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Following are some sentences translated from the prologue of Zhao’s book ‘One or all questions’.
This is just an amateur version of translation, not certified or authorized.

Philosophy should be able to be represented in more flexible ways, even in spoken language(one usually thinks theoretical language is more accurate, in face theoretical language can’t represent all the accuracy, while the spoken language can represent a different kind of accuracy).

Or to say, development of human values, is far behind the development of how we live and how we produce, this is an interior disharmony of human culture. knowledge and technology can develop human’s ‘capability’, but can’t guarantee the ‘meaning’ of human life and human minds, ‘meaning’ has to be provided by ideas of humanity science. When ‘capability’ far more exceeds ‘meaning’, our life and minds become meaningless, the knowledge of value is so far behind, that human minds are so boring and there won’t be any meaning at all.

In fact our life and our thoughts have a feeling of meaningless. A typical phenomenon is that, we don’t produce something because we need it, we simply need it because we have produced it. Same happens to our thoughts, we usually don’t think about something because we see a question or opportunity , instead, a question appears because we have thought about something and said something.

From another perspective, one of the main results of knowledge and technology is productivity in everything. The characteristic of modern civilization is that it makes everything into production activities and products. When everything turned into production, production makes everything meaningless. The uniqueness of existence and the difficulty of making are deprived by production. To make anything you need not creation, you need only labour. Now even destruction, deconstruction, criticize, antisocial, or nostalgia, seeking roots, retrospect, seclusion etc etc, all become stereotyped production. Blab and prank are tolerated, so that they too become vulgar production. Arts are almost all production. everything becoming production deprived our right to feel, we can’t feel anything specially needed to feel. All human activities are now production, human too are production, the person we meet is just an instance of the same kind(We even have lost the right to love, because we can’t tell the difference between one and another). But here I am not criticizing knowledge and technology, like those humanities thinkers, I am just saying, it is a fact knowledge and technology have such capabilities. If there is anything that needs to be criticized, it must be the incapability and weakness of our humanity thoughts, must be our thinkers who only know how to criticize and interpret, need to be criticized, not the power of knowledge and technology itself.

Now the philosophy question we are facing, is not what meaning do we revive (the old meanings are not good any more), is not what meaning do we deconstruct(before the thinkers deconstruct anything, the facts of life have already deconstructed everything that needs to deconstructed), the question is, how to invent meaning for being, or, how to invent meaning for ideas and cultures. This means we need the ‘revival of wisdom’, wisdom is an ability, not words of tradition or anti-tradition. Of course we don’t know what meaning we need to invent for life and culture, it is still unclear, it needs specific studies.

Humanities and Social Science are too much like ‘knowledge’, this is a big problem, Humanities and Social Science can’t have definite objects to learn, in other words, the knowledge of humanities and social science is ‘live’, it’s relative, and based on particular, random inspiration and wisdom, the knowledge of humanities and social science is the transformation of things, rather than reflection on things, As an example, a legal thought or a social system, once it is accepted by people, it will make the social facts according to it, as if it is reflecting the facts. In fact it is not that a certain humanities and social knowledge or thought is accepted because it reflects the facts correctly, it is that because it is accepted, then it makes the facts according to it. Law, sociology, history are hard to be knowledge in a strict sense, even logic, psychology, such study looks so much like strict science, but anyhow there are so many philosophical assumptions in it.

I just want to say, all studies are ultimately philosophical questions, as long as they are the study of the being of human, there can’t possibly be a final question in all these philosophical questions. Obviously none of the humanities and social knowledge can be a reflection to some ‘posed’ objects. To say it completely, none of the humanities and social knowledge can possibly be a ‘reflection’ or ‘knowledge’ in the usual sense, humanities and social knowledge are part of the uncertain movements of the uncertain human and society, in it philosophy is the creative thinking.


On the English-language internet, one can only find limited information on Zhao Tingyang, whom some would say, is the most original philosopher in contemporary China, this mainly because of lack of translation work. Zhao’s official English webpage ( is unfortunately a mixup of Chinese and English, and only 2 of his articles in English and 1 in French can be found at his website. This is just one of a million examples of how, thousands of the Chinese scholars are, basically, talking to themselves in their own language. No one bothers to translate anything into other languages.

I would like to consolidate some of the resources on internet about Zhao and his thoughts, probably contribute a little translation and interpretation.

Zhao’s articals on his website:
On A Way To Syntext: A Methodology For The Understanding Of Cultures (An abstract)

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Rethinking Empire from a Chinese Concept ‘All-under-Heaven’ (Tian-xia, )

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An artical on Zhao’s Tianxia system

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Chinese Thought and Dialogical Universalism


TONG Shijun


(East China Normal University/Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences)

Europe and Asia Beyond East and West
Edited by Gerard Delanty,
Routledge, 2006

Many arguments have been made by European and Chinese thinkers against the current American foreign policy and its underlying political philosophy. This article explores the possibility of combining the argument based on the traditional Chinese idea of “tian xia” or “All under Heaven” with the argument for a dialogical universalism versus the subject-centered or monological universalism advanced by German philosopher Juergen Habermas.

1. The Chinese Idea of “Tian Xia” vs. the Western Idea of the “World”

Habermas’s criticism of the “imperialist claim” of the American neo-Conservative strategists (See Habermas 2001, Habermas 2003) may seem to some people to be a good case for making a distinction within “Western values” between “European values” and “American values”, and this distinction more or less amounts to that between a dialogical and de-centerized version of universalism a monological and self-centered version of universalism. In the view of a contemporary Chinese scholar named Zhao Tingyang, however, it is still limited by the same political tradition shared by Westerners across the Atlantic: Habermas’s “inter-subjectivity” is still an “inter-ness” between the subjects (or the nation-states in this context), but not a “transcendence” over the subjects. The real alternative to either the nation-states or the empire with one nation as its core is what the ancient Chinese imagined as “tian xia” or “All under the Heaven”.

“Tian xia” is one of the most frequently used words in ancient Chinese classics. Literally meaning “All under Heaven” or “All the land under Heaven”, it was used by ancient Chinese to refer to the whole world as they knew or imagined. It is different both from Heaven, which is above us, and from the smaller parts within it. As something different from Heaven, tian xia is actually the intersecting point of the “tian dao” or Heavenly Dao and “ren dao” or Human Dao. In other words, the principle regulating tian xia is the HeavenlyDao in the form of Human Dao. As something different from smaller parts within it, tian xia is the ideal towards which ordinary people approach and by which their everyday activities are judged. In a famous passage in the Confucian classics Great Learning, tian xia is at the top of a hierarchy of ideas: tian xia (the world), guo (states), jia (families), shen (individual persons), which is followed by a series of ideas with regards to the individual persons: xin (minds), yi (will), zhi (knowledge)….

Though the word “guo” or state is mentioned here, the ancient Chinese minds typically care more about tian xia or the world, which is supposed to be shared by everybody under tian or Heaven, than about guo, which is ruled by a jia (family) – the common Chinese equivalent of the English word “state”, guo jia, actually is composed of the two words respectively meaning state and family. The most famous contrast between “tian xia” and “guo” was made by Gu Yanwu (1613-1682), who said: “There is the perishing (wang) of guo, there’s also the perishing of tian xia. The changing of names and titles (of dynasties) is the former, while blocking of ren [humanity] and yi[righteousness] even to the degree of eating each other like beasts is the latter…. Therefore one knows to protect tian xia before he knows to protect his guo. Protecting guo is the obligations of guo’s emperors, ministers and officials, while protecting is the duty of everybody, including those in the lowest rank.” Here Gu seems to be making a distinction between “institutional obligations” and “natural duties” in John Rawls’s sense: what one owes to tian xia is a natural duty, which needs no justification, while what one owes to a guo or state is an institutional obligation, which needs justification on the basis of one’s natural duties.

This contrast between tian xia and guo/jia was noticed by many modern Chinese thinkers when they tried to understand the meaning of nation-states when people’s obligation to their guo/jia justified by their duty to the supposedly everybody’s tian xia was severely challenged by some nation-states who neither belonged to the Chinese guo/jia, nor accepted the claim that the Chinese guo/jia was the embodiment of the principle of tian xia. To many Chinese thinkers, the trouble is not only the fact that this claim was not recognized by Western “barbarous” powers, but also the fact that a nation that traditionally care more about tian xia than about guo/jia is extremely vulnerable to foreign invaders in the age dominated by a system of nation-states developed first in the West. Though few of them wanted to give up their claim for the moral superiority of this idea of tian xia, many of these Chinese thinkers warned that if we are going to survive as Chinese at all, we should have our own sense of national identity and national dignity defined according to the game rules of this world of nation-states, rather than defined according to our traditional understanding of tian xia.

While Modern Chinese thinkers like Liang Qichao (1873-1929) and Liang Shuming (1893-1988) referred to the traditional idea of tian xia in order to remind the Chinese people of the importance of developing something between tian xia and jia (family) while respecting their values, that is, the importance of cultivating the “group life” in Liang Shuming’s words, contemporary Chinese thinkers like Shen Hong and Zhao Tingyang referred to the idea of tian xia in order to claim that the traditional Chinese political culture contains important insights that might be helpful in solving the problems facing us at the global level.

The most important problem in our times of globalization, according to Zhao Tingyang, is the fact that the system of nation-states has become outdated: it is irrelevant when it comes to many problems at the global level. As a reaction to this situation, some alternative projects have been proposed, or even pursued, but none of them, in Zhao’s view, is satisfactory, because all of them are afflicted by the problem of failure to really go beyond the horizon of the model of nation-state. The United Nations is basically still a “world organization” rather than a “world institution”; the difference between the two is that while a “world institution” needs an idea of “the world” that transcends nations as its basis, a “world organization” is still an international arrangement. In theory, the UN has the problem of trying to integrate the two incompatible things, that is, pluralism and universalism, into a coherent unity; in practice, the UN has the problem of failure to do anything that any of the powers in the world does not agree upon. It is true that the United States is now the only superpower in the world, but then the UN seems to be even weaker compared with the USA in implementing its wills. Here comes the idea that the world is turned to be a new empire, an empire of the age of globalization. This “global empire”, as Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri described in their Empire, is to Zhao’s idea actually a model of American imperialism, in which America is not only the overwhelmingly powerful game player, but also the sole game rule maker. Thus “the United States managed to become the sole outlaw state in the world game.” (Zhao, p. 105) The fact that America is now behaving lawlessly, in Zhao’s view, is not only a result of the imperialist ambition of the USA, but also a result of the fact that the world does not yet have a “world idea”, neither does it have a world institution and the power to support it. “It is this”, Zhao said, “that is the severe problem posed in our times.” (Ibid)

The traditional Chinese idea of tian xia, thought Zhao, is a good candidate for this kind of world idea. Basically the idea tian xia has the following three levels of meaning:

Firstly it is its geographical sense, referring to “all the lands under heaven” in the geographical sense. It amounts to the “di” (earth) in the traditional Chinese triad of “tian (heaven), di (earth), ren (people)”, or the whole world that can be inhabited by human beings.

Secondly it is its psychological sense, referring to the mentality of all those who live upon the earth, or what Chinese calls “min xin” or “popular sentiments”. In traditional Chinese political culture, having supreme power over tian xia in the geographical sense is not “de tian xia” or “acquiring the world” in the real sense. “Acquiring tian xia” in the real sense is to have support by all the people on the earth and under the heaven.

Thirdly it is its ethical-political sense, referring to the ideal of Utopia of everybody under heaven treat each other like members of one family. What is special with this part of the idea of tian xia is that in it there is an imagination of and aspiration for a certain “world institution”, and a certain “world government” supported by it.

Compared with the Western idea of “the world”, the Chinese idea of tian xia is, according to Zhao, a philosophical rather than scientific idea, a conceptually completed world that contains all the possible meanings of the world and excludes none of them. Compared with the Husserl’s idea of “the life world”, which is also filled with human meanings, the idea of tian xia contains the institutional dimension that the idea of lifeworld lacks. Compared with the Christian world-view, the Chinese idea of tian xia is not afflicted with all kinds of divisions, conflicts and struggles, and does not deprive us of the ability to imagine a perfect future in this world, the human world.

It is interesting to note when he was arguing for the importance of the idea of tian xia to our times, Zhao Tingyang was criticizing Habermas and Rawls as well. Zhao’s criticism of Rawls is very harsh. Rawls’s thinking follows the line of Kant, which is regarded by Zhao as the best one can do before one goes beyond the paradigm of the non-world. But, according Zhao, Rawls’s idea of “law of peoples” implies two gravely dangerous ideas: the refusal to extend the principle of difference, which is in favor of the disadvantaged, from the domestic societies to the global society, and the suggestion that the so-called “liberal and decent peoples” are justified not to tolerate the outlaw states. “Rawls’s theory amounts to advocating a new imperialism, which is exactly what is carried on by the USA, a country that is willing to invest more in wars than to in the orderly international community.” (Zhao, p. 98)

Compared with Rawls, Habermas received less harsh criticism from Zhao Tingyang. Habermas, in Zhao’s view, neglected two critical questions. On the one hand, Habermas does not see that some matters can never be agreed upon by different parties, however rational a dialogue that has been undergone through might be, and even though the parties concerned have understood each other perfectly. On the other hand, some issues involve immediate interests, which would be lost if no action is taken immediately. In addition to these two problems, Habermas’s approach is wrong mainly because it has still not gone beyond the typically Western habit of taking entities like “individuals” and “nations/states” as the decisive units of consideration. By contrast, in Chinese philosophy the basic unit of consideration is a relational structure, such as family and tian xia. A philosophy based on “relationships” instead of “individuals” thus provides “the view from everywhere” rather than “the view from somewhere”. (Zhao, p. 108)

2. “View from Everywhere” vs. “View from Somewhere”

Although the idea of tian xia is considered by Zhao Tingyang to be able to provide a view from everywhere rather than a view from somewhere, Zhao himself was making this claim from a very clearly expressed “somewhere”: China. The introduction to his book The System of Tian Xia: An Introduction to A Philosophy of World Institution” is titled “Why should we discuss the Chinese world-view?” Zhao’s answer to this question is put forward against the background of the so-called “China’s rise” or even “China threat”.

The reason why we should clearly state the Chinese conception of the world, according to Zhao, is that China’s importance in thinking should match its importance in economy. And this is also required by China’s now growing responsibility to the world. “China threat” or “China’s rise”, two phrases reflecting the growing importance of China in the world from different positions, are both misconceptions of China. The former is a negative misconception of an “Other” by the non-Chinese, while the latter is a positive (self-)misconception of the Chinese themselves. In some sense, every developed countries or large countries are threats to others, because they consume large amount of energy, and create pressure upon others. But the key issue is to identify China’s possible contributions and responsibility for the world, or to redefine the positive meaning of the idea of “China”. Zhao said:

“To the world, the positive meaning that China can contribute is to become a new type of power, a power that is responsible to the world, a power that is different from various empires in the world history. To be responsible to the world, rather than merely to one’s own country, is, theoretically speaking, a perspective of the Chinese philosophy, and practically speaking, a brand new possibility, that is, to take ‘tian xia’ as a preferred unit of analysis of political/economic interests, to understand the world from the perspective of tian xia, that is, to analyze problems with ‘the world’ as the unit of thinking, going beyond the Western mode of thinking in terms of nation/state, to take responsibility to the world as one’s own responsibility, and to create a new world idea and a new world institution. World idea and world institution are values and orders that this world has ever lacked. Both the Great Britain, the power over the world in the past, and the USA, the power over the world now, have no other ideas than the idea of nation/state, and no other considerations than their own national interests, and with regards to the administration of the world they have had no legitimacy either in political or in philosophical senses. The reason is that their ‘world thinking’ is nothing but advocating their particular values, and universalizing their own values. …The problem is not that the Western nations do not think about the world; actually they always do. But ‘to think about the world’ and ‘to think from the perspective of the world’ are two totally different spheres of thinking. With regards to world politics, the Chinese world-view, or its theory of tian xia, is the only theory that takes into consideration the legitimacy of the world order and the world institution, because only the Chinese world-view possesses the idea of ‘tian xia’ as a perspective of analysis that is higher and larger than ‘nation’. Therefore our real problem is what kind of obligation that China is prepared to take for the world, and what kind of ideas China is prepared to create for the world.” (Zhao, p. 3-4)

That is to say, the real importance of China to the world is that only in Chinese tradition there is a way of thinking that is against not only other powers’ egocentric thinking, but also its own egocentric thinking. Here Zhao seems to imply that according to this tradition, a “threat from China” would thus become a “threat against China” as well, and the only correct understanding of “China rise” is the rise of China’s responsibility to the world — not a responsibility in the sense of a “mission” to universalize its values and distribute them all over the world, but in the sense of a duty to “think of tian xia from the perspective of tian xia”, and to regard nobody as others or outsiders, because in relation to tian xia there are, by definition, no outsiders.

The core of Zhao’s idea, I think, is to argue for a cosmopolitan order that calls for a higher sense of responsibility rather than a stronger sense of power and hegemony, and to argue for it from a perspective that is neither other-worldly transcendental, nor this-worldly utilitarian, but in a sense this-worldly transcendental. Zhao regards this “immanent transcendental” perspective as “ontological” and “a prior”, but I would rather interpret it as a perspective concerning “who we are” or “who we want to be” instead of “what we have” or “how much we have”, nor “what we should do” as one would think on a deontological position. A cosmopolitan order or an order of tian xia is justified not from any particular interest positions, nor from any supposedly universalized or universalizeble interest positions, which is the core of Habemas’s version of Kantianism, but from the perspective of tian xia itself, which is the “ontological condition” for our happiness, or our “well-being”, which is our real being. In other words, a cosmopolitan order, or the peaceful coexistence and cooperation among all the peoples under heaven, is justified neither on the basis of the instrumental value of coexistence and cooperation, nor on the basis of some other-worldly meanings, but on the basis of the this-worldly immanent values of coexistence and cooperation.

A utilitarian justification for coexistence and cooperation is limited because interest-relations between different persons or different groups of people could easily change with time, situation and particular considerations of the people concerned at particular moments. If one’s interest is the major reason for his or her engagement in the coexistence and cooperation, he or she may well break this relationship easily for the very same reason of self-interest.

One may then say that coexistence and cooperation should be justified by long-term rather than short-term interests: in the long run cooperation between different peoples is beneficial to each of them. Even if the current cooperation is not very beneficial to us, we may say, we can rely on our long-term interest-calculation, which would tell us that we would be guaranteed of a share of benefit of the cooperation in the future sooner or later. At first sight this way of thinking seems much better than the above one, the one based on short-term interest relations. On closer look, however, it is also somehow problematic. Actually, those who argue for competition rather than for cooperation are making the same type of consideration: although competition on the basis of self-interests is harmful in many cases, it will bring about beneficial results in the long run according to certain laws or meanings governing human society or human history as a whole. Behind both arguments we can perhaps see the following same way of thinking: to base our hope or activity on our conviction of some deep-seated laws or meanings of human society and history, no matter what these laws and meanings say about the result of our hope or action. What is problematic about this way of thinking is that in human world, what our future will be like depends, to a large degree, on what we choose to do now and here, rather than some hidden or deep-seated laws and meanings. To justify something on the ground that it will bring us beneficial results in the future according to certain transcendental goals or objective laws could lead, in my view, to easing our sense of urgency with regard to what we should do now and here, while it is much more dangerous in our times than in previous periods for us to sit and wait until what Kant called “providence” or “the secret plan of Nature”, what Hegel called the “cunning of Reason”, or what Marx called the “law of history”, show us what our real destiny will be in the remote future. In our times, modern science has already peeped into human genes, weapons of mass destruction can be easily used for different reasons, and large scale harmful ecological changes has begun to influence our everyday life. This means that what we choose to do now can easily delete any chance of our further choices in the future, and we are no longer in the situation where we can be sure that any mistake now can be corrected and its consequence be compensated in the long run. This concerns the very “being” of us, rather than the mere “having” of us. Against this background it is really very important to emphasize our (Chinese) responsibility that is growing together with our economic and technological power, and to consider the problem of the world from the perspective of the world itself, rather than the perspective of any particular interests. This is the implication in Zhao Tingyang’s idea of tian xia, which is very important, indeed.

3. “View from Everywhere” as “Ideal Role Taking”

To see tian xia from the perspective of tian xia itself is to justify coexistence and cooperation on the basis of the immanent non-utilitarian value of coexistence cooperation itself, and to say that coexistence and cooperation have an immanent non-utilitarian value in them is to say that to live together with each others in a friendly and cooperative way is to live in a genuinely human way: when we are asked to define the meaning of a genuinely human life, we have to mention friendship and cooperation and include them in that definition. For this kind of thinking I want to give a formulation that is less metaphysical than Zhao’s as follows on the basis of my understanding of Confucianism.

The focus of Confucianism is to teach how to be a human being in the full sense. To be a human in the full sense, according to Confucius, is to cultivate “ren” in ourselves. “Ren” is the kernel concept of Confucianism, and it is composed of “人” “(man) and “二”(two). One becomes a human individual in the full sense only through interaction with other people; “intersubjectivity” comes before “subjectivity” in this sense. Interaction with other people is first of all a process of getting mature as a human being, or a process of learning to be a human being in the full sense, instead of a mere process of benefiting each other. The first passage of the Analectics records the Master’s saying that “Is it not pleasant to learn with a constant perseverance and application? Is it not delightful to have friends coming from distant quarters? Is he not a man of complete virtue, who feels no discomposure though men may take no note of him?” (Analectics, Ch. 1) What is most relevant to the topic of this paper is the second sentence: “is it not delightful to have friends coming from distant quarters”. Having friends coming from distant quarters is something delightful, and it is delightful by itself, not because of any other things. Of the same nature is “learning with constant perseverance and application”. It is also something that is pleasant by itself and not because of anything else. Put these two sentences together we may say that Confucius teaches us both to love others and to educate or cultivate ourselves, and these two things are actually closely connected with each other: according to Confucius, loving others is a great way of cultivating ourselves, or a great way for us to learn to be human beings in the full sense. That is why the concept “ren” is so important in the doctrine of Confucius and later Confucians. It is, of course, not an easy thing to love others; otherwise it would not be so important to our personal development. “Others” are others because they are different from us, and it is a great challenge for us to learn to deal with differences between people. To have a harmonious relation with others is not to reduce all the differences between them and us. That is what Confucius means when he says that “the gentleman aims at harmony, not uniformity; the small man prefers uniformity, not harmony.” (Analectics, Ch. 12) Harmony, according to Confucianism, is a relation between different elements, like what we have in a “thick soup”. Given the differences and diversities between different people, it is only natural that misunderstandings can arise from time to time. In order to deal with this kind of situation, Confucius asks us to be patient, to be optimistic, and not to give up easily in striving for mutual understanding and trust. That is why the third sentence of the first paragraph of the Analectics goes like this: “Is he not a man of complete virtue, who feels no discomposure though men may take no note of him?” (Analectics, Ch.1)

If we expand our understanding of coexistence and cooperation as the “ontological condition” for our (well-)being, then we can see that when we are engaged in friendly coexistence and cooperation, we should not only avoid trying to benefit us alone, but also avoid trying to benefit others according to our own understanding of “benefits” or “interests”. The first principle in Confucianism in dealing with others is “Not to do to others as you would not wish done to yourself.” (Analectics, Ch. 12) This, as we all know, is the Confucian version of the “Golden Rule”. In addition to this basically negative rule there is another Confucian rule, a positive one: “Now the man of perfect virtue, wishing to be established himself, seeks also to establish others; wishing to be enlarged himself, he seeks also to enlarge others.”(Analectics, Ch.6))Here the expressions “to establish others” and “to enlarge others” should not be understood as simply “making others live the same kind of life as we do”. It is well-known that to impose what we think to be good upon other people very often inflict great harm upon them instead. To have the view of tian xia in our times means that we should not only do good things for others, but also respect others’ understanding of the meaning of “a good life”. In order to show our respect for other people’s right to interpret the meaning of “good”, and, in order to seek mutual understanding between different people (and different peoples) over the problem “what is a good life”, we should take an active part in cooperation not only in trade, finance and economy in general, but also in culture, in cultural exchange and intellectual dialogue.

What is said above is, contrary to Zhao Tingyang’s view, not very different from Habermas’s position. Or in other words, the traditional Chinese idea of “tian xia” can be translated into the language of Habermas’s theory of communicative action. Both Habermas and Zhao Tingyang want to find some a prior condition for our being as human beings, but it is Habermas, instead of Zhao, who seems to be closer to Confucius: Habermas, like a good Confucian typically would do, starts from what is nearby, that is, everyday communication, while Zhao argues that tian xia, the least probable Utopia, has the “logical precedence” over every other orders. Zhao does not see that with Habermas, as with Confucius, subjectivity and intersubjectivity presuppose each other, rather than the latter unilaterally depends on the former. Like many other people, Zhao does not see clearly that Habermas’s idea of “ideal speech situation” is not a purely regulative idea, but also something constitutive, or something we have already presupposed if interpersonal communication is to be possible at all. And Habermas needs his theory of dialogue or argumentation not only because of the importance of dialogue and argumentation to decision-making on domestic, international and global issues, but also because of the importance of study of dialogue and argumentation to answering some key questions in theory of knowledge, morality and law, such as whether it is still possible to keep and defend the ideas of truth, justice, and goodness, and why we should bother to be moral at all. These questions were answered by appealing to traditional world-views in the past, and thus were not real questions at all. In our times, however, they become questions just because they no longer have, if any, ready-made answers. Now both Confucius and Habermas can be said of accepting Herbert Mead’s thesis of “individualization through socialization” (See Habermas 1992, pp. 149-204). With the help of this thesis, we can see that to a person who has become a mature individual through a process of social interaction in which rationalized social norms are internalized in him, “why moral” is a problem that has already been solved in the everyday life before it is raised in expert discourse. At a higher level, in our times, one is developed into a mature individual not only through a process of socialization in one particular cultural community, but also through a process of being engaged in the process of communication between different cultural communities in the global society as well as in domestic societies. A mature individual is one who has learnt to take everybody’s perspective, which is called by Mead (and Habermas) “the ideal role taking”: “In moral discourse, the ethnocentric perspective of an unlimited communication community, all of whose members put themselves in each individual’s situation, worldview, and self-understanding, and together practice an ideal role taking (as understood by G. H. Mead).” (Habermas 1996, p. 162) This, I think, is just what Zhao Tingyang means by “the view from everywhere”.

Confucianism, of course, can be and does have been interpreted in many ways. What I have proposed above is more or less a mutual translation between the Confucian idea of “tian xia” or Zhao Tingyang’s “the view from everywhere” on the one hand, and the idea of “ideal role-taking” in Mead and Habermas, on the other. Preserving the traditional Chinese idea of “tian xia” and interpreting the idea of “tian xia” with the help of the idea of “ideal role-taking”, we can, on the one hand, connect the traditional idea with the contemporary discussions on various relevant issues, including the issue of institutional framework for implementing the idea of “tian xia”, and, on the other hand, bring the achievements of these contemporary discussion, of which Habermas’s dialogical universalism is an very important one, into touch with the traditional Chinese culture, especially its idea of “tian xia” as a this-worldly transcendental Utopia.

November 17, 2005, Shanghai


Zhao Tingyang (2005): The System of Tian xia: An Introduction to a Philosophy of the World Institution (tian xia ti xi: shi jie zhi du zhe xue dao lun), Jiangsu Education Press, 2005.

Jürgen Habermas:

1992: Postmetaphysical Thinking: Philosophical Essays, translated by William Mark Hohengarten, Polity Press, 1992

1996: Between Facts and Norms: Contributions to a Discourse Theory of Law and Democracy, translated by William Rehg, The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1996

2002: “Letter to America”, Nation; 12/16/2002, Vol. 275 Issue 21.

2003: “Was bedeutet der Denkmalsturz?”, Frankfurter Allgemeinen Zeitung vom 17. April 2003

The author:

TONG Shijun, born in 1958, is Professor of Philosophy of East China Normal University in Shanghai and Deputy President of Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences. He got his BA and MA degrees from East China Normal University respectively in 1982 and 1984, and his Ph.D. from the University of Bergen of Norway in 1994. Having taught philosophy at ECNU since 1984, he visited University of Marburg of Germany from May to November 1998, and worked at Columbia University of the USA as a research visiting Fulbright Scholar in the academic year 2000-2001. Among his publications are Epistemology and Methodology in the Post-Hegelian European Philosophy of 19th Century (Bergen 1993) and Dialectics of Modernization: Habermas and the Chinese Discourse of Modernization (Sidney, 2000). Among his translations are Hilary Putnam’s Reason, Truth and History and Juergen Habermas’s Faktizitaet und Geltung.

Email address:

Rethinking Empire from a Chinese
Concept ‘All-under-Heaven’
(Tian-xia, )
Tingyang Zhao
In this paper the author argues that the Chinese theory of All-under-Heaven is the best
philosophy for world governance. All-under-Heaven is a deep world concept with a
trinity of meanings: the earth, people’s hearts and a world institution. And it introduces a
political principle, ‘world-ness’, that arguably transcends the principle of ‘internationality’.
The author argues that the theory of All-under-Heaven is a more appropriate
‘world theory’ than ‘international theory’ in dealing with world problems. The author
also considers the philosophies of the UN and EU.
‘Empire’ is not only a geographical but also a cultural institutional concept.
There have been great empires in the past, always reminding us of their splendid
victories and fatal collapse. The modern age has been mainly an age of nations/states,
in which the concept of empire has been distorted in terms of the imperialism that
should assumed responsibility for the most terrible wars recorded in history.
As is now realized, because of penetrating globalization and astonishing technological
developments, the modernity of the nations/states system has been weakened,
while a still-vague new age emerges,1 an age of globality as the consequence
of globalisation. But what is the most likely form of global governance? Personally
I feel as if the steps toward a new empire could be now be heard, and indeed it
has already been discussed (see Hardt & Negri, 2001). What ideal of empire could
we expect for a new empire? It seems an important and serious question.. And here
I would like to introduce the Chinese traditional conception of world governance,
which is quite different from the usual understanding of empire, and which
might give a more constructive and positive way to rethink the best Idea of an
acceptable empire.
Tingyang Zhao, Professor of Institute of Philosophy, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, 5 Jiangnomennei
Avenue, Beijing, China 100732. Email:
ISSN 1350-4630 (print)/ISSN 1363-0296 (online) # 2006 Taylor & Francis
DOI: 10.1080/13504630600555559
Social Identities
Vol. 12, No. 1, January 2006, pp. 29/41
1. The Concept of ‘All-under-Heaven’
In contract to the western concept of empire, China has a three thousand year-old
traditional concept, ‘All-under-Heaven’, very closely relevant to the Idea of empire.
We are led to think that a thing always has, in Platonic philosophy, its Idea that
essentially makes it as it is . And an Idea also implies, if further interpreted, the perfect
conception for a thing to be as it is expected. That means a perfect idea is turned out
to be an ideal of a thing. Here the concept of All-under-Heaven could be considered
as a supposed ideal of a perfect empire.
The term ‘All-under-Heaven’ (Tian-xia, ), found in almost the oldest Chinese
texts, means firstly the earth, or the whole world under heaven.2 It is almost
equivalent to ‘the universe’ or ‘the world’ in western languages. Its second meaning is
the ‘hearts of all peoples’ ( ), or the ‘general will of the people’. The world is always
the home-for-people, that is, the earth as it is ours more than the earth as it is . Allunder-
Heaven therefore consists of both the earth and the people. Consequently, an
emperor does not really enjoy his empire of All-under-Heaven, even if he conquers an
extraordinary vastness of land, unless he receives the sincere and true support from
the people on the land. Just as Philosopher Xun-zi (313BC/238BC) said in his essay
‘On kingship and supremacy’:
Enjoying All-under-Heaven does not mean to receive the lands from people who
are forced to give, but to satisfy all people with a good way of governance.
Its third meaning, the ethical and/or political meaning, is a world institution, or a
universal system for the world, a utopia of the world-as-one-family. This political/
ethical ideal of the world boasts of its very distinctness in its philosophical and
practical pursuit of world governance ensured by a world institution. The ideal of
All-under-Heaven as the philosophical concept of a world institution essentially
distinguishes itself from the pattern of the traditional military empire, for instance
the Roman Empire, or that of an imperialist nation/state, for example the British
Empire. The conceptually defined Empire of All-under-Heaven does not mean a
country3 at all but an institutional world instead. And it expects a world/society
instead of nation/states. All-under-Heaven is a deep concept of the world, defined by
the trinity of the geographical, psychological, and political worlds. From the
viewpoint of this political ontology, our supposed world is now still a non-world,
for the world has not yet been completed in its full sense. World institution and full
popular support are still missing. We are talking nonsense about the world, for the
world has not yet been fulfilled with its world-ness.
The concept of All-under-Heaven shows its uniqueness in its political and
philosophical world-view that creates the world-wide-measure, or the world-wideviewpoint,
of seeing the affairs and problems of the world in the measure of worldness.
It defines the world as a categorical rethinking unit of viewing and interpreting
political life, constitution and institution. This methodology is essentially different
from the western. In western political theory, the biggest political unit is found to be a
30 T. Zhao
country or nation/state, while in Chinese theory it is the framework of ‘world/society’.
States have always been seen as subordinate units inside the framework of the world/
society that are regarded as a necessary and the highest political unit. Chinese
political philosophy defines a political order in which the world is primary, whereas
the nation/state is primary in western philosophy. Certainly, westerners do think
about the world, but the western imaginations of the world are nothing higher and
greater than international alliances or unions of nation/states, not going beyond the
framework of nation/states. Such projects have essential difficulties in reaching the
real integrality of the world for they are limited by the perspectives of nation/states,
due to the lack of a vision of world-ness. To see the world from its world-ness is
different from seeing it from part of it.
All-under-Heaven should be understood together with another closely related
concept the ‘Son of Heaven’ ( ), that is, structurally pertaining to All-under-
Heaven. The concepts of All-under-Heaven and the Son of Heaven make a
philosophical foundation for the system of empire. The Son of Heaven, analogous
to an emperor,4 is entitled to ‘enjoy his reign of the world under the heaven’ (see The
Poems). He is born to have ‘All-under-Heaven as his home’, just as naturally as a man
has a home of his own according to his natural rights, and ‘nothing left there out of
his world of home’. Whilst not even the strongest empires have controlled the entire
world, it is not difficult to conceive of the world controlled by a conceptual empire.
Of most importance is that a Son of Heaven does rather than is . In other words, one
could self-claim one’s destiny as the mandate of heaven to be, but has to be
reconfirmed the Son of Heaven if and only if there is evidence to justify his
qualification, that is, as a Confucian master Mencius argued, one’s being supported
by the peoples.5 The people’s choice is conceived as the final evidence or examination
of the legitimacy/justification of the governance. The Chinese theory of political
legitimism allows two ways to prove the rightness of the reign, one of them is the
legitimacy of establishment of an empire*/that is to save peoples from a terrible
situation when, and only when, welcomed by most of the people*/and the other is
the justification of enjoyment of the reign, which is to keep the world in the order that
most of the people want.
According to Confucius’ theory of justification, ‘p is p if p does as p is conceptually
meant to do’, we do not say that a king, an institution or a political system is better
but rather does better as evidenced.6 However, what is considered evidence in the
Chinese way is not always based on statistics, a democratic election, but rather the
that collected by means of observation of social trends or preferences, and especially
by the obvious fact that people autonomously choose to follow and pledge their
allegiance, instead of voting for one of several dubious politicians. In fact, careful and
sincere observations can better detect truth and come to a better reflection of public
choice than do democratic elections, which become spoilt by money, misled by media
and distorted by strategic votes. The autonomy of people to follow or not to follow is
regarded as a fundamental question in Chinese political philosophy as the matter of
‘people’s heart’ ( ), and it is considered closer to the truth of political reality than
Social Identities 31
democracy. The problem of people’s heart (it might better be translated in the
western way as ‘demo-allegiance’) must, theoretically, be a better representation than
democracy of the problem of public choice. If we follow the facts, it seems to be the
case that the masses always make the wrong choices for themselves through a misled
The knowledge of public preference has never been an epistemological problem to
Chinese minds, for evidence of public preference is thought to be apparent. Instead,
the Chinese have taken the ethical problem of the ‘sincerity’ of concern for the people
most seriously. The unspoken theory is that most people do not really know what is
best for them, but that the elite do, so the elite ought genuinely to decide for the
people. In the late nineteenth century, many Chinese began to think, influenced by
western discourse, that the best way of carrying out the Chinese principle of ‘people’s
hearts’ was democracy. But the problem of public choice remains unsolved today, and
has become an even greater difficulty, for democracy represents misled minds much
more than the independent, the false want much more than true needs, and illusive
advantages much more than real goods and virtues.
In Chinese philosophy, the legitimacy of All-under-Heaven is asserted as absolute
whereas a Son of heaven is not, which indicates three implicative principles: 1) the
political legitimacy of reign of All-under-Heaven is independent of and prior to any
ideology or religion; 2) the reign of All-under-Heaven is open to any qualified
candidates who best know the Way (Tao, ) to improve the happiness of all peoples
universally; and 3) this will not be a dictator or a superpower, but one who has the
right and power to justify the governance of All-under-Heaven. Laozi, the founder of
Taoism, pointed out:
a king could rule a state by his orders, win a war by strategies, but enjoy All-under-
Heaven only by doing nothing to decrease the freedom and to deny the interests of
people. (see Laozi, Tao Te Ching, c.500BC)
The appeal to the evidence of the people’s support had become the justified reason
for another political group to launch a revolution, a ‘rewriting of the mandate of
heaven’ in Chinese terms. In fact the justification of revolution has become 4000-
year-old tradition. And the theory of All-under-Heaven has no discriminating rule to
deny the opportunity for any nation to be in charge of the governance of All-under-
Heaven. Historically, the Mongolian and the Menchu had governed China for 400
years and their governance had been considered legitimate dynasties of China. More
interestingly, both the Mongolian and the Menchu emperors had adopted the theory
of All-under-Heaven in establishing their legitimate reign.7
In the Chinese system of ideas, family-ship is very powerful in interpreting ethical/
political legitimacy, for family-ship is thought to be the naturally given ground and
resource for love, harmony and obligations, and thus a full argument that ‘exhausts
the essence of humanity’.8 Chinese philosophy has developed the very consciousness
of the virtue of family-ship.9 The essence of humanity, fundamentally constituted as
family-ship, is claimed as the ‘first thing with which a Lord is concerned most’ and
32 T. Zhao
the only thing ‘impossible to be altered forever’, while all other rules and knowledge
are alterable.10 Family-ship is the minimal and irreducible location of harmony,
cooperation, common interests and happiness, so that it is arguably the universal
framework through which to interpret all possible cases of harmony, cooperation,
common interests and happiness.
The virtue of the-world-as-All-under-Heaven is always understood and interpreted
in terms of family-ship. And it analytically implies the claim for the wholeness and
harmony of the world to be a world, for the necessary conditions of family happiness
are always its wholeness and harmony. And as also implied logically, anything against
the wholeness and harmony of the world is defined as politically unacceptable (the
interference in the liberty of an individual might be an unacceptable political mistake,
whilst the damage to harmony, the first political mistake). Thus the principle of
harmony, originating in the ideal of family-ship, is made a paradigm applied further
to the explanations of the possibility of any kind of harmony in the world. All-under-
Heaven is nothing but the greatest family, a world-family; that said, all political levels,
defined as ‘All-under-Heaven, states and families’, should be essentially homogenous
or homological so as to create a harmonious system. This is the key to understanding
Chinese political theory. The world’s effective political order must progress from
All-under-Heaven, to state, to families, so as to ensure universal consistency and
transitivity in political life, or the uniformity of society (just like the uniformity of
nature), while an ethical order progresses from families, to states, to All-under-
Heaven, so as to ensure ethical consistency and transitivity. It implies that a world is
of order if and only if it is ordered with the highest world institution, while the world
institution must reflect the virtue of family-ship. Under this principle, Chinese
political and ethical theories are made one. We all have reason to highlight the
importance of political/ethical consistency and transitivity, because any inconsistency
or contradiction in the system will be a disaster. For instance, democracy, equality
and liberty have been developed in western domestic society, but never extended to
the international society. This case of political inconsistency and intransitivity could
greatly damage the reputation of democracy, equality and liberty.
The Chinese system of families, states and All-under-Heaven, which differs
fundamentally from the western system of individuals, nations and internationals,
is often criticised for its neglect of the individual as well as individual rights, but this
is a misunderstanding of Chinese philosophy and a poor understanding of political
society. There is no Chinese denial of the value of the individual, but rather a denial
of the individual to be a political foundation or starting point, because the political
makes sense only when it deals with ‘relations’ rather than ‘individuals’, and the
political is meant to speak for co-existence rather than a single existence. In a very
Chinese way, politics aims at a good society of peaceful ‘order’ ( ), which is the first
condition for any possible happiness of each and all, and at keeping a society from the
‘disorder’ ( ) that destroys all possibilities of individual happiness. This political
conception could find a strong argument in Chinese ontology, the ontology of
relations, instead of the western ontology of things .
Social Identities 33
According to the grammar of Chinese philosophy, the political philosophy focusing
on the absoluteness of individual or nation misleads political questions and logic, for
it encourages conflicts and consciousness of the enemy, which creates more problems
than solutions. Carl Schmitt’s wonderful theory of recognition of enemy/friend could
be an example. It rightly reflects the typical wrong in western political consciousness,
or sub-consciousness, in which political impulse divides and breaks up the world. In
contrast, one of the principles of Chinese political philosophy is said ‘to turn the
enemy into a friend’, and it would lose its meaning if it were not to remove conflicts
and pacify social problems*/in a word, to ‘transform’( ) the bad into the good.
Today, some investigations in game theory seem to support Chinese philosophy in
that in a game, maximizers will find a limit to improving their own interests, because
Pareto efficiency for common happiness would be impossible without trusted
The concept of All-under-Heaven is meant to be an empire of world-ness
responsible for the common happiness of all peoples. It refers to a theoretical or
conceptual empire that has never really existed. I do not say that Chinese dynasties,
for instance the Chin ( ) dynasty, were not empires. Quite the opposite, China had
been an empire in its usual sense for a long time. Every dynasty of Chinese empire
had tried to apply the concept of All-under-Heaven, but had never been able to
realize it because of practical limitations. All-under-Heaven means a very different
empire, that is not necessarily a world superpower, but a world under a commonlyagreed
institution, a plan to make the world a place of world-ness. The ancient
Chinese empires had no power to accomplish the plan of world-ness, but had tried to
be an exemplar empire of family-ship. The comprehensive view of the world as Allunder-
Heaven surely takes the whole world as a single political system that is much
greater and higher than a single country or nation/state. Consequently, the empire of
All-under-Heaven highlights the problem of time rather than of space, that is, the
problem of its duration rather than of its territory; and it has been apparent in the
Chinese concern for the legitimacy of its dynasties rather than actual territorial
The ancient Chinese practical project of the empire of All-under-Heaven had many
sub-states ( ) that were institutionally loyal to the empire, which were institutional
centres, but independent in their governance. These sub-states were not nation/states
at all but ruled by kings or noble families and politically recognized by the emperor.
Before the centralized government of the vast Chinese Empire was set up in 221BC,
China had been an ‘ideal’ empire, close to the concept of All-under-Heaven,
consisting of many ‘sub-states’,11 independent in their economies, military powers
and cultures, but politically and ethically dependent on the empire’s institutional
centre. There was a tributary system between the suzerain centre and the sub-states.
And the suzerain centre enjoyed its authority in recognizing the legitimacy of the substates,
but never interfered unless a sub-state declared war on another member of the
family of All-under-Heaven.
34 T. Zhao
The Chinese institution of empire experienced revolutionary reform in 221BC
when the Chin Emperor the Great conquered China and created a country with
centralized governance over many provinces, instead of sub-states. But this
institutional reform did not change the ideal of All-under-Heaven. On the contrary,
it seemed to lead the Chinese to the idea of an even wider understanding of the world,
a nearly ‘global’ picture of the world in which all foreign countries, near and far, were
seen as the theoretically taken-in sub-states. So the former smaller picture of Allunder-
Heaven had been just mapped onto the enlarged one. And the legal tributary
system had also been redefined and transformed into the voluntary tributary system,
in which foreign countries volunteered to decide whether or not to join.
The voluntary tributary system expresses much of the diplomatic strategy of the
ancient Chinese empire. It had developed stipulated reciprocity into the voluntary in
a tributary system and always ran it in a pattern of much greater returns to any
tributary gifts. Reciprocity has been a leading idea in Chinese thinking. And it has
been performed within the norms of practical life to express mutual respect. The
Interpretation of Rites says: ‘the reciprocal repays is mostly preferred in the rites. And
no pay or no repay no respect’.12 Reciprocity is a truer echo of the other’s heart-felt
respect than an economically equal exchange. And it has been argued that the ideal of
social relations is rooted in the essence of reciprocity as heart-for-heart, much more
than the reciprocity of interests-for-interests. The primary concept or principle in
Confucian theory is ‘Jen’ ( ), literally meaning the best relationship ‘of-twopersons’.
13 And even more interesting, the oldest literal meaning of Jen was the best
relationship of ‘thousands of hearts’ ( ). Jen had been considered the only
fundamental principle with which the harmony of peoples could be developed.
Reciprocity understood in the Chinese way has less to do with the reciprocal
utilitarianism or balance in commercial exchange and much more to do with the
reciprocity of hearts.
The principle of voluntariness is key to the Chinese understanding of ‘relations’
from the viewpoint of other-ness. Some scholars have argued that the general Chinese
ethical principle appears the same as the western Golden Rule (see Kung & Kuschel,
1993), but it differs essentially in the philosophical presuppositions wherein western
philosophy sees in terms of subjectivity, but the Chinese in terms of other-ness. The
Bible’s golden rule, ‘do unto others as you would have them do to you’ sounds
promising, but it would encounter challenges and difficulties when other hearts are
taken into account. The other-ness of the other heart is something absolute and
transcendent, so the other heart might reasonably want a different life. In terms of
other-ness, the Chinese ethical principle thus runs: ‘let others reach their goals if you
reach yours’. It is easy to see the subtle difference between the western and Chinese
rules. I have rewritten the Bible’s rule in a negative representation to be a better
representation of the absoluteness of other-ness: ‘never do to others what the others
would not want you to do to them’. When facing the problem of the irreducible
diversities of the hearts of others, Chinese philosophy found a solution in the
Social Identities 35
highlighting of voluntariness. The 2000-year-old Interpretation of Rites says that
harmony can be developed under two conditions:
To be heart to heart closed when congenial to each other; to respect reciprocally
when different from each other . . . rites differ in forms but equal in essence as the
expression of respect, just as in the same way, music differs in styles but is equal in
essence as the expression of heart.14
That means that to love what is the same to ours is not a problem at all, and thus that
it proves nothing of the essence of humanity. And our brilliant virtue of humanity
could show its excellence only in respecting the dissimilar forms of life. And to
respect the other in their otherness is at least to respect his voluntariness or rights in
developing his culture.
It is proper to learn values from others whereas unjust to impose one’s values onto
the others. Or to say, the values are to be learnt by rather than to be taught to the
Accordingly, an empire of All-under-Heaven could only be an exemplar passively in
situ , rather than positively become missionary. Here we see the difference between the
western and Chinese ethics: western philosophy sees humanity through the eyes of
subjectivity, while the Chinese sees it through the eyes of other-ness. And this is a clue
in distinguishing cultural empire from cultural imperialism.
2. The Relevance to Contemporary Problems
The All-under-Heaven pattern of all-states-in-a-family reminds us of the similarities
with the United Nations pattern, one of which is that they are both world
organizations dedicated to solve international problems and to ensure peace and
order in the world. But their differences might be more important, taking into
account the successes of the All-under-Heaven pattern in Chinese history to have
bring long periods of peace and stable society in many dynasties, in contrast with the
inability of the United Nations pattern to deal with international conflicts.
Furthermore, we might be encouraged to find in the All-under-Heaven pattern the
theoretical potential to resolve international and inter-cultural problems.
The comparison of the All-under-Heaven pattern with the United Nations might
still sound a little far fetched for the United Nations is not an empire system, but it
would also be a mistake to neglect the flexibility and inclusiveness of the concept of
All-under-Heaven. One factor that could reduce the unreasonableness of this
comparison is that the utopia of All-under-Heaven is not a narrowly defined empire
but an extendedly-defined world society with harmony, communication and
cooperation of all nations, guaranteed by a commonly-agreed institution.
In spite of history’s uncontrollable causes and conditions, the successes and failures
of these two patterns, All-under-Heaven and the United Nations, are due to the
different philosophical presuppositions upon which their world system concepts are
36 T. Zhao
built. All-under-Heaven presupposes the Oneness of the world, and the oneness
shows itself in all its diversities.16 Oneness of the world is also reflected in the political
principle of ‘inclusion of all’ in All-under-Heaven in terms of family-ship. Oneness
means the denial of the existence of any pagan, so that nothing in the world can be
defined unacceptable, no matter how strange it might seem. But, slightly differently,
the pattern of United Nations relies on two divergent presuppositions: pluralism and
universalism. The pluralism is of the reluctant ‘political correctness’ to please the
developing countries, and the universalism to satisfy the developed, especially the
major western powers. In order to reconcile this divergence, the United Nations has
made great efforts to validate rational dialogue to replace conflicts. There is no doubt
that rational dialogue has had an impact in reducing wars and fighting, but not in
conflict reduction, and instead has encouraged the strategic game of non-cooperation,
thus universally enhancing the personality of the selfish maximizer. And, worse,
the United Nations has no power to stop a superpower from universalizing itself
alone in name of globalisation. The UN is more of a political market for nations and
less of an institution for the world itself.
The consequential difference between these two patterns is rooted in their different
understandings of the Oneness of the world. The concept of All-under-Heaven
commits us to the Oneness of the world as the intact wholeness that implies the
acceptance of the diversities as they are and are meant to be in the world. The concept
of the United Nations has taken Oneness as a mission of western modernity to be
accomplished. It is apparent and not surprising that Oneness as a mission has been
developed from universalism. And unfortunately universalism is a type of
fundamentalism. The reason is quite simple: universalism means to universalize
something rather than everything, and to universalize the self instead of others, thus a
sort of fundamentalism that insists on the ideology of making others the pagan.
Political modernity has inherited from and never gone beyond the format of
Christian ideology that had invented, among others, unacceptable others, cultural
clashes and wars, ideological dogmas and propaganda. The worst is the universalism
that tries to universalize the others in a way they do not want.
The theoretical problems of understanding Oneness as a mission to be
accomplished has already been shown. The United Nations is an international
organization mapping onto an individualist society. It inherits and enlarges the
problems of an individualist society, for instance, international conflicts copy social
conflicts. And, worse, it does not enhance international democracy over social
democracy. As has been observed, a superpower has every opportunity to invalidate
an international organization such as the United Nations. Furthermore, it would be
the All-under-Heaven system, instead of an international organization, that would be
a more effective channel to the ideal of the world-as-one, because of the logical
impossibility of an always-justified international choice through democracy, according
to Arrow’s theorem. I am not criticizing the United Nations; it has tried its best.
What I am discussing is the given limitations in the potentiality of the United Nations
pattern. The United Nations is supposed to be an international organization,
Social Identities 37
conditioned by the interests of every nation/state, dealing with international
problems in the age of nation/state rather than in the age of globality. And it seems
to enhance rather than weaken, as Giddens pointed out, the system of nations/states
as the modern political form (see Giddens, 1985). To be fair to the United Nations, it
is not designed to take care of the world but of nations, it is of, not beyond,
modernity. In short, internationality is not and cannot be world-ness. The question of
world institution has now become more urgent since the world has plunged into
It is interesting to consider the pattern of the European Union, maybe the
European United States in the future. The EU is an excellent invention of a real and
institutionally organized region. But it is still not a system that could be extended to
the world, for it is just a company of nations/states, and it is difficult to form and give
priority to a European common interest over the interests of each of its member
nations/states, let alone a world interest. Theoretically speaking, the EU has gone not
as far as Kant’s idea. A well-organized region such as the EU is essentially something
of an enlarged nation/state meant to compete with other world regions or powers,
rather than an ideal for the world in its lack of its world-view of world-ness. The EU
pattern enhances the integration of a region but also deepens separation from the
Globalisation is breaking the world system of nations/states. It is not new. It is a
composition of universalism and fundamentalism, in which fundamentalism,
whether though capitalism, modern industry, post-modern technologies, self-claimed
world religion or ideology, tries to universalize itself.17 And within the process of
globalisation itself, it is likely for one or more nations/states to transform themselves
into new empires, different from the imperialism of nations/states. Is it an age of new
empires to come? Will be there a new form of empire, or just a post-modern return to
the old way? We should consider whether there a more reasonable and commendable
concept of empire. Comparative study would help to clarify the concept of empire,
though this is beyond the scope of this paper. The differences among the ideas of
empires can be detailed as follows:
1. The pattern of the Roman Empire. This is the typical ancient empire, not referring
only to the Roman Empire but also to others. It is considered a military
superpower with territorial expansion. It would encompass the whole world if it
were possible in its claimed or hidden ideal. Consequently it always has temporary
frontiers instead of clearly-settled boundaries. We know this pattern has not
worked since the age of nations/states.
2. The pattern of the British Empire. This is the typical modern empire based on a
nation/state under the mixed ideals of nationalism, imperialism and colonialism.
It has definitely divided boundaries except in disputed areas. The definite
boundaries do not indicate the self-restraint of imperialism, but the safeguard
of their national interests against the free entry of others. Instead of territorial
expansion, imperialism has created colonies to develop and maintain its control of
38 T. Zhao
the world and the division of the world into the developed and the undeveloped.
This pattern has become impossible since the Second World War because of the
universalizing of the system of nations/states, together with nationalism and the
consciousness of independence.
3. The new pattern is of the American ‘empire’.18 It is a new imperialism, inheriting
many characteristics of modern imperialism, but transforming direct control into
the hidden, yet totally dominating world control by means of hegemony or the
‘American leadership’ as Americans prefer to call it. This hegemonic imperialism is
occurring not only in political and economical spheres but also in knowledge,
especially through globalisation, in which it has the greatest power to universalize
its own.19 This new imperialism differs from the traditional empire in that it is
much more than a game winner, as it also defines the rules. The world would
become disordered if a player in the game also became the rule-maker.
4. The pattern of All-under-Heaven. All-under-Heaven appears much like globalisation,
but is essentially different as it contains no such sense of the ‘-isation’. Allunder-
Heaven indicates globalism instead. It means an institutionally ordered
world or a world institution responsible to confirm the political legitimacy of
world governance as well as local governance, and to allow the justification of
systems. Its political goal is to create ‘All-under-Heaven’, the trinity of the
geographical world (the earth), the psychological world (the hearts of all people)
and the political world (the world institution). It is a grand narrative, maybe the
grandest narrative in political philosophies. The very virtue of the All-under-
Heaven pattern is its world view of world-ness, which could let us understand
correctly and discover solutions to world problems. World-ness is a principle
higher than internationality.
My conclusion is that the most important political problem today is not the socalled
‘failed states’ but the failed world, a disordered world of chaos. This is why I
maintan that our world is not yet a world, but is still a non-world. And there are so
many world problems too major to be resolved by a nation, a region or by any
international contract. International theory in the framework of internationality finds
its limitation in dealing with world problems, the common or shared problems of the
world. World-ness cannot be reduced to internationality, for it is of the wholeness or
totality rather than the between-ness. Our globe needs a world theory, rather than an
international theory, to speak for the world. And the theory of All-under-Heaven as a
world theory could provide a better view for political philosophy and political
[1] But not all think so. Smith (1996, Chapter 6), for instance, insisted the system of nation/
states would not be broken up as many think, because no new system could be stronger than
nationalism in the coming future.
Social Identities 39
[2] Two thousand years ago, the popular Chinese imagination of the so called ‘Allunder-
Heaven’ was interesting in its square division of the world into ‘nine regions’ ( )
spreading from the central region to the rest in eight directions. And the land consisting of
the nine regions was the area of ancient China while the oldest capital city in China is rightly
in the central region. But Zou Yan ( ), one of China’s earliest geographers, exceptionally
had a much wider sight of the land that was thought to comprise 81 ‘nine regions’*/
reckoned by multiplying by nine*/and he said that ancient China was ‘just the one of the
eighty-ones’ in the world. See Shima Qian, 91BC, p. 2344.
[3] A Chinese philosopher, Liang Shuming thought that ancient China had been developing
itself as a ‘world’ rather than a ‘country’. See Collections of Liang Shuming, 1992, p. 332.
[4] In Chinese history, before the King of Chin the Great self-nominated as ‘the first emperor’ in
221BC, the King in general was called the Son of heaven and kept as the interpretive name for
[5] Mencius argued that people were of greater weight than the government and the support
from people was the final confirmation of the reign. And he insisted that the king would lose
his reign if he lost his people’s support, and he lost his people’s support because he was
against the people’s hearts. And Interpretation of Rites also said: ‘enjoying the reign when
receiving the support from the people, and losing the reign when losing the support of the
people’ (see Mencius, c. 220BC, as well as Interpretation of rites ).
[6] Confucius had claimed his famous theory of justification as ‘p is p if p does as p is meant to
do’, for instance, a king should do as the concept of king requires. See Confucius, The
Analects , c. 500BC.
[7] In 1271, the Mongolian emperor changed the empire name Mongolia into a Chinese name
‘Da-yuan’ ( ), meaning ‘as vast as the vastest’, for he thought the name Mongolia was
rather local thus not good for his empire of All-under-Heaven (see Song Liang). And the
Menchu nation had ruled China successfully for nearly 300 hundreds years with the support
from people. The Menchu king had written an interesting letter to the Chinese emperor of
the Ming dynasty before its declaration of a war on Ming, in which the Menchu king took
advantage of the theory of All-under-Heaven to speak for his justice. He wrote: ‘all kinds of
things from insects to humankind in the world are created and nurtured by the nature itself,
not by your empire, so that nothing is your private property. And Heaven is always so fair
that your empire will be blamed and punished for your abusing the governance . . . Allunder-
Heaven will be given to one who has greater virtues’ (see Pang, Sun & Li, 1984, pp.
[8] Interpretations of rites (c. 500BC), chapter on Da-zhuan.
[9] Only a few Chinese philosophers had the opposite opinion to the principle of family-ship.
For instance, Shang-yang said that the ethics of family-ship encouraged selfishness and evils
rather than kindness and goodness, and he thought laws were the most important things. See
Shang-yang (c. 300BC).
[10] Interpretations of rites (c.500BC), chapter on Da-zhuan.
[11] A Chinese sub-state in the ancient times appeared similar to a Greek city-state in many but
not all aspects. The oldest word for state in Chinese is ‘ ’, meaning ‘a militarily guarded city’
while the land outside is called the ‘field’ ( ), and later added a wall or border around the
city to make a new word ‘ ’. A sub-state was considered a member in a family-like
[12] Interpretations of rites (c. 500BC), chapter on Qu-li.
[13] Jen has often been translated as ‘humanity’ or ‘kindness’. These are not good translations.
[14] Interpretations of rites (c. 500BC), chapter on Yue-ji.
[15] Interpretations of rites (c. 500BC), chapter on Qu-li.
40 T. Zhao
[16] Laozi said: ‘the Way of the world produces the Oneness of its own. And the Oneness has its
two-ness. Then the two-ness self-develops into the three-ness. And the three-ness is the
minimal base for the diversities in the world’. See Laozi (c. 500BC) Tao Te Ching .
[17] The Manifesto of the Communist Party was one of the earliest texts discussing something of
globalization. It said: ‘The bourgeoisie has, through its exploitation of the world market,
given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country’. And ‘as in
material, so also in intellectual production, the intellectual creations of individual nations
become common property. National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more
and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures, there arises a
world literature’.
[18] Hardt and Negri (2001) had argued in their Empire that the new empire of today is different
from the European imperialism and mainly produced in American constitutionalism that is
more akin to Roman empire than to European imperialism.
[19] But the American empire seems still not satisfied with its ‘leadership’. Nye calls upon the USA
to enhance its ‘soft power’ as complement to its ‘hard power’, for the USA is still not
powerful enough to ‘go it alone’ even though it is the strongest power since Rome. See Nye,
Burnet, J. (1930). Early Greek philosophy. 4th ed. London: Adam & Charles Black.
Confucius (c. 500BC). The Analects .
Folsom, K. (1968). Friends, guests and colleagues . University of California Press.
Giddens, A. (1985). The nation-state and violence . Cambridge: Polity Press.
Hardt M. & Negri, A. (2001). Empire. Harvard: Harvard University Press.
Interpretation of rites (c.500BC).
Kung, H. & Kuschel, K.-J. (Eds.). (1993) A global ethic: The declaration of the parliament of the
world’s religions . New York: The Continuum Pub. Co.
Laozi (c. 500BC) Tao Te Ching .
Mencius (c. 220BC). The Book of Mencius.
Nye, J. (2002). The paradox of American power: Why the world’s only superpower can’t go it alone .
Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Pang, Sun, & Li (Eds.) (1984). The early history of Qian Dynasty. Beijing: Press of the People’s
University of China.
Poems (c. 1000BC).
Shang-yang (c. 300BC). The Book of Shang-yang .
Shima Qian (91BC). The history. 74: 2344.
Shuming, L. (1992). The collections of Shuming Liang. Beijing: Beijing Normal University Press.
Smith, A. D. (1996). Nations and nationalism in a global era . Cambridge: Polity Press.
Song, L. (c. 1370). The history of Yuan Dynasty. Section 4 of Yuan-shi-zu, Vol. 7.
Xun-zi (c. 200BC). On kingship and supremacy. In The book of Xun-zi.
Social Identities 41

On A Way To Syntext: A Methodology For The Understanding Of Cultures (An abstract)


By Zhao Tingyang

Professor of Institute of Philosophy, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

1. The Ecologicalized Understanding of Culture

When I started writing “One Problem Or All Problems” in 1995, what I imagined is a kind of methodology of philosophy, which, as anticipated, might be an active way to reshape the conception of cultural problems and the fundamental problems in humanities and social sciences. One of the basic assumptions is as follows: at least in terms of culture, everything is nothing but a factum (a thing that has been done), and a factum is made in an action with values, therefore, everything in cultural life is an open problem. So when considering a culture problem, if reasonable is the assumption that everything is a problem , we have to confront the problem formula of “one or all”. That is to say, when trying to solve a single problem, we have to put all problems into consideration because of all things relating to a thing in the context being actually problematic. On the other hand, due to the fact that we are always forced to continuously consider one problem by another, we have to understand all kinds of problem as a synthesized total in order to avoid the loss of anything important . This problem formula is more or less paradoxical, which means that it is impossible to obtain the universal or necessary knowledge of culture or society, because any object in consideration is always a problem, and so is our way of thinking in use. Therefore it leads us to recognize, at least in terms of humanity knowledge, there could never be a way for us to surpass skepticism.

With the inspirations from the skepticism of Socrates and Wittgenstein, and from the flexible interpretation theory of Laozi. I am led to discover that the culture problems should be interpreted aesthetically because of the skeptical result in epistemology. This is a post-epistemological interpretation, specially emphasizing that our failure , in seeking the universal and necessary knowledge of society and life to determine what is right and wrong , does not mean that the cultures could be entitled to be successfully but unbridly determined by political, economical and military powers, but does mean that the cultures could have their values and rights through an aesthetic interpretation. Perhaps it should be mentioned that the aesthetic interpretation is not so relative as commonly held -though of course impossible to be definitive-but could be an interpretation for us to re-obtain the reliable grounds.1

There is fairly the practical acquiesce in the interpretation of culture by power,. Foucault had provided us with the best description of the interactive relation of knowledge/power.2 We could observe that in today’s globalization movement, the power interpretation on culture further becomes an obvious fact of cultural hegemony, and in much an extent an American cultural strategy. For example, Joseph S. Nye has even wanted America to consolidate it,3 he claims that soft power (culture and ideology) has become a most important force, although America has done not too bad on that-“Europeans and Asians want to watch American films and TV” because of “American cultural and ideological appeal”-but it is not enough, for “American is bigger than all the other players overall, but it does not possess overwhelming superiority in all key areas.” Even let aside the different countries’ political and cultural interests, Nye’s viewpoint, which represents today many people’s weak wisdom in the sense of aesthetics or the virtue of culture, is unacceptable from a pure theoretical perspective . Whatever culture we belong to, whether or not it is strong, do we want our culture lose its vitality and creativity because of the dullness by mono-culture? The reduction of cultures to only one is cultural-ecologically nearsighted, for the ecological reciprocity must also be a law for the survival of all cultures.

It is shown there has already been the dangerous tendency of dullness and meaningless in today’s cultures, from mass culture to academic studies. It is the tendency of normalization of the problems of life and feelings 4 and reduction of our sensitivity and unique experience-while arises a question: are the normalization and institutionalization necessarily bad things? Isn’t the American mass culture, for instance, the most attractive? This question is a little bit silly, however, still important, for the meaning of a thing in culture is nothing but “attractiveness”, and it seems that we have difficulty in finding a better interpretation. But I would very much like to point out that the normalization’s basic fault lies in that it will numb the mind bit by bit , in a relative long time, till the last bit of passion and make a dead mind.5 Normalizing the life problems and our feelings is actually to establish a form of inner bureaucracy, and make peoples lose the aesthetic meaning or the virtue of culture of their minds and tired of themselves.

The virtue of culture or aesthetic virtue of culture should be accounted as the key word in understanding culture, just like truth is made to be a key word in understanding knowledge (in a sense, truth might be the virtue of knowledge). As the epistemological expectation, truth is believed to be the best or only valid explanation of the world while make other alternative explanations to appear to be incorrect, that is, the more it looks epistemologically like an unique answer , the more it appears to be a truth.6However, it is quite different in the case of culture. Every culture is pursuing it’s own aesthetic virtue. The “aesthetic virtue” here means the irreducible imaginations and touching ways in a culture. It requires at least two things: 1) the ability to provide enigmatic and irreducible experiences or imaginations; and 2) the ability to produce the acts with autotelic goodness.7 The varities or diversity of cultural virtues is the ecological condition of cultures. Every culture interacts with other cultures .When in a case without concern over the political and economical interests, other culture or the exotic is apparently the inspiration and attraction that could activate the local culture itself. The dialogue among cultures and their dialectical interactions should not mainly be scientific , but aesthetic, that is, the experience from the others becomes the inspirational resources for new experience. Meanwhile, the self-reflection stimulated by new experiences makes the original fresh experience and inspiration in a culture itself, this is always an important condition for a creative development in culture.8 Marcus and Fischer’s theory of defamiliarization has well explained the importance of cultural interaction and reflection.9 Le Pichon’s emphasis of the conception of trans-cultures is calling further for very much opened exchange of experiences among cultures. Furthermore, the importance of trans-cultural dialogue is not only obtaining for both sides the inspirations, but could also be understood as “reciprocal-verification in values”, that is, the value of a culture could be enhanced when it is made to be a function of the ecosystem of human cultures. If there is only one culture with only one language, one system of representation or one system of concepts in the world, its aesthetic life would gradually lose its originality then finally become a routine.

One of the obvious changes brought by globalization is the centralization of culture problem-the globalization of economy, technology, commerce and communication is no problem, while culture is the final problem. However, seeing this final problem as cultural or political conflicts is an unimaginative though practical viewpoint. As I have been trying to explain above, to resolve conflicts through cultural hegemony and formulate a unified model for culture would hurt the creativity in any cultural development, for the worst, there would finally be the ecocide of cultures. We hold the reasons to see the surviving of cultures as a global ecological problem (similar to that of the natural environment). Culture is structured biologically rather than physically or logically. Only culture is seen as an organism that we could understand the-cannot-be-reduced and the-cannot-be-said by which we are moved.10 Culture-cide is homicide. Especially, culture is an ecosystem, which is needed in the same way like the natural environment-we could not live for lack of a sound natural environment whereas our life would be meaningless for lack of a sound cultural environment. The variety is rightly the ecological requirement of culture, and is the condition for a culture to keep its creativity and produce the ways of moving.

Seeing intercultural relations as cultural or political wars looks like a complex as a sign of cultural psychological immaturity. This abnormal complex prevents us from going deep in understanding culture. It actually needs nothing but the most honest intuition and reasoning, and we could find out that the fundamental expectation of human being toward life is an aesthetic one, because good life requires the ability to provide a lot of moving things, especially those unexpected. We might say, to be is to be moved. The real metaphysics of culture must be true to the meaning of life. But today’s culture is losing many intuitions to life, especially is being alienated to be the commercial, technological and bureaucratic institutions far from a meaningful life. Culture is becoming de-cultured, hence must be re-cultured. In a simple way, we need 1) to establish an aesthetic understanding and understand human behavior as acts qua arts, or to be aware of that acts are arts in order to re-understand their rich variety and all kinds of irreducible details in culture; and if-and-only-if 2)to establish intercultural ethical relations based on the principle of Levinas’ theory of the Other as You.11 In a sense, this would be a rewriting of the conception of the human rights, in which the right and value of the Other mind would be put first in the series of rights.12

2. Syntext

The concept syntext is prepared for a methodology of meta-cultural critique, by which we could turn our way of understanding that is based on the logical system of ideas to an aesthetic one that is based on the ecological system of ideas. As stated above, the aesthetic way is best favorable for understanding the advantages or virtues of different cultures, and this is the basis for any culture to develop creatively. Apparently people would accept a theory of nature considered to be true. However, it is equally apparent that people would not accept a theory of society because it is said to be true (of course, in fact, almost no social knowledge is truth). People accept a cultural idea mainly because it has , after all, the aesthetic virtue as an appeal to their minds. “Truth” means less in the case of cultural things, and people pursue beauty or some aesthetic values instead.13

We have been too used to using logical system of ideas in a reductive way to analyze-anatomy in a sense-the culture, especially the other cultures, as the pieces of propositions, that is, to analyze a whole story into plot pieces that break the meaning as a whole , then to reassemble them to form the so-called logical meaning.14 The logical interpretation of things is a very common and normal academic work in the disciplines of social sciences. It is very useful when constructing a theory, but we have to be on alert against it , and must grasp things through aesthetic or ecological ways of understanding and then keep in mind what things really are when we use logic to form a distortion of things, otherwise a thing will be logically reduced to nothing.15Here, I am not objecting to logic but requiring correct practical use of logic. It should not be a surprise that we are inclined to anatomy other cultures logically , for the Other’s minds or cultures are always strange, and out of the alert to strangers, we cannot help breaking a strange other cultures into pieces in order to overcome the feeling of strangeness. In that way, we always conclude that they are nothing but such and such, as we logically describe/destruct it. And we lose the source of creativity in others’ minds in the epistemological analysis of “nothing but such and such”. What needs to be specially mentioned here is that my theory is not a Saidian criticism of the western cultural hegemony.16 Quite like what is the case when some western countries politically treat the oriental cultures, many criticism against western cultural hegemony carry too much political concern . Political emotion is narrow-minded, but unfortunately the so-called cultural conflict is a fact and a problem that we have to face. But for whatever reason, the political approach should neither be used in a very long-term, nor it is one with theoretical merit. We are forced to consider the political problem of the cultural conflict, but we should not expect the conflict to exist forever (to expect that way might be a little bit wicked-minded or narrow-minded). Cultural criticism today is very popular. It is important under the political background, but its political attitude and narrow theoretical basis might be a long-term worry.

So I would like to put forward a new way of understanding culture that is generous to different cultures. It is an aesthetic way that would treat any culture without interests. And it would satisfy Levinas’ ethic principle of meeting you as You in absolute respect -what is aesthetic and what is moral finally would become one thing , Wittgenstein has pointed out this.17 An aesthetic-or artistic18-perspective/horizon would help us to surpass many thinking barriers or limitations, especially to overcome the fear and resist due to the sense of strange when confronting with Other cultures, and to actively find and accept creative ideas from different cultures and traditions , because an aesthetic perspective/horizon is the way in which we are always addicted to discover beauty and free of interest burden, and the discovery of Other’s beauty would reshape our culture itself. This might be said a thinking way that bears least moral drawbacks—the aesthetic is much more generous and justice than the ethic , for the ethic norms care for interests after all whereas the aesthetic is so pure that it could be the real ethic . So it could be an explanation of why the aesthetic and the ethic are one thing.

There are two principles that should be taken into account: 1) to be true to mind. At many times epistemology is applied to value and culture problems, such as in the case of trying to find the truth of mind, but quite unexpectedly, the so-called truth of mind is not true to mind. The aesthetic way of understanding is the most open, most generous and most sensitive , hence the most sincere understanding of mind; 2) to be fair to minds. People seem to have such a narcissistic feeling of their own minds that the Others’ minds could not be treated fairly, and as a result , every mind including the minds of their own, would not be treated fairly. Here we would find the absoluteness of Levinas’ principle of I-You (Levinas’ principle can be seen as a new golden rule19).

Syntext is a practical project under the above principle. My conception of syntext is based on many thinkers’ inspiration, such as from Geertz (thick description)20, Marcus and Fischer (anthropology as cultural critique), Le Pichon (trans-cultures), Wang Mingming (historical anthropology)21, and especially the philosophical methodology of Socrates, Freud and Wittgenstein. To construct a syntext, as I suppose, should have the considerations as follows:

(1)A culture is or must be a whole story. A culture has its inner net of ideas and way of connecting to form a clue of its own , any understanding as anatomy would separate the whole into ridicules pieces of ideas. For example, the Chinese traditional culture is often interpreted as a Confucian culture system, as if all of the Chinese mainly rely on such a few simple, hollow and funny Confucian concepts to lead their lives and formulate the social institutions. The broken story lacking multi-disciplinary understandings is very much unreal.22 And it is specially needed to be noticed that the values in a culture is in an order (sometimes the order is subject to specific situation), rather than some scattered factors that can be considered separately. The ignorance of the order would lead us to misunderstandings. There is a manifestation called “Global Ethic” 23which tried to explain such moral norms as “no killing, no theft, no lying and no adultery” as the most basic norms by the reason that every culture has such norms, and therefore argued that they must be the global norms. Indeed, all cultures have such norms, while the problem is, as in the Chinese traditional culture, these norms are not always the basic or the top priority according to the order. Although people have the right to misread a culture, but it would be a failure to read a culture with no aesthetic sense of a culture as a whole story. Given that x, y have the relation R, in xRy it should not be taken for granted that x (or y) is pre-defined in itself, we should see that any each of them is to be defined by the relation R, that is to say, relation R is of priority.

(2)Therefore, syntext must also be a live story. We have emphasized that the relations between ideas or things are of priority, and we need further be aware of that all of the relations are live (those universal and necessary logical relations are dead , and they are universal and necessary because they are dead, they are the relations of propositions in logical expression, not the live relations among ideas24). Live relations mean that at many times they seem to be abnormal and absurdum, while become actually reasonable in the flow. That is to say, the reasons of a culture have often to wait for their forming in the next step, in other words, our conducts create the uncertain relations that allow the rules to be in the future. Hence the reasons in the culture are unpredictable yet designed, similar to the creation of a work of art. Syntext, on one hand, is an interpretation of the culture, on the other hand, a work in the culture. This self-reflexivity of syntext make it be expected to be vanguard in thinking, and thus make it a story de avangarde.

The emphasis of syntext as the live story de avangarde is to require it open to all of the humanities and social sciences and all ways of thinking and their co-operations in artistic ways, with the especial focuses on the possible problems in the future. This expects a change in our academic thinking that leads to, instead of the logical descriptions and interpretations of facts, an experimental art of ideas to make an enticing situation of facts vis-a-vis fictions. To a great extent, a meaningful thought always exemplify itself in the format “is-upon-ifs”, in other words, a thinking format of “facts with the absurdum” to explore possible lives, it is often the case at least in philosophy. For the culture, do we really need truth? No, what we need is story. Since relation is to be explained in verbs, not by nouns, we need the thinking-in-verbs, as different from the traditional theoretical thinking-in-nouns.25 That is to think in “an act means…”more rather than “a thing is…” (the difference might also be considered the difference between artistic thinking and logic thinking. Here I am apparently inspired by the working ways of artists).

(3)To make a syntext is to detect the sub-ideas26 and sub-problems in a culture, a mind or a system of ideas. The reason to do so is that except the instinctive subconscious that influences people’s attitude and choice secretly as Freud discovered, there are many ideas pretending to be secrets but consciously guiding people’s actual choice. That means, people’s high-sounding values and judgements are to a great extent nothing but wordings and excuses (diplomacy is a typical example, and the American “politically right” is another). Of course, those wordings or excuses do influence us a great deal, but far from sufficient, and they need final explanations by sub-ideas. The out-spoken ideas or arguments are forever the fake and incomplete stories, never the full versions, and always the narcissistic confessions that evade the crucial, and do for the private in disguise of public. This is why we do not believe the self-manifestation by others on the grounds of others, and others do not believe our interpretations on the grounds of ours. Thus we need to try our best to reveal the sub-ideas and sub-problems in order to be clear about the cards of the ideas in hand and the possibilities for self-defending. We could find out that the our cards in mind are not only a lot, but also a chaotic mass, anything included (all kinds of private balancing , absurd fantasy and imaginations, bigotry ideals, lovely or ugly faults and human relations and class bias, etc.). All of them are going to be the reasons or causes of choices or actions. As what people usually expressed is not true to their minds, according to the principle of “to be true to mind”, it is apparently necessary to re-integrate the whole story of mind. Now that underlying our high-sounding theories or statements there are so many ridiculous ideas and never answered problems, I would like to say: absurdum ut intelligas.27

It is not difficult to see that re-integration is designed to compensate the loss caused by reduction as the general methodology of science and logic.28 In a sense, Freud, Wittgenstein, Braudel and many anthropologists are aware of the problem in different perspectives. What I want to specially point out is that “to be true to mind” also means equally aware of the equally important functions of minds, or equally important aspects of culture. Usually some functions or factors are thought to be more important than the others and focused by us more. For example, the rational function of mind is often believed to be the most important, all of the other aspects are nothing but trivial borders. Of course, since Freud, people have known the importance of subconscious whereas many other aspects remain to be ignored, such as body sensation, feelings, day-dreams and fancy or imagination, etc. All kinds of absurd ideas, such as day-dreams and imaginations, are equally fighting for their rights, for every aspect of our mind is full of desires and requires wonderful stories. Only if all aspects of mind are allowed to own wonderful and important stories, the meaning of life can possibly be found.

There are many operations that can reveal sub-ideas and sub-problems. From the point of view of philosophy, it might be especially important to go back to natural/everyday language to re-discover problems.29 As we know, it is impossible to find a language that is more basic than natural/everyday language. So the cultural and thought problems will finally expressed in a subtle way in natural/everyday language. Whether it is western masters or eastern masters of ancient times had all told the most vital wisdom in natural/everyday language. Socrates’ dialectic requestioning and Wittgenstein’s analysis30 are all best examples. However, to me, the main reason to rewrite the analysis of mind or culture into a whole story through the finding of sub-ideas and sub-problems is for establishing a syntext as an aesthetic understanding, not for obtaining propositions as knowledge. I believe that this is a better effort. Although both Socrates and Wittgenstein have realized the profound dilemma of epistemology, they would not forget the epistemological pursuit (which should be the typical thought path of the West). Wittgenstein had expressed the paradox that Socrates had met in Meno: How do I know that I have found that which I was looking for?31 In my opinion, this is the final question of epistemology, and the turning point where I started to turn to post-epistemological understanding.

1 In fact, the cultural expressions as arts always make the seemingly smooth transcultural understanding and even with more mutual senses.
2 Cf. Foucault: Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason, 1971, London, and Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, 1977, London.
3 J. Nye: Boston Globe, Aug. 6, 1999 and New York Times, Jan. 3, 2000.
4 The standard modern mass culture seems to establish a model of happy life, somewhat like soap drama, while a Chinese expression “happiness of fool” may well describe it.
5 Wang Shuo, a writer, has a saying about mass culture and good art, “mass culture does nothing but taking everything away from your mind, whereas good art always puts something into your mind”.
6 The understanding of truth here is quite western, at least in Chinese thoughts, truth seems not having such requirement, but mainly requiring “effectiveness”, that is, the best choice that could reach the goal in very specific situation. Obviously, this conception of truth does not require universality and necessity, not the extravagant expectation of being true in all possible worlds.
7 Cf. My book On Possible Lives, 1995, SDX Joint, Beijing.
8 The history seems to have proved that the culture’s creative developments always have something to do with the stimulation and inspiration from different experiences with different cultures. For example, the Greek civilization with the inspiration from Egypt and Babylon, Renaissance with the inspiration of the rediscovery of the Greek, and the Warring States Period in China with the diversified interaction, Buddhism’s reshape of Chinese culture and the modern western culture’s coming into China, etc. However, today’s globalization movement is not the creative interaction between cultures, but mainly the replacement of other cultures with the American version and its mass culture.
9 Cf. George E. Marcus and Michael M. J. Fischer: Anthropology as Cultural Critique, 1986, Univ. of Chicago Press.
10 In Wittgensteinian sense, cf. Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 1958, London. In 4.1212: what can be shown cannot be said. And in 6.522: there is indeed the inexpressible. This shows itself; it is the mystical.
11 Cf. Levinas: Totality and Infinity, 1979, Martinus Nijhoff.
12 The current concept of human rights mainly focuses on private property, individual freedom and political rights, which are of course important , but if the Other mind’s thoughts and cultural values are not respected first, then life still lacks its fundamental significance. We should consider Rorty’s idea of the problem “who are we”. Cf. R. Rorty: “Who Are We?”, in Diogenes, No. 173, 1996.
13 Modern aesthetics, especially since Kant, has been understood as a theory of aesthetic attitude or feeling. This is an incorrect space that epistemology has left to aesthetics. In fact, aesthetic way of understanding is a way of thinking and an objective structure of culture.
14 The analytic philosophy likes to exaggerate the importance of logical analysis. In fact, something completely logically meaningful might be a completely nonsense, especially in the case of culture. However, Derrida’s deconstruction is another exaggeration in literature. In a sense, analytic philosophy can be said a destruction of the real life story.
15 There might a simple and not so strict example, The word “Ge’er Men’er” (buddy or pal, literally means brother-like) in Beijing dialect needs a local understanding and is difficult to understand logically. It neither mean “friend”, for friend in Chinese may carry more serious sense of responsibility, nor “close as brothers”, for it is too close, nor “allies”, for that would be to somewhat snobbish. It, of course, conforms the friendly but casual style of Beijing local life. Even this explanation is not subtle enough.
16 Cf. Edward W. Said, Orientalism, 1978, Penguin.
17 Cf. Witttgenstein: Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 6.421.
18 cf. My book: One Or All Problems, 1998, Jiangxi Education Press, China, in which I tried to develop the artistic horizon into a meta-ideology.
19 To follow Levinas’ principle of I-You, the golden rule seems to be reinterpreted, under the principle of the Otherness instead of that of X-Scanned: By Symantec Anti-Virus Scan Engine
Subjectivity, as “Never do to others whatever others would not like you to do to them”, instead of “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you” in Matthew.
20 Cf. Geertz: The interpretation of Cultures, 1973, New York.
21 Cf. Wang Mingming: The Past Prosperity of a Port, 1999, Zhijiang People’s Press.
22 Qin Hui has a better explanation on No. 55, 2000, Book Review Weekly, where he pointed out that the Legalists decides more on behavior and institution. In addition, F. Jullien’s Le Detour et L’Access has excellent analysis to Chinese way of thinking.
23 Cf. Hans Kung and Karl-Josef Kuschel: A Global Ethic: the Declaration of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, 1993, the Continuum Pub.
24 Such logical relations as ∧,∨ etc., are very abstract, not able to express all of the relations in the real life, such as affinity, contrastive, interactive, circulating, ranking, priority, coordinate, associative, hostile, complex and friendly, etc.
25 Cf. my book: One Or All Problems. In which give an idea of “to be is to do” instead of “to be is to be a thing”.
26 The concept of sub-ideas was inspired by Freud’s concept of sub-conscious, and sub-ideas are rational whereas subconscious is irrational.
27 Cf. Tertullian’s expression of “Credo quia absurdum est” and St. Augustine’s expression of “Credo ut intelligas”.
28 The analytical philosophy’s logical reduction pursues accuracy and Husserl’s transcendantal reduction pursues pureness, both would lose many that are necessarily worth of consideration.
29 The everyday language analytical philosophers at Oxford, such as Ryle and Austin have made wonderful efforts on that, but in my opinion, none are as deep as what Wittgenstein had found.
30 Wittgenstein’s anti-private language argument is one of the best analyses. Cf. Philosophical Investigations, 1967, Basil Blackwell. And also the ethical argument. Cf. “A Lecture on Ethics”, in Philosophical Review, 74/1965.
31 Wittgenstein: Philosophical Remarks, 1975, Basil Blackwell, cf. Plato: Meno, 80D.