This article is about François Jullien and a controversy that arose over the publication of a pamphlet by Jean Franc¸ois Billeter entitled Against François Jullien, replied by Jullien in a volume subtitled Reply to *** (the asterisks standing for Billeter) and followed by collections of essays by French (and some German) intellectuals—one of them entitled For Jullien. The controversy assumed a weight that went beyond Jullien and the French debate to the heart of sinology and also of philosophy. The question, what and where China is philosophically speaking, is discussed with regard to the role of context, the notion of heterotopy, and the political side of talk about China.
What is the state of affairs with regard to the academic study of “Chinese philosophy” in Europe? This is the rather straightforward question that I address in the present article. Focusing on developments since 2007, I depict the institutional landscape in terms of associations and journals, present an overview of translations, and offer a survey of research, mostly of works published in languages other than English. The aim is not in the first instance to offer an exhaustive bibliography, but to document the many research activities taking place in all parts of continental Europe. Personal comments about the prospects of “Chinese philosophy” in Europe conclude the article.
Chinese philosophy in the twentieth century has often been related to some sort of cultural or other particularism or some sort of philosophical universalism. By and large, these still seem to be the terms along which academic debates are carried out. The tension is particularly manifest in notions such as “Chinese philosophy,” “Daoist cosmology,” “Neo-Confucian idealism,” or “Chinese metaphysics.” For some, “Chinese metaphysics” may be a blatant contradictio in adiecto, while others may find it a most ordinary topic to be discussed at the beginning of the twenty-first century. In this article, I set out to examine two major discourses in which talk about “metaphysics” is frequent and popular and to which talk of “Chinese metaphysics” may wish to contribute: the history of philosophy and analytic philosophy. My contention is that it is usually far from obvious what reasons are behind putting “Chinese metaphysics” on the academic agenda and to what precise purpose this is done. What my discussion seeks to highlight is the as yet often largely unarticulated dimension of the politics of comparative philosophy—of which talk about “Chinese metaphysics” may but need not be an example.