New Scholarship on 20th Century Chinese Philosophy

As the semester winds toward its end, and with it, my class on Modern Chinese Philosophy,I find myself reflecting on how much new scholarship has become available on 20th- and 21st-century Chinese philosophy in just the last 18 months. Most of these books are, alas, quite expensive, but the quality is very high. This slew of excellent books makes me feel that the field of modern Chinese philosophy has suddenly come of age — and, at the same time, become eminently teachable. Reflect with me on this list:

  • Thierry Meynard, The Religious Philosophy of Liang Shuming: The Hidden Buddhist (Brill, 2011)
  • Serina Chan, The Thought of Mou Zongsan (Brill, 2011)
  • Derong Chen, Metaphorical Metaphysics in Chinese Philosophy: Illustrated with Feng Youlan’s New Metaphysics (Lexington, 2011)
  • Ruiping Fan, ed., The Renaissance of Confucianism in Contemporary China (Routledge, 2011)
  • Joachim Kurtz, The Discovery of Chinese Logic (Brill, 2011)
  • Viren Murthy, The Political Philosophy of Zhang Taiyan: The Resistance of Consciousness (Brill, 2011)
  • Yan Xuetong (Daniel Bell and Sun Zhe, eds.), Ancient Chinese Thought, Modern Chinese Power (Princeton, 2011)
  • Sebastien Billioud, Thinking Through Confucian Modernity: A Study of Mou Zongsan’s Moral Metaphysics (Brill, 2012)
  • John Makeham., ed., Learning to Emulate the Wise: The Genesis of Chinese Philosophy as an Academic Discipline in Twentieth-Century China (CUHK Press, 2012)
  • Yvonne Schulz Zinda, Jin Yuelin’s Ontology: Perspectives on the Problem of Induction (Brill, 2012)

If we add to this works that are well along, like Daniel Bell and Ruiping Fan’s edited volume of Jiang Qing’s writings, or John Makeham’s translation go Xiong Shili’s New Treatise on the Uniqueness of Consciousness (Xin Weishi Lun), then things look even brighter. It’s also notable that some excellent resources exist in obscure places; for example, Jin Yuelin’s Lun Dao has not been translated, but Jin’s own English-language version, Tao, Nature, and Man, is available in his Chinese collected works.

These are only the most recent works. There already exist extensive translations of and studies of many liberals and Marxists; two volumes of Wang Hui’s “New Left” writings; Shipping Hua’s book on scientism and humanism in the 1980s; and much more.

Any thoughts on where the key gaps are, or what these publishing trends might signify? One obvious gap is the lack of available translations of significant works by 20th-century Confucians (Mou’s Nineteen Lectures is still subject to a copyright dispute, alas). What else?

7 replies on “New Scholarship on 20th Century Chinese Philosophy”

    • In case anyone (else!) was mystified by Joshua’s comment, there are two short essays about Hong Qian (also known as Tscha Hung; 1909-92) in Cohen, et. al., eds., Realism and Anti-Realism in the Philosophy of Science (Boston, 1996): (1) Robert S. Cohen, “Recollections of Tscha Hung” (pp. xiii-xvi); and (2) Fan Dainian, “Hong Qian (Tscha Hung) and the Vienna Circle” (pp. xvii-xxii). Both essays are available through Google Books. I do not have a copy of Zinda’s book on Jin Yuelin ready to hand; it would be interesting to know whether Hong and Jin had substantial interactions! The Fan essay that I have just cited did note that Hong was critical of, among other things, the metaphysics of Feng Youlan’s “New Rationalism.”

    • I was thinking of this as a gap in recent literature, though perhaps this is a relative measure: I wasn’t yet in high school in 1996. I had read those essays, but was looking for more recent material.

      What strikes me about Hong Qian is his relative obscurity to people despite his interaction in major academic groups in Europe and China.

      The essays interest me in a different respect, which we may compare to Ayer. Ayer didn’t take long to revise his views in light of (as one philosopher told me) “being counter-exampled overnight,” but Ayer’s Language, Truth, and Logic was also, by Ayer’s own later admission “a young man’s book,” and very much a propagation of his views over the Vienna Circle’s collective views. But Hong Qian was, by the accounts of the essays, more loyally represented Vienna Circle thinkers (plural); and also, he didn’t overhaul his views of logical empiricism so readily as Ayer did, maintaining that Popper and company did not pose major threats to the bulk of logical empiricism.

      I would wager that Hong Qian is even more deeply obscured to Anglophone Analytic philosophers because he’s not on the widely disseminated side of the Vienna Circle. Most American philosophers will get their exposure to logical empiricism from Carnap’s, Neurath’s, Ayer’s, and Quine’s end, but Schlick and Hong Qian are largely unheard or overlooked in the period, so much so that the phrase “metaphysically considerate logical positivism” sounds oxymoronic. Both sides agree that metaphysical statements aren’t truth-apt, but are metaphysical statements “conceptual blather” or “conceptual poetry?” (Assuming the first prong, I guess the answer lies in how you view poetry and how you judge something as “meaningful.”)

  1. Thanks for this helpful material, Steve! In addition, I would like to draw everybody’s attention to other books in Western, but non-English languages. In particular I am thinking of two excellent books in German:

    Olf Lehman, Zur moralmetaphysischen Grundlegung einer konfuzianischen Moderne: “Philosophisierung” der Tradition und “Konfuzianisierung” der Aufklärung bei Mou Zongsan. Leipzig: Leipziger Universitaetsverlag, 2003. (Excellent study on Mou Zongsan’s adaption of Kantian moral philosophy, much more detailed than Billioud’s discussions of the Kant-Mou connection)

    Chun-chieh Huang, Konfuzianismus: Kontinuität und Entwicklung, Studien zur chinesischen Geistesgeschichte (transl. and ed. by Stephan Schmidt). Transcript Publisher, 2009. (Thorough translation of some essays by Huang Chun-chieh, one of the most important Confucian scholars in contemporary Taiwan)

  2. A note: Mou Zongsan’s _Nineteen Lectures on Chinese Philosophy_ (zhongguo zhexue shijiu jiang)(牟宗三,中國哲學十九講) was translated into English by Julie Lee Wei. The English translation was peer-reviewed by reviewers appointed by Columbia University Press. On the strong recommendations of the reviewers, CUP decided to publish it, and received a grant from Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation to support publication, but publication has been called off pending resolution of a copyright dispute. The grant award can be verified by googling “Mou Zongsan Nineteen Lectures grant recipients”. –jlw.

    • I should add that my complete English translation (630 pages) of Mou Zongsan’s major work,
      Nineteen Lectures on Chinese Philosophy (中國哲學十九講) was authorized by the late Mrs. Mou
      Zongsan through FSCPC (Foundation for the Study of Chinese Philosophy and Culture). FSCPC (see their
      2006 website) consisted of 6 directors 董事, 5 of whom are former students of Mou Zongsan 牟宗三. This
      small number of Mou’s students has been blocking publication of my translation since 2004. The translation of two chapters of Mou’s Nineteen Lectures by Yi-hsien Hu seen on FSCPC’s website (Hu was/is a director of
      FSCPC, per 2006 website) is based on, and derived from, my full translation, without my permission.—jlw.

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