Traditionally, Chinese depict their philosophical thinkers as zhuzi 諸子, or the sages. The notion of sage conveys the idea that as a sage, his life, and his philosophy are but one unity. Sages gave knowledge to, and provided people with ways to adapting to the world adequately, from personal and banal affairs to the state events and the universal truth. Virtually, it should not be uncommon for people seeking advice from sages regarding their marriage or naming their newly born baby. The Chinese scholar Y. L. Ching remarks, for a Chinese philosopher, ethics, politics, reflective thinking and knowledge were unified in the philosophy. His philosophy required that he live it, he was himself its vehicle. Philosophy was hardly ever merely a pattern of ideas exhibited for human understanding, but was a system of precepts internal to the conduct of the philosopher, and in extreme cases his philosophy might even be said to be his biography. (Fung, 10)
There are innumerable writings and books on the classical Chinese philosophical literature that have been translated and interpreted in English by Christian missionaries initially, and by sinologists recently. Chinese philosophical thinking has been made familiar to Western readers by first Christianizing it, and then recently by locating it within a political-mystical-occult worldview. In either the case, in the process of Western humanists attempting to make sense of the classical Chinese philosophical literature, many Western assumptions have inadvertently been insinuated into the understanding of these texts, and have colored the vocabulary through which this understanding has been articulated. (Ames, xi)
Beyond the good intentions of missionaries and sinologists, and the increasing awareness of divesting interpretations of Chinese philosophy of Western preconceptions, the recent archaeological findings challenge the authority of existing translations on Chinese philosophical thinking. To the extent the newly unearthed texts written on silk scrolls and bamboo strips now provide us with a compelling clarity to the over all Chinese cosmology, and thus enable us to understand Chinese philosophical thinking in a way that has not been possible before. Frederick Mote notices that Chinese history, culture, and people's conceptions of their ideal roles all must be explained in terms of Chinese cosmology, and notif we really want to understand Chinese civilizationby implicit analogy to ours hence, the records of Chinese culture must be interpreted, and the texts translated and retranslated until our inadvertent uses of historical and cultural analogy are detected, weighed, and if necessary, corrected. (Mote, 25)
However, one cannot divest the Western interpretations of Chinese culture of Western cultural analogies simply by translating and retranslating the texts, nor can one do so by using the more abstract and specializingno less culturally biasedlanguage of the professional philosopher. Sarah Allan suggests that one must begin by exposing the metaphors that underlies the Chinese terminology and imbue it with meaning. (Allan, 18) In other words, one begins to understand the conceptual scheme of Chinese philosophical thinking more accurately by recognizing the conceptual scheme of Chinese thought, or the root metaphors within the socio-cultural contexts from the viewpoints of not only historical and epistemological but also anthropological perspectives, and aesthetic and literary criticism.
Allan, Sarah. 1997. The Way of Water and Sprouts of Virtue. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Ames, Roger T. and David L. Hall. 2003. Dao De jing, Making This Life Significant, A Philosophical Translation. New York: Ballantine Books.
Fung, Yu-lan. 1966. A Short History of Chinese Philosophy. New York: The Free Press.
Mote, Frederick W. 1989. Intellectual Foundations of China. New York: Albert Knopf.Top