My Views on "Chinese Traditional Studies"

Contemporary Chinese Thought 30 (3):23-28 (1999)

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Abstract
I'm now in my forties, but my teacher is still alive and well; so I'm still one of the junior generation. When I was a graduate student, my teacher told me that I didn't have enough background in Chinese traditional studies, and in a burst of energy I went off and read my way, albeit in a rather random fashion, through everything from the Four Books to the Cheng brothers [Cheng Hao and Cheng Yi, Confucian scholars of the Song dynasty] and Zhu Xi. My studies had started off with fiction, and the Four Books came afterwards; I had started off as an "educated youth," and became a student later. Doing things that way round, one can expect to have problems; but even so, when I read the ancient classics, I still feel some singular emotions, which I cherish purely because they are my own. When I finished reading the Analects and closed my eyes to think about it, I felt that to utter those great truths so often and so earnestly Confucius must have been a very sweet and naive old man. His students were always hanging on his every word and, in his concern for them, he said that A could do this, or B could do that, like an old lady listing the characteristics of her grandchildren. Sometimes the old gentleman had a furtive side to him, as in the chapter "The Master went to see Nanzi" [See Analects VI. 28; Nanzi was the wife of Duke Ling of Wei]. When he emerged, he insisted that he had committed no "impropriety." In a nutshell, I liked him, and if I had been born during the Spring and Autumn period [722-481 b.c.e.], I would have gone and studied under him, because the atmosphere round him was like that of the Pickwick Club. His ideas were actually pretty ordinary, and there is nothing special about them to win our admiration. The ceremonial on which he laid such particular emphasis was in my view much the same as the rituals performed during the Cultural Revolution—I've been through all those morning requests for instructions and evening reports myself and it wasn't very interesting. It may be indispensable for the very young, but for educated adults it is a burden. However, if I'd gone along to be taught by Confucius, I would have gone for the atmosphere, and I would not have expected to learn much
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DOI 10.2753/CSP1097-1467300323
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