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Chinese Philosophy Introduction

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Below is an excerpt from 《先秦七大哲学家》, an introduction to Chinese philosophy by Wei Zhengtong (韦政通). Included in the exerpt are introductions to Mencius, Mozi, Xunzi and Han Feizi.

Wei is a popular philosopher based in Taiwan. He was educated in mainland China and went to Taiwan in 1949. He worked as a journalist before starting to writing about philosophy. Because of the journalism background, he is very good at writing in an accessible way, even on something that's seemingly complicated.


先秦七大哲学家 (PDF)

To most of us, all the 子们 seem the same. Wei shows that they have very real differences. He also shows how their personal history and social environment affected their ideas. . They lived in a period of great change before the Qin Dynasty. There was yet no all-powerful central government. Intellectuals had a lot of freedom, compared to later. They had a choice of kings and princes to whom to offer their services. If they couldn't get along with the King of 齐国 (Qi), they could try working for the King of 赵国 (Zhao) instead, and so forth. As a result, this period before the Qin Dynasty was arguably the most vibrant period for the development of Chinese philosophy and culture.

You can read more about Wei Zhengtong in this article:




Or buy the book here:




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Thanks for the recommendation, gato. I am currently reading 中國古代思想史論 by 李澤厚, which I am also greatly enjoying. It's full of classical Chinese excerpts, so that makes it all the more fun. When I'm done, which will be a while still, I'll see if I can get my hands on this book!

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李泽厚 was very influential in mainland China in the 1980s, particularly with his 《美的历程》, but I read that he tends to use Marxism (meaning economic determinism) to analyze things.

韦政通 is incredible, one of the best writers I've read. I'd encourage you to try him out asap. :wink:

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I did notice that tendency in some parts of the first chapter I read, yes, but at least 中國古代思想史論 seems to be better than other publications by mainland authors. Perhaps that's because this book was published on Taiwan (by 三民), not on the mainland, which he calls a rational choice in the foreword. But I'll try 韦政通 out as soon as possible, anyway!

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Thanks for the link! I'm downloading it right now.

My personal introduction to classical Chinese philosophy was A.C. Grahams Disputers of the Tao (don't have a handy version to download :( ). It's not all that new, but very comprehensive. The best thing about it IMHO is that it includes some of the more obscure philosophers, too.

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I'm reading the highly regarded Buddhism in China- which is still a great introduction to how Buddhism was introduced into China through India and Central Asia, and then the subsequent development of different schools of thought, and the main translators and prominent figures...etc. By extension, it talks a lot about other philosophies, and how Buddhism coped with them, and meshed with them.

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Finished the chapter on Mengzi (lots of other things to do over New Year ;) ).

It was a very interesting read. His evaluation of Mengzi is very diffirent from what one usually reads in Western literature on him. While it is usually the so-called Neo-Confucians that get blamed for progress-inhibiting orthodoxy here, Wei Zhengtong seems to put the blame entirely on Mengzis shoulders.

I'm not sure I entirely agree with Weis point of view. For example, he says that Mengzi was unable to accept critizism and see the other side's point of view. However, in the first place this seems to be the normal conduct in these times. People like Mozi, Han Feizi and Xunzi also reject other schools out of hand. It seems likely that works by other philosophers contemporanous to Mengzi that are now lost would also condemn Mengzi without leaving a good hair on him.

Secondly, it seems odd to accuse Mengzi tat his works were eventually turned into an orthodoxy. Surely it's not his own fault that he impressed later generations so much? Wei seems to imply at some points that Mengzis point of view was "orthodox" even as it was created; however, that seems a bit absurd. How can something just created that lives together with numerous other schools of thought be considered orthodox, including Mengzi himself?

However, that text really is well written, and provides many great insights and an interesting take on Mengzi (and hopefully the other philosophers as well!). Goes to show that I should read much more on Chinese philosophy in, uh, Chinese :lol:.

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