- Polishing the Chinese Mirror: Essays in Honor of Henry Rosemont, Jr.
Polishing the Chinese Mirror, edited by Marthe Chandler and Ronnie Littlejohn, is a collection celebrating the scholarship of Henry Rosemont, Jr. The list of c ontributors—including Roger Ames, Fred Dallmayr, Herbert Fingarette, P. J. Ivanhoe, Michael Nylan, Tu Wei-ming, and David Wong—reads like a veritable who’s who of Chinese and Comparative Philosophy and Religion. It contains nearly twenty essays addressing three areas that have benefited from Rosemont’s contributions: Chinese l inguistics, human rights, and East Asian traditions. Some but not all chapters engage Rose-mont’s works directly. This review focuses on discussions of his critique of Western human-rights doctrine and its underlying liberal conception of the self as autonomous individual. The few chapters examined in this brief review are not necessarily the best or most interesting, but simply those most relevant to two related strands selected from a very rich tapestry.
Sumner Twiss detects a shift in Rosemont’s stance from recommending a combination of East and West in an intercultural approach to human rights to later advocating the replacement of a Western rights-centered concept-cluster with a Confucian alternative. Rosemont denies this, but acknowledges that some of his writings might have given rise to that impression; what he does admit is being persuaded by Twiss that, tactically, the complete rejection of human rights might “provide aid or comfort to dictators and other authoritarians who dismiss or ignore human rights when dealing with other human beings” (p. 364). He has therefore shifted to focusing on “second generation” economic, social, and cultural rights, arguing that “based on the concept of human relatedness and sociality, it is easy to move conceptually from second to first generation rights, but not the other way round” (p. 372).
Twiss objects to Rosemont’s representation of the Universal Declaration of H uman Rights (UDHR) as based on the concept of autonomous selves stressing independence from others, when in fact it assumes a relational autonomous self. Twiss presents persuasive evidence from the historical process resulting in the Declaration that the document deliberately avoided being completely Western and carefully included input from Chinese participants in a multinational effort. He goes on to demonstrate the viability of constructing a new intercultural conception of human rights by drawing on the works of two Confucians, Huang Zongxi (1610–1695) and P. C. Chang, who participated in the drafting of the UDHR. In this intercultural approach, “there is no incompatibility between being basically social and being relationally autonomous, and there is no fundamental tension between human beings’ expressive freedom to become themselves and their responsibility to help others do the same under conditions of social justice” (p. 65).
Mary Bockover’s “virtue of freedom” also offers a Confucian model of human rights that reconceptualizes “autonomy” as relational, in order to reconcile i ndividual rights and social justice. By articulating the interdependence between autonomous [End Page 237] self and social context, she tries to show that there is a necessary connection b etween freedom and responsibility. “Autonomy gains full moral worth only when it develops into responsibility: so that one wills to value others as oneself” (p. 142). A moral person would not only demand her rights as an individual; she would also promote the well-being of those dependent upon her for care (p. 144). While she wishes to balance individuality and sociality, her awareness of the danger of overemphasizing sociality, which in practice has been at least as problematic as selfish individualism, pushes her further toward the individualist end of the spectrum. She points out that the continued relevance of the basic human relations emphasized by Confucians is conditional on discarding the “irrational, arbitrary, and unjustified features” that are discriminatory and have justified elitism and sexism in traditional societies. The need for individualism becomes much more pronounced when she acknowledges moral grounds for “ritual severance” of relations in which people...