20th International ISCP, Day 1

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Dear All

Here is a brief report on the first day of the ISCP 2017 conference held at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore: Chinese Philosophy in a Multicultural World. Those of you who could not make it this time can get a sense of what is going on here.

20th International Conference of the International Society for Chinese Philosophy
Day 1, July 4th, 2017

Opening Ceremony

President Chenyang Li opened the conference with remembrance of two former presidents of the ISCP: Professor Shu-hsien Liu and Professor Jiyuan Yu, both passed away in 2016.  He also shared the sad news of the recent passing of Henry Rosemont, Jr. (1934-2017).  All participants were asked to rise up to give a two-minute silence in memoriam.

Dean Alan Chan gave a welcoming speech next. He explained that this 20th ISCP conference, with more than 200 participants from various countries, is the largest ISCP international conference to date. He attributed this phenomenal success to Chenyang Li and his team. He also thanked the sponsors of this conference: Center for Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, Nanyang Confucian Association, Singapore, Pei Hwa Foundation, and Modern Confucianism Foundation Ltd.

Chenyang Li explained that this is a Green conference; hence, no paper or abstract is printed out. Instead, they are available on the website. The organizers also provided the gift of a smartly designed square refillable water bottle for all participants to reduce the wasteful production of plastic bottles.  This is really a model that other conference organizers should emulate.

The first plenary speaker is Dr. Robert C. Neville from Boston University, a long-time leader of the ISCP.  The title of Neville’s talk is “Ritual and Creativity.” He explains that whereas rituals dictate rules of human interactions, creativity is needed for individual space and personal integration.  Rituals are in all aspects of our lives; our life is fundamentally a ritualized life. Creativity is required for individual expressions and maneuvers of rituals. There are of course certain rituals that are harmful, such as racism and sexism. Critical analysis of rituals requires creativity that stands outside the box. Thirdly, the invention of new rituals requires creativity. Sometimes the old rituals and the new ones do not cohere with one another. Nevertheless, we should not be afraid to open new paths. Furthermore, rituals support spontaneity. A well-played life provides leisure and leisure allows spontaneity. Neville suggests that the dichotomy between individualism and participation is mistaken. Each of us in our core has all sorts of ritual forms that make us complete. Over lifetime, we make who we are by the choices we make and the paths we take.  The days are over when people are forced to take the paths that their parents set for them. Each of us gives personal integration of various rituals in our life. We humans leave environmental footprints (so it is good that this is a Green conference). Many of our effects on others and on the world are of course out of our control. Nevertheless, the best way to make ourselves better people is to take what we can control and to make the best of it by our personal and conjoined actions. Such creativity does not stand in opposition of ritualized life; on the contrary, creativity can enhance the richness of our ritualized life.

The second plenary session includes two keynote speakers: Professor Carine Defoort from KU Leuven and Professor Tao Liang from Renmin University.  Defoort’s talk argues that Confucianism and Mohism should not regard each other as archenemies. She analyzes the connection between Kongzi and Mozi and suggests that the negative references of each other in the texts should be read as “constructions,” rather than literally. The two schools have more in common than disagreement.  She cites Kang Youwei’s (1858-1927) view that Mozi was a religious leader, and that Confucius was not any less a religious leader too.  In Kang’s view, for Confucianism to emerge as a religion, it needs a rival religion; hence, Mohism was treated as an opposing school.  Defoort further argues that it was Mencius who presented Mohism as a foe, highlighting the latter’s theory of “care without gradations.” In Mencius’ characterization, Mohism is demonized and oversimplified. Some later Confucian scholars did raise doubt about Mencius’ reading of Mohism. In the West, beginning in the 19th century, scholars raised serious objections to Mencius’ reading of Mohism and his “unjust” accusation. The key doctrine of Mohism should be on inclusiveness rather than equality in one’s love and care of others. She concludes that we need to do more careful study on the philosophical differences between the two schools.

Professor Liang Tao talks about the integration of Mencius and Xunzi. He said that he has been advocating a new Confucian lineage: The old lineage for Confucians is Kongzi — Zengzi — Zisi — Mengzi. New lineage for the transition of Dao is Kongzi — 72 disciples — Zisi — Mencius — Xunzi. Liang further suggests that we adopt new “Four Books”: AnalectsBook of RitesMengzi, and Xunzi.  An obvious difficulty for his integration of Mencius and Xunzi is of course the apparent disagreement of their view on human nature. Liang argues that Xunzi’s view is not really that human nature is evil, and that good is the result of external efforts. He cites the excavated text and Pang Pu’s interpretation that what Xunzi meant by effort (“wei”) was not external efforts, but “conscious exertion.”  The term ‘wei’ refers to activities of heart-mind. So Xunzi’s view should be read as “human nature is bad and heart-mind is good.”  The heart-mind for Xunzi is moral and intelligent, being inclined to goodness. So the debate between Mencius and Xunzi is actually not on whether human nature is good or bad; rather, it is on whether morality is based on human nature of human heart-mind.

The host has been very generous in providing tea breaks and luncheon. Tea breaks came with delicious appetizers, desserts, fresh fruit, in addition to coffee and tea. The luncheon was a huge buffet with three options: Western, Asian and Vegetarian. The breaks and lunch are set in a casual atmosphere conducive to interpersonal exchanges. Many participants are able to catch up with old acquaintances or make new ones.

The afternoon program consists of two time slots, each with six concurrent sessions, some in Chinese and some in English. The rest of the conference will be mostly similar to the first day — one plenary session and several concurrent sessions. The conference closes on July 7th.  A final report will be given after the conference is concluded.








Respectfully submitted
JeeLoo Liu
Executive Director of the ISCP

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