12 Pages

Philosophy in China: Historiography by A. S. CUA

The translation of western philosophical concepts and doctrines provides an impetus for the development of Chinese philosophical discourse. In perusing a Chinese dictionary of philosophy, first published in l925 (Zhexue cidian), we find a few Chinese translations of philosophical subjects and terms still in current use, e.g., ethics, logic, ontology, essence, accident, substance, attributes, and reason. In fact “logic” appears as a transliteration that becomes part of modern Chinese. It is instructive to reflect how some translations represent an effort to find functional equivalents in Chinese. Consider the word “philosophy.” An ingenious Japanese scholar’s translation of “philosophy” as zhexue is a good example. In Chinese the first character or graph zhe means wisdom. An alternative term for wisdom is zhi, often used interchangeably with its homophone, meaning “knowledge” or “capacity to acquire knowledge” (or both). Given their primarily practical focus, ancient Chinese thinkers were, for the most part, preoccupied with ethical questions about right conduct and the best conception of human life. The good human life is commonly envisaged by the Confucians as a life of ren, an affectionate concern for the well-being of one’s fellows in a society or state governed by a wise and virtuous ruler. Xue is learning. “Philosophy” translated as zhexue means in Chinese “learning to become a wise and knowledgeable person.” As learning and practice can be a delightful experience, the student may come to love the subject.