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  • Di er ci Qimeng 第二次启蒙 (The second Enlightenment) by Wang Zhihe 王治河 and Fan Meijun 樊美筠
  • Robin R. Wang
Di er ci Qimeng 第二次启蒙 (The second Enlightenment). By Wang Zhihe 王治河 and Fan Meijun 樊美筠. Beijing: Peking University Press, 2011. Pp. 478. Paper, ISBN 7301166907.

Di er ci Qimeng (The second Enlightenment), by Wang Zhihe and Fan Meijun, is a timely book in Chinese about constructing a philosophical and practical way to contend with China's postmodernization. It combines Whitehead's process philosophy with a focus on Chinese modernity in order to map out a desirable postmodern society. It addresses the problem on several dimensions from policy making to basic value systems. The range of themes can be seen from the topics of the book's twelve chapters: (1) Reverence for Land—Toward a Constructive Postmodern Agriculture; (2) Becoming Fully Human—Toward a Postmodern Organic Education; (3) Survival of the Harmonious-Toward a Constructive Postmodern Harmonious Culture; (4) Beauty in Difference—Toward a Constructive Postmodern Feminism; (5) Mutual Flourishing—Toward a Complementary Awareness of China and the West; (6) The Benevolent Person Loves Others—Toward a Postmodern Concept of Human Rights; (7) Democracy with Dao—Toward a Postmodern Democracy; (8) Science with Dao—Toward a Postmodern Science with Benevolence (Ren); (9) Deeper Freedom—A Constructive Postmodern Freedom; (10) Transforming the World—Toward a Postmodern Law with Care; (11) Rich but also Benevolent—Toward a Constructive Postmodern Business Model; (12) Living with Beauty-Toward a Postmodern "Green" Way of Life.

These chapters all follow a consistent pattern. First, each describes the current situation in China with regard to the specific issue that each chapter targets. For example, the tragedy of modern education is discussed in chapter 2, the obstacles to dialogue between China and the West in chapter 5, the limitations of the modern conception of human rights in chapter 6, the complexity of freedom in chapter 9, and so on. Second, each chapter offers a diagnosis of the problem at issue and its harmful consequences. All of the problems and their consequences are seen as the result of modernization. Third, each chapter constructs a postmodern solution or defines a postmodern position, articulating how to face the current situation so that problems can be solved in a constructive postmodern spirit. These efforts are characterized together as a "second Enlightenment," a term derived by the authors from the European Enlightenment.

According to the authors, the first Enlightenment refers to the rise of reason and modernity in Europe during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and to the ideals of "democracy and science" of the May Fourth movement in China in the early twentieth century (p. 5). The first Enlightenment, though, involved many limitations that are rooted in the limitations of modernity itself. The authors specify seven of these. One is the narrow understanding of freedom. The modern version of freedom is conceived as individualistic, abstract, and intangible. This understanding overlooks the relationships between individuals and the consequent necessary constraints on [End Page 449] absolute freedom (pp. 7-38). The "second Enlightenment," which the authors aspire to, promotes "new methods for study and education, a new path for thinking about economic development, new leadership, new ideas of management, and new and more complex ways of thinking" (p. 23). This theory of a second Enlightenment contains seven elements: (1) going beyond anthropocentrism and promoting ecological awareness; (2) going beyond Eurocentrism and endorsing cultural complementary awareness; (3) challenging one-dimensional thinking and enjoying the beauty of multiplicity; (4) renouncing freedom in the "abstract" and moving instead toward a deeper understanding of a freedom that includes responsibility; (5) disregarding a single form of democracy and moving toward a democracy that is truly just; (6) challenging a science that is in the service of imperialism and moving toward the establishment of a more multidimensional science; and (7) going beyond pure reason to encourage an appreciation for aesthetics (pp. 23-38).

This book is insightful and makes many extremely important claims. It is more like a call to activism, than an academic treatise. Each chapter could constitute a separate work; the book as a whole reads more like an outline or an abstract for an additional twelve books. We can look at one...