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Tan Sitong (T’an Ssu-t’ung) by Lauren PFISTER

An eclectic philosopher, Tan Sitong (1865-1898) sought to integrate selective religious, philosophical, scientific, and political themes into a coherent reformist philosophy. Tan was the son of a governor of Hubei Province. He was trained in traditional Confucian texts but was also influenced by Chinese Buddhist teachings, and he was later stimulated by exposure to a wide range of translated western texts. Convinced of the need for political reform in China, he became attached to Liang Qichao (1873-1929) and the teachings of Kang Youwei (1858-1927) in the mid-1890s, and worked actively to support their reformist platform. His single most important work, Renxue (An Exposition of Benevolence), completed in 1897, amalgamates all these various influences into an unusual monistic philosophy. In 1898, when Kang’s policies received imperial support, Tan was called to Beijing and arrived just in time to be caught up in a reactionary military coup. After Tan was executed by the military leaders who deposed the reformers, his Renxue was published for the first time by Liang in 1899.