when Li lays stress on sensibility, the individual, and intuition (the footings of sedimentation), he momentarily puts aside Hegel. Li also gives an explanation for his neglect of Hegel: I think that one of the features of philosophy from Kant through Schiller and Feuerbach to Marx is that they grasped “sensibility.” That is why I want to bypass Hegel. One of the themes at an international academic conference this year was “Kant or Hegel?” [ June 1981, Stuttgart]. I would answer, “Both!” . . . I myself have been deeply influenced by Hegel. The greatest aspect of Hegelian philosophy is his grand sense of history. I find the soul of his dialectics is his grand sense of history, while that which Marx grasps fast is also this grand sense of history. This is also what we now need to learn from Hegel. However, there is much sophistry in Hegelian philosophy. In Philosophy of Fine Art, one finds many rather forced arguments. Because of his sophistry, he is able to put forward an argument for whatever topic, and his argument is inevitably interspersed with subjective stuff. In this respect, I find that Kant is more honest, admitting his igno-



rance whenever he encounters something that he does not know. There is no doubt that Hegel’s sense of history, his view of the development of human history as a totality, and his emphasis on necessity and reason are well founded. Marx accepts his view. This aspect is worthy of being spoken of highly and studied thoroughly. This view of his is profound because he stands on the height of the whole of human history to observe and perceive every question. On the other hand, Hegel does not pay enough attention to the sensible, the contingent, and the individual. All these things disappear into Hegel’s historical sense of totality. How come existentialism rises to prominence? It is a refusal of Hegelian philosophy. Every human being possesses individuality and exists in finite time and space. This is a realistic existence. The human is a material existence of sensibility that cannot entirely be regarded as a being of idea.12

Hence, in expounding on Li’s reform project, we need to bring in Hegel. Also, as I explain in “Li Zehou and the Journey of Beauty in Modern China,” an essay published eighteen years ago, Li’s philosophy is closely related to three German philosophers: Hegel, Kant, and Heidegger. If one were to judge by the extent of influence, then Li’s journey of philosophy can be traced as moving from Hegel to Kant to Heidegger, which is a course of assimilating, criticizing, and re-creating. Therefore, Hegel is the first influence. Li states time and again that history has two features. The first is its temporariness, referring to different eras, events, contingences, and so on. The second is its accumulativeness, referring to longterm historical sedimentation. Li’s aesthetics shows a weighty sense of history and pays meticulous attention to the sedimentation of history in the individual and to the values, significances, uniqueness, and richness of individual existence. Meanwhile, it firmly acknowledges that a universal form of psychology comes from the totality of human history. All these concepts are the fruits of Li’s study of Hegel. Not until the publication of Critique of Critical Philosophy does Li say farewell to Hegel and turn to embrace Kant. This book, written secretly in the time of the Cultural Revolution, allows Li’s aesthetic theory to rise to a new and higher level. On this point, I think it would be better to have him speak for himself: In my interpretation of the convergence of Marx and Kant, history becomes the mediator. The final question Kant posed was “What is man?” In his later years, Kant inclined toward anthropology; unfortunately he didn’t complete the “fourth Critique (of History)” as his philosophical terminus, which, on the other hand, becomes the theme of my historical ontology. The temporariness and accumulativeness of life-­history is my main concern.13


Li Zehou’s Aesthetical Theory and Confucianism

On this same point, Li also states: I have transmitted my philosophy in this book [Critique of Critical Philosophy]. At first, when I was studying aesthetics, I was mostly interested in Kant. As my research led me on, I expanded from his aesthetics to his epistemology, ethics, and philosophy of history. Then I found a link between Kant and Marx. I armed myself with a “practical philosophy of subjectality,” also termed “anthropological ontology” (I started to call it “historical ontology” in the beginning of this century, but with the same meaning) to counteract the orthodox ideology at that time. I posed the question “How is humanity possible?” to respond to Kant’s “How is knowledge possible?” (that is, how is a priori judgment of synthesis possible?). I maintain that the human production activities, at once material and social, are the essence and basis of human activities of knowledge and that a sensible explanation can be located only when epistemology is placed within ontology (a theory of existence concerning the human). I have grafted Piaget’s theory of cognitive development onto anthropology and developed a theory that has social activities and practices of making and using tools as its basic content and bears a significant relationship to the transcendental forms of knowledge in humanity. In other words, it is the “material” base of the universal forms. I use the [term] “objective sociality” of humanity to interpret Kant’s “universal necessity,” and hold that Kant’s transcendental reason of universal necessity does not exist. There can only be universal forms of human psychology—that is, the capacity of human nature, which is produced on the basis of material lifepractice and possessed of an objective sociality that is not a contract made by the subject. I have interpreted Kant’s transcendental forms as culturalpsychological formation that are historically formed through the lifepractice of the human race, to which I give the term “sedimentation.” I propose that sedimentation should be analyzed in three dimensions: that of the anthropological (shared by all human beings), the cultural (also shared by all human beings), and the individual. I hold that knowledge is an “internalization of reason,” which manifests what has accumulated in millions of years of evolution as seemingly transcendental forms of intuition in the empirical space and time, the logical forms of knowledge, and causality. I contend that ethics is the “solidification of reason,” which manifests that reason has suppressed and controlled desires and dominated and determined our perception and action. I indicate that aesthetics is the penetrating and melting of reason into sensibility. The theory of sedimentation focuses on the tension between reason and sensibility, society and nature, group and individual, history and psychology, as well



as how the former transforms into the latter. Finally, my theory emphasizes the uniqueness and creativity of the individual for the purpose of attaining human freedom, the free intuition of knowledge, the free will of ethics, the free enjoyment of aesthetics, and so on.14

I want to remind the reader to note in particular the last passage, which says that aesthetics is the penetrating and melting of reason into sensibility, while sedimentation makes this melting possible. In other words, Li has emphasized the tension between reason and sensibility, society and nature, group and individual, history and psychology, as well as how the former transforms into the latter and eventually applies to the uniqueness and creativity of the individual, which, in aesthetics, is the free enjoyment of appreciation of beauty. Li explicates in “On Aesthetics,” chapter 10 of Critique of Critical Philosophy, that this is the difference between Kant and Hegel. He states that the core, starting point, and base of the whole system of Kantian philosophy, which stands midway between the philosophies of Rousseau and Hegel, is in fact nothing other than the socialized human. On the one hand, the social human differs from the natural as conceived by Rousseau, Spinoza, and French materialism and is even further distinguished from the notion of God as it has been understood since the medieval age. On the other hand, it differs from Hegel’s absolute idea, which completely drowns the individual (the human). Kantian humanity, although regarding sociality abstractly as the transcendental essence, is nonetheless a sensible and individual being of nature. In other words, the merits of Kantian philosophy (including aesthetics) are not in a theory of pure sensibility (such as that of Rousseau), pure reason (such as that of Hegel), or the divine (such as that of Berkeley) but in its combination of reason and sensibility, and of sociality and intuition, and meanwhile in its application of sociality and reason onto the sensible and individual natural being. I also want to remind the reader the reason that Critique of Critical Philosophy was so titled is that it is Li’s critique of Kantian philosophy, rather than a mere commentary on or interpretation of Kant. Through critique, Li revises and reconstructs Kantian philosophy. The critical point of his critique is how to realize the application of reason to the uniqueness of the individual. This realization cannot be achieved by means of the Kantian approach—that is, by employing the faculty of judgment as the mediator (a bridge between reason and sensibility). It can be made possible only through the practice of subjectality. Li interprets each of Kant’s transcendental forms as a cultural-­psychological formation shaped by the life-practice of humanity. Moreover, he introduces sedimentation as the mediator. A psychological faculty is of no use in solving the problem. The solution can be found only in the sedimentation of historical practice. If one were to speak of materialism, this is truly a historical material-


Li Zehou’s Aesthetical Theory and Confucianism

ism, a materialism that is fully compatible with Marx’ historical materialism. Kant wishes to resolve the opposition between nature and society, knowledge and ethics, sensibility and reason. The ultimate method for unifying them is to find a transition between them, then to find a way to realize this transition. This process is itself a historical process: from natural humanity to moral humanity. However, for Kant its specific mediator or bridge is a particular psychological faculty in the human—the faculty of judgment—whereas for Li it is the historical practice of humanity. Grand Conception of Aesthetic Thought: Resembling the Dream of the Red Chamber

I have been searching for an expression that could adequately summarize the characteristics of Li Zehou’s aesthetic system. Having encountered such an aesthetics, I cannot help but attempt to give it a name. In recent years, I have been devoting myself to the study of Dream of the Red Chamber and to writing my book Philosophical Notes on “Dream of the Red Chamber” (published in 2008). I have made an interesting discovery, which is that Li’s aesthetic thought is rather close to that of Dream of the Red Chamber. Both can be termed an aesthetics of the grand (meaning “comprehensive”) view. Of course, Li’s aesthetics belongs to an entirely different category than that of Cao Xueqin. Cao’s aesthetics is that of an artist, an aesthetics of imagery and intuition, whereas Li’s is a philosophical, categorical, and logical aesthetics. Cao’s aesthetics is implicit in the text of Dream of the Red Chamber and is indirectly transmitted by images and imagery, while Li’s is directly stated. My research on Cao’s aesthetics endeavors to discover traces of his aesthetic thought, while as to Li’s aesthetics, I endeavor to offer some interpretation. Nevertheless, in spite of these differences, the general conception of their aesthetic thought is quite comparable. I find that they have three points in common. First, their aesthetic views are broader than their views of art. In other words, their aesthetic views are not merely about art but are also about values, human life, the world, and the cosmos. That is why I call both an aesthetics of the grand view. I take the name for Cao’s grand philosophical view from the name of the garden in the novel Grand View Garden (Daguan yuan 大觀園), which can also name an aesthetic perspective of the grand view. This perspective permeates the whole of the novel. Once one is equipped with this perspective, one can see emptiness in all appearances and realize the illusion of the appearances. One sees human tragedy as well as the absurdity of the human world. When we say that Li’s aesthetics is of philosophical and historical depth, this means his is an aesthetics of the grand view. Li time and again argues in his works on aesthetics that aesthetic sense has broader scope than the arts and developed earlier in



human history than the arts. Primitive people made tools, and aesthetic senses emerged in the course of making tools. However, tools are not works of art, for, besides being a sort of art, they also serve other purposes in other realms (such as religion, shamanistic activities, or material production). On the other hand, art connotes an aesthetic sense and creates meaningful forms by means of lines and rhythms. In this way, the products of our labor become art. Once art comes into being, it in turn nurtures our aesthetic sense. Dream of the Red Chamber implicitly conveys Cao’s view on literature and art through Lin Daiyu’s observations on poetry (as when she chats about poetry with Xiangling 香菱), Xue Baochai’s comments on paintings, Jia Baoyu’s talks about eulogies, and Grandma Jia’s criticism of literary conventions. Moreover, the aesthetic eye of Dream of the Red Chamber scrutinizes not only poetry and drama but also human beings, nature, youthful life, and even the cosmological order. Everything is an aesthetic object: up to the rock of the Three Lives and the Fairyland of Disenchanted Illusion, down to young girls’ tears and the lantern festival. In the same way, Li always states that it would narrow the realm of aesthetics were the appreciation of beauty limited to art alone. It is precisely because of such a thoroughgoing attitude of inquiry that he casts his aesthetic eye on the manifold relations between human beings, humans and nature, humans and history, humans and God, and humans and cosmology. Second, Both Cao and Li believe that beauty should replace religion. Anyone who has read Dream of the Red Chamber knows that Cao displays his adoration of beauty through the character Jia Baoyu, who is, to some extent, his own persona. We see his adorational attitude toward beauty in his adoration of young girls, youthfulness, and poetic life. Dream of the Red Chamber is a grand dirge about the devastation of the youthful life of the young girls in the Red Chamber. I want to adopt the Kantian paradigm to express the gist of Dream of the Red Chamber as “the starry heavens above and the girls on the earth.” Some scholars of the novel (such as Chen Tui 陳蛻 and Zhou Ruchang 周汝昌) have maintained that this masterwork is a sort of semireligious book. However, this novel is not a religious book, because one finds no gods or divinities in it. It attempts to replace the worship of divinities with the adoration of girls. In chapter 2 the author states through Jia Baoyu’s voice: “How extremely honorable and extremely pure are the two words nü er [girl]; they are more sublime than the venerable names of the Merciful Buddha and the Celestial Venerable of Primordial Lord.” Such a remarkable exclamation is Cao’s way to express his view that the adoration of young girls is to take the place of Buddhism and Daoism, and beauty the place of religion. Dream of the Red Chamber is deeply influenced by the doctrines of Chan Buddhism. A thread that runs throughout the book is the Chan concept “Arise from passion, and end with enlightenment.” This is the Chan worldview of replacing Buddha with enlightenment and replacing divini-


Li Zehou’s Aesthetical Theory and Confucianism

ties with liberation. In aesthetics, Cao attempts to replace the belief in divinities with the belief in beauty. Hence, instead of conjecturing that Cao wishes to put an end to belief, one should say that he urges a conversion. A fuller argument for this thesis can be found in my books “Honglou sishu” 紅樓四書 (Four books on the Red Chamber).15 Interestingly, Li Zehou himself is an atheist and wholly rejects religion. However, he believes, just as Cao Xueqin does, that there is an aesthetic realm that is higher than the moral realm. Moreover, Li believes there is a cosmological order that is higher than the order of the mundane world. This order is not a moral order; rather, it is an aesthetic order. He calls it the order of “the cooperation and coexistence of cosmological-natural materiality.” He holds that “the realm of heaven and earth” (Feng Youlan’s [馮友蘭] concept), which the Chinese have traditionally adored, is exactly the realm and order of this coexistence. Li argues that Kant insightfully indicates that religion is neither rational nor a reality but a kind of emotion. The Chinese stand in awe of heaven and earth, and such awe replaces the awe of God. In “Replace Religion with Aesthetic Education: The Import of Western Aesthetics” (chapter 6, section 2, of The Chinese Aesthetic Tradition), Li points out that this is exactly the train of thought in Confucian philosophy, as well as the philosophy of Wang Guowei 王國維 and Cai Yuanpei 蔡元培: Confucian philosophy does not establish a religion that transcends morality. It only has an aesthetics that transcends morality. It does not construct a divine ontology, but rather a theory of human nature (­psychological-emotional). It does not surrender to divine grace or salvation but resorts to the molding and shaping of human sorrow and solace. Were it to be said that Wang Guowei touched on this question with his pessimistic outlook, we could also say that Cai Yuanpei vigorously raised his proposal to replace religion with aesthetic education. In the same way that Wang took to heart Schopenhauer’s philosophy, Cai was deeply influenced by Kant. Additionally, comparable to Wang’s Confucian stance, Cai did not attempt to construct a moral theology like that of Kant; rather, he hoped to extract the emotional power and elements from religion and place them in the service of art, his substitute for religion. It might have been the case that they had different starting points for their theories: one is optimistic, while the other pessimistic; one is Kantian, the other Schopenhauerian. However, their endeavors in combining Western theories with Chinese tradition were nonetheless strikingly similar. [Both endeavored] [t]o replace religion with aesthetic education and employ aesthetics for the purpose of surpassing morality so as to attain the oneness of heaven and human, to surpass finite



desires, passions, hopes, fears, selfishness, and private interests . . . so as to enter and melt into the real world of noumena, then to extend [these notions] to society so as to realize the “ideal state” and ideal people. In these aspects, Wang and Cai do have common grounds.16

Li sees the “material coexistence of nature-cosmos” as the basis, origin, and center. It is being ( you 有) rather than nonbeing (wu 無). It is indeed the thing-in-itself of emotion-belief, the coexistence of humanity-cosmos as the total being. It is because the discussion and comprehension of this vast object can replace the object of the divine that aesthetics could become the supreme philosophy, more important than political and moral philosophies. Third, and all the more interestingly, I find that both Cao Xueqin and Li Zehou start with big questions, such as “How does beauty fundamentally arise?” and “How is it possible?” The difference is merely verbal. Li states that beauty is the humanization of nature. This answer constitutes the base of Li’s aesthetics; it is also his classical definition of beauty. Whereas Cao gives no definition by means of logical concepts, he deploys the framework of a great fiction and uses the protagonists to symbolize beauty in order to express his aesthetic view. One of the protagonists, Jia Baoyu, whose life symbolizes the true, the good, and the beautiful, is originally a piece of stone. In other words, he is of nature. After having been inspirited, he metamorphoses into a human and comes to live in the human world. This is a process of humanization. This novel is also called The Story of the Stone. In other words, it is a biography of the humanization of nature. It is indeed a history of the humanization of nature. Li distinguishes the humanization of external nature and the humanization of inner nature. It can be said that Jia Baoyu’s metamorphosis from a stone into a human is the humanization of external nature, while living in the human world, undergoing the sublimation of his desires into love, is the humanization of inner nature. Both Jia Baoyu and Lin Daiyu are Cao’s ideals of beauty. They are symbols of beauty. Then, whence comes beauty? Cao enlightens Jia Baoyu through the voice of the nun Miaoyu 妙玉, who asks, “Where are you from?” Jia Baoyu is at a loss for an answer. His youngest sister, Xichun 惜春, gets him out of the fix by saying, “Why didn’t you say that ‘I’m from where I should have been from’?” So, where is it, this origin? Is it God or the spirits? No. It is the stone, which stands on the peak of the Black Mountain. It is nature. Another protagonist is Lin Daiyu, who is originally a Crimson Pearl grass growing under the rock of Three Lives. That too is nature. This grass “experiences many ages,” and “having received the essence of heaven and earth, and having been nourished by rain and dew, it gradually shed the form of grass and metamorphosed into a human shape, though a female body.” This process is the humanization of nature as


Li Zehou’s Aesthetical Theory and Confucianism

well. Were Cao a theist, he might have depicted the goddess Nüwa in somewhat the way that God is depicted in the Bible. He might have had the goddess create a Chinese Adam (the divine attendant Jade) and Eve (Crimson Pearl grass). However, he does not conceive such a plot, nor does he want to think that beauty is from the gods. Instead, he conceives that beauty is from nature. Only over a long course of time (“many ages”) could nature evolve toward human. This thought I gathered when reading Dream of the Red Chamber and conveyed it in my book Philosophical Notes on the “Dream of the Red Chamber.” I hope my comparison of Cao’s aesthetics with Li’s comprehensive aesthetics does not seem to miss the mark. In spite of my effort to make the brief comparison as presented above, the aesthetic thoughts of Li and Cao take entirely different forms that are hard to express in words. As to Li’s survey of Chinese aesthetics, it would need another detailed account as well. His interpretation of Chinese beauty is transmitted in his books The Path of Beauty (Mei de licheng 美的歷程) and The Chinese Aesthetic Tradition (Huaxia meixue 華夏美學). These two works can be respectively called the outer and the inner chapters of Li’s Chinese aesthetics. Aestheticians at home and abroad have dwelt on Zhuangzi and Daoism when they discuss Chinese aesthetics, whereas Li comprehensively reflects on Confucianism and Daoism, with special attention to Confucianism. His epigrammatic summaries of Confucian tradition, such as “culture of optimism,” “emotion as substance,” and so on, have been well known for a long time. I only wish to stress that these concepts, “emotion as substance” and “optimistic characteristics,” are also the key point and core of Chinese Confucian aesthetics. In The Chinese Aesthetic Tradition, Li entitles chapter 1 as “The Rites and Music Tradition,” chapter 2 as “Confucian Humanism,” chapter 3 as “The ­Daoist-Confucian Synthesis,” and chapter 4 as “Beauty in Deep Emotion” (there are also two more chapters). It is obvious that Confucian aesthetics is the center of gravity. That is why he entitles this book as The Chinese Aesthetic Tradition. It is the aesthetics of Chinese tradition with Confucian thought as its mainstream. The historical origin of this aesthetic system is rooted in the Confucian tradition of the ritual and music. Whether he is describing the tradition of the ritual and music, or the way of humans (rendao 人道) in Confucius and Mencius, or the compassion of Qu Yuan屈原, or the philosophy and aesthetics of Zhuangzi and Chan, Li argues in The Chinese Aesthetic Tradition that every trend of Chinese aesthetics is built on psychologism. This psychologism is not an empirical science, but a philosophical thesis of emotion and will as substance. That is why Li eventually declares, “Emotion as substance forever!” This declaration is a way of conveying a message of great importance. It is that substance is not God, nor morality, nor reason, but the psychology of human nature, which integrates emotion and reason. Only this concept of emotion as



substance can reach to remote ages and even open a way to eternity. That is why it can be denominated “forever.” Li’s discovery of the substance, origin, and essence of Chinese aesthetics has wholly changed the status of Confucianism in the history of Chinese aesthetics. This discovery is not simply the result of micro appreciation of the beautiful but an accomplishment of a grand thought on aesthetics. Notes 1. Li Zehou, Pragmatic Reason and a Culture of Optimism (Shiyong lixing yu legan wenhua 實用理性與樂感文化) (Beijing: SDX Joint Publishing, 2005), 285–286. 2.  Ibid., 257–258. 3.  Zhu Guangqian, The Psychology of Literature and Art (Wenyi xinlixue 文藝心理學) (Shanghai: Kaiming Book Co., 1936), 150. 4. Li, Pragmatic Reason, 281. 5.  Ibid., 285. 6.  Ibid., 258. 7.  Li Zehou, Critique of Critical Philosophy (Pipan zhexue de pipan 批判哲學的批判) (Taipei: Sanmin Book Co., 1996), 444–445. 8.  Li Zehou, “The Fourth Outline of My Philosophy” (Disi gangyao 第四綱要), Xueshu yuekan 學術月刊 10 (1994): 19. 9.  Li Zehou, Four Essays on Aesthetics (Meixue si jiang 美學四講) (Beijing: SDX Joint Publishing, 1989), 72–73; Li, Pragmatic Reason, 266. 10.  Ibid., 287. 11. Li, Critique of Critical Philosophy, 427. 12.  Li Zehou, Collection of Essays on Aesthetics (Meixue lunji 美學論集) (Taipei: Sanmin Book Co., 1996), 676. 13.  Li Zehou, Anthropological Historical Ontology (Renlei xue lishi bentilun人類學歷 史本體論) (Tianjin: Academy of Social Sciences Press, 2008), 319. 14. Li, Critique of Critical Philosophy, 318–319. 15. The four books are Hongloumeng zhexue biji 紅樓夢哲學筆記, Honglouren sanshizhong jiedu 紅樓人三十種解讀, Gongwu Honglou 共悟紅樓, and Hongloumeng wu 紅 樓夢悟 (all published in 2008 by SDX Joint Publishing, Beijing). 16. Li Zehou, Li Zehou Decennial Collection (Li Zehou shinian ji 李澤厚十年集) (Hefei: Anhui wenyi chubanshe, 1994), 1:404–406.


Li Zehou, Kant, and Darwin The Theory of Sedimentation Marthe CHANDLER

Li Zehou, like John Dewey and Margaret Mead, interprets Kant in a way that makes him consistent with Darwin. Li argues that “subjectivity,” the feature of humanity that makes us different from other animals, encompasses more than consciousness and rationality; subjectivity also includes our material practices, social circumstances, and evolutionary development.1 As helpful as Li finds Kant in understanding the psychological-spiritual development of humanity, he criticizes Kant for focusing almost entirely on the intellectual aspects of subjectivity and ignoring the historical, evolutionary development of our species. Li’s theory of sedimentation remedies this error by providing a historicist interpretation of Kant that is consistent with Darwin. Kant used logical, conceptual analysis to discover the origin of human rationality—or, more generally, human subjectivity. Analytic philosophers look for the foundation of human rationality in language; many scientists find it in biology, genetics, or individual psychology; and Marxists locate human intellect and psychology in the productive, technological practices of society (“the material base”). Li‘s theory of sedimentation takes a different approach, one that he calls historical or anthropological ontology.2 One might wonder whether Li’s theory is the kind of just-so story based on armchair anthropology that evolutionary psychologists are often accused of telling. Like Mircea Eliade, Li bases much of his argument on the nature of shamanistic dances and rituals in primitive societies. Eliade’s well-known book, Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, has been severely criticized, however, for making romantic overgeneralizations on the basis of little or no archeologi278

Kant and Darwin


cal evidence.3 Of course there is no requirement that a philosopher do anthropological fieldwork, but it is important that philosophical theories at least be consistent with the scientific evidence, particularly perhaps a theory calling itself “anthropological ontology.” This chapter explores Li’s theory of sedimentation within the context of recent discoveries in anthropology, research in social cognition, and studies of language development. I argue not only that Li’s theory of sedimentation is consistent with much of anthropology and social psychology but also that Li’s understanding of the dawo (the big self, or collective consciousness) as more fundamental than the xiaowo (the small self, or individual consciousness) would be a helpful addition to contemporary theory. The conclusion of this chapter provides a critical evaluation of Li’s assertion that “beauty is the practice of freedom.” Li’s historicizing project begins with Marx’ insight about the humanization of our senses. Marx wrote, “The forming of the five senses is a labor of the entire history of the world down to the present.”4 The way people acquire sensory information is different from that in other animals, giving us a number of unique abilities—the senses that allow us to enjoy beauty, the agency to make our own history, the capacity to feel love. Human senses and abilities developed, and are continuing to develop, in the context of human societies. As Marx wrote, “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.”5 Marx believed that people became different from animals when we started to produce the things we need to live, but he says little more than this about primitive human beings.6 Li’s theory of sedimentation fills in this lacuna, describing the “humanization of nature,” the process of creating a human nature that is different from that of every other animal and began when our early ancestors started making and using tools. Sedimentation

Li defines sedimentation ( jidian 積淀) as “the accumulations and deposits of the social, rational, and historical in the individual through the process of humanizing nature.”7 The humanization of nature is both an outer process that takes place as humans transform their natural, cultural, and technological environments, and an inner, psychological process that transformed human nature itself, making us distinctly different from all other animals.8 Sedimentation is a dynamic process that has been punctuated by breaks and dislocations, followed by resedimentation.9 The process took place, and continues to take place, over the whole history of humanity.


Li Zehou’s Aesthetical Theory and Confucianism

Li’s conception of sedimentation uses a metaphor of the geological stratification of layers of rock and soil that are deposited over time. The advance and retreat of glaciers, erosion by wind or water, and the movement of earth’s crust by continental drift mean that layers are formed, wear away, and change at different rates. Nevertheless, the surface is more variable than the bedrock, which seems relatively invariable and immoveable. Wittgenstein uses a metaphor quite similar to that of sedimentation with respect to the distinction between a priori judgments, which are necessary and universal, and contingent ones, which change with time and place. In On Certainty, Wittgenstein writes:

96. It might be imagined that some propositions, of the form of empirical propositions, were hardened and functioned as channels for such empirical propositions as were not hardened but fluid; and that this relation altered with time, in that fluid propositions hardened, and hard ones became fluid. 97. The [structure]10 may change back into a state of flux; the river-bed of thoughts may shift. But I distinguish between the movement of the waters on the river-bed and the shift of the bed itself; though there is not a sharp division of the one from the other. 98. But if someone were to say “So logic too is an empirical science” he would be wrong. Yet this is right: the same proposition may get treated at one time as something to test by experience, at another as a rule of testing. 99. And the bank of that river consists partly of hard rock, subject to no alternation or only to an imperceptible one, partly of sand, which now in one place now in another gets washed away or deposited.11

Li’s theory of sedimentation, like Wittgenstein’s, describes the psychological structures Kant identified as the a priori forms of space and time and the categories of understanding. Li frequently writes that he prefers to refer to these structures as “formations” in order to indicate that they are historical and dynamic, constantly being formed rather than static and eternal.12 These formations correspond to the earliest, most enduring parts of the riverbed whose rocks were created by millions of years of sedimentation, accumulation, and pressure. The psychological formations are the result of our biological, psychological, social evolution into human beings. From the point of view of a particular individual, or even a group of people, these formations seem necessary, noncontingent, and independent of particular situations, but from the point of view of humanity as a whole they have been formed by millions of years of making and using tools. Because the process of sedimentation is dynamic and

Kant and Darwin


continues to occur, the cultural-psychological formations created by primitive sedimentation are more flexible and subject to variation than the a priori structures described by Kant. Human nature, or subjectivity, was formed by sedimentation, although “subjectivity” includes a great deal more than individual consciousness, appearing to include all aspects of humanity: the natural, social, biological, historical, communal, individual, rational, and sensual.13 Li identifies four dimensions of human subjectivity: (1) the external techno-social structure, (2) the internal cultural-psychological formation, (3) the human community, and (4) the individual. Each of these dimensions is a complex with several parts. The cultural-psychological formation has two aspects or layers: the collective social consciousness, or dawo “greater self ), which is “the cultural-psychological formation of the human community”;14 and the individual self, or xiaowo. The community includes historical eras, social groups, ethnicity, and so forth. The individual dimension includes human bodies and minds. These four dimensions merge, overlap, and mutually influence each other.15 Although they cannot operate independently of each other, there are definite priorities. Li claims that, logically and historically, sedimentation began at the material technosocial level with the social practice of tool using and making. Li describes this as primitive sedimentation: “the most fundamental sedimentation, formed from the process of material labor.”16 Like today’s great apes, our primate ancestors found objects in nature and used them as tools, waving branches as clubs and throwing stones to obtain food or threaten enemies. When other primates observe members of their species using objects this way, they may “learn” the technique, but they generally do not have the internal psychological or “spiritual” cultural-psychological formations required for a behavior to become part of community practice. While many animals learn from members of their own species, humans are remarkably able to do so. In techno-social and cultural-psychological sedimentation the collective labor of primitive human communities transformed the environment—making the community more secure from danger and providing better sources of food. Tools made primitive humans better hunters, improving their ability to kill and skin animals as well as to dig and chop plants. As these skills became part of human culture, we acquired the social and cognitive abilities to engage in active teaching and learning. (How this ability developed is explored in later sections of this chapter.) These abilities, however, were just one part of the cultural-psychological formations. Li explains that the experience of using and making tools transformed humans in profound ways. We began to notice that various properties of the tools—their shape, size, weight, hardness, and sharp edges—made


Li Zehou’s Aesthetical Theory and Confucianism

them more or less appropriate for certain tasks. We also noticed their role in a number of causal processes—both in their production and in the ways we could use them.17 Moreover, a number of observers have noticed that one of the earliest human tools, Acheulean hand axes, appear to have certain aesthetic ­properties—they have a pleasingly symmetrical shape.18 Li argues that primitive aesthetic sedimentation began when early humans started to appreciate that certain tools are particularly useful in making their communities more secure and comfortable. He claims that the pleasure early humans felt in producing and using the tools that contributed to the flourishing of the species was the beginning of a sense of beauty.19 Li insists that the most important part of primitive sedimentation was social. When an individual primate first used an object from the environment— picking up a rock to throw at an enemy or to shape another rock—its properties were natural and more or less accidental; but when other members of the community adopted this practice, the use and production of tools were standardized and simplified, becoming more easily imitated, generalized, and transferred to the next generation.20 These community standards and rules became part of the general skill set of the community, at first on an external level in the form of a group of habitual physical movements and motor activities, and then later, internally as a new kind of cultural-psychological formation. Our prelinguistic ancestors began to pay attention to the environment (natural causal regularities, forms, and shapes) and to other members of our species, imitating their behavior not just to get food and ward off enemies but to learn how to do these things more efficiently. Li claims that the growth of this cultural-psychological formation involved some sort of “language”—the gestures and shouts common to most of the great apes—which became associated with the physical movements involved in using tools and later developed into actual human language.21 The individual dimension of primitive sedimentation involved a number of changes in primate physiology. While many anthropologists believe that becoming bipedal was the most significant evolutionary change, Li argues that the evolution of human hands into specialized tool-using organs was more important than bipedalism.22 As human hands evolved and we began to be more comfortable walking upright, our senses, particularly our ears and eyes, became humanized.23 Li notes that animal senses are more focused, more specialized, and more directly utilitarian than human senses. Animals eat to survive and have sex in order to reproduce. In modern humans, eating has become part of the social ritual of dining, and sexual desire has been transformed into the complicated pleasures of falling in love, a phenomenon that is thoroughly embedded in the literature and social structure of a culture.24 Although human hearing and sight are useful for individual survival, they are also products of culture. As Marx noted, the most beautiful music means nothing to a nonmusi-

Kant and Darwin


cal ear.25 Since an ear that appreciates music must be cultivated by listening to music, a musical ear is a human and social sense. Gestalt psychologists have long argued that visual perceptions are influenced by context, and culture is a significant part of context. Li and Jane Cauvel refer to Ernst Gombrich’s analysis of the way Renaissance artists taught Europeans to “see” in linear perspective, and they go on to describe how spatial representations (drawings and maps) feel “right” or “wrong” to members of different cultures.26 Chinese landscape painters had their own way of treating space centuries before they encountered European ideas about perspective.27 While we can learn to enjoy the paintings of a different culture, Li argues that the earliest human beings, much less our primate ancestors, could not appreciate beauty in art.28 As the process of primitive sedimentation humanized our senses, the community rules and standards became the generalized categories Kant identified as a priori principles of the understanding and the formal principles of beauty.29 As was noted above, however, the process of sedimentation is dynamic and flexible; thus, these cognitive formations were neither as inflexible nor as universal as Kant supposed. All human communities have a language, but not the same language. All human communities observe the world in terms of space, time, and causality, but with significant cultural variation. All genuinely human communities have a sense of beauty, but what counts as beautiful varies tremendously. Although primitive sedimentation was expressed in individual minds and physiology, Li insists that, much as the cultural-psychological formations grew out of the material practice of making and using tools, the individual dimension depends on the community and the collective cultural-social dimension. Li claims that, in the process, “sedimentation flows from history into psychology, from rationality into sensuousness, from sociality into individuality.”30 As sedimentation continues to transform material practice and social-psychological formations, individual experiences become increasingly important. At the same time, both the postindustrial West and post-Mao China are struggling to find a source of meaning. Traditionally the West finds meaning in religion and China in aesthetics; in either case Li claims: “The highest state of significance is an individual experience.”31 All of this is philosophically very interesting, but is there any anthropological evidence? Many of the things Li discusses leave no fossil record. Paleoarcheology and anthropology can assess levels of cognitive abilities and aesthetic sensibility by the tools and artifacts found with various hominid remains, as well as by the brain sizes of those remains; but language, much less a sense of beauty, cannot leave a fossil record.32 Nevertheless, the evidence from anthropology, child development studies, primatology, linguistics, and the behavior of our closest living primate relatives is highly suggestive and appears consistent with Li’s theory of sedimentation.


Li Zehou’s Aesthetical Theory and Confucianism

Primate Origins: From Australopithecus to Homo sapiens

Cognitive psychologist Michael Tomasello notes that all mammals have certain mental abilities, including some sense of space and time. For example, they recognize where certain trees are and when their fruit is in season. They all live in a world of permanent objects and can identify various categories of objects based on how they look, taste, or smell. Mammals also live in a social world, recognizing animals of their own species and members of their social group and having some amount of insight into the emotional states of conspecifics. Although all mammals communicate in a number of ways and form relationships on the basis of kinship, friendship, and location on the social hierarchy, primates are more socially sophisticated and can recognize relationships of which they are not a part—for example, kinship and dominance relations between two other primates.33 About 6 million years ago a new genus of great apes, Australopithecus, appeared in Africa.34 Australopithecine brain size and lifestyle were probably not much different from those of the other great apes. Like the great apes, Australopithecus used simple tools for throwing and clubbing and communicated with a limited range of calls, grunts, shouts, hoots, and gestures, but Australopithecus was at least partly bipedal and lived both in woodland inhabited by the African apes of today and on open savanna. About 2 million years ago descendants of the australopithecines—members of the genus Homo (e.g., Homo habilis, H. erectus, H. ergaster)—lived entirely in open savanna. Homo erectus was completely bipedal and could walk long distances but was no longer well adapted to climb trees.35 Because primates living in the open (i.e., australopithecines and humans) could not escape predators by retreating to the cover of trees, they began to live in large social groups for protection. Archeologist and prehistorian Steven Mithen notes that although living in larger groups increased social tensions, it also led to a better diet that included more meat.36 The new diet fueled physiological changes required by bipedalism. Walking upright required a complex nervous system and a bigger brain to monitor the center of gravity and coordinate the movement of arms, legs, and trunk. Not only did walking on two legs free our ancestors’ hands for a variety of tasks, but changes in the spinal cord moved the larynx lower, lengthening the throat and allowing it to produce a wider range of sounds.37 Mithen speculates that human language and intelligence may have been “no more than a spin-off from walking on two legs.”38 On the other hand, Li Zehou argues that the evolution of human hands was more important than bipedalism in the evolution of our species.39 The evidence seems to support Li’s belief that having hands that were increasingly adapted to make tools was an important factor in driving the evolution of our

Kant and Darwin


species. Although the hands of early australopithecines (Australopithecus afarensis and A. africanus40) were still suitable for tree climbing, they had longer and stronger thumbs and greater finger rotation than the hands of modern chimpanzees, our closest extant primate relatives. Anatomist Richard Young notes that these features of australopithecine hands are identified with two fundamentally human grips: the “power grip” for clubbing and the “precision grip” for throwing. Young claims that these grips gave australopithecines an evolutionary advantage in using stones and clubs to attack and defend themselves from enemies. Moreover, he observes that while the hands of Homo habilis still had many apelike features, its human hand grips were especially well developed.41 As human hands continued to evolve, our thumbs became longer and stronger, and our palms and fingers changed, allowing us to grip more precisely and to club and pound more powerfully—grips that were particularly useful when Homo habilis, and perhaps some members of Australopithecus africanus, began making tools. Homo habilis, the earliest human to walk upright, lived on the open savanna and made tools for more than 2.5 million years without any of the increase in brain size required for human language, but with significant changes in hand structure.42 During that time certain cultural-psychological f­ormations—­inchoate understandings of natural causality and the importance of size, shape, and weight—were sedimented. These formations eventually led to the Oldowan and, later, Acheulean tool-making industries. Like Marx, Li argues that making and using tools distinguishes humans from other animals. It is also one of the first material social practices for which we have archeological evidence. The manufacture of Oldowan tools began more than 2 million years ago and is generally associated with Homo habilis, although some australopithecines may also have made them.43 Oldowan tools look like large pebbles or cobblestones and were made of relatively hard rocks—basalt or quartz—suggesting that Homo habilis could identify different kinds of rock. One rock was struck against another to produce a sharp-edged flake that could have been used as a knife, while the original stone was used as to chop, scrape, cut plants, and butcher animals. A “hammer stone” was also used to strike the harder rocks. Hammer stones were generally unmodified, although they may have been rounded to make them easier to use.44 About a million years after the appearance of Oldowan tools, Homo ergaster began making Acheulean hand axes. Although these tools are named for a site in northern France, they are widely distributed and have been found in sites from South Africa to China.45 Although this distribution is generally thought to indicate the migratory patterns of the humans who produced Acheulean tools, some scholars suggest that Acheulean hand axes were the first commodities used as trade goods.46


Li Zehou’s Aesthetical Theory and Confucianism

The psychologist Jonathan Haidt argues that the long period of time during which Acheulean tools were used without change indicates that knowledge of their use and production had become “innate” rather than a result of cultural evolution. Haidt compares human knowledge of how to make Acheulean tools to the knowledge beavers have about how to make dams, suggesting that there is a sharp distinction between biological evolution (like that of beavers) and cultural evolution.47 However, as we will see, a certain amount of psychologicalcultural sedimentation had to take place and become “innate” before anything recognizable as “cultural evolution” could begin. In the earliest primitive sedimentation the physical and psychological abilities coevolved. Acheulean hand axes were a dramatic improvement over the Oldowan tools. The hand axes are oval or pear shaped, usually about 4.5 to 8 inches (11–20 cm) long. Typical Acheulean axes are bifacial, with flakes having been chipped or scraped off each side. The sharp bladelike flakes could then be used for cutting or stabbing, while the hand axes themselves had many functions: digging, cutting wood and other plants, butchering and skinning game animals.48 Finally, although there is a great deal of variation in size and quality of workmanship, many of these axes have been more carefully shaped than would be necessary if they were valued only for their utilitarian properties.49 Li believes that this care is one of the first signs of primitive aesthetic sedimentation and the origins of a sense of beauty. For the more than 2.5 million years during which they made and used Oldowan and Acheulean tools, Homo habilis and Homo erectus demonstrated a high level of cognitive ability in planning the production of tools and imagining (conceptualizing) their intended shape and use.50 Acheulean tools were made from about 1.6 million years ago until 200,000 years ago, and for at least the first million years of their production there was very little change either in human brain size or in vocal apparatus.51 Since there was very little biological evolution (random genetic mutation and natural selection) of the human brain at this time, Tomasello argues that the development of these tool industries was due primarily to cumulative cultural evolution and the ability to engage in social learning.52 While the tool industries themselves and the motor skills involved in them are part of the material techno-social dimension of human nature (the first dimension of sedimentation Li identifies), cumulative cultural evolution and social learning are part of the cultural-psychological (second) dimension. Other species can learn and can even generalize what they have learned. Housebroken dogs know not to defecate or urinate in any house, not just the one in which they were taught, but cultural learning requires the use of tools and the ability to transfer what is learned to the next generation. Many primates discover innovative ways to use tools and pass their skills on to each other. Chimpanzees, for example, are particularly clever at using sticks to get food, and

Kant and Darwin


other chimpanzees that see them do so, learn to use sticks, but chimpanzees do not engage in cumulative cultural learning: they learn a new behavior only if they have observed it. If the behavior is not observed, it is lost. Tomasello argues that, in addition to tools and learned behavior, cumulative cultural learning requires a way of accurately transmitting an innovative behavior to make it part of the community knowledge base until a new innovation improves on the old. No matter how intelligent or ingenious an individual is in inventing a new tool or improving on an old one, without a mechanism of transmission the innovation does not become part of the community knowledge base.53 The ability to produce Oldowan and, later, Acheulean tools was clearly part of the knowledge base of early human communities; thus, there must have been some way to transmit the knowledge involved. The length of time humans used Oldowan and Acheulean tools, however, suggests that in this case the mechanism of transmission was not active teaching, since that method transmits innovations quite rapidly. A fairly sophisticated kind of learning by imitation was probably involved. About 600,000 years ago the human brain size began to increase rapidly, and about 200,000 years ago Homo sapiens appeared.54 Within 100,000 to 50,000 years ago our species had become what is often called “behaviorally modern.” Behavioral modernity has been characterized by a number of features such as dwelling structures with well-designed hearths, specialized tools, ritual burials, fishing, long-distance trading relations, and art, including personal decoration with pigment, cave paintings, petroglyphs, jewelry, and music (singing and dancing). The controlled use of fire was probably the first feature to appear. Humans may have begun to control fire as long as 1.6 million years ago; more conservative estimates are 230,000 years ago. In any event, 125,000 years ago the use of well-designed hearths by Homo sapiens was widespread.55 The multipurpose Acheulean hand axe was replaced about 200,000 years ago by a sophisticated set of tools designed for particular purposes. These spears, scrapers, blades, harpoons, picks, needles, and so forth were made out of a variety of materials—stones, bones, antlers, and ivory—and were often polished, incised, or colored for aesthetic reasons.56 Art may have been one of the last features of behavioral modernity to emerge—although scholars continue to disagree on whether the evidence supports the claim that humans began wearing bead ornaments 40,000 or 75,000 or 135,000 years ago.57 There is some controversy about when, where, and precisely how behavioral modernity appeared.58 It used to be believed that a cognitive, behavioral, or human “revolution” occurred suddenly 40,000 to 50,000 years ago. Since Homo sapiens was anatomically modern at least 150,000 years earlier, researchers speculate that the change was caused by a genetic modification or by a reorganization of brain structure. There is no fossil evidence for this theory, and there was


Li Zehou’s Aesthetical Theory and Confucianism

no significant increase in human cranial size at this time. The most compelling archeological evidence for a sudden behavioral revolution is the presence of the spectacular prehistoric cave art in Europe, whose equivalent does not seem to have been present earlier in Africa.59 Most scholars now posit a series of gradual and episodic changes in behavior that began about 250,000 years ago, when Homo sapiens had evolved (or was evolving) anatomically, and continued until 40,000 to 30,000 years ago. The discovery that various features of behavioral modernity appeared, and sometimes disappeared for a period, in many parts of Africa, Europe, and the Near East at many times during the 200,000 years in question seriously undercuts the theory of a sudden change in behavior and supports the view that behavioral modernity appeared gradually.60 The gradual emergence of tool production industries, of the use of fire, and of the construction of dwelling places over hundreds of thousands of years, followed by the appearance of symbolic behavior in the form of bead jewelry, personal decoration, petroglyphs, and cave art supports Li’s (Marxist) view that material technological production predates and to some extent drives the development of the spiritual-cultural-psychological dimensions.61 A particularly suggestive speculation concerns the earliest use of red pigments (ochers). Pigments may have originally been used for tanning hides or for treating wounds and parasites, their symbolic use in beads and decorations only later replacing their utilitarian function.62 Given the mounting evidence that behavioral modernity developed gradually at many places and times, scholars have recently begun to characterize “modern behavior” as symbolic activity rather than as the myriad list of behaviors previously thought to make up behavioral modernity.63 Artworks, including bead jewelry, are symbolic insofar as their purpose or meaning is not directly utilitarian. Symbols may be said to “represent” something else, to point to something “beyond them.” Thus, a word—say, “horse”—is symbolic in that it represents a certain kind of animal. This may be the sort of reasoning that has led several scholars to claim that the use of symbols in the form of beads made of shells or stones indicates the presence of “syntactical language.”64 However, the claim is not based on a well-articulated theory of language: it is not clear how a symbol system is supposed to operate, nor what counts as a syntactical language. Moreover, even if these theoretical issues where worked out, there is nothing in the archeological evidence that connects beads to language.65 Finally, proponents and critics of the claim seem to assume that language is fundamentally referential and that symbols generally operate the way common nouns often do—that is, to represent a class of objects, such as horses. Not only is this assumption almost certainly false, but the symbolic meaning of a work of art is usually much broader than its representative content. For example, although the painting Night-Shin-

Kant and Darwin


ing White, by Han Gan, represents a horse, the picture has come to symbolize the pride and power of the Tang dynasty and to evoke feelings of nostalgia for lost days of glory and confidence.66 A necklace of red beads may have indicated that the wearer had a high status in the community, or that she belonged to a chief, or that she was a healer who made medicine out of red ocher. Prehistoric art—beads or cave paintings—almost certainly had some social, spiritual, or religious meaning—but there is no conclusive archeological evidence as to what that meaning was. On the other hand, the presence of a cultural tradition of making these artifacts rules out their production as “art for art’s sake” on the whim of an individual creator. Moreover, the ability to create art for personal adornment or decoration appears to require the uniquely human cognitive abilities to conceptualize, imagine, and abstract. In prelinguistic human communities or human communities using a protolanguage to communicate, these abilities would not have been very well developed, since conceptual thought requires language.67 The next two sections suggest how these abilities started to develop prior to the use of fully syntactical language. A Skill and a Puzzle

Anthropologists generally agree that language distinguishes Homo sapiens from other members of the genus and is credited with our tremendous success in the years since we first appeared on the planet. However, the cognitive skills required for human language—conceptualization, imagination, and ­abstraction—seem to depend on human language. Thus, Li mentions the possibility of a chicken-and-egg problem: which came first, human cognitive abilities or human language?68 There is obviously a biological component to language. The human vocal apparatus and brain capacity were developed by biological evolution, but Toma­ sello and Mithen argue that language development depended on a particular cognitive skill. Tomasello identifies the skill as the ability to recognize that other people are intentional beings, “just like me.”69 Mithen calls the skill a “mind reading ability” or a “theory of mind.”70 Once we had this skill, which might (with a little loss of precision) be called empathy, fully human languages developed rapidly.71 However, the problem seems only to have been pushed back one step: how did this relatively sophisticated, and uniquely human, cognitive ability develop? The anthropologist Amy Nowell claims that explaining modern behavior by cognition is “fundamentally a sort of ‘black box.’ ”72 Li resolves the problem by explaining how human consciousness (cognitive abilities) and language grew out of everyday social practice—human beings,


Li Zehou’s Aesthetical Theory and Confucianism

as well as our primate ancestors, living and working together in a community.73 Tomasello and Mithen acknowledge that there is a social component to human cognition, but because their work focuses on individual behavior, they miss the significance of what Li calls the dawo, or collective social consciousness. This leaves us with a particularly acute puzzle. Drawing on research in primatology and child development, Tomasello notes that nine-month-old infants and chimpanzees both understand that other members of their species are animate—that is, can move themselves. At about nine months, however, human infants start to understand that other humans are intentional beings (“just like me”) who have goals and purposes. Chimpanzees never do this. Tomasello suggests that we can understand this difference between human infants and chimpanzees by contrasting learning by imitation and learning by emulation. One animal (human child or chimpanzee) imitates the behavior of another if she reproduces the behavior itself—for example, uses a stick in a certain way to get food: “She is using a stick to get food.” Emulation occurs when the observing animal focuses on the changes produced in the environment rather than the behavior of the other animal: “Sticks can be used to get food.” The observing animal in the second example will use a stick to get food but may find a new way to do so. Chimpanzees are very good at emulation, whereas human children tend to imitate. Even though imitation is often less efficient than emulation, focusing on another animal’s intentions (“Why is she doing that?”) rather than the goal is necessary for active instruction—that is, one animal teaching another animal how to do something. Not only is active instruction an extremely efficient way to ensure that a practice is incorporated into the community, it also forges strong intergenerational bonds. Thus, while individual innovation was important in using and making tools, Tomasello, like Li, argues that the most important part of tool production is social.74 Tomasello reports that infants and perhaps other primates experience themselves with respect to their environment in certain ways; for example, they understand some of the effects of their own behavior. Infants, however, go on to transfer their own self-understanding to an understanding of others. This does not mean that infants have a full-blown conceptual theory of their own mental states—what mental states are and that they have them. The use of concepts requires some linguistic abilities, and infants are prelinguistic. Nevertheless, Tomasello argues that a sophisticated conceptual machinery is not necessary to understand that other people are intentional beings “just like me.” He claims that infants use an analogy: “In the most straightforward case, the child simply sees or imagines the goal-state the other person is intending to achieve in much the same way that she would imagine it for herself, and she then just sees the other person’s behavior as directed toward that goal in much the same way that she sees her own.”75

Kant and Darwin


There is something troubling about this remark. Although imagining and drawing analogies are fairly complex cognitive processes, Tomasello says that children “simply” do it; moreover, he asserts that this ability, which human infants have and chimpanzees do not, is “based on uniquely human biological inheritance (which may or may not require extended interactions with the social environment).”76 Given his insistence on the social dimensions of cognition, this remark is puzzling. How could this ability fail to “require extended interactions with the social environment”? Furthermore, the term “imagination” is hardly univocal. The ordinary notion of imagination—namely, the ability to make up things that aren’t actually present—includes both the invention of Santa Claus and unicorns and the act of planning for the future: the transformation of this piece of quartz into an Acheulean hand axe and the transformation of this package of tiny seeds into pesto sauce. The latter skill, but probably not the former, appears to involve some knowledge of natural causal regularities. Kant’s use of the term “imagination” is more technical than its use in the ordinary sense, and it is closely allied to cognition. In Kant’s first Critique, the imagination is the ability to make unified wholes out of fleeting sense impressions. That human cognition contributes to perception—that is, things and situations are not simply “given”—is an insight that gestalt psychology and cognitive linguistics inherited from Kant’s theory of imagination. The ability to consider what it would be like if I were you (to see the world from your perspective) is clearly a much more sophisticated form of imagination than that of being able to perceive objects and take advantage of simple causal regularities. As Wittgenstein points out, even a dog can have certain expectations but not others. A dog can expect that its master will come home tonight, but not that he will come home next week.77 Tomasello goes on to argue that once early humans could recognize other individuals as beings with minds, beliefs, desires, plans, and goals—that is, as intentional beings just like themselves—social learning, including the development of language, developed rapidly.78 Tomasello identifies the transmission of new skills to other members of the community as part of what he calls cumulative cultural evolution, the mechanism of transmission that ensures that new skills become and remain part of the community knowledge base. If social learning by imitation is supplemented by active instruction—which requires both teacher and student to understand each other’s intentions (beliefs, desires, reasons, goals)—then cultural innovations can be retained and improved rather than simply lost.79 Tomasello concludes that cumulative cultural evolution began when humans started recognizing that another human is an intentional being “just like me,” a recognition that may be considered a theory of mind. Steven Mithen claims that a theory of mind, or an ability to read minds, that is required for language development can be traced back to the musical


Li Zehou’s Aesthetical Theory and Confucianism

abilities of early humans. In The Singing Neanderthals: The Origins of Music, Language, Mind, and Body, Mithen argues that language evolved out of music. Although in modern humans different parts of the brain are responsible for linguistic and musical abilities, research in neuroscience indicates that the linguistic and musical systems in the brain overlap to a certain extent and that neural networks for musical processing are found in parts of the brain that evolved much earlier than those in which networks for language are found. Mithen cites brain injury and autism studies demonstrating that some people may lack either linguistic or musical ability and still be competent in the other area.80 He speculates that musical and linguistic abilities began as a single system that diverged as language replaced music in human communication.81 Mithen goes on to argue that music was important for social cohesion in primitive human communities. In the increasingly large communities in which ancient preverbal humans lived, music making was a very useful shared activity. It worked to coordinate behavior, relieve social tensions, and communicate emotions.82 Thus, Mithen postulates the existence of a musical protolanguage that early humans used to communicate, primarily to express particular emotions and rouse these feelings in others. Like the much less complex communication systems of nonhuman primates today, this protolanguage was used to guide or manipulate another human’s behavior rather than to refer to individual objects or describe things about the world.83 Mithen also notes that adults, mothers in particular, use baby talk—that is, speech directed at infants—to get and keep an infant’s attention, to sooth distressed infants, and to express warning or disapproval.84 This sort of speech, cooing or crooning without words, has musical pitch, rhythm, and tone, and Mithen believes that it is a survival of the early musical protolanguage of primitive humans.85 A number of empirical studies of children’s linguistic acquisition show that this sort of infant-directed speech is vital in providing the emotional support that prelinguistic infants need and in teaching them to understand other people’s feelings and intentions.86 Like infant-directed speech, the primitive musical protolanguage involves exactly the kind of extended interactions with the social environment that are required to understand other humans as intentional beings “just like me.” Understanding the mental states of others is the “mind reading” Mithen identifies with having a theory of mind. Mithen claims that there are a number of orders of intentionality in a theory of mind. If I understand what I think, then I have a first-order level of intentionality; if I understand what another member of my species thinks, I have two orders of intentionality; if I understand what another person thinks a third party thinks, I have three orders of intentionality. Like Tomasello, Mithen does not claim that a high level of conceptual sophistication is required for a primate to have a theory of mind. He notes there is research suggesting that

Kant and Darwin


in very limited circumstances some nonhuman primates may have two levels of intentionality.87 Chimpanzees, for example, must have something like two orders of intentionality, because they occasionally act deceptively—recognizing the difference between their own true beliefs, and the false ones they want other animals to have. Nevertheless, even chimpanzees have nothing like the understanding of intentionality—what other people are thinking, feeling, believing, wanting, planning, which we do. This skill of understanding several levels of intentionality, or that other animals are like me in having beliefs, desires, and goals—that is, the ability to empathize, to put oneself in another’s place—is required for the high level of social learning that Tomasello and Mithen agree is necessary for human language to develop. These theories raise a puzzling question, however. Once I have the first level of intentionality and understand that I am an intentional being with beliefs and desires—that is, once I understand “what I am like”—then I can come to understand that other animals are like me in this respect. But how do I come to know “what I am like”? Neither Tomasello nor Mithen claims that this skill requires a sophisticated set of concepts; nevertheless, I must have some idea or notion of “me” in order to realize that another human is “just like me.” Although Tomasello and Mithen acknowledge the importance that being part of a social group has in the development of human cognition—music making, language, and all that has followed from these skills—their theories focus on communication within groups of two or at most three members. Mithen finds the interaction between mothers and infants particularly important, while Tomasello seems to think that understanding that someone else is “just like me” begins when two or three humans are hunting or foraging together.88 Thus, despite the insistence of Tomasello and Mithen on the importance of the entire community in developing the skill of “mind reading,” or empathy, their focus on very small groups suggests that they may share some of the assumptions about human self-consciousness and our understanding of others with what is known as belief-desire folk psychology.89 The belief-desire theory explains the behavior of an individual agent by noting that the agent had a certain desire (goal) and a set of beliefs about the ways to attain that goal; with these beliefs and desires, the agent performed the action in question—for example, “She opened the cabinet door because she wanted some peanut butter, and she believed there was some in the cabinet.” Whatever else we can say about this theory as a theory of mind, on the first level of intention, I explain my own actions with reference to my own beliefs and desires; on the second level, I explain those of another person (or animal or object; it just works better with people) with respect to their beliefs and desires. The belief-desire theory is implicated in a traditional philosophical problem, the problem of other minds. I know that I have a mind, with certain beliefs


Li Zehou’s Aesthetical Theory and Confucianism

and feelings, but how do I know other people are like me? Might they not be very clever robots acting deceptively? There is an intimate relationship between this problem and the puzzle Tomasello’s and Mithen’s work raises. In fact, one of the proposed “solutions” to the philosophical problem is the one Tomasello provides to the puzzle: I know you are “just like me” by analogy. The belief-desire folk theory turns out to be particularly Western (indeed, the focus on individual agency is particularly American). Other cultures have different theories of mind to explain behavior. The philosopher Chad Hansen has argued that the folk psychology in ancient China was quite unlike the belief-desire psychology. According to Hansen, in ancient China the source of action was the xin, or heart-mind. There was no clear distinction between beliefs (in mind) and desires (in heart), nor between what was inner (the heartmind) and outer (action). While the Western “heart” and “mind” might be thought of as containers in which are found an assortment of beliefs, thoughts, ideas, concepts, propositions, feelings, emotions, and desires, the xin was a disposition to behave. The xin was fundamentally social; its function was not primarily to make the “objective” classifications on which knowledge depends, nor to trigger individual responses of desire or aversion, but rather, as Hansen says, “to coordinate our behavior with others.”90 Instead of focusing on an individual agent, or knower, the xin was concerned with social relations. Its classification system was therefore both descriptive and prescriptive—­identifying something as belonging to a certain category entailed knowing how to behave toward it. Receiving information from the world, the xin categorized things and situations in a way that determined the appropriate way to behave toward them. One set of responses is appropriate toward a younger sister, another toward a thief.91 A particularly suggestive psychological study argues that folk theories of mind vary considerably across cultures and that there are differences between Chinese and Western theories to some degree even today. Psychologist Angeline Lillard cites ethnographical studies of the Ilongot people of the Philippines and the Azande people of Central Africa before turning to studies of Chinese and American newspaper accounts of spectacular murders. Chinese journalists tended to explain the behavior as situational, an interaction between the individual and the environment. Thus, Chinese newspapers reported that the murderer was “a victim of the Top Students’ Educational Policy” who had “recently been fired”; the newspapers also blamed “the lack of religion in Chinese culture.” American journalists referred to the murderer’s character: he had a “very bad temper” and was a “darkly disturbed man” who was “mentally unstable.”92 Lillard identifies at least three general theories of mind: (1) those that tend to explain behavior in terms of individual character traits or beliefs and desires; (2) those that explain behavior in terms of the situation, including other people;

Kant and Darwin


and (3) those that trace behavior to the actions of witches or gods, whose behavior is explained in various ways.93 One might argue that one of these theories involves some prescientific superstitions and that only one of them is correct. Lillard points out that philosopher and cognitive scientist Jerry Fodor claimed that the commonsense belief-desire folk psychology was innate; on the other hand, Lillard asserts that social scientific research suggests that situational explanations are more often the correct ones.94 The cognitive capacity for language has to be universal in all Homo sapiens, almost certainly appearing before our species began migrating out of Africa. Therefore, it seems implausible that the explanation for this skill would be closely tied to a theory (belief-desire psychology) that is associated with a particular culture and does not resonate strongly in others. As insightful as Tomasello and Mithen are, in their explanations of how we came to have the skills necessary for language, they make many of the individualist assumptions of Western psychology (and social science in general). Accepting these assumptions may make it easy to overlook the puzzling aspects of Tomasello’s claim that prelinguistic humans recognized that other animals are “just like me” on the basis of an analogy, and of the suggestion (albeit unstated) in Mithen’s work that first-order intentions are historically, as well as logically, prior to second- and third-order ones.95 According to Li Zehou’s theory of sedimentation explaining the ability to see other people as intentional beings “just like me,” by focusing on what an individual knows and does, reverses the actual priorities and starts with the wrong dimension of psychologicalcultural sedimentation. Shamanistic Dances and the Dawo

The problem of the origin of empathy can be resolved by examining the role of shamanistic dances in the collective psychological formations created by primitive sedimentation. Recall that sedimentation has four dimensions: the technosocial formation (social and material production); the cultural-psychological formation; the human community; and the human individual. The second level (spiritual or psychological) also has a collective dimension and an individual one. Although the dimensions are interdependent, the first one, the material practice of making tools, grounds the later dimensions. Li notes that tool production predates the earliest symbolic artistic activities by hundreds of thousands of years.96 Moreover, at both levels the collective dimension is prior to the individual one.97 Without the community practice of making and using tools, there would be nothing to drive the evolution of human hands. At the spiritual dimension, individual life considered on its own is arbitrary and meaningless. Li


Li Zehou’s Aesthetical Theory and Confucianism

writes, “Individuals, who are thrown into this world by chance and vested with no significance, . . . make a great effort to attain significance in their own lives.”98 The resources we have to make our lives meaningful are drawn from the human community and human history—the collective social consciousness. Li contrasts the social consciousness, the dawo 大我 (big self ), with the xiaowo 小我(individual self ), arguing that while actual flesh-and-blood people seem to be “concrete and historically real,” the most important aspects of our lives—our politics, the art we enjoy, the way we fall in love and get married, even the food we like to eat—are produced by the historical and cultural circumstances in which we find ourselves. The dawo is the fundamental, concrete, historical reality. Isolated from it, the xiaowo is an empty abstraction, and a human being is merely a species of animal.99 Li does not specifically endorse the relational theory of persons defended by David Hall, Roger Ames, and Henry Rosemont.100 Nevertheless, the claim that the psychological-cultural xiaowo is an empty object when stripped of all its social contexts echoes Rosemont’s contention that the “foundational individual” is a chimera, a metaphysical fiction that does not exist. The foundational individual figures prominently in the political and moral theories of Hobbes, Locke, Kant, Bentham, and Rawls. These theories are intended to find universal principles that apply to everyone at all times and places. Thus, the historical context in which individuals find themselves and all of the particular social relations in which they are involved—including their families and their ethnicity, race, gender, and age—are morally and politically irrelevant.101 The free, rational, and autonomous foundational individual is stripped of all the social relations that the relational theory of persons argues make up a person. Minus these relations (roles), the relational theory argues, there is no essential self. Rosemont goes on to assert that if one insists that there must be “something” that enters into the relations that constitute a person, it would be simply a human body. Physically, without considering our psychological-cultural attributes, a human being is, as Li claims, only a kind of animal. The symbolic activities of the collective consciousness, the dawo, make human psychology different from that of animals. Activities such as using human language and producing ornamental objects require imagination and abstract, symbolic thinking.102 Li argues that symbolic activity grew out of the music and dance of primitive shamanistic rituals. While chanting and singing make it easier to coordinate the work of large groups of people, the emotional power of music and rhythm in shamanistic dances was most important in transforming, or humanizing, our emotions and desires and making us human.103 Rituals and dance had a powerful effect on early humans, creating intense feelings of respect, love, and loyalty that sedimented into the emotional, moral, and aesthetic psychological formations necessary for truly human communities to

Kant and Darwin


evolve.104 Li writes: “Just as in the case of material production, I maintain that without activity on the part of the collective social consciousness—that is, without primitive shamanist ritual activity and communal linguistic and symbolic activity—the formation of a human psychology that is different from that of the animals would not have been possible.”105 Although nonhuman animals do not participate in the highly symbolic activities typical of humans, shamanistic dances originated in primate behavior. Primatologists report that the great apes, gorillas and chimpanzees in particular, engage in behavior very much like human dancing. In play and courtship, in responding to thunderstorms or the appearance of a stranger, these apes engage in ritualized movements—excited hooting, rhythmic foot movements, waving branches, slapping the ground, jumping and kicking sideways. Playful young chimpanzees clap, stretch out their hands, twirl, and do handstands and sommersaults. These complex, patterned activities are enjoyable ways to discharge energy, to attract the attention of other primates, and to express emotions and intentions.106 In human communities, dancing served all of these purposes. Moreover, because of the increased muscle coordination and balance required by walking upright, humans were particularly able to perform the complex, rhythmic movements characteristic of dancing. The repetitive rhythm of the instinctive cries and shouts that often accompanied dances made the sounds and movements easy to remember. Dances also may have involved reenactment of dramatic events in the life of the community—an attack by a bear, the capture of an enemy. Given the important relationship between hunters and their prey, dancers may have worn animal skins and mimicked the movements and cries of the animals they hunted.107 After much repetition, rhythmic gestures and sounds would have taken on symbolic meaning in the collective practice and consciousness of the community, transforming human emotional formations, building community solidarity, and creating means of communication that eventually led to language itself.108 Thus, philosopher Suzanne Langer concludes that “dance is, in fact, the most serious intellectual business of savage life.”109 Li describes the primitive shamanistic dances as generating a frenzied and intoxicating madness.110 At the same time, however, the ceremonies were organized, regulated, and communal, blending many elements: animalistic emotions and impulses to play, religious symbols and imagery, efforts to control nature and communicate with spirits. Like tools, rituals and magic were attempts to manipulate nature, controlling the environment to make it more suitable for human thriving and, in the case of funerary rituals, to subject even death to human control. Although magic and shamanistic rituals cannot actually control nature, there is no reason to believe that only the immediately effective forms were


Li Zehou’s Aesthetical Theory and Confucianism

sedimented into our psychological-cultural formations. Science was a response to those parts of nature we could control, while religion and art developed in response to the things that remained out of control—including the fact that all life comes to an end. Li writes, “From primitive times to the present, funeral rites and music humanize the animal terror of death. They mold and change it from an instinctive fear to deep and sad feelings, thereby enriching life and enhancing its value.”111 Since the feelings roused by the wildly excited rhythmic singing and dancing of shamanistic dances led to a state of ecstasy, Mircea Eliade identified shamanism as a “technique of ecstasy.”112 A state of ecstasy is beyond individual, rational control and is characterized by a heightened emotional state and intense trancelike pleasure. The French sociologist Émile Durkheim associated this state with the “collective consciousness,” which he, like Eliade, claims is the source of religion. In the collective consciousness, individual minds are part of a social whole. People’s behavior is regulated by a standard, or laws, outside of themselves. They forget their individual interests and are willing to perform heroic sacrifices or engage in horrifically destructive violence—often, but not always, in defense of the common good. The ecstatic state is vividly intense, and Durkheim describes it as “in a sense a luxurious activity since it is extremely rich . . . [and] qualitatively different to the everyday life of the individual, as the superior to the inferior, the ideal to the real.”113 Durkheim contrasts this state with the one he assumes is more normal, in which people are basically egoistic, relatively isolated, and independent.114 Durkheim claims that while the collective consciousness is important in particularly religious societies, it is eventually replaced by a more philosophically and individually oriented state of consciousness in societies that value free inquiry.115 Li’s description of the dawo (collective social consciousness) and xiaowo (individual consciousness) echoes Durkheim’s description of the two forms of consciousness, but Li would not characterize the xiaowo as “normal”—requiring as it does the historically and logically prior dawo. Like Eliade and Durkheim, Li associates primitive shamanism with the beginning of religion, although Li’s conception of religion differs significantly from that of Eliade and Durkheim.116 Eliade and Durkheim are writing in a culture sedimented with JudeoChristian assumptions about the nature of a creator God. Li’s work on the history of Chinese aesthetics describes the cultural sedimentation of Confucian Chinese culture from the early “rites and music tradition” to the modern concern with individual feelings and desires.117 Since cultural sedimentation happened differently in China from the way it occurred in other places, Chinese spiritual-psychological formations differ from those of the West at least as much as Lillard’s research indicates. Nevertheless, Li notes that China is being transformed by the influence of the modern West, including Marxism.118

Kant and Darwin


One of the many changes modernization brings is an increasing focus on the importance of the individual.119 This change may help overcome some of the influences of premodern feudal Confucianism and the excesses of Mao’s Marxism. Nevertheless, Li hopes that China will avoid the hyperindividualism of societies like the United States, in which there is often a grave suspicion of the dawo as a threat to personal autonomy that undermines the foundations of political morality as a social contract between rational, autonomous foundational individuals acting on self-interest.120 The sense of collective unity may have been particularly intense and pervasive in primitive rituals, but it remains part of human culture everywhere. Essayist Barbara Ehrenreich notes that anthropologists of a previous generation reported seeing “savages” dancing ecstatically in large groups in almost every part of the world they traveled. While these Westerners expressed disgust at the sight, Ehrenreich notes that very similar dancing, which she calls collective joy, was quite common in Europe until the sixteenth century, when the Enlightenment and the industrial revolution instituted a major cultural change.121 Moreover, even in a culture as highly individualistic as that of the United States, the experience is not uncommon. The historian William McNeill explores the “muscular bonding” that takes place in basic training during months of marching in close formation with dozens of other men: “Words are inadequate to describe the emotion aroused by the prolonged movement in unison that drilling involved. A sense of pervasive well-being is what I recall; more specifically, a strange sense of personal enlargement; a sort of swelling out, becoming bigger than life, thanks to participation in collective ritual.”122 McNeill believes that participation in the collective “we” is what allows soldiers to sacrifice themselves in battle; surviving veterans describe the experience as one of the most significant of their lives.123 Jonathan Haidt identifies the “hive switch” as “the ability (under special conditions) to transcend self-interest and lose ourselves (temporarily and ecstatically) in something much larger than ourselves.”124 Haidt claims that some of the circumstances in which a person joins the “hive mind” (which appears to be a relatively pejorative term for the dawo) include a feeling of awe inspired by nature, certain drugs used in religious ceremonies, and a phenomenon of the 1980s known as raves. Raves are large dance parties involving electronic music, powerful sound systems emphasizing the rhythm of the bass, laser technology producing spectacular visual effects, and often various drugs, including the amphetamine popularly known as ecstasy. Haidt quotes a participant in a San Francisco rave who claimed that the experience gave him “a sense of deep connection with everyone who was there as well as the rest of the universe,” adding, “It was as if the existence of individual consciousness had disappeared and been replaced by a single unifying group consciousness.”125


Li Zehou’s Aesthetical Theory and Confucianism

Ehrenreich argues that contemporary expressions of collective joy are often found at sporting events—football in the United States, soccer in the rest of the world. Given the increasing expense of attending such events, Ehrenreich surmises that the practice will disappear, but the shouts, movements, and expressions of collective joy and despair are also typical of a group of people watching football on television.126 People who have had these experiences describe them as transformative. But what is transformed? Henry Rosemont describes a feeling of being safe, of being part of something greater than oneself, and says that such an experience may make us more open, more tolerant, more akin to nature and the nonhuman world.127 Unfortunately this “tolerance” sometimes only extends toward members of one’s tribe, platoon, sports team, or religious sect. A collective consciousness may be characteristic of a lynch mob, an army, or a group of soccer fans. Rosemont wants to distinguish spiritual or religious experiences that lead to more openness and tolerance from those that lead to a frenzied sense of exclusion rather than calm inclusiveness. Durkheim’s discussion of the collective consciousness and McNeill’s experience of it suggest that the distinction is not as clear as Rosemont would like it to be.128 While other scholars have described the collective consciousness or collective joy—that is, the experience of the dawo—Li investigates its effect on the emotional and intellectual sedimentation of primitive humans. Shamanistic dancing provides a solution to the puzzle of how the sense of empathy originated. Tomasello and Mithen claim that empathy, or the understanding that another human is “just like me,” is the key skill underlying behavioral modernity, including the development of human languages. Li argues that this skill grew out of participation in shamanistic dancing. The primitive humans who took part in shamanistic rituals experienced the intense emotional ecstasy of being part of the dawo. At this point, individual psychological formations—the individual ego, or xiaowo—were not thoroughly sedimented, and individual humans had less sense of themselves as individuals than we have had since the Enlightenment. Under those circumstances it would be even easier for primitive humans to “lose” themselves in the collectivity. Group dancing, repetition, rhythm, and music would create a very strong sense that “we” were engaging in symbolic activity: “We” are a bear; “we” are hunting an animal; “we” have killed an enemy. During the dance, “we” were all doing and feeling the same things. We were in a sense “one being” with one set of intentions, desires, and goals. Once the dance was over, some echo of this intense emotional experience of “we” would remain. A gesture or sound, or more likely a series of gestures and sounds, performed in a shamanistic dance represents, or symbolizes, the “same thing” to all the dancers because that is what the experience was. If one

Kant and Darwin


had a strong modern “ego,” or if the experience was something of which one’s individual self was ashamed, this understanding would probably be denied or repressed (“That wasn’t me. Something else was in control”). Primitive humans, however, were only beginning to develop a sense of morality and an individual xiaowo and thus would have been more inclined to accept the experience as something that actually happened. Clearly, one experience or even several hundred such experiences will not result in the fully developed structure of levels of intentionality Mithen describes; but particularly because the experience is so intensely pleasurable— Durkheim calls it “luxurious” and Ehrenreich describes it as “collective joy”—the experience will be repeated. Eventually empathy, the understanding that other selves are “just like me,” was sedimented into human psychological-cultural formations. Thus, empathy need not be considered the mysterious result of a “black box,” such as an intellectual process or a genetic mutation. Primitive humans did not have to reason, reflect, imagine, or use an analogy to know that other humans were “just like me.” They remembered an actual experience. Because the theory of sedimentation insists that individual agents are located in a framework of human history and human communities, it is not burdened with the individualistic assumptions made by much of contemporary social science and psychology. Li’s focus on the role of shamanistic dances in forging strong community bonds suggests a way to understand the growth of the empathetic psychological formations required for behavioral modernity. By explaining the formation of the dawo in the context of the music and rhythmic dances in shamanistic rituals, and taking the dawo as historically and logically more fundamental than the individual xiaowo, the theory of sedimentation can explain how Homo sapiens developed empathy, without recourse to ad hoc claims about imagination and analogy that explain the appearance of a sophisticated cognitive skill (empathy) in terms of the appearance of a sophisticated cognitive skill (imagination and analogical reasoning). Thus, not only is Li’s theory of sedimentation consistent with contemporary scientific evidence, but it also provides a perspective from which to remedy some of the individualistic assumptions of much contemporary social science. Beauty as the Practice of Freedom

In one respect, however, Li Zehou’s theory of sedimentation runs counter to some of the fundamental assumptions of evolutionary biology, contemporary social science, and anthropology. Contemporary scientific thinking purports to be value neutral and is robustly nonteleological. Denying the cultural relativism of many anthropologists, Li asserts that some societies are better than others and that modern societies in particular are better than more primitive ones.129


Li Zehou’s Aesthetical Theory and Confucianism

Moreover, Li’s theory is teleological: humanity is progressing toward a goal that Li, like Hegel and Marx, describes in terms of an increase in human freedom. Hegel associated freedom with self-conscious rationality; we are free insofar as we determine our own lives by conscious, rational choices. He explored the growth and development of “spirit,” subjectively in human mental and moral development and objectively in the growth of social and political institutions.130 Hegel argued that as consciousness and government became more rational, people became increasingly free—a claim that seems highly counterintuitive to thinkers who view Hegel’s all-encompassing “rational state” (which is either the embodiment of God on earth or at least part of God’s plan for humanity) as the precursor of twentieth-century totalitarianism.131 While this charge may not be entirely fair to Hegel, Li has good reason to be suspicious of totalitarian political theory; furthermore, Hegel’s arguments are at least as intellectual and abstract as Kant’s. Although Li accepts Hegel’s evolutionary understanding of the growth of human freedom, he rejects Hegel’s understanding of how the process evolved. Hegel claimed that “spirit” or “thought” emerged on three levels. The first and lowest level was that of art, which expressed human freedom. The second level was religion, which provided a basis for faith and trust. The highest level was philosophy, which arrived at complete conceptual clarity about the truth.132 Li argues that, like many Western philosophers, Hegel placed too much significance on the cognitive and the political and did not pay sufficient attention to art. For Li, and perhaps for Chinese thought more generally, aesthetics rather than religion or philosophy provides the highest possible experience, in terms of both pleasure and freedom. Marx argued that personal freedom was possible only in a community in which people could obtain adequate food, shelter, and clothing and were able to cultivate themselves in any areas they want: “to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, breed cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I like.”133 Li remains a Marxist. His criterion for what makes one society better than another is its standard of living: good food, health care, heat and air-conditioning, a comfortable place to live, the ability to travel by automobile and airplane and to learn about the world through television and movies.134 Li claims, however, that Chinese Marxism made serious mistakes with its single-minded focus on community and collective or national identity and with its underestimation of the importance of building an industrial base for modern/socialist society.135 As the West modernized during the hundreds of years since the Enlightenment, individualism and freedom became increasingly important. Li argues that the cultural-psychological formations accompanying capitalist production are often characterized by “cold money-based relationships, extreme individualism, the turbulence of anarchy, and one-sided, mechanical rational-

Kant and Darwin


ism.”136 Thus, he claims that the hyperindividualism of much of the West has created a spiritual, psychological crisis in Western economics and politics.137 Rosemont describes this crisis as “an abyss of meaninglessness” caused by an “altogether material life in which many of us are obligated to take jobs we do not like or find satisfying in order to buy things that we do not need and that do not satisfy us either.”138 Contemporary capitalism has led to increasing inequality, degraded the environment, and destroyed society. In this context “freedom” has come to mean an absence of constraint. Individuals are free in this sense to choose their own ends without obstruction from their governments, families, communities, or churches. While this conception of freedom has been quite useful in liberating people from oppressive institutions, Li thinks it is misguided. He writes, “Freedom does not mean self-will. To want to do anything whatever, at your own will, shows you are not free. It shows rather that you are a slave to the animal passions and desires in yourself, to social prejudice, and custom.”139 For Li, our freedom is one of the things that make us different from animals and is grounded in our collective ability to change our environment and ourselves. Li defines freedom as “the power to produce objective change” and claims that it provides the meaning of human life.140 The feature that makes us different from all other primates, much less other animals, is our creativity, an ability that emerged as we imagined the shape of useful tools and began to produce them. Li’s notion of freedom grows out of the Confucian focus on the importance of the arts in an ideal human life. Confucius describes this life as one in which we “[set our] intention upon the Way, rely on its Virtue, lean on humanness, wander in the arts (Analects 7.6).”141 Li explains that although the Confucian arts were limited to ritual, music, archery, charioteering, calligraphy, and mathematics, the conception of art can be expanded to include a great many more things. “Wandering in the arts” requires working to master a technical skill and experiencing the sense of freedom that comes from exercising that mastery.142 As we have seen, Li argues that the sense of beauty began in making the tools that transform the world and making life safer, more comfortable, and more secure for the human community. Aesthetic experience originated in the group activities of primitive societies as they worked, played, and danced together; but as the technological basis of human production changed, the homologous psychological-spiritual formations, the source of aesthetic pleasure and creativity, changed also.143 Once people are free from the necessity of working for simple survival, we have a lot more freedom, free time, and free choices, and the question of the meaning of life becomes increasingly acute. In the West the meaning of life has often been found in a religious experience of union with a transcendent God. Li identifies the mystical experiences of religion with the aesthetic experience


Li Zehou’s Aesthetical Theory and Confucianism

of being part of the cosmos, tianren heyi, found in the Chinese tradition. There is a significant difference, however, between religious and aesthetic experience. Many understandings of God are of a being utterly unlike its creations: humanity and the world. Li insists that aesthetic experiences are experiences of human creations, of beauty created in the practice of human freedom. The practice of freedom demands that all people discover their own potentials and abilities and work to create a unique self, one that contributes to making human life better—freer, more complex, more tolerant, more interesting, and more full of the experience Ehrenreich has called collective joy.144 In a society focused on individual freedom (self-will), the notion of contributing to such an experience can be quite frightening.145 Nevertheless as Eliade and Li have argued, the collective mystical experiences originating in the practice of shamanism are part of the human condition.146 Durkheim claims that even though such experiences may result in destruction and folly, they are the richest and most magnificent experiences a person can have.147 Indeed, their destructive potential may provide the energy to break up sedimented formations that no longer contribute to human thriving and freedom. Despite his concern about the extreme individualism of modern Western society, Li is optimistic that beauty and poetry can be found in large-scale industrial societies.148 He believes that in postmodern industrial societies meaningless, dehumanizing labor will be done by robots, freeing human beings to enjoy meaningful work, the sort of work that produces beauty. The art produced in the practice of freedom would be, not the elite works of art now found in museums or concert halls and enjoyed by very few, but art that is part of the daily life of everyone. Li suggests that this art is found in architecture, city planning, movie production, and music making.149 Aesthetic experiences brought about by creative work that improves life for the human community provides an appropriate ideal for postmodern life. If we share Jane Cauvel’s concern that this vision is too optimistic in the face of the savage economic inequalities, the destruction of the environment, and the horrors of contemporary warfare made possible by the technology of advanced industrial capitalism, Li replies, “It is better to believe and live optimistically and confidently, for by doing so, a person has a more positive outlook on life, more energy, and works more constructively, leisurely, and cheerfully.”150 Notes 1. Li Zehou, “Subjectivity and ‘Subjectality’: A Response,” Philosophy East and West 49, no. 2 (1999): 12. Since Li’s understanding of subjectivity (zhutixing) is much more inclusive than the usual meaning of the term in English, he coins the word “subjectality” to distinguish what he means by “subjectivity” from the more narrow sense of the word. Li translates

Kant and Darwin


zhutixing as “subjectality” to distinguish it from the Cartesian “cogito,” which has little or no association with the human body and its material conditions (74). Because most translators have not adopted this neologism, I will continue to talk about “subjectivity” with the understanding that it has a broader meaning than the purely intellectual, nonmaterial cogito. 2.  Li Zehou, Four Essays on Aesthetics: Toward a Global View, trans. Li Zehou and Jane Cauvel, (Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2006), 38–39. 3. Mircea Eliade, Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, trans. Willard R. Trask (New York: Pantheon Books, 1964). Paul G. Bahn, in Prehistoric Rock Art: Polemics and Progress (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), argues that Eliade’s work on shamanism is nothing less than fraud. 4. Li, Four Essays, trans. Li and Cauvel, 90, quoting Marx. 5. Karl Marx, “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte,” in The Marx-Engels Reader, 2nd ed., ed. Robert C. Tucker (New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1978), 595. 6.  Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, “The German Ideology: Part I,” in Tucker, MarxEngels Reader, 150. 7. Li, Four Essays, trans. Li and Cauvel, 94. 8.  Ibid., 13; Li, “Subjectivity and ‘Subjectality,’ ” 175. 9. Li, Four Essays, trans. Li and Cauvel, 88, 166; Gu Xin, “Subjectivity, Modernity, and Chinese Hegelian Marxism: A Study of Li Zehou’s Philosophical Ideas from a Comparative Perspective,” Philosophy East and West 46, no. 2 (1996): 215. 10. Wittgenstein says “mythology” and talks about it in terms of the rules of a language game, but the difference is unimportant in this context. 11. Ludwig Wittgenstein, On Certainty, trans. Denis Paul and G. E. M. Anscombe, ed. G. E. M. Anscombe and G. H. von Wright (New York: Harper and Row, 1969), 15e. 12. Li, “Subjectivity and ‘Subjectality,’ ” 177. See also Roger T. Ames, “New Confucianism: A Native Response to Western Philosophy,” in Chinese Political Culture: 1989– 2000, ed. Shiping Hua (Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe, 2001), 86; and Li, Four Essays, trans. Li and Cauvel, 6. 13. Li Zehou, “A Supplementary Explanation of Subjectivity,” trans. Peter Wong Yih Jiun, Contemporary Chinese Thought 31, no. 2 (1999–2000): 28. Indeed, Gu Xin (“Subjectivity, Modernity,” 208) claims that Li’s conception of subjectivity is as inclusive as Hegel’s conception of totality: “nothing exists outside of it.” 14.  Li, “Supplementary Explanation,” 28. 15.  Ibid., 27–30. 16. Li, Four Essays, trans. Li and Cauvel, 134. The relationship between the first two dimensions clearly resembles the base-superstructure relationship of conventional Marxism, although there is some debate as to how far Li has departed from Marxism. See, for example, Gu, “Subjectivity, Modernity”; and Jing Wang, High Culture Fever: Politics, Aesthetics, and Ideology in Deng’s China (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996). 17.  Li Zehou, “An Outline of the Origin of Humankind,” trans. Peter Wong Yih Jiun, Contemporary Chinese Thought 31, no. 2 (1999–2000): 22. 18.  See, for example, Roger Lewin, Human Evolution: An Illustrated Introduction, 5th ed. (Maiden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2004), 166. 19. Li, Four Essays, trans. Li and Cauvel, 134.


Li Zehou’s Aesthetical Theory and Confucianism

20.  Li, “Outline of the Origin,” 23. 21.  Ibid., 24. 22.  Li Zehou, “The Philosophy of Kant and a Theory of Subjectivity,” Analecta Husserliana: The Yearbook of Phenomenological Research 21 (1986): 138. 23. Although one might want to reserve the term “human” for Homo sapiens, the issue is complicated because the nomenclature of certain members of the family of primates known as great apes is often inconsistent. The great apes are a taxonomic family of primates that includes orangutans, gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos, members of the extinct genus Australopithecus, and members of the genus Homo, only one species of which, Homo sapiens, is extant. Until recently the term “hominid” (of the family Hominidae) was used to refer to the group consisting of Homo sapiens, the extinct members of the genus Homo, and all of its immediate ancestors (e.g., Australopithecus, Paranthropus, and Ardipithecus). In much contemporary scientific writing, however, the term “hominid” has been broadened to include all the great apes and their ancestors; and the group that had been called “hominid” is called “hominin” (of the subfamily Homininae). Other writers continue to use the narrow meaning of “hominid,” a situation that can cause no little amount of confusion (Beth Blaxland, “Hominid and Hominin—What’s the Difference?,” Australian Museum, accessed August 13, 2012, Thus, many scholars call all members of the genus Homo (only one member of which is extant) “humans.” I have adopted this use of the term “human.” 24. Li, Four Essays, trans. Li and Cauvel, 91–93. 25. Karl Marx, “Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844,” in Tucker, MarxEngels Reader, 88–89. Marx may have meant that only Homo sapiens is “human,” but contemporary usage differs. 26. Li, Four Essays, trans. Li and Cauvel, 92–101, 135. 27. Philip Haas and David Hockney, A Day on the Grand Canal with the Emperor of China or: Surface Is Illusion But So Is Depth (London: British Film Institute, 1988), videocassette (VHS); Wen C. Fong, “Why Chinese Painting Is History,” Art Bulletin 85, no. 2 (2003): 273–274. 28. Li, Four Essays, trans. Li and Cauvel, 91. 29. I am oversimplifying Kant and ignoring his complex, but not always consistent, vocabulary. 30. Li, Four Essays, trans. Li and Cauvel, 167. 31.  Ibid., 180. 32. Sally McBrearty and Alison S. Brooks, “The Revolution That Wasn’t: A New Interpretation of the Origin of Modern Human Behavior,” Journal of Human Evolution 39 (2000): 484–486, doi:10.1006/jhev.2000.0453. McBrearty and Brooks do not directly discuss the origin of a sense of beauty. 33.  Michael Tomasello, The Cultural Origins of Human Cognition (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1999), 16–17. 34. Some scholars consider Australopithecus, as well as members of the genus Homo, to be “human.” Moreover, the relationship between various members of the genus Homo is often controversial, and classifications change with almost every new discovery. Homo habilis, the earliest member of the genus, is sometimes classified as Australopithecus habilis. Homo

Kant and Darwin


erectus may have descended from Homo ergaster, the ancestor of Homo sapiens. There is evidence, however, that Homo erectus and Homo ergaster coexisted, indicating that they may have shared a common ancestor; alternatively, Homo erectus may be a subspecies of Homo ergaster. The classification often depends on where the fossils are found. Fossils of Homo erectus are most often found in East and Southeast Asia. Part of the controversy is a dispute over whether Homo sapiens evolved in Africa and migrated out of Africa 100,000 to 120,000 years ago or began migrating much earlier. Donald Johanson, “Origins of Modern Humans: Multiregional or Out of Africa?,” ActionBioscience (May 2001), accessed July 21, 2010, www​ .­ 35. Richard W. Young, “Evolution of the Human Hand: The Role of Throwing and Clubbing,” Journal of Anatomy 202, no. 1 (2003): 165–174, doi:10.1046/j.1469– 7580.2003.00144.x; Steven Mithen, The Singing Neanderthals: The Origins of Music, Language, Mind, and Body (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2006), 126. See also Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, “Australopithecus africanus,” at What Does It Mean to Be Human? Human Evolutionary Evidence, last modified May 26, 2015, 36. Mithen, Singing Neanderthals, 126. 37.  Ibid., 146. 38. Ibid. 39.  Li, “Outline of the Origin,” 20. 40.  Australopithecus afarensis lived from about 3.85 to 2.95 million years ago. Australopithecus africanus lived from about 3.3 to 2.1 million years ago. Smithsonian, “Australopithecus africanus.” 41. Young (“Evolution of the Human Hand,” 172) notes that although there are no fossil remains of hands of Homo erectus or Homo ergaster, the hands of Homo neanderthalensis are quite similar in strength and range of motion to those of modern humans. See also John Noble Wilford, “Stone Tools from Kenya Are Oldest Yet Discovered,” New York Times, Science section, May 20, 2015. 42. Mithen, Singing Neanderthals, 159; Ryan Ellsworth, “Oldowan and Acheulean Stone Tools,” Museum of Anthropology, University of Missouri, 2008, http://­anthromuseum​ 43. The earliest tool-making industry was discovered in Tanzania in the Olduvai Gorge, but archeologists have discovered what seem to be precursors of the Oldowan tools manufactured 3.3 million years ago. Sonia Harmand, Jason E. Lewis, Craig S. Feibel, et al. “3.3-­Million-Year-Old Stone Tools from Lomekwi 3, West Turkana, Kenya,” Nature 521 (May 21, 2015): 310–315, These tools are not very different from the stones chimpanzees use to crack nuts. Adam Benton, “Oldest Stone Tools Found; Aren’t That Impressive,” Filthy Monkey Men website, May 26, 2016, 44.  Chris Stringer and Peter Andrews, The Complete World of Human Evolution, 2nd ed. (London: Thames and Hudson, 2011), 208; “Hominid Tools,” accessed May 24, 2015, 45. It was thought that these tools are not found in China, but recent discoveries throw this claim into question. See, for example, Hong Ao, Zisheng An, Mark J. Dekkers,


Li Zehou’s Aesthetical Theory and Confucianism

et al., “Pleistocene Magnetochronology of the Fauna and Paleolithic Sites in the Nihewan Basin: Significance for Environmental and Hominin Evolution in North China,” Quaternary Geochronology 18 (December 2013): 78–92; and Guilin Xu, Wei Wang, Christopher J. Bae, Shengmin Huang, and Zhiming Mo, “Spatial Distribution of Paleolithic Sites in Bose Basin, Guangxi, China,” Quaternary International 281 (2012): 10–13. 46. Jennifer Welsh, “Tools May Have Been First Money,” LiveScience, February 29, 2012, 47.  Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind (New York: Pantheon Books. 2012), 206. 48. Ellsworth, “Oldowan and Acheulean Stone Tools.; Stringer and Andrews, Complete World, 209. 49. Lewin, Human Evolution, 166. 50.  Homo habilis made Oldowan tools from at least 2.5 to 1.2 million years ago. Homo erectus made Acheulean tools from about 1.6 million years ago until 200,000 years ago. Ellsworth, “Oldowan and Acheulean Stone Tools.” 51.  Mithen (Singing Neanderthals, 158–159) notes that most of the increase in brain size until about 600,000 years ago was due to a general increase in body size. 52. Tomasello, Cultural Origins, 5. 53.  Ibid., 4–6. 54.  Depending on how earlier species such as Homo helmei are classified, Homo sapiens may have appeared as much as 300,000 years ago. McBrearty and Brooks, “Revolution That Wasn’t,” 453. 55.  “When Was Fire First Controlled by Human Beings?,” Beyond Vegetarianism website, last modified September 23, 2015,​-­interview2c​ .shtml. 56. Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, “Later Stone Age Tools,” at What Does it Mean to Be Human? Human Evolutionary Evidence, last modified May 26, 2015,; Stringer and Andrews, Complete World, 212–213; Christopher S. Henshilwood, Francesco d’Errico, Curtis W. Marean, Richard G. Milo, and Royden Yates, An Early Bone Tool Industry from the Middle Stone Age at Blombos Cave, South Africa: Implications for the Origins of Modern Human Behaviour, Symbolism and Language,” Journal of Human Evolution 41, no. 6 (2001): 688. 57.  Michael Balter, “First Jewelry? Old Shell Beads Suggest Early Use of Symbols,” Science, n.s., 312, no. 5781 (2006): 1731, 58. This presentation simplifies the issues a great deal. A more nuanced discussion of the controversy is presented in Francesco d’Errico, Christopher Henshilwood, Marian Vanhaeren, and Karen van Niekerk, “Nassarius kraussianus Shell Beads from Blombos Cave: Evidence for Symbolic Behavior in the Middle Stone Age,” Journal of Human Evolution 48, no. 1 (2005): 3–24. 59. Richard Klein defends a version of the theory that there was a sudden behavioral revolution, although his argument is more nuanced than my summary of it. Richard G. Klein “Anatomy, Behavior, and Modern Human Origins,” Journal of World Prehistory 9, no. 2 (1995): 167–198, 60. D’Errico et al., “Nassarius kraussianus Shell Beads,” 20; April Nowell, “Defining

Kant and Darwin


Behavioral Modernity in the Context of Neandertal and Anatomically Modern Human Populations,” Annual Review of Anthropology 39 (2010), 441. 61. Li Zehou, The Path of Beauty: A Study of Chinese Aesthetics, trans. Gong Lizeng (Beijing: Morning Glory Publishers, 1988), 2. 62.  McBrearty and Brooks, “Revolution That Wasn’t,” 524. 63.  Nowell, “Defining Behavioral Modernity,” 441. 64.  Marian Vanhaeren, Francesco d’Errico, Karen L. van Niekerk, Christopher S. Henshilwood, and Rudolph M. Erasmus, “Thinking Strings: Additional Evidence for Personal Ornament Use in the Middle Stone Age at Blombos Cave, South Africa,” Journal of Human Evolution 64, no. 6 (2013): 500–517; Henshilwood et al., “Early Bone Tool,” 631–678; d’Errico et al., “Nassarius kraussianus Shell Beads,” 3–24. 65. A critical review of the theory is provided in Rudolf Botha, “Prehistoric Shell Beads as a Window on Language Evolution,” Language and Communication 28, no. 3 (2008): 197–212. 66. Marthe Chandler, “The Meaning of ‘Horse,’ ” in Expressing the Heart’s Intent: Explorations in Chinese Aesthetics (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2017). 67.  Mithen (Singing Neanderthals, 138) discusses such a protolanguage. 68.  Li, “Supplementary Explanation,” 30. 69. Tomasello (Cultural Origins, 15) refers to this ability as one of “understanding others as intentional (or mental) agents (like the self ).” 70. Mithen, Singing Neanderthals, 117, 261. Mithen speculates that it took tens of thousands of years for human languages to replace protolanguage communication systems. 71. Calling this skill “empathy” suggests that it has an emotional component, and it clearly does. 72.  Nowell, “Defining Behavioral Modernity,” 444. 73. Li, “Supplementary Explanation,” 29. Li notes that both Marx and Wittgenstein make this point. Marx and Engels, “German Ideology,” 158; Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, trans. G. E. M. Anscombe (New York: Macmillan, 1953), paragraphs 2 and 19. With respect to Li’s and Marx’ claim that language developed out of our need to make the things we require for survival, it is interesting to note that Wittgenstein’s first example of a “language game” involves cooperation between a builder and his assistant in a construction project. 74. Tomasello, Cultural Origins, 29–30. 75.  Ibid., 76. 76.  Ibid., 75. 77. Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, 174e. 78. Tomasello, Cultural Origins, 15. 79.  Ibid., 26–41. 80. Mithen, Singing Neanderthals, 40, 62–67. 81.  Ibid., 274. 82.  Ibid., chap. 6. 83.  Ibid., 138. 84.  Ibid., 71. 85.  Ibid., 275.


Li Zehou’s Aesthetical Theory and Confucianism

86. Ibid., 71, 276. When an infant is about one to two years of age, the function of baby talk appears to change. It loses many of its musical properties and takes on properties that help children learn the vocabulary and grammar of human language. 87.  Ibid., 117. 88.  Haidt (Righteous Mind, 206) describes Tomasello’s theory. 89. Ian Ravenscroft, “Folk Psychology as a Theory,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Fall 2010 ed., ed. Edward N. Zalta,​ /‌entries/folkpsych-theory. 90.  Chad Hansen, “Philosophy of Mind in China,” in Encyclopedia of Chinese Philosophy, ed. Antonio S. Cua (New York: Routledge, 2003), 91. Hansen’s argument is more complicated and nuanced than this description, and his evidence is primarily linguistic. See Chad Hansen, A Daoist Theory of Chinese Thought (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992); and Hansen, “Philosophy of Mind.” 92. Angeline S. Lillard, “Other Folks’ Theories of Mind and Behavior,” Psychological Science 8, no. 4 (1997): 271. 93.  Ibid., 272. 94.  Ibid., 269, 271. 95. Tomasello, Cultural Origins, 52, 55. Although Tomasello admits that because the biological differences between us and our nearest primate relatives are really quite small, language development did not depend on a series of biological, genetic changes, or even the inventiveness of a few very intelligent people, but rather it grew out of the social life of early humans. This seems correct, but Tomasello’s argument remains relatively individualistic. 96. Li, Path of Beauty, 2. 97. Li, Four Essays, trans. Li and Cauvel, 167. 98. Ibid. 99.  Li, “Supplementary Explanation,” 27; Li, Four Essays, trans. Li and Cauvel, 42. 100. David L. Hall and Roger T. Ames, Thinking from the Han: Self, Truth, and Transcendence in Chinese and Western Culture (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998), chap. 2; Roger T. Ames, Confucian Role Ethics: A Vocabulary (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2011), 87–88; Henry Rosemont Jr., Against Individualism: A Confucian Rethinking of the Foundations of Morality, Politics, Family, and Religion (Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2015), chap. 3. 101. Rosemont, Against Individualism, 38. Rawls’ “veil of ignorance” is intended to shield “foundational individuals” from all of this irrelevant information. 102. Li, Path of Beauty, 2. 103. Li Zehou, The Chinese Aesthetic Tradition, trans. Maija Bell Samei. (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2010), 6; Li, Path of Beauty, 2–10; Li, Four Essays, trans. Li and Cauvel, 68. 104. Li, Chinese Aesthetic Tradition, 5–6. 105.  Li, “Supplementary Explanation,” 28 106. Sandra T. Francis, “The Origins of Dance: The Perspective of Primate Evolution,” Dance Chronicle 14, no. 2/3 (1991): 211–212. 107. Eliade, Shamanism, 458. Eliade claims that the Zhou li contains a description of such a “bear dance” performed by Yu.

Kant and Darwin


108. A number of theorists believe that language and music both began in totemic dances and magic rituals. One such theory is described by Susanne K. Langer in her Philosophy in a New Key (New York: New American Library, 1951), 116–117; another is described by Robert N. Bellah in his Religion in Human Evolution (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2011), 129. 109.  Li (Chinese Aesthetic Tradition, 6) quotes Langer with approval. 110. Li, Chinese Aesthetic Tradition, 6. 111. Li, Four Essays, trans. Li and Cauvel, 151. 112. Eliade, Shamanism, 4. Although Eliade’s claim to have found the source of a “universal religion” in shamanistic rites goes way beyond the evidence, Henry Rosemont notes all the great religious traditions provide ways for people to experience a spiritual, mystical, religious sense of safety and belonging to something greater than our individual selves, which Christians describe as being “secure in the hands of God” and Chinese may consider the harmony of humanity and nature expressed by tian ren he yi. Henry Rosemont Jr., Rationality and Religious Experience (Chicago: Open Court, 2001), 31; and Li Zehou, “A Few Questions concerning the History of Chinese Aesthetics (Excerpts),” trans. Peter Wong Yih Jiun, Contemporary Chinese Thought 31, no. 2 (1999–2000): 74. 113. Emile Durkheim, “Religion and Ritual,” in Emile Durkheim: Selected Writings, ed. Anthony Giddens (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 222–232. 114.  Paul Carls, “Émile Durkheim (1858–1917),” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, accessed June 14, 2015, 115.  Émile Durkheim, “Secularization and Rationality,” in Giddens, Emile Durkheim: Selected Writings, 241. Durkheim seems to be assuming the distinction, once common in anthropology, between “primitive” or “savage” societies and “civilized” ones that share the values of the European Enlightenment. 116.  Li’s Confucian tradition does not make these assumptions. See David L. Hall and Roger T. Ames, Thinking Through Confucius (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1987): 11–25. 117. Li, Path of Beauty; Li, Chinese Aesthetic Tradition. A detailed discussion of the processes of “cultural sedimentation”—that is, cultural-psychological formations shared by members of a particular culture—is beyond the scope of this essay. 118. Li, “The Western Is the Substance, and the Chinese Is for Application,” trans. Peter Wong Yih Jiun, Contemporary Chinese Thought 31, no. 2 (1999–2000): 32–39. 119. Li, Chinese Aesthetic Tradition, 210–212. 120. Haidt, Righteous Mind, 225–226. 121.  Barbara Ehrenreich, Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2006), introduction, chap. 2. 122.  Quoted in Haidt, Righteous Mind, 221. 123. Haidt, Righteous Mind, 222. 124. Ibid., 223. Haidt distinguishes Raves from Rock and Roll which he claims celebrate individualism and sexuality. In American culture one generation’s music frequently frightens their parents. 125.  Ibid., 231–232. Italics in the original. 126. Ehrenreich, Dancing, chap. 11.


Li Zehou’s Aesthetical Theory and Confucianism

127. Rosemont, Rationality and Religious Experience, 32–33. 128.  There is clearly a role for self-cultivation in this area. 129.  Li, “Western Is the Substance,” 37. 130. Gu Xin, “Hegelianism and Chinese Intellectual Discourse: A Study of Li Zehou,” Journal of Contemporary China 4, no. 8 (1995): 1–27; Gu, “Subjectivity, Modernity,” 205–246. 131.  It has been argued that this understanding of Hegel’s state is a misunderstanding, based perhaps on a flawed translation. Wikipedia, s.v. “Elements of the Philosophy of Right,” accessed February 20, 2015,​_of​_the​_Philosophy​ _of_Right. 132. Stephen Houlgate, “Hegel’s Aesthetics,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Spring 2014 ed., ed. Edward N. Zalta,​ /hegel-aesthetics/. 133. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, “The German Ideology, Part I (Selections),” trans. Loyd D. Easton and Kurt H. Guddat, in Karl Marx: Selected Writings, ed. Lawrence H. Simon (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1994), 119. 134.  Li, “Western Is the Substance,” 37–38. Li has been criticized for having too sanguine a view of the benefits of capitalistic production. Certainly, one hopes he is not naive enough to believe that every family, much less every person, on the planet could one day drive his or her own private automobile. 135. Woei Lien Chong, “Guest Editor’s Introduction: History as the Realization of Beauty; Li Zehou’s Aesthetic Marxism,” Contemporary Chinese Thought 31, no. 2 (1999– 2000): 8. 136.  Li, “Western Is the Substance,” 35. 137.  Li, “Supplementary Explanation,” 28. 138. Rosemont, Rationality and Religious Experience, 10. 139. Li, Four Essays, trans. Li and Cauvel, 57. 140.  Ibid., 57–58. 141. Li, Chinese Aesthetic Tradition, 47. 142. Ibid. 143. Li, Four Essays, trans. Li and Cauvel, 59, 178–179. 144.  Ibid., 167. 145.  Ibid., 79. 146. Eliade, Shamanism, 504. Li makes much the same point. 147.  Durkheim, “Religion and Ritual,” 228. 148. Li, Four Essays, trans. Li and Cauvel, 76; Li Zehou, “Some Tentative Remarks on China’s Wisdom (Excerpts),” trans. Peter Wong Yih Jiun, Contemporary Chinese Thought 31, no. 2 (1999–2000): 61. 149. Li, Four Essays, trans. Li and Cauvel, 180. 150.  Ibid., 182–183.


Li Zehou’s Aesthetics and the Confucian “Body” of Chinese Cultural Sedimentation An Inquiry into Alternative Interpretations of Confucianism Tsuyoshi ISHII

It is not an exaggeration to say that the largest contribution of Li Zehou’s philosophy is his aesthetic thought. As one of the most distinguished philosophers in Mainland China after 1949, he once greatly influenced Chinese intellectuals and university students, especially in the 1980s during the emergence of the “Cultural Fever” and the New Enlightenment movement. As an opinion leader, Li played an important role in those cultural movements. In the post–Cultural Revolution period, many youths were enthusiastic about a new, fresh intellectual discourse that advocated new enlightenment based on nonrevolutionary thought and a revaluation of traditional classics. What we must remember here is that not only were many of Li’s works in the 1980s addressed to China’s youths to urge a revaluation of Chinese tradition, but his revisiting of traditional culture eventually fostered the rise of the so-called Mainland neo-Confucianism movement in recent times. In fact, we should not dismiss the fact that his aesthetic analysis of Chinese cultural history was the very starting point of the new enlightenment and cultural movements that emerged in the 1980s. And in this sense, it is important to take his aesthetic thought into account when we examine Li’s revaluation of Chinese tradition, particularly of Confucianism. His position as an aesthetician was very polemical in the 1950s because of his profound criticism of both Cai Yi (1906–1992) and Zhu Guangqian (1897–1986), which is well known as the “aesthetics debate.” We should say that Li Zehou’s importance as an influential intellec313


Li Zehou’s Aesthetical Theory and Confucianism

tual in new China was established through this debate that long preceded the cultural movement of the 1980s. There are already plenty of excellent scholarly works on Li’s aesthetics. A prominent example is the Philosophy East and West issue published in April 1999.1 It focuses on Li’s views on subjectivity and aesthetics in modern Chinese thought, including an article he wrote in response to the discussion.2 The central topic of that volume is how Li connected Kant with Marx and transformed the Kantian proposition of aesthetic judgments into the idea of subjectivity, or subjectality (主體性) in Li’s terminology, which could be formed through historical “sedimentation,” or the accumulation of psychological forms throughout the history of “the experience of humankind as a whole.”3 This intensive discussion contains many worthy suggestions; even now, it reveals the importance of the concept of subjectivity/subjectality, which accurately expresses Li’s unique interpretation of historical ontology juxtaposed with other key terms like “­cultural-psychological formation” and “sedimentation.” However, this chapter instead looks to the concept’s original Chinese name, which contains the character ti 體, or body. Here, let us recall how Li defines this term: The term “subjectivity” has been translated into Chinese using two related words with different meanings: zhuguanxing (主觀性) and zhu­ti­ xing (主體性). In the former, guan (觀) is concerned with ideas; the word means the consciousness of the subject (that is, a human being). In the latter, ti (體) is concerned with the body; the word means the material substance of human beings. Modern Western philosophy, from Descartes to Kant, is a tradition of “philosophy of consciousness”—or, as Descartes put it, “Cogito, ergo sum.” This philosophy is one of subjectivity. But in the Chinese tradition, the separation between subject and object is not very clear, it is not important, and it is sometimes even overlooked, especially in the field of epistemology. When I attempted to put the idea of subjectivity into Chinese, although I retained the meaning attached to zhuguanxing, I put more emphasis on the second word, zhutixing. Therefore, I decided it might be better to create a new word, subjectality, to translate this Chinese word zhutixing into English.4

Such a notion of cultural identity, represented as ti, has prompted various alternate interpretations by scholars of East Asian philosophy. This is quite obvious when we take a cursory look at the discussions within and outside the contemporary New Confucianism movement. One of the most typical figures is Xiong Shili, who elaborates the concept ti originally inspired by Buddhism and is regarded as one of the founders of the Contemporary New Confucian School. But Li’s interpretation of ti here is completely different from Xiong’s

Aesthetics & Confucian “Body” of Cultural Sedimentation


interpretation, which was derived from Buddhist genealogy. Unlike Li, Xiong does not understand ti as body, a kind of organism. In this sense, Li’s position is unique among those of the contemporary New Confucians who emerged mainly in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Therefore, it is intriguing to examine how Li understands the concept of ti, or body, and how that concept influences his understanding of Confucianism. Though the discussion in Philosophy East and West did not contest how Li’s aesthetics characterized Confucianism, it is clearly important to examine carefully his understanding of Confucianism, considering that the revival of Li Zehou in Chinese intellectual circles in the 1980s ushered in today’s Confucian revival in Mainland China. An Overview of Li Zehou’s Aesthetics and Critique of Moral Universality

Let us first briefly review Li’s aesthetic thought.5 In the aesthetics debate of the 1950s, young Li Zehou, a graduate of the Department of Philosophy at Peking University, criticized two established scholars: Zhu Guangqian and Cai Yi. Zhu, who was deeply inspired by the Italian philosopher Benedetto Croce (1866–1952), was one of Li’s most important opponents because of his idealistic position. Confronting the ideological transformation of new China, Zhu published several articles to express his self-criticism as an idealist. Cai, on the other hand, a representative Marxian expert of aesthetics at that time, was emphasizing the objective existence of beauty. Li Zehou, also a Marxist, criticized not only Zhu Guangqian but also Cai Yi. In particular, Li described Cai’s thought as a vulgar interpretation of materialism; at the same time, he insisted that his own understanding of Marx was more authentic than Cai’s. Li’s position was unique because he criticized both an idealistic scholar and a Marxist. However, it is precisely this uniqueness that foreshadowed the birth of his aesthetic discourse after the 1980s. Though Li himself emphasized that his position as a Marxist was most orthodox, he could not avoid persecution during the Cultural Revolution and was sent to work at the May Seventh Cadre School (Wu qi ganbu xuexiao). According to one famous story, he put an English translation of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason inside the cover of the Selected Works of Mao Zedong to read it. Li’s Critique of Critical Philosophy: A New Key to Kant—published in 1979, only a few years after the arrest of the Gang of Four in 1976—is a great accomplishment that emerged out of his struggle during that period of political oppression. Soon after publication, this book created a major sensation among people who were thirsty for intellectual writings after such a long period of intellectual suppression.6 In this book, Li shows a unique way of interpreting Kantian critical philosophy to make it correspond with Marxian theory. Although it contains some polemical arguments in it, his attempt in this book of “returning to Kant”7


Li Zehou’s Aesthetical Theory and Confucianism

from Marxian historical materialism undoubtedly attracted sensitive Chinese readers who had grown weary of dogmatic Marxism-Leninism.8 Afterward, he published another, more influential monograph in 1981 entitled The Path of Beauty, in which he made a detailed survey of the whole history of Chinese traditional art, from the prehistoric era to the Qing dynasty. Because such a humanistic narrative of Chinese history was totally different from the official dogmatic historical narrative of class struggle and appeared much more attractive and beautiful to readers, it is quite natural that the public response to this book was greater than to Li’s earlier publication on Kantian philosophy. We cannot ignore that Li’s aesthetic discourse was formed in the context of ideological struggle in new China, as Woei Lien Chong showed in her article in Philosophy East and West;9 therefore, his discourse inevitably possesses political connotations that are responding to specific contemporary ideological arguments. Although some may say that cultural discourses after the 1980s more or less tend to be depoliticized, they were not yet able to avoid the political in the sense of “depoliticized politics.” According to Chong, Li tried to criticize Maoist voluntarism and to develop another subjectivity that could constitute an alternative theory of Marxism.10 In this respect, it is worthwhile to observe his critique of Zhang Taiyan (1869–1936), in which he also criticized the well-known propagandistic “Criticize Lin, Criticize Confucius Campaign” and the subsequent Confucian-Legalist struggle in the late Cultural Revolution period.11 An important series of his works published after the arrest of the Gang of Four is his rewriting of modern Chinese intellectual history.12 Starting approximately in 1973, the Gang of Four launched the so-called “Criticize Lin, Criticize Confucius Campaign.” The campaign was followed by a relevant ideological dispute famously known as the Confucian-Legalist struggle. In both this campaign and this dispute, the Legalist school was praised as an anti-­Confucian school, whereas Confucianism was portrayed as a feudal, reactionary, and antirevolutionary ideology. In such a view, the official narrative of modern intellectual history was written according to the dichotomous framework of feudal moral-centered Confucian thought versus Legalism, which advocated power-governance. In the 1980s a mainstream discourse emerged that attacked the Cultural Revolution. It is understandable that the revaluation of Confucianism had occurred in such an atmosphere. Beside his aesthetic works, Li’s series of writings on Chinese modern intellectual history was also playing a role in revaluing Confucianism. Namely, his works published in the 1980s became an important part of the New Enlightenment movement that presaged the Confucian revival in Mainland China. In this sense, Li’s discourse was effective in constructing the Mainland version of contemporary New Confucianism, which shares Kantian

Aesthetics & Confucian “Body” of Cultural Sedimentation


influences with Hong Kong–Taiwanese New Confucianism on the one hand, and Mainland Chinese Marxism and historical materialism on the other. Against the dogmatic campaign of the Confucian-Legalist struggle, Li discussed and reexamined the thought of Yan Fu (1854–1921) and Zhang Taiyan, both of whom were classified at the time as the most representative Legalist intellectuals in Chinese modern history. Li’s argument regarding Zhang was undoubtedly written to oppose such a dogmatized portrayal of historical figures; however, his critical approach is complicated because he uses both a materialistic historical view and a nonmaterialistic moral view in his analysis. He seems to situate the development of morality in the process of the development of the mode of production. In this respect, he says, Zhang’s moral views were not suitable to the level of economic development at that time. The problem is that the morality for which Li argues inevitably contains some sort of subjective element that is fundamentally irrelevant to the historical materialist view of modes of production. In addition, the reason Li draws out the concept of “morality” in this way may be connected with his understanding of Kant. In other words, by returning to Kant from Marx, he tries to develop a sort of new universal morality that corresponds to the Kantian notion that “human beings should be treated as an end in themselves.” For Li, morality should be based on universal principles. The obvious problem, however, is, how does a society establish a universal morality? And in this respect, what seems curious is that Li tries to do this through a historical approach, in particular by constructing a narrative of Chinese intellectual history that includes the revolutionary modern historical line from Zhang Taiyan to Lu Xun (1881–1936). This means that Li does not attempt to refute the fundamental framework of historical materialism espoused by the Communist regime but instead tries to deduce an objective principle of morality from historicity. Yet his approach of rooting the foundation of universality in history is probably different from the Kantian approach, which relies on a priori synthetic judgments. It is intriguing that Li’s critique of Zhang Taiyan is regarded as an allegorical criticism against Maoism, which is characterized as a rural-based revolutionary, voluntarist theory. For example, Li defines Zhang as “a successor and defender of feudal landlord culture” and says that Zhang “unconsciously expressed the populistic emotions of the small-producer peasant class.”13 In his conclusion, he strongly criticizes Zhang’s philosophy as a typical subjective idealism. The following passage seems to be a kind of serious reflection on the leftist radicalism that predominated in the previous decades: The philosophies of Tan Sitong and Zhang Taiyan are extremely immature, or rather nonsense in terms of their knowledge of natural science. This is directly related to the social backwardness in social productive


Li Zehou’s Aesthetical Theory and Confucianism

power and mode in China at that time, and is also related to the situation at that time, such as the extremely weak modern industry, the feebleness of both the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, and the surrounding social base composed of the huge population of backward small producers. Therefore, in order to let materialism be rooted firmly, and to prevent the rapid spread of various subjective idealisms, it is a very important element, even if it is the only or most important [element], to think about how to radically transform the small-producer-based society and complete modernization as early as possible.14

Actually, through his critique of Zhang, Li seemingly aims to criticize the narrative of Chinese socialistic revolution that depicts the genealogy from Zhang Taiyan to Lu Xun. But, on the contrary, Li also highlights Zhang’s significance as a distinguished nationalist scholar. It is noteworthy that this aspect of Zhang’s legacy became the very hallmark of the 1990s’ so-called national learning fever ( guoxue re) and remains popular to this day. In short, Li’s critique of Zhang carries an ambiguity that actually reveals both sides of the same coin: one is providing a new interpretation of materialism based on an antirevolutionary position that criticizes Maoist radicalism, and the other is preparing a new foundation for Chinese national identity through the restoration of traditional learning. In other words, Li foreshadowed a “farewell to revolution” era long before Liu Zaifu and Li himself advocated the manifesto in 1995. In any case, Li attempts to redefine “moral” subjectivity without resorting to voluntarism, while still keeping with historical materialism. This is also a crucial agenda for his aesthetic thought. His aesthetic teleology is developed precisely from such a standpoint, through the elaboration of the notion of “the humanization of nature.” After his Kantian turn in the 1980s, Li emphasized another concept, ­cultural-psychological formation, which emerges from historical sedimentation through human labor and the productive process: Historical, specific social moralities are in fact quite different from each other, or radically contradictory. When conflicts or collisions happen between the natural existence of individuals and the interests of the masses, then any class and the masses will require individuals to sacrifice themselves for collective interests so as to maintain these classes or masses. . . . The “universal” form of legislation advocated by Kant is truly “empty” because there is no specific historical condition in it, if it is regarded as the outer ethical norm applied to specific social struggles. Nevertheless, the contribution of Kant, or the significance of his ethics, lies just on this point. He shows us the question of cultural-psychological

Aesthetics & Confucian “Body” of Cultural Sedimentation


formation, which contains universal necessity. Such a formation, which belongs only to humankind, is historically accumulated and formulated by culture. It shows itself as the temporal-spatial intuition of cognition, which is a self-conscious moral rule. . . . Hegel, Marx, and the Marxists did not recognize it.15

On the one hand, Li says that it is not possible to establish universal morality apart from a specific class or society, but on the other hand, he also claims that morality is universal because it is the cultural characteristic proper to all human beings. For Li, the uniqueness of human beings that distinguishes them from both materials and gods is their cultural-psychological formation, which is cultivated and accumulated historically. In Li’s argument, Kant is significant because he clarifies that the cultural-psychological formation is universal in the sense of formal logic and that specific elements of moral imperatives should be historically determined. Li’s unique interpretation of Kant also expresses his own aesthetic notions. Li exposes Kant’s contradictions—that is, Kant insisted on “human subjective initiative to legislate against nature”16 on the one hand, but he also needed to get back to “the God in morality” in consequence.17 For Li, Kant should have developed his idea to “praise humans’ subjective initiative in social practice and the radical viewpoint that nature forms toward human beings.”18 He explains: The proposition of “nature forms toward human beings” is a profound philosophical subject. This is the very place on which the essence of aesthetics lies. The contradictorily integrated relationship between nature and human beings, which is historically accumulated within aestheticpsychological phenomena, derives from humane-specific sensibility, and at this point human beings are distinguished from animals; both humanizing nature and naturalizing humans are intensively expressed. Therefore, viewing from materialistic practice, neither god nor teleology is necessary to combine cognition with ethics, nature with humans, the whole (society) and individuals, but the only necessity is aesthetics. Among truth, the good, and beauty, the last one is the synthesis of truth and the good, or the historical consequence of the interactions of the former. Beauty is not only the subject of artistic appreciation or creation but also a radical philosophical-historical issue of “humanizing nature.”19

Li substitutes “cultural-psychological formation” for the role of God in Kant. It is formed in the historical process of humanizing nature, which means human subjective initiative toward nature. In that process, the originally varied internal ends of each individual will be represented as the entire social structure,


Li Zehou’s Aesthetical Theory and Confucianism

which Li calls the naturalized human. Accordingly, the “naturalized human” will play a role in molding human internal spiritual functions or cognition to produce aesthetic judgments. The interaction between humans and nature is mediated by tools that enable humans to be practical. Regarding the outcome produced by human practice toward nature, Li says: The outcome has its immanent, psychological aspect—that is, a formal structure that consists of internally concentrated or accumulated intelligence, will, and aesthetics. This is a structural aspect of culture-­psychology. Both scientific knowledge and artistic works produced in different times or different societies are its objectified forms. The whole human history, social practice, and its outcome transcending nature exist from time immemorial, while individual life and the human’s will of maintaining his or her life are finite.20

Though Li agrees with the Kantian notion of subjective universality, his point is that not a priori but specific history determines aesthetic judgment. This difference is quite critical, because the universality of a priori judgments is crucial for Kant. According to Li’s explanation, phrases such as “the humanization of nature” or “nature forms toward human beings”—which Li has used since the aesthetic debate in the 1950s, far earlier than the Cultural Revolution—are directly derived from his interpretation of Marx’ “Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844.” For example, in 1962 he explained how his notion of “the humanization of nature” is derived from Marx: We can find the concept of “the humanized nature” in the early work of Marx. His advocacy of this concept was mentioned, not when he discussed artistic or aesthetic practices, but when he discussed human labor and social production. . . . “Humanization” could be completed by practice (altering nature), not by consciousness (appreciating nature). Therefore, the concept means that nature transforms from what has no relationship with human beings, or is hostile to human beings as an an sich [intrinsic] existence, to be what has an association with human beings—that is, an object that is helpful for human beings. Using the original words of Marx, that is “nature forms toward human beings.” This means that nature becomes “anthropological nature” as well as the “nonorganic body of human beings.” This transformation cannot be completed by consciousness, aesthetics, or art. It is only possible that it be completed by revolutionary practice and productive labor toward sensible matters. These two

Aesthetics & Confucian “Body” of Cultural Sedimentation


different interpretations of “humanization” are seemingly quite similar, but indeed, they are totally different. One, exaggerating the function of subjective consciousness, is a way of idealistic understanding; the other, stressing objective practice, is a way of materialist understanding.21

In the 1980s, Cai Yi criticized Li’s interpretation as a distortion of Marxian theory. However, Li continued to express similar opinions on various occasions. This tells us that Li did have to refer to early Marxian thought to produce his aesthetic ideas represented by “the humanization of nature,” regardless of the correctness of his understanding of Marx. After the end of the Cultural Revolution, Li rediscovered the notion of “cultural-psychological formation,” which defines the social structure of morality and ethics by returning to Kant from Marx. Kant tried to explain how the free, autonomous will obeys moral rules so that universality and particularity can be integrated. In comparison, Li regards synthetic association between human beings and nature mediated by human subjective labor as the origin of the beauty, which is the integrated form of the truth and the good. In his understanding, nature as an object of human productive labor should be formulated toward human beings: I define the law of nature itself as truth and the fundamental character of human beings as goodness. The purposiveness of the subjective goodness and the regularity of objective truth merge when a person’s subjective purpose functions in accordance with objective law. This unity of truth and goodness and of regularity and purposiveness is the root of beauty. Originally, the laws of nature were specific, concrete, and limited, but through the long social practice of human beings who abstract, generalize, and organize these practical activities, the specific laws of nature became universal. Because of this, subjects became free to act and, hence, there can be a unity of regularity and purposiveness, of truth and goodness. This unity appears in subjective action as the form of goodness, which has the formal power to reshape objects. Consequently, with regard to the practical action of the subject, the root of beauty consists in its regularity; truth becomes the content of goodness. With regard to objective things, the root of beauty consists in its purposiveness; goodness becomes the content of truth. When truth is the content of goodness, we have beauty of society; when goodness is the content of truth, we have beauty of nature.22

The existence of nature itself needs to be represented by human activities. The beauty will appear when both the objective laws of nature and the subjec-


Li Zehou’s Aesthetical Theory and Confucianism

tive productive practices of human beings become integrated in harmony with truth and goodness. Therefore, for Li, in spite of the objectiveness of beauty, the sensuousness of beauty is a matter of the human senses responding to the appearance of beauty, which should be represented by human subjective practices. In that sense, the development of productive forces and scientific-­technological civilization is nothing less than the recognition of a new nature. The aesthetic accomplishment in such meaning is recognized by Li Zehou as a kind of autonomy of liberal will. At the same time, he thinks that the specific qualities of morality are formed through historical accumulation. Then, in his understanding, universal a priori should be limited to a formally logical “cultural-psychological formation.” Such a notion must be understood as an amalgam of historicism and deductive logic. We must say that such a discourse, made by Li in the 1980s when China was experiencing a major transition from Marxian dogmatism to the policies of the reform and opening, did attract a lot of scholars and young students, since it showed them an alternative discursive strategy of introducing notions like liberty and will without denying a materialist view of history. Chinese Aesthetic Tradition and Confucianism

The emphasis that Li Zehou places on the historicity of morality formation and the sensuousness of beauty inevitably leads him to historicize Chinese aesthetic tradition. In this sense, his “rebirth” in the early 1980s with the publication of The Path of Beauty (Mei de licheng) is not accidental. But this book is a kind of history of Chinese art; therefore, we cannot take it into account as a work on aesthetics. Another book, entitled The Chinese Aesthetic Tradition (Huaxia meixue) and first published in Singapore in 1988, should instead be counted as Li’s first important monograph on Chinese aesthetics. This book demonstrates how Li describes the aesthetic subjectivity of the “cultural-psychological formation,” in which he verifies the existence of a Chinese cultural foundation formed by the process of historical sedimentation. It is quite obvious that such historical subjectivity directly means a Chinese nation centered on the Han people. In particular, Li focuses on Confucianism when he discusses China’s cultural-psychological formation. For him, it is mainly Confucianism that is the Chinese subjectivity of social-historical practice that contributes to its cultural-psychological formation. For the purposes of this paper, it could be said that Confucianism is the very “body” of Chinese aesthetic history as the accumulated cultural-psychological formation. At the beginning of his commentary to the Analects, Li reveals his strong affinity to Confucianism: “I now still believe that Confucianism—of course, both Confucius and the Analects should come first—plays the irreplaceable, premier role

Aesthetics & Confucian “Body” of Cultural Sedimentation


in the historical process of molding and structuring the cultural-­psychological formation of the Han nation.”23 While the notion of cultural-psychological formation is important to establish the historical subjectivity, or subjectality, of the Chinese nation (or rather, the Han nation), Confucianism is emphasized as the historical substance that characterizes the Chinese sedimentation of its cultural-psychological formation. In his Chinese Aesthetic Tradition, the significant foundation of Confucianism in the Chinese cultural-psychological formation seems to be almost essential. The main narrative of this book is shown as the historical process of the harmonization between nature and human beings, in which the process of humanizing nature mainly functions. The history of the Chinese humanities since the rise of primitive Confucianism is described from the standpoint of how Confucianism’s “humanizing nature” has been supplemented by nonConfucian thoughts to be accumulated as the Chinese historical-cultural sedimentation. The philosophy of Zhuangzi as the representative thought reflecting Daoism provided the notion of “the naturalization of humans”—which is opposite to “the humanization of nature” led by Confucian thought—thereby enabling Confucian aesthetics to establish “a truly aesthetic attitude toward life, nature, and art.”24 Li notes that, eventually, “in this Confucian-Daoist synthesis, Confucianism is the foundation, and Daoism has been appropriated by and homogenized into the Confucian system.”25 Then the Chan spirit of Buddhism “added a new depth to the psychological noumenon in the Chinese tradition”26 and “turned out to be an even more metaphysical version of the conscious humanity of Confucian humanism.”27 This also paved the way for the rise of neo-Confucianism in the Song dynasty, which achieved “the high point of Confucian philosophy and the Chinese aesthetic tradition.”28 When considering intellectuals in the modern period, Li praises the pioneering role of Cai Yuanpei (1868–1940), because he is the most distinguished figure who tried to import aesthetics to China as a modern intellectual discipline. In particular, Cai’s famous argument for “allowing aesthetic cultivation to replace religion” is very important for Li, since it is “the intersection of the Confucian tradition with Western aesthetics.” As Li puts it, “When the non-Dionysian culture of the rites and music tradition and the aesthetic philosophy of the Confucian tradition opened their doors once again to absorb and assimilate the philosophy and aesthetics of Kant and Schopenhauer, the result was this new proposition.”29 Thus, the conclusion of The Chinese Aesthetic Tradition is quite clear. Li attributes the quality of Chinese traditional sedimentation to Confucian elements: Confucius said, “One who warms up the old in order to know the new can be a teacher” (Analects 2.11). The purpose of looking back is in order, through history, to discover oneself, grasp the present, and determine the


Li Zehou’s Aesthetical Theory and Confucianism

future. It is the means of understanding one’s current situation and of looking ahead to one’s prospects for the future. All of these actions will bear the marks of one’s own historical prejudices—prejudices that result from the sedimentation of a certain cultural-psychological formation and noumenal consciousness. What is the noumenon? It is ultimate reality, the origin of everything. According to the Confucian-based Chinese tradition, the nou­me­ non is not nature, for a universe without humanity is meaningless. Nor is the noumenon a deity, for to ask humans to prostrate themselves before a god would not fit with the notions of “partnering in the transformation and nurturing of all things” or “establishing the heart of heaven and earth.” It must follow, then, that the noumenon is humankind itself. In this book I have advocated a kind of anthropological ontology (or, a practical philosophy of subjectivity), according to which ultimate reality is to be found in humankind’s social-technological construction and cultural-psychological formation. In other words, ultimate reality is found in the two types of “humanization of nature”; the first, in which external nature is brought into the human realm, and the second, in which internal nature is molded into “human nature.” This human nature constitutes the psychological noumenon, an indispensable element of which is the naturalization of humans.30

“Confucian-based Chinese tradition,” thus, is recognized to be the substance of historical ontology in the Chinese cultural-psychological formation. And the whole history of such a tradition as observed above is like a continuous process of metabolism that enables an organic body to be always changing while maintaining its harmonious unity as a whole. Li’s theory of historical ontology, or anthropological ontology, as a practical philosophy of subjectivity, includes teleological temporal direction. The notion of “the humanization of nature” is a typical expression. On the other hand, Li’s historical narrative of “Chinese tradition” is profoundly rooted in Confucian tradition, which contains an unlimited potential of diversity, such that it could absorb and digest new foreign thoughts in history. Accordingly, the Confucian sedimentation as a historical noumenon in the Chinese culturalpsychological formation is perceived to be a harmonious and integrated whole that allows diversity within it from the beginning. Is “cultural-psychological formation” universal or specific? Li’s description is not so easy to understand and seems rather complicated. Perhaps because of such difficulty, Li reiterates his idea on multiple occasions. Here is an example in which Li answers this inquiry in a relatively clear way:

Aesthetics & Confucian “Body” of Cultural Sedimentation


The concrete historical content and meaning of ethical behavior and moral law are quite different in different societies and at different times. But the form or “spirit” (in my terms, the human “cultural-psychological formation” [wenhua xinli jiegou 文化心理結構] or “sedimentation”) is the same; that is the reason it seems to be a priori.31

Therefore, we must examine the “spirit” of the Chinese cultural-psychological formation, or in other words, the Confucian body of the Chinese cultural-­ psychological formation. In Li’s narrative, Confucianism has its origins in ancient ritual and music emerging from shamanistic, totemic ceremonies, and its foundation was established by the Zhou dynasty, which replaced the Shang dynasty (alternatively called the Yin dynasty). As Wang Guowei (1877–1927) argues in his “On the Institutions of Yin and Zhou,” the establishment of the Zhou dynasty was a crucial turning point that marked the largest political and cultural transformation in Chinese history. Referring to Wang’s hypothesis, Li remarks: As Confucius dreamed of the Duke of Zhou, the Confucian School demands to “restore” the “government of three dynasties.” All of them have historical reasons to “look to the past”—that is, the clan society of the golden era under patriarchy. Therefore, I stress Confucius and the Confucian School, and my argument in this book revolves around them. That is not because I like Confucianism very much. Whether you like it or not, the fact is that the Confucian School did play a central role in the process of creating the Chinese cultural-psychological formation, and its role also originated from actual social life.32

In The Chinese Aesthetic Tradition, Li elaborates on his assertion of the crucial significance of the Shang-Zhou transition and its influence on Confucianism: Wang Guowei (1877–1927), in his work on Shang and Zhou institutions, emphasizes the importance of the transformations that occurred at the Shang-Zhou transition. Most important among these were the establishment by the Duke of Zhou of the patrilineal, feudal, and sacrificial systems as well as the systematization of the rites and music. These developments were indeed of epoch-making significance in Chinese history. . . . The real reason that Confucius and his followers so extolled the Duke of Zhou, and that later generations would even regard the Duke of Zhou as Confucius’ equal, is precisely his systematization of the rites and music that Confucius so staunchly upheld.33


Li Zehou’s Aesthetical Theory and Confucianism

Here it is necessary to understand what Wang Guowei argued in his article on the institutions established by the Zhou dynasty. The most important point is that the patriarchal kin lineage was legitimatized as a governmental system so that it could guarantee the stability of government not only for the Zhou dynasty but also for subsequent dynasties in China. Wang says: Stability is the greatest good in the world, while conflict is the greatest harm in the world. Those who follow heaven are stable, those who follow men are in conflict. . . . Therefore, the succession of the sons of Heaven and feudal lords is based on the rule of defining a legitimate heir from direct sons.34

Wang emphasizes the stability of the government when he discusses the contributions of the Duke of Zhou, and he attributes the foundation of this stability to kinship, because he assumes that blood ties have less potential to cause conflict over succession. Such stability was recognized as a system that could represent the will of heaven, and it became the ideal political-moral institution in Confucian philosophy. The Yin-Zhou Transition and the “All under Heaven” View: Another Narrative of Confucian Tradition

Wang Guowei’s theory about the Yin-Zhou transition provides a typical understanding of the characteristics of the Confucian cultural sedimentation as it influenced Li Zehou’s affirmation of Confucianism. Wang’s picture of the Confucian institutions established by the Duke of Zhou not only offers the cultural foundation of Confucian rituals but also strengthens the image of the Confucian cultural-psychological formation as an ontological body by emphasizing the importance of blood ties. Therefore, we could say that Li’s theory on subjectality actually shares a common description of Confucian traditional culture with the theories of other distinguished scholars like Wang Guowei. However, it does not mean that it is the only possible narrative. There are other possible interpretations of the significant institutional transition from Yin to Zhou. And it seems helpful to understand the characteristics and, in some sense, the limits of Li’s historical thought. Here let us take a brief look at an explication by Takeo Hiraoka (1909–1995), a Japanese sinologist famous for his theory of “the worldview of ‘all under heaven’ ”: From the beginning, the Zhou dynasty had a supra-clannish characteristic. Therefore, for the Zhou to inherit the late-Yin social or cultural real-

Aesthetics & Confucian “Body” of Cultural Sedimentation


ity as a whole was inevitable. And of course, it was impossible for them to merely attribute their triumph over the Yin to the superiority of their clannish god. It is impossible to understand the incident of the transition between the two dynasties without the recognition of the existence of a supra-clannish principle that could transcend both the defeated Yin and the triumphant Zhou.35

This idea of the new principle of legitimacy is totally different from Wang Guowei’s argument, because Hiraoka points out that the significance of the Zhou dynasty was represented not by its kinship system but by its “supraclannish” nature. The distance between these two scholars lies in their different interpretation of the concept of heaven (tian). Since I have already published a detailed account and critique of it, I do not intend to explain it further here.36 But briefly, after closely analyzing the Classic of Documents (Shangshu) and inscriptions on bronze vessels, Hiraoka concludes that it was during the Zhou dynasty that the character tian first appeared on bronze inscriptions, and the emergence of the previous character of tian on bronze inscriptions was simultaneous with one of min, which stands for “people.”37 Contrary to Wang Guowei, Hiraoka thinks that it is imperative to suppose there was some principle that enabled the new kingdom to reign over the other feudal lords, whose power was based on kinship-based succession, because in terms of power based on blood ties, the new dynasty was no different from those of other lords. In response to an inquiry as to why a king of Zhou (as well as emperors of later dynasties) was called a son of heaven (tianzi) while other lords were not, Hiraoka answers that the concept of tian was invented to be honored as an overarching orthodoxy that would mandate the king of Zhou to reign over the world. The passage “Heaven too grieved for the people of the all lands” (天亦哀于四方民)38 in the Classic of Documents explains how the concept of tian represented the people’s will and legitimatized the revolution led by the king of Zhou. Whereas Wang regards tian as a kind of natural order like blood kinship, Hiraoka’s tian is to be understood as a rational idea that endows an emperor with a mandate to rule on behalf of min (the people). It means that the legitimacy of one emperor would be guaranteed no longer by his blood but by a transcendent concept. Each emperor after the establishment of the concept of tian was supposed to possess enough virtue to be a “son of heaven”; otherwise, he would be punished by tian. This suggests that every dynasty should be assessed by whether or not its government is justifiable in terms of the will of heaven—substantially synonymous with the people’s will—and if that government is not justifiable, it will invite the people’s rebellion. Thus, the concept of tian itself justifies revolution or, rather, systematizes revolutionary movements as a part of the political process. Hiraoka says:


Li Zehou’s Aesthetical Theory and Confucianism

Tian was produced to explain how the Yin-Zhou revolutionary transition happened, and was undoubtedly an invention of the Zhou people. However, tian never exclusively benefited them. It only gives and explains the principle of revolution and transition imperturbably. Therefore, the Zhou dynasty itself, which conquered the previous dynasty, was also exposed to the potential risk of being conquered in the future.39

Afterward, revolutions and dynastic transitions occurred repeatedly in Chinese history, and Hiraoka calls such a historical system of legitimacy the “worldview of ‘all under heaven.’ ” The reason we looked at Hiraoka’s argument is that it shows us that we can locate various interpretations of Confucian culture. Compared to Hiraoka’s view, Li Zehou’s depiction of Chinese history is essentially different, because Li emphasizes the contingency of cultural history as sedimentation or culturalpsychological formation, rather than stressing repeated revolutionary transformation in Chinese history. Hiraoka’s concept of the worldview of “all under heaven” theorized the mechanism of repeated revolution in Chinese premodern history. It is a mechanism that includes collapse and construction, which is almost opposite to the image of a metabolic bodily organ such as Li depicts. Of course, as a sort of backward picture of Chinese civilization, Hiraoka’s argument was once criticized by Japanese scholars who had a strong sympathy toward Chinese revolutionary modernization. Hiraoka’s image of revolution seems to be a cyclical view of Chinese history, as opposed to Hegelian or Marxian teleology, and it often received criticism from Japanese intellectuals who were sympathetic to China’s revolutionary modernization, such as Yoshimi Takeuchi (1910–1977). In this sense, Hiraoka’s thought seemed out-of-date to Japanese intellectuals who had witnessed Chinese socialistic revolution. As mentioned above, Li Zehou started to elaborate his thinking about Confucian traditional history as the Chinese cultural-psychological formation from the position of criticizing radical revolutionary ideology. But ultimately he seems to overemphasize the historical unity of a Han- and nation-centric, coherent “body” of Confucianism that always remains a harmonious entity. Again, it is unclear whether or not the “worldview of ‘all under heaven’ ” still remains relevant today. The legitimacy endowed by tian needs an intellectual foundation—namely, the classics, which functioned as the performative authority that imbued the government with virtue. The concept of tian was the very core of such a principle. China’s modern transition was completed with the end of its imperial system, and the abolishment of the imperial examinations played a decisive role in the collapse of classical studies. The disappearance of a legitimating orthodoxy inevitably brought about the end of the imperial system, or the system of “all under heaven.” So the problem now is, what type of legiti-

Aesthetics & Confucian “Body” of Cultural Sedimentation


macy is possible today? Marxism might have been a replacement of Confucian classicism in the Chinese Revolution. We could say that Li Zehou incorporates Marxian historical materialism as a part of the Chinese legacy of its own unique modernization differentiated from the historical context in which the contemporary New Confucians in Taiwan and Hong Kong developed their thoughts, and that Li tries to place the historical sedimentation as the foundation of a new legitimacy in the post–Cultural Revolution period. And as a result, his discourse on the historical sedimentation dilutes the historical significance of revolutions and emphasizes the harmonious process of aesthetic practices. In other words, his strong emphasis on a coherently harmonious Confucian “body” of history makes him semiconsciously ignore the revolutionary aspects of China’s historical transformation. And it is also a problem for Hiraoka to explain the enormous transition from imperial government to one ruled by “the people” in the modern era, in which the Confucian classics have lost their efficacy. Nevertheless, the Confucian texts themselves are still attractive to readers. But how can we reinterpret them in the contemporary context? In this sense, what we should consider is excavating their other possibilities without looking for a cultural or, rather, national “body.” Instead of the latter substance, we should seek a potential alternative universality that is independent from specific cultural unities like nations or states. Seeking an Alternative Interpretation of Confucian Texts

As I have already argued, Li’s historical ontology is somewhat perplexing for us because it seems to be an amalgamation of Kantian universality and cultural essentialism. How is it possible to describe the cultural-psychological formation as the geometrical, political substance of “China” as if it were historically integrated from the beginning? This inquiry generates a series of other relevant inquiries—about the relationship between China and modernity, the “all under heaven” worldview and the modern international order, classical studies and the modern sciences, and so on, all of which have been repeatedly discussed since the modern transition in the late nineteenth century. Today’s economic globalization has created a new productive relationship and a new social condition for human beings. Under such circumstances, we are constantly confronting others whose historical-cultural backgrounds are totally different from our own. Accidental encounters with others is no longer a special experience for people living in today’s globalized society. New human relationships apart from existing sedimentations or cultural-psychological formations are now occurring simultaneously around the world. Is it still possible for us to discover some possibilities for developing a new coexistential, diverse global society within the discourse of Li Zehou? If it is, the answer may lie in


Li Zehou’s Aesthetical Theory and Confucianism

his examination of the origins of the Chinese cultural sedimentation and in a reinterpretation of how aesthetic feelings will be generated in common among different individuals. At the beginning of The Chinese Aesthetic Tradition, Li refers to a traditional definition of the concept of beauty. He quotes a definition of it from the Shuowen jiezi, an ancient dictionary of Chinese characters. The Shuowen says: “Beauty means delicious. The character consists of two parts standing for ‘sheep’ and ‘large,’ respectively. Sheep are one of six kinds of domestic animals and are mainly offered as food. Beauty is a synonym of good.”40 The character for “beauty,” or mei in contemporary Chinese, according to the Shuowen, consists of two parts: the upper part stands for “sheep” and the lower for “large,” which means “when a ram is large, it is beautiful,” as Li says.41 This point is significant for him, because it reminds us of China’s primitive shamanistic rituals. In fact, it is quite easy for us to remember that the sacrifice commonly offered in ancient festivals was sheep. For instance, a passage in the Analects tells us that a sheep was an important part of primitive Confucian rituals: “Zigong wanted to do away with the practice of sacrificing a lamb to announce the beginning of the month. The Master said: ‘Zigong! You regret the loss of the lamb, whereas I regret the loss of the rite’ ” (Analects 3.17).42 This chapter in the Analects reveals that a lamb was indispensable to Zhou rituals. Li also examines a character written on oracle bones and bronzes and makes another interpretation of mei in primitive society: The original meaning of the character mei probably referred to a large man wearing a headdress in the shape of a ram or decorated with ram motifs. While carrying out various shamanistic rituals, he would wear the ram’s head or ram’s horn on his head as an expression of his mystical power and authority. The character for “beauty,” then, with the man on the bottom and the ram on top, is the manifestation in the written language of this type of animal role or shamanistic totem.43

The character that Li refers to here is recognized as a shape of “dancing” or “shaman.”44 It symbolizes a “large”—an element in the character “beauty”—­person dancing while holding something in his or her hands. Li imagines that the shape of a dancing shaman wearing a “sheep” on his or her head corresponds to the character mei. Accordingly, he assumes that sheep functioned as totems in ancient Chinese shamanistic society and occupied an important place in shamanistic activities like dancing performances, which inspired in people feelings of appreciating their beauty. Here what is important is the social nature of the etymological definition of beauty. In the primitive society, people gathering together in their festivals

Aesthetics & Confucian “Body” of Cultural Sedimentation


or rituals shared the shamanistic experience with a totem of a sheep as well as ate lamb meat. Both the sharing of rituals and the eating of delicious food are transformed into a communal experience of beauty. This is an aesthetic feeling emerging from a common subjective experience, which is reminiscent of a discussion on “the beginning of humanness (ren)” in Mencius 2A6: “Now, if anyone were suddenly to see a child about to fall into a well, his mind would always be filled with alarm, distress, pity, and compassion. . . . From this it may be seen that one who lacks a mind that feels pity and compassion would not be human.”45 Could “a mind that feels pity and compassion” become a common ethical, aesthetic feeling? Could it develop into a universal ethical sense that enables people to coexist with those whose tastes differ from theirs, by combining it with the feeling of beauty that Li drew from primitive society? And in this regard, Li’s aesthetic history of China should be associated with Kantian a priori at the very beginning of the history of sedimentation. This does not mean that the history of humans’ productive practices be denied in order to go back to some imaginary origin. What Mencius suggests is not a story of historical origins but a universal human feeling. Of course, Mencius’ presupposition is too optimistic, because he explains only that pity or compassion is an indication of humane benevolence. As François Jullien argues, politics that converts moral requirements into obligatory social imperatives is lacking in Mencius’ thought.46 And when Takahiro Nakajima examines the ethical-political possibility of tasting food as a ritual by elaborating on Jullien’s unique comparison of Mencius and Kant, he mentions critiques of Mencius raised by Dai Zhen (1724–1777), a distinguished philologist during the Qing dynasty. According to Nakajima’s interpretation of Dai Zhen, although eating food is an activity shared by every person as a part of human everyday activities, “people who know the taste of food are very few.” Therefore, it is not the act of eating itself but how to eat well that is crucial for humans. In other words, “eating well” with others is the point from which ethics would emerge.47 Through an etymological assumption, Li Zehou also points out that eating food with others is the very source of beauty. If the aesthetic judgment of taste is simultaneously shared by people who eat food together, then it would necessarily require people to know how to eat food well, or in terms that address Nakajima’s concern, this shared aesthetic judgment is a kind of ethics that binds these people together. If that is so, then a second step to develop Li’s assumption should be to explore its political dimension and the mechanism of feeling compassion in Mencius’ sense. Li’s research on the concept of qing, or emotion, in Chinese philosophy is an intriguing project in this regard, because the very concept of qing has repeatedly been the subject of political-ethical arguments in Chinese philosophy. How can aesthetic sensuousness become the social common basis of eth-


Li Zehou’s Aesthetical Theory and Confucianism

ics? And how can people whose cultural-historical backgrounds, or “bodies” in Li’s terminology, differ from each other coexist peacefully? It is a new challenge for today’s human society in the global era. Thinking along these lines could give impetus to Li Zehou’s thought and help it endure to confront revolutionary social transformation with nonviolence, as a moral requirement in encounters between strange others. For we strange others are all equally people under the same sky—even though, since the collapse of the premodern Chinese worldview of “all under heaven,” that sky is no longer called heaven. Notes 1.  Timothy Cheek, ed., “ ‘Subjectality’: Li Zehou and His Critical Analysis of Chinese Thought,” special issue, Philosophy East and West 49, no. 2 (1999). 2.  According to the issue’s introduction, a symposium focusing on Li Zehou’s thought was held in 1996. See Timothy Cheek, “Introduction: A Cross-Cultural Conversation on Li Zehou’s Ideas on Subjectivity and Aesthetics in Modern Chinese Thought,” Philosophy East and West 49, no. 2 (1999): 113–119. 3. Li Zehou, “Subjectivity and ‘Subjectality’: A Response,” Philosophy East and West 49, no. 2 (1999): 174–183. 4.  Ibid., 174. 5.  For details of the extended debates on aesthetics, see Institute of Literature, Sichuan Academy of Social Sciences (Sichuan shehuikexueyuan wenxue yanjiusuo), ed., Zhongguo dangdai meixue lunwen xuan (A collection of articles on China’s contemporary aesthetics) (Chongqing: Chongqing chubanshe, 1984). 6. According to Li, all thirty thousand published copies of the first edition sold out. See Li Zehou, Pipan zhexue de pipan: Kangde shuping (Critique of critical philosophy: A new key to Kant) (Beijing: Shenghuo, dushu, xinzhi sanlian shudian, 2007), 446. 7.  Ibid., 43–50. 8.  Xudong Zhang, who as a university student was greatly influenced by Li during the “aesthetics fever” of the 1980s, once looked back on the significance of the book by quoting the following passage from it: “Terms such as ‘universal legislation,’ ‘human as the end,’ ‘autonomy of will,’ indeed, provided an inner foundation for people in modern Chinese society after the ‘Cultural Revolution’ to depart from universal dogmatism in the revolutionary period. It is not so important to ask if that foundation was shaped at a lower level than that philosophy should be. Of tremendous historical significance was to regard his moral metaphysics on liberty as the starting point of doing philosophy.” See Xudong Zhang, Quan­ qiu­hua shidai de wenhua rentong: Xifang pubian zhuyi huayu de lishi pipan (Beijing: Beijing daxue chubanshe, 2006), 90. 9.  Woei Lien Chong, “Combining Marx with Kant: The Philosophical Anthropology of Li Zehou,” Philosophy East and West 49, no. 2 (1999): 120–149. 10. Ibid. 11. Li Zehou, “Zhang Taiyan pouxi” (An analysis on Zhang Taiyan), Lishi yanjiu, no. 3 (1978). On his critique of Zhang Taiyan, see Tsuyoshi Ishii, “ ‘Bunka shinri kozo’ to

Aesthetics & Confucian “Body” of Cultural Sedimentation


Sho Heirin: Ri Takuko no hihan ni kanren shite” (“Cultural-psychological formation” and Zhang Binglin: Concerning Li Zehou’s critique), Odysseus, no. 14 (2010). 12.  As his earliest work, Li Zehou published an article on Kang Youwei in 1958. However, many of his research papers on modern intellectual history including the article on Zhang Taiyan were published after the end of the Cultural Revolution. These articles were gathered to be a monograph entitled Zhongguo jindai sixiang shilun (On modern Chinese intellectual history), published by Renmin chubanshe (Beijing) in 1979. 13.  Li Zehou, “Zhang Taiyan pouxi,” in Zhongguo sixiang shilun (zhong) (On Chinese intellectual history, volume 2) (Hefei: Anhui wenyi chubanshe, 1999), 733. 14.  Ibid., 744. 15. Li, Pipan zhexue de pipan, 312. 16.  Ibid., 427. 17.  Ibid., 425. 18.  Ibid., 427. 19. Ibid. 20.  Ibid., 433. 21.  Li Zehou, “Meixue er tiyi: Yu Zhu Guangqian xiangsheng jixu lunbian” (The second proposal on aesthetics: Continuing a debate with Mr. Zhu Guangqian), in Institute of Literature, Zhongguo dangdai meixue lunwen xuan, 2:296–297. 22. Li Zehou, Four Essays on Aesthetics: Toward a Global View, trans. Li Zehou and Jane Cauvel (Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2006), 63–64. 23. Li Zehou, Lunyu jindu (Reading the Analects today) (Beijing: Shenghuo, dushu, xinzhi sanlian shudian, 2008), 1–2. 24. Li Zehou, The Chinese Aesthetic Tradition, trans. Maija Bell Samei (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2010), 90; Li Zehou, Huaxia meixue, Meixue si jiang (Beijing: Shenghuo, dushu, xinzhi sanlian shudian, 2008), 97. 25.  Ibid., 101 (108 in Chinese edition). 26.  Ibid., 173 (179 in Chinese edition). 27.  Ibid., 174 (179 in Chinese edition). 28.  Ibid., 189 (194 in Chinese edition). 29.  Ibid., 213 (217 in Chinese edition). 30.  Ibid., 223 (226 in Chinese edition). 31.  Li, “Subjectivity and ‘Subjectality’,” 177. 32. Li Zehou, “Shitan Zhongguo de zhihui” (On the wisdom of China), in Zhongguo sixiang shilun (shang) (On Chinese intellectual history, volume 1) (Hefei: Anhui wenyi chubanshe, 1999), 304. 33. Li, Chinese Aesthetic Tradition, 11 (16 in Chinese edition). 34. Wang Guowei, “Yin Zhou zhidu lun” (On the institutions of Yin and Zhou), in Guantang jilin (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1959), 457–458. 35.  Hiraoka Takeo, Keisho no seiritsu (The establishment of classics) (Tokyo: Sobunsha, 1983), 187. 36. See Tsuyoshi Ishii, “ ‘Jing’ he ‘tianxia’: Pingshu Hiraoka Takeo de jing shi yanjiu” (“Classics” and “all under heaven”: On Hiraoka Takeo’s studies of classics and history), in Dongya shiye xia de riben zhexue: Chuantong, xiandai and zhuanhua ( Japanese philoso-


Li Zehou’s Aesthetical Theory and Confucianism

phy under the East Asian perspective: Tradition, modernity and transition), ed. Lam Wing Keung and Cheung Ching-yuen (Taipei: Guoli Taiwan daxue chuban zhongxin, 2013). 37. Hiraoka, Keisho no seiritsu, 198. 38. “The Classic of Documents: Shao Announcement,” trans. David S. Nivison, in Sources of Chinese Tradition, vol. 1, comp. Wm. Theodore de Bary and Irene Bloom (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), 34. 39. Hiraoka, Keisho no seiritsu, 191. 40. Duan Yucai, Shuowen jiezi zhu (A commentary to the Shuowen jiezi), vol. 4-1 ( Jingyunlou edition, Jiaqing period in the Qing dynasty). 41. Li, Chinese Aesthetic Tradition, 8. 42.  Confucius Analects: With Selections from Traditional Commentaries, trans. Edward G. Slingerland (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 2003), 24. 43. Li, Chinese Aesthetic Tradition, 2. 44. The figure of this character on oracle bones is shown in the Chinese edition of The Chinese Aesthetic Tradition (Huaxia meixue). See Li, Huaxia meixue, Meixue si jiang, 5. 45. Translation by Irene Bloom, in de Bary and Bloom, Sources of Chinese Tradition, 1:129. 46.  François Jullien, Dotoku o kisodukeru (Founding the moral), trans. Takahiro Nakajima and Yoshinobu Shino (Tokyo: Kodansha, 2002). 47. Takahiro Nakajima, Kyosei no purakushisu: Kokka to shukyo (Praxis for coexistence: State and religion) (Tokyo: Tokyo daigaku shuppankai, 2011), 90–91.


Modern Chinese Aesthetics and Its Traditional Backgrounds A Critical Comparison of Li Zehou’s Sedimentation and Jung’s Archetypes Téa SERNELJ

Li Zehou was a representative of the debate about aesthetics in China in the 1950s, which inflamed several intellectual spirits at the time. Essentially, the debaters strove to establish the Marxist ideology of aesthetics but simultaneously managed to set in place the theoretical foundations for aesthetics that refused the conceptualization and sloganization of art. In such a social and political context, Li has created his philosophical art theory and aesthetics. In order to evaluate Li Zehou in the context of global aesthetics, this chapter reveals some traditional Chinese elements contained in his aesthetic thought and aims to expose their function in his syntheses of the European, especially Kantian, and Chinese epistemological traditions. It offers a critical examination of two concepts, one created in China and one in Europe, that bear several similarities. The first concept is Li Zehou’s theory of sedimentation as the origin of aesthetic appreciation and the development of art; the second is Carl Gustav Jung’s concept of archetypes, which is compared with Li’s crucial notion of sedimentation. Differences that manifest themselves through the contrastive analysis of both concepts and their ideational backgrounds can simultaneously serve as an exposition of certain discursive or paradigmatic differences between Chinese and Western thought. For Li, art and aesthetic experience have the potential to lead human beings to attain perfection through a process of cultivation. Human beings became 335


Li Zehou’s Aesthetical Theory and Confucianism

able to appreciate art and aesthetic feelings or attitudes through mental forms, or sedimentation ( jidian 積殿), which is the process of the accumulation and condensation of the social, the rational, and the historical to become something individualistic, sensuous, and intuitive; this sedimentation is accomplished through the humanization of nature. Various scholars have compared Li’s concept of sedimented mental forms to the psychological concept of archetypes as developed by Carl Gustav Jung. However, such superficial comparisons can lead to severe misunderstandings of Li’s aesthetic thought. Furthermore, they can also underlie certain imprecise assumptions regarding possible syntheses of Chinese and Western thought. Hence, the present chapter aims to draw a clear line between the two concepts and to show that this line also establishes a clear boundary between certain crucial paradigms that underlie Chinese and Western thought. However, in order to examine these important differences, we first need to understand the ideological, political, and philosophical background that determined Li’s new and innovative aesthetic theory. Historical Background: Chinese “Aesthetic Fever” in the Twentieth Century

In China, the beginning of the twentieth century was marked by versatile adoption of Western ideas and thought, with aesthetics as an academic discipline playing a crucial role. On the one hand, aesthetic theory was an academic field free of political burdens, and on the other, the philosophy of art as a part of aesthetics constituted a platform for an acknowledgment and a reevaluation of China’s long and rich cultural heritage. Therefore, it is by no means coincidental that during the last two decades of the twentieth century, which were marked by economic liberalization (and hence, in certain realms of society and culture, also by political liberalization), the pressing questions concerning this heritage has led to innumerable heated debates on the Chinese aesthetics that thus flourished in China at the verge of the new millennium under the fashionable label “aesthetic fever.” Li Zehou was one of the central figures in these debates, and his philosophy of aesthetic thought was formed in the discourse created in them. Hence, for a better understanding of the sociopolitical context in which Li’s work came to life, a brief introduction to the developmental stages that led to the Chinese “aesthetic fever” follows, along with an outline of its later implications. Chinese aesthetics as a discipline was born in the beginning of the twentieth century. While Confucianism (and traditionalism in general)—together with all the conservative ideologies it brought along—was completely rejected and discredited as a result of the May Fourth movement,1 many Chinese intellectuals still perceived their culture as an essentially aesthetic one. This posi-

Modern Chinese Aesthetics


tion was of utmost importance, especially considering the antitraditional atmosphere that prevailed in China during the process of confronting Western ideas and acquiring Western knowledge.2 Therefore, it is not surprising that aesthetics as an academic study of beauty (meixue 美學)3 began to flourish at that time. Besides, aesthetics was the intellectual field in which scholars tried to redefine the essence of Chinese culture and to establish a new Chinese identity after the end of imperial China.4 Whereas Zhu Guangqian and Zong Baihua belonged to the first phase of the development of Chinese aesthetics, which was marked by diversified deployment of Western thought in the beginning of the twentieth century, Cai Yi and Li Zehou represented the second phase, in which leftist ideas came to the fore during the latter half of the century. Cai and Li tried to establish a Marxist aesthetics by applying in its theoretical formation a materialistic epistemology and by stressing that beauty is objective and “typical.” Being leftist intellectuals, they simultaneously strove for artistic interventions into the realm of social reality.5 Although this theory of art did not completely oppose emotions or sentiments, and although it argued that every “type” of art has to be typical—that is, defined by specific and unique characteristics in addition to its aesthetic element—both Cai and Li still essentially advocated the transcendence of individuality and sentiments in the realm of art.6 As a materialist philosopher, Li also believed that beauty must be objective because it is socially preformed, and thus it must be independent of the individual’s psychology. In this aspect, he was referring to Marx’ theory that nothing in the external world possesses beauty per se and that it is only through the objectification of the human essence that everything that exists in the external world becomes “socialized” and thus acquires beauty. This is a collective process and not a process of individual psychology.7 In this context, Li exposed that idealist aestheticians reduced beauty to the individual’s subjective sense of beauty and regarded it as the result of certain pre-empirical, subjective “psychological functions” that were, in their opinion, common to all human beings. In this respect, idealists denied the objective existence of beauty, which should be seen as a result of social and historical conditions.8 Such idealistic approaches to the understanding of beauty are similar to Jung’s conceptualization of archetypes, which he considered to be preexisting, transcendental, and a priori forms of the human psyche. Just like Jung, idealist aestheticians tended to ignore the cultural and historical development of human production, which was strongly emphasized in Li’s theory of sedimentation. (The crucial differences between the two models are detailed later in this chapter.) However, to understand Li’s contribution to the theory of aesthetics, let us first take a brief look into his view of the traditional Chinese aesthetics, in


Li Zehou’s Aesthetical Theory and Confucianism

which he mainly focused on Confucian and Daoist philosophies. Without an understanding of its specific features, it would be rather difficult to grasp the main methodological approaches of Li’s aesthetic theory, let alone compare it with Jung’s view of the psychological roots of artistic creation. Features of Traditional Chinese Aesthetics

In order to provide conditions for a deeper understanding of the paradigmatic layers underlying Li Zehou’s aesthetic philosophy, this section includes a basic overview of the historical development of Chinese aesthetics, as it was interpreted in Li’s aesthetics-related work, especially in his Path of Beauty (Mei de licheng 美的历程) and his Four Essays on Aesthetics (Meixue si jiang 美學四講). This development starts in shamanistic culture as the beginning of aesthetic awareness and evolves over centuries, during which it is strongly influenced by various philosophical streams of thought, including Confucianism and Daoism. After the ancient period, it was strongly influenced by the so-called Chu Sao approaches9 and later by the philosophy of Chan Buddhism.10 All these discourses focused on the concepts of beauty, aesthetic experience, and aesthetic consciousness, as well as their direct and inseparable connection to morality and ethical values of traditional Chinese culture. Traditional Chinese aesthetics refers to the questions of human existence, the universe, human relations, and society. In this framework, aesthetic problems are not considered to be problems of knowledge in the sense of seeking answers for the questions of what beauty and aesthetics are—as have been often pursued by Western aesthetics.11 Traditional Chinese aesthetics is, rather, set in the background of humanity and is the reflection of human life in which philosophy, aesthetics, and life experience are integrated into a whole.12 Hence, it is not coincidental that Li asserts the superiority of the aesthetic to both the cognitive and the ethical. For him, the aesthetic is neither the internalization of reason (cognition) nor its condensation (ethics), but the sedimentational incorporation of both reason and sense.13 This views shows a great distinction from Western aesthetics, which is defined as “a branch of philosophy dealing with the nature of beauty, art, and taste and with the creation and appreciation of beauty.”14 Furthermore, Western aesthetics is clearly distinguished from epistemology and ethics, because in the conceptual framework of the former, art is an autonomous entity, for it deals with the senses. Hence, art as such is necessarily free of any moral or political purpose.15 As we will see further on, the moral and ethical implications of Chinese traditional aesthetics have played an essential and significant role in traditional Chinese society and culture. Li Zehou has also repeatedly pointed out the tight connection between aesthetics, ethics, and epistemology.16

Modern Chinese Aesthetics


According to the Shuowen dictionary, the Chinese word for “beauty” or “beautiful” (mei 美) means the same as “good” or “goodness” (shan 善).17 Li’s analysis of the character mei (美) showed that the pictogram portrays a human being wearing the head of the ram and/or feathers on the human’s head and (probably) performing a ritual, which represents the shamanistic tradition of the early societies in ancient China. On the other hand, it can also portray a big ram, if we take a look at both parts of the pictogram. The big ram refers to beauty in the sense of external appearance and also to the positive inner quality as being (good) food. Both meanings referred to a person’s sensuous existence, needs, and sentiments on one hand and to a person’s social existence, community, and rationality on the other.18 Another aspect of beauty in Chinese tradition refers to works of art and other objects (for example, objects from external nature) that produce aesthetic pleasure.19 Li also shows that, even in contemporary China, the word “beauty” is used in several contexts connected to human sensuous experience, ethical values, and aesthetic pleasure. According to Li, material and spiritual production (and aesthetic consciousness) began with the making and using of tools. Li adopted this idea from the tool-centered materialism of Engels and Plekhanov20 and asserted that all historical changes were due to the development of tools.21 In this view, tools were the objects made for survival and constituted the material basis of primitive societies, whereas their ornamentations were the results of human ideas, fantasies, and imagination and led to the development of religion, art, and philosophy. Thus, the totemic magic and rituals of remote antiquity were, according to Li, transformed into political and social institutions, and the totemic singing and dancing have developed into art (music, dances) and literature (myths, songs, poetry, and legends).22 The worship of totems in shamanistic songs and dances was gradually replaced by the worship of heroes and ancestors; in other words, the totems became humanized and rationalized. This process of transformation was completed during the transition from the Shang to the Zhou dynasty, along with the establishment of the patriarchal system. The evolution of aesthetic awareness and experience resulted in the transformation of realistic animal images into abstract symbols that can still be observed on Neolithic pottery and on bronze art objects from the time. These symbols contained a complicated conceptual significance. Their forms are significant, for they imply socially defined characters; therefore, they represent an origin of aesthetic emotion and of beauty as such. The pure presentation of natural objects was replaced by lines, which included characteristics such as symmetry, balance, continuity, intermission, rhythm, change, unity, and so on expressed in a concentrated way. They were often representations of subjective feelings in motion.23 This transformation is very important for understanding Chinese calligraphy as well as Chinese literature, because they are both based


Li Zehou’s Aesthetical Theory and Confucianism

on the abovementioned principles. Chinese characters contain both symbolic meanings and abstract significance and thereby possess an imaginative dimension as well as a simulative dimension.24 The creative essence of lines made the expression of feelings, ideas, and emotions possible through its variety of forms, which later developed further and eventually turned into the “art of line,” or Chinese calligraphy. Gradually, complex laws of the structure of calligraphy developed, and this art followed the intention of producing “soundless music and motionless dancing on paper to express human feelings and ideas.”25 The aesthetic value and aesthetic awareness of art became apparent in the pre-Qin period (770–221 BCE), when China separated from primitive magic and religion and entered the era of rationalism.26 Confucius transformed the religious character of primitive culture, rites, and music into the pragmatic and atheistic nature of human relations, sociopolitical concepts, and art in people’s daily lives. The central focus was on applying moral ethics through the education and self-cultivation of human beings. He transferred the religious role of primitive rituals to the sphere of interpersonal relations and defined them as (co-)humanness (ren 仁). The previous worship of gods and subordination to them were transformed into a kind of inner, incorporated ethics, which became significant in the prevailing character and social functions of Chinese art and aesthetics.27 Art was not the external form of rites but instead “had to appeal to the senses and be of general nature” and “had to be related to social ethics and consequently to current politics.”28 Music was considered the highest form of art because its harmonious structure most clearly embodied the integration of human reason and emotion. In addition to providing joy and pleasure,29 it possessed the ability to mold and balance the social and moral feelings of the individual. In this respect, Confucius was the first to emphasize the social significance of beauty and art.30 For him, beauty was the embodiment of humanness (ren), which was the highest goal of Confucian philosophy. The Confucians emphasized the functional character and the utility of art in education and self-cultivation, which were seen as the crucial processes in establishing a moral and harmonious society based on human rationality and (co-)humanness. Therefore, the form and content of art were quite rigorously structured and regulated, as can be seen, for instance, in the rigorous Confucian distinction between “proper” and “improper” music.31 In contrast to serving such pragmatic functions of art, the Daoist approach provided a freer and more autonomous position for art and the expression of human emotion in comprehension of the external world. Daoists were the first to unite art, beauty, and freedom with natural regularity and purposefulness. They rejected distinctions between right and wrong (shi/fei 是非), a hierarchic social structure, and the utility and purposiveness of art, which were all important elements in Confucian thought.

Modern Chinese Aesthetics


The highest goal in Daoist philosophy was the fulfillment of individual freedom in accordance to nature or Dao. According to Li, Zhuangzi’s and Laozi’s philosophies represented the aesthetic view of life. They emphasized the expression of human imagination, emotions, and intuition in perceiving the world, as well as a “laissez-faire relationship between humanity and the external world that transcended utility”: They focused on an aesthetic relationship, on inner, spiritual, and substantive beauty, on the non-cognitive laws of artistic creation. If the influence of the Confucians on later literature and art lay mainly in topic and content, that of the Taoist lay mainly in the laws of creativity—in aesthetics. And the importance of art as a unique form of ideology lies precisely in its aesthetic laws.32

Consequently, naturalness, spontaneity, imagination, and free expression of emotions were the most important Daoist contributions to ancient Chinese aesthetics. The synthesis of Confucian and Daoist aesthetics appeared as Chu Sao aesthetics and was represented by Qu Yuan (340–277 BCE).33 “Chu Sao” refers to the Chu state in the south and to Sao, which derives from Qu Yuan’s famous poem Li sao 離騷 (Encountering sorrow). The south was influenced both by northern Confucianism and culture and by ancient shamanistic tradition, in which magic and myths were still very much alive. Li Zehou notes that “Li sao fused the unbridled romantic fancies of primitive myth and the fiery individual character and passions that appeared with the awakening of man’s rational nature into a perfect, organic whole that marked the real beginning of Chinese lyric poetry.”34 Qu Yuan accepted the Confucian doctrines of humanness and of the unity of beauty and goodness but rejected obedience and moderation. Hence, he integrated the Daoist concepts of the free expression of individual feelings and imagination, while eliminating the Confucian concerns over questions of right and wrong.35 The romantic spirit of the Chu Sao aesthetics continued and developed further during the Han dynasty. The world of humans and the world of gods melted together in a positive way: gods were not a dominating force; rather, humanity was what conquered them.36 This transformation of psychological states was expressed in vivid descriptions of people’s everyday life (harvesting, customs, food, housing, etc.), fused with imagination, fantasies, hopes, desires, joy, and love for life in the present. The aesthetics of the later Wei-Jin period, however, was exactly the opposite of Chu and Han romanticism. Because of the skepticism that prevailed as a philosophical trend, the general themes that prevailed in literature and art were


Li Zehou’s Aesthetical Theory and Confucianism

anxiety over the transience of human life and sorrow over the uncertainty of life, of losing loved ones and home, and so forth. Some of the most important Chinese aesthetic concepts, such as “rhythmic vitality” (qiyun 气韵) and “words cannot fully convey meaning” ( yan bu jin yi 言不盡意), were the product of this Wei-Jin nihilistic spirit.37 The prevailing intention to express the inner spirit reached its peak in the discourses of Chan (禅) Buddhism, which became a new trend in Chinese aesthetics after the middle of the Tang dynasty (618–907). Chan included Daoist ideas of detachment and retreat from worldly affairs as well as the Daoist pursuit of spiritual freedom, but the two philosophies differed in method. For Daoists, the main focus was on harmonizing with limitless and eternal nature (or Dao 道) to achieve spiritual freedom and detachment, whereby the Chan Buddhists claimed that Dao and the entire external world were illusory products of the human mind and did not exist as such. Therefore, the Chan philosophy suggested a retreat into a desolate inner world. Its contribution to Chinese aesthetic judgment and art was to be found in the expression of the conscious inner life and the introspection of the subject.38 For Confucianism, Daoism, and Chan, the aesthetic experience was an experience of the highest state of human heart-mind. This state could be achieved with constant practice ( gongfu 功夫) and by mastering artistic skills, which in the end lead to the embodiment of Dao (essence or noumenon of the universe). As Zhuangzi proposed via Cook Ding’s story: “What I like is the Dao, which is prior to any skill” (Chen zhi suo hao zhe dao ye, jin hu ji yi 臣之 所好者道也, 進乎技矣).39 Hence, Wang Keping reveals that Li Zehou initiated the concept of practical aesthetics, pointing out that its key substance was developed in Li’s Four Essays.40 According to Karl-Heinz Pohl, constant practice led to an intuitive mastery of artistic medium: “Thus, the first ideal of traditional Chinese aesthetics is to achieve a degree of artistic perfection in the work of art[,] which, when imbued with “vital resonance” (qiyun), makes it seem like a work of nature and yet conveys a sense of spiritual mastery.”41 Li Zehou’s Philosophical Aesthetics and Theory of Sedimentation

The main concepts of Li Zehou’s theory of aesthetics—which is composed, on the one hand, of some crucial traditional Chinese concepts mentioned above and, on the other hand, of several Kantian and Marxist notions—are the humanization of nature, the naturalization of humans, technological and social formation, psychological and emotional formation, and, most crucially, sedimentation. These are all mutually interconnected and form the integral whole of Li’s aesthetic thought. Li saw history as a process that reached its ideal goal

Modern Chinese Aesthetics


in the domain of aesthetics, which he understood as the union of nature and freedom. As mentioned earlier, in Li’s view Chinese aesthetics does not involve anything religious or mystical but is based on rationalism, as developed by Confucianism and Daoism. The complementary and mutual roles of Confucianism and Daoism represent an important common thread of intellectual thought that has run through all traditional Chinese aesthetic thinking. Chinese philosophy and aesthetics have been guided by the pragmatism and practical rationality of daily life, human relations, and political concepts, rather than by any abstract and abstruse rationalist theory.42 According to Li, the origin of pragmatism and rationality can be traced to the abovementioned shamanist cultural tradition (wushi chuantong 巫史传 统) of the Shang and Zhou dynasties. Li sees Confucius not as an inventor but as a creative transmitter of the key concepts and tenets of an ancient culture, later represented as Confucian philosophical thought.43 The unified relation between heaven (or nature) and humans was enacted in shamanistic rituals that were led by practical goals such as praying for rain and similar pragmatically oriented spiritual activities, and not by a quest for the salvation of the human soul. Heaven was not represented as an anthropomorphic god or gods but was revealed to humans as a purpose in the course of ritual performance.44 The pragmatic content of the rituals is also the reason they were not perceived as mystical or somehow metaphysical. Li’s concept of humanization of nature45 is based on his philosophy of anthropological ontology (renleixue bentilun人類學本體論), which includes the study of being as the origin (ben 本) and the body (ti 體) of things, as well as the Chinese unary worldview (the rejection of a dualistic approach, such as mind/body, nature/man, substance/matter, etc.), in which everything that exists is connected with the existence of human beings and is comprehended from a social and historical perspective, not from metaphysics.46 Li therefore argues that “being cannot be separated from the existence of human beings.”47 His anthropological ontology focuses on social practice as the concrete process of the historical development of human beings as a whole.48 He later converted his anthropological ontology into the ontological theory of historical anthropology in order “to emphasize further the historically specific nature of both the material base of human society and the level of development of the mental powers of human beings.”49 The social existence of humans is precisely the point where humans transcend their biological nature as biological creatures. This is the process of humanizing physical nature (ziran de renhua 自然的人化). Li adopts Marx’ idea of the two levels involved in this process but includes, as we will see, the process of humans’ naturalization (ren de ziranhua 人的自然化). The first level


Li Zehou’s Aesthetical Theory and Confucianism

is the humanization of external nature—that is, the humanization of mountains, rivers, the sun, and the entire universe. In this process humanity created material civilization. The second level is the humanization of inner nature—for example, senses, perception, feelings, and desires—by which humans created a spiritual civilization.50 The humanization of nature evolved through productive practice, or labor, which Li describes as the making and using of tools ( gongju 工具). He defined material civilization as the technological and social formation ( gongyi shehui jiegou 工艺社会结构), and the spiritual as the cultural and psychological formation (wenhua xinli jiegou 文化心理结构) of the ultimate reality: [Material civilization] refers to material conditions into which individuals are born: the natural environment, the physical structure of the human body, and the level of technological development at any given historical period. The latter [spiritual civilization] refers to the mental powers individuals have: cognition, emotion, and volition.51

The main concept in these processes (technological and social formation, as well as cultural and psychological formation) is subjectality (zhutixing 主體性), which Li describes as subjective human desire and the intention to understand the truth, as well as the longing for goodness and the love of beauty.52 All these form a cognitive mechanism that produces the technologicalsocial and cultural-psychological formations. The concept of subjectality manifests itself at both the objective and subjective levels. The subjective level is basic and manifests itself in technology and in social existence. It appears through the social realization of material reality—that is, through the process of production. On the other hand, it also contains the subjective level of social consciousness, which manifests itself in culturally conditioned mental structures. Hence, for Li, subjectality is not primarily the subjective awareness of an individual in the sense of sensations, feelings, desires, and so forth but rather the results of human history that manifest themselves in deep structures of spiritual and intellectual culture, which also entail structures of ethical and aesthetic consciousness.53 In addition to subjectality as the main concept in the humanization of nature, Li introduces the traditional Chinese concept of human nature (renxing 人性), which is discussed as the unification of sensitivity and rationality, nature and culture, and the technological-social and cultural-psychological formations in the human consciousness. In other words, human nature is a fusion of the social and the rational (something that influences the individual externally), and the biological and the sensuous (something that is internal to the individual on the animalistic level). It is the result of the interpermeation of emotional life and rationality, the fusion of natural and social nature, which is a product

Modern Chinese Aesthetics


of continuous evolution.54 This unification is achieved, not by the mechanical addition of these elements, but through the dynamic process of the humanization of nature and thus through an interaction between human subjects and natural objects. In this process, sensitivity and naturalness are transformed by rationality and social factors.55 This transformation manifests itself in the sense of beauty (meigan 美感), which is the result of human social and productive practices. Li argues that the humanization of the external world discriminates external reality and reshapes the world into beautiful objects and scenes, which thus become the source of beauty.56 The humanization of the inner world forms aesthetic feelings in the subjective psyche, which is the origin of aesthetic experience, or the sense of beauty. Thus, according to Li, both processes are the result of the historical practice of human society. Li explains beauty in the sense of the Marxist concept of humanized nature: “Nature as such is not beautiful. Beautiful nature is a result of socialized nature—that is, a result of the objectivization of human essence. The socialization of nature is therefore the basis of its beauty.”57 Li therefore argues that beauty per se does not exist and is not a priori inherent in human perception. Nor is beauty defined only by human sensibility; rather, it is the result of the historical process of material and psychological production: “Our direct (intuitive) perception of concrete images already implies a number of extraordinarily complex contents from social life, including our comprehension and understanding of life itself. This means that perception embraces our recognition of relations between things.”58 The accumulation and condensation of the social, rational, and historical to become something individualistic, sensuous, and intuitive is what Li calls sedimentation, and it occurs in the process of the humanization of nature. Sedimentation is a fusion of the social and the individual into a historical process, resulting in a psychological and cultural formation.59 Human material production, with its psychological counterpart, leaks sediment into the human mind and is in fact an ongoing dynamic process within the cultural-psychological formation: Throughout the history of humankind, the social and material practices have formed and continue to form human cultural-psychological formations through the processes of sedimentation. Simply, our psyche, patterns of thought, ways of behaving, and our arts and institutions, are products of human agency as it interacted with the physical world and evolved throughout the history of humankind.60

According to Li, this process of sedimentation ( jidian) began with the making and using of tools, which separated early humans from other animals.


Li Zehou’s Aesthetical Theory and Confucianism

The application of tools enabled humans to transform the social and natural worlds, which reciprocally transformed them, in both a psychological and a physiological sense. These material and psychological activities throughout time have resulted in mental forms, or sedimentations, expressed through the cultural-psychological formation. In the human mind, sedimentation occurs at three levels, or sediments: 1. In the biological or species sediment, which are forms common to all human beings—for example, cognitive facilities, categories of comprehension, and so on; 2. In the cultural sediment, which refers to the customs of thinking and feeling common to the culture we are born in; 3. In the individual sediment—that is, our interaction with the world and our worldview accumulated from our life experiences.61 These sedimentations are constantly in a dynamic process of change and interaction and are by no means a priori categories of our mind (in Kant’s sense). They are the fusion of the social and the individual, developed by society’s historical evolution and material production. On the other hand, Li argues that sedimentation is an accumulation of the socially rationalized, archetypical forms of the perception of the external world. These rationalized external forms do not function “as a coercive power superimposed from outside onto the individual.” Rather, they function “as something resembling inner nature, imprinted, deposited, internalized and ‘sedimented’ on the very pulse, gaze, and feeling of the individual, and experienced in the full delight of consent and ‘freedom.’ ”62 According to Li, the process of sedimentation as the accumulation of such archetypical elements appears on three levels. Each time this sedimentation reaches a point of saturation, it becomes the foundation for the next, higher stage of creating aesthetic sensations and objects as it begins to form. The basic level is the so-called elementary sedimentation ( yuanshi jidian 原始積澱), which represents a foundation for artistic sedimentation ( yishu jidian 藝術積 澱) that makes possible the creation of forms. The saturation of artistic sedimentation leads to vital sedimentation (shenghuo jidian 生活積澱), which is the basis of artistic creativity.63 Aesthetic sensibility is the most important human faculty; through the process of psychological and cultural sedimentation, it transforms our comprehension of the world.64 Nature became an object of aesthetic appreciation (or the aesthetic object) only after the process of the humanization of nature reached a certain level of historical development, when humans recognized the natural environment as a resource and an instrument for their daily life. Only then did the natural objects

Modern Chinese Aesthetics


(mountains, rivers, clouds, rain, moon, and so on) begin to possess the essence of beauty and express aesthetic qualities.65 The perception of beauty and the aesthetic sensibility have been embedded in our cultural-psychological sedimentation throughout the historical process of humanizing nature, and naturalized humans are its counterpart. The term “naturalized humans” has three meanings, as it relates to nature as the environment for living; to nature as an object of appreciation and entertainment; and to the integration of humans and nature through specific practices (e.g., qigong, meditation, and so on), through which humans learn to adjust their body and mind to the rhythms of nature.66 Li’s concept of the “naturalization of humans” appears as the counterpart of his interpretation of the “humanization of nature,” which is essentially a Marxist term. Li’s concepts of the humanization of nature and the naturalization of humans are based on the classical Chinese concept of the unity of heaven and man (tian ren he yi 天人合一),67 an important and significant concept in both Confucianism and Daoism.68 This “unity of heaven (nature) and man” included not only the humanization of nature (zirande renhua 自然的人化) but also the naturalization of humans (rende ziranhua 人的自然化). According to Li, the specific spirit of Chinese aesthetics, based on the complementarity of Confucianism and Daoism, can be found precisely in this unity. Hence, for Li, the theory of the unity of heaven (nature) and humankind is simultaneously a theory of the transformation of humans and nature, because it includes both the humanization of nature and the naturalization of humans. In fact, he sees these two concepts as “two different names for the same thing.”69 Wang Keping observes that, for Li, “the naturalization of humanity serves as the counterpart to the humanization of Nature” and “aims at the human fulfillment or the wholeness of human nature.”70 The humanization of nature is represented in Confucian tradition as an emphasis on moral values and ethics, while the naturalization of humans is expressed in Daoist (especially Zhuangzi’s) philosophy, which emphasizes the value of personal freedom: When Confucians speak about the “unity of heaven (nature) and man,” they often compare it to human interactions, postulates of adjustment and obedience in relations. But according to Zhuangzi’s view, this “unity of heaven (nature) and man” can be reached only through the radical negation of human interaction. The Confucians define the value of an individual according to his or her relations with others, while Zhuangzi seeks his or her value precisely in the absence of such relations.71

Li notes that Confucian humanization of nature is based on the socialization and cultivation of human instinctive desires and needs and on the balancing


Li Zehou’s Aesthetical Theory and Confucianism

and molding of human emotions regarding interpersonal relations and morality. Therefore, the aesthetic forms (the Confucian Six Arts) resonated such intention and requirement. Daoist (especially Zhuangzi’s) naturalization of humans is founded on withdrawal from human affairs and moral laws, uniting solely with the laws of nature. Zhuangzi’s speculation on the art of life unwittingly created the highest aesthetic spirit that consequently made artistic activities possible. Zhuangzi’s philosophy of wandering at ease (xiaoyao you 逍遙遊) is composed of mastering the technique ( gongfu 功夫), the aesthetic perfection, and the freedom and liberalization of the human spirit to achieve unity with Dao, which is the highest aesthetic experience. Li’s concept of the sedimentation of cultural-psychological formation and technological-social formation is the product of the humanization of nature as well as the naturalization of humans.72 Sedimentation is expressed through the aesthetic awareness and creativity of a certain historical period. Sedimentation is, as stated, the ongoing and dynamic process of human consciousness. Li finds in his theory of sedimentation some similarities with Jung’s concept of the collective unconscious and its archetypes, but as we will see, they are significantly different. Li Zehou’s Sedimentation versus Jung’s Archetypes: An Exemplary Contrasting Analysis

As discussed above, Li’s theory of sedimentation refers to the cultural-­psychological formation, which is formed and transmitted through the social and biological evolution of human beings and is the result of the material and spiritual production of historical and social processes. Many contemporary scholars, including Wang Keping,73 describe Li’s theory as being strongly influenced by Western thought, demonstrating that Li’s assumption of historical sedimentation, by which he metaphorically refers to the hidden structure of human enculturation, is tightly connected to Jung’s archetypical psychology, Piaget’s genetic epistemology, Bell’s aesthetic hypothesis, and—of course—Marx’ practical philosophy. Because Li’s concept of sedimentation has most often been associated with Jung’s concept of the collective unconscious and its archetypes,74 and because clarifying the paradigmatic difference between the two views seems necessary and significant due to its far-reaching ideational and intercultural implications, we shall examine the main contrapositions of the notions of sediments and archetypes. Li himself has acknowledged that there are some similarities between Jung’s theory and his own doctrine: I think C. G. Jung’s idea of the collective unconscious with its archetypes offers a valuable approach to the psychical-emotional aspect of human

Modern Chinese Aesthetics


beings. Jung believed that, along with the evolution of man’s brain, the primitive social experiences of the human species left physiological traces in the cranial nerves and formed various unconscious archetypes. Through heredity, these have been passed along from generation to generation, forming the collective unconscious. An artist’s function is to arouse the hidden yet powerful archetypes in individual minds so they respond to the residual primitive experiences and the power of those archetypes. Jung revealed the supra-individual, collective unconsciousness in art, and aesthetic experience. His insights have similarities to my doctrine of sedimentation.75

Jung himself defined his concept of the collective unconscious and its archetypes in this way: There exists [in addition to our unconsciousness] a second psychic system of a collective, universal, and impersonal nature which is identical in all individuals. This collective unconscious does not develop individually but is inherited. It consists of pre-existent forms, the archetypes, which can only become conscious secondarily and which give definite form to certain psychic contents.76

The existence of Jung’s collective unconscious means that, in this ideational framework, individual consciousness is anything but a tabula rasa and is not immune to predetermining influences. As Jung explains, On the contrary, it is in the highest degree influenced by inherited presuppositions, quite apart from the unavoidable influences exerted upon it by the environment. The collective unconscious comprises in itself the psychic life of our ancestors right back to the earliest beginnings. It is the matrix of all conscious psychic occurrences, and hence it exerts an influence that compromises the freedom of consciousness in the highest degree, since it is continually striving to lead all conscious processes back into the old paths.77

On the one hand, it is hard to draw a parallel between Jung’s archetypes of the collective unconscious and Li’s theory of sedimentation, for the two are based on quite different backgrounds. Jung’s psychology is rooted in Western ideas, predominantly Kant’s theory of perception, which proposes that the existence of a priori categories determines our understanding of universal knowledge. Jung’s collective unconscious is an area of the human psyche that can be revealed secondarily—namely, through the conflict of suppressed instincts and


Li Zehou’s Aesthetical Theory and Confucianism

the conscious level. Such instincts can be disclosed through the archetypes or symbolic forms in our psyche that are the product of the universal and impersonal nature that is inherited and is identical in all human beings.78 These archetypes that are present in the collective unconscious are not subject to the historical and cultural development described in Li’s theory of sedimentation but have been subdued by human experience from time immemorial. In this respect, Jung’s postulates of universal and preexistent forms are also linked to the idealistic view of beauty per se that was developed by idealist Chinese aestheticians during the aesthetic fever near the end of the twentieth century. That view ignored the historical and cultural development emphasized by Li Zehou. On the other hand, Li’s sedimentation is a product of accumulated cultural and historical experience of human production, as well as individual and social experience that is subjected to the constant changes inherent in human development. Li’s sedimentation is also a kind of “collective unconscious,” but not one that can be understood in terms of Jung’s ahistorical discourse. Jung’s archetypes are fixed and static formations that can already be counted as a kind of transcendental form, the existence of which is absolutely denied by Li. Thus, Li’s sedimentation is not something biologically “inherited”; it is a dynamic, everchanging process of psychocultural development. In that process, the dominant mode of production of a certain type of society produces a particular culturalpsychological formation that then leads the individuals belonging to this society to view reality in a certain way and to act in certain ways. In other words, the essential difference between the theories of Li Zehou and C. G. Jung lies in Jung’s postulate that the archetypes derived from a remote past are a priori or primordial patterns existing in our so-called collective unconscious. Li’s theory of sedimentation is remarkably different because it emphasizes the dynamic process of change in our consciousness, which is a result of the impact of society’s material progress on the cultural-psychological formation of our mind. This cultural-psychological formation, however, is collective in the sense that all members of a certain culture or society obtain and possess the same cultural code—for example, its modes of behavior, its customs, and its value systems. In contrast to Li, Jung bestowed his archetypes with a somehow mystical and religious dimension, regarding them as symbols reflecting the ever-unique experience of divinity and possessing the ability to give humans a premonition of the divine while at the same time guarding them from its immediate experience.79 Jung’s symbols are embedded in a comprehensive system of thought and are represented through religion or another mystical praxis. In Jung’s opinion, they can be discovered through artistic creation, especially through painting, to arouse them from collective unconscious to the conscious level. He used this

Modern Chinese Aesthetics


method in his therapeutic praxis to help his patients resolve primordial religious/mythological conflicts on the unconscious level. Such an interpretation of religion and such attempts to draw parallels between mythology and an individual mind demonstrate a tendency toward bold generalization, which ignores important cultural distinctions. Jung’s approach is remarkably different from Li’s interpretation of the forms and symbols that have been sedimented through cultural-psychological formation in the “Chinese mind” through time. Li argues that totemic rituals, songs, dancing, and myths developed into political institutions, poetry, literature, painting, and calligraphy because of the material (or technological) production and development of society, which simultaneously altered the spiritual production of humans. They are somehow frozen images of the remote past, but because of their transformation through the historical process, they cannot be present in people’s minds as something static and immutable. Besides, Chinese culture, for example, did not establish religion because of the rational spirit that prevailed in Chinese tradition in the Zhou dynasty. But Jung’s archetypes are static patterns from the remote past appearing in the human collective unconscious, a system that is quite the opposite of Li’s dynamic structure of sedimentation layers existing and continuously modifying themselves in our mind. Hence, Li’s concept of sedimentation in the cultural-psychological formation can be regarded as a collective unconscious only in the sense of comprising a cultural identity gained through the process of socialization as well as the hereditary cultural code of the society we were born in. But this congenital cultural code or cultural identity as a collective unconscious is not composed of primordial forms, as Jung’s theory of archetypes suggests, but is constantly changing in accordance with the material and spiritual development of society. From this comparison, we can clearly see that, by introducing the crucial function of the material and technological impact on the sedimented culturalpsychological formations containe