- Encyclopedia of Chinese Philosophy
Western engagement with Chinese thought and philosophy already has a more or less continuous history of over four centuries. During this period a multiplicity of fundamental questions about the nature of Chinese philosophy has been raised, and some of these questions have never been—and most likely never will be—satisfactorily answered. Many of them have turned out to be of a general hermeneutic kind, revolving around approach rather than nature and therefore pertaining to practically, if not literally, every pattern of thought or behavior that is to be made accessible to a group of people foreign to it.
The explosive increase in exposure to different cultures in the twentieth century is one among the many developments that have resulted in opening our eyes to the hitherto unperceived intricacies involved in the act of interpretation. One of the clearest examples of this hermeneutic progression can be found in the discipline of anthropology, which, in recent decades, has struggled to emancipate itself, in its assumptions and approaches, from its colonial heritage. However, relatively young but already established fields such as comparative literature have also had to come to terms with the tendency toward ethnocentric Western interpretations of non-Western literature. [End Page 62]
The reception of Chinese philosophy in the West has also been greatly affected by this development. A crucial factor has been the rapidly growing involvement of "insiders," that is, thinkers whose cultural heritage is Chinese or at least substantially Chinese-influenced. Not only have the particular insights of these philosophers greatly contributed to the gradual establishment of Chinese philosophy as a "serious" academic discipline. They have also served as an important counterweight to the formerly dominant tendencies either to identify Chinese philosophical streams with Western philosophical or religious creeds or to deny them the status as philosophy or religion on the grounds of their radical difference.
Major Chinese thinkers of modernity, most notably Xiong Shili , Tang Junyi , and Mou Zongsan , explicitly demanded an appreciation of the distinct nature of Chinese philosophy and its irreducibility to Western philosophical notions—although in this they themselves were not always entirely consistent. Moreover, the influence of these and other thinkers has, in combination with an increased awareness of the cultural and personal import in the act of interpretation, generated a number of scholars, both Asian and Euro-American, who endeavor to present Chinese philosophy on its own terms, that is to say, without forcing it into distinctively Western categories.
This has been a gradual process, and a multitude of histories of and monographs on Chinese philosophy, not to mention scattered dictionary and encyclopedia entries, saw the light of day in the twentieth century. The monumental works of Feng Youlan and Wing-tsit Chan (Chen Rongjie ) were, despite some interpretive shortcomings, surely key factors in cultivating the appreciation of Chinese philosophy in the West, and they certainly remain useful sources of reference—as long as one takes into account the relative vantage points with which temporal distance from the publication of these writings provides us.
In recent years, compilers of philosophy dictionaries and encyclopedias have become increasingly sensitive to the need to include entries on non-Western philosophy. We have also witnessed a considerable growth in the publication of world-philosophy handbooks of various kinds. At the same time, however, we have not been provided with a comprehensive and accessible dictionary focusing exclusively on Chinese philosophy.
With Antonio S. Cua's handsome Encyclopedia of Chinese Philosophy, such a work has finally been produced, and it is certainly a reason for celebration among students and scholars of Chinese philosophy. This impressive work is immensely useful not only for gaining access to particular problems in Chinese philosophy but also for acquiring a general overview of broader issues such as certain schools of thought and individual thinkers. As Cua says in his Preface, it is "addressed primarily to an audience of college and university students and scholars, but it is fully accessible to other interested readers" (p. xvii). The Encyclopedia is even...