Chen Li (1810-1882). Ein Kommunikationsversuch mit der chinesischen Vergangenheit.
Mit einer Übersetzung des Kapitels über Chen Li aus dem Zhongguo jin sanbai nian xueshushi (Geistesgeschichte Chinas der letzten dreihundert Jahre) von Qian Mu (1895-1990). Wien: Diplomarbeit Universität Wien, 1994
Chen Li (1810-1882). Trying to communicate with the Chinese past. Including a translation of the chapter on Chen Li in Qian Mu's (1895-1990) "Zhongguo jin sanbai nian xueshushi" (Intellectual history of China during the last 300 years). M.A. thesis, Vienna University, 1994.
Chen Li 陳 澧, already a reputed scholar of Confucian learning at the time, was still a young man of thirty when the relationship between China and the West took a dramatic turn towards crisis: the First Opium War shook the nation, and Canton - Chen Li's hometown - was the center of action.
The old values seemed to be unfit for the new era as modern times asked for a modern way of thinking. Scholars and statesman like Wei Yuan, Zeng Guofan, Li Hongzhang, Wang Tao, Prince Gong, and others, faced the challenge in different ways. All focussed their interest on the west, trying to introduce due reforms. These men are well represented in the biographies of Western Sinologists on men of the time, and one gets the impression that most of the eminent Chinese of the 19th century were reformers and dealt with the West in one way or the other.
Sure, the history books mention those who did not take any interest in the West, too. But mostly these men are described as hinderers of necessary reforms, clutching to traditional Confucianism either out of selfish calculation or because of blind delusion. Sometimes the question is raised why intelligent and educated men could ignore the West for such a long time. (Cf. footnote 1)
Chen Li was a man thus described. He spent a lifetime studying the Confucian Classics, he was one of the heads of the famous Xuehaitang 學 海 堂 - one of the most reputed academies at the time -, he was known as a great scholar to his contemporaries, and even Chinese and Western scholars of today agree that he was an outstanding personality of the 19th century. Nevertheless he - as many of his kind - remains scarcely studied, perhaps because it is hard to understand why a young intellectual, grown up in an era of acute social and political cirsis, personally confronted with the complete incapability of his government in dealing with the foreigners, and himself in a position of being an opinionleader to many, that such a young intellectual seemed to have little more to say than to demand that the young students of his country should more than ever bury their heads in the old Classics.
But is it really that hard to understand? Isn't it very logic if you consider time and place of Chen Li's socialization? And: did he really ignore the problems of his times? Maybe he just was not born to be a great reformer and to show a glorious path out of the crisis? Or in fact he did exactly that, but in his own way, using his own capacities, shaped by the course of his personal life?
This thesis tries to show how Chen Li was molded by what he underwent as juvenile, how he later experienced the conflict with the West, and how he responded to the more and more obvious need of reform.
The second part of the thesis is a translation of the chapter on Chen Li in Qian Mu's 錢 穆 (1895-1990) "Zhongguo jin sanbai nian xueshushi" 中 國 近 三 百 年 學 術 史 (Intellectual history of China during the last 300 years), being a treatise on Chen Li's accomplishments as scholar of Confucian learning.
1. Hao Chang e.g. writes in 1980: "[...] Liang Ch'i-ch'ao studied at two such large and famous academies in Canton in the late 1880s. In neither school did he find a trace of Western learning; the curriculum was still dominated by traditional Confucian studies. And this was in Canton - a treaty-port city where Western influences presumably went deeper than in other areas of China. Although few monographic studies have been done on the late Ch'ing academies, all the available material suggests that Western learning was by and large barred from their curriculum prior to the educational reforms which began in 1895. [...] When we look at the writings of such respectable Confucian scholars of that period as Chu T'zu-ch'i, Ch'en Li [i.e. Chen Li; bold by H.L.], Chu I-hsin and Wang K'ai-yun, it is also surprising that their attention was almost exclusively concentrated on traditional Confucian scholarship. Inconclusive as all these separate pieces of evidence may be, together they point to the existence of a wide cultural gulf between the Westernized treaty ports and the intellectual world of Chinese gentry-literati throughout most of the nineteenth century." Cf. Fairbank/Liu: The Cambridge History of China, Vol. 10: Late Ch'ing, 1800-1911, Part 1. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press 1980, pp. 276f. (Back to the text)
Please send comments and suggestions to Hanno.Lecher@univie.ac.at
Last update: 11.11.1996 [an error occurred while processing this directive]