Academic journal article China Perspectives

National Learning (Guoxue): Six Perspectives and Six Definitions

Academic journal article China Perspectives

National Learning (Guoxue): Six Perspectives and Six Definitions

Article excerpt

Guoxue deserves "such popularity"

Let us first review how guoxue has "occurred" by citing an observation from a scholar who lives outside of China.

The concept of "guoxue," which ceased to draw attention for more than four decades, was resuscitated almost overnight in mainland China in the so-called "guoxue fever" of the 1990s... A variety of forums appeared on TV; several prestigious universities established guoxue training classes in order to nourish "spiritual resources" among management personnel; some local governments even organised the movement for elementary students to read the "Four Books" and the "Five Classics."(1)

All around us praise and denunciation of "guoxuefever" can be heard in heated debates. Twenty years ago, during the period of "guoxue chill," I pointed out, "Even those who do not know very much about tradition argue that China's current cultural crisis may be attributed to tradition or to its loss."(2) It is in this context of controversy that I invited an old friend of mine, Arif Dirlik, to the Tsinghua Academy of Chinese Learning (Tsinghua guoxue yanjiu yuan) to give a series of talks as Liang Qichao Memorial Visiting Professor. Within a general framework of global modernity, Dirlik offered an argument from his article entitled "Confucius in the Bor- derlands: Globalization, The Developmental State and the Resurrection of a Confucian Identity." Dirlik argues that Confucianism has been held re- sponsible for both the success and the failure of China's modernity. Al- though I agree with Dirlik's argument on the intricate relationship between the revival of cultural values and the takeoff of the economy, I think there is no causal relationship between the promotion of Confucianist discourses and the flourishing of profit-making activities in China. In contrast to Xiong Shili, Liang Shuming, Feng Youlan, Mou Zongsan, Tang Junyi, and their in- tellectual descendants, the Confucian tradition actually offered moral nor- mative values to challenge Western-originated modernity.

In fact, as China is on the verge of achieving the material promise of the "four modernisations," the negative effects of modernisation are becoming apparent, accompanied by a realisation that we cannot simply blame tra- dition for our problems. This calls for a distinction between the old "culture fever" (wenhua re) and the new "guoxuefever." While the former was de- ployed two decades ago to express a Chinese thirst for modernity, the lat- ter, which brought new attention to tradition, has derived from a sober re- flection on modernity.

In disagreement with Dirlik's observation, I also want to point out the popular and spontaneous nature of the new "guoxuefever." Unlike the pre- vious "fever" trends, this cultural movement was not promoted from the top down, but from the bottom up. The public has pressed cultural de- mands for guoxue. This is the key characteristics of the new guoxuetrend.

Although Dirlik's view on the relationship between Confucianism and the economic rise of Asia is not well-balanced, he keenly captures the question of how the rise in the market was closely associated with the deployment of Confucian doctrines as a means of making profit. Indeed, in China, from universities to the Temple of Confucius, from book stores to private schools, from book writing to academic lectures, all are contaminated by money.

However, I insist even under such circumstances that continued destruc- tion of tradition, particularly the Confucian tradition, will not help over- come China's moral anomie. Without the constraint of Confucianism, Yang-Zhu egoist philosophy(3) could be re-activated by Western individu- alism and celebrated as "advanced theory" (xianjin xueshuo). (4) For this reason, although "guoxue fever" may not prevent profit-making activities at the current initial stage, I still have a faith that the inherent value sys- tem of Chinese culture remains the most vital and effective means to reg- ulate public moral life and enrich the Chinese historical experience. …

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