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2015/04/12 04:28

(The article praised by my queen as the best she had read in recent year.)



Discourses of Joseph Needham and Bertrand Russell on the value of Traditional Chinese Culture——李約瑟、羅素談中國傳統文化的價值





In 1922, the world-famous British philosopher, Bertrand Russell, after visiting China to lecture for a year, wrote his well-known book The Problem of China and commented:


The Chinese have discovered, and have practised for many centuries, a way of life which, if it could be adopted by all the world, would make all the world happy.  We Europeans have not.  Our way of life demands strife, exploitation, restless change, discontent and destruction.  Efficiency directed to destruction can only end in annihilation, and it is to this consummation that our civilization is tending, if it cannot learn some of that wisdom for which it despises the East. [1]




    This is the conclusion reached by Russell after he personally visited China.  Russell was born in 1827 and is lauded as one of the most influential philosopher, mathematician, and logician of the twentieth century.  He was also one of the most prominent anti-war activists in the West (and went to prison for his pacifism during World War I[2]).  “It was on the Volga, in the summer of 1920,” Russell witnessed the “inactive despair” brought by industrialization to the Russian nomads on the sandbank of Volga that he wrote:  “I first realized how profound is the disease in our Western mentality….  It was in this mood that I set out for China to seek a new hope.”[3] He expected the Chinese civilization to bring new hope to the world.  The next year Russell went to Beijing to lecture on philosophy and wished to understand the Chinese civilization through personal experience.  A year later, he exclaimed that in the face of the humility, patience, generosity, benevolence, and the wisdom of the Chinese, erudite philosopher like him has nothing to teach.  He humbly expressed that he came to China to learn.[4]



Thirty-three years later, Joseph Needham, the scientist and sinologist also from Britain, wrote in his book Within the Four Seas: the Dialogue of East and West:


A high degree of bureaucratic government seems quite inevitable given the technological complexities of modern society, but modern science has provided a thousand aids and adjuncts which could make it work well….  Nothing is lacking except goodwill.  Goodwill is the commitment to treating ordinary people with sympathy and understanding…This is the promised peace on earth, and whoever puts first the real needs of real people will inherit it….  Here the Chinese may have a great task to perform in the teaching of the rest of the world, as their bureaucracy has an experience of more than two millennia.  There may yet be virtue in Confucian traditions, as there was in the eighteenth century when the Latin translation of the classics revealed to an astonished world the existence of a morality without supernaturalism, and of a great continuing culture which had emphatically not been based upon the pessimistic doctrine of original sin.[5]






Joseph Needham is the sinologist most respected by the Chinese and is acclaimed as “the Old Friend of Chinese.”  For over half a century, he buried himself in research and combed through more than two millennia of the history of Chinese technology.  His accomplishment in compiling a list of every mechanical invention and abstract idea that had been made and conceived in China is a first in world history.[7]  In 1954 he published the first volume of Science and Civilisation in China, which his students are still proceeding with the project under the schema of a total of 7 volumes.  In Science and Civilisation in China, he depicted the splendid Chinese technological civilization since ancient times from the perspective of world cultures so that people can profoundly perceive its precious value to the world.



For the development of Chinese studies, he set up the Joseph Needham Institute at Cambridge University.  In the last year of his life in 1995, he told the public that he believed China will rise again because a nation possessing such greet civilization and such great people will definitely contribute greatly to world civilization.  On March 23 of the same year, the day before Needham passed away, he still had someone reading materials concerning China to him.  At the last moment of his life when he could not speak, he was still trying hard to utter the word “China.”  As an old friend of the Chinese people, he had most poignantly manifested the profundity of humanity, a genuine heart innocent as a child. 



This “Elder’s Wisdom” of Joseph Needham as a caveat has high value.  What he meant when he said “China will rise again” is the restoration of the traditional Chinese culture in the perimeters of the whole world.  The reason this culture can benefit the whole world is because it can make ordinary people benevolent and righteous and every family live in harmony.  If Russell discovered the humble, yielding, harmonious way of life according to Chinese tradition that can bring real happiness to the entire human race; then, Needham further explained the root cause of this happy life—the goodwill of “treating ordinary people with sympathy and understanding”; to live a life adhering to a code of ethics; to firmly believe in the innate goodness of human’s original nature when interacting with people and things; and to govern with goodwill.



In the prologue of the nursery rhyme Tri-Word Couplets, it instructed children: “The original nature of people is goodness.”  Because the self-nature of mankind is innately good, the virtues of beneficence, modesty, tolerance as an attitude of life, a way of life, is shared by every race in the world.  The core value of all human religions is love.  The Bible said: “For God so loved the world…”[8]  In the Koran, Allah is described as “the entirely Beneficent, the Especially Merciful.”[9]  The Western people often acclaimed Confucius and the education of Confucianism, although not a religion, but have the effect of a religion, especially in the function of stabilizing the society.  This is because filial piety as a Confucian virtue in the true Chinese tradition will expand and regard mankind as a single unity; will respect, love, and protect all males and females in the world as one’s own parents; and this type of universal love is in accord with the religious education.  Therefore, Needham quoted a passage in the Analects to conclude his life study of China: “Let the superior man never fail reverentially to order his own conduct, and let him be respectful to others and observant of propriety -- then all within the four seas will be his brothers[10].



With the advanced development of modern technology, globalization is a naturally tendency.  The different races isolated from each other before are now meeting frequently; the different religions developed indigenously are now coexisting and their disciples live together as neighbors.  At this moment, the discovery of Russell and the conclusion of Needham have made the modern interpretation of traditional Chinese culture prominent--the life attitude of beneficence, respect, honesty, modesty, and harmony, which can make our multi-cultural world truly unify and fraternize, regard all as brothers and sisters.






The China Russell visited in the 1920’s was at the turning point of transforming traditional China into modern China.  The family education and the education of traditional culture have not yet completely disappeared.  The modern industrialization of the Chinese society has not yet formed.  Therefore, Russell was able to personal feel the tremendous, transformative impact of traditional Chinese culture.  Because of his personal experience, Russell exclaimed that nominally he was teaching China but actually he was taught by China.  It is noteworthy that the people who impressed Russell were not just the literati but also those illiterate, ordinary people who are deeply conscious of righteousness and reverently observant of propriety.

羅素所處的一九二年代的中國,是傳統中國和現代中國的轉折點,傳統文化教育、家庭教育尚未完全消失,現代工業化社會還未形成,因而羅素得以親身體會到傳統文化巨大的教化力量。因為有了這一番親身經歷,羅素感歎自己名義上是執教中國,實為中國所教化。 值得注意的是,真正在中國教化羅素的,不僅僅有知識分子,還有那些不識字卻深明大義、心存禮敬的普通老百姓。


Gu Hong-ming, with the pen name Amoy Ku, (1857-1928), renown for his Confucian values, knowledge of several European languages and European culture,[11] told the story of a Scotch friend of his in his essay The Spirit of the Chinese People as follows:[12]  


The friend had a Chinese servant who was a perfect scamp, who lied, who "squeezed," and who was always gambling, but when my friend fell ill with typhoid fever in an out-of-the-way port where he had no foreign friend to attend to him, this awful scamp of a Chinese servant nursed him with a care and devotion which he could not have expected from an intimate friend or near relation. Indeed I think what was once said of a woman in the Bible may also be said, not only of the Chinese servant, but of the Chinese people generally:—"Much is forgiven them, because they love much." The eyes and understanding of the foreigner in China see many defects and blemishes in the habits and in the character of the Chinese, but his heart is attracted to them, because the Chinese have a heart, or, as I said, live a life of the heart—a life of emotion or human affection.[13]


Many foreigners staying in China, before and after the Chinese Revolution in 1911, like this Scottish person, have good relationships with the Chinese.  They are all of the same opinion that the Chinese is very caring and tolerant.




Master Gu, a literati of Chinese classics in the last vestige of Chin dynasty, opined that only those Chinese who had accepted the education of ethical relations, virtues, and the law of cause and effect expounded by the traditional culture can be called the “real Chinaman,” whether they are the literati or illiterate, high ranking government officials or grass root commoners.  In his words,


The real Chinaman…is a man who lives the life of a man of adult reason with the heart of a child. In short the real Chinaman is a person with the head of a grown-up man and the heart of a child. The Chinese spirit, therefore, is a spirit of perpetual youth, the spirit of national immortality….  Now if the spirit of the Chinese people is a spirit of perpetual youth, the spirit of national immortality, the secret of this immortality is this happy union of soul with intellect.” [15]




A man of adult reason with the heart of a child is the virtue of filial piety; the manifestation of “the affinity between father and son.”  Filial piety in children makes them responsible in the support their parents and in turn responsible and loyal in their work ethics.   To nurse the gravely ill employer “with a care and devotion which he could not have expected from an intimate friend or near relation” is the extension of filial piety—to honor the aged as we honor our own aged parents.  Although emphasizing spirituality and human affection but without losing rationality in the attendance of people and things is the manifestation of reverence and sincerity.  It is “embracing love and respect in the heart.”



Russell felt that the future of mankind hinges on traditional Chinese culture and said:


The natural Chinese attitude is one of tolerance and friendliness, showing courtesy and expecting it in return. If the Chinese chose, they could be the most powerful nation in the world. But they only desire freedom, not domination…


Comparing the civilization of China with that of Europe … [i]t seemed to me that the average Chinaman, even if he is miserably poor, is happier than the average Englishman, and is happier because the nation is built upon a more humane and civilized outlook than our own. [16]


The Chinese, from the highest to the lowest, have an imperturbable quiet dignity….  The business of "saving face," which often strikes foreigners in China as ludicrous, is only the carrying-out of respect for personal dignity in the sphere of social manners.  Everybody has "face," even the humblest beggar; there are humiliations that you must not inflict upon him, if you are not to outrage the Chinese ethical code. [17] 







Embracing love and respect, educated under traditional culture the Chinese, especially those leaders and social elites often “worry about the future ten millennia within their short lifespan of less than a century.”  In the traditional Chinese society, from the emperor to the subjects, from the highest to the lowest, all seek harmony and love peace.  In the administration of national affairs and policies concerning the livelihood of the common people, they take into consideration the responsibility towards posterity in the millennia.  Russell greatly admired this mentality and said: “The Chinese nation, is the most, patient in the world; it thinks of centuries as other nations think of decades[19].”  He commented that the thinking units of the Chinese are not decades but ten millennia.



Unfortunately, the Chinese Russell was in contact with almost disappeared by the 1950’s when Joseph Needham visited China.  During those thirty years, China went through two World Wars.  Especially, after the invasion of Japan, China has lost the traditional family and clans and, even worse, has neglected the traditional cultural education of ethical relations, virtues, and the law of cause and effect.  Education is the vital force of a culture.  Losing the education of the saints and sages, the traditional culture is facing the crisis of disruption.  The unfortunate result of this cultural disruption is evident today.  Therefore, to restore the education of traditional culture is a top priority, the most urgent business.

遺憾的是,羅素一九二年代所接觸到的中國人,李約瑟在一九五年代已經不多見了。中國在此三十年間, 經歷了兩次世界大戰。尤其是在遭受日本侵略之後,中國普遍失去了傳統意義上的家庭、家族,更疏忽了傳統文化的倫理、道德、因果的教育。教育是文化的生機,失去了聖賢教育,傳統文化就面臨斷層的危險。這個後果在今天已經看到了,因此恢復傳統文化的教育,已是當務之急。


Under this background Needham proposed his famous "Needham's Grand Question", also known as "The Needham Puzzle", which stimulated tremendous feedbacks.  Joseph Needham asked that despite ancient China’s important contributions to the progress of technology for mankind,[20] why did modern science and Industrial Revolution did not origin in contemporary China?  Through research for more than half a century, Needham found that the answer lies in the Chinese education system of the literati as candidates for government officials and the managerial system of the bureaucracy. Both systems had subconsciously and autonomously restrained the development of technology.



This discovery demonstrated that the ancient Chinese has true wisdom, vision, and long-term strategies for the management of human affairs.  Dr. Arnold Toynbee in his later life felt deeply that the development of technology puts tremendous pressures on society and the people.  In his book Surviving the Future, he said,


”Quote here” (if cant find the original text, can use the following: Technological advance has created tremendous fortune for mankind but we are beginning to pay for it and the high price tag has reached an alarming point---the depletion of natural resources, the loss of happiness, and the increase in anxiety and insecurity in humans.) [21]



The Venerable Master Chin Kung had pointed out that excessive pursuit of efficiency will bring human annihilation.  The annihilation of mankind is caused by the after effects of speed, which makes people agitated, impetuous, and losing their rationality.  Mankind without rationality is Armageddon.




Single-minded pursuit of technological development will instigate another problem and that is greed will feed on materialistic advancement.  The worship of competition and the simultaneous neglect of religious education and the education of the saints and sages will result in the decline of ethics.  The amalgamation of the two will cause world war III; and in this nuclear age, it means the total destruction of the Earth.



From this point of view, approximately nineteen hundred years ago, Zhang Heng (AD 78–139), astronomer, mathematician, scientist, engineer, inventor, geographer, cartographer, artist, poet, statesman, and literary scholar,[22] the Han dynasty scientific genius, has set a paradigm of true wisdom for China’s scientific geniuses today.  Although he invented the world's first water-powered armillary sphere to assist astronomical observation and invented the world's first seismometer, which can detect the cardinal direction of an earthquake (310 mi) away,[23] he put great emphasis on studying the rites of Zhou dynasty and set up the code of etiquettes for the Han dynasty.  He advocated and propagated the law of cause and effect and the doctrine of awards and retributions incurred by individual actions.  He solemnly warned the emperor and the imperial court that to view natural disasters as caused by the decline in ethics is the correct way.  Additionally, he dedicated his old age to the establishment of rites and the composition of music.  He focused on moral education and abandoned scientific studies and refused to transmit his scientific knowledge to people.



Scientific geniuses after Zhang Heng are also very careful in the transmission of knowledge.  Some would even destroy documents of their lifetime studies before departing from the world.  They do not do this out of stupidity but to protect the interest for posterity so that all future generations will not blindly pursue technological development for short-term profits and destroy the Earth.  This is the profound vision and long-term strategies of the ancient Chinese.  Toynbee held the same view.  He said that to pursue happiness, mankind developed technology; but the result was the common loss of feelings of happiness and making mankind slaves to technology.[24]



Therefore, in the last few years of Toynbee’s life, he proposed that to avoid self-destruction, the world should be unified through cultural and religious education.  He opined that traditional Chinese culture can take on this solemn responsibility.  This conclusion is the consensus of all the peace-loving people of vision who understand traditional Chinese culture.  Joseph Needham also reached the same conclusion and in 1955 proposed that there is no time more urgent than now for China and the world to learn from Confucius, Laozi, and Mozi[25]



Unfortunately, when Needham postulated this theory, China was going through a series of political movements; by the time in the 1970’s when Toynbee was postulating his theory that traditional Chinese culture can save the future world, China’s Cultural Revolution just ended.  Thus, the Western academics generally regarded these theories as “pedantic.”  At that time, the academics already compared traditional Chinese culture to that of the ancient Egyptian civilization; although spectacular but has no relation whatsoever with the modern society.  Currently, this concept has influenced the Chinese and many modern Chinese had labeled “tradition” with “feudalism” and swept it under the carpet.






In the past century, China faced monumental transformation which seemed incredible.  Actually, Gu Hung-ming already predicated this in 1915, a century ago.  He had observed that more and more Chinese are westernized and less and less are receiving the education of traditional culture.  He felt that if Westernization is not restrained, then the “real Chinaman,” who had received the excellent family education and the education of ethical relations, virtues, and the law of cause and effect, will disappear from the world.  Therefore, he wrote The Spirit of the Chinese People, wishing that one day the education of traditional Chinese culture can be restored and the traditional spirit of the Chinese can be recovered.



Joseph Needham, Bertrand Russell, and Gu Hung-ming, all are sages who had thorough knowledge of the West and the East, all acted in concert to tell us that traditional Chinese culture can bring the perpetuating stability, peace, real prosperity and happiness to the world.  Their consensus is based on the virtues of Chinese culture--filial piety, sibling harmony, loyalty, trust, propriety, righteousness, honesty, shamefulness, benevolence, love, harmony, and peace—taught by the saints and sages.  This education of the saints and sages does not belong to China only but to all mankind.  It is a precious world heritage.



The great German poet, Goethe had said: “There are only two peaceful forces in the world—propriety and righteousness.[26]  Gu Hung-ming believed that the reason traditional Chinese culture can bring perpetuating stability and peace to the world is because of the simultaneous emphasis put on “righteousness” and “propriety.”  He said that


The moral force which in the past has been effective in subduing and controlling the human passions in the population of Europe, is Christianity….  Now if the people of Europe really want to put down militarism, there is only one way of doing it and that is, to use what Emerson calls the gun that does not need another gun, the law of love and justice,—in fact, moral force….  I believe the people of Europe will find this new moral force in China,—in the Chinese civilisation. The moral force in the Chinese civilisation which can make militarism unnecessary is the Religion of good citizenship. [27] 

. . .

A religion in the European sense of the word teaches a man to be a good man. But Confucianism does more than this; Confucianism teaches a man to be a good citizen. The Christian Catechism asks:"What is the chief end of man?" But the Confucian Catechism asks:"What is the chief end of a citizen?" of man, not in his individual life, but man in his relation with his fellowmen and in his relation to the State? The Christian answers the words of his Catechism by saying: "The chief end of man is to glorify God." The Confucianist answers the words of his Catechism by saying: "The chief end of man is to live as a dutiful son and a good citizen….In short, a religion in the European sense of the word makes it its object to transform man into a perfect ideal man by himself, into a saint, a Buddha, an angel, whereas Confucianism limits itself to make man into a good citizento live as a dutiful son and a good citizen. In other words, a religion in the European sense of the word says:"If you want to have religion, you must be a saint, a Buddha, an angel;" whereas Confucianism says:"If you live as a dutiful son and a good citizen, you have religion." [28]

. . .

 [T]he rise of civil society in the history of all nations begins always with the institution of The Church religion in Europe[29]… Confucius taught is a Code of Honour…Confucius made this Code out of the law of the gentleman. But now I must tell you that long before Confucius' time there existed already in China an undefined and unwritten code of the law of the gentleman. This undefined and unwritten code of the law of the gentleman in China before Confucius' time was known as li () the law of propriety, good taste or good manners.[30]

. . .

This sense of honour, called by Confucius the law of the gentleman, is not like the moral law of the philosopher and moralist, a dry, dead knowledge of the form or formula of right and wrong, but like the Righteousness of the Bible in Christianity[31]






歐洲人以《聖經》為藍本,建立了現代歐洲文明。《聖經》教導歐洲人要熱愛正義,要做一個真正的人。中華傳統文化的教育,不但教人要熱愛正義,做好人,更要做一個『識禮的好人』;基督教教人們要愛人,中國人則教育人們要『愛之以禮』[32][A1] 。」


The simultaneous focus on propriety and righteousness made the Chinese race never a lover of war but indestructible.  Russell after studying Chinese history found that--


The persistence of the Chinese Empire down to our own day is not to be attributed to any military skill; on the contrary, considering its extent and resources, it has at most times shown itself weak and incompetent in war…. The Huns were defeated by the Chinese after centuries of warfare; the Tartars and Manchus, on the contrary, conquered China. But they were too few and too uncivilized to impose their ideas or their way of life upon China, which absorbed them... 


[T]he persistence of Chinese civilization, fundamentally unchanged since the introduction of Buddhism, is a remarkable phenomenon.  Egypt and Babylonia persisted as long, but since they fell there has been nothing comparable in the world. [33] 


In the end, the conquerors, admired and emulated the Chinese civilization, eventually became part of the Chinese people.



The authority on contemporary Chinese History, Chen Yin-ke (1890-1969),  one of the most original and creative historians in 20th century China[34], pointed out that the concept of “The Chinese,” beginning two thousands years ago starting with the Han dynasty, is a literary concept and have no relation to race or skin color.  In other words, the true meaning of “The Chinese” is those people who love “benevolence and peace”, aspire to be “filial pious, brotherly, loyal, and trustworthy,” and focus on “propriety, righteousness, honesty, and shamefulness.”  Those people are in themselves multi-cultural and multi-faiths; due to historical reasons lived together; tolerated each other with mutual respect; and call themselves “The Chinese.” 


The so-called “China,” literally means the Middle Kingdom.  From different perspectives, every nation can be called the Middle Kingdom.  This name corresponds nicely with the Buddhist concept of the prefect harmony between the protagonist and the supporting roles.  Every nation can be the center of the world and all the other nations her satellite states.  In short, every nation can be number one.  People come together for the same aspiration of Dao and can become a single organic entity.  The sacred first commandment of the Ten Commandments in Catholic religion is “Honor your father and your mother.”  The Rosary of the Catholic Church venerates the humbleness of the Saint Maria.  The prophet Muhammad teaches people to be Beneficent and Faithful.  The great Christians and the Sikhs propagate the “sibling love,” the great German poet Goethe emphasized “propriety and righteousness,” the former prime minister of Malaysia, the elder Mahathir stresses on “Honesty and Shamefulness.” 



The twelve virtues mentioned above, instead of being the conclusion of the virtues of traditional Chinese culture, should be the moral code of the entire human civilization.  A priori, in the early twentieth century when the cultures of the East and West conflux in the heart of China, Russell was surprised at finding that the British who lived in other parts of Asia are the same many years later, but those British who lived the longest in China will find “gradually the beauty and dignity of their existence become visible[37].”  Therefore Russell was full of faith that China will emerge eventually from the trials and tribulations of history and bring real stability, peace and order to the world.  He wrote:

The Chinese nation, is the most, patient in the world; it thinks of centuries as other nations think of decades. It is essentially indestructible, and can afford to wait. The "civilized" nations of the world…will probably destroy each other within the next hundred years, leaving the stage to those whose pacifism has kept them alive... [38]


由此可見,十二德目與其說是中華傳統文化的總結,不如說是整個人類文明道德標準的總結。正因如此,在二十世紀初,東西方文化在中國腹地剛剛交會時,羅素不無驚奇地發現:久居遠東其他地方的英國人,多年後一如故我,但是久居中國的英國人,「會漸漸獲得中國人的精神面貌和價值標準」。[39]  所以,羅素對於中國將最終走出歷史的困境,給世界帶來真正的和平與秩序充滿了信心,他說——「中國人堅不可摧,經得起等待。現在那些自稱為『文明』的國度……互相殘殺,最終將只剩下那些愛好和平的國家。」


Joseph Needham further expected the unification of the world and, in turn, the extinction of war forever.  He is as sympathetic as historian Toynbee and put great emphasis on the invaluable asset of traditional Chinese culture to world civilization.  As a scientist, Needham believed that


“No doubt the greatest effect of modern science on human civilization has been to unify the whole world surface.  Among the tasks of integration which humanity is now facing in the progress towards higher forms of order and union, none can well be thought larger than the confluence of the Euro-American and Chinese civilization.  The more one studies the two, the more do they see, I feel, like two different symphonies by two different composers using identical fundamental melodies.”[40]









The historian philosopher, Arnold Toynbee, specifically identified that one of the prerequisites of world unification is the efficient communication between different racial groups.  For this purpose, a universal language is required.  He believed that Chinese language will be an ideal choice because it is a construct of ideograms which can actualize the communication that transcends time and space and preserve and transmit the important legacy of mankind--wisdom.  This special quality is also emphasized by Needham and Russell.  Russell quoted an article on "Some Anthropological Problems of China," published in the Chinese Students' Monthly (Baltimore), for February 1922, by Mr. Chi Li, (p. 327) in his book The Problem of China:


Now, with all respects to alphabetical civilization, it must be frankly stated that it has a grave and inherent defect in its lack of solidity…. The history of the Western land repeats the same story over and over again. Thus up and down with the Greeks; up and down with Rome; up and down with the Arabs…. Certainly this phenomenon can be partially explained by the extra-fluidity of the alphabetical language which cannot be depended upon as a suitable organ to conserve any solid idea. Intellectual contents of these people may be likened to waterfalls and cataracts, rather than seas and oceans.  No other people is richer in ideas than they; but no people would give up their valuable ideas as quickly as they do. [41]







Similarly, Needham was awed by the perpetuation of Han characters and the literary language in the Chinese classics.  He applied scientific methods to explore their depth.  If the rise and fall of civilizations are the inevitable law of history, then, what methodology can propagate their wisdom and prevent the destruction of a once splendid civilization?  Can the ancient civilization be perpetuated under one tradition with new branches growing out of the old tree trunks, a renaissance that makes it thriving again?  This became an important question for these visionary people who embrace the world.  In studying the development of pre-modern Chinese technology, Joseph Needham and Bernhard Karlgren (1889-1978), Swedish sinologist and linguist who pioneered the study of Chinese historical phonology using modern comparative methods,[42]  analogized the literary language in the Chinese classics as the ancient “world language,” quoting Karlgren--


“The literary language has been an artificial thing for a thousand years and more, and for all its stylistic variations it has been essentially the same throughout the ages. Once a Chinese has succeeded in mastering it, it is the same to him, from the linguistic point of view, whether the poem he is reading was written at the time of Christ, a thousand years later, or yesterday; it is just as comprehensible and enjoyable in either case….”  


And it is true that this old language, in spite of its ambiguity, has a concentrated, laconic, lapidary quality, making an impression of austere elegance, pith and virility, unequalled in any other invented instrument of human communication.[43]








If sinologists can see the inscriptions on the recently unearthed vessels of ancient rites, they will be happy to discover that the historical Chinese literary language is indeed the world language.  It enables people of different language and cultural background to communicate successfully.  It is concise without losing eloquence.  This has been an important aid in the formation of China--the Middle Kingdom.  The Han characters and the literary language manifest the spirit of human civilization, the grand way of nature; therefore, people within the four seas can resonate with the truth of life and the universe recorded through the literary language.





In the early third century, the ancient Roman philosopher, Plotinus (AD 204-270) was born in Egypt.  He proposed the “One" concept and pointed out that there is a supreme, totally transcendent “One," containing no division, multiplicity or distinction; beyond all categories of being and non-being.  The "One" concept of Plotinus "cannot be any existing thing," nor is it merely the sum of all things, but "is prior to all existents."  Plotinus identified his "One" with the concept of “Good” and the principle of “Beauty.”[45]  A century before Plotinus, the philologist during Han dynasty, Xu Shen (AD 58-147), was working assiduously to continue the excellent epistemology of the ancient sages.  He became the first to organize the Chinese characters by shared components (radicals), as well as the author of Shuwen Jiezi, the first Chinese dictionary to analyze the structure of the characters and to give the rationale behind them, sometimes also the etymology of the words represented by them.[46]  The first word in his analytical dictionary is “One.”  According to Xu Shen’s explanation, “One” means “the primordial existence, One is the source of Dao, which divides the heaven and earth; all beings and non-beings metamorphosized from One.”  Plotinus and Xu Shen has never met each other but the great minds think alike.  The Grand Course (Dao) originates from “One.”  It is the universal truism.  The Roman Empire and Han dynasty had each sent envoys to traverse over mountains and seas but were never able to meet.  However, their individual spirituality, without the need to communicate, resonates with each other from afar.  Tracing the roots of all the great civilizations, from ancient times to the present, from the West to the East, all conform to the profundity of Dao tacitly “using identical fundamental melodies.”

西元三世紀初,出生於埃及的古羅馬哲學家普羅提諾(Plotinus, 公元204-270)提出「一」(The One)的概念,指出萬物生於一,此為至善。一個多世紀之前,中國的許慎(公元58-147年),在家中奮力繼往聖之絕學,將古人關於造字的資料匯成《說文解字》,書中第一個字便是「一」,許慎釋之為「惟初太始,道立於一。造分天地,化成萬物」。二人從未面謀,卻英雄所見略同,是為大道歸一,放之四海而皆準。羅馬與漢朝,多次派使節翻山渡海以求彼此溝通而最終未能握手。然而其精神,卻無需溝通就能遙相呼應。可見,古今中外所有偉大的文明,究其根本是暗合道妙的,「其基本旋律也是完全一致的」。


Plotinus and Xu Shen although both talked about Dao, or “One,” but the words written by Plotinus are not understandable by people today.  However, Xu Shen used the literary language and can still be understood by the Chinese today.  The Venerable Master Chin Kung said: “the Han characters and the literary language are the greatest inventions in human history.”  We can see the truth of the Master’s words from this comparison.



In the Book of Rites, the chapter on "Ceremonial Usages," Confucius stated: “When the Grand Course was pursued, a public and common spirit ruled all under the sky.”[47]  Two thousand years later, Joseph Needham was also of the same spirit and wrote his book Within the Four Seas in order to realize early what Confucius has also advocated--all are brothers within the four seas.  From ancient times to the late Chin dynasty, the tradition of family education, ethical relations, virtues, and the law of cause and effect had made the Chinese people love and respect from the heart.  They are law-abiding good citizens, with mutual trust, assistance, and love, worked together to maintain social order without police enforcement.  Both Russell and Gu Hung-ming praised highly this Spirit of the Chinese people.  It is also the excellent characteristic shared by all human beings, aided with good family education, the respect of the teachers, and the social education of mutual respect and love, all can be like the legendary emperors Yoa and Shun, and all can be future saints and sages.  Therefore, the traditional Chinese culture is a precious world heritage; the manifestation of all the excellent traditions of different races in the world.  The propagation of the education of traditional culture will surely bring real stability, peace, and happiness to the world.






[1] Russell, Bertrand, The Problem of China, Ch. 1, ”Questions.” London, George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1st Ed. 1922. 




[3] Id., The Problem of China, Ch.1 “Questions.”


[4] Id. Ch. XI. “Chinese and Western Civilization Contrasted.  Original text reads: “When I went to China, I went to teach; but every day that I stayed I thought less of what I had to teach them and more of what I had to learn from them.”


[6] Needham, Joseph, Within the Four Seas: the Dialogue of East and West, pp. 25-26.  Toronto: University of Toronto, 1969.


[8] New International Version of the Bible.  See,


[9] Sahih International translation of The Koran, 59:22.  See,


[10] Translation by James Legge.  See,, para. 5.


[12] Gu, Hong-ming, The Spirit of Chinese People, ch.1.  The Peking Daily News, 1915.


[13] Id.


[14] Id. 辜鴻銘著,《中國人的精神》,頁56.


[15] Id. 辜鴻銘,頁60.


[16] Russell, The Problem of China, ch. XI, “Chinese and Western Civilization Contrasted.”


[17] Id., ch. XII “The Chinese Character.”


[18] 《中國問題》,頁159-161.


[19] Id., ch. 1 “Questions.”


[20] "Gunpowder, the magnetic compass, and paper and printing, which Francis Bacon considered as the three most important inventions facilitating the West's transformation from the Dark Ages to the modern world, were invented in China."  "The Needham Puzzle: Why the Industrial Revolution Did Not Originate in China".Economic Development and Cultural Change 43 (2): 269–292.doi:10.1086/452150.  See,



[21] Toynbee, Arnold, Surviving the Future, Chapter 4.


[22] His accomplishments in astronomer have been compared to his contemporary, Ptolemy. 



[23] Id.


[24] Toynbee, Surviving the Future, Chapter 4.  湯恩比,《在未來中生存》,第四章。


[25] Mozi (ca. 470 – 391 BC) was a Chinese philosopher during the Hundred Schools of Thought period (early Warring States period).  His philosophy emphasized self-restraint, self-reflection and authenticity rather than obedience to ritual. Mozi tried to replace what he considered to be the long-entrenched Chinese over-attachment to family and clan structures with the concept of "impartial caring" or "universal love" (, jiān ài).   See,


[26] 這句話引自辜鴻銘的《中國人的精神》。原文是:Es gibt zwei friedliche Gewalten auf der Welt: Das Rechtund die Schicklichkeit.


[27] Gu, The Spirit of the Chinese People, Introduction.



[28] Gu, The Spirit of the Chinese People, Chapter 1



[29] Id.


[30] Id.


[31] Id.


[32] 辜鴻銘,《中國人的精神》,頁46-47.


[33] Russell,  The Problem of China, Ch. 2.


[35] Chen, Yin-ke, Jin Ming Guan Cong Gao Chu Bian (Writings on Jin Ming Guan, Vol. 1)



[36] 見馬哈迪長老於九十高齡接受印尼希達亞都拉回教大學頒贈榮譽博士時的演講。中文見印尼《國際日報》(20140516A3)


[37] Russell, The Problem of China, Ch. XI, the whole text is as follows: “In art they aim at being exquisite, and in life at being reasonable. There is no admiration for the ruthless strong man, or for the unrestrained expression of passion. After the more blatant life of the West, one misses at first all the effects at which they are aiming; but gradually the beauty and dignity of their existence become visible, so that the foreigners who have lived longest in China are those who love the Chinese best.


[38] Id., ch.1 “The Questions.”


[39] Russell, Bertrand, The Problem of China, 《中國問題》頁158.


[40] Needham, Joseph, Within the Four Seas: the Dialogue of East and West, p.96.  《四海之內》頁94.


[41] The Problem of China, Ch. 2, 《中國問題》頁26.


[43] Needham, Science and Civilisation in China, pp. 40-41.



[45] PlotinusEnneadV.2.1. In Plotinus, Ennead II, 9 'Against the Gnostics', Leuven:Peeters2012. See,


The One is a source of all existents. It is the eternally present possibility – or active making-possible – of all existence, of Being. (V.2.1).  The One is an equivalent to “The Good”


[47] Translation by James Legge.  See,


 [A1]I can’t find the equivalent of this passage in the original text in the given pages as indicated in the footnote.  So I just digested some from chapter 1, which is more than what is given here in the Chinese translation.

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