Translator Casey Lee
The ancient Chinese people believed that they existed at the center of the world. With the arrival of Buddhism in China came a new cosmic worldview rooted in Indian culture that destabilized the Han [huaxia 華夏] people’s long-held notions of China as the Middle Kingdom [Zhongguo 中國] and had a profound influence on medieval Daoism. Under the influence of Buddhist cosmology, Daoists reformed their idea of Middle Kingdom, for a time relinquishing its signification of China as the center of the world. Daoists had to acknowledge the existence of multiple kingdoms outside China and non-Han peoples [manyi 蠻夷] who resided on the outskirts of the so-called Middle Kingdom as potential followers of Daoism. However, during the Tang dynasty, this capacious attitude ceased to be maintained or passed on. Instead, Tang Daoists returned to a notion of Middle Kingdom that reinstated the traditional divide between Han and non-Han peoples.
Translator Kathryn Henderson
The Abbey Celebrating the Tang [Qingtang guan 慶唐觀], a Daoist temple on Mount Longjiao in southern Shanxi Province, played a special role in the religious history of China in the Tang dynasty. Because of the myth that Laozi himself emerged from this mountain during the war to found the Tang state, this abbey was closely linked to the political legitimation of the Tang. Even plants in this abbey were regarded as the harbingers of the fate of the state. The emperor Xuanzong erected a huge stele in the Abbey Celebrating the Tang, demonstrating the support enjoyed from the royal house. Images of the six emperors, from Tang Gaozu to Xuanzong, were also held in the abbey. After the collapse of the Tang dynasty in 907, the Abbey Celebrating the Tang lost its political, legitimizing privileges, but its connection with the local community continued to develop well into the Song, Liao, Jin, and later dynasties. The creation and transformation of the Abbey Celebrating the Tang not only show the political influence of popular religion in ancient medieval China but also provide an interesting case of how a Daoist temple grew in popularity and prestige after it lost favor with the state.
This paper, unlike scholars who ascribe to it a copy theory of meaning, argues that the logic of the Xici is best described through “philosophy’s linguistic turn,” specifically Ernst Cassirer’s philosophy of symbolic forms. Cassirer’s concept of the symbol as a pluralistic, constitutive, and functional yet concrete and observable form, is comparable to the symbolic system in the Xici 系辭: xiang 象, gua 卦, yao 爻, and yi 易. Their similarity is due to a shared philosophical orientation: humanism. The characteristics of the Xici—the part-whole (structuralist) relationship typical of correlative cosmology, the simultaneously sensuous and conceptual nature of its symbols, the stress on order as opposed to unity, and the importance of symbols per se—for Cassirer are characteristics that were only possible in European intellectual history after a substance ontology was replaced by a functional one. For Cassirer, a functional ontology is closely associated with a humanism that celebrates creations (i.e., language) of the human mind in determining reality. This humanism is coherent with the intellectual context—Confucian humanism—contemporary with the period of the Xici’s composition. It would thus be inconsistent to concede this humanism to the Xici without also conceding that its understanding of the symbols is akin to that of the linguistic turn. Finally, even regardless of this comparative framework, the Xici runs into a paradox if we read it through a copy theory of meaning, paradoxes that immediately dissolve if we read it through the paradigm of the linguistic turn.
Translator Caterina Weber
Translator Casey Lee
During the Six Dynasties period, the cultural landscape of the mountains underwent a transformation. Most notable among these were the appearance of monasteries and Daoist temples as well as the system of immortals’ grottos and estates that accompanied the latter. Because of this shift, mountains began to constitute a special religious and cultural space. Two factors contributed to this shift. The first was religious, specifically, the movement of Daoist and Buddhist practice into mountain retreats. The second was political, namely, how political power was shaped by new geopolitical configurations centered on the city of Jiankang (Nanjing). With these two factors at work, a new cultural form and spatial configuration emerged from the mountains that reflects the intimate relationship between the Six Dynasties politics, society, and culture.
Translator Anja Bihler
To construct socialism with Chinese characteristics, advance socialist democracy, and establish a political ecology for socialism with Chinese characteristics, we should devote our efforts toward building a stronger political system and strengthening the rule of law and democracy. Important projects, such as the anti-corruption campaign, mass-line education, or team building for government officials should be guided by the spirit of democracy and the rule of law and proceed in an orderly and regulated manner. Still, voices in support of political meritocracy have become increasingly audible in Chinese political and academic circles, supporting a political phenomenon completely incompatible with the goal of building a socialist democracy. Meritocracy as a political system entails a high degree of uncertainty, unsustainability, and risk and is essentially just a modified version of the rule of man or, to put it differently, the rule of man “2.0.” Its fatal weakness is its inability to resolve two fundamental problems related to the legitimacy of political power: Where does power originate, and how can we control it? An important theoretical prerequisite for building a clean political ecology is thus to demystify meritocracy and dispel any popular myths surrounding it.
Translator Kathryn Henderson
“Meritocracy” is among the political phenomena and political orientations found in modern Western democratic systems. Daniel A. Bell, however, imposes it on ancient Confucianism and contemporary China and refers to it in Chinese using loaded terms such as xianneng zhengzhi 賢能政治 and shangxian zhi 尚賢制. Bell’s “political meritocracy” not only consists of an anti-democratic political program but also is full of logical contradictions: at times, it is the antithesis of democracy, and, at other times, it is a supplement to democracy; sometimes it resolutely rejects democracy, and sometimes it desperately needs democratic mechanisms as the ultimate guarantee of its legitimacy. Bell’s criticism of democracy consists of untenable platitudes, and his defense of “political meritocracy” comprises a series of specious arguments. Ultimately, the main issue with “political meritocracy” is its blatant negation of popular sovereignty as well as the fact that it inherently represents a road leading directly to totalitarianism.
Translator Colleen Howe
Compared to Wang Shaoguang’s approach to re-interpret the old concept “democracy” to overcome the Schumpeterian model of political legitimation, Daniel Bell’s Political Meritocracy takes a more challenging path, attempting to build a new discourse of legitimacy centering on the concept “meritocracy” and incorporating elements of ancient China’s traditions, the socialist revolutions in the twentieth century, and the system of competitive elections common in the Western world today. This inspiring work is full of incisive arguments, but could be improved by further considering the tension between the Confucian tradition and the revolutionary tradition in the twentieth century.