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Return to the "Manifesto on Behalf of Chinese Culture" introduction page


Part 12: Our Hopes for World Learning


We acknowledge that Western culture has places where it can learn from Eastern thought, but we also wish to put forward some positions with respect to the direction of Chinese and world academic learning.

        1. The people of the contemporary world have already been pulled together by the outward expansion of Western culture, while at the same time this encounter has also left them with their heads broken and their blood flowing. We believe that the main direction for contemporary academic learning should be what we earlier discussed, having every nationality internally reflect on the shortcomings of their culture and come together to deal with the problems of our future as a whole. In addition to the specific studies of the different categories and classifications of science and philosophy that stem from the numerous sources of Western culture's tradition, humanity also needs to develop grand emotions in order to ponder together all of the problems facing humanity. These grand emotions should include respect and sympathy for different nationalities and different cultures, and should have a genuine benevolent attitude of empathy and compassion toward human suffering. With these grand emotions, we can come to understand that all of the nationalities and cultures of the world are expressions of man's spiritual life and are composed of man's blood and tears. Kongzi employed a spirit of "preserving those about to perish and reinstating those who have been cut off" in writing the Spring and Autumn Annals, and all humanity should utilize this spirit in striving to preserve and develop the valuable aspects of the cultures of all nationalities [26]. In this way, we can prepare for the time when all under Heaven is one family, where all cultures exist together, appreciate each other, and mix together.

        2. In cultivating these grand emotions, if one employs the rational intellect to engage in an objective and sober study of all sorts of natural, social, and historical affairs, this should be only one type of human study. Humanity should engage in another type of study, one that does not merely regard nature and humans themselves objectively, as targets for sober-minded study. This learning, rather, should be the sort that treats humanity itself as an existential subject, and strive for the condition in which this existential subject gradually surpasses the ordinary and achieves sagehood, with their aspirations increasingly expanding and their wisdom becoming increasingly lucid [27]. Thus they can then reach the stage of being rounded and spiritual, where grand emotions are increasingly so deep that one’s chest overflows with the benevolence of compassion and the mind of sympathy.

        This sort of study is not theology and it is not the study of external ethical norms or psychology. Rather, it is a type of study that connects knowledge and actions in order to allow for man to transcend his own existing body and ascend to spiritual enlightenment. This is what the Confucians called the Learning of the Mind and Nature or the Doctrine of Learning and Pattern, or the Learning of Sagehood. This is also found in Western religious devotionals as well as in Indian yoga. The West's founder of existentialist philosophy, Kierkegaard [28], focused on the process of self-cultivation that resulted in becoming a Christian and did not focus on the outward expression of religious activity as displayed by people entering Churches to pray to God. This was also directed at how man could transcend his own existence and ascend to spiritual enlightenment by employing his mind. However, because the West's traditional culture arose from several sources—a rational understanding of the order of the objective world that was the spirit of Greece, the Commandments of God and a faith in His revelations that was the spirit of the Hebrews, and an emphasis on the laws and organization of society and state that was the spirit of the Romans—this sort of study has not yet become the core of Western learning.

        If man cannot transcend his own existing body and ascend to spiritual enlightenment, then his existing body cannot bear the weight of God and his religious belief may waver. At the same time he may be unable to bear the weight of the sphere of knowledge that he has created himself or the civilized world that his science and technology have created. Thus an atomic bomb may at any time slip out of his hands, extinguishing humanity itself. Man also cannot bear the weight of the oppression of individual liberty that is being carried out by the legal organizations that political society has created for itself. This oppression of individual liberty is seen in modern totalitarian countries, and certain organizations in contemporary industrialized societies also exhibit a similar oppression of individual liberty. As for humanity being incapable of bearing the weight of the things that it believes in and has created, the fundamental mishap is precisely that humanity only seeks an objective understanding of the world and uses the knowledge thus formed as the basis for creating ideals. It then takes these ideals and unceasingly turns them into objects in nature and the social world, creating an external culture and material wealth beyond human existence. This external culture and material wealth unceasingly accumulates and creates a machinery of external shackles beyond humanity's power to control. This learning [that we advocate here] attempts to "turn Heaven and earth around" to establish the existence of the human subject in such a way that it is itself genuinely in control.

        This establishment of dominance relies upon man's transcending his own existing body and ascending. This sort of learning, along with the establishment of a genuinely self-created dominance, are also found in the learning that China calls "establishing man as the ultimate." Only once man’s ultimacy has been established is he able to bear the weight of his religious belief and apply everything that man has created in a controlled fashion. This is a great learning that modern man should come to recognize.

        3. Human existence as created by this learning of establishing man as the ultimate is a subject of morality but also transcends the self and ascends to spiritual enlightenment. Therefore it is also truly able to bear the weight of Heaven and harmonize with the Virtue of Heaven. Because of this, man’s existence simultaneously becomes a moral and religious existence. Because he is a moral subject, in the political context he is a genuine citizen of a democratic state and becomes a "political subject." And when humanity reaches the stage where all under Heaven is one family, he will become a citizen of all under Heaven. Thus he becomes what Mengzi described as a "subject of Heaven [29]." while still remaining a political subject under Heaven.

        In the sphere of knowledge, he will become a "subject of knowledge," surpassing and containing the objective world while not getting mired down in it. At the same time, he can pick up or set aside his knowledge and concepts at any time, and thus his objective knowledge will follow the winding course of things or the spread of the essence of wisdom. In the spheres of human history and culture, he will "carry forward and forge ahead as a subject living in a boundless historical and cultural sphere." From within this boundless historical and cultural sphere, he will see the eternal Way, what in the West is called the direct revelation of God. We believe that everyone should begin from this new perspective of academic learning and thought.

        This is the ultimate objective of the learning of establishing man as the ultimate. It is also the objective of developing Chinese culture as well as world culture, what we earlier discussed in this essay [in Part 11] about Chinese culture and what Westerners should learn from Asian wisdom.

        The achievement of this objective will arise when we truly and thoroughly understand that the emphasis on the spirit of reasoning and rationality in Greece that arose out of Greece's concept of liberty, the concept of equality in Roman law that is exhibited in the spirit of the democratic politics of modern Western culture, and the spirit of Hebrew religion all link up with the Eastern religious/moral wisdom of the unified Virtue of Heaven and human beings, of becoming sages and worthies, of the Learning of the Mind and Nature and of Righteousness and Pattern, of the wisdom of being well-rounded and spiritual, and of the feeling that all under Heaven is one family.

        We do not know when this ideal will be realized. However if we wish to implement this ideal, we can now begin. In order to achieve it, we must return to our own individual positions of practical existence and put forth much effort. Based on where the Chinese people are positioned, our task is to figure out how to make China bear the burden of the development of her own culture and complete her decades-old pursuit of establishing a democratic state, allowing for scientific advancement and industrialization, and giving rise to Chinese people existing both as political subjects and as subjects of knowledge.

        As for Westerners, they should be introspective about their culture's shortcomings and seek to learn from the East. At the same time, in their current position as leaders of the world, they should utilize a spirit of reviving those states that are perishing and reinstating those who have been cut off in order to protect the development of every nationality's culture. If this is accomplished, then the desires of all nationalities to found their states on democratic principles will cause them in the present to become genuine citizens of their countries and in the future, in the world where all under Heaven is one family, they will become citizens of Heaven. To accomplish this, Westerners' attitudes toward the study of China and other Eastern nationalities’ learning, culture, and history should also be changed in the way that we earlier described.

 We remember that before the eighteenth century, the West particularly esteemed China, and in the first half of the nineteenth century, China took herself to be superior, treating the West as barbarians [30]. From the latter half of the nineteenth century until now, Westerners have looked at Eastern countries such as China as being backward nationalities, and Chinese people have also viewed themselves as being inferior. From this we can see that Heaven's Way returns goodness in kind without deviating even a hair's breadth. However, now the West and the East have arrived at the time when they should genuinely view each other as equals. Even though Chinese culture currently appears chaotic, it was extremely bright and radiant in the past. Even though Western culture currently appears splendid and dazzling, what will its future bring? This is a crucial question. Humanity should together go through the transformation from past to present, understanding that the spirit of human nature lies in its having the same mind and the same Pattern, coming to shoulder humanity’s burdens, hardships, shortcomings, and errors together. Only then can we open up a new path for humanity.





[26] Although this idea is suggested in the Spring and Autumn Annals, the exact phrase is in Xunzi 9.


[27] The authors here make reference to Existentialism, a Western philosophical movement that stresses the need for humans to make sincere personal commitments to ethics, rather than mistakenly relying on objective rationality or social conventions to dictate their choices for them. —Eds.


[28] Søren Aabye Kierkegaard (1813–1855) was a Danish theistic existentialist. He argued that contemporary Christians had lost sight of the importance of intense, sincere, personal faith in God, as opposed to mild conformity with the external trappings of Christian religious practice.



[29] This term appears in Mengzi 5A7, 5B10, and 6A19.


[30] Many thinkers of the seventeenth and eighteenth-century Enlightenment praised China for what they saw as its rational and secular government. See, for example, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Writings on China, trans. Daniel Cook and Henry Rosemont (Chicago: Open Court, 1994) and Robert B. Louden, "'What Does Heaven Say?' Christian Wolff and Western Interpretations of Confucian Ethics," in Bryan W. Van Norden, ed., Confucius and the Analects: New Essays (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), pp. 73–93. —Eds. 



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