Erenlai - Harmony and Conflict 和諧與衝突
Harmony and Conflict 和諧與衝突

Harmony and Conflict 和諧與衝突

Is Asia a continent of harmony or discord? How much harmony do we really want?  These materials explore the tensions and creative forces in families, schools, politics and society.


Tuesday, 10 October 2006

From Politics of Recognition to Politics of Mutual Enrichment

A Chinese philosopher reflects on how “mutual enrichment” should shape the definition of our identities as well as international politics.

“The politics of recognition”, title of a paper presented by Charles Taylor, was formulated within the context of nationalist movement, minority group, feminism and multiculturalism. In that paper, Taylor has well analyzed the historical development by which Western world has arrived at the modern preoccupation with identity and recognition. There was first the collapse of social hierarchy based upon honor, followed by the switch from honor to dignity, which led to a politics of universalism, emphasizing the equal dignity of rights and entitlement. Then came the second change, the development of the notion of dignity depending on individual identity, defined by Taylor as authenticity. Now the ultimate reference is switched from God or the idea of the Good to the fulfillment and realization of one’s own true self or originality. This gives rise to a politics of difference, in which we are asked to recognize “the unique identity of this individual or group, their distinctness form everyone else.”
So it seems, the politics of recognition plays within the contrasting tension of a politics of universalism and a politics of difference. On the one hand, under the name of recognition, we should be treated all as equals, regardless of our particular ethnic, religious, racial or sexual identities. “Treating as equals” should be concretized in the basic needs such as income, health care, education, freedom of conscience, speech, press, association, due process, right to vote, right to hold public office, religious freedom...etc. On the other hand, the differential originality or distinctiveness of each individual or social/cultural group should be respected and satisfied. We should be recognized in our innermost difference, from which are derived all cultural expressions and ways of life. Recognition plays therefore with the dialectics of equality and difference.
For me it’s good, though not enough, that Taylor, following M. Bakhtin’s model of dialogue, has well sensed the importance of the Other by emphasizing the formation of our authenticity in the process of dialogue. Taylor said,
“Thus my discovering my own identity doesn’t mean that I work it out in isolation, but that I negotiate it through dialogue, partly overt, partly internal, with others. That is why the development of an ideal of inwardly generated identity gives a new importance to recognition. My own identity crucially depends on my dialogical relation with others.”
But, as I see it, even if Charles Taylor has seen it clearly that human authenticity is formed through a process of dialogue, still there is no true recognition of the Other as the unfathomable, irreducible to any mode of my own constitution of it. For me, the Other is not limited only to the human but refers also to Nature and the transcendent, understood either as the Divine or as the Ideal. The Other is always an Other, though it might be in dialogical relation with myself. If one looses sense of this irreducible otherness, there will be no authentic dialogue for the formation of one’s self.

From Recognition to Mutual Enrichment
What I’m trying to say is that, without the dimension of the irreducible Other, the politics of recognition tends to be constrained within the philosophy of subjectivity and the framework of reciprocity. We can say that recognition in Charles Taylor’s sense is the recognition of a modern subjectivity: human beings as subject of cognitive capacity, as moral agent, or an agent worthy and creative of values. Also, there is reciprocity in this kind of recognition: I recognize you as a subject and you recognize me as a subject. This implies, if you like, a bourgeoisie commercial rationality, in which subject is recognized in the sense of pairing subject, a subject capable of responsive return of my act of recognition.
Now, identity and reciprocity, though to be posited as necessary for a minimal politics, does not constitute an optimal politics. For me, an optimal politics should be a politics of mutual enrichment. This is to say that, basing upon the recognition of each and everyone’s identity and upon mutual recognition, there must be realized in surplus a process of mutual enrichment. Every one of us can learn from each other and every social group could learn from other social groups, and be enriched thereby. That’s why difference is an occasion of creativity rather than an excuse for conflict. Without a process of mutual enrichment, we don’t even know what’s the use of dialogue and what is the meaning of authenticity in emphasizing each and everyone’s difference.
Now we can ask: by what strategy could a politics of mutual enrichment be made possible? Two consecutive strategies could be suggested here: First of all, the strategy of language appropriation, which means more concretely learning other ways of expression or language of other cultural traditions. Since, as Wittgenstein has well suggested, different language games correspond to different life-forms, therefore appropriation of another language would give us access to the life-form implied in that specific language. In our childhood, we have appropriated language by the generosity of significant others talking to us and thereby opening to ourselves a world of meaningfulness. When grown up, we learn more by appropriating different kinds of expression and language, no matter scientific, cultural or of everyday life. By appropriating different ways of expression or languages, we could enter into different worlds and thereby enrich the construction of our own world.
Second, the strategy of strangification, originally proposed as an epistemological strategy for interdisciplinary research, was enlarged by myself to serve as a strategy of intercultural exchange. By “strangification” I mean the act of going outside of oneself and going to the other, to the stranger. There are three types of strangification: the first is “linguistic strangification”, by which we translate a proposition of one particular discipline, research program or an expression or a value in one particular culture, into the language of or expressions understandable to other disciplines or cultures, to see whether it works or becomes absurd thereby. If it does work, then it means that this proposition, expression or value is universalizable. If it becomes absurd thereby, then it’s limit is thereby recognized and reflection must be made upon its principle and validity.
The second is “pragmatic strangification”, by which we draw a proposition, a supposed truth or a cultural value from one’s own social and organizational context, to put it into another social and organizational context, in order to enlarge its validity in other social and organizational context.
The third is ontological strangification, which, according to my interpretation, is the act by which we enter into other’s microworld or cultural world through the detour of a direct experience with the Reality Itself, such as a person, a social group or the Nature.
In the politics of mutual enrichment, there is openness to the Other. Our search for meaning begins with our act of going outside of ourselves and go to the other. I understand meaning as the outcome of this act of going to the other, an act of “strangification”. In this act, there is an original generosity of going outside of oneself and go to the other, otherwise there will be no dialogue. Therefore I would not agree with what Marcel Mauss proposed in his Essai sur le don that reciprocity is the principle by which society is made possible. I want to point out here that in every act of reciprocity, there must be already the going outside of oneself to the other, the act of strangification, considered by myself as the first act of generosity, which makes the society possible.

Generosity and the Other in Modernity
Although subjectivity is the principle on which modernity is based, we can discern right from the beginning of modernity some significant discourses of generosity and openness to the other. I say this because Descartes, seen often as the founder of Western Modern philosophy, sustained already a discourse of generosity. Although Descartes is now the target of post-modern critique, that by his Cogito, ergo sum, he has founded modern principle of subjectivity. I myself would not blame Descartes of instituting the principle of subjectivity, rather I prefer to re-read in Descartes a very significant virtue of generosity and an openness to the other.
For example, in his Discours de la Methode, Descartes has proposes for himself a “provisional ethics”, such as to obey the laws and customs of the country, which means a respect of the other in their historicity and their customs, a principle that he has learnt from the Jesuit. Since this principle concerns ethics, though provisional in comparison with science, it is an ethics open to the other rather than limited within one’s narcissistic thinking ego. It is a discourse of openness to cultural differences and recognition of the other when it concerns other country’s laws and customs.
It is true that the Cartesian Cogito, ergo sum has well founded the principle of subjectivity in the realm of metaphysics and epistemology, we should not forget that, in the matters of ethics, Descartes proposed the virtue of generosity and recognition of the other. Especially in his Les Passions de l’âme, Descartes indulges himself in talking about generosity. He said,
“Those who are generous in this way are naturally impelled to do great things and at the same time to undertake nothing of which they do not fell themselves capable.. And because they do not hold anything more important than to do good to other men and to disdain their individual interest, they are for this reason always perfectly courteous , affable and obliging towards everyone. Along with that, they are entirely master of their passions, particularly of desires, of jealousy and envy, because there is nothing the the acquisition of which does not depend on them, which they think of sufficient worth to merit being much sought after:”
By definition, generosity is contrary to selfishness. Descartes has used quite a few pages to discuss generosity, sustaining the virtue of doing good to others despite one’s own interest. This is an altruistic act without expecting a reciprocal return. For Descartes, one will not lose one’s own freedom and liberality in the act of generosity. On the contrary, if without true freedom and independence, no body can become really generous. He said,
“Thus I think that true generosity which causes a man to esteem himself as highly as he legitimately can, consists alone partly in the fact that he knows there is nothing that truly pertains to him but his free disposition of his will, and there is no reason why he should be praised or blamed unless it is because he uses it well or ill; and in the fact that he is sensible in himself of a firm and consistent resolution to use it well, that is to say, never to fail of his own will to undertake and execute all the things which he judges to be best-which to follow perfectly after virtue.”
In other words, when in the act of generosity, one should be conscious of one’s freedom, that is, one could be generous only when one is free and responsible. The subjectivity is free, yet the best way to use one’s own freedom, is to be generous to the other, and it is through being generous that one has one’s own true dignity. In other words, one’s true freedom consists in the use of one’s own good will to be generous to others despise one’s interest. We can say that generosity is the most important virtue in Cartesian ethics.
This openness to Other continues itself in Western modern philosophy, although the generosity without consideration of one’s own interest as in the case of Descartes, is now replaced by reciprocity. For example, in Fichte, the recognition of the other is posited as necessary to the affirmation of oneself as a free cause. In the third proposition of the Principle of Natural Law, Fichte said, “The finite rational being cannot ascribe to itself a free causality in the world of the senses without ascribing freedom also to others, and therefore without assuming other finite rational being besides itself.” In this text, the Other is more than a condition of my freedom. The Other makes the subject available to itself in an original way by summoning (aufforden) the subject to freedom. Fichte says, “The influence was conceived as a summon(Aufforderung) of the subject to free action.” The relation of free beings to each other is a relation of reciprocity through intelligence and freedom. In this relation, if there is no reciprocal recognition of each other, no one can recognize another. No one can treat the other as a free being if both do not respect each other in a reciprocal way.
The reciprocal sense of Recognition (Anerkennung) could be found also in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. Hegel’s analysis of master and slave shows a non-reciprocal stage of recognition. The master needs another subject of desire to recognize him as master, but he himself will not recognize the slave as a subject. The Hegelian Anerkennung consists in the relation that a subject is recognized by another subject, to whom he himself recognizes as well. Here implied the dimension of reciprocity in the recognition of each one’s subjectivity. Although the dynamism of going outside of oneself and go to the other could be found in Hegel’s act of alienation, this dynamism is absorbed in the reciprocity of a larger inter-subjectivity. That is to say, the dimension of the Other is lost when it comes to the spirit integrating subjectivity in intersubjectivity, where “Ego that is “we”, a plurality of egos, and “we” that is a single Ego.”

A Case of Mutual Enrichment in Ancient China
Now I would like to take a case in Chinese political philosophy to exemplify my vision of recognition as recognition of the other and of mutual enrichment. In this way I return to my own cultural heritage to see in it elements which might enrich other traditions. This is the case we find in the Grand Categories (Hongfan) in the Book of Ancient History (or the Classics of Documents). Here we find a narrative in which King Wen, in 1121BC, the thirteen year of King Wen’s reign after his conquer of Shang, went to the inquire of Shang’s Viscount of Ji about the principle of achieving good relation among people. The Viscount of Ji, though refused to serve the Zhou by reason of his fidelity to the Shang, nevertheless told King Wen the wisdom of the Grand Categories, as legacy from the Emperor Yu.
The Hongfan, seen as a revelation of God to Yu, gives us somehow a structural vision of the universe in nine categories constituting thereby the earliest Chinese concepts of Nature (including the first category of the five agents, the fourth category of five arrangements of time, which concern division of time and calendar, the eighth category of confirmation from seasonable weather), of self-cultivation(the second category of five activities, which concern moral and intellectual conducts), politics and governance(the third category of eight governmental offices, which concern branches of administration, the fourth category of five arrangements of time, the fifth category of the Grand(Royal) Ultimate, the sixth category of three virtues, which govern responding to different people and times), of divination(the seventh category of the examination of doubts) and of happiness and misfortune of life(the ninth category of five happiness and six misfortune). The most important, Central to all these nine categories, is the fifth, which concerns the category of the Royal(Grand)Ultimate, which reads,
“Fifth, of Royal Ultimate, the highest, having established his highest standard of excellence, accumulates the five happiness and diffuses them to bestow to the people. Then the people will keep with you the ultimate standard.
Without deflection, without unevenness,
Pursue royal righteousness;
Without any selfish likings,
Pursue the royal way.
Without any selfish likings,
Pursue the royal path.
Without partiality, without deflection,
The royal path is level and ease.
Without perversity, without one-sidedness,
The royal path is right and straight.
Seeing this perfect excellence,
Turn to this perfect excellence”
The narrative side of this document shows us the recognition of an other by King Wen and the Generosity of Viscount of Ji. King Wen, acting now not as a Master, but as inquirer of wisdom from the political philosophy of an other, the Viscount Ji, not as a slave under his domination, but now as an inspiring other. As to the generosity of Viscount Ji, it is a generosity of contributing to his other the wisdom of his own legacy, the best of his own tradition. Also we notice that, in the philosophical side of this document, although the whole wisdom is constituted of a structural framework, it is seen as a legacy from God’s revelation to Yu as consequence of his own virtue. Therefore the best of his legacy is resulted from an effort to achieve virtue. In this document, political philosophy is not a human centered concern. It is rather situated in the context of nature and related to human self-cultivation. We can say that this is a political philosophy of universalizability, of impartiality, which defines the ancient concept of the Middle Path, a path which is without one-sidedness.

From Reciprocity to Universalizability
Since the politics of mutual enrichment depends very much on the virtue of generosity, I would analyze a bit more the concept of generosity in both Confucianism and Taoism, the two most cherished traditions of Chinese philosophy.
First, let me feature Confucius’ idea of generosity. In the Analects, virtue, as excellence of human abilities, never limited to individual excellence, refers also to the harmonization of relations. Confucius puts his emphasis on reciprocal generosity. When asked about a life of ren by Zizhang, Confucius answered that,
"One who can practice five things whenever he may be is a man of humanity.....Earnestness, liberality, truthfulness, diligence and generosity. If one is earnest, one will not be treated with disrespect. If one is liberal, one will win the heart of the people. If one is trustful, one will be trusted. If one is diligent, one will be successful. And if one is generous, one will be able to enjoy the service of others.”
In this text, both liberality (or consideration for others) and generosity touch upon the reciprocal generosity, which have as consequence either winning the heart of the people or enjoying the service of others. Confucius puts emphasis on generosity that could be reciprocal on the level of consequence. But virtue according to Confucius does not stay on the level of reciprocity. A dynamism transcending reciprocity and going towards univerversalizability bases itself upon ren. Generosity comes from the universalizability of ren, which by essence is the transcendental capacity of each and everyone to respond and communicate with others.
For Confucius, the process of harmonization of relationship is a process of enlargement from reciprocity to universalizability. Reciprocity is essential for human relationship according to Confucianism. Once Zhaiwuo proposed two arguments against the maintenance of a funeral rites, the one was based upon the necessity of maintaining social order, the other was based upon the circle of natural process. Confucius answered him by the argument of human reciprocity, that, in the earliest time of our childhood, we were taken care of by our parents, and this was the reason why we observe those rites in response to the love of our parents for us. The form of these ritual practices could change according to the demand of times, but the essence of reciprocity in human relationship remains.
Good human relationship comes to its fulfillment when enlarged from reciprocity to universalizability. That’s why Confucius, when asked by Zilu concerning how a paradigmatic individual behaves, answered first by the cultivation of oneself for one’s dignity, then cultivation of oneself for the happiness of other’s, and finally cultivation oneself for the happiness of all the people. From reciprocity to universalizability, this means that we should transcend the limit of special relationship to universalizable relationship, even to the point of seeing people within four seas as brothers. Which means humankind could treat other fellowmen, with no regard of his family, profession, company, race and nation, but just with Jen, a universalizing love, only because he is a member of the humankind. I would interpret the virtue of shu as the excellence of capacity to go out of one’s self and go to the other through language appropriation and the act of strangification. First ren and then shu, this is the way by which Confucianism enlarges harmonization of human relations, the full unfolding of which is the process of formation of virtuous life, not merely a life of observing categorized obligations.

The Ontological and Cosmological Dimensions of Generosity
In the eyes of Taoism, the reciprocal generosity of Confucianism is too much constrained in human affairs without taking into consideration Man’s enrootedness in Nature. For Taoism, Human existence stands on the support of Nature. To be universalizable means, negatively, not to be limited to the tiny species of humankind, and, positively, to refer to the whole universe, to Nature, including other members of the biosphere, animals, plants and the like, and other members of the natural world. The concept of the Other includes Nature.
In Taoism, generosity gains its ontological and cosmological dimension. The Dao itself shows its original generosity in manifesting itself into myriads of things, and its no-action(wu wei), understood as taking universal action rather than particular action in nourishing and bringing up myriad of things. The Dao is impartial in that it never favors one particular stone, plant or animal,…etc., rather that all it does is for all things in the universe. Laozi said, “(The Space) Between Heaven and Earth, are like a bellows! While vacuous, it is never exhausted. When active, it produces even more.” This text testifies the generosity of the Dao in creating exhaustibly all things out from itself.
For Laozi, the Dao manifests itself first as the nothingness, understood as inexhaustible possibilities, which is the first phase of its generous act of going to the others. Then, among all possibilities, some are realized, and to be realized is to take the form of body. At this moment, it was engendered a realm of being. This is the second phase of generosity of the Dao. Then, through a process of differentiation and complexification, myriad of things emerge as given birth by the Dao, which remains in all things after they are created and becomes their De(virtue). This is the inner creativity of each and everything, the inner capacity and natural ability of each being. It is not virtue in moral sense, as in the case of Confucianism, but virtue in cosmological sense. De is the spontaneous creativity and generosity of all things to be able to go to the other and to return finally to the Dao. Ultimately speaking, the Dao is the inexhaustible reservoir of all creativity and generosity, whereas the De is the creativity of everything in Nature, by which all beings, not only humans, are creative and have equal right to creativity. Laozi said,
“Therefore the Dao produces them and virtue fosters them. They rear them and develop them. They give them security and give them peace. They nurture them and protect them. The Dao produces them, but does not take possession of them. It acts, but does not rely on its ability. Il leads them but does not master them. This is called profound and secret virtue.”
Basing upon these ontological and cosmological levels, generosity shows itself also on the level of political philosophy. For Laozi, the highest virtue incarnates and is concretely manifested in the person of a sage, who employs himself generously for the world. “The sage does not accumulate for himself. The more he uses for others, the more he has himself. The more he gives to others, the more he possesses of his own.” “The sage has no fixed (personal) ideas. He regards the people’s ideas as his own.” “Therefore, the sage is always good in saving men and consequently no man is rejected. He is always good in saving things and consequently nothing is rejected.” The sage, a paradigmatic individual both in self-cultivation and in political philosophy, is therefore not only an ethical and moral figure as in the case of Confucian sage, but rather as the incarnation of the Dao and its generosity.


In the development from a politics of recognition to a politics of mutual enrichment, we are not denying the principles of identity and reciprocity. On the contrary, we have posited them as minimalist requirements, yet to be promoted by the openness to the Other and the principle of generosity, as was exemplified by King Wen and the Viscount Ji, who gave us the best part of the Chinese legacy right from its beginning. The politics of mutual enrichment, with its principle of openness to the Other and the principle of generosity, should be practiced not only by those in power to those who are governed, by the majority to the minority, by the central to the peripheral, but also by all kinds of differences, such as gender, ethnic groups, language, social class, age, education, profession, religion, nation, cultural tradition, civilization, region, planet…etc., which are occasions for mutual enrichment and creativity rather than excuse for conflict and war.

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Saturday, 09 September 2006

New Wine and Old Skins

(Speech delivered at the meeting of the US Catholic China Bureau, University of San Francisco, February 1999)

"Nobody puts new wine into old wineskins; if he does, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost and the skins too. No! New wine, fresh skins!" (Mk 2, 22)

Is the parable recorded by Mark relevant for envisioning the coming of Peace and Justice, as proclaimed by the Gospel, in the Chinese context? In other words, can Peace and Justice, or, in a broader sense, can the spirit of the Beatitudes accommodate to insights brought by ancient Chinese culture and philosophy? Will new interpretations, new intellectual ventures reconcile the novelty of the Kingdom with the seemingly timeless character of Chinese wisdom?

Obviously, the question goes far beyond what our meeting aims to achieve during these three days. However, putting our present tasks into this broader context might help us to assess the challenges that we deal with, and to define anew what Christians are called to do and proclaim in the present Chinese situation, in its present cultural and intellectual landscape.

When dealing with an issue such as Peace and Justice in the Chinese context we confront simultaneously several tasks, rather different in nature.
- First, we can identify key issues in Chinese society and examine in which ways they are related to basic peace and justice concerns. In other words, we make an assessment of the current situation in China using ethical norms that we define in an either stricter or broader fashion. For instance we might ask: is the present situation of the people who belong to the so-called "national minorities" conform to criteria of economic justice (the way resources are allocated) or formal justice (equality in front of the law)? Do the policies implemented towards these national minorities concretely promote harmony between people of Han descent and other nationalities, or do they generate frustrations and jealousies? In other words, we investigate the "national minorities" policy from specific peace and justice concerns. The same can be done for ecology, human rights, the reform of the state enterprises, etc. Often, the standpoint from which we investigate these issues is a "spontaneous" or "natural" understanding of what justice and peace are about. We focus on social concerns, and concrete situations take precedence on cultural or philosophical issues.

- Of course, the so-called “spontaneous” or “natural” understanding of peace and justice can be challenged as belonging solely to the Western “cultural” worldview. This is why we have also to ask ourselves whether traditional Chinese culture and philosophy embodies approaches to peace and justice fundamentally different from the concepts that were developed in the West or the ones promoted by Christianity (the two being linked but remaining distinct in several ways). The debate is very similar to the questions raised on the universality of human rights or the specificity of "East Asian values." Such a debate is important, insofar as it might determine the relevancy of what Christians want to contribute, and the relationship they develop with Chinese culture.

- The third set of questions is somehow at the crossroad of the two first ones: what is the set of standards and values that Chinese people are able to mobilize today when trying to define a meaningful course of social and cultural development? Are there consensual or, at least, acceptable references for defining within the Chinese context what a peaceful and just developmental process should be? This set of questions is markedly different from the preceding one: it does not focus on traditional Chinese culture per se, but rather on the various interpretations given of this cultural pattern as well as of Western culture as it is now grounded into the Chinese psyche. The question is not to define theoretical grounds for such a developmental process but rather to pragmatically assess the intellectual resources that help to give meaning to what happens in society. This is the approach I am now going to develop.

Harmony and Modernization

I will therefore start from a set of contributions made by Chinese intellectuals when they are asked what a just and peaceful development is meant to be. I will do this as objectively as possible. Only at the end will I raise some questions in order to assess the value and relevancy of their endeavor. The corpus I am working with is basically made by contributions of mainstream intellectuals, working within universities or within Academies of Social Sciences. While these people are very far from being "dissidents" they do want to take some distance from the Party-State or, at the very least, to influence for a change its discourse and doctrine. They represent a kind of "alternative pattern of thought from within." They often say that their contributions aim at nurturing a "culture of peace and cooperation" - hehe wenha, the first he standing for hexie (harmony) and the second he for hezuo (cooperation) or juhe (meeting together). One senses immediately how this can be at the same time both similar to and different from what we could call a "culture of peace and justice".

Let then first put the question this way: whenever Westerners speak of peace, Chinese tradition thinks in terms of harmony. Harmony has always been and still remains a central concept in China’s spiritual as well as social thought. To be sure, the decades that followed 1949 saw a sharp decline in the use of the term, as political circumstances made the central government emphasize the role of struggle in the process of building-up a new social model. However, Harmony, as a spiritual ideal and a regulating social concept, has been progressively revived and investigated anew. In this line, the emphasis now put on hehe wenhua is an attempt at a conciliation between the traditional social thought and today’s realities.

Such conciliation is not an easy task. Anyone who wants to make use of the traditional Harmony concept meets immediately with a problem: the concept suited well a homogeneous society with clear-cut levels of authority and firm control on external influences. Contemporary societies (be it in China or elsewhere) are characterized by their fluidity, their internationalization, a constant diversification in thinking and norms of conduct, and by the ever-increasing degree of human, economic and cultural interactions. In this context, if Harmony is still to utilized, it certainly has to refer less to a former state of things to which one should come back (a sheer impossibility) than to a new social ideal to be worked out, this throughout diversity, contradictions and exchanges.

This is in some sense what the promoters of hehe wenha try to achieve. There is no fully satisfactory translation for hehe. Its meaning goes beyond "harmony" and this is why I add "cooperation." One could also translate "communitarian culture" but this is a bit misleading as it focuses only on the social aspect of the doctrine, whereas hehe supposedly embodies epistemological, ecological, even aesthetic dimensions. The most comprehensive description of what hehe is meant to be can be found in two volumes, totaling 1165 pages, published by Professeur Zhang Liwen, of People’s University, in 1996. This is complemented by articles published on a regular basis by the journal Zhonghua wenhua luntan of the Sichuan Academy of Social Sciences. This Academy specializes in promoting and enhancing the hehe concept. Noteworthy is also the article published in Guangming Ribao on January 17, 1998 by Cai Fanglu, since this article is the clearest attempt to put the hehe wenhua concept into the public and political sphere. Although the flourishing of the hehe terminology is very recent, its success relies on previous attempts made by philosophers such as Qian Mu and Zhang Daininan.

Defining a new cultural paradigm

The premises of the promoters of the "culture of peace and cooperation" can be summarized rather easily:

- Hehe is the prominent value of the Chinese humanist culture, encompassing all schools and religious traditions. Hehe wenhua expresses the quintessence of the Taoist, Buddhist and Confucian traditions put together.

- This common nucleus is to be enhanced and interpreted anew in order to answer the challenges that the world confronts as it enters a new millenium. These challenges come from conflicts between man and nature, man and society, man and man, man and his own soul, as well as conflicts between civilization and civilization. In addition, this re-interpretation is necessary to help China to answer the crises brought by the increasing contacts with the West and by modernization.

- Such a task is similar in nature to the one undertaken by the "School of Principle" of the Song and Ming dynasties. New intellectual paradigms are brought forth by new social, political and cultural challenges. In this sense, rather than speaking of hehe culture, Zhang Liwen likes to speak of hehe studies or school (hehexue) as one uses to speak of the "School of the Principle" (lixue).\

- Hehe is a mode of existence. As an efficient wisdom of life, it is a contribution of Chinese culture to the whole of humankind. The hehe school constitutes the interpretation and development of this wisdom.

- The hehe school starts by recognizing the importance and reality of differences, oppositions and conflicts. Be it in the cosmological sphere (the yin and the yang, Heaven and man), the epistemological paradigm (the five agents), the social sphere (the five relationships), differences are subsumed without being annihilated, and, consequently, the process of unification is not different from the process of generating differences. Conflict is the cause of fusion; fusion is the fruit of conflict. In the traditional Chinese philosophical vocabulary, Harmony is seen as the natural fruit of the process of generation and regeneration (sheng sheng bu xi).

- In this respect, Harmony is not a static concept, it means to enter into the process of change, and change is transformation, communication, fluidity

- By accentuating the role of conflict, differences or fluidity, the Hehe school thus criticizes some aspects of traditional Chinese thought on Harmony. It especially emphasizes the role of mediations, of symbolism, in order to go beyond oversimplified expressions of traditional Chinese thought such as "unity of Man and Heaven" or "unity of knowledge and action." Actually the process of renewal of Chinese culture that the hehe schools aims to exemplify has to follow the pattern of thought of this very culture. In other words, this renewal itself has to be a process of "generation and regeneration" going from difference to unity and from unity to difference.

I will not describe further this attempt to build up a culture of "harmony and cooperation." First, the presentation given by our authors is often extremely repetitive. Second, we are more interested here in the meaning of such an attempt than in its actual elaboration. What I intend to do now is to raise a few questions on the relevance of this new form of a culture of harmony for today’s China. This will lead us to specify what might be the Christian viewpoint on that matter.

The framing of tradition: from Harmony to Equality

- Part of my summary might remind one of the irritating controversy on Asian values. However, the big difference between what I will call the "New School of Harmony" and the diverse attempts at building up a specific body of Asian values is that the former makes a frank attempt at being universal in scope. Not only is the Western contribution to the new face of Chinese culture recognized and appreciated, but also the Hehe school aims at framing an epistemological, moral and social body of assumptions that might be of value for all humankind. Whatever the obvious shortcomings of this attempt, what strikes me is that it underlines the universalization of Chinese thought, and this trend is in my view a very positive element, that by itself bears on the long run fruits of peace and justice.

- Similarly, some may smile at the pretension to situate such an attempt vis-a-vis the intellectual achievements of the School of the Principle. However, this attitude of continuity and criticism at the same time reminds me of an observation made by Professor De Bary: "If there has been one aspect of Confucian tradition most seriously underestimated in the West, it has been its capacity for self-criticism and self-renewal.” It seems to me that this capacity reaches beyond the Confucian tradition. In this respect, the living relationship that Chinese thinkers hold with their predecessors should not be seen only as an obsession with "national culture", as it is sometimes suspected by Western scholars, but as a vehicle for nurturing critical thought and renewal. In this light, intellectual pursuits in today’s China (be it the one just analyzed or similar projects) are indeed building up the requisites for a culture of peace and justice relevant and appealing for the Chinese mind.

- These positive aspects should not hide the ambiguities of the attempts presently made for reviving the Chinese social and philosophical tradition. An examination of the literature on hehe wenhua shows immediately that "harmony" is invoked for justifying the "one country, two systems" approach or the reunification with Taiwan. However, even if the hehe school has benefited from appreciative comments made by some leaders, Qian Qichen for instance, the calls for an official approval of the label and its meanings have been rebuked, at least to my knowledge. Central to the development of hehe wenhua popularity has been the discussion about Huntington’s "Clash of Civilizations." Though at first heavily criticized, the book became very popular among Chinese intellectuals. It upholds the idea that Chinese culture is one of the dominant cultures of the present world, with a universalistic appeal. For sure, Chinese interpretations of Huntington’s book stress the fact that, contrary to other world cultures, Chinese culture is not contentious by essence. The main merit of the book, for its Chinese reader, is that, volens nolens it emphasizes the necessity to gather all people of Chinese origin within the same cultural sphere, and its describes such a process as an ineluctable one.

- If we translate the "New School of Harmony" worldview into the "peace and justice" approach proper to the Christian-Western tradition one will immediately notice that the stress is on peace rather than on justice. Actually, for many leading Chinese intellectuals, implementing justice will appear as a difficulty, as a task almost contradictory with the one of realizing harmony. The difficulty is not openly analyzed in the books and articles that I use here. I discussed it in several occasions with intellectuals influenced by the hehe model. The idea usually stressed is that peace is an ideal reached through violence: what is generally called "justice" is actually the violence within the peace process. Justice is a means, not an end. My interlocutors sometimes stress the fact that, even when it comes to the Chinese Communist Party, its ultimate ideal was most of the time presented under the label of da tong (the great harmony) rather than under any explicit concept of "justice." In order to avoid misunderstanding, let me specify that I refer here to "justice" in its "social" meaning. "Justice" understood as "personal righteousness" (as also its first meaning in the Bible) has always been enhanced by the Chinese philosophical tradition, especially by Confucianism. There might be a natural path from "righteousness" to the upholding of social justice, but such a theoretical development depends very much on the overall social and intellectual structure and did not happen in this form within the Chinese world.

- There is however a related concept central to part of the Taoist tradition, and this is the one of "equality" (pingdeng). This is first a philosophical concept, referring to the equality of nature of all sentient beings, a concept that Buddhist thought further developed and reinforced. Equality is also an existential concept, strongly linked to the one of "simplicity", rusticity", “parsimony.” The concept of equality that can be grasped in the Laozi and other works is very much linked to the nostalgia of a state of things where one was not led astray by exotic flavors, charming music, exotic clothes. The concept became fully political in latter Taoist-inspired upheavals.
This is an interesting reminder. China lives in an age of growing inequalities, waste of resources and ostentatious consumption. There is presently no serious challenge to this model of consumption. Should such a challenge come to light, it would for sure borrow from this Taoist tradition, which, after all, has solid roots in history. In other words, one way to give more consistency and credibility to the "communitarian" or "harmony" model would be to dare to develop further the tradition to which it belongs. Community values could very well include a criticism of the consumption paradigm, a call to more simplicity and equality in society. In other words, including the "justice" dimension within the communitarian model might be a way to overcome the ambiguities of its present stress on "harmony." This would be also the way to start an historical and, in some way, spiritual reassessment of the so-called modernization process of the last twenty years. This might be the test that the hehe school is not ready to undergo yet.
- In other words, it is not the call to Tradition that is problematic, this is rather the way this tradition is framed. Indeed, interpretation is renewed, a certain degree of self-criticism is allowed, but within textual boundaries, within the limits of a given set of concepts and questions, such limiting the relevancy of what this Tradition might really have to say to society today. It is surprising for instance to see how the political statements of the Laozi, that might be read as a devastating analysis of today’s China, are watered down to the benefit of an "ontological’ reading that loses much of the strength of the text. The Chinese tradition might very well include a good number of new wineskins into which new wine could be poured. The problem is that, most of the time, only the old ones, already worn out, are put into use.

Towards a Christian challenge


My task tonight is almost ended. It was to point out some of the resources and ambiguities of the Chinese tradition as it is interpreted today. Others will now discuss what can be the Christian input when it comes to issues of justice and peace in China. I will myself enter directly into this discussion tomorrow night. It seemed to me that starting, even briefly, from the perspective developed by contemporary Chinese intellectuals could be stimulating for our debate, and this is why I choose to discuss hehe wenhua in the first place.

However, I wish to conclude by an appreciation of the so-called Harmony school from a viewpoint directly inspired by the Christian culture. What strikes me when I read this literature is its underlying denial of what History is about. The intellectual attempts at reviving the Chinese tradition are made by extremely decent people, who want earnestly to put forth a contribution that might help their children to live in a more peaceful, more humane, fairer, gentler society. They implicitly draw lessons from recent history, and they see in the revival and re-interpretation of their own culture a protection against the coming back of Barbarian upheavals. At the same time, they end up with extremely abstract models, explaining how conflict produces harmony and harmony produces conflict through the process of generation-regeneration, this in a way that totally eviscerates the flesh and blood of what the Chinese people have suffered. Abstraction here is a process of "des-historicization" of reality. Abstraction here is meant to witewash tragedy. The negation of history that this kind of cultural interpretation presently conveys covers up the experience, the voice of the real people, it forbids the coming out of voices that would give its real meaning to what China went through during these times of change and of maturation. What Christian tradition can contribute is the claim that what happens during the actual course of history is important and meaningful, that peace, justice, harmony or equality are pursuits that can only happen in time and space, through a process that mixes failures and achievements. Christianity stresses that what happens to the smallest of the men and women living in this world is important and meaningful. It goes as far as to say that the final meaning of history is precisely to be found in what happens to the smallest among ourselves. Yes, Meaning appears in the course of events seemingly unimportant when compared to the majestic process of cosmic change. When deprived of any eschatological perspective, Peace and Justice run the risk of remaining mere abstractions. For sure, Christianity has to appreciate and to better understand the overall process of generation and regeneration, the wisdom of mediation and maturation, the paradigm of change and growth, and in that respect it has very much to learn from Chinese culture. But, more than anything else, Christianity has to keep aflame the hope that generation, maturation, change and growth are eventually meant for a harvest, a bountiful harvest coming from the seeds of peace and justice that are sown here and now.


Saturday, 09 September 2006

Exchange and Harmony

“Harmony” is a central concept in China’s spiritual as well as social thought. Although similar concepts and ideals can be found in the West they might not play as decisive a role as is the case in the Chinese context. The decades that followed 1949 had seen a sharp decline in the use of the term, as political circumstances made the central government emphasize the role of “struggle” in the process of building-up a new social model. However, “Harmony”, as a spiritual ideal and a regulating social concept, has been progressively revived and investigated anew. In this line, the emphasis now put on “hehe wenha” (culture of harmony and cooperation) by several leading intellectuals and institutions is an interesting attempt at a conciliation between the traditional social thought and today’s realities.

Such conciliation is not an easy task. Anyone who wants to make use of the traditional “Harmony” concept meets immediately with a problem: the concept was fitting a homogeneous society with clear-cut levels of authority and firm control on external influences. Contemporary societies (be it in China or elsewhere) are characterized by their fluidity, their internationalization, a constant diversification in thinking and norms of conduct, and by the ever-increasing level of human, economic and cultural exchanges. In this context, if “Harmony” is still to be made use of, it certainly has to refer less to a state of things to which one should come back (a sheer impossibility) than to a new social ideal to be worked out, this throughout diversity, contradictions and exchanges. Two questions will stay with us for a long time: Can China learn from the way Western societies muddle through “Harmony” and “Conflict”? And does the Chinese concept of “Harmony” have something to teach to the rest of the world?

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Thursday, 07 September 2006


【李燕芬 譯】







第二重危機屬於文化與心理層面。在過去,家庭往往被理想化(idealized)。失去家庭提供的經濟與情感支持,一個人便無以為生。家庭就是人的一切。甚至可以說,家庭是個神聖的實體(sacred reality)。過去世界各地的宗教,都強化父親的權威,懲罰悖逆的兒子,標舉家庭之神聖性。諷刺的是,許多宗教的創始人,如耶穌與佛陀,為堅持自己的主張,都必須對抗家庭的壓力,逃離家庭的網絡 。









此外,近來出現了一個新議題,特別是在歐洲:即所謂「跨世代心理學」(或稱為「心理世代學」)。這門學科的基本概念是個人的潛意識承載父母、祖父母、更遠祖先的心靈遺產。人的內心甚至可能住了許多「陰魂」,亦即祖先遭受過的創傷。最為人所知的例子是亞美尼亞(Armenian)裔的年輕女性中,其就醫投訴頸部嚴重疼痛的比例,遠高出其他的族裔。在二十世紀初,土耳其曾經以斬首的方式,大量屠殺境內的亞美尼亞人,亞美尼亞裔移民很可能在自己身上重演祖先的創傷。這個想法以前已有人提出(三十年前,著名的法國精神學家芙蘭思娃.杜爾托(Francoise Dolto)曾說:「造成一名精神病患需要三代」),強調人們的根遠超出核心家庭的小圈圈,人必須明白自己繼承的遺產其實比所知的更多、更古老。人們的生活縱然不必然取決於祖先的經驗,但如果對個人的根有更周延更平衡的了解,對生活一定有所助益。


再回頭看看同性「婚姻」。探討同性戀者所養子女的情緒發展時,我們也必須特別留意,從過去的文獻中,可以發現這方面的研究立場其實是偏頗的。他們的研究採樣集中在極少數的案例,其中沒有一項著重在較可能發生心理問題的青少年期。令人不解的是,這些研究採納父母的陳述(這些父母本身是男同性戀或女同性戀者中的強硬派),超過孩子的證詞。而且,它們主要拿同性戀者養育的孩子和異性戀單親媽媽養育的孩子做比較,卻不和異性戀夫婦養育的孩子做比較! 換言之,立場嚴重偏頗的文化議題,模糊了同性戀婚姻與收養問題的焦點。截至目前,假定家庭和生命延續有關,父母藉由婚姻結合保障兒童心理正常發展,仍然是較可行的。然而,即使我們接受這個假設,真實生活還是必須保留彈性。


長久以來家庭被視為理所當然,法律不太注重保障家庭的完善。五○年代歐洲、美洲和亞洲都立法鼓勵家庭的成長(numerical growth of family)。此後,人口過剩的隱憂使得立法趨於嚴格。問題在於人口控制或多或少與對家庭功能採取保留態度或甚至不信任有關。教養子女所需的時間與金錢,使得親職成為艱鉅的工作。女權伸張,尤其是產假與離婚時對母親權益的保障,使情況稍有改善。但整體而言,進步仍然十分緩慢。既然家庭模式已遭遇多重危機,立法者是否該考慮推動制定「家庭法案」,讓父母扮演好教育者的角色,標明婚姻契約的本質,確保婦女與兒童的身心健康?和個人一樣,為了所有的公民,社會整體必須發揮創意,增進家庭的福利。



Thursday, 07 September 2006










Saturday, 02 September 2006

Asia Needs Peacemakers

If I had a wish to formulate for Asia, it would be to witness the coming to age of a generation of peacemakers, of men and women willing and able to craft a new style of relationships between individuals or within families, as well as between ethnic groups and nations. Computer, financial or educational skills are all important for the future of Asia. Peacemaking skills may prove to be even more vital. Let us be reminded of what is at stake when it comes to relationships between Taiwan and Mainland China, North Korea and South Korea, India and Pakistan, ethnic and regional communities within Indonesia… First and foremost, Asia needs peacemakers.

"Happy the peacemakers, they shall be called children of God." (Mt 5,9) In the Biblical setting, peace is indeed a business of craftsmen, of people who mobilize their energy, their creative power, their mind, heart and imagination for the coming of a state of things - peace - that was not and is called to life. Peace appears in the heart of darkness, as light and life appear on God’s utterance, and the crafting of peace is one way through which humankind, created at God’s image and likeness, shares in the nature of its own Creator.

How can Peace be crafted, nurtured, promoted in Asia today? The sharing of a few convictions could help to enhance a culture of peace, of immense value for all those involved in such task.
- The first conviction is that it is in the very act of listening that new venues can be opened and new bridges built. At one stage or another, making peace means to be actively engaged in listening. I just pointed out that peacemakers are indeed makers, doers, craftsmen. But another aspect has to be kept in mind. Listening is the activity through which we accept to look beyond our own power of creation, through which we accept to go beyond our own dreams in order to be awakened to other people’s dreams. Listening is the only way through which a common dream finally takes shape. Peacemakers have first to reconcile in themselves the active and the passive side, and, in the act of listening, they give birth to the gift of peace, a gift that far transcends their own power - and nevertheless comes through them.
- The second conviction central to the building-up of a culture of peace is, put simply, that words matter. Leaders are too quick in trading promises or abuses. In any society, as in the international arena, the respect for the given word is the basis for dialogue and confidence. Dialogue, public discussion, honesty and clarity of language are not merely rhetorical tricks, they are the very basis on which peace and stability can be secured.
- Here is the third conviction: forgiveness shows more inner strength than revenge. Most features in Asian popular culture, especially movies, make one think than taking revenge is the ultimate proof of manhood. That men as societies need to experience forgiveness for healing and for renewal still remains an almost revolutionary message in the social and cultural context where we live.
- Fourth, inter-religious dialogue is conducive of peace. The religious riches of Asia are a wonderful asset, not an impediment, when it comes to the building-up of Peace. When religious communities learn to know and appreciate each other, they slowly develop the capacity to engineer common actions for social reform. For instance, in several countries of Asia, inter-religious contacts and appreciation are the ground on which a true environmental movement is developing. Religious dialogue provides the way to confront what might be the central question when it comes to Asia’s future: how can economic imperatives and humanist aspirations be combined into a creative social synthesis?
- Finally, peace is a creative process. Peace requires more inventiveness than war does. In the Asian context, inventiveness requires first to be able to slow down, to pause and reflect on past achievements and failures. Openly assessing one’s past is the prerequisite for inventing one’s future.

Peace and Justice are not abstract notions, their flourishing is part of a narrative that needs to be expressed and written down. Peace and Justice happen in space and time. Interpreting anew the quest for harmony typical of Asian culture, paying special attention to minorities largely deprived of their own identity, recalling countless stories of hardships, traumas, failures, survival and hopes, all of this contributes to the writing down of the narrative. Within the narrative, peace and justice take blood and flesh. Ultimately, the coming of peace and justice takes shape through little stories or events whose none knows the strength beforehand. Each of the words or of the initiatives that give meaning today to the words "justice" and "peace" in Asia are like the mustard seed in the field or the yeast in the flour. For the coming of Peace is about hope and reconciliation, sharing of goods, exchange of words, growth of fulfilling human relationships, it is about reconciling with the past, living the present at its fullest and dreaming together the future. Happy the dream-makers, one day they shall awake to see their dreams fulfilled beyond what they ever could have imagined.

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