The Story of China Studies---Wang Ronghua

Preface   This book asks a question: What should today’s China do to maintain and develop her culture?
This book has illustrated the stories of how the six masters of China Studies tried to maintain and develop Chinese culture at the turn from the 19th to the 20th century when the influx of foreign culture was strong.
Ever since January 1902, when the “Provisional Methods of Popularizing Education” was promulgated by the Republican government, teaching of ancient classics has been banned at primary schools (later at all levels of education) till today, while western children could read “The New and Old Testament” and Arabians could read “The Alcoran” at their childhood.
Now, with the introduction of the opening policy, the accession into the WTO, the deepening of the Globalization, modern western culture has infiltrated into all aspects of life in China. Some Chinese, especially those who were born since the 80s of the last century adore egoism instead of collectivism; take the realization of the value of oneself as their ultimate aim instead of loyalty, filial piety, humanism, righteousness and integrity. Some scholars cried out loud and clear: if for five consecutive generations, we Chinese do not study the Four Books and Five Classics—representatives of Chinese classics, our traditional culture would face the issue of being dying out. So, the imperative task for the Chinese is to follow the examples of the six masters featured in the book and defend and develop the Chinese culture. It is culture that will mode people and it is people that will shape the type of society. In this sense, China’s future depends on whether or not her traditional culture would be inherited and further developed.
This book is intended to those foreigners who have come to China at least twice and will keep coming many times, for those foreigners or English readers who are working and living in China and for those foreigners whose work is closely related to China. By reading this book, they would acquire some knowledge of China’s recent past, get well acquainted with the six masters, idols for many Chinese, including almost all important political leaders; and they could even have a feel of the present day China.
Introduction   Before we unfold the stories, it is useful to look at a general picture of “China Studies”. In Chinese original it is pronounced as “Guǒ Xuē”—or written as “国学” in Chinese characters. The first appearance of “国学” was in 《周礼》--《Rites of Zhou》, when it said that the musician would “govern state-run schools and teach the sons of noble families to learn how to do children dancing.” (乐师“掌国学之政,以教国子小舞。”)So, “国学”here means state-run school (s) and “国子”means children of noble families.
However, when these same two characters were used for a second time, it was almost 3,000 years later when Huāng Zūnxiàn (黄遵宪1848-1905) said in Japan that some one was advocating Japanese classics as opposed to Chinese Confucianism and Buddhism. Huang mentioned in a letter written in 1902 that Liáng Qǐchāo wanted to run a newspaper, that was to be called “Guó Xué Baò”, or “News of China Studies.” So, with Huang, “国” meant almost the same as “state or country”, yet “学” meant “studies or academic culture” and the two characters together meant “country studies”.
The first one who used publicly this term in China was Dèng Shí (邓实1877-1951) when he published an article entitled “On Preserving Guó Xué” in 1904 in Shanghai. Apparently, facing with the burgeoning Western impact, this was a response from Chinese scholars as an antithesis.
In the first three decades of the last century, the connotation of “Guǒ Xuē” underwent three changes.
In the first stage, it was a political concept. Scholars held that even if the country was eliminated in form. Yet, as long as the academic studies were still alive, the country could still be revived. And if the academic studies were dead, there would be no hope for the revival of the country. Dèng Shí said, China studies should “certainly include studies of Confucius, and studies of other masters as well.” Zhāng Tàiyān(章太炎1869-1936) held that China studies should be composed of three aspects: Chinese language and characters and their origin; decrees, regulations and institutions and their purposes; outstanding persons and their deeds that can be followed.
In order to fortify the feeble position of Chinese learning in the opposition to western learning, those who proposed westernization, such as Wèi Yuān--魏源 、Līn Zēxū--林则徐 、Zēng Guófān曾国藩 and Zuǒ Zōngtáng--左宗棠 , together with earlier reformists such as Wāng Tāo--王韬 、Zhèng Guānyīng--郑观应 and Huáng Zūnxià--黄遵宪 held that learning of western technology was necessary while adhering to Confucianism. This was the initial ideas of “taking Chinese learning as the basis and western learning as a tool”. Chinese learning was indigenous Chinese academic studies with Confucianism as the center; western learning was referring to mainly natural sciences, technologies and industrial, commercial and legal knowledge.
In 1906, Zhāng Tàiyān started a first ever Guó Xué Institute in Tokyo. Lǔ Xùn , Xǔ Shòushāng and many others were his listeners. He used Guó Xué as his weapons to stimulate the racial sense and patriotic passion, and finally to save the Guó Xué as an aggregation of pure Chinese academic studies. This new definition was an extension to “taking Chinese learning as the basis and western learning as a tool” when facing the waves of western ideas in the middle period of the 19th century. Zhāng Tàiyān played a key role in developing Chinese learning into “China Studies” or “Country Studies”. He run four sessions of “Guó Xué” courses. One in Japan, one shortly after 1911 in Beijing, one in 1922 in Shanghai and one in Suzhou in his late years. He held that “Guó Xué” was the foundation of the state. The state was doomed if “Guó Xué” diminished, and the state would stand on his own if “Guó Xué” prospered. “Guó Xué” was closely linked with the fate of the state. He pointed out that “Guó Xué” was a general term for China’s own academics and culture, which included classics, historic studies, philosophy and literature.
The second stage was from the Revolution of 1911 to the New Cultural Movement (1915-1919). During this stage, the connotation was mainly cultural, not political. The representative of this period was Liáng Shùmíng , who said: Why I am now in Peking University, I am here to put in a word for Confucius and Sakyamuni. They however, didn't oppose western culture, in stead, Liang said, “We today have to bear in an all-round way western culture.”
We should note the disputes between the “anti-tradition” school headed by Hú Shì—胡适 and the traditional school represented by Liáng Qǐchāo—梁启超. The anti-tradition school held that the emphasis of “Guó Xué” was textual research and philology of the history of literature and historic studies. The school of tradition of course tried to defend Confucian classics that had influenced the life and psychology of China.
The third stage started from 1920, and in this stage the concept became more and more academic. In 1919, Hu Shi accepted the concept proposed by Máo Zǐshuǐ and Fù Sīnián about “sorting out ancient learning.” Because of his influence, Peking university founded, in 1922, a Guó xuē Gate. Guó xuē Institute of Qīnghuá was founded in 1925. Then Xiàmén University and Yànjīng University all followed suit.
To sum up, there had been three definitions of Guǒ Xuē. One, as represented by Zhāng Tàiyān, indigenous academics of China; Two, traditional culture in a general sense. Three, an academic system as described by Gù Jiégāng : Guǒ Xuē is a study of Chinese history and historic data with a scientific approach. Guǒ Xuē does not refer to its subject of study, rather to a system of studies.
The system of studies evolved through three stages as well, the first being an extension from textual research and explanations of words in ancient books in the Qīng Dynasty, of course with some modern sense.
During the second stage, scientific method was emphasized and the ideological trend of doubting the past emerged, and to a large extend, because of efforts in this regard by Peking University, Hú Shì himself was in favor of scientific approach.
The third stage is represented by the Guǒ Xuē Institute of Qīnghuá University, the system was put forward by Wáng Guówéi and executed by Chén Yínkè ; the main content is: actual objects found underground should be used to certify the writings on paper from the past, foreign concept should be used as reference when we study ancient material; old books in other countries should be used to complement with our own old books. These methods were identical to those used in Sinology and China studies in France and Japan at that time.
In the 60 years from the 30s to the 90s of the last century, GuǒXuēfaded out from public attention because of either social unrest or lack of interest. The 90s of the 20th century saw the first heat wave of Guǒ Xuē. The quickened and successful modernization process since the 90s caused some cultural and psychological changes among the Chinese people. Having regained cultural confidence and having been shut off from their traditional culture for a few decades, the Chinese people were eager to know the splendid culture created by their ancestors. In such a background, “2004 Cultural Summit Forum” was held in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, and at closing, 70 noted scholars signed 《2004 Culture Declaration》. Almost at the same time came the publication of 《Books of Fundamentals in Chinese Cultural Classics for Recital》 and the convening of the meeting of national children’s recital of classics. Shortly afterwards, somebody cried out loudly: “children should study classics”, which gave rise to heated disputes.
In 2005, China Studies Institute in the People’s University was formed. The President of the university took the occasion to attack the May 4th Movement for breaking cultural traditions. His words have been seriously challenged. On Sept. 28, 2005 sacrifice ceremonies for Confucius were held in Qūfù, Shànghǎi, Qúzhōu, Jiànshuǐ of Yúnnǎn and Wǔwēi of Gānsù, and live broadcast was transmitted live to the whole world. Some people proposed that such a ceremony should be a state sacrifice and Confucianism should be a state religion. These, again, aroused heated disputes.
Besides these, the philosophy department of Beijing University organized China Studies Classes for “bosses” of companies and collected extremely high tuitions.
Yú Dān and her “Reflections on the Analects of Confucius”, Yì Zhōngtiān and his “Tasting the Romance of Three-Kingdoms” and Yán Chóngnián with his “Comments on Qīng Dynasty emperors “ appeared on CCTV’s platform.
The Party School of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party opened “Guó Xué” courses in October of 2008.
“Guó Xué” Institutes have been established in universities other than the People’s University; “Guó Xué” classes are opened in some primary schools; “Guó Xué” books have been selling well.
At this moment, some scholars were pondering, should the revival of “Guó Xué” be a mass movement? Everything seemed to be in that direction. Liú Mèngxī was the first one who cried for a cooling down, he said in 2007 that he was not for the over-heating of Guó Xuē. He said Guó Xuē should be distinguished from Chinese traditional culture, because Guó Xuē is only part of Chinese traditional culture, its academic part. He said we have been separated from our traditions, and presently we are at a stage to resume our memory of our traditions.
Not everyone supported the revival. A person name Shū Wú (舒芜) said in June, 2006 that China studies were an excuse for opposing science and democracy. He went so far as saying the purpose of China studies was to cater to the “mainstream ideology”, which he meant the ideology upheld by the Chinese Communist party. Another person Sū Shuāngbì (苏双碧) said that ever since the introduction of western culture, the weapon that has been used to oppose it was China studies. One strong opponent is Yuán Wěishí (袁伟时) who said there is no learning at all in Chinese traditional culture except ethics and rites, and that the main purpose of China studies was to pacify people.
Xu Youyu (徐友渔), a Research Fellow at the Philosophy Institute of China Academy of Social Sciences gave a few words of warning in 2009 that there were a political Confucianism and an Ideological Confucianism, which he thinks are trying to tie the revival of China Studies with the nationalization of Marxism. He remembered what happened on August 16,1993 when “The People’s Daily” devoted a whole page to “A Quiet Emergence of China Studies at Beijing University”; two days later one article appeared on its first page: “Long time no see, China Studies”. But these voices were soon quenched by an article in some journal that said that Marxism was being put aside as a foreign culture, and there were efforts to replace socialist new culture with a doubtful concept— “China Studies”.
Has Guó Xuē been over-heated or not is not the core of the issue. The core of the matter is that the Chinese people have found values in their traditional culture, which, they believed contributed her bit to the success of opening up and reform in the last 30 years and more, and they have realized the life of the Chinese nation lies in her culture and civilization. On basis of such an understanding, they have been passionately questing for indigenous and traditional resources for building their spiritual home.
Nobody should bother about anything if the professional studies are not harmed. After experiments in the last decade or so, curriculums in the Guó Xuē discipline have been more or less decided. Not to break it into philosophy, history and literature is the common language. A holistic approach is expected to be applied to the studies of classics, masters, historic books, collections of writings and Chinese religions.
The featuring of the six masters in this book is arranged according to seniority of age. Zēng Guófān is the first because he was the oldest and Chén Yínkè, the youngest of the six, is the last.
Not many foreigners know about Zēng Guófān, who has been regarded as a model Chinese, a great statesman, a great military master, a great educator, a great thinker and a great writer. Even though he was the first to start China’s “westernization”, he was a Confucian scholar in and out. He was the best father, the best son and the best elder brother. His writings, he left behind with us amounts to fifteen million characters, are a precious manual for how to be a good official and how to run state affairs, and also a bible for self-cultivation and administering families. His writings include family letters, official letters and letters to friends and colleagues, his diary, memorials to the emperor and the royal court, his comments on reports, poetry and essays. Aside from giving a chronicle of Zēng, the author singled out his essay “The Icy-Clear Mirror”, which contains his ways of assessing a person by looking at the persons features; the author also chose one hundred typical family letters for you to see what kind of a person he was. The translation into English was done by the author. This chapter about Zēng is composed of 138,000 words and a bit more.
The next chapter about Gū Hóngmíng is much shorter, because the author didn’t have to translate any of his works and he was very much published in English at his time, which include his translations of “Discourses and Sayings of Confucius”, “The Conduct of Life or the Universal Order of Confucius”, his writings such as “The Spirit of the Chinese people”, “Papers from a Viceroy’s Yamen: A Chinese Plea for the Cause of Good Government and True Civilization of China” and so on. All these works are available at major book stores. The author termed him as a “forgotten” master; he was seldom mentioned in China in the last six decades or more. In the early 20s of the last century, many Europeans said that when you came to China, a visit to Gū was something must be done, even if you got to give up the chance to see the Forbidden City. He was referred to by Gandhi of India as the “most respectable Chinese”. To the author’s great dismay, such a great man was made a clown in a recent Chinese feature film, which shows how little the nation knows the true story of Gū. Gū was brought up in the west, yet he took ten years to get acquainted with the ancient Chinese classics. The author described his life and his academic contribution and showed how constant and true he was to his belief in traditional Chinese culture. This chapter contains a little bit more than 39,000 words.
The third chapter features Zhāng Tàiyān, who was, in the first place, a soldier, he was seven times wanted and put into prison twice by authorities for his revolutionary deeds and words. The author gave a brief account of his revolutionary life. But, he was more of a master of China studies, his definition of “Guó Xué”, the importance he gave to “Guó Xué” are still being quoted today and almost everyday. In modern China, he ranks number one in terms of mastery of the Chinese language. This chapter contains a little bit over 56,000 words.
The next chapter tells the story of Liáng Qǐchāo, who is one of the most influential figures in the modern history of China. The author translated memoirs written by Zhèng Zhènduó and Liáng Shūmíng (both were important men of letters in modern China) and gave a summary to Liáng’s contributions to China studies and a brief account of his legendary life, in particular, his way of constantly adapting to new situations. This chapter contains almost 112,000 words and signs.
“A Talk on Verses for Singing” by Wáng Guówéi is a tutorial for those who wish to know how to comprehend deeply in the Chinese Cí poetry. The author translated it and put it behind the general introduction to the master in the fifth chapter, which contains a bit over 45,000 words and signs. Wáng was a tutor of the last emperor of China. He drowned himself in the Kūnmíng Lake at the Summer Palace in Beijing at the age of fifty. With a beautiful future ahead, his sudden suicide shocked the academic world in China. He said he could not put up with humiliations. What was humiliation to him? It was the changed cultural environment. The culture he identified with himself is no longer alive, he had to die for his cause. So, his death itself is a thick book for people to read.
The last chapter features Chén Yínkè, who was the first Chinese to have read ‘On Capital” in Germany by Karl Marx and who was the only one to ask not to guide his work by Marxism and Leninism. He lost his eye-sight in his later years, during which he managed to accomplish a great deal. He was the only one among the six masters who ended his life during the Cultural Revolution. The chapter includes a memoir, written by his school mate and relative, singled out and translated by the author. The entire book is ended with a translation of Chén’s inscription for the stone stele at the tomb of Wáng Guówéi, which summarized the integrity of the masters being featured in this book and the spirit of China studies by these masters: an independent spirit and free thinking. This chapter contains almost 45,000 words and signs.
The author wishes that by reading this book, the readers can get to know the masters, who are best representatives of “Guǒ Xuē”, and “Guǒ Xuē” is the common vehicle of the spirit, the will and the spiritual great wall of the Chinese nation, their resourceful basis of confidence and strength. The author do hope by reading this book, the readers would not only get to know the masters, but also get some feel of “Guǒ Xuē”, and then facilitate their understanding the Chinese people and China.