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  • Li Zehou and Confucian Philosophy ed. by Roger T. Ames and Jinhua Jia
  • Anna Ghiglione (bio)
Roger T. Ames and Jinhua Jia, editors. Li Zehou and Confucian Philosophy. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2018. ix, 400 pp. Hardcover $72.00, ISBN 978-0-8248-7289-2.

Since the last two decades of the twentieth century, Confucianism has again come to play an important role in Chinese intellectual interrogations and ideological debates; its systematic rehabilitation can be perceived as a tridimensional phenomenon involving political authorities as well as academic scholars and common people. To what extent are the values and norms of this ancient wisdom compatible with Marxist materialism, the predominant ideology in the People's Republic of China since its foundation in 1949? Up to which point do they deserve to be rediscovered and adapted to the needs of modern Chinese society? Are they universal, and therefore appropriate for developing intercultural dialogue and nourishing world philosophy, or are they specifically Chinese and thus best suited as powerful instruments to reinforce the cultural basis of the civilization from which they stem in order to reduce the negative effects of globalization and of Westernization?

Li Zehou 李泽厚 (born in 1930 in Hankou, Hubei province, China) is one of the most influential contemporary interpreters of the Confucian legacy. He elaborated a composite and original philosophy resistant to any classification attempt. This collected volume explores his complex relationship with the Confucian stream of thought from different perspectives: philosophical, historical, philological, anthropological, psychological, etc.; its strength actually lies in this interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary approach. Two conferences organized at the University of Hawai'i by the World Consortium for Research in Confucian Cultures inspired its conception: (1) "Confucian Values and a Changing World Cultural Order", 2014 (one panel was dedicated to Li Zehou); (2) "Li Zehou and Confucian Philosophy", 2015 (with Li's active participation).

The core of the book, divided into three parts, offers fifteen essays, selected from the latter conference. Preceding these three sections, an introduction and an interview with Li himself provide general yet precise information about the philosopher's views and intellectual context. A short appendix gives some elements about his biography and works. Presumably because of space limitations, no bibliography is included in the volume, an omission that sometimes hinders the reader who is not very familiar with Li's philosophical [End Page 99] evolution from establishing a clear chronology of his publications and of their different editions.

In the introduction, Roger T. Ames and Jinhua Jia describe Li Zehou as "a world philosopher ('with Chinese characteristics,' perhaps)" (p. 2). They explain that although Confucianism had a substantial impact on his thought, he does not belong to the so-called "New Confucian Movement" (xinruxue 新儒學 or xinrujia 新儒家). In his syncretic philosophy, Li also drew many elements from Kant's moral universalism and from Marx's historical theory. He rejected Maoist voluntarism (p. 7) in name of the principle that there is a "continuity between human experience and nature" (tian ren he yi 天人合一) in opposition to the idea that man holds "absolute transformative powers" over the natural world and environment.

In the interview ("Response to Paul Gauguin's Triple Question") conducted by Daolin He, three fundamental questions are addressed to Li Zehou:

  • (1). Where do we come from? Or: How is human race possible? Li maintains that "human race creates herself" (p. 19) and emphasizes that his view is well-established in Chinese tradition. To his eyes, the Confucian strong consciousness of history explains the absence of a major creationist belief and alternatively led to the formation of an affective cosmology.

  • (2). What are we? Or: What is humanity? Li defends an evolutionary position about human nature and uses the sedimentation metaphor in order to explain the formation of the "emotio-rational structure of the human mind" starting from the making and using of tools (pp. 22–23).

  • (3). Where are we going? Or: what is the philosophy of destiny? An open answer is given to the third question: Li hopes that a second Renaissance will liberate humans from machines.

On the whole, despite their originally oral form, Li's responses display a wide knowledge of Chinese sources, mainly dating from...


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