- De la continuité dynamique dans l’univers confucéen: Lecture néoconfucéenne du Zhongyong (中庸): Nouvelle traduction du chinois classique et commentaire herméneutique by Diana Arghiresco
When delving into traditional Chinese philosophy, it is tempting to search for an “original meaning” of the classical scriptures. However, this is a futile task for several reasons: First, we are confronted with a complex textual history, lacking a reliable “Urtext” version; much less can we rely on sufficient contextual information. Second, modern recipients—consciously or unconsciously—are prone to be influenced by orthodox interpretations, which have been dominating the discourse for several centuries. A good way to solve this dilemma is to take a close look at the most prevalent standard commentaries from the middle and late imperial era. This way we can not only increase our awareness for developments of the classical tradition, but also unlock its full epistemological potential for contemporary philosophical discussion.
In view of its reliable textual foundation and its prominent position in the living tradition in East Asia, it is striking that scholars have been hesitating so far to fully translate Zhu Xi’s 朱熹 commentary to the Four Books (Daxue 大學, Zhongyong 中庸, Lunyu 論語, and Mengzi 孟子), the basic compendium of Confucian learning, which has served as the standard for elementary education and civil service examinations since the fourteenth century. In spite of their special importance, Western scholars interested in the Four Books’ wisdom have concentrated on the classical texts and used Zhu Xi’s extensive notes mostly as a stepping stone in order to uncover the “original meaning” of the canon. The new book by Diana Arghiresco, De la continuité dynamique dans l’univers confucéen: Lecture néoconfucéenne du Zhongyong, [End Page 615] deliberately takes a more profound approach, combining a full translation of the Zhongyong and Zhu Xi’s commentary with a hermeneutic analysis of these two textual layers.
Not only does her “traduction pensante” (Heidegger) encompass the quest to approach the central message of the texts, but her examination of the Zhongyong (including Zhu Xi’s commentary) serves as a foundation upon which she builds a discussion of relevant Confucian and Daoist scriptures. Additionally, the author builds a bridge from Zhu Xi to classical Greek philosophy, thus going beyond Chinese indigenous thought.
By adding another rich layer of background information on Chinese philosophy, Arghiresco delivers a compendium for classical Confucian thought in the context of other schools. In particular, she quotes numerous passages from the Lunyu (including Zhu Xi’s commentary), delivers countless references to other quotes from classical texts concerning the Zhongyong’s central topics (like zhong 中 or he 和), demonstrates the coherence with the Laozi and the Yijing, introduces key personalities (e.g., Emperor Shun or Confucius’ disciples), and explicates particular concerns in Zhu Xi’s thought (e.g., his religious ideas).
As the subtitle suggests, the author delivers a “Neo-Confucian reading” of the classical Zhongyong text through the eyes of Zhu Xi. Thus, it can serve as a foundation to discuss alternative points of view from the Chinese tradition itself, such as the Zheng Xuan 鄭玄 commentary from the late Han (second century a.d.). For example, while discussing the famous term “watchfulness over oneself” (shen du 慎獨) (Zhongyong chapter 1), one can show that Zheng Xuan’s stance offers an alternative, concentrating more on physical “aloneness” and deviating from Zhu Xi’s focus on self-cultivation.
A more problematic instance, where the author seems to adhere strictly to Zhu Xi’s view, is the question of dating and authorship. For Arghiresco, the Zhongyong is a book from the fifth century b.c. authored by Zi Si (pp. 12, 372). Furthermore, she accepts the traditional daotong perception (p. 21). In this regard, some interaction with more critical approaches from recent secondary literature...