KI-Media2 KI Media Tu Weiming — On Confucian Humanism and the Ethic of Responsibility

Chinese Statecraft

“The intellectuals cannot produce, cannot manufacture, cannot exchange goods; but they are not useless because they help the governance and sometimes, in an idealized sense, they can be critics and even teachers of kings.”

This is a transcript of a public lecture held at Stanford University on Feb 21st 2012.

[NB: This article is reproduced here in its ‘original’ form without any literary editing or adjustment on my part. It is thus rather incongruous in places – especially for the purists! – though not so ill-scribed or mistranslated as to detract from its central ideas or thesis –School of Vice]

“Those who practice the art of science or managing the affairs of state will have to be people with personal integrity and ethic of responsibility.”

The Confucian zheng rendered as “politics,” zhengzhi in Modern Chinese, is defined as “rectification,” also the character zh eng. It means to rectify the status quo so that it becomes correct. The assumption is that the right people, right institutions, and right ideas are defining characteristics of right politics.

The junzi, or sometimes rendered as the shi junzi, the functional equivalent of what I want to argue is the modern idea of the intellectual, are considered the right people to rule. The junzi in this sense is very different from the Greek idea of the philosopher, the Judaic rabbi, the Hindu guru, the Christian priest, the Buddhist monk, or even the Islamic ulama.

“He who is firmly seated in authority soon learns to think ‘security’, and not progress, the highest lesson in statecraft.”

-James Russell Lowell

Even though an intellectual in that sense carries functions comparable to them, as exemplar, as a knowledgeable person, as a wise person, and also as a person endowed with some spiritual exercise. This idea, the modern idea of the intellectual, of course is from the Russian notion of a member of the ‘intelligentsia,’ but in the Russian tradition it is very clear that anyone who is an intellectual is definitely a critic of not only the government but the establishment. So (Andrei) Sakharov was an intellectual, but (Mikhail) Gorbatchev will never become an intellectual in terms of that definition. Modern Chinese have been deeply under the influence of this idea.

In the classic sense of the junzi as maybe a public intellectual was politically engaged, socially involved, and culturally sensitive and informed. So, the idea is very much a person of the word, and yet transforming the world from within; he is in the world and not of the world.

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