Ai siqi’s reading of “exisience vs. consciousness”
2017-11-01 publish

The study arises because of the problematic reading of “dialectical materialism” in Chinese Marxism by Western scholars.Most of these scholarshave ageneral consensus; Marx is determinist while Mao Zedong voluntarist. Joshua Fogel is one of the few who have challenged the consensusbyarguing thatin his studythe dichotomy ofvoluntarism/determinism as a philosophical problem did not exist in Ai’s philosophy. Fogel is clearly correct in this. But one needs to see how Ai escapes this and how, if I am right, Fogel does not.

In thispaperI would like to draw attention to a fundamental tradition that paved a way for Ai’s escape of the charge. I follow the line of the correlative style of thought assumptions provided by David Hall and Roger Ames and identifytongbianas a clear style of "thought" (or philosophy), which is distinctly Chinese but not necessarily uniquely Chinese. It was formulated in ancient philosophical literature such as theYijing, and has been powerful and available to Chinese intellectuals in their reading of Marxist thought after it was introduced to China. Chinese Marxism finds its roots in Engels but reads him in a distinctly different way and, by drawing ontongbian, develops into a strong and useful strand of thought which overcomes some of the difficulties that have attended Western Marxisms. The development of the Chinese discourseof Marxismhelps us to see that many standard readings of Chinese Marxism, which juxtapose dialectics withbianzhengfa, or employ a determinism/ voluntarism dichotomy, are misunderstandings.

Cosmological assumptions of the Western tradition has led to the differences of Western Marxism from the strand oftongbianthought of the Chinese tradition that has developed independently. Thetongbianphilosophy facilitated reading Western Marxism in a worldview ofcontinuity between all things or events, a worldview absent of transcendence and a single-order, in which the complementary and contradictory interactions of the two basic elements of a polarity likeyin-yangconstitute the forces, and produce change.

Ai's discussionon “existence vs. consciousness”is entirely based upon Russian texts, his versionisnot Mainstream Marxism.Ai’ssinification includes not only a study of "Chinese history, the Chinese situation today, and the experiences of Chinese revolution, but also full reflections on the modality of thinking that is particular to Chinese and all schools of thought in both the past and present," "to study China's own philosophy and further develop the elements of 'materialism and dialectic' in our own tradition.”We have to be aware what Ai means by claiming a “sinification.”

Fogel offers a realistic reading of Ai. As he conceives, Ai escapes adichotomy ofdeterminism/voluntarism simply because his discussions of philosophical issues often constitute a basis for his central concerns: war and revolution. Ai holds that under no circumstances could a deterministic or passive attitude rid China of Japan’s presence as well as domestic oppression. No amount of wishful thinking could make the truth of Japan’s threat to China’s existence disappear. Fogel claims, when we focus on these of Ai’s concerns, the issue of subjectivity apparently falls by the wayside. For him, Ai’s solution to “voluntarism/determinism” dichotomy depends on his focus on his central concerns. Fogel simply hasn’t solved the problem. His claim of Ai’s escape of the charge of a “voluntarism/determinism” dichotomy does not distance him from the general “determinism vs. voluntarism” consensus among China students in the West. Fogel says that Ai seems not to be fully aware of or overly concerned with it. An example is Fogel’s commentary on Ai’s discussion ofWeltanschauung(shijie guanÊÀ ½ç ¹Û).

Ai identifies ontology (benti lun±¾ Ìå ÂÛ) withWeltanschauung(shijie guanÊÀ ½ç ¹Û) and he entitles the second chapter of hisTalks“Ontology(world viewsÊÀ ½ç ¹Û),” though he does not seem to have bothered himself about a discussion of the concept “ontology.” He appears not to be even interested in giving a definition of “world view.” Ai rather cites examples and images of different “world views” in order to explain that one’s worldview is fundamentally a result of one’s living status and environment. A striking analogue Ai makes in stressing the point is a famous old Chinese saying “a frog’s view from the well”¾® µ× Ö® ÍÜ. The sky is, as we usually see it, vast and boundless, Ai says. From the perspective of a frog at the bottom of a well, however, what is seen is only a tiny speck of the sky, since the well confines the frog’s view. Hence, as the worldview of a frog living in a well, the sky is very small; the position of living in a well fails him in obtaining a broader view. Does Ai advocate a deterministic position here to his readers?

As Fogel reads this, he assumes that Ai is arguing that one’s world view is “adirectresult of one’s social position and environment.” Ai seems to make an indirect reference to Marx’s famous, although somewhat unclear, phrase from the `Preface’ toA Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy: “It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but…their social being that determines their consciousness.” Hence Fogel claims, “like many Marxists before him, Ai reduces the relationship so that being determines consciousness along a one-way path.” Fogel obviously reads Ai as a fundamental determinist; he also conceives Ai as switching back and forth between voluntarism and determinism. Despite what he perceives in Ai’s work as materialistic reductionism, Fogel says,

“Subjectivity manages to assert itself at key moments in the face of the theoretical bonds which seemed to have been placed on it. This is probably because the central goal for the Chinese Communists during the 1930s was to rouse the people to resist Japan and eventually to change the prevailing order.” “In one instance, Ai defines practice as `changing the world, the activity of changing the environment’, and he claims that it is the determinant of the validity of a subjective idea.”


In addition, Fogel believes Ai had painted himself into the corner of determinism, but later on his writings strayed from his early environmental determinism and began to stress subjective consciousness somewhat more after he arrived in Yan’an. Eventually, Ai again reverted to a more mechanical epistemology after the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Fogel’s reading of Ai is confusing; Ai’s philosophy can be some times deterministic and other time voluntarist. And his switch to voluntarism is solely because of his central interest in citing examples to provide a form of voluntarism and makes use of an event fresh in the minds of his readers. Fogel seems to forget that Ai is Chinese and fails to make any effort to say what this means.

Fogel is probably right that Ai has an indirect reference to Marx’s phrase from the “Preface” toA Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy: “It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but…their social being that determines their consciousness.” He is merely “probably right” because we do not know exactly how familiar Ai was with this phrase when he wrote the philosophical talks. Ai had not had a direct reference to the phrase until in March 1939 he includedas an appendix in hisZhexue xuanji(Philosophical Selections) Bo Gu’s translation of Stalin’s “Dialectical and Historical Materialism,” in which the phrase of Marx was quoted. And in the same year he prepared a textbook entitledWeiwu shi guan(The Materialist View on History) for Party members in Yan’an. However, he must have heard and read a lot about the phrase since the concept of historical materialism had been very popular at that time. Yet, the issue here is: even though Ai has an indirect reference to the phrase,his citing “a frog’s view from well” does not necessarily mean the same claim. We have to keep in mind Ai is Chinese and what this means. The world, as much understood by Ai as seen in the strand oftong-bianphilosophy, should not be mistaken as one of a single order, of causality, or of the “A decides B,” or “If…, then…,” formula. The issue of social existence vs. consciousness, if any, in Ai’s presentation needs to be comprehended under the general understanding that there is no final distinction between physical and psychical aspects of existence. For Ai, each of the two--social existence and consciousness—may constitute the other’s continuity, and this understanding makes social existence and consciousness mutually distinguishable through comparison.

The Chinese translations for “social,” “existence,” “determine,” and “consciousness” areshehuiÉç »á µÄ,cunzai´æ ÔÚ,jueding¾ö ¶¨(determine, decide), andyishiÒâ ʶ (consciousness). The four Chinese terms were all from classical Chinese expressions.ShehuiÉç »áandyishiwere used first by Japanese in translating “society or social” and “consciousness,” andcunzaiandjuedingwere directly taken as they were from classic Chinese and rendered to carry the meanings of “existence” and “determine or decide.” Fogel believes that Ai’s example of “a frog’s view from the well” is the same dichotomy and an equivalent of the discourse that being determines consciousness along a one-way path. However, an investigation of the meanings in classical Chinese will help us understand that the conceptual significance of “social existence,” “determines or decides,” and “consciousness” does not accompany their Chinese translation and therefore Fogel is wrong in his comprehension.

Whenshehuiwas first used by Japanese asshakaito translate “society or social,” it had been taken fromDongjing meng hua lu, an ancient book describing customary events and occasions in the Song Dynasty capital.Shehuiwas referred to “QiusheÇï Éç,” or “Autumn Gathering.” If we trace further back and in more detail, we discover the charactersheÉçis closely related to the ancient ritual ceremony of soil worship in the Early Zhou period (1050-770 BC).Shemay mean “altar of the soil” and “sacrifice to the soil” as in “fu yong ming lu yu she¸¥ Óà Ãü ¾ ÓÚ Éç(If you do not obey my orders, you will be killed at the altar of the soil.) [ShujingÊé ¾­]” and “yi she yi fangÒÔ Éç ÒÔ ·½(With them [the victims] we sacrifice to the soil and four directions).” In addition, in theShuo wenLexicon is referred to as “a system of the Zhou Dynasty, which was comprised of twenty-five households.” The lexicon also explains that “withshiʾ(to show) andtuÍÁ(soil),shemeans that soil hosts.” The explanation is also found in theKangxilexicon. The example is: “ren fei tu bu li, fengtu lishe shi you tudiÈË ·Ç ÍÁ ²» Á¢ £¬ ·â ÍÁ Á¢ É磬 ʾ ÓÐ ÍÁ µØ,” (One cannot stand without soil, so [when he is] granted a land, he sets up a shrine to show he has got a land) [Baihutong°× »¢ ͨ]. Indeed, theKangxilexicon provides as many as a dozen of analogous references.Shemay meantudishenzhuÍÁ µØ Éñ Ö÷(the spiritual master of soil), the occasion of a kingdom founder worship with theshejiÉç ð¢(altars of soil and grain spirits) on the right andzongmiao×Ú Ãí(the ancestral shrine) on the left, andhoutuºóÍÁas official title. Asdashe´ó Éç(grand soil worship), the Son of Heaven Ìì ×Ó holds a majestic ceremony in getting through to sky and earth with a free flow ofqiÆø.Sishe˽ Éçmeans that there were ten or five households which comprised ashewhile in fact asherequired as many as twenty-five.ShuzheÊé Éçmeans to write down the names ofshemembers when twenty-five households constituted aliÀï(neighborhood) and set up ashe.SheriÉç ÈÕrefers to the day theshemembers have a gathering. According toYueling guangyiÔ Áî ¹ã Òå(Broad Meanings of the Months), there were two major gatherings: Spring Gathering´º Éçfollowing the Beginning of Spring, and Autumn GatheringÇï Éçfalling after the Beginning of Autumn. Afterwards there came the termjieshe½á Éç, a gathering of guests or friends. In all these analogous references, we can find nothing conceptually significant as that accompanied by “society or social,” that is, the “totality of the relations of mutually related people based upon cooperative material production activities,” or “groups of people who set up mutual relations due to shared material conditions.” And even if in terms of “social existence” vs. consciousness,shehuiindeed refers to nothing like the material production relations between people, but to spiritual relations between humanity and nature.Xin eryawas a dictionary including many of the earliest entries of Western Learning (xi xueÎ÷ ѧ), it definesshehuiindecisively, which is: “a community of more than two people living with each other cooperatively is called “group (qunȺ),” or “society (shehui).” We may sufficiently say, the fact thatshehuiwas adopted as an equivalent for “society or social” in translating Western philosophical concepts was just a farfetched practice.

As forcunzai´æ ÔÚ, which was adopted as an equivalent for “existence,” it just has a three-character explanation “ji zai ye¼´ ÔÚ Ò²([It] just meanszaiÔÚ)” in theEncyclopedia Dictionary of the Chinese Language.And yet, there is an extract fromLi jiÀñ ¼Ç, “junzi jian shang da xiang si yan, zhi li yue suo cunzai ye¾ý ×Ó ¼û ÉÏ ´ó ÷Ï ËÄ ÑÉ,  Öª Àñ ÀÖ

 Ëù ´æ ÔÚ Ò²,” or the exemplary person (¾ý ×Ó ) observes that the grand feast have a sequence of four music performance sections, and then learns [the nature] that is preserved in the ceremony and music performance.” And an even clearer understanding ofcunzaican be attained from an explanation of the word “cun cun´æ ´æ”:

[It] just meanscunzai. [See] Xici I, theYijingÒ× ¾­: `The nature [of man] having been completed, and being continually preserved, it is the gate of all good courses and righteousness.’ [shuÊè(sub-commentary)]: `to make things grow without losing their nature (xingÐÔ), but preserving it as what the ten thousand things preserve; to make things have their nature maintain and complete [becoming]. Nature (xing) means what things have received from its very start, andcun´æmeans to preserve it until it ends.’


As the passage shows, of the strand oftongbianthought the conceptions of “nature” (xing) suggest a preference for processive over substantial understanding. The philosophy ofxingimplies that the initial distinction between things is exceedingly small, that even the difference is slight, and that one is able to realize hisxingor he does not relies on preserving it or looses it. Unlike in the conception of “nature,” to preservexingis not an assertion of some self-same essential identity; what it says is that at the incipient stage things are similar to each other. What makes a thing truly proper or a human being truly human is the process that begins from the beginning conditions.Xingis not something “inborn and innate” which endows certain qualities that a thing has to start with. It does not make a superordinate principle that inheres in all things at birth, but rather, the initial conditions need to be taken and acted upon as for a thing or human being to achieve appropriateness. In realizingxingto become an integrate part oftianÌì, a thing, or a human being, makes the most of what it (or he) has inherited, and nourishes, develops, cultivates, and grows its (his)xing, making it a primary defining character of its (his) particularity and appropriateness. This appeals to site-specificity and particularity ofxingÐÔ, allowing each thing embedded in a unique matrix of time and situation—for a person, natural, social, and cultural circumstances—that are constitutive ofxing. Hence,xingsuggests the dynamic process ofbecomingand weight of creative transformation upon the process of growth itself. Accordingly, in “preserving”xing,cunzaialso entails a dynamic process, which correspondingly requires a processive over substantial understanding, rather than an identification of the “essence” of things.

      To gain a better understanding of the Chinese termcunzai, we still need to explore some more references it brings with it.Cunzaiis comprised ofcunandzaiÔÚ, which are often interchangeable in suggesting “be in, at, or existing, etc.” It is very helpful to examine their analogous associations respectively. Interestingly we find in theKangxilexicon,cunmay also mean “cha²ì(examine),”andchameans to bezhaozhuÕÑ Öø(evident). Another example ofcun´æas “preserve” is in “cao ze cun, she ze wang²Ù Ôò ´æ Éá Ôò Íö(If you hold on to [xingÐÔ], you will preserve; if you abandon it, you get away.” [MenciusÃÏ ×Ó].Cun’sfurther meanings include “remain in” as in “zhi ai ze cunÖ °® Ôò ´æ(If you love [someone] extremely dearly, then [he/or she] will abide in [your heart]” [Li ji yiÀñ ¼À Òå], “xingÊ¡(inspect, examine)” as in “cun dian yi´æ µì ÒÍ([he] examines the ritual arrangement he has set up)” [Zhou li tian guanÖÜ Àñ Ìì ¹Ù], and “xingÐÑ(stay awake)” as in “yu zhong ye cunÓÚ ÖÐ Ò¹ ´æ([I ] stayed awake in the middle of night)” [Chu ci yuan you³þ ´Ç ¡¤ Ô¶ ÓÎ]. Associated withcun, there is also another analogous example in the Schuesster’s dictionary, which suggests “be among, or to rest,” that is, “fei wo si cun·Ë ÎÒ Ë¼ ´æ([These girls] are not those in whom my thoughts rest)”[ShijingÊ« ¾­]. All the analogous associations withcuncharacterize the activities of specific persons or things in particular contexts and in terms of events. This does not involve a mere shift of perspective from the agent to its acts, or from “to determine to the determined.” “To preserve and the preserved,” “to examine and the examined,” “to survive and the survived,” “to love and the loved,” “to rest in and to be rested in,” so on and forth, are not disjunctive concepts but appeal to conceptual polarity. The paired agency and act are not presumably isolated from each other. The agent is as much as a consequence of his act as its cause.Cunentails both physical and psychical aspects of existence that were construed as a continuum, and there is not a final distinction in between.

       ZaiÔÚis explained bycuninShuo wen jiezi˵ ÎÄ ½â ×Ö. Here is the same extract fromLi jiÀñ ¼Ç, “junzi jian shang da xiang si yan, zhi li yue suo cunzai ye¾ý ×Ó ¼û ÉÏ ´ó ÷ÏËÄ ÑÉ, Öª Àñ ÀÖ Ëù´æ ÔÚ Ò².”Zaijoinscunin characterizing the particular context of specific music performance. Hencecunandzaicombine to entail a conceptual polarity. Theycomparatively denote “to be preserved” and “to exist in,” whereas either of them suggests both “to preserve and to be preserved” or “to be preserved so to exist in” or “to exist and to be existed in.”Cunandzaithus entail each other and make each a continuity of the other; there is no distinguishable agency or act, and object or subject.

Besides,zaiis also associated withju¾Ó, occupy or reside, as in “zai xia wei er bu youÔÚ Ï λ ¶ø ²» ÓÇ([the exemplary person] occupies a low position without anxiety) [the YijingÒ× ¾­]. Zaiappears to be an act, but also something to act upon. For instance, it may mean “place” in “tianzi yi sihai weijia, wei suoju wei xing zai suoÌì ×Ó ÒÔËÄ º£ Ϊ¼Ò £¬ ν Ëù ¾Ó Ϊ ÐÐ ÔÚ Ëù.” (Son of Heaven makes everywhere his home, which means wherever he stays like being at home is a place he travels to)” [Cai yi du duan²Ì çß ¶À ¶Ï]. Also likecun,zaimeans “to be in, at, etc.,” “to exist,” and “to lie.” And still it has the same analogous reference to “cha²ìexamine, inspect),” for example, “pingzaishuo yiƽÔÚË· Ò×(arranged andinspectedthe work of the North).” [Shujing]; and again,chamay mean both an act “to examine” and something to be acted upon, “to bezhaozhuÕÑ Öøevident.”

ShehuiÉç »áandcunzai´æ ÔÚhad not been made into a combined expression until modern times, when their combination was used to translate the foreign concept “social existence.” In the cultural milieu of the strand oftong-bianͨ ±äphilosophy bothshehuiandcunzaiused to appeal to analogous associations of particular events, attempting a world of correlativity and continuity and the historicized and contextualized site-specification and particularity of things as in the dynamic process ofbecoming. Whatever is distinguishable is through comparison; conceptual dichotomy never emerged as a problem. In modern times they were farfetchedly combined into an expression to suggest a conceptual physis/nomos dualism and a single-ordered world with dishistoricized and decontextualized ubiquitous beings vs. non-beings, a universal organizing principle. The principle identifiesshehui-cunzaiÉç »á ´æ ÔÚas merely physical and essential aspect of existence. It is fully conceivable how difficult this would be as seen in the fact that in Ai’s popularization of the conception “social existence determines consciousness” the Chinese translationshehui cunzaiÉç »á ´æ ÔÚis substituted for byshenghuo diweiÉú »î µØ λ(living status) andhuanjing»· ¾³(circumstances). Ai apparently thinks that “shenghuodiwei” and “huanjing” are capable of passing the conceptual significance from the foreign term “social existence” to his Chinese readers. To represent “social existence” byshenghuo diweiandhuanjingis unquestionably easier for the Chinese to understand, though it is unfortunately less identifiable with “social existence”. The two words are more appealing thanshehui cunzaito analogous associations of particular events and more weighted on the site-specification and particularity of human beings regarding their unique matrix of natural, social, and cultural circumstances, which entail both physical and psychical aspects of existence.

     According to Gao Mingkai and Liu Zhengtan,huanjingis another classical Chinese expression that was used first by Japanese to translate Western concepts. Its classical Chinese source was a passage from “the Biography of Yu Que” in the History of Yuan Dynasty (Ôª Ê· ¡¤ Óà ãÚ ´«).Huanjingmeans “surroundings or on all sides” in the passage “yi tun tian zhan shou ji, huanjing zhu bao zhaiÒé ÍÍ Ìï Õ½ ÊØ ¼Æ »· ¾³ Öþ±¤íÎ([They] discussed the strategy of war and defense--to build fortresses and military camps on all sides.) The tricky point here is, one may conceptualize “surroundings or all sides” as objectively separate from human beings. For example,Encyclopedia Dictionary of the Chinese Languageequateshuanjingand environment, suggesting that it means everything that exists as surroundings of, but yet has impact on, living beings. Herbert Spencer first used this term to imply that, in order to exist, living beings must fit their environment. The explanation separates not only human beings but also living beings from their environment; and environment influences (or determines) living beings.

      This is exactly the place things get deceptive since, despite the fact thathuanjing»· ¾³may be comprehended as different from, but influences (or determines) human beings, we have to be aware here that this is only through comparison. If thought in the sense oftongbian, however, what needs to be added to the former claim is that this is not a “fromhuanjingto human being” one-way tract.Huanjingand humanity mutually entail each other, and do not a final distinction between them.Huanjingis never spoken of without humanity; or it may suffice to say that wheneverhuanjingis spoken of, this indicateshuanjingas field with humanity as focus;huanjingrequires humanity as a necessary condition for being “surroundings, or all sides”.Huanjingand humanity constitute a field-focus site specification and particularity in which each is both self-determinate and determined by the other and each is constitutive of the other. In a contextualist perspective they are strictly interdependent. For a Western person, to view the world may be considered to obtain a standpoint or basis for asserting objective truths, which allows him to decontextualize himself and step out of the world, thereby assuming a view from nowhere. And it is this attitude to have a view from nowhere that is thought to guarantee the possibility of objective truth and certainty. However, from the stand point oftongbian, the viewer is always embedded within thehuanjingthat is spoken of, and the site-specification starts from the perspective of the speaker. The huanjing and the speaker are not separated sharp but make each other a necessary condition and interdependent continuity; to say something abouthuanjing»· ¾³is also to say something about the subjects themselves. For instance, left and right, ahead and behind, top and bottom, etc., are indeed from the perspective of the viewer. Hencehuanjingas a Chinese term does not lead to an understanding of dualistic relationships that encourage an essentialistic interpretation in which it is discrete and independent of humanity. This is exactly the case of the example quoted in the Chinese dictionary and in Ai’s popularization. To speak of “to build fortresses and military camps on all sides” entails the focus as people, who “do their farming in the middle.” As for a frog’s view from the well, although it suggests the well’s effect on frog’s view, this is merely in a sense of difference through comparison. Here, the well is spoken of in requiring frog as focus, as a necessary condition of its being a field.

In the West consciousness is thought of as contrastive to existence in dialectic materialism or historical materialism, and it entails an essentialistic interpretation in which consciousness and existence are characterized by discreteness and independence. Philosophical battles in the West were pledged to discovering which determines which; whichever is considered determinant does not require reference to the determined for explanation. This is claimed to stand as universal principles. This is not the case ofyishiÒâ ʶ,however.Yishihad nothing to do with the kind of contrastive categories; its comprehension always lies in specific images and events; and it is site specifying and particular rather than essentialistic and universal. AsXin eryaexplains,yishimeans the specific time and particular conditions of one’s heart-and-mind (xinÐÄ) when one refers to a thing through differences. Yishialso implies the situation when one comprehends something as correlative with something else, which is called correlativity ofyishi.Yishientails continuity regarding appearances and forms of things, that is, knowing there is a lasting and constant [process in things], one does not fail to recognize certain forms from the ups and downs in appearances of things. Here appearance and form are mentioned not as a dualistic category but conceptual polarity, in which form is not a substantialistic concept, but rather ongoing processes.

Yishimay be comprehensible as visions, views, or opinions as in “zhongren kuolue, gua suo yishi, jian xiansheng zhi mingwu, ze wei zhi shenÖÚ ÈË À« ÂÔ £¬ ¹Ñ Ëù Òâ ʶ £¬¼û ÏÍ Ê¥ Ö® Ãû Îï £¬ Ôò ν Ö® Éñ(Most people talk grandiloquently, but few have any vision; they make a fetish of anything that has come from sages and men of virtues)[ ÂÛ ºâ ¡¤ ʵ֪].” Sometiemsyishihas a Buddhist sense,andmay mean “mind and heart” as in “chuci erzhang, yishi shao ming, neiwai jingshu, dubian jiewu³ý ´Ë ¶þ ÕÏ £¬ Òâ ʶ ÉÔ Ã÷ £¬ ÄÚ Íâ ¾­Êé £¬ ¶Á ±ã ½â Îò(When the two hindrances are removed, heart-and-mind become somehow clearer, then you would be more comprehending while reading theInternal and External Sutras.[¹ã ºë Ã÷ ¼¯].” It is clear thatyishiis not thought of as constructive to the substantialistic concept ofcunzai´æ ÔÚ, or existence. These are examples of site-specification and particularity of persons regarding how they nourish, develop, cultivate and grow their heart-and-mind. Betweenyishiandcunzai, which determines which has never occurred as a problem or a concern, and thus never become an issue of universal principle.

Indeed,yishimeansxingÐÔ(nature and/or character), and is exactly explained so inthe Ci yuanlexicon,Xingisyishi. [See] “Ruan Bubing,” of “Ode to the Five Exemplary Persons (Jun zi¾ý ×Ó),” by Yan Yannian (Yanzhi), the Song State, the Southern Dynasty, inWen xuan: `Although he was indiscriminately persecuted, Gentleman Ruan quietly took a lesson from it, his heart-and-mind became deep and transparent.’Notes: `Shi, another word for heart-and-mind, which is called heart and mind for being deep and clear without any anxiety, and calledshifor being clear about what is appropriate from not.’


This is an excellent example of site-specification and particularity of an exemplary person in his nourishing, developing, cultivating and growing his heart-and-mind and the marvelous results he has achieved.Shiis a dynamic process ofbecomingfrom human to truly human, reaching the stage of ideal appropriateness in a specific matrix of time and situation. And in this process heart and mind (xinshiÐÄ Ê¶becomes a conceptual polarity, entailing each other, and comparatively signifying both “agent” and “act,” which are not distinguishable from but correlative with each other. Hall and Ames are correct when they state,Xing, most appropriately rendered “heart-and-mind,” is a correlative image that precludes any final separation between reasoning and imagination, reasoning and experience, reasoning and rhetoric, reasoning and feeling. This sort of correlativity has as one of its important implications a preempting of the move in our own classical tradition which separates ideation from emotion, and which, in so doing, gives us mental representations which are presumed distinct from both experience and practice. …This move is primarily abetted by the mind/body dualism…


In Ai’s time when it had not yet been too long since Western Marxism encountered the Chinese circumstances, it was obvious that the terminology that was employed in translating Western concepts is more perplexing. This was perhaps the reason for Ai to useshijie guanÊÀ ½ç ¹Û (instead ofyishi) for consciousness in hisTalks, even though he had in the back of his brain an indirect reference to the phrase “social existence determines consciousness.”

Shijieis a Buddhist term;shiÊÀmeans time, andjie½ç, space. TheSurangama-sutra says, “What is calledshi-jiewith all living in?Shimeans changing and flowing, andjie, directions and locations. You need to understand today that East, West, South, North, Southeast, Southwest, Northeast, Northwest, the high, and the low meanjie; the past, the future and the present is calledshi.”Shijieis also referred toyuzhouÓî Öæ, which indicates “as vast as the four directions, and up to the sky and down to the earth; the unnoticeable modifying of space that houses the ten thousand things between sky and earth. Therefore, in classical language, whatshijie, oryuzhouovertly expresses is nothing but continuity of time and space. The strand oftong-biannever abstracts either time from space, orvice versa.The dominant oftongbianin tradition has made it impossible that a worldview has time without entities, or entities without time, or with either an empty temporal corridor or an eternal anything in the sense of being timeless.

      As we invest in details what it means in classical language, we findguan¹Ûsuggests a strong correlation between “to tell and show” and “to exam, to inspect, and to learn by seeing.” “To show from the above” entails “to see with high regard from bottom.” “Upward and downward views make continuity of each other. Moreover, viewing toward outside is not independent of examining one's own mind-heart; and examining one's own mind-heart is done through inspecting the conditions of the people. Consciousness and existence have never been conceptualized as independent categories, and there have never been a dispute over which determines. It is not the case that an entire philosophical and historical tradition exists which either explicitly affirms the independence of the ideas or, as in much social science, carries on as if they had an independent existence. Chinese worldviews almost never pursues a discourse that singles out consciousness or actual relationships and activities, production and commerce, and social and political behavior of individuals as of sole significance. Since time and space are never separable but specific as opposed to abstract, the viewer is always embedded within the world that is viewed, and the time and space start from the perspective of the speaker. To say something about the world is also to say something about the subjects themselves.

      From the above-mentioned perspective, it is understandable why Ai does not address worldviews in terms of an assertion of objective truths based on an objective standpoint. Nor did he mention “ontology” (bentilun±¾ Ìå ÂÛ) at all as he identifies it withWeltanschauung. Indeed there is no need to do so due to the unwillingness of thetongbiantradition to separate time from matter. In his discussion Ai rather gives analogous associations and events of “world views” in site-specification and particularity of persons, which are active ongoing progresses of continuity between time, location, and matter. And in his view, these processes of concerting particular time, location, and matter, in which all things and events are alternating and transforming, give rise to a unique and boundless “world as such.”

      The “worldviews” Ai deals with are analogously associated with particular persons with diverse situations of specific time, and location. Some are forced to commit suicide when they feel life is too difficult for them; others try hard fighting to overcome difficulties, and still others are docilely accepting the worst their environment has brought them. There are still other people who live leisurely and carefree, with their pockets full of money, seeking pleasure and merriment even when there is a social panic of unemployment and suffering. One may very probably suspect that Ai is not talking about “views,” at all, even less “worldviews.” For Ai, however, they are, since thinking, saying, and acting are not separable. Thinking and saying do have a performative aspect, and are “actions” contribute to shape environments. In turn, acting is a continuity of thinking and saying and never independent of thinking and saying.

      That Ai identifies acting with various “worldviews” may sound quaint, or even a kind of “thinking determines doing,” or “doing is a result of thinking.” This is indeed confusing, because Ai seems to try to say ideas or “worldviews” are a result of the social positions and environment of individuals, but in addressing the issue, he recognizes individual’s doing as thinking. Is he a proponent of “doing determines thinking” or “thinking determines doing”? He supports neither. Ai does not even have in the back of his brain these conceptualized questions. What he has his mind embedded in is the type oftong-bianphilosophy in view of a world as such having interdependence and continuity between ideas and existence, or between any two aspects comprising a conceptual polarity.

      This is where Fogel misses, thereby suggesting that Ai is either deterministic or voluntarism, or switching back and forth between the two. Perhaps a important reason that makes Ai’s discussions confusing, sometimes appearing deterministic, other times voluntarist, is the fact that Ai is pursuing a new discourse with groundings of an ongoing traditional strand of thought. The discourse adopts translational language with terms and structures absent of classical language either invented or borrowed solely for the purpose of translation. On the one hand, the discourse literally sounds foreign, giving the impression of a philosophy from the West that are pledged to the philosophical concerns explicitly affirming a dualism of ideas and existence. On the other hand, however, the discourse is deeply embedded in the style of correlative philosophy having interdependence and continuity of the two aspects of a conceptual polarity as the central concern. The confusing characteristic can be clearly identified in the fact that the entire texts on Marxism not only claim that existence determines consciousness but also stress on consciousness’s counteraction on existence. This has bewildered so many China scholars in the West, who view Chinese Marxism as either determinist or voluntarism, or switching back and forth without logic.However, the most problematic is the concept ofjueding¾ö ¶¨,or “determine or decide.” This has been a problem from the beginning whenBestimmtwas translated into “determines.” As Manicas states,The Germanbestimmt, usually translated “determines,” already creates problems since English speakers, influenced by the notion that causality means “whenever this, then that,” tend to think of determination as a sufficient condition.”


The translation of “determine or decide” into “jueding¾ö ¶¨” is, however, no longer the case influenced by the notion that causality means “whenever this, then that,” in which people tend to think of determination as a sufficient condition. Interestingly, a dictionary dedicated to introducing the terminology of dialectical and historical materialism explainsjuedingde(decisive) andjuedinglun¾ö ¶¨ ÂÛ(determinism) as follows:

Juedingde¾ö ¶¨ µÄ(decisive) implies “clearly exact ” or “conclusive certainty,” for example “a victory of conclusive certainty.”Juedinglun(determinism) is a theory of necessary correlations as well as conditions for everything and all phenomena to be a cause and effect to each other.


      Here,juedingandjueding lunare not the reduced relationship or a causal one-way path as we find in “determinant or decisive.” They are rather a description of a worldview “as such,” a conception of correlation between everything and events emphasizing the relationshipin which each requires the other as a necessary condition for being what it is. However, we should mention thatxianxiangÏÖ Ïó(emerging images) are ongoing events, not equivalent to “phenomena” as conceptually conceived in contrast to reality.Yin-guoÒò ¹û,as a translation of causality, literally means“yuanÔµ,” “youÓÉ” and “guo¹û” rather than “causality.”Yuan’s analogue is “cloth edging,” and an extension of the meaning becomes “go along or following something of continuity” as in “yuan mu qiu yuÔµ ľ Çó Óã(looking for fish by tracing along a tree [from bottom to top]),” and “lianluoÁ¬ Âç(continue)” as in “qing bi wu lu nan yin yuanÇà ±Ú ÎÞ Â· ÄÑ â¹ Ôµ( Black walls are on all sides; there is not a passage to continue [a travel]). Youisjing¾­(warp yarns), also an image of continuity; andguo, fruit. Thus,yin guoindeed literally suggest “a continuity leading to something that comes out as a result.”

Althoughjuedingwas a classical word, an investigation of its implications will not lead us to an understanding those as a sufficient condition indicated by “determine or decide” in the phrase “social existence determines consciousness.” We could not find a case in whichjuedingdenotes the kind reduced causal relationship like “whenever this, then that.” It is not a dichotomous conception in which agent, act, and the specific situation and time were fundamentally separate but a correlative claim of mutual interdependence and mutual determination.

The critical reason forjuedingto impossibly signify a causal relationship is that the cosmos of thetong-bianphilosophy in Chinese tradition is a context that both constitutes and is constituted by the elements which comprise it. Thus there is no element or aspect that in the strictest sense transcends the rest, and in this sense order is emergent rather than existing as independent principle; and the ten thousand things have no governing purpose, no preassigned design. Therefore, the kind of conception of causality, or such formula as “if… then…,” or “whenever this, then that,” is simply unnecessary. It was certainly since the modern time thatjuedinghas been popularly considered as equivalent to the concept of “determine.” It is exactly at the point we have to remember Ai is a Chinese and what this means is so important. Otherwise, we could never know how difficult this situation is forjuedingto be force to carry the notion of causality. We could also never know that indeed it barely does so since the conception of causality embedded in “determines” is precluded.

A noting fact is, Ai barely uses the wordjueding.Instead, Ai uses the term “zaocheng deÔì ³É µÄ”,and in the episode of“frog’s view from well,” “xianzhiÏÞÖÆ(conditioned or limited),”in explaining a worldview as a result of one’s living status and environment. This is where Fogel regards Ai as arguing that one’s world view is “adirectresult of one’s social position and environment,” and reducing the relationship to that being determines consciousness along a one-way path, like many Marxists before him. Obviously for Fogel, Ai’s “zaochengde” and “xianzhi” are “jueding,” equivalent to “determines” or “decides.” He seems not clear thatzaoÔìmay indicate “zuo×÷(doing),” “weiΪ(becoming),” “shiʼ(beginning),” “jin½ø(ongoing),” and “jiu¾Í(approaching),” all signifying a continuity rather than causality. Ai truly talks about the relationships, or correlations between people’s “world views” and living status and environments, or how the latter under various conditions and in specific time is “starting,” “doing,” “becoming,” “ongoing toward,” and “approaching” the former. This is not a one-way path. Ai’s “worldview” does not merely refer to man’s mental activities such as “reflection,” “thinking,” and “conception,” but also his saying and doing or making; and the viewer himself is not merely thinker and viewer, nor merely being, but foremostly be-coming something and retrospectively something done. People’s living conditions also have other people’s thinking, saying, and doing as an integrate composition, and they themselves are appealed to as an environment by other people. “Zaocheng deÔì ³É µÄ,” or even “jueding¾ö ¶¨,” is thought to mean an active ongoing process in the sense of continuity. There is not a strict distinction between a frog’s view and well. The distinction of the frog’s view from the well is only made in the sense of site-specification and particularity and through comparison.

As forji-chu»ù ´¡(base),jimeans site (zhiÖ·), beginning (shiʼ), and roots (ben±¾), particularly referring to the roots of wall, andchu, plinth according toShuo wen˵ ÎÄ. Since Ai uses “growing from (congsheng´Ó Éú)” in referring that spirit grows from (rather than is determined by) material, his avowal that the material conditions of social life are a base (jichu»ù ´¡) determining social spiritual life means indeed that the material conditions of social life are where, or beginning, or roots for spiritual life to grow from.

Material conditions as a base do not determine but rather are a beginning, or the roots to be continued in the growth of social spiritual life; this is not logic of causality, but an ongoing process of continuity. And furthermore, not only that social spiritual life grows from material conditions, but alsovice versa. Ai made this plainly in the following text:

But this doesn’t mean that social spiritual life is being determined solely and passively by social material life and that there is not any counteraction from the part of spiritual life on social material life. The continuity (guanlian¹Ø Áª and reaction between material and the spiritual are mutual. We say material is primary only because it makes root and origin (genyuan¸ù Ô´) and base.


This text can be fully read as this:

Material conditions of social life are a base from where social spiritual life grows or isbe-coming. This does not necessarily mean that social spiritual life is solely and passively growing orbe-comingfrom social material conditions and that there is no possibility for thereverse. Continuity (guanlian) andbe-comingof material and spirit are mutual. That we say material is primary is only because it is where material as roots and beginning (genyuan¸ù Ô´) isbecoming-spirit andbecoming-consciousness.


      Ai contends,bianzheng weiwu lun±ç Ö¤ Ψ Îï ÂÛ(Dialectical materialism) acknowledges not merely that material is primary, roots and beginning, and base, and yet more that material and spirit entail mutual continuity. He criticizes the ideas that tend to regard determination of material as a sufficient condition for everything once and for all. Even though he repeats the phrase of Engels, i.e., “material conditions merely has an ‘ultimate determining role,” Ai reads and takes it through the eye oftong-bianand solely tends to emphasize a mutual continuity of material conditions and spiritual life and yet to underline the enormous significance of spiritual life over material condition. Since in Ai’s reading, such terminology “material,” “spirit,” “determines” “base,” and so on, are all significantly different from the meanings they convey in English, Ai’s “zui hou qi jueding zuoyong de dongxi×î®ÛÆð¾ö¶¨×÷ÓõĶ«Î÷( an ultimately determining role) plainly has nothing to do with the causal/interactionist view, or empirical questions such as “Which factors (‘forces’) have the greater causal weight.” It is also by no means dogmatic, insisting that the material is always primary. Like Engels, Ai does not make it clear either what this phrase could mean, but he obviously adopts the phrase in asserting the mutual continuity between material and the spiritual, and the enormous significance of spiritual life over material life. He says,

The conditions of social material life aremerelysomething thatultimatelydetermines. They constituteonlya material base for social development. However, spiritual life exerts immense returning impact and has extensive significance to material life. (My emphasis)

Perhaps, here “ultimately” may mean that the role of social spiritual life is eventually played through material conditions, effecting and changing material conditions. Ai apparently thinks that the spiritual and consciousness arebecoming-material. This view is revealed in the fact he appeals as his favorite to the two texts of Marx and Lenin respectively: “Once a theory masters the masses, it will immediately becomes material forces,” and “If there were not a revolutionary theory, then there would never be a revolutionary movement.”

           If we do not understand Ai through the modality oftongbianand an acosmotic worldview of Chinese culture, then very probably we would end up with thinking Ai’s thought as unlogic and even deterministic here, voluntarist, there in the same text. That Fogel has jumped so fast to charge Ai with being deterministic, switching back and forth between determinism and voluntarism shows well that he thinks and understands Ai dichotomously and thus fails in comprehending such a modality of correlative thinking in Ai. Although he seems to claim, material is primary, with thought secondary, Ai does not mean that material and thought are separate, and that thought can only be determined by material but notvice versa. These issues need to be comprehended under the general understanding that there is no final distinct between material (or ten thousand things between the sky and earth) and the spiritual (humanity) and that each constitutes the other's continuity makes consciousness and material mutually distinguishable through comparison.

           Material comes first, spirit second – this can be understood in terms of the pattern of theyin-yangconceptual polarity: "the sky/earth--ten thousand things--the male and female--husband and wife--father and son--ruler and minister..." This is to say, foremost, there is no final distinction between humanity and the ten thousand things. Secondly, there is no final distinction between humanity and the spiritual (consciousness or reason). Then, the arguments that spirit cannot be independent of material and that material is fundamental and determining to spirit can be understood as that there is no final distinction between humanity's possible spirit-like state of comprehension with fullness of achievement, and continuity through change in the ten thousand things.

           For a Chinese thinker, a claim of material as first, the spiritual as second and dependent on material that is fundamental and decisive to the spiritual, simply establishes a general hierarchical relationship. It does not necessarily mean to claim a universal truth, and does not necessarily deny that spirit can come first and be fundamental and decisive to material under the conditions of right time and proper position and/or due to the character, appropriateness, roots, the very presence, etc., of things.


The earliest introduction of Marx/Engels political thought to China occurred in the midst of an enormous flow of Western thought into China at the turn of the twentieth century. However, serious discussions by the Chinese intellectuals on Marxism had not started until after the 1917 Russian Revolution. Generally speaking, the introduction of Marxism into China can be divided into three periods: first, between 1917 and 1927, the discussions on historical materialism, particularly following the essays in the special issue ofXin qingnianin 1919. Second, between 1926 to 1937, the translations from Russian of dialectical materialism starting with Qu Qiubai's lectures in Shanghai. This period involves the popularization campaign of dialectics headed by the Communist theoreticians like Ai Siqi. And the third period began after 1937 with Mao Zedong's sinification of Marxism and his essays "On Contradictions" and "On Practice."

In this paper, I only offer an example, the issues of “existence vs. consciousness,” of the reception of Marx/Engels’ thought in China.As conception of “existence vs. consciousness” became a Chinese version, the particular Chinese vocabulary really has led the Western version into a new process, a new context and field of focus. In the Chinese reading of “existence vs. consciousness,”cunzai jueding yishi´æ ÔÚ ¾ö ¶¨ Òâʶ in the Chinese discourse does show a thread of clue to compatibility on a surface level between the two versions. This made it possible that many Chinese intellectuals were so enthusiastic about Marxian dialectic and, in turn, Western Marxism has so enormous a doctrinal impact ontongbian, which results in a joining of new terminology with a strand of traditional thought and a Chinese version of Marxist dialectics which can be traced back to what we find in theYi jingÒ× ¾­. As we see,there are fundamental differences between the English terminology and the Chinese translation; the Chinese conception became even closer totongbianas the Chinese employed Chinese philosophical expressions in their reading and especially as they were engaged in the campaign of “Sinification of Marxism,” or in Ai’s case, popularization. It may suffice to say, it is superficial to juxtapose Western Marxist concepts withtheir supposed equivalents in Chinese languageand employ a determinism/voluntarism dichotomy in understanding Chinese Marxism. This is because the European debate was precluded in a process ofcivilizational engagement, specifically as a case of encountering Chinese tradition by Western Marxism. The Chinese did not take any stand in the European debate; what they precisely did was to pursue a Chinese discourse oftongbianloaded with Marxist terminology from the West.

Roger T· Ames (Roger T.Ames)

Roger T. Ames was born in 1947 in Toronto, Canada. As a professor at the University of Hawaii, an advisor to Nishan Shengyuan Academy, Chairman of the World Association of Confucian Culture Studies and Vice Chairman of the International Confucian Association, he is an internationally famous expert in Sinology. He is a leading figure in Chinese & Western philosophy and is famous in China and abroad for his translation of books such as theAnalects of Confucius,Sun Tzu’s Art of War,Huainan Tzu andTao Te Ching He was the Chief Editor toPhilosophy of the Occident and Orientas well as theInternational Chinese Book Reviewand the author ofConfucian Philosophical Thinking,Thinking from the Han: Self, Truth, and Transcendence in Chinese and Western Culture,Anticipating China: Thinking Through the Narratives of Chinese and Western Culture,the Art of Rulership: A Study into Chinese Political ThoughtandDemocracy if the Dead: Dewey, Confucius and the Hope for Democracy in China. Roger T. Ames once received the guidance of Liu Dianjue and became proficient in classical Chinese, then to one of the most outstanding modern scholars of Classical Studies. In 2013, he was awarded the "Confucius Culture Award" by the 6th World Confucian Congress. Then he won the second "Huilin Prize Award" in 2016.…
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