Mr. Xu Jialu Delivered a Keynote Speech at the 3rd World Conference on Sinology Entitled“Three Directions for the Development of Sinology and New Human Order”

[Source]    Hanban [Time]    2012-11-26 08:44:56 

In recent years, sinology has made huge progress in China. Compared to the 1970s and 1980s, sinology has made significant achievements in many areas, such as number of researchers, growth margin of research fund, wide range of research topics and depth of research results. Such progress has been widely recognized, indicating the rejuvenation of Chinese culture and continuation of the exploration of studying Chinese culture by theoretically combining ancient traditions and current realities. Meanwhile, there is a quiet trend of reexamining our current times and reviewing our ancestors’ ideologies going on in the world. Such explorations are not just pursued by the scholars from one or several countries. In my opinion, it’s the beginning of a new awakening for human beings. Here, the new awakening is related to the Axial Age proposed by Karl Jaspers.

The coming of the Axial Age is a key spiritual awakening for humanity. From that time on, humanity has seen a light in the darkness and found a spiritual direction. Since then, conscience, rationality and justice have always played a balance role in human history and guided human beings to forge ahead, although we face difficulties and are still incompetent in many areas; evil, barbarism and brutality are still found in the world; we also see setbacks in the wheel of progress and human development has experienced a twist journey. It is not difficult for us to imagine what history would be and today’s world would be without oriental sages of philosophy in the Axial Age and their faithful followers continually emerged over the last 2000 years.

There is no doubt that human beings are experiencing an unprecedented crisis today. There are various treatises and researches directly or indirectly revealing all kinds of crisis manifestations and exploring the root causes. However, people are sick of various narrations and complaints on upheavals, environmental deterioration, and resource depletion, because these repeated and correct complaints do not offer any solutions. People anxiously anticipate a clear future.

Of course, whatever such exploration is active or passive, sincere or insincere; “solutions” on how to shake off the crisis and embark on a happiness journey are offered. People frequently hear various “solutions”, such as strengthening financial regulations, reducing carbon emission (including purchasing pollution rights), trade protection, printing more paper money, selling certain types of “democracy” and “freedom”. However, in my opinion, these measures are at the best just magic shows under the framework of free market. Despite wonderful performance, nothing changes after the show and no problems are solved, even for some urgent needs.


Through education system, cultural products and religious promotion, instrumental rationality, the supremacy of technology and wealth pursuit are spread across the world. Money and technology are involuntarily prioritized and placed in the first place, even at a core position, when people consider economic, political, social and family issues, while nature and the human being, the origin and destiny of human development, are ignored.

Currently, the human being’s subjectivity is the root cause of various natural and social contradictions and crises. Actually, humans have never been the subject in the full and independent sense, because “I” or “He” is a knot of extremely complex relations. Any of our behaviors or thinking is either fostered or constrained objectively. Even our so-called “subjective” thinking is triggered by objective stimulations or challenges. This is the “dependent origination and emptiness of nature” proposed by the Buddhism. According to China’s Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism, only when humans can balance the relationship between human beings, between humanity and nature, between human body and mind, between today and tomorrow, can the whole human race have a smooth life and be human in real sense. Actually, this is a simple truth. However, humans overrate their capability to cope with the nature and society because their capability and knowledge have advanced vastly with the fast development of technology in the last three centuries, especially in the middle of last century. As human considers himself as the center of universe, he becomes more and more arrogant. Gradually, man becomes a slave of various materials, spiritual, physical or virtual products created by him. This is the current situation of the world that is increasingly detached from the Axial Age and teachings of the sages, while the day of self-destruction is approaching. It’s time for us to realize our weakness and modestly seek peace and co-existence, so as to create a happy life for our future generations.

Chinese culture and traditions can provide another angle and concept on how to deal with others and nature. As repeatedly pointed out by experts from different countries in several years, the Confucian virtues based on “Ren” (benevolence), Tao-oriented vision of the universe promoted by the Taoism and the dependent origination ontology proposed by the Buddhism all tell people a truth from different angles, namely, man should treat the earth – the only home to humans – as well as anyone that we meet by adopting ideologies and thoughts in line with the laws of nature and social progress with a respectful and grateful attitude. “Do not do to others what you would not have them do to you”, “Now the man of perfect virtue, wishing to be established himself, seeks also to establish others; wishing to be enlarged himself, he seeks also to enlarge others.”, “Harmony but not uniformity,” “Within the four seas all men are brothers”, “In the way of heaven, there is no partiality of love; it is always on the side of the good man,” and “Those sharp weapons are instruments of evil omen, and not the instruments of the superior man; he uses them only on the compulsion of necessity”. These familiar concepts and virtues proposed by Chinese ancient sages are very useful for the world today and tomorrow.

We can also find similar ideologies from historical memories of other nationalities and recorded human civilizations and religions. It’s the common human wisdom accumulated over several millions of years. For example, the source of strength – omnipotence and moral perfection are pursued by various religions and civilizations, such as Hebrew religions, Vedas, Upanishads, Brahmanism of Indian civilization. Therefore, we can find that different ethnical groups that have separated and fought for several centuries share similar ethics and values when we reexamine the essence of different civilizations, cultures and religions at their beginnings and mature phases. These ethics and virtues can help lay a foundation for establishing an ethical order jointly shared by all human beings in the future.

However, there is no doubt that all traditional cultures in the world have been severely damaged by modernization and materialization, even the culture claimed having universal values and sparing no efforts in exporting itself has no exception. This is to say, all civilizations in the current world are obligated to return to their origins and recollect the wisdom of ancient sages. This is one of key reasons why modern philosophy studies specially pay attention to classics interpretation studies.

For China and modern sinology, in particular for sinology research in China, I would like to solemnly reiterate “Three directions”: facing the current situation, facing the world and facing the future.

Please let me briefly explain these “Three directions”.

Having been largely secular, Chinese academic traditions highly focus on this life with emphasis on the current situations and on the unity of knowledge and practice. Confucian scholars act as a social model to symbolize the vitality of the Confucianism by their noble personalities. Many issues of sinology heritage still need to be studied and expounded, which means that pure academic research is still needed. However, we must pay attention to the impacts of modernization on Chinese cultural traditions, including both academic traditions and custom traditions. Today, Chinese people have an urgent need for the essence of sinology and the concern from the academic circle. We need the academic circle to propose schemes and solutions to current issues based on Chinese cultural traditions through learning from other cultures. We also need scholars to enter into the communities and schools through all kinds of media to teach their knowledge and insights to people, especially the youth. In the perspective of academic development, scholars need to examine, interpret and expound traditions based on today’s reality with a today’s vision, from which academic studies may be innovated. As Mr. Lu Xun said, the efforts made for the present will help achieve the pursuit of eternity. The repeated annotations on classics by great scholars in the Han, Jin, Tang and Song dynasties could be considered as responses to the social challenges and stimulations at their respective times. Their teaching and explanation aimed at serving for their society. Thus, these explanations, books and quotations soon became classic after published. This is an important reason why the tradition of Chinese sinology focusing on the current situation has been carried out, which has also become a characteristic.

As an important part of crystallized human wisdom, sinology both belongs to China and the world. Thus, sinology, of course, should face the world.

The world needs sinology because China’s “Super Stability” (proposed by Arnold Toynbee) and cultural unity could provide rich experience in terms of life, society, culture and politics. In particular, Chinese cultural elements which have always played a safeguarding role are sufficient to provide references for humans to construct the future ethics.

Sinology needs the world because sinology cannot contribute new innovations and wisdom to China and the world and climb to a new summit without learning and absorbing useful essence from foreign cultures. Without learning from others, the interpretation and reexamination of sinology would limit to its own inherent circle. Chinese people have experienced in this aspect. As we all know, if Buddhism was not introduced to and prevailed in China, Chinese scholars couldn’t realize that Confucianism needed to strengthen its metaphysics and Chinese moral ethics needed to deepen internalization and designs so early. Thus, neo-Confucianism may not be created and Chinese philosophical systematization could not reach the world level.

Therefore, Chinese academic circle needs to further expand its communication with the world’s sinology circle. The two-way communication is important. On the one hand, a large number of Chinese scholars, in particular young scholars, could go to foreign countries and live abroad. On the other hand, we need to invite foreign scholars to live in China. Both Chinese and foreign scholars need to obtain direct experience through living in each other’s cultural and living environment, so as to grasp each other’s ideological characteristics as well as traditional and actual influential factors. The China Study Plan proposed by the Confucius Institute Headquarters (it does not matter whether this name is appropriate) and collaborative innovation carried out by several Chinese universities have provided excellent resources and platforms for strengthening Sino-foreign communication and cooperation in this area.

Expanding and deepening communication I mentioned above refers to training sinology talents jointly by Chinese and foreign organizations, cooperative researches on key issues, and jointly establishing and organizing research and teaching institutes, apart from discussing and researching some issues by both Chinese and foreign sinologists, such as the convening of World Conferences on Sinology.

In light of sinology’s facing the world, another area could be considered and included. Namely, Chinese scholars should introduce Chinese culture to foreign people while Chinese scholars enter into Chinese communities and are close to Chinese people. So far, Chinese culture is mysterious for many foreigners. They are not familiar with Chinese culture due to failure of understanding and long distance. Sinology needs to be close to the foreign people to realize mutual understanding, mutual learning and harmonious coexistence among countries, nations and civilizations. The Confucius Institutes across the world just facilitate such communication.

Sinology’s facing the future is closely related to facing the world. The future world will be a world where different civilizations co-exist peacefully and seek common values while preserving their own characteristics and developments. Without a world vision, there will be no future; sinology will not face the world without facing the future.

Teacher’s teaching is highlighted in Chinese academic traditions. Learning from teachers has been harshly criticized for its negative impacts such as “inbreeding”, sectarian opposition and seclusion. However, cultural inheritance cannot only rely on the preservation of literature. Instead, continuation of talents plays the most important role, including learning from teachers. According to western subject classification, sinology is dismembered into such subjects as philosophy, history, literature, philology, ethnology and folk literature. This not only brings harm to sinology research and development, but also hampers teacher’s teaching to play its positive role.

The shortage of talents constrains the development of sinology. Facing the future, how the Chinese sinology circle cultivates more excellent Chinese and foreign talents and how to reform talent training system and mechanism shall be listed on the agenda as soon as possible. Here, we need to deal with the relationships between tradition and importation, standardization and flexibility, professionals and outsiders. High attention shall be given to the above points so that sinology can face the future in a more prepared way.

“By investigating patterns of the nature and human society and understanding the changes of both ancient times and present, we will reach our own original and unique appreciations of the past” is a life-time goal pursued by generations of Chinese scholars. I think that for sinology to face the future, we shall follow it as the standard. Therefore, we need to focus on both specialty and universality. Both “experts” and “all-round talents” proposed by Mr. Ma Yifu are needed for the future development of sinology. Accordingly, in the research areas, various kinds of research are needed, such as micro and macro research, textual research, historical and theoretical research.

In short, to realize Sinology's facing the future, we need to ponder on what the world and China will be in the future and what we should do for that day from now on. Let’s return to the topics of reexamination, awakening and human ethics I discussed at the beginning. There is no doubt that sinology needs to face the future, actively participate in the dialogues between different religions of belief and seek common grounds and differences. Different religions are souls and backbones for civilizations. Several key civilizations have affected the world configuration and development in several millennia of history. We cannot think of facing the future without thinking about the future of different religions. Confucianism lacks worship for a personalized god. It has also no strict discipline. Instead, it values virtue-based self-discipline and motivates people by endless self-pursuit. In current and future world featured as diversified cultures, lifestyles and values, what roles and how many impacts the Confucian self-cultivation, self-motivation and self-discipline will play and exert? God created all, God-inspiration, salvation, incarnation (or to the other side) are doctrines for Hebrew religions. In today’s world, humans have more knowledge on the Earth and the universe. Meanwhile, industrialization and informatization have made astonishing achievements. Against such a background, how shall we understand the existence of God? Can people’s religious faith be the same as 100 or 200 years ago when God was explained as a strength or some mysterious source unknown to people? In other words, civilizations and religions leading people moving ahead from the Axial Age to the current world have faced common challenges and pressure. Maybe, the only solution for all civilizations is to work together to establish common ethics based on self-examination. To some extent, human ethics could be called a new world order, although these two are different.

Comprehensively speaking, sinology has not been prepared yet for facing the current situation, facing the world and facing the future in many aspects, neither have other civilizations. Comparatively speaking, lacks of world vision and talent cultivation are two prominent weaknesses for sinology. However, it’s more difficult for other civilizations to adjust God belief to realize the “transformation” (a currently popular word) than Sinology’s reinterpretation of its traditional ideology. This is because the mode of thinking and philosophical ideologies based on several millennia of god belief have been deeply rooted in every aspect of social and family life. By contrast, Chinese people still believe in Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism. “Habits are the most horrible strength”. With the same goals, sharing same difficulties and starting at the same point, the future of the whole human race will be certainly bright as long as researchers of different civilizations achieve the consensus on constructing new human ethics and a new order.

Isolation, conflict and integration are three types of relationships among different civilizations. Isolation is an inevitable result in the times of extremely undeveloped information technology and transportation. Now, the time and space barriers leading to isolation have been removed. Conflicts have given people too many painful lessons. Dialogue, mutual learning and integration are the only choice. Sinology has a long way to go.

The joint efforts of all sinologists across the world are a foundation for making up for the deficiency of sinology and assuming the historic responsibilities of saving the current world, going to the world and exploring the future. Regarding this, the World Conference on Sinology is a significant platform. I sincerely wish this platform will be carried out, achieve more progress and exert more influence!


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