Chinese Philosophy’s Hybrid Identity

john_makeham150ANU China Seminar Series

John Makeham, La Trobe University

Seminar Room A, China in the World Building (188), Fellows Lane, ANU, Canberra
Thursday, 2 June, 2016, 4:00pm to 5:30pm

This paper is structured as an exercise in conceptual archaeology. The first part describes a key conceptual structure that I argue is common to the writings of the twelfth-century Neo-Confucian philosopher Zhu Xi and to the Awakening of Faith, a sixth-century Sinitic Buddhist text. I further propose that this shared conceptual structure is a homology. Unlike analogous structures, which are functionally similar but share no common ancestral character, homologous structures are modified descendants of a common ancestor.

The second part of the paper seeks to identify this common ancestor. I argue that this ancestor can be traced to developments in Southern Chinese Buddhist circles during the latter half of the fifth century. This ancestor is very much a hybrid, a unique product of the fecund engagement of Buddhist constructs derived from both the Indian and Chinese traditions. Its Sinified or Sinicized aspect is the ti-yong polarity; its Indianized aspect is the appropriation of the ti-yong polarity into a vehicle to express the idea of immanent transcendence, with specific reference to the unconditioned and the conditioned. In the Awakening of Faith, the genetic signature of this ancestor featured centrally in the development of Sinitic Buddhist philosophy over the course of the Tang and Northern Song periods, and subsequently became reinscribed by Zhu Xi to become a jewel in the Neo-Confucian metaphysical crown. That legacy continues to inform developments in modern Chinese philosophy.

John Makeham is Chair and Director of the China Studies Research Centre at La Trobe University and Emeritus Professor at the ANU. Educated at ANU, he has held academic positions at Victoria University of Wellington, University of Adelaide, National Taiwan University, Chinese University of Hong Kong, and ANU. He is a recipient of the Joseph Levenson Prize and the Special Book Award of China, and is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities. He specializes in Chinese intellectual history. He has a particular interest in Confucian thought throughout Chinese history and, in more recent years, in the influence of Sinitic Buddhist thought on pre-modern and modern Confucian philosophy.
The ANU China Seminar Series is supported by the China Institute, the Research School of Asia and the Pacific, and the Australian Centre on China in the World at The Australian National University.