Two Book Reviews on 20th c. Chinese Thinkers

Two excellent recent books on important figures in modern Chinese thought, Zhang Taiyan and Mou Zongsan, have recently been published in The China Journal (July, 2012). I quote the details and first paragraphs of the reviews here.

Reviewed work(s): The Political Philosophy of Zhang Taiyan: The Resistance of Consciousness, by Viren Murthy. Leiden: Brill, 2011. viii + 266 pp. €105.00/US$144.00 (hardcover).

Peter Zarrow, Academia Sinica

Apart from Liang Qichao and Kang Youwei, none of the remarkable generation of late Qing intellectuals has received more scholarly attention than Zhang Taiyan (Binglin). Most of the scholarship has focused on Zhang’s contributions to modern Chinese nationalism and has either ignored or fenced off his Buddhist-inspired “unique philosophy of negation” (p. 5). Viren Murthy situates Zhang in the historical context of resistance to (Western) modernity and global capitalism, seen perhaps most clearly in Zhang’s rejection of the notion of progress. This is not to say that Murthy seeks to resolve the tensions between Zhang’s Han nationalism and his Buddhist self-negation (p. 46), but he suggests that Zhang was able to use Yogācāra (weishi) Buddhism critically, both to develop his philosophy of nationalist revolution and to go beyond it. Zhang never quite abjured politics, even while he remained dedicated to transcending, in some sense, all forms of existence….

Reviewed work(s): The Unlikely Buddhologist: Tiantai Buddhism in Mou Zongsan’s New Confucianism, edited by Jason Clower. Leiden: Brill, 2010. xvi + 279 pp. €108.00/US$153.00 (hardcover).

Wing-cheuk Chan, Brock University

In the contemporary development of Confucianism, the contributions of Mou Zongsan (1909–95) and Tang Junyi (1909–78) can well be compared to those of Einstein and Heisenberg in modern physics. In a more precise sense, these two Confucians’ works on Chinese philosophy can also be understood as a parallel to the theory of relativity and quantum physics. Accordingly, failure to understand the teachings of these two modern Confucians leaves research in Chinese philosophy resembling pre-Einsteinian and pre-Heisenbergian physics research.

Both Mou and Tang are well-known for the difficulty of their writings. Since their different interpretations of Chinese Buddhism exercise decisive influence upon their respective Confucian doctrines, it is necessary for any serious scholar in Chinese philosophy to understand their works on Chinese Buddhism. In short, Mou identifies the Tiantai School as the pinnacle of Buddhism, whereas Tang prefers the Huayan School.

Jason Clower explores Mou’s hermeneutic of the Tiantai School to understand his Neo-Confucianism. In attaining this goal, Clower provides masterly analysis of Mou’s major works….

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