Chinese Thought and Dialogical Universalism
Posted: 04 November 2007 07:36 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Since this is my first new post, I will briefly identify myself as a 59yr. male Malaysian
Chinese (3rd generation) from Malaysia, English educated and married with 3 grown
up children.

I found this artlcle while googling for “imperialistic universalism”:

http://www.escsass.org.cn/adm/UploadFiles/200611693147377.doc

This article explores the possibility of combining the argument based on the traditional Chinese idea of “tian xia” or “All under Heaven” with the argument for a dialogical universalism versus the subject-centered or monological universalism advanced by German philosopher Juergen Habermas.

Compared with the Western idea of “the world”, the Chinese idea of tian xia is, according to Zhao, a philosophical rather than scientific idea, a conceptually completed world that contains all the possible meanings of the world and excludes none of them. Compared with the Husserl’s idea of “the life world”, which is also filled with human meanings, the idea of tian xia contains the institutional dimension that the idea of lifeworld lacks. Compared with the Christian world-view, the Chinese idea of tian xia is not afflicted with all kinds of divisions, conflicts and struggles, and does not deprive us of the ability to imagine a perfect future in this world, the human world.

The problem is not that the Western nations do not think about the world; actually they always do. But ‘to think about the world’ and ‘to think from the perspective of the world’ are two totally different spheres of thinking.

That is to say, the real importance of China to the world is that only in Chinese tradition there is a way of thinking that is against not only other powers’ egocentric thinking, but also its own egocentric thinking. Here Zhao seems to imply that according to this tradition, a “threat from China” would thus become a “threat against China” as well, and the only correct understanding of “China rise” is the rise of China’s responsibility to the world—not a responsibility in the sense of a “mission” to universalize its values and distribute them all over the world, but in the sense of a duty to “think of tian xia from the perspective of tian xia”, and to regard nobody as others or outsiders, because in relation to tian xia there are, by definition, no outsiders.

What I find interesting is the Chinese world-view expressed which is different in perspective
from the Western one which we are all accustomed to.

Do read the article in full for the complete picture. Enjoy.

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Posted: 05 November 2007 11:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Thank you for sharing this article.  I found it quite interesting.  I see it as suggesting that appealing to tian xia would make for a good system of global government.  While I am a Humanist, and confucianism is a sort of Humanism, I have serious objections to the notion of tian xia.

First of all, tian xia is a hierarchical system.

[quote author=“Tong Shijun”]tian xia is at the top of a hierarchy of ideas: tian xia (the world), guo (states), jia (families), shen (individual persons), which is followed by a series of ideas with regards to the individual persons: xin (minds), yi (will), zhi (knowledge)….

Tian xia does not place fundamental value on the sovereignty and civil liberties of individuals.  It is a fixed hierarchy that takes for granted that it is an intrinsic feature of human nature that there be a hierarchy and that this is a dignified notion worthy of our acceptance.  It is part of a confucian system that ranks persons by age, familial relation, gender, profession, etc. and asserts their rank to be a matter of birthright.  Political dissent is regarded as being unharmonious and out of line with the fundamental order of nature.  Indeed, the confucian “mandate of heaven” is an unquestionable right of power.

[quote author=“kkwan”]Compared with the Western idea of “the world”, the Chinese idea of tian xia is, according to Zhao, a philosophical rather than scientific idea, a conceptually completed world that contains all the possible meanings of the world and excludes none of them. Compared with the Husserl’s idea of “the life world”, which is also filled with human meanings, the idea of tian xia contains the institutional dimension that the idea of lifeworld lack.

I don’t prefer western or eastern perceptions.  I am interested in finding a way to allow all persons, eastern or western, to meaningfully co-exist.  I would like global cooperation as opposed to global management.

[quote author=“kkwan”]Compared with the Christian world-view, the Chinese idea of tian xia is not afflicted with all kinds of divisions, conflicts and struggles, and does not deprive us of the ability to imagine a perfect future in this world, the human world.

I absolutely agree about the shortcomings of christianity.  I would cheer if christianity were to end.

[quote author=“kkwan”]That is to say, the real importance of China to the world is that only in Chinese tradition there is a way of thinking that is against not only other powers’ egocentric thinking, but also its own egocentric thinking. Here Zhao seems to imply that according to this tradition, a “threat from China” would thus become a “threat against China” as well, and the only correct understanding of “China rise” is the rise of China’s responsibility to the world—not a responsibility in the sense of a “mission” to universalize its values and distribute them all over the world, but in the sense of a duty to “think of tian xia from the perspective of tian xia”, and to regard nobody as others or outsiders, because in relation to tian xia there are, by definition, no outsiders.

These ideas are not unique to China, nor are they particularly representative of Chinese thought.  Chinese thought is full of egocentric thinking.  Likewise, western thought is full of divergent thought traditions, some of which are not so egocentric.  Secular humanism as promoted by The Council for Secular Humanism, for example, provides a far more succinct basis for planetary order as can be expounded upon by such writings as found HERE.  Secular humanism is based on respect for the basic rights and liberties of all people, across all cultural lines.

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Posted: 06 November 2007 12:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Thank you, erasmusinfinity, for the reply and the critical comments. Actually, all the quotations
in my post are from the article by Tong Sijun and do not neccessarily imply my agreement or
support of the ideas/proposals.

erasmusinfinity:

Tian xia does not place fundamental value on the sovereignty and civil liberties of individuals.  It is a fixed hierarchy that takes for granted that it is an intrinsic feature of human nature that there be a hierarchy and that this is a dignified notion worthy of our acceptance.  It is part of a confucian system that ranks persons by age, familial relation, gender, profession, etc. and asserts their rank to be a matter of birthright.  Political dissent is regarded as being unharmonious and out of line with the fundamental order of nature.  Indeed, the confucian “mandate of heaven” is an unquestionable right of power.

Tian xia goes back centuries before Confucious and has Daoist roots. From the article:

“Tian xia” is one of the most frequently used words in ancient Chinese classics. Literally meaning “All under Heaven” or “All the land under Heaven”, it was used by ancient Chinese to refer to the whole world as they knew or imagined. It is different both from Heaven, which is above us, and from the smaller parts within it. As something different from Heaven, tian xia is actually the intersecting point of the “tian dao” or Heavenly Dao and “ren dao” or Human Dao.

As regards knowing one’s duties in the scheme of things, consider:

Therefore one knows to protect tian xia before he knows to protect his guo. Protecting guo is the obligations of guo’s emperors, ministers and officials, while protecting is the duty of everybody, including those in the lowest rank.” Here Gu seems to be making a distinction between “institutional obligations” and “natural duties” in John Rawls’s sense: what one owes to tian xia is a natural duty, which needs no justification, while what one owes to a guo or state is an institutional obligation, which needs justification on the basis of one’s natural duties.

After reading the whole article and reflecting on its contents, it is obviously a very Sino-centric
confucianistic world-view and tries to promote it as universalism. Confucianism, for all its
humanistic ideals, in practice, is legalistic and rigidly hierarchical. It is definitely not democratic.

Secular humanism and its ideals has my wholehearted support, though when and whether it will
be realised globally is not certain. There are powerful forces resisting it.

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Posted: 06 November 2007 06:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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kkwan - 06 November 2007 12:09 AM

Secular humanism and its ideals has my wholehearted support, though when and whether it will
be realised globally is not certain. There are powerful forces resisting it.

We are agreed on both these points.

The Chinese philosophical canon is enormous, spanning the world’s oldest continuous civilization.  It is so hard to generalize about it.  I certainly hold no prejudices or stereotypes about Chinese persons being undemocratic or conformist by nature.  Tian xia is most certainly a sort of naturalism, as are taoism and buddhism at their cores.  At least they are from my point of view.  I do think that there are many Chinese philosophical ideas that could contribute to a global cooperative effort, and this underlying aspect of naturalism is certainly an attractive feature.

There certainly are powerful forces resisting global humanism.  They are so powerful, in fact, that secular humanism would probably be more correctly regarded as a resistance.  Global capitalism is global, because the world’s moneyed elite are fully interconnected across international lines.  Personally, I don’t like the way that global capitalism is transpiring in the world on a financial & corporate driven profit seeking basis.  I also detest it for its capacities of destroying useful and meaningful traditions and connecting people through greed rather than through sharing and cooperation.

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Posted: 06 November 2007 06:46 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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erasmusinfinity - 06 November 2007 06:00 AM

The Chinese philosophical canon is enormous, spanning the world’s oldest continuous civilization.  It is so hard to generalize about it.  I certainly hold no prejudices or stereotypes about Chinese persons being undemocratic or conformist by nature.  Tian xia is most certainly a sort of naturalism, as are taoism and buddhism at their cores.  At least they are from my point of view.  I do think that there are many Chinese philosophical ideas that could contribute to a global cooperative effort, and this underlying aspect of naturalism is certainly an attractive feature.

There certainly are powerful forces resisting global humanism.  They are so powerful, in fact, that secular humanism would probably be more correctly regarded as a resistance.  Global capitalism is global, because the world’s moneyed elite are fully interconnected across international lines.  Personally, I don’t like the way that global capitalism is transpiring in the world on a financial & corporate driven profit seeking basis.  I also detest it for its capacities of destroying useful and meaningful traditions and connecting people through greed rather than through sharing and cooperation.

Here are some interesting insights on Confucious and confucianism:

http://www.friesian.com/confuci.htm

Indeed, while many people may think of Indian or Chinese philosophy as intuitionistic or mystical, which is rather like what we do find in Taoism, Confucianism has been said to be a hundred times more rationalistic than Western philosophy. Confucian ethics are certainly clear and uncompromising, with points of similarity to Immanuel Kant and Christianity.

While the essence of morality is the limitation of self-interest, Confucius is clear that this does not mean complete denial of self. We have already seen a hint of this with Analects XV:23, which begins with the character for “self” and ends with the characters for “others” (or “persons”). If what you don’t want for yourself, you shouldn’t to do others, then you would like others to do for you what you would indeed like for yourself. We see a similar word structure, and stronger implication, at Analects VI:28, “If you desire to establish yourself, also establish others.” This sounds more like what Mohism called “mutual profitableness,” but it is clearly essential to Confucius.

Nevertheless, the Confucian ideal avoids the worst of modern paternalism with the principle of government by example and by “Not Doing” (), putting Confucianism closer to Taoism than to modern practices of authoritarian control.

The Chinese have never been very big on the world-denying renunication so characteristic of India; and even though monasticism was brought to China by Buddhism and adopted by religious Taoism, Confucianism, which usually also meant the government, always remained suspicious of it:  Monks and nuns were often suspected of being licentious freeloaders,

A curious and noteworthy aspect of the teaching of Confucius is his arm’s length attitude towards religion. There is considerably irony in this, not only because Confucianism later became one of the major religions of China, but in comparison to the life of Socrates, who was born just nine years after Confucius died. Socrates, although he talked about the gods all the time, and saw his own philosophical project as a divine mission, was condemned and put to death for presumably not believing in them. Confucius, although he later became a god, to whom temples were dedicated in every Chinese city, as the patron of students and scholars, nevertheless didn’t talk about the gods at all:

I have frequently found entire classes of students who were unable to name even a single traditional Chinese god [3]. The government of Imperial China treated the gods rather like other subjects of the Empire, assigning them rank and promoting or demoting them depending on their popularity or moral wholesomeness. Confucian authorities thus never doubted their standing to judge the status and worth of the gods. The Imperial cult, like Confucius himself, was concerned with much more abstract and impersonal entities, like Heaven. Sometimes “Heaven” is therefore translated “God,” but it is a principle, not a personal deity. Its reality, however, does refute attempts to characterize Confucius as the sort of sceptical and positivistic “secular humanist” who has become familiar in modern society.

These powerful forces, economic, political, religious and social percieve secular humanism as a
direct threat to their existence if the ideals of secular humanism prevail globally. They have their
own agenda for “globalization”.

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Posted: 07 November 2007 07:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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kkwan - 06 November 2007 06:46 PM

These powerful forces, economic, political, religious and social percieve secular humanism as a
direct threat to their existence if the ideals of secular humanism prevail globally. They have their
own agenda for “globalization”.

Agreed.  And, global capitalism is not just a US conspiracy.  In fact, China is a major player.  Take a look -HERE-

Global capitalism is an internationally driven phenomenon, as is the contrary opinion that you and I share.
It is destroying as many valuable communal institutions in America just as it is in China.

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Posted: 07 November 2007 10:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Agreed. Global capitalism and the creation of instant wealth in the bubble securities market in Shanghai in the last few years is highly alarming. So much so that it makes a mockery of the “communist ” state and the Chinese government is in a quandary. They cannot kill the goose that lays the golden egg. These newly rich and their never land enterprises are surrealistic. From your link to the IHT article:

Analysts are skeptical about the way China’s stocks are valued, particularly those with huge amounts of untradable government shares, like PetroChina. But to the buyers in Shanghai, at least, it dethroned Exxon Mobil as the most valuable company in the world. And by the same criteria, they would consider China Mobile the world’s most valuable telecommunications company. ICBC, a state-owned bank that was nearly insolvent a decade ago, is worth more than Citigroup to the speculators.

Aptly, China’s new billionaires are building their staggering wealth on the backs of the richest companies you have never heard of. Thanks to the capitalist stock mania sweeping the communist mainland, Chinese private and state-owned companies issuing stock for the first time are becoming incredibly valuable in speculators’ eyes, sometimes overnight.

But many analysts argue that there is nothing underlying the skyrocketing valuations - or, sometimes, that the companies’ obscure finances make it impossible to know. And if the Chinese stock market is a bubble, the new billionaires will disappear as quickly as they rose, since much of their wealth was generated by the stock markets, as well as by the Chinese real estate boom and the Chinese economy, the fastest-growing in the world.

The horrendous disparity of wealth in China now is obscene:

As much as the bounty of billionaires is a source of pride, it is also a potential cause for concern in a nominally communist country. Per capita income in China is less than $1,000 a year.

Who cares? Everyone wants a piece of the action. The Chinese are great gamblers and the unregulated securities market in Shanghai is a casino.

But times have changed. With the economy roaring and entrepreneurs sensing a golden age of stock riches, everyone seems to be mouthing the phrase “shang shi,” Chinese for initial public offering.

In the rapid rush to industrialise, China is destroying its natural environment catastrophically. It’s carbon emissions will overtake the US soon. It’s need for raw materials such as metals, oil etc. is boosting prices globally to all time highs.

This is the result of waking the sleeping dragon. Where is Confucius and his ideals?

[ Edited: 07 November 2007 10:38 AM by kkwan ]
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Posted: 07 November 2007 11:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Yes.  And to be fair, it is not particularly China’s fault any more than any one other nation state’s fault for what is happening.  Raw materials and labor are used by other nations through managed corporate interests and there is much blame to be shared across the globe.  I do not mean to let the looseness of US corporate regulation off the hook for its role in allowing and even encouraging global capitalism either.  I just want to make clear that it is not the “Americans” that are causing this problem nor is it the “Chinese” either.  The world’s biggest corporations are “global” corporations, with little or no allegiance to any nationality.  And their profiteers have a much greater allegiance to one another than they will ever have to the people of their respective countries or of the world.

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Posted: 07 November 2007 12:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Adam Smith, if he were alive, would be shocked to see the immoral effects of uncontrolled global captalism. Before “The Wealth of Nations”, he wrote “Theory of Moral Sentiments”

http://www.econlib.org/Library/Enc/bios/Smith.html

Today Smith’s reputation rests on his explanation of how rational self-interest in a free-market economy leads to economic well-being. It may surprise those who would discount Smith as an advocate of ruthless individualism that his first major work concentrated on ethics and charity. In fact, while chair at the University of Glasgow, Smith’s lecture subjects, in order of preference, were natural theology, ethics, jurisprudence, and economics, according to John Millar, Smith’s pupil at the time. In The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Smith wrote: “How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature which interest him in the fortune of others and render their happiness necessary to him though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it.”

http://www.adamsmith.org/smith/index.php/smith/tms_intro/

Smith took a completely new direction, holding that people are born with a moral sense, just as they have inborn ideas of beauty or harmony. Our conscience tells us what is right and wrong: and that is something innate, not something given us by lawmakers or by rational analysis. And to bolster it we also have a natural fellow-feeling, which Smith calls “sympathy”. Between them, these natural senses of conscience and sympathy ensure that human beings can and do live together in orderly and beneficial social organizations.

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