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  • Of Diversities and Comparisons ...
  • Sor-hoon Tan
Encyclopedia of Chinese Philosophy. Edited by Antonio S. Cua. New York and London: Routledge, 2003. Pp. 1,020.

Encyclopedias can be useful in teaching philosophy when students need some reading that sets out the basics on a key topic in a few pages without their getting lost in too many complex details or being misled by oversimplifications. They can also be edifying for the philosophy teacher and scholar—providing reliable, up-to-date information on topics that lie in their field but that are not part of their working knowledge. For these reasons, those working in Chinese philosophy will welcome the publication of the Encyclopedia of Chinese Philosophy. The 187 entries cover a variety of subject areas such as "Moral Philosophy" and "Philosophy of language"; Confucianism in different periods and countries, Daoism, Mohism, Legalism, the school of names, Buddhism, and Marxism in China; philosophical trends in post-Mao China, Taiwan, and overseas; key concepts such as dao (the way), fa (law, standards), liyi fenshu (principle and manifestations), and quanli (rights); texts such as the Huainanzi and the Wenzi; and thinkers from Laozi and Confucius to Hu Shih and Mou Zongsan.

Instead of more numerous short entries, this encyclopedia has opted for fewer entries of greater length—the Preface tells us that entries on important thinkers and philosophical topics typically range from five thousand to nine thousand words in length, and a quick check reveals that even the shortest entry is at least two pages long (more than one thousand words). This format allows authors to explore the philosophical issues at some depth, and expound even complex arguments in detail. The connections between different concepts, thinkers, texts, philosophical theories, and development that stretch across different periods and territories can be delineated more clearly in a single entry. There is a danger of duplication with this format, as some texts and concepts may be covered in several articles; for example, most of "Confucianism: Constructs of Classical Thought" is on what the author identifies as six key texts of Classical Confucianism: the Analects, Mencius, Xunzi, Yizhuan, Zhongyong (Doctrine of the mean), and Daxue (Great Learning). The sections on Mencius and Xunzi (pp. 66-67) merely introduce a small part of what is discussed in much greater depth and detail in the entries on these two thinkers (pp. 440-448 and 821-829). The Zhongyong and Daxue also have their own entries, and "Confucianism: Confucius" (p. 61) contains an entire section on the Analects.

As it turns out, the duplication is less than expected. Pei-jung Fu, author of "Confucianism: Constructs of Classical Thought," implicitly questions Xunzi's Confucian pedigree, beginning his discussion with "Xunzi professed to be an advocate of Confucianism" (p. 67). Such doubt is clearly not shared by A. S. Cua, who authored [End Page 111] the entry on "Xunzi," introducing the thinker as "an important exponent of classical Confucianism" (p. 821). Cua also does not share Fu's view that "the real issue between Mencius and Xunzi lies in their concepts of heaven (tian)" (p. 67). Fu and the author of the entry on the Zhongyong translate key terms in the texts differently: Fu discusses "five ethical codes" and "three comprehensive virtues" (p. 68) while Yanming An calls them "five universal paths" and "three universal virtues" (p. 890). Such differences can be either thought provoking or confusing (especially when unaccompanied by Chinese characters or even pinyin), depending on the reader. The sections on the Analects in "Confucianism: Confucius" and "Confucianism: Constructs of Classical Thought" have hardly anything in common; the first examines it as an account of how Confucius lives as an exemplar remembered by his students, while the latter discusses its content, focusing on ren and li, as well as on Confucius' religious concerns. While concepts such as ren and li are frequently discussed, the different ways in which authors employ them and the different characteristics, contexts, and philosophical stakes they pay attention to enrich one's understanding of the many dimensions of these concepts even as similarities in diverse entries reinforce certain aspects and perspectives.

One comes across disagreements to various degrees on common or related topics among different entries. While...