The 2019 Confucian Studies Summer Institute international program offers teachers of Chinese history and culture an opportunity to spend two weeks at an established Confucian Institute reading the Confucian classics with world-renowned experts Roger T. Ames, Chenshan Tian, and other distinguished comparative philosophy and Confucian scholars. The Institutes have been held annually in the summers of 2011 through 2018, for eight years in total, each of which was deemed to be a memorable success. Since its inception, this annual gathering has attracted the brightest teachers and the most committed participants from around the world. In organizing the forthcoming Institute scheduled for July 2019, we again welcome international participants to read the Chinese classics at Danyang and Qufu, the famed birthplace of Confucius. We invite all of those participants and teachers who are intrigued by Chinese culture and philosophy and who seek a more profound appreciation of Chinese cosmology to join us on this unique educational and research journey.
The first decade of the 21st century has witnessed the rise of China as a major force in the world’s economic and political order. For many, this phenomenon raises the important question of what influence the relatively sudden emergence of this antique civilization will exert on an ever-evolving world culture. Answering this question by anticipating the weight and measure of China’s growing impact on other world civilizations has become a serious academic concern. In order to understand and respond effectively to these world-shaping and complex developments in China and around the world, scholars must not only track the ongoing course of current affairs, but equally as important, they must become familiar with and sensitive to Chinese ways of thinking and living, and this means taking Chinese culture on its own terms. Our overarching purpose in offering this summer program is to help our participants gain a clear understanding of the historical evolution of Chinese thought and culture through an in-depth examination of Chinese canonical texts and their interpretive contexts, and through a collaborative study of these works, to make the wisdom of this living tradition their own.
Historically, Western exegetes and contemporary Chinese scholars as well, have tended to read and interpret Chinese philosophy through a decidedly Western cultural lens, and their theoretical methodologies have often been grounded in Western cultural assumptions. While Chinese culture has changed profoundly over the millennia, there are nevertheless persisting cosmological commitments that have given continuity and coherence to this ever-evolving tradition. Our challenge as participants of these Chinese classics is to adopt a hermeneutical approach that will allow us to excavate the uncommon assumptions that give these philosophical texts their authority, and to appreciate the aesthetic and the structural differences through a careful reading of the canons.
Before beginning our journey into Chinese cosmology, we will need to understand clearly the contrast between the metaphysical approach to human experience in classical Greek philosophy that is based on an appeal to first principles, and the more fluid and dynamic assumptions that have influenced a tradition in which the Book of Changes has always been revered as first among the Chinese classics. The 20th century philosopher Tang Junyi takes the postulate “the inseparability of one and many” (yiduobufen guan 一多不分观) as one of the distinguishing propositions of Chinese natural cosmology—a way of thinking about phenomena that stands in contrast to the “One behind the many” model of a classical Greek idealism sustained by the notion of an unchanging eidos as defining of all natural types or species.
What is a human “being”? This was a perennial Greek question asked in Plato’s Phaedo and in his Republic, and as we have seen above, in Aristotle’s Categories as well. And there were many different answers, two of which are pointed at metonymically in Raphael’s famous “School of Athens” fresco by the “up” and “down” gestures of Plato and his student Aristotle. One persistent answer to this question was an ontological one, predating Plato’s psyche with the Egyptian transfiguration of the ka and ba life-forces animating the spiritual entity akh in the afterlife, and with the Pythagorean doctrine of the reincarnation of an immortal soul that anticipates and informs Plato’s Phaedo. From these deep historical roots, the “being” of a human being has come to be understood popularly in Christian doctrine as some variation on a permanent, ready-made, and self-sufficient soul. Early on in the narrative, “know thyself”—the signature exhortation of Socrates doctrine of “recollection” (amnanesis)—is an exhortation to remember, recover, and thus know this soul fully. Each of us is a person, and from conception, has the integrity of being an individual person.
How, or in what way (dao 道), do persons in their roles and relations become consummately human (ren 仁)? This then was the perennial Confucian question asked explicitly in all of the Four Books: in the Expansive Learning (Daxue), in the Analects of Confucius, in the Mencius, and again in Focusing the Familiar (Zhongyong). And the answer even before the time of Confucius was a moral, aesthetic, and ultimately religious one. Persons (always and necessarily plural) become humans by cultivating those thick relations that constitute our native conditions and that shape the trajectory of our life narratives—that is, that guide the whence and whither of our life’s journey within family, community, and cosmos. According to Confucius, one becomes truly human by cultivating the diverse network of intrinsic and interpersonal relations that constitute one’s initial conditions and that locate the trajectory of one’s life force within family, community, and cosmos. The signature exhortation of the Confucian canon is “cultivate your person”— xiushen 修身. This is the ground of the Confucian project of becoming consummate as a person (ren 仁): it is to consciously enlarge, improve, and attempt to maximize those interdependent family, community, and cosmic roles and relationships that one lives on a daily basis. In this Confucian tradition, the cultivation of our humanity is not solitary but irreducibly social. We need each other because if there is only one person, there can be no persons. Becoming consummate in our conduct (人/仁) is an achievement that is necessarily shared. It is something that we must do together, or not at all. In this Confucian understanding of a relationally constituted person, we are uniquely one and pluralistically many at the same time—each of us is a uniquely focused person defined by a field of relations (一多不分).
In pursuing an understanding of Chinese natural cosmology as the relevant interpretive context for this Confucian project we will strive to provide a language that will distinguish this worldview from the single-ordered, “One-behind-the-many” ontological model that grounds classical Greek metaphysical thinking. The notion that one can come to an “understanding” of the “many” by knowing retrospectively the foundational and causal ideal that lies behind them was an underlying principle of Greek metaphysics and was applied by the Greeks to human beings in claiming that one can come to an understanding of what makes us all uniquely human by subscribing to the concept of a discrete self or soul. In our exploration of Chinese cosmology, we will find that this ontological model stands in contradistinction to the symbiotic and holistic focus-field model of order that is illustrated rather concisely in the organic, ecological sensibilities of the Expansive Learning 大學, the first of the Four Books that begins the Confucian project.
In addition, we will review China’s recent history and attempt to identify the nature of the forces that have contributed to the emergence of a dynamic contemporary society in China. By understanding the present in light of the past, we will seek to gain an informed assessment of China’s place in the modern world. We will attempt to identify global trends, and then to understand the dynamism of Chinese society within a larger international context. In addition to exploring the evolution of Chinese thought through an examination of canonical Chinese texts, it is important that participants become familiar with the literature that deals with the historical role of China in world affairs.
The 2019 Confucian Studies Summer Institute international program for teachers of Chinese culture was conceived, like its predecessors, as a uniquely “Confucian” setting for the instruction of Chinese and international teachers and participants of Chinese culture, literature, history and philosophy. However, the content and the scope of the materials, as well as the collaborative and interactive teaching forums, are designed to accommodate both the advanced Chinese specialist and the newcomer to Chinese cultural interests. In the past, our Confucian Studies Summer Programs have attracted a wide range of participants and teachers from a great many vocational and academic backgrounds with a wide range of expertise and experiences, and many of the new arrivals to Chinese culture have been the most enthusiastic. The program will entail readings in Chinese history and philosophy, but a basic familiarity with Chinese culture and classical texts is expected. It goes without saying that in the study of Chinese culture, Chinese language competence would be a great asset, but it is not a requirement of the program because all academic lectures and discussions will be in English. The goal of this Summer Institute is to provide the participants with a knowledge of the Chinese classics and a comparative, hermeneutical approach to these texts that they can apply in their continuing studies of the Chinese canon and in their teaching of Confucianism and Chinese culture to their participants. In order to accomplish this goal, we will undertake a careful and detailed reading of the primary canonical texts that will be sensitive to alternative world views and modalities of thinking, as well as to fundamental linguistic differences.
This training program will be led by Professors Roger T. Ames (Peking University) and Chenshan Tian (Beijing Foreign Studies University), with a special series of lectures delivered by Robin R. Wang (Loyola Marymount University), and Zhao Yanfeng (Peking University). Our time together will be spent reading classical texts and contemporary commentaries, taking part in interactive seminars and discussion groups, joining with colleagues in cultural activities and events, and venturing out on a number of pre-planned field trips.