Interview with the Philosopher Chen Shaoming

Chen Shaoming 陈少明 is one of the most influential contemporary philosophers in China. He was born in Guangdong in 1958. After training in history (1978–1983) in Guangzhou, he then studied philosophy at Sun Yat-sen University 中山大学 (1983–1986) where he stayed on as a teacher. Since his appointment as professor in 1997, he has been a guest professor at several universities: Harvard University (1998–2000; 2008), The Chinese University of Hong Kong (2002), and Taiwan National University (2009). In 2015, he was honoured with the Yangtze Scholar award (长江学者), one of the highest accolades in Chinese academia. His research focuses on the Zhuangzi and the Analects as well as on Late Qing dynasty scholarship. In his works, he tries to extract conceptual tools from classical texts to answer contemporary philosophical questions. He is the author of several books including ‘Discussion on Making All Things Equal’ and Its Influence (2004) and Chinese Philosophy: Reflections on the Methodology of Chinese Philosophical Research (2015). For a more detailed bibliography of Chen Shaoming’s works, some of which have already been translated into English, see below.

This is a translation of an interview with Chen Shaoming, conducted by Chen Bisheng and published in the journal Academic Monthly 学术月刊 (no. 1, 2007, pp. 148–152), under the title “Searching for diversity in Chinese Philosophy” 《探求中国哲学的多样形态》.

As a scholar born in 1958 who started his academic journey in 1977, you spent your teenage years in the middle of a series of national political campaigns. By the time you attended college you had worked as a saltern, drilling oil wells, and as a kitchen hand. How did these experiences influence your own life and your academic research?

Chen Shaoming: Because of the “Great Leap Forward”, 1958 can be regarded as a special year in modern Chinese history. However, the hunger caused by “natural disasters” during the three subsequent years did not directly affect children like me who were too young at the time. It was different with the “Cultural Revolution”, which started in 1966 and lasted ten years because it was just about the time when I received my early education. From primary school to high school, my education lasted only nine years and then I was sent to the countryside for two years. Regarding the “Cultural Revolution”, it is difficult to generalize the nature of its influence. Over the past few years, I have come across a few articles recounting the “Cultural Revolution”, and have found a great contrast in tone among them. To say it was without historical precedent is true since it certainly was a political mass mobilization of unprecedented scale in Chinese history. But it is natural that depending on status, education, age, gender, and individual paths, feelings towards it vary greatly.
I can think of three points to emphasize: First, my personal experience of having a passion for “rebellion”. This kind of passion which was both about opposing political authorities and about the pursuit of an ideal of social justice. Second, my interest in social sciences. From an early age on, I became familiar with terms such as ideology, superstructure, and economic basis. This was the result of constantly being surrounded by this kind of vocabulary. However, the language of those who have a knack for this kind of grand narratives and a tendency towards transforming everything into a worldview resembles more that of the humanities. Third, my approach to knowledge developed common sense. After seeing how the phenomenon of using theory to distort experience had become a common occurence, one begins to pay more attention to dismantling the tricks of various “interpretations”. At the same time, even if the domain of discourse is very abstract, I still hope to maintain a correlation with experience. […]

After the reinstatement of the college entrance exam in 1977, you signed up for the humanities and “mistakenly entered” the history department. In your CV you specifically mention that, fortunately, you did not enroll in the philosophy department for your undergraduate studies. What is the special significance of these four years in the history department for your research on Chinese philosophy and history of thought (思想史)?

Chen Shaoming: As I have written in my autobiographical sketch, Abstract Life《抽象人生》, it was because I had been reading On the Question of the Individual’s Role in History, a book by the Marxist philosopher Georgi Valentinovich Plekhanov (1856–1918), and mistakenly understood the history of philosophy as part of history. Later, when I took the graduate school exam in philosophy, I finally embarked on the “right track” and recovered my original interest. Of course, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, most of the philosophy departments at Chinese universities were not particularly good. The stereotyped “philosophical principles” do not teach an approach or method for philosophical exploration, but rather provide a set of ready-made “universal” truths. Since I didn’t study at the philosophy department as an undergraduate, my later writing naturally was not constrained by this kind of systemized method. As for history, although I didn’t go into much depth, I still benefited from it. For example, cultivating an imagination for space and time helps to foster a sense of coordination in handling characters and trends in the history of thought, and makes sure to think over carefully a problem when discussing it. That means to describe the function of thought in a specific context rather than to determine whether it is right or wrong in an abstract way. As you know, most of the philosophical training imperceptibly rejects this awareness. […]

In the 1980s, as a very young scholar, you started to emerge in the world of thought. Your first article, with which you made a name for yourself, was published in 1987 in the journal Culture: China and the World 《文化:中国与世界》 under the title “The Influence of Kantian Philosophy in Modern China from the Perspective of Comparative Philosophy” 《从比较哲学角度看康德哲学在近现代中国的影响》. Anyone who studies the history of Chinese philosophy knows that Kant had a very strong influence on the establishment of this field as an academic discipline. Although your article was published nearly two decades ago, its views are still not outdated. How did you come to write this article?

Chen Shaoming: It was far from being the article with which I made a name for myself. It was the master’s thesis I completed in 1986. Thanks to the recommendation of Chen Pingyuan 陈平原 (1954–), I had the opportunity to publish it in a trendy publication of that time. I chose this topic against the backdrop of the so-called “Culture Fever” (文化热) prevalent in the mid-1980s. The main theme then was to criticise tradition, and many criticisms were presented through East-West comparisons. I instinctively preferred the Enlightenment position of the early 20th century, but a master thesis cannot be written using the kind of abstract comparisons as was done during the May 4th era. At that time, due to the influence of Li Zehou’s Critique of Critical Philosophy 《批判哲学的批判》, I read some books on Kant’s philosophy, and by chance Kant’s and Hegel’s Philosophies Eastward Journey 《康德黑格尔哲学东渐记》, a book by He Lin 贺麟 (1902–1992), which provided me with resources and clues for my thread of thought, and with the agreement of my supervisor Ding Baolan 丁宝兰 (1919–1988), I chose this topic.
My writing had two intentions: The first was to change the comparison based on the unit of “culture” into an inquiry of the intellectual experience manifested when different cultures come into contact with each other. The second was to bring the Kant-related thoughts of Liang Qichao 梁啟超 (1873-1929), Zhang Taiyan 章太炎 (1869-1936), Wang Guowei 王国维 (1877-1927) and Cai Yuanpei 蔡元培 (1868-1940) into the trichotomy of truth, goodness and beauty and to make an analysis. […] However, at that time, my understanding of Kantian philosophy was rather superficial, and the thinkers of this generation did not go into details, the flaws of my knowledge, therefore, can be easily discovered. Kant’s philosophy did have a great influence on the establishment of the history of Chinese philosophy as a discipline. In fact, not only Kant, the entire German classical philosophy, and also modern Western rationalism and empiricism had an important impact. But I only understood the full extent of that influence ten years later when I wrote the article “A Change in Knowledge Genealogy – An Analysis of the Research Methods of Chinese Philosophy History” 《知识谱系的转换——中国哲学史研究方法论析》.

Your writings from the 1990s, including the Modern Transition of Confucianism (1992) and the Interpreted Traditions: A New Theory of the History of Modern Thought (reprinted in 1995, under the title Modern Chinese Thought History), are your major early academic achievements. On what did you base your analyses of the fate of Confucianism in modern times?

Chen Shaoming: Actually, to discuss the fate of Confucianism in modernity was not a conscious choice I made at the beginning. At the same time, the objects I later focused on were not limited to Confucianism. This was the period of the so-called “Culture Fever” because everyone was talking about culture. Liang Shuming 梁漱溟 (1893–1988), Feng Youlan 冯友兰 (1895–1990), Li Zehou 李泽厚 (1930–), Pang Pu 庞朴 (1928–2015), Tang Yijie 汤一介 (1927–2014), Du Weiming 杜维明 (1940–), Yu Yingshi 余英时 (1930–), Liu Xiaofeng 刘小枫 (1956–), Gan Yang 甘阳 (1952–), Zhang Zhiyang 张志扬 (1940–), Liang Zhiping 梁治平 (1940–), Jin Guantao 金观涛 (1947–) and Liu Qingfeng 刘青峰 may differ in their perspectives, but different generations of intellectuals were all talking about culture. Li Zehou’s History of Ancient Chinese Thought 《中国古代思想史论》(1985), Liu Xiaofeng’s Delivering and Dallying 《拯救与逍遥》(1988) and Prosperity and Crisis: Discussing the Ultra-Stable Structure of Chinese Society 《兴盛与危机:论中国社会超稳定结构》(1992) by Jin Guantao and Liu Qingfeng, all these books were very popular. Obviously like many of my contemporaries, I was interested in catching up with new trends of thought. […]
Modern Transition of Confucianism is linked with Interpreted Traditions: A New Theory of the History of Modern Thought – written in cooperation with Zhang Yongyi 张永义 (1966–) and Shan Shilian 单世联 (1962–). The former discusses 20th-century New Confucianism, the later traces it to its origin. It analyses the complicated relationship between “Classical Learning” (经学) and modern ideology. Some chapters in Han and Song Learning and Modernity (1995) are also related to this topic.

Unlike most scholars who study Chinese philosophy, you have also done research on Western philosophy, and in your classes you repeatedly emphasize the importance of Western philosophy for studying Chinese philosophy. At the same time, you do not have the same approach as scholars from the previous generation such as Feng Youlan and Mou Zongsan 牟宗三 (1909–1995). You do not regard Western philosophy as the framework through which Chinese philosophical materials should be analysed. You very seldom use terminology from Western philosophy to interpret Chinese Classics. Therefore, what role does Western philosophy play in your academic research? You have also written a book together with Zhang Zhilin 张志林 (1957–): Anti-Essentialism and Knowledge Issues: Research on Wittgenstein’s Later Philosophy (1995). What is the influence of Wittgenstein on your work and research on Chinese philosophy?

Chen Shaoming: From the very beginning I was interested in Western philosophy because I like philosophy and read histories of philosophy, but it was also for the sake of entering the philosophy department and passing the entrance exam to study the history of Chinese philosophy.
Some of those who engage in Chinese philosophy talk about Western philosophy just to find quotations they can cite, to decorate the facade. This kind of habit may have its origin in the way the Marxist classics were being cited by many Chinese scholars. Feng Youlan and Mou Zongsan are different. Both systematically study certain theories or schools, and whether you like it or not, we all have to acknowledge that their results are insightful. But philosophy does not look for ready-made truths and no achievement can be repeated like a dogma, otherwise, intellectual investigation becomes tasteless abstract gymnastics.
My first contact with Wittgenstein’s philosophy was probably around 1987 when Fudan University Press translated a book written by the American author Milton K. Munitz, Contemporary Analytic Philosophy (1981), which centres on Wittgenstein and is full of vivid details. At the same time, I photocopied Wittgenstein’s On Certainty and J. L. Austin’s How to Do Things with Words in the Peking University library. Reading these books slowly gave me insights. Later this became an important help for Anti-Essentialism and Knowledge Issues, for which I collaborated with Zhang Zhilin. The value of this book is not in the accuracy or abundance of sources; however, it touches upon the contemporary shape of knowledge. It highlights some limits of the uses of reason and reflects on it. There are quite a few people who were interested in reading it and it seems especially scholars of law mention it quite a lot. Regarding Western philosophy, I am at most an amateur, but nonetheless, I received great benefits from it. For example, regarding what Wittgenstein says about philosophy as scholarship, there are two points on which I have no doubt. Firstly, as a theoretical science, in philosophy argumentations are more important than conclusions. Secondly, valuable philosophies do not have to be all-encompassing systems, and may even ignore ontology.

Your work Han and Song Learning and Modern Thought was published in 1998. Some of the articles included in this collection are reflections on the history of Chinese philosophy as an academic discipline. How do you evaluate this book today?

Chen Shaoming: This book was first published in 1995, andthen republished in 1998. The content of the book is basically divided into twoparts: the first part extends the study of contemporary New Confucianism up to themodern and contemporary history of thought. Focusing on the history of philosophy as an academic discipline, it reflects on the methodology of the history of thought in a broader sense. Although we cannot say that “philosophy is methodology”, I do think that methodology is one of the central topics of modern philosophy. This issue is related to the rise of modern epistemology. My interest in Wittgenstein’s is also connected to this.
In Anti-Essentialism and Knowledge Issues: Further Research on Wittgenstein’s Later Philosophy, I also wrote a chapter “On Ideal Types in the Light of Family Resemblance”《从家族类似看理想类型》. To pay attention to the methodology of the history of philosophy begins with adivision between the history of thought (思想史), history of philosophy (哲学史) and intellectual history (学术史), rather than with the question of validity (正当性) of Chinese philosophy. The chapter on the question of validity was only added with the second printing of the book. […]

In recent years, one of the hot topics in academia is the discussion about the legitimacy (合法性) of “Chinese philosophy”. As one of the participants, what do you think about the significance of this discussion? From your book Han and Song Learning and Modern Thought to your recent articles, we can see your position has evolved. Is this evolution related to your own reflection on this question?

Chen Shaoming: The discussion on the validity of “Chinese philosophy” (I do not like to use the term “legitimacy”) is a subject stirred up by scholars. Originally it was a marginal topic and then suddenly people began questioning it, some criticized it while others defended it. This naturally attracted the attention of the public. Just like the “Culture Fever” before, it started with a critique of traditional culture. But similarly, in the end, it trended toward an attitude of affirmation. In 1997, I published “A Change in Knowledge Genealogy” 《知识谱系的转换》, which displays the particularity of Chinese history of philosophy from the historical perspective of its formation as an academic discipline, and analyses the methodological presuppositions of related classical works. Thereafter, “On Comparative Philosophy: From the Perspective of Modern Chinese Academic Experience” 《论比较哲学——从现代中国学术的经验看》, reinforced my previous observations. Both are included in my book Waiting for the Hedgehog (2004). The purpose of my review was not to question the existence of this discipline, but to seek a way out of the popular textbook style and to make the history of philosophy more philosophical. Therefore, in the essay “Research on the History of Chinese Philosophy and Invention of Chinese Philosophy” 《中国哲学史研究与中国哲学创作》, I take both the “tradition of classical interpretation” and the “classical philosophy as a lifestyle” as examples, in order to investigate how contemporary philosophy can absorb the resources of classical thought.

You are the earliest scholar in China to have recruited graduate students under a direction of research named “Classics and Interpretations” (经典与解释). From this direction it is possible to see your own research interests. In recent years, you have also edited a series called “Classics and Interpretations” with Professor Liu Xiaofeng. Could you tell us more about this?

Chen Shaoming: “Classics and Interpretations” is a research and publication program cooperated by the Chinese Philosophy Institute and theComparative Religious Studies Institute of Sun Yat-sen University. It includes more than one series of books. The main scholar responsible for the series is Liu Xiaofeng. His scholarship is profound and visionary; finding inspiration from both Western and Eastern resources, and it has had a huge influence on the academic community. Working with him was a learning opportunity. In addition, we also cooperated with Professor Huang Chun-chieh 黄俊杰 (1946–) from National Taiwan University and his program “The Hermeneutical Tradition of Classics in East Asian Modern Confucianism” (近世东亚儒学中的经典诠释传统). My view on this issue is that classics cannot be separated from their interpretations. In short, classics are not written as such, without interpretation there is no classic. The fact that there are many different interpretations about the same set of classics shows that there is a complex connection between classics and interpretations. A successful interpretation isitself a classic. Doing research on an interpretation which has already gained the status of a classic itself, in fact, is doing research on the very special experience of creating new thought. This too is what research on the tradition of the classics’ interpretations is about. To interpret a classic, to do research on the experience of interpreting, and philosophical interpretation are three different levels. I am more concerned with the middle level as many concrete and profound philosophical questions may derive from it. […]

In ‘Discussion on Making All Things Equal’ and Its Influence you explain the Zhuangzi 《庄子》 chapter “Discussion on Making All Things Equal” 《齐物论》 which is 3000 words out of a text which has over 200,000 words. This is an example of the “Classics and Interpretations” approach as you advocate it. What was your method in writing this book? Generally speaking, a researcher when immersed in a field is always influenced by the object of his investigation. Did your predilection for this Zhuangzi chapter stem from an innate disposition or was it a requirement of your research? Did this book have an impact on your thinking and character?

Chen Shaoming: This book is an attempt to study the interpretative tradition of one classic. Several ideas about the relationship between classics and interpretations took shape during the writing. The idea for this book was to select one of the most philosophical pieces of the Zhuangzi and then, based on the clarification of some textual disputes, to analyse the conceptual framework of the text, and also to discuss the influence of this chapter on the formation of the thinking in the entire Zhuangzi. Then it discusses the impact of this chapter in the history of thought, from the period of the Wei (220–265) and Jin dynasties (265–420) to the foundation of the Republic of China (1912), during which Confucianism, Buddhism, and Daoism all dealt with it. […] In my introduction, I wrote: “The really interesting work is bringing to light those places concerning a classic which have been sedulously hidden within its interpretations. And then, to write about these interpretations or elaborate on the classic’s thought. Thereby one should put the emphasis on investigating their deviations, which includes misreading or even intentional misinterpretation. In addition, defenders of a classic are not the only ones to expand its influence, but also their critics who equally base themselves on interpretations, which objectively play a role in the dissemination of its ideas. Only if we pay attention to the diversity of such influences are we able to grasp more effectively various kinds of mechanisms through which original ideas in history produced a marked effect.” I do believe that the “Discussion on Making All Things Equal” is an unbelievably philosophical chapter. It is an ingenious, deep, and meaningful piece. Of course, as a part of the majestic Zhuangzi, some like it and others not, there are countless perspectives on it. In the final chapter of my book, there is a brief presentation of my own ideas. You can observe there that I am not inclined to systematic ideologies, and I appreciate relatively free and easy-going attitudes in life. I like to say that philosophy is sometimes feelings expressed through a logical assembly.
This book is also my doctoral dissertation, and formally a very well-structured monograph. One of the external reasons is that during the writing of the monograph, I had the task of guiding doctoral students. This put pressure on me and led me to put more effort on the formal aspect. The working conditions for writing and editing this book were very good, especially thanks to the help provided by two teachers, Du Weiming and Chen Fangzheng 陈方正 (1939–).

In recent years, your change of direction has drawn people’s attention. From the study of the “Images of Confucius’ Three Outstanding Disciples in the History of Thought” 《孔门三杰的思想史形象》(2004) to the “Speaking About Instruments” 《说器》(2006) and other essays, we can see other possibilities for the research in “Chinese philosophy”. This is a very new approach to Chinese philosophy. […] You are trying very hard to get rid of a method using Western philosophy as a framework to trim and crop the Chinese classics. This method turns Chinese philosophy into an exotic variant of Western philosophy and tries to measure up Chinese classics with the standards and analytic perspectives of Western philosophy. You, however, strive to transform the function of Western philosophy as a framework into an analytical function, thereby rebuilding the interpretative method and form of discourse of Chinese philosophy. Can you tell us a little more about your efforts of the past few years?

Chen Shaoming: In talking about “Classical Philosophy as a Way of Life”, I have also been inspired by the French scholar Pierre Hadot (1922–2010). Hillary Putnam, a philosopher at Harvard University, recommended Hadot’s book in a class called Four Jewish Philosophers, and this aroused my interest. The systematic expression of my own opinion on this issue is found in Men, Events and Things in the Classical World: Reflection on the Writing of Chinese Philosophy (1998). Under the premise of affirming the significance of the history of philosophy as a discipline, I propose to open up a new field in Chinese philosophy: to start from texts with a strong narrative character in the classics, without focusing on research of categories. The purpose here is to complement the standard textbooks’ way of thinking. The article divides people, events and things into three types, which illustrate the possibility of exploring the empirical data in different ways. To not take categories as the main focus does not mean to reject any study of concept in classical thought, it is rather to engage directly with the experience of life in the classical world and to understand the concept by bringing it back into a concrete context. Going a step further is to excavate not frankly expressed but implied ideas from the life experience displayed in the classics, and then to reflect on them in depth. This is a way to prevent turning the history of Chinese philosophy into an appendix of Western philosophy. This may be seen as my recent research principle, such as in “Images of Confucius’ Three Outstanding Disciples in the History of Thought”, “On Instruments”, “After ‘Confucius Was Put in Dire Straits in the States of Chen and Cai’” 《“孔子厄于陈蔡”之后》(2004), and “Gentlemen and Politics” 《君子与政治》(2005), all these papers follow this line of thinking.

However, there are many concepts in Chinese thought that cannot be translated into Western languages. This is to say, there is no way to bring these Chinese concepts into absolute correlation with Western philosophical notions. How do you deal with these concepts?

Chen Shaoming: Yes, this is why I also try to explore anew the meaning of some notions, which are embedded in tradition but have a discrepancy with Western philosophical categories, for example, “resolving perplexity” (解惑) or “illuminating shame” (明耻). This is not entirely new. Zhang Taiyan’s Discussion and Evaluation of China’s Intrinsic Culture 《国故论衡》 was a pioneering contribution. And also Pang Pu’s research method, as in On the Abstruse 《谈玄》, The “Cut” of “Cutting an Ox 《解牛之解》, The “Rate” of “Rating a Horse” 《相马之相》, have a direct influence on me. He Huaihong 何怀宏 (1954–) wrote an article on Mengzi’s notion of the “heart of compassion” (恻隐之心), that deeply impressed me. This was a transition from the history of philosophy to the creation of philosophy. Of course, this involves philosophical understanding. Philosophical research is not repeating a set of ready-made theories, but a constant deepening of the thinking practice. The philosophy that I am interested in must be inspiring for the understanding of life experience. […]

The style of these last essays is quite refreshing. For example, your philosophical explanation of the concepts of “perplexity” and “shame” is very inspiring and is also free from the often long, tedious and boring style of writing in traditional Chinese philosophy. But one of the issues is that your papers are like pearls each one creatively explains a philosophical notion. Can these pearls somehow be strung together into a single complete strand giving a full picture of the history of Chinese philosophy? That is to say, would it be possible to use your writing style to compile a complete history of Chinese philosophy without relying on the framework of Western philosophy?

Chen Shaoming: This is a problem because the conventional history of philosophy, of course, takes as its object past philosophical theories or concepts. Therefore, regarding the problems we want to deal with there are, of course, ready-made concepts, but what they contain is only the description of a form of experience, and for this experience to become philosophy implies it passes through a creative effort. Which kind of ideas or experiences can become a source of reflection and creation depends on the knowledge and insight of the researcher and there is no readily available answer. If someone tries to string together those several papers into a history of philosophy, it would be hard to replace the role of textbooks. This is why I propose to insert a slight distinction between the two notions of the history of Chinese philosophy and Chinese philosophy. Chinese philosophical creativity can make use of the resources of classical thought out of their context without having to depict all the preconceived notions of ancient China. Chinese philosophy can be independent of the history of Chinese philosophy, and its development is also beneficial to research in the history of Chinese philosophy.

In 1996, you wrote an “autobiography at forty” entitled An Abstract Life 《抽象人生》. You said about your life: “while abstracting society and history through the filter of ideas, I also lost my own life in the middle of formless conceptualizations”. However, as far as I know, besides being engaged with conceptual work, you had yet “another life”, which was to run the periodical Lingnan Culture Times 《岭南文化时报》. Most contemporary scholars work with and for newspapers and journals, but most of them are academic publications. The Lingnan Culture Times had a very strong human and social concern. To this day, people will remember that you were one of the founders of this publication when they mention you. Based on which considerations did you create and participate in the publication of this newspaper? And how do you understand the social responsibility of intellectuals?

Chen Shaoming: When I wrote An Abstract Life, I was indeed less than forty years old. […] It is difficult to speak about life, and abstraction can also be a pretext to disguise the monotonous or unpleasant experiences of life. […] However, in scholarship, and even in philosophy, what I am interested in is what is close to life experience, pointing to the concrete. […]
Making Lingnan Culture Times was the first social action in which I participated. The main responsibility for the newspaper was Wu Chongqing 吴重庆 (1964–), who wrote A Match in the Wind 《风中的火柴》 which narrates the whole story and its ins and outs. I was young, selfless, confident, and full of passion. […] At that time it was natural to think that knowledge should serve reality, and journalistic commentary also is a form of serving reality. […] However, whether or not intellectuals need or have the ability to make their own claims on any social issue does not need to be generalized. The 1980s and 1990s were all about enlightenment and the dissemination of big concepts as an attack on ideology. But today there is no point in talking about these well-known concepts again. The problem now is that ideology must be replenished with questions. However, every art requires its special skills, and not everyone has the professional skills to discern social problems. Therefore, the right to speak differs according to one’s profession. […]

In the 1990s during the “National Learning Fever” (国学热), you wrote an article entitled “Tone Down a Little: Advice to Cultural Conservatism” (1996). More than ten years after the cool-down on National Learning, it has been reviving in the past years. How do you judge the importance given again to traditional culture in the recent period?

Chen Shaoming: This article was a comment on circumstances of the time, so it has a specific context, and therefore the opinions expressed in it do not necessarily have universal meaning. Just like experience shapes personality, tradition is a fundamental force shaping the common dimension of culture. According to my view, radical iconoclasm and stubborn traditionalism are all manifestations of a lack of confidence in one’s own culture. Whether or not there is confidence in the culture, in the final analysis, is a response to the condition of the society one lives in. With the steady development of society, acknowledgement of tradition will surely be strengthened. But if there really are social problems, excessively seeking help in tradition will not help. However, in an age where traditional culture has been thoroughly criticised, its revival can be good news. After the anti-traditional clamour has vanished, what deserves our attention is not whether it is a revival or not, but rather what to revive. To advocate the establishment of a state religion is one kind of rejuvenation, to spread ancient management wisdom in order to make big money is another kind. But, all these are not my interest. If our work really must be linked up with the rejuvenation of National Learning, it should be a purely scholarly activity seeking diverse forms of Chinese philosophy. I am a scholar, and I am very clear about the position I assign to myself.

(Translation: Yves Vendé)

Selected Bibliography of Chen Shaoming

About Chen Shaoming

  • Carine Defoort, “Chen Shaoming onthe Methodology of Chinese Philosophy: Experience, Imagination, Reflection”, Contemporary Chinese Thought, vol. 48, no. 2 (2017), pp. 51-54.

 Selected Works of Chen Shaoming (in chronological order)

  •  “Cong bijiao zhexue jiaodu kan Kangde zhexue zai jinxiandai Zhongguo de yingxiang 从比较哲学角度看康德哲学在近现代中国的影响” [The Influence of Kantian Philosophy in Modern China from the Perspective of Comparative Philosophy], in Wenhua: Zhongguo yu shijie, no. 3 文化: 中国与世界, 第三辑, Shenghuo dushu xinzhi sanlian shudian 生活·读书·新知三联书店, 1987.
  • Ruxue de xiandai zhuanzhe 儒学的现代转折 [Modern Transition of Confucianism], Liaoning daxue chubanshe 辽宁大学出版社, 1992.
  • Bei jieshi de chuantong: Jindai sixiangshi xinlun 被解释的传统:近代思想史新论 [Interpreted Traditions: A New Theory of the History of Modern Thought], Zhongshan daxue chubanshe 中山大学出版社, 1995. Reprinted as Jindai Zhongguo sixiangshi lüe 近代中国思想史略论 [Modern Chinese Thought History], Guangdong renmin chubanshe 广东人民出版社, 1999.
  • with Zhang Zhilin 张志林, Fanbenzhizhuyi yu zhishi wenti: Weitegensitan houqi zhexue de kuozhan yanjiu 反本质主义与知识问题:维特根斯坦后期哲学的扩展研究 [Anti-Essentialism and Knowledge Issues: Further Research on Wittgenstein’s Later Philosophy], Guangdong renmin chubanshe 广东人民出版社, 1995.
  • “Didiao yixie: Xiang wenhua baoshou zhuyi jinyan 低调一些:向文化保守主义进言”, in Han song xueshu yu xiandai sixiang 汉宋学术与现代思想, Guangdong renmin chubanshe 广东人民出版社, 1995, pp. 265-272. Translated into English as: “Tone Down a Little: Advice to Cultural Conservatism”, Contemporary Chinese Thought, vol. 29, no. 4 (1998),pp. 63-72. See also: “Let’s Lower the Pitch a Little: A Word of Advice to Cultural Conservatives”, Chinese Law & Government, vol. 30, no. 6 (1997), pp. 94-100.
  • Han Song xueshu yuxiandai sixiang 汉宋学术与现代思想 [Han and Song Learning and Modern Thought], Guangdong renmin chubanshe 广东人民出版社, 1995, reprint in 1998.
  • “Zhishi puxi de zhuanhuan: Zhongguo zhexueshi yanjiu fangfa lunxi 知识谱系的转换——中国哲学史研究方法论析” [A Change in Knowledge Genealogy: An Analysis of the Research Methods of Chinese Philosophy History ], Xueren 学人, no. 13 (1997).
  • Jingdian shijie zhong de ren, shi, wu 经典世界中的人、事、物 [Men, Events and Things in the Classical World], Shanghai sanlian shudian 上海三联书店, 1998.
  • “Chongti ‘Zhongguo zhexue’ de zhengdangxing 重提‘中国哲学’的正当性” [More on the Legitimacy of ‘Chinese Philosophy’], Jianghan luntan 江汉论坛, no. 7 (2003), pp. 33-35.
  • ‘Qiwu lun’ ji qiyingxiang 《齐物论》及其影响 [‘Discussion on Making all Things Equal’ and Its Influence], Beijing daxue chubanshe 北京大学出版社, 2004.
  • Dengdai ciwei 等待刺猬 [Waiting for the Hedgehog], Shanghai sanlian shudian 上海三联书店, 2004.
  • “Attitude to Dialogue in Chinese Philosophy”, translated by Feng Shize, Social Sciences in China, no. 1 (2005), pp. 112-120.
  • “Jingdian shijie zhong de ren, shi, wu: Dui zhongguo zhexue shuxie fangshi de yizhong sikao 经典世界中的人、事、物——对中国哲学书写方式的一种思考”, Zhongguoshehuikexue 中国社会科学, no. 5 (2005), pp. 57-67. Translated into English by Feng Yihanas “Men, Events and Things in the Classical World: Reflection on the Writing of Chinese Philosophy”, Social Sciences in China, no. 01 (2006), pp. 44-55.
  • “Guanyu xiuchi de xianxiangxue fenxi 关于羞耻的现象学分析”, Zhexueyanjiu 哲学研究, no. 12 (2006), pp. 100-107. Translated into English by Carine Defoort as “A Phenomenological Analysis of Shame”, Contemporary Chinese Thought, vol. 48, no. 2 (2017), pp. 55-67.
  • “Ren yu buren: Rujia dexing lunli de yige quanshi xiangdu 忍与不忍——儒家德性伦理的一个诠释向度”, Xueshu yuekan 学术月刊, no. 1 (2007), pp. 60-65. Translated into English by Zheng Shuhong as: “Endurance and Non-Endurance: From the Perspective of Virtue Ethics”, Frontiers of Philosophy in China, vol. 3, no. 3 (2008), pp. 335-351.
  •  “Lun yue: Dui ru dao liang jia xingfuguan de fansi 论乐:对儒道两家幸福观的反思”, Zhexue yanjiu 哲学研究, no. 9 (2008), pp. 41-51. Translated into English by Liu Huawei as: “On Pleasure: A Reflection on Happiness from the Confucian and Daoist Perspectives”, Frontiers of Philosophy in China, vol. 5, no. 2 (2010), pp. 179-195.
  • “Ren, wu zhijian: Lijie ‘Zhuangzi’ zhexue de yige guanjian 人、物之间——理解《庄子》哲学的一个关键” [Between Man and Thing: A Key Point in Understanding the Philosophy of Zhuangzi], Zhongguo wenhua 中国文化, no. 2 (2011), pp. 14-20.
  • “Xiangxiangde luoji: Laizi zhongguo zhexue de jingdian lizheng 想象的逻辑:来自中国哲学的经典例证”, Zhexuedongtai 哲学动态, no. 3 (2012), pp. 58-64. Translation into English by Jeff Keller as: “The Logic of Imagination: Classical Examples from Chinese Philosophy”, Contemporary Chinese Thought, vol. 48, no. 2 (2017), pp. 68-79.
  • “‘Wu sang wo’: Yi zhong gudian de ziwo guannian “吾丧我”:一种古典的自我观念”, Zhexueyanjiu 哲学研究, no. 8 (2014), pp. 42-50. Translation into English by Jeff Keller as: “‘I Lost Myself’: A Classical Concept of the Self”, Contemporary Chinese Thought, vol. 48, no. 2 (2017), pp. 95-109.
  • “Zhongguo zhexue yanjiu fangfalun zai sikao: Cong duihuan ‘guannian de zhipiao’ zhankai 中国哲学研究方法论再思考——从兑换“观念的支票”展开”, Zhexue dongtai 哲学动态, no. 6 (2014), pp. 5-13. Translation into English by Jeff Keller as: “Further Reflections on the Methodology of Chinese Philosophical Research—Starting from Cashing in the ‘Bank-Note of Ideas’”, Contemporary Chinese Thought, vol. 48, no. 2 (2017), pp. 80-94.
  • Zuo zhongguo zhexue: Yixie fangfalun de sikao 做中国哲学:一些方法论的思考 [Doing Chinese Philosophy, Some Methodological Thoughts], Shenghuo dushu xinzhi sanlian shudian 生活·读书·新知三联书店, 2017. Review by Zemian Zhang in Dao: A Comparative Journal of Philosophy, vol. 16, no. 1 (2017), pp. 113-117.
  • Ren yi zhijian 仁义之间 [Between Humanity and Justice], Kongxuetang Shuju 孔学堂书局, 2017.

Cite this blog post
MJF (2018, December 12). Interview with the Philosopher Chen Shaoming. European Research Centre for Chinese Studies. Retrieved June 22, 2024, from

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