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Humanism in China.

I recall a distinction made in a book in my library--now unavailable to me in China--a book, as I recall, by Erich Fromm. It is that between Western logic and Eastern (or paradoxical) logic, the former as in the expression "it is either A or B " (exclusion) and the latter as in "A" is not A because A is also B" (inclusion).

Ancient Chinese thought boasts no system of logic like that of Aristotle in the West. Rather, the Chinese "both-and" tradition seems something attitudinal--an interest in arriving at centrality, harmony, and synthesis. The expressions "A" is not A" or "A is also B" represent dualities, and the inclusiveness of "both A and not A" applies to various considerations. For example, humankind is at one with nature, heaven is conceived naturalistically, the inner and the outer are conjoined, knowledge and action can be unified, theory and practice go together, and ethics and spirituality are all of one piece. Even so, there seems room for a "bedrock" or original duality such as the yin and yang-heaven and earth, or male and female principles.

It has been noted that the efforts of nineteenth-century Western missionaries in China met with a response that was to them--to say the least--curious. Having worked to convert Chinese people to one or another denomination, and concluding that they had been successful on the basis of church attendance, they discovered that their "converts" considered themselves Christians but, at the same time, they were still Buddhists, Confucians, or Taoists. This is an illustration of the above-cited attitude regarding the oneness of the ethical and the spiritual, since the real meaning of religion was being understood broadly in ethical terms rather than as a special doctrinal, otherworldly denominationalism. I do not know what the missionaries did in response to their discovery, but if they were unaccepting of their "converts," this only illustrates the Western "it is either A or not A."

According to Kenneth L. Patton in Chinese Humanism (Meeting House Press, 1985), China's own ancient humanist tradition dates back some 3,000 years. I shall paraphrase some of his points: it abolishes human sacrifice, promotes a this, worldly view of the heavenly, and understands spirituality as the fullest development of ethical character. It places art and poetry alongside philosophy and centralizes both Confucian humanist (albeit feudal) and Taoist naturalist positions. This tradition dwarfs, in terms of duration, twentieth-century Western influences in China in the form of Marxism and pragmatism, both of which will now receive attention.

As to Marxism, which came to China from Europe via Russia as the initial term in the expression Marxism-Leninism, it suggests the economic dimension of the expression economic-political and can hardly be identified with humanism, though there is an overlap. This is because those seen to be exploited are to better their condition in the name of their human status. Here, attitudes vary; there is, of course, a tradition of protest against social exploitation (non-Marxist poet Edwin Markham's "The Man with the Hoe" provides an example) and Sun Yat-sen, as the leader of China, disavowed Marxism and doubted the exploitation of workers by capitalism, thus taking an opposite view.

Not the least important commonality for humanism and Marxism is that both "isms" are secular-though one rarely, if ever, hears of "secular Marxism." Speaking of "Marxist humanism" involves as much of a half-truth as does, say, "Christian humanism." On this point, Georg Lukacs took the position that the early writings of Marx were humanistic in character. But as a later expositor of the necessity of class conflict and of the dialectical materialism which provides its rationale, the humanism of Marx recedes.

Nonetheless, from the standpoint of the Chinese "both-and" attitude, the dialectical approach can provide illumination, and it may be no accident that dialectical materialsm took root so quickly upon being introduced to China. That is so since it can be seen as an illustration of a "both-and" attitude, though one now taken toward perceived realities of development and process. Two examples will suffice.

First, in his writing on contradiction (Selected Works), Mao Tse-tung states that it is something both universal and particular. When social contradictions are studied, they can be understood in their absolute sense or in their specific natures. Because everything is developing in some ongoing process, at different stages universality may become particularity, and vice versa. Thus, for example, while capitalists will see the contradiction between the socialization of production and the private ownership of production as a universality, it will be viewed by Marxists as a particularity pertaining to a given historical stage.

Second, in a May 1942 speech on art and literature (Selected Works IV), Mao Tse-tung spoke of the motives of artists and the effects of their work. Here he noted:

Idealists stress motive and ignore effect, while

mechanical materialists stress effect and ignore motive;

in contradistinction from either, we dialectical

materialists insist on the unity of motive and effect. The

motive of serving the masses is inseparable from the

effect of winning their approval, and we must unite

the two....

Regarding literature, a Marxist like Trotsky stated in his Literature and Revolution that there should not be a proletarian culture, because the dialectic ushers in the future with "a culture above classes and which will be the first truly human culture." For his part, poet Mao Tse-tung agrees that literature is not merely propaganda and that aesthetic standards are important, though he offers no solution to the problem of political control.

At the outset, I distinguished between a Western logic that poses exclusive alternatives and an Eastern (or paradoxical) inclusive logic, and the term attitudinal was reserved for the latter. The former, indifferent to developmental process, sees things in their separateness; and the latter, as elements of a reconciliation. When dialectical materialism was introduced to China and formally represented by the Communist Party in 1921, this superimposed on a pervasive attitude of inclusiveness a universal law which, because paradoxical, could only be grasped in terms of particulars. This attitude could well have provided a fertile soil in which dialectical materialism could be understood and could grow into a powerful social and political force. Marxism in China already had a helpful kind of attitudinal grounding.

But, as noted, the Marxist-Leninist cause in China (and elsewhere) is a departure from humanism for positing the necessity of contradiction and class conflict. For Mao Tse-tung, something even more conflict-ridden, though rarer than contradiction, is antagonism, which is, in turn, quite foreign to humanist perspectives. Following Mao's thought to another consideration, for him the elements in a contradiction presuppose each other and, in a condition of identity or interpenetration, become one another. This also far exceeds anything required by a humanist perspective, Eastern or Western.

It will be more helpful to trace certain characteristics common to the Marxist-Leninist tradition and pragmatism, particularly because the latter, in its social ethics, offers such an important rationale for secular humanism. Also, Western pragmatism was represented in China even earlier than the years when Mao Tse-tung began to expound his views on contradiction, art and literature, and so on. (If Mao insists on the unity of motive and effect in the above-quoted passage, so did John Dewey take a unifying view of such polarities as character and conduct, intention and result, and thought and action in his ethics.) Regarding secular humanism, factors causing it to develop can vary from country to country: in the United States, it has importantly (as rationalism) been a movement taking demagogic supernaturalism to task; in India (as atheism), it is a live alternative to a religious caste system that has been responsible for social injustice; and in China, it has for the most part been a progressive philosophic attitude, Western-inspired.

Lenin said that the most essential aspect of Marxism was the concrete analysis of concrete conditions. Such specificity represents as much of a departure from idealism and subjectivity as does pragmatism. Years ago, when I read Otto Ruhl's book on Karl Marx, I was simultaneously studying Dewey and still recafl having felt that in some way Marx resembled Dewey. Was it something more than a common Hegelian influence, I wondered? Dewey, as is well known, visited Russia as an interested observer of social planning. That he was discouraged by aspects of the post-revolutionary experiment does not detract from this interest. Dewey also went on a lecture tour in China at the turn of the 1920s.

Both Dewey and William James-authoritative Western humanist figures--respected the leadership of Charles Sanders Peirce in the field of logic. Peirce's pragmatic logic does more than illustrate "the concrete analysis of concrete conditions"; it thrives on such analysis. Peirce, who may have developed such a knack while working with the National Geodetic Survey, states, for example, that the quality of hardness is to be understood in the rubbing together of two stones or rocks to see which leaves a mark on the other. By inference, it is not to be found in airy generalizations void of content. Similarly, Peirce understood gravity operationally as a single instance of an object falling through space. Such an approach to defining hardness or gravity echoes Lenins outlook. The logic of Peirce -- perhaps America's greatest philosopher--in this and in other respects profoundly resembles that of Lenin.

Yet pragmatism, of course, as America's most original contribution to philosophy, developed in a less troubled and more congenial setting than that in which Mao developed into a leader forging Chinese communism. The early twentieth century in America could afford to be more appreciative of idealistic attitudes James and idealist Josiah Royce were friends and colleagues at Harvard), saying that ends should not be used to justify dubious means and insisting that a humanism attempting to solve human problems must be humane. Its theory did not embrace the necessity of class conflict or of revolution. Because it was content to accommodate itself to a political status quo, it was certain to be seen by emerging communist regimes as a tool of Western imperialism and bourgeois liberalism. Mao Tse-tung was an arch-enemy of liberalism. I know from experience that the term liberal meets with a suspicious and negative response in China. As a rule, one can say much the same thing with no barrier to communication -with even a warm response--by using the term progressive.

It would be conveniently simple if an article such as this on humanism in China might confine itself to that which has originated in China and nothing more. Certainly, ancient Chinese humanism was indigenous. Its "both-and" quality may have prepared the ground for such a significant reception for dialectical materialism. Or so, at least, have I argued. But late in the second decade of this century--before Mao Tse-tung's writings and speeches commenced-China became the site of debate over the respective merits of Chinese and Western culture. Ch'en Tu-hsiu, the first chair of the Chinese Communist Party, an intellectual and former editor of the monthly magazine New Youth, had studied in France and become Westernized. He later became a renegade from the party, likely because he was virtually a humanist--an individualist who centralized personal happiness.

A key champion of Westernization and modernization was Hu Shih, who did his doctorate in philosophy at Columbia with John Dewey and became his exponent. As an adversary of the feudal Confucian tradition, Hu became a leader of the New Culture movement, which espoused the vernacular as part of a program of literary reform. As a pragmatist and evolutionist, he advocated a humanist philosophy of life based upon modern science and scientific method, in which there was "no need for the concept of a supernatural ruler or creator."

Hu was familiar with the work of William James. In his insistence on the vernacular and plain speech, he seems to echo James' opposition to the American "genteel tradition " For his part, Hu Shih was reacting against an aristocratic Confucian tradition in which decorum flourished for an elite. In his view of Western scientific and technological culture and the rational, humanistic religion he perceived as its concomitant, Hu Shih opted for an uncritical, across-the-board acceptance. Such an acceptance might have brought to China all the potential for the democratic life as understood by pragmatism in, for example, Dewey's Democracy and Education. Parenthetically, however, this is, of course, something unlike what Mao Tse-tung called "new democracy," meaning a Leninist centralization involving subordination, where Lenin, in turn, took his cue from The Communist Manifesto. Here, democracy was understood by Marx and Engels as proletarian rule.

Hu Shih therefore favored a wholesale transplantation of Western scientific attitudes together with the naturalistic moral and spiritual values that appeared to be their counterparts. Such an importation to China would carry with it the logical "either-or" approach basic to Western scientific thought. There was at this point in China an active interest on the part of intellectuals to treat the entire ancient tradition with a debunking skepticism. Although it is hard to be certain, one possible scenario could have been that China's own ancient humanist tradition was ignored--if not rejected--in favor of a modern Western scientific humanism. A positivistic outlook also gained a foothold.

But there were other Chinese reformers who could not be so wholehearted about science and technology in America and Europe. It was all very well for Hu Shih to treat them as a universal panacea, but the devastation caused by World War I seemed to favor the argument that the West had become both scientifically and spiritually bankrupt. Not spirituality but, rather, a hideous kind of materialism seemed to be the law of life. Even so, the Chinese should bring themselves to locate and make their own something of value in the West. Such a position was represented by Liang-Ch'i-chao, who expressly deplored Western extremism (an "either-or" phenomenon), which took the form of a destructive tension between ages of idealism and materialsm. For Liang, there was little or nothing in Western pragmatism that was not already contained in ancient Chinese thinking, which, he said, aimed at balance and the reconcilation of ideal and actual, other-worldly and worldly. Clearly, Liang expressed a syncretic attitude in his desire to conjoin the best values of Eastern and Western traditions.

An account of the "both-and" attitude of Chinese antiquity was given by Liang Shu-ming, born the same year as Mao Tse-tung. Like Liang-Chi-Ch'ao, Liang Shuming favored some acceptance of Western culture, wanting to replace its emphasis on intellection, for example, with intuition. Liang Shu-ming decided to subscribe to Confucianism at a time when it was hardly popular. The particular school which attracted him was that of Wang Yang-ming, notable for having taught the unity of knowledge ("both knowledge and action"). Aside from this synthesis, for Liang Shu-ming the achievement of the mean is what is basic to Chinese culture, which he thought would become the future world culture--given some modifications.

Liang Shu-ming made an interesting comparison between three ideologies in human life: the Western, which is to go forward; the Indian, which is to go backward; and the Chinese, which is to balance, harmonize, and synthesize ideas and desires in the self. The Indian, he thought, is abnormally spiritual, being entirely different from the Chinese and the Western, and must be rejected. The Western, as already noted, was acceptable with a proviso.

As a traditionalist, Liang Shu-ming invoked an intuitive knowledge understood by Confucius and by Mencius: jen, something possessed by every human being regardless of learning and deliberation. And jen, Liang Shu-ming believed, was in unity with right and good conduct, whereby human beings could live in consonance with the operations of a natural law, achieving the mean--the right measure and degree. With this as a proviso, the Chinese could be accepting of Western culture and make it their own. An example of one aspect of Western culture to be rejected outright would be its materialistic conquest of nature (at the outset, it was noted that, for the ancient Chinese humanist tradition, humankind is at one with nature). By inference, if China has today, as an industrialized country, taken to conquering nature for the sake of "development," this is consistent with both American capitalism and the Russian Soviet experiment. It is also a departure from its own ancient humanist tradition.

What is of interest in this regard is a growing Western concern with the problem of humankind wreaking destruction on nature. Environmental problems and their possible solutions loom very large and even top the list of involvements. Western humanists tend to identify with Green Party politics and with the work of such organizations as Greenpeace. In part, this is explained by their commitment to science and scientific method as problem-solvers; but equally, it may result from a sensitivity to the humankind-and-nature question by naturalistic humanists as well as by humanists per se. What has recently been termed ecological terrorism must be abhorred by all those giving credence to the Chinese tradition. In this respect alone, ancient Chinese humanism may now be playing a larger role in the West than is ordinarily supposed.

If the "both-and" attitude can be said to merge with an eclecticism allowing for syncretism in belief systems, China has represented and still does represent a potpourri of attitudes, political and cultural. Politically, there are eight noncommunist parties, all dubbed democratic, which arose during the Sino-Japanese War and the struggle against the Kuomintang. There is, for example, a China Democratic League, a Chinese Peasants' and Workers' Democratic Party, a Democracy and Science Society, and a Taiwan Democratic Self-Government League. The relational term used by the ruling Communist Party is cooperation. An unknown factor in this melange of groupings is the degree to which the Leninist-Marxist concept of "new democracy, requiring subordination, is operative. There may be indications that a new policy of political and managerial consultation--Western inspired--is gaining ground. Paramount Chinese leader Deng Xiao Ping helps maintain stability by balancing the interests of an older, revolutionary generation with those of a younger, internationally minded and business-oriented generation.

Culturally--to choose the field of music at random--Stephen Foster, Chopin, and Tchaikovsky accompany television commercials. Bach sometimes precedes loudspeaker news announcements in the neighborhood where I now live, and American "pop" music blares on restaurant radios. "Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot" issues oddly from a pharmacy. A young woman working in the Foreign Affairs Office volunteers to sing "Moon River" at an end-of-semester banquet. At a sporting event, loudspeakers regale participants and attendees in quick succession with Schubert's "March Militaire," Berlioz' "Rakozsky March" from The Damnation of Faust, Bizet's "Toreador Song," and Sousa's "Three Cheers for the Red, White, and Blue." A Chinese onlooker standing next to me remarks that the choice of music may have been "accidental."

In literature, a Chinese D. H. Lawrence Society has recently been formed, and at least four of his novels have now appeared in Chinese versions. Ten years ago it would have been impossible to teach writers like Lawrence, Wolfe, Joyce, and Huxley, but I have been doing just that. I have noticed students reading English-Chinese versions of Du Maurier's Rebecca and Segal's Love Story, which seems especially popular. In the English-language newspaper China Daily, cartoonists frequently depict relationships between parent and child, child and child, people and animals. Feature articles often deal with the lives and work of ordinary people who may have developed some special angle on the world deemed worthy of coverage. Such journalistic items have a strong "everyday humanist" flavor. China's minority groups represent a pluralism and are given media coverage with attention to their particular cultural forms and activities--music, dance, parade, costume, and so forth.

China is, of course, the People's Republic of China--"New China"--and has been that way since the Communist Revolution of 1949. Yet, as I have attempted to describe, both Eastern and Western humanisms have been and still are undoubtedly given their due in one or another situation. In what proportion should they enjoy their coexistence? This is hardly a new question. By way of a rather general answer, it should certainly be that proportion most suitable to the well, being and happiness of the Chinese people--this this is in itself a challenge for the Eastern tradition of "both-and " While pragmatism and not utilitarianism has received attention here, it is the latter-pragmatism's close relative --that provides an appropriate slogan. I refer to John Stuart Mill's "The greatest good for the greatest number," at the same time acknowledging that the numbers are huge.

Dr. David Lawson is a Montreal-based writer and poet currently teaching in China. He has published articles in a number of humanist journals.
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Author:Lawson, David
Publication:The Humanist
Date:May 1, 1993
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