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LIU Yunhua. Does European Enlightenment Have to Do with Chinese Culture? — A Response to Prof. ZHANG Xiping[J]. International Comparative Literature, 2019, 2(3): 428-441.
Citation: LIU Yunhua. Does European Enlightenment Have to Do with Chinese Culture? — A Response to Prof. ZHANG Xiping[J]. International Comparative Literature, 2019, 2(3): 428-441.

Does European Enlightenment Have to Do with Chinese Culture? — A Response to Prof. ZHANG Xiping

  • Received Date: 2019-03-29
  • Publish Date: 2021-03-09
  • In terms of the issue of“the Chinese Vogue” in Europe from the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries, Chinese academia has widely recognized that Chinese culture has an essential and decisive influence on European Enlightenment, and some scholars even believe that without China, the Europeans could not have become who they are or what they are today. This paper aims to rethink this issue by focusing on two important Enlightenment thinkers, Gottfried W. Leibniz and Nicolas de Malebranche, including their comprehension and interpretation of“Li,” a term from Confucianism. This paper also demonstrates that Natural Theology provided a good opportunity for the communication and interaction between Chinese and Western cultures during the Enlightenment. It is Natural Theology that underlies the two thinkers’ understanding of“Li.” However, Leibniz’s understanding of“Li” is a reverse reading of the European mainstream and differs from the opinions in two important texts, Traité sur quelques points de la religion des chinois by Nicolas Longobardi and Traité sur quelques points importans de la mission de la Chine by Antonio de Santa Maria. Leibniz’s reading, ostensibly based on Joachim Bouvet, was essentially on his own Natural Theology focusing of“Monad Theory.” However, the two thinkers’ explanation of“Li” deviates heavily from the original Chinese thought. It can be said that“Li” displays no essential in-fluence on the“Monad Theory,” but rather a con-fluence created from a sort of self-imagination. From this point of view, the philosophy of Leibniz does not have a substantial interaction with Chinese culture; that is to say, his philosophy is an ideological movement restricted to Europe, or rather a“self-growth.” Could such a judgement be applied to the trend of ideology and culture during the whole course of the Enlightenment? It is hard to answer 12 this question in a definite manner. This paper intends to argue that China was just an external force for European Enlightenment, a distant ideal that served as a role model for the Enlightenment thinkers’own self-reconstructions. Such a role model is basically the West’s self-expression through imagination of the Other (though not without similarities); in other words, the Enlightenment thinkers found what they had anticipated from China.
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