This book includes work developed from papers presented at various national and international academic conferences between 1995 and 2011. Although the essays were written over a relatively long period of time, they all convey my thoughts on two major aspects of Daoist philosophy: the Daoist concern for social issues and the humanist spirit of Laozi and Zhuangzi.
As the title of this book suggests, its aim is to point out the humanist sentiments and ideas of historical Daoism. In this view, humanism and nature mutually entail one another within the Daoist realm of thinking. Laozi’s dictum in Chapter 25 that “The Dao follows the natural” (dao fa ziran 道法自然) is replete with humanist connotations; and when Zhuangzi pronounces that “there is the great beauty of heaven and earth and it does not speak” (Zhi Bei You, Knowinghood Journeyed North, Chapter 22.2),1 he implies that material nature is permeated with humanist meanings and indicates the ascent of human nature to the spiritual dimension of naturalness. In the words of Fang Dongmei, Daoist naturalness is, from the perspective of Chinese humanism, “the infinite realm wherein the universal flux of life is revealing itself.”2
Following New Essays on Laozi and Zhuangzi 老莊新論 (Hong Kong: Zhonghua, 1991), this book is also about early Daoism. The two books follow one basic line of thought, but explore different areas. New Essays on Laozi and Zhuangzi has several key features. On the one hand, it is an exposition of the original texts, but readers will notice preference for Laozi and Zhuangzi over Confucianism, Mohism, Legalism, and the School of Names. On the other hand, my interpretations of Laozi’s and Zhuangzi’s philosophy are quite strongly influenced by a contemporary perspective. As a young man, I lived under the rule of an authoritarian regime and within the confinements of Confucian orthodoxy. Consequently, I am strongly opposed to absolutism, idolatry, and unilateralism. Additionally, I am also opposed to traditional philosophical forms of inflexibility, exclusion, and decisionism, the belief that what is morally right is what political or legal bodies determine them to be.3 The open-mindedness of Laozi and Zhuangzi embraces a diverse plurality of values. I not only find these ideals when interpreting the Laozi and Zhuangzi, they are also present in the depths of my heart. Thus, the conviction to freedom, contentment, and the spirit of the equalization of things often unintentionally come to the fore in my writings. In short, the difference between this book and New Essays on Laozi and Zhuangzi is that here these issues are addressed more openly. First, probably every single chapter in this book expresses the socio-political concerns that I have as an intellectual via Laozi and Zhuangzi. Second, as a scholar, they show the philosophers who exerted the strongest formative influence on me are Nietzsche and Zhuangzi. Both thinkers praise and regard life as central. With these thinkers, I look at the brilliance of Western culture, but also at the evils of Eurocentrism. The final chapter “On Intercultural Dialogue” outlines this view.
I apologize to readers for some repetitions regarding the topics discussed and the viewpoints presented. These repetitions spring inadvertently from my thoughts and the memories that have been with me throughout my life. For example, when looking at contemporary international affairs, I often cannot avoid the resurgence of childhood memories of the atrocities I witnessed with my own eyes and ears during the Japanese invasion of China. And when talking about events in today’s “global village,” my pen seems to be drawn automatically to engage in the deconstruction of Eurocentrism and the analysis of the historical origins of totalitarian religiosity. These examinations of the actual world from a Daoist perspective profoundly leave me with the feeling that “writing does not fully express speech, and speech does not fully express thoughts.”
Mid-December 2011 at the Philosophy Department of Beijing University
If not indicated otherwise, references to passages from ancient Chinese texts follow the database http://ctext.org/.
Thomé H. Fang, The Chinese View of Life: The Philosophy of Comprehensive Harmony. Hong Kong: Union Press, 1957. Quoted from: http://digitalcommons.law.wustl.edu/lawreview/vol65/iss4/6/, 681.
Editors’ note: Definition added.