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Doctoral Project


Chinese Philosophy as Translingual Practice: A Meditation on Wisdom
Lisa Lindkvist Zhang (M.A.)

Much literature within Chinese Philosophy, since its inception, has focused on the ‘legitimacy question’ of the subject. One can hardly open a Chinese Philosophy book which in some way or another, in its introduction, does not provide a justification as to why Chinese Philosophy should be regarded as philosophy. In the last two decades the discussion has been particularly intense in the aftermath of Zheng Jiadong and Carine Defoort’s thought provoking essays on the topic, not to mention John Makeham’s stupendius edited volume on the genesis of Chinese Philosophy. This recurring self-doubt makes it appear as if the discipline suffers from a certain arrhythmia – an “inexplicable” nervosity which irregularly pops up now and then, and which, at least ostensibly, is accompanied by a compulsion to question its right to existence. In order to shed light on the roots of this angst which the ‘adopted child’ manifests (to borrow Defoort’s Wittgensteinian metaphor) I believe a rigorous study of Chinese Philosophy and the politics of its translingual practices at the time of its formation, is imperative. 

The question which I want to examine should not be confused with the ontological condition whether “Philosophy” can truly be transformed to “Chinese Philosophy” (I take the commonsensical view that it clearly is possible since such a translation took place more than a hundred years ago), rather what I want to address is ‘‘what were the particularities when two culturally distinct modes of thinking in their accosting of each other, encountered, clashed and merged?”. My intention is not to apply an erroneous pseudo-Hegelian dialectic which dichotomizes “west” and “east” as two polar opposites that later met half way and mixed, but rather to point towards the realpolitik when the West asserted its dominance in terms of material and ideological prowess over China in the late 19th and early 20th century and the Chinese riposte, rejoinders and responses. My concern is with the agencies, powers and wills behind the philosophical and historical works that eventually led to the creation of Chinese Philosophy. More specifically my interest revolves around when Philosophy gets translated as zhexue (哲学), and how it is later reinvented and developed as Chinese Philosophy, or zhongguozhexue (中国哲学) – forever changing the Chinese tradition of framing intellectual thinking.