“”The Great Learning”: Daxue and University: China versus The West
A lot of people search endlessly for the secret key or a magic formula that would enable them to understand China. Naturally, at some point they will want to know how the Chinese are educated. The Middle kingdom has many prestigious schools, but let us take a closer look at Peking University, the mother lode of the Chinese wenming.
Wenming is often translated as “civilization,” but that is misleading. In a recent lecture at Peking University, the renowned linguist Gu Zhengkun explained that wenming describes a high level of ethics and gentleness of a people, while the English word “civilization” derives from a city people’s mastery over materials and technology. Think about rockets and architecture.
The junzi is the ideal personality in China’s family value-based tradition, while a shengren is its highest member, a sage who has perfected the highest moral standards, called de, who mastered the principles of ren, yi, li, zhi and xin, and who now connects between all the people as if they were, metaphorically speaking, his family. The historian Tu Weiming even calls the shengren “the highest form of an authentic human being.”
The junzi and shengren of Confucianism are as clearly defined, unique, and non-European as for example the bodhisattvas and buddhas of Buddhism are.
Yet the former are completely unknown to the educated Western public due to erroneous, biblical and philosophical European translations dating back to the 17th to 19th centuries.
As the historian Howard Zinn once remarked: “If something is omitted from history, you have no way of knowing it is omitted.”
While a Western university’s principal aim is to produce a skilled expert, a Chinese daxue’s principal aim is to cultivate an ideal character.
Of course, some Western philosophers like Immanuel Kant and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel have traditionally played down Chinese socio-cultural originality.
Western scholarship is strategically withholding valuable information about China – it will always prefer European terminology to describe China because it wants to keep what the Germans call deutungshoheit – the prerogative of final explanation. Or, as Slovenian philosopher and critical theorist Slavoj Zizek once said: “The true victory (the true ‘negation of the negation’) occurs when the enemy talks your language.”