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Exploring Chinese Wisdom



It's seven o'clock on a Sunday morning. The sound of footsteps broke the silence in the office area of Shaanxi Normal University's School of Politics and Economics. With the turning of a key opening an office on the third floor, a white-haired old gentleman entered the room and began his day of work.

For more than thirty years, this gentleman could be seen working almost every weekend and holiday. He is Liu Xuezhi, a professor of Chinese philosophy.

Chinese philosophy is a huge domain of research. It is an arduous task to delineate the development of Chinese philosophy from voluminous materials over several thousand years, from the political views of pre-Qin scholars, the universe view in Han Dynasty philosophy, and the ontology of metaphysics in Wei and Jin Dynasties ...... From 1990 to 1993, Liu Xuezhi concentrated on reading books and sorting documents while his son was drafted in the army. “I only began to study Chinese philosophy at the age of 34. As a slow sparrow, it wasn’t possible for me to make an early start, so I must move faster to catch up. So I found it extremely difficult to read classic documents, for traditional Chinese classics such as The Four Books (The Great Learning, The Doctrine of the Mean, The Confucian Analects, and The Works of Mencius) and The Five Classics (The Book of Songs, The Book of History, The Book of Changes, The Book of Rites and The Spring and Autumn Annals) were criticized during the Cultural Revolution (1966 - 1976).”

In order to challenge himself and make a breakthrough in his research in philosophy, he worked day and night. For many summer days, he worked late into the night, ignoring the mosquito bites or shirt soaked from sweat. After three years of toil, he finished writing The Journey of Chinese Philosophy, a unique book different from the prevailing structure of the time. The references in this book take up five full pages, including 63 ancient documents and 55 modern documents. The book was well received after publication and was reviewed as a powerful and creative research with remarkable depth.

From 1998 to 2006, he spent eight years co-editing the six-volume Chronicle of Chinese Academic Thoughts, documenting the over 3000 years evolution and development of Chinese academic thoughts in annalistic style from pre-Qin Dynasty to late Qing Dynasty. He wrote the two volumes of Wei, Jin, Southern and Northern Dynasties and Sui, Tang and Five Dynasties, totaling 1.06 million Chinese characters. In 2007, the book was awarded one of the one best hundred books in humanities and social sciences by the State Press and Publication Administration. It was acclaimed by Mr. Guo Qiyong, dean of School of Philosophy of Wuhan University as a book “filling in the void in the study of Chinese philosophy”. Shaanxi Social Science Association honorary chairman Zhao Fujie commented that “with its solid and innovative research work based on abundant materials and broad academic vision, this book is far more valuable than those works based only on fragments of historical evidence or even isolated proof.”

Liu Xuezhi will not be content with just his finished works, but continues to expand his research area to Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, Song-Ming Neo-Confucianism, with special emphasis on Guanxue Studies, the sector of Neo-Confucianism initiated by Zhang Zai. He even studied the academic thought of Korean philosopher Cao Nanming of the Lee Dynasty (1392-1910). In his book Guanxue Studies, Nanming Studies and East Asian Civilization, he wrote about Zhang Zai and Guanxue studies, Cao Nanming's academic thought, as well as Confucianism and East Asian civilization.

“In the scope of Chinese philosophy, one can only understand a philosopher after he understands several, and one can only truly understand the thinking of one particular scholar only after he has a thorough understanding of the history of Chinese philosophy.” In this belief, he ploughed the field extensively and put forth many insightful and influential academic views.

In August, 2015, A Collection of Guanxue Studies, a book listed in the Key Publication Project in China’s Twelfth Five-year Plan, was published. It is the first Chinese book series which has proofread, sorted and studied the basic academic documents in Guanxue studies. Liu Xuezhi is the chief editor of the series, responsible for the management of the editing and compiling of the whole book and the writing of three volumes of the series.

If one had to add a title before the name Liu Xuezhi, it could only be professor or scholar. In his eyes, doing research is just the basic duty of a university teacher, “Higher education should always be at the frontier of the discipline. A university teacher must do good research to lead his students.” Without interference from administrative duties or complicated social relations, Liu Xuezhi spent several decades concentrating on academic research, treating it as something to be proud of and enjoy. In the eyes of his students, he is an old gentleman. “Prof. Liu does not concern himself with either fame or profit. What he does is solid research. He is like an old farmer dedicated to the land.” Said his student Gao Huaxia.

At almost seventy years old, Liu Xuezhi is still doing his research. He is now working on the major project of the Historical Study of Relationship Between Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism, a key project of the Ministry of Education of China.

In Taoist doctrine, inaction or letting things take their own course is advocated, but Liu Xuezhi thinks differently that inaction is conditional. He maintains that “One may not be able to change his life experience, but one can control the effort one puts into work. You have to do the very best you can, if you do not want your life to just slip by.”

Text by Liu Jie, Feng Wei

Photo by Feng Wei

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