Whether Chinese texts were transmitted along the ancient Silk Road, or through modern digital technologies, such well-traveled texts hold great promise for illuminating multiple aspects of China’s cultural relations with the world. The same holds true for the examination how reconfigured Chinese texts made their way back to China, to be reconstituted as culturally polyvalent, hybrid “imports”.
Critical studies explore new ways of engaging Chinese texts with non-Chinese intellectual and cultural traditions. Such studies include, but are not limited to, a traditional textually grounded Sinological work that contains a substantive dialogue with for instance Western texts; a collaborative work by Asia-based and non-Asia-based scholars on the critical issues important to different traditions; and even a work on non-Chinese texts as long as it significantly draws insights from or engages a substantive dialogue with the Chinese traditions.
Authors are cordially invited to submit proposals to the publisher at BRILL, Christa Stevens.
Please advise our Guidelines for a Book Proposal. Manuscripts that are published have been accepted after double-anonymous peer review.
At the turn of the 17th and 18th centuries, it became indisputable in Western Europe that at the other end of the Eurasian continent lay a millennia-old traditional culture that was in many fundamental ways comparable to its own. In China, a full-fledged cultural alternative opened up before Europe. The contact of Jesuit missions with China, Japan and other countries of the Far East had one goal: evangelization, the mass production of Christians from converted “pagans”, infidels and atheists. But this was followed by economic goals, linked to colonialism. The germs of a discussion about a non-violent unification between Chinese culture and the metaphysical and practical-moral principles of the West died down as quickly as such ideas could be problematized and their propagators (cf. Chr. Wolff) compromised. Leibniz, Wolff, Bilfinger and others learned from the Chinese to understand the possibility of a different reasoning with which one can achieve the same or perhaps in some ways even better results. But they had no success. Hard military-economic aggression took hold, the consequences of which are still being borne in Sino-European relations today.
Leibniz was not the one to discover China, as far as Western culture was concerned. His historical contribution lies in the fact he presented Europe and China as two distinct ways of contemplating the world, as fully comparable and resulting in types of societies at the same high institutional, economic, technological, political and moral level. In this sense he saw China as the “Europe of the Orient” and as such susceptible to investigation by the same tools of natural philosophy which Leibniz knew from the environs of European scholarship. He was the first representative of the classical school of European philosophy to knowingly reject Eurocentrism. Leibniz followed the intentions of learned missionaries in his understanding of the Christian mission as a cultural and civilisational task, a search for mutual agreement and connections, in favour of a reciprocal understanding.
The chapter examines the influence of Chinese statecraft on Austrian and Prussian Cameralism. A typical representative of this connection is Justi, a German lawyer, economist and philosopher. China, in his judgment (supported by a study of translations from Couplet’s and Noël’s corpus, not just by reading travelogues and merchants’ narratives, from which Montesquieu is said to have drawn), is a monarchy, and not just any monarchy, but a wisely built and governed monarchy, where the laws applicable to all citizens and the mores cherished by thousands of years of tradition are regarded as the foundations of the state, respected and obeyed by all. Justi saw the guarantee of a functional civil service system in a strict system of civil service examinations. Influenced by Chinese sources, Justi based his political-economic framework on the foundations of a theory of the state viewed conceptually and built according to the methodological guideline of the question of the purpose of the state and its limits.
Bilfinger took the whole issue of state administration across the border of philosophical (and also theological) theories into the realm of state law, to the beginnings of state science. This alone marked a methodological shift; as a practitioner of international relations, Bilfinger was more interested in deductive procedures, which he believed would provide him with plausible results by comparing the advantages and disadvantages of the various elements of the system of government and the organization of governance in state entities. In doing so, he was less interested in the individual elements that Wolff had examined than in the systemic arrangements manifested in the creation of successful and beneficial forms of government in the state. On the other hand, he did not ask the question that is to be expected in this context and without which state-law justification must lack something fundamental: he did not ask for the general purpose of the state. In doing so, he left out an entire methodologically specific area of thinking about the state, its governance, management, order, authority, legitimacy, legal theory, and social philosophy: namely, the area of political metaphysics and its thesis about the reason for the existence of the state. Bilfinger’s time was familiar with this ideological intention, political metaphysics as the vanguard of all sciences of government and governance already had a history, and there were authors who attempted to break out of the concept of politicization of the old Church-Christian pastoral power as well as the ancient mystifications about the reflections of the cosmogonic order in the earthly “body politic.” But Bilfinger left this strand of thinking about the state and the state system aside; he clearly did not regard it as essential to his quest for the political rationalization of absolutism, but rather saw it as a weight that would put the brakes on any pragmatically directed action to penetrate the ideological systems of Enlightenment rationalism into practical governance. In doing so, he vindicated his own methodological position, which is unmistakable.
This chapter focuses on early Enlightenment philosophy professor Christian Wolff’s Discourse on the Practical Philosophy of the Chinese (Oratio de Sinarum philosophia practica), which was published 300 years ago this year. After Leibniz’s works Novissima Sinica and Discours sur la Theologie Naturelle des Chinois, it was another attempt to enrich European philosophy by introducing some elements of Chinese scholarship, primarily in the sphere of moral conduct and the justification of moral principles. The publication of Wolff’s work provoked one of the greatest scandals in the history of modern European philosophy (causa Wolffiana). But even this scandal couldn’t prevent the spread of the view that virtuous conduct stems from our rational human nature and is possible without an ultimate religious guarantee, throughout the European Enlightenment. Wolff provided sufficient reasons to justify this idea, which he partially confronted with the Chinese philosophical tradition. One of the main goals of Wolff’s philosophical efforts, was to provide moral justification through purely philosophical means. At the same time, he viewed ancient China as a laboratory of humanity carried out through the via experimentalis. In this way, Wolff began Enlightenment philosophy’s search for confidence and precision through experiment, leading – as the German philosopher learned from Confucius – to the constant cultivation of reason (cultura intellectus), cultivation meaning the methodical and continuing care for our reason, because only reason provides the grounds for knowledge and understanding.
Goethe’s late work, the very end of which is the cycle The Sino-German Book of Seasons and Days, is completely autonomous in its expression thanks to the success with which it introduces the traditional and age-related routine of irony in a new, untried poeological context, for which I would like to use the term actio per distans. For a “German” book, Goethe could use resignation and irony as common and coordinating tools of poetic reflection. For a “Chinese” book, he would have to have a completely different knowledge and familiarity with cultural traditions to be able to decide anything with sufficient clarity. For the Chinese-German book, however, he could have ventured to attempt a poeticized experience of distance from the world to which he no longer belonged, and to convey this experience ironically to an understanding reader, in order to show that the world-renouncing and ironically rendered attitude is a universal (global, i.e. world-encircling) poetic figure, in which the origin of the poet is irrelevant. Goethe concentrated in himself the specific “cultural pantheism” of his time and remained always open to the idea of cultural diversity overcoming humanistic Eurocentrism, which unites in the universal humanism of the “universally human”.