Chinese Philosophy

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Chinese Philosophy

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mar 12, 2010, 4:36 pm

I want to start my readings on Chinese Philosophy.
The only reference I have for the moment is A History of Chinese Philosophy by Fung Yu-lan.

It is a good book to start with?
I would very much appreciate more useful references.


Redigerat: mar 13, 2010, 10:55 am

What is called “philosophy” in relation to China is a much broader subject than what gets the same name in Europe, so you have many decades reading available to sate your interest—especially if you learn to read Chinese. Much of what is called philosophy would get the label “political science”, the equivalent of Machiavelli, Hobbes, Mill and the like. The Chinese equivalent of thoughtful essays like Montaigne’s are also included in the category of philosophy.

Fung Yu-lan is a good general survey. Don’t be put off by how old it is. Scholarship does not progress in Chinese studies nearly so fast as in other humanities.

The devastating wars and sociopolitical fragmentation at the end of the Han dynasty saw the wide spread of Buddhism, its viewpoint starkly contrasting with the more traditional Confucian and quasi-Confucian ones. After you have read Fung, a good introduction to the philosophical schools of the Han dynasty and before is Disputers of the Tao. Then tackle Kenneth Ch’en’s Buddhism in China. That should keep you reading for several weeks. Come back here with questions if you wish.

mar 13, 2010, 3:06 pm

I have already checked your suggestions and they appear to be very promising. Thanks!

I’m well aware of the broad meaning of Philosophy in Chinese culture, as too the general peculiarities of their thinking.

Another important issue when reading Chinese Thought is the translations: our western languages are incapable of transmitting the full meaning of the Chinese writing, when is not the case of wrong or distort interpretation caused by western mindset.

It’s something I deal with since the beginning of my Studies in Chinese Medicine. That’s why I’m planning to restart my Chinese lessons this year… and then yes, one life is not enough to read half of it!

mar 29, 2010, 7:53 am

The world of thought in ancient china and Three ways of thought in ancient China are also good introductions. I would recommend that you start with a couple of introductory works like this and then read some primary sources. For example the confucean Analects, Mengzi, Tao Te Ching, Mozi etc. can all be read (but not understood) fairly easily. After that you should be ready to follow your own interests in further studies. Reading the primary sources is essential because commentary on these classics is an important part of the Chinese philosophical tradition.

Redigerat: apr 25, 2010, 1:15 pm

Confucianism has been called a religion as well as a philosophy, but viewing it as a set of social attitudes can be enlightening. This introductory essay to the chapter on occult arts in the official history of the Jin dynasty is worth deconstructing:

As to when the occult arts arose, that was a long time ago. The former kings used them to resolve what was undecided, evaluate the likelihood of a favorable outcome, assess the odds of survival and be clear about prospects of success. They said that the spirits participate in human affairs, retaining the past and foreseeing the future, helping us by means of cryptic sayings and obscure notes. Given that they cause benefit and do away with harm, they also overawe the multitude, letting power be firmly held. The saying, “The way of the spirits establishes doctrine” likely comes from this.
But fraudulent imposition does not differ much from uncanny omens; contorted misrepresentation can only with difficulty be traced to its source. The techniques are a maze leading every which way; the manifestations obstinately refuse to follow a unique line. The real thing may exist, but frauds may be concealed in it. Confucius never spoke of uncanniness, feats of strength, rebellions or spirits; he had good reasons for that. In his day Zuo Qiuming led the way in beginning with a prophetic dream to which to append a story, and Sima Qian continued his work in using divination to motivate an account. From that time forward, scribes have never ceased to write of it. Han Wu-di admired and loved immortals (Guang-wu-di was even more besotted by the art of fortune-telling) so he allowed Wen-cheng (General Li Shao) and Wu-li (General Luan Da) to gain honor and renown by uncontrolled deceptions. Yin Min and Huan T`an incurred criminal punishment for having enlightened their contemporaries. Aren’t these clearly cases of seeing what is hidden to others or of making one mistake out of a thousand evaluations?
Examining these many arts in detail, we relegate them to the periphery of science; if we discarded them entirely and that turned out to be mistaken it would be a pity, but if we preserve them it is still doubtful that they will work as intended. Given that the point of keeping records is to be inclusive, the principle governing their editing should be detailed completeness. The reason the Jin referred to them as “vehicles” is to be found in that. Here I record in accounts of the occult arts those of them whose predictions were especially precise and whose technical skill was noteworthy, in an attempt to bring up to date what previous scribes have said on the topic.

Comments anyone?

apr 7, 2010, 2:46 pm

I've always viewed Eastern "philosophies" generally, and Buddhism in particular, as instead "ways of life".

But for primary sources in Buddhism one goes to India -- Theravadan. See

apr 7, 2010, 8:13 pm

Buddhism in the CJK cultural area has retained the diversity it lost in India, and as in every culture everywhere in the world, there are conflicts. The form called Mahayana ("great vehicle"), although a later development in India, was the earlier in its arrival in China. The earlier (and, in our opinion, the more rigorous and austere) version is called Theravada ("older teaching") but was given the label Hinanyana ("lesser vehicle") which its adherents reject, we think properly so.
But we'd like to ask posters to note that this group is not about ancient Buddhism, it's about ancient China.

apr 8, 2010, 3:25 pm

I'm simply pointing out that Buddhism, whenever its entered a culture (this also true of Catholicism, and doubtless all other "religions"), it has been "clothed" in cultural artifacts which are "foreign" to, and often at odds with, core Theravadan principles. As example, Buddha apparently dismissed questions about an "afterlife" as being unknowable therefore a kind of question pointless to ask. But in China it has picked up at least some of the cultural ancester worship.

Tibet is another instance of cultural artifacts obscuring "pure" Buddhism.

I point to those facts because many in the West get bogged down in the artifacts.

apr 11, 2010, 1:40 pm

After reading your recommendations, I immediately bought the Three ways of Thought in Ancient China. I’ll follow your advice and start with that one.