Gan Chunsong: Tianxia and State – the Concepts and Ideals of Confucianism
The Institute of International & Strategic Studies (IISS), Peking University (PKU) held the 4th lecture of “North Pavilion Seminar” series on December 21, 2015, featuring the keynote speech entitled “Tianxia and State – the Concepts and Ideals of Confucianism” made by Prof. Gan Chunsong from the Department of Philosophy, and of Religious Studies, PKU and a Q&A section between Prof. Gan and teachers and students at the seminar. Prof. Wang Jisi, President of the IISS, PKU, as well as Prof. Yin Hongbiao, Associate Prof. Yu Tiejun and Jie Dalei, teachers of School of International Studies, PKU, attended the seminar. The seminar was hosted by Associate Prof. Gui Yongtao, Assistant President of the IISS, PKU.
Prof. Gan Chunsong first shared his view on the “concept of Tianxia” (天下观). He introduced the “theory of three stages of human history” (三世说). Originating from the Gongyang scholarship (公羊学), the theory of three stages of human history argues that rise and fall and chaos and stability of human society evolve overtime and could be divided into three phases – political chaos and social anomy (据乱), reestablishment of legitimate political order (升平) and great harmony of the world (太平). The “three stages” only discuss the change from chaos to stability of human society, and they don’t include the issue of transform of the nature of human society. Prof. Gan argued that the significance of the theory of three stages of human history is “changing the system”, because according to the Gongyang scholarship’s study on Spring and Autumn Annals, Confucius has set out the code of social and political order when compiling Spring and Autumn Annals.
Prof. Gan then shared his view on the “concept of distinction between Chinese and non-Chinese cultures” (夷夏观). In his view, the ancient Chinese have no concept of race, they only have the concept of culture. In Mencius’s theory of “revering the king, expelling the barbarians” (尊王攘夷), the “king” does not refer to a powerful state, but refers to a state whose political system is designed in line with Confucianism. The distinction between Chinese and non-Chinese cultures through “revering the king, expelling the barbarians” actually establishes criteria for civilization. Therefore, “revering the king, expelling the barbarians” has nothing to do with race, but is essentially criticism on the unjustified order and praise for the justified order.
Prof. Gan also explained the theory: “for a king, there are no aliens” (王者无外). “King” is not a term for a political position, but a term describing the value. Confucianism holds that “honor the aged of other families as we honor our own”, which applies to the “king” as well. A “king” must begin with loving the people around him, then he is able to love the people of his state, and love all creatures in the world.
Prof. Gan concluded the seminar with his interpretation of the concepts of “Tianxia” and “State”. In Confucianism, the core of the “Tianxia” concept is the “spirit of humaneness” and “for a king, there are no aliens”, of which the “spirit of humaneness” is the essence, “for a king, there are no aliens” is the system that protects the essence, and concepts like the “distinction between Chinese and non-Chinese cultures” and the “three stages of human history” can help us understand “Tianxia”.
Prof. Gan finally pointed out that at present, we need to reflect on the structure of existing world order, and reflect on the structure of existing domestic order as well. It should be possible for China to construct order based on China’s cultural traditions, providing the Chinese with concepts of “Tianxia" and “State”, rather than simply follow Western concepts.
During the Q&A section, Prof. Gan discussed issues like how to spread the “concept of Tianxia” to the world and how to build a world order in line with the “concept of Tianxia” with teachers and students at the seminar.
The IISS, PKU has successfully held four seminars of the “North Pavilion Seminar” series since September, 2015. The seminar series provides experts, scholars and students in the field of international studies with a platform. As a long-term exchange activity, it welcomes suggestions of keynote speakers and themes. We are looking forward to discussing more issues of depth and significance with you at the “North Pavilion Seminar” series in the coming year.
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