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Wang Guowei, Gu Hongming and Chinese Philosophical Modernity

This paper aims to explore the issue of modernity in Chinese philosophy in the early 20th century. The case study focuses on modern scholar Wang Guowei 王國維 (1877-1927)’s criticism of his contemporary Gu Hongming辜鴻銘 (1857-1928)’s English translation of the classical Confucian text Zhongyong. I argue that Wang Guowei and Gu Hongming’s case in fact demonstrates two alternative approaches towards philosophical dialogue and cultural exchange. Wang’s approach is a very cultural context-sensitive one: understanding the differences and selecting what is needed for cultural inspiration and reformation—we could call this approach nalaizhuyi拿來主義 (taking-inism)—borrowing without touching the cultural essence. Gu’s approach is more a songchuzhuyi送出主義 (sending-outism). It is a global-local context sensitive one: searching for the local’s path towards the global. Reevaluating Gu’s not very exact cultural translation can provide an opportunity to look beyond the “modernization complex,” deconstruct westernization “spell,” and build a new internationalism. I further argue that Gu’s case represents a kind of risky songchuzhuyi and a false internationalism which makes the native culture speak in the other’s terms while Wang’s cultural stand and his “journey” back to his own cultural sensibility sticks to its own terms and discovers the value of the culture. I then further look at Wang Guowei’s ideal of shenshengzhuyi生生主義 (live-life-ism) which was originally expressed in his Hongloumeng Pinglun 《红楼梦评论》(Critique of A Dream of Red Mansions, 1904) and claim that not only can the ideal of shengshengzhuyi explain the underlying reason for an essential turn in Wang’s academic interests from Western philosophy to Chinese history and archaeology, but it can also be applied positively to the contemporary world.

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