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Eastern philosophy grows in interaction

Author  :  ZHANG QINGLI and LI HAOTAN     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2020-11-28

Scholars shed light on Eastern philosophy at a forum in Jinan, Shandong Province, Oct. 24–25. Photo: FILE

Scholars exchanged views on Eastern philosophy studies at a seminar in Jinan, Shandong Province, from Oct. 24–25.

The seminar was hosted by the School of Philosophy and Social Development at Shandong University and the Center for Judaic and Inter-Religious Studies at Shandong University.

Eastern countries share a long history of exchanges and integration in the fields of philosophy, religion, and ideology and culture, said Li Suping, a research fellow from the Institute of Philosophy at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS). Eastern philosophy occupies an important position which underlies the cultural roots of many countries along the Belt and Road. It is urgent for academia to strengthen related research, and dig into Eastern ideas and wisdom, providing intellectual support for today's development.

Ancient Chinese history is roughly divided into early (pre-Qin era), middle (since about the Qin and Han dynasties), and late (since about the Song Dynasty) ancient times. In Li's view, early ancient times witnessed the first climax of Eastern philosophy, laying the foundation for its later development. China in East Asia, India in South Asia, Persia, Mesopotamia, and Palestine in West Asia, and Egypt in North Africa, were the main birthplaces of Eastern cultures. The middle ancient times was a period when Eastern philosophy sustained an upsurge. Indian philosophy, Arab Islamic philosophy, and East Asian philosophy represented by the Han and Tang schools of thought in China had their own characteristics. The late ancient times saw an unbalanced development of Eastern philosophy. During this period, Indian philosophy and Arab Islamic philosophy began to decline, while East Asian philosophy continued to prosper and develop. Modern times experienced an initial collision which led to a fusion between Eastern and Western philosophy.

Historically, cultural interactions and exchanges among Eastern countries and between East and West injected vitality into the development of Eastern philosophy.

The spread of Confucianism promoted the integration of East Asian cultures, noted Fu Yongjun, director of the Chinese Hermeneutics Research Center at Shandong University. East Asian Confucianism is embodied as an ideological system of "diversity in unity." Based on basic Confucian values and thoughts, Confucians of different regions in East Asia transcended spatio-temporal constraints and creatively interpreted Confucian classics to carry forward Confucianism. They share common Confucian values and uphold common Confucian spirits.

Taoism exerted a positive effect on the formation of modern Japanese philosophy, said Xu Shuisheng, a professor from the School of Philosophy at Wuhan University. Modern Japanese philosophers have a knowledge structure that widely absorbs ancient, modern, Eastern, and Western philosophy. They naturally apply Taoism and form a high degree of rational consciousness. Nourished by Western philosophy and culture, modern Japanese philosophers have also actively merged and recreated Eastern and Western thoughts.

According to Wei Changhai, a professor from the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Peking University, Eastern philosophy has not been officially included as a sub-discipline of philosophy at higher education institutions, which is not conducive to the development of this discipline. As Eastern philosophy studies have become increasingly important, we look forward to the education authorities’ actively promoting the development of Eastern philosophy.

Through history, the development of Korean studies on Chinese philosopher Wang Yangming, Japanese Buddhist studies, Indian philosophy, and others, were all closely related to the history of Chinese philosophy. Thus, it is necessary to advance Eastern philosophy studies by combining them with Chinese philosophy, Wei suggested.

Fu Youde, director of the Center for Judaic and Inter-Religious Studies at Shandong University, noted that religious and cultural exchanges played an important part in the history of Eastern philosophy. We should look into the changes and development of Eastern religions from a cross-religious perspective, determining their influence on Eastern philosophy.

A History of Eastern Philosophy, published in 2010, represents an important achievement in the 21st century study of Eastern philosophy in China. The book analyzes the development of Eastern philosophy for about five millennia, spanning from the 30th century BCE to the 20th century, and expounds on the philosophical thoughts of each stage according to the region. This framework reveals the internal development laws of Eastern philosophy, highlighting collisions and fusions within Eastern philosophy, and between Eastern and Western philosophy. Li pointed out that the book filled several gaps in Eastern philosophy, including writing the world's first history of Vietnamese philosophy.

The philosophy of Chinese ethnic minorities is not merely an integral part of Chinese philosophy, but also Eastern philosophy, which needs further study, said He Chengxuan, a research fellow at the Institute of Philosophy at CASS. Comparative studies should be conducted to uncover the distinctive religions and philosophies of various ethnic minorities. Philosophical research of ethnic minorities has gained increasing attention and praise from the academic community, becoming an eye-catching emerging discipline.

Editor: Yu Hui

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