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qi wu de zhe xue (Philosophy of the Equalization of All Things - Zhang Taiyan and the Encounter with East Asia of Modern Chinese Thoughts)


196 pages




October 25, 2016



Published by

East China Normal University Press

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qi wu de zhe xue

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Zhang Binglin (a.k.a. Zhang Taiyan; 1869–1936), a philosopher representative of modern China, gave a completely new interpretation of the chapter “Qiwu lun” (“On the Equalization of All Things”) in the Zhuangzi by applying philological techniques drawn from the orthodox methods of Qing-period evidential scholarship, the ideas of modern Buddhist studies, and also the currents of thought he had absorbed in Japan in the early twentieth century when he was involved in revolutionary activities, and by doing so he created the framework for his own unique philosophical system. This book calls this philosophy of his the “philosophy of the equalization of all things” and clarifies its characteristics. When doing so, I not only focus on his writings but also take into account the period and places where his philosophy was born and pay attention to the context of the history of modern ideas about scholarship in China from the Qing dynasty to the 1911 Revolution and also to regional links across Japan and China. By this means I show that it was precisely because the scholarly background of Zhang Binglin, who would often seem to have supported Han-Chinese ethnic nationalism, extended to East Asian horizons that there was born his “philosophy of the equalization of all things,” the significance of which still continues to attract attention today.
The most striking characteristic of the “philosophy of the equalization of all things” is that it constructs on the basis of a meticulous analysis of both the phonetic and written aspects of language a picture of an ideal world in which all things rejoice equally in their lives. At the same time, as well as providing a conception of the new modern state that needed to be formed in China in order to counter imperialism, it also contains within it opportunities to criticize the state from within. Zhang Binglin’s nationalism, his attitude towards the state, and also his criticism of the state are clarified in a comparison with Maruyama Masao’s “‘old stratum’ of historical consciousness” and “loyalty and rebellion” in chapter 1 and a comparison with Takayama Chogyū’s Japanese nationalism in chapter 4. Chapters 2 and 3 examine how Zhang Binglin’s distinctive philosophy of language, in which linguistics, literature, and philosophy coalesce, provided a theoretical basis for revolution in modern China. Chapter 5 endeavours to analyze how the Zhuangzi, which Zhang Binglin was fond of discussing, was able to become a resource for modern enlightenment philosophy in China. At the same time, this is also an attempt to redefine the significance of “enlightenment” in China in the context of traditional thought and an attempt to relativize the concept of “enlightenment” as well as restructuring it as a critical concept in East Asia. Chapter 6 discusses the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011 by positioning it within East Asia’s experience of the modernity.
In sum, this book critically examines East Asia’s experience of the modernity, with a focus on Japan and China, by providing an outline of modern Chinese philosophy centred on Zhang Binglin. In addition, it is also a revised version of I Venture to Ask, “What Are the Pipes of Heaven?,” a booklet that was published in Chinese in 2013 by the University of Tokyo Center for Philosophy. It thus also has significance as an experiment in Sinophone philosophy by an author who is not a native speaker of Chinese.

(Written by ISHII Tsuyoshi, Professor, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences / 2021)

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