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·Fang Keli

Fang Keli, male and from the Han ethnic group, born in June 1938, is a native of Xiangtan, Hunan Province and a member of the Communist Party of China. In July 1962, he graduated from the department of philosophy of China’s Renmin University. He is a Professor and PhD advisor of the Graduate School of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences; at the same time, he also serves as the director of the Society of the History of Chinese Philosophy, the Deputy director of the Yanhuang Culture Research Association of China, the Convener of the Philosophy Appraisal Group of the State Council Academic Degree Committee, and as a member of the philosophy experts’ group of the National Postdoctoral Management Committee. His academic expertise is Chinese philosophy. He was awarded the title of Labor Model of Tianjin in 1984; in 1988, he won the “Young and Mid-aged Expert with Outstanding Contribution” Award. Since 1991, he has started to enjoy a special allowance awarded by the State Council.


Fang Keli, male and from the Han ethnic group, born in June 1938, is a native of Xiangtan, Jiangsu Province and a member of the Communist Party of China. In July 1962, he graduated from the department of philosophy of China’s Renmin University. He is a Professor and PhD advisor in the Graduate School of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences; at the same time, he also serves as the director of the Society of the History of Chinese Philosophy, the Deputy director of the Yanhuang Cultural Research Association of China, the Convener of the Philosophy Appraisal Group of the State Council Academic Degree Committee, and as a member of the philosophy experts’ group of the National Postdoctoral Management Committee. His academic expertise is in Chinese philosophy. He was awarded the title of Labor Model of Tianjin in 1984; in 1988, he won the “Young and Mid-aged Expert with Outstanding Contribution” Award. Since 1991, he has started to enjoy a special allowance awarded by the State Council.


Major Academic Works


History of Chinese Philosophy: the theory of knowing and doing, People's publishing Press, 1982, 1986, 1997

Modern Neo-Confucianism and Chinese Modernization, Tianjing People's press, 1997

Collected Works of Fang Keli, Shanghai Lexicographic Publishing House, 2005


Chief-edited Books:

From Confucius to Sun Yat-sen——a Micro History of Chinese Philosophy, China Youth Press, 1984

Dictionary of Chinese philosophy, China Social Sciences Press, 1994

Chinese Philosophy and Dialectical Materialism, Higher Education Press, 1998


Co-edited Books:

The Outline of Chinese Culture, Beijing Normal University Press, 1994

The Guided Learning Plan of Modern Neo-Confucianismthe three-volume bookChina Social Sciences Press, 1995


Academic Papers:

On persistence to the rigorous historicity in the history of philosophy, in Philosophical Research, 1963.3

On the category of “substance and function” in Chinese philosophy, in China Social Sciences, 1984.5

Comments on “serve China with western systems” and “serve the west with Chinese systems”, in Philosophical Research, 1963.3

Critical inheritance and comprehensive innovation, in Traditional Culture and Modernization, 1995.3

A comprehensive evaluation on Feng Youlan published in Philosophical Research, 1963.3

The value and significance of being “harmonious but different” as a cultural view, in Graduate Student Journals of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, 2003.1

“Harmony between man and nature” and the ecological wisdom in ancient China, in Social Science Frontier, 2003.4

Zhang Dainian and the 20th century Chinese philosophy, in China Social Sciences, 2005.2



A Man of Honesty and Modesty in Conducting Himself and Doing Research

I have known Mr. Fang for years, but this is my first interview with him. At the request of the Youth Research Center of Humanities and Social Sciences, I drew up a detailed outline based on my personal understanding of Mr. Fang and sent it to him. In a telephone contact a few days later, Mr. Fang said to me, “I’m preparing to answer your questions like a primary school student.” I thought ,“That sounds goodWe are going to have some highlights in our interview.” On the morning of May 28th we met in the conference room of our graduate school as arranged. The moment we were seated, Mr. Fang started talking in perfect order.


“One should first foster his great minds”

Zhang Tianxing (Zhang for short below): Your father, Fang Zhuangqiou, is a historian. He studied in the graduate school of Tsinghua University under  great masters of Chinese culture like Wang Kuowei and Liang Qi-chao during his earlier days. Later on, he went to Japan and France for further study. And after that he went back home to work as a teacher at Wuhan university for a long time. Is there any chance that your academic research was influenced by your family’s tradition? What kinds of influence did it have?

Fang Keli (from now on Fang for short): Born in an intellectual family, I was, naturally, influenced by my family’s tradition both intellectually and culturally. But growing up I was influenced more greatly by the historical period,  the collective life in school and the education I got from the Communist Party and my teachers.

Though he was a historian himself, my father didn’t want me to follow in his steps. On the contrary, he encouraged his children to pursue natural sciences and the science of engineering and technology. During my last year in senior high school, I was going to apply to enter a university of science and engineering. One day, however, my class teacher called me over and told me in a serious manner, “the People's university will be holding an early admission and our school has decided to recommend you to register for its Department of Philosophy, considering that you are a student leader,  good at both liberal arts and sciences. ” At that time, I thought there was no harm in having an extra examination opportunity. So after a few days’ preparation in geography and history I went and took the examination. As it turned out, before the unified college entrance examination I received a letter of admission from the People’s university and was informed that I was not allowed to take other examinations. In this way, I blindly became a student of philosophy. In retrospect, my father once said that years of guidance from the parents was no match for one word from the teacher.

My engagements in the scholarly and educational fields do have some relation with the field that my father  devoted himself to, while the academic resources I got  from him directly were not that many due to his early death. On the other hand, I had been imperceptibly influenced by his methodology and scholarship. For one thing, my father attached great importance to historical data. I learned from some relevant information that my father was very diligent in doing research. During my personal contact with him in his life time, he had already assumed a cultural and administrative leadership role, but as long as he had time at home, he would read historical records and extract the documentation, reflecting and researching on  academic problems. That’s why he still kept making contributions to historical study. And I was deeply impressed by the fact that he, as a historian, was of great diligence and rigorousness and never would say empty words based on no sound evidence. On another point, my father spoke highly of the learning and application of historical materialism. There is no doubt that the education my father had received was still based on historical idealism. He came into contact with historical materialism when he was teaching part-time at Dongbei university in Santai county, Sichuan province, working together with professor Zhao Jibin and professor Yang Rongguo during the period of the Anti-Japanese War. And later when he was compiling materials for lectures, he paid attention to problems such as  land ownership and the serf system, trying to illustrate the developmental process of Chinese society by using the principle of “productivity determines the relations of production” and “the economic infrastructure determines the superstructure”.

After the founding of the new China, my father valued  the learning of Marxist principles more. He had a full collection of the classical works of Marxism-Leninism, on which there are numerous footnotes and remarks. This shows that my father really made great efforts, and this also leaves a deep impression upon me. So when it comes to my family tradition, I guess what matters are these intangible things.




Zhang: In the early 1990s, I heard my supervisor, revered Mr. Shi (Shi Jun) mention your parents. He said that your mother was a woman with excellent organizing capacity. Did this help mould your thoughts?

Fang: I guess what you refer to is the early years after liberation, when my mother was once the chief-leader of Women’s Work in Wuhan University, urging the family members of teaching and administrative faculties to participate in social activities, which helped promote  revolutionary causes and  construction in the newly founded People’s Republic of China. Mr. Shi was  working at Wuhan University during the years 1948-1952, so he was aware of this.

As for my mother, besides her tender care for us in daily life, she also gave us a good family education, and she did so not only for the good of our family but also for our country. She always knew clearly what is right and proper. And during the period of the resistance war against U.S. aggression in aid of North Korea, she determinedly sent my elder brother who was then studying at the Department of Chemistry in Wuhan University to join the war, and this made her  well-known as the “Honorable Mother” in the city. Afterwards, she was assigned to take over the orphanage once controlled by  imperialism to abuse children. And for more than ten years after that, she was engaged in the children’ educational cause. When my mother and I were going for a walk during the holidays, I would constantly hear  people of different ages affectionately call her “mother Zhang”. Most of these people are her students or the parents of her students. My mother gave her maternal love to more people than just  her own children. And this unconsciously exerted a favorable influence on me.

Zhang: You were born in such a good family environment and it’s said that you also went to a good primary school and later a superior high school. So your life was like a smooth sail, wasn’t it? And how was your mental outlook during your school days? When did you start showing an interest in Chinese philosophy?

Fang: It was not all smooth in my life. All in all, things went quite well before I went to college. I got high scores and was a leader in the Young Pioneers and later in the Communist Youth League. And I was always considered to be optimistic and aspiring, with naïve ideas. Nevertheless, no more than one year after I went to college, the Anti-Rightist campaign was launched. Like a delicate flower in the greenhouse vulnerable to the raging storm, I made silly mistakes in this political storm, and I was strongly criticized by the Party organization and at the same time  given the inner-league disciplinary warning, which was redressed and rescinded in 1979. But this setback still turned out to be an important turning point in my life.

I began to realize that as a social being, he who holds no right political opinion is a man of no soul. One “should first foster his great mind”, that is  build up a correct outlook on the world, life and  values before establishing himself. Thus from then on, I started the long journey of my ideological remolding.

This process was completed in three parts: the first part was learning. I benefited a lot from the systematic learning of the classic works of Marxist philosophy, which made me gain faith in the scientific truth, directing me towards the correct way to understand the nature of the universe, the society and  human life as well as the laws governing them. The second part was social practice. In 1958, I was sent to work in the rural areas of Beijing for half a year, where I took part in the movements of  steel-making, land plough and the Movement of the People’s Commune. From 1964 to 1965, I successively participated in two terms of the socialist education movement in rural areas (also called the “Four Clean-ups” Movement). And from 1969 to 1972, I was sent to the cadre’s school of the People’s University in Yujiang county, Jiangxi  province, to temper myself through manual labor, during which I had temporary chances to take part in  social practices. In this way, I had a basic understanding of China's real situation and of the working people as the subject of our society. This gave me an indispensable lesson as a social science worker. The third part was the conscious reformation of my inner-world. It’s easy for an intellectual to feel pretentious when he thinks he knows something, and thus it’s hard for him to surpass himself. And I stumbled at the starting point of my life. As a teenager, I talked groundlessly about the root-source of the “Three Harms” (Bureaucratism, Sectarianism and Subjectivism), making abstract deductions from concepts to concepts, and I had no idea of the essence of the problems or of their realistic significance. This just revealed the shallowness of my  basic knowledge, and so what reason did I have to be full of myself? If you admit that there is an insufficiency either in your learning or in your experience and you are brave enough to recognize your own faults, you can gain the driving force to continuously improve.

While I still inevitably made  slips of the tongue and made mistakes during the following  couple of years, the experiences I obtained from the three parts mentioned above finally helped me complete the fundamental remolding of my outlook on the world,  life and  values, which laid a solid foundation for me later in my academic and educational work.

As to when I started taking interest in Chinese philosophy and chose it as my major academic research field, I think there is no need to repeat it here, for I have already answered that question to the editor of the “Booklist of Ph. D supervisors”.


Category Theory Approach: I value the significance of this work

Zhang: The book “History of Chinese Philosophy: the theory of knowing and doing” is your first monograph, and also the first book in the field of Chinese philosophy  after the “Cultural Revolution”, so we describe it as a “primrose”. Published in 1982, the book was conceived and written mainly during that revolution. So why did you choose such a topic? What kind of condition  were you facing in life and research at that time?




Fang: When it comes to our generation, only after the Third Plenary Session of the Eleventh Central Committee did we begin to have a favorable condition to take up some scholarly work, but by then I was in my forties. While I had accumulated a lot of practices in my youth, my basic study skills still left to be desired. After “the Cultural Revolution”, there was a temporary shortage of college teachers. So we were pushed to the teaching platforms where we recruited and supervised postgraduates, and became the main force in teaching and researching. Meanwhile, we were required to do some administrative and social work. It was a necessity under those circumstances, and I also wanted to do as much as I could, which resulted in my overloading myself, something which took its toll first on my health and then on my academic research. So when talking about  academic achievements, I can’t help feeling a little bit embarrassed because I didn’t have much time to focus on  academic research. All I could do was  take up some research work under certain conditions.




My book “History of Chinese Philosophy: the theory of knowing and doing” was written under such a background: in the mid 70’s, the Department of Philosophy of Nankai University decided to adopt Mao Zedong’s Philosophical Thought as the main focus and the center of their teaching and scientific research, which meant that not only the teaching and research section dealing with Marxist philosophical principles needed to make a study of it, but  other sections also had to select scientific research topics around it. The teaching and research section dealing with Chinese philosophical history had then determined two topics: one was about the dialectical thoughts in the book "On Contradiction" and in Chinese philosophical history, undertaken by Li Qing; and the other one was about the book "On Practice" and the theory of knowing and doing in the history of Chinese philosophy, for which I was responsible. The book “History of Chinese Philosophy: the theory of knowing and doing” was the fruit of this scientific research and was one of the few achievements  published in our department after this project.

It is also too much of a compliment to say that this book is a “primrose” in the history of Chinese philosophy, whereas it is indeed a rather early academic monograph published after the Cultural Revolution.

Zhang: At the time when this book was published, there was a craze for category research  in the field of Chinese philosophy. That’s why the book is also seen as the first Chinese philosophical monograph dealing with  category research.

Fang: That’s true. Since this book systematically investigated the origin and the evolution of the category of “knowing and doing”, opening up a philosophical debate on  such questions as the precedence, the cooperation and division , the degree of difficulty and  the seriousness of “knowing” and “doing”. Furthermore, these questions were connected with “the dialectical materialism of the view of the unity of knowing and doing” expressed in Mao Zedong’s book “On Practice”, hence its description  as a book referring to the history of the category of “knowing and doing”.

About this book, there is another point  worth mentioning. That is, it  won the first Outstanding Achievements Prize of philosophy, society and science awarded in Tianjing. And the committee commented: “it explicitly deemed ‘On Practice’ written by Mao Zedong as the guiding ideology at the beginning of its writing, trying to clarify the problem of knowing and doing in the history of Chinese philosophy, and the author persisted in this principle from beginning to  end, showing us a philosophical worker who firmly believes in Marxism, oblivious to the tendency of  suspicion and derogatory remarks on Mao Zedong Thought of the last few years.” This was an affirmation and an encouragement for me in the academic field.

Zhang: You were one of the most important promoters of the category research rising at the beginning of 1980's, and you were supported by scholars from the older generation such as Zhang Dainian . Could you please talk about your own thoughts at that time? We know that the reason why this research didn’t go through effectively may be  external factors, the rise of the culture craze, for example, which attracted people to new things. Are there any lessons which can be drawn from the research conducted at that time?

Fang: At the beginning of the 1980’s, there was an upsurge in the research of the philosophical category, the rise of which conformed to the move away from the simplified model of “confrontation between two forces” to the “history of cognition” model in research on the history of Chinese philosophy after the “Cultural Revolution”. At the same time, it implemented Lenin’s idea of “what we need is the ideological history proceeding from the general logic concept and from the application and development of categories”. All this helped to enhance the overall academic level of the studies on Chinese Philosophy. Scholars such as Zhang Dainian, Feng Qi, Xiao Shafu and Tang Yijie have all played important roles in the promotion of the category research of Chinese philosophical history, and I also took part in some of the work. Apart from the organization of some conferences which demonstrated the meaning and the crucial principles of category research, I made a profound investigation into “the category of substance and function” in Chinese philosophy and the category of a post-metaphysical interpretation of the philosopher Wang Fuzhi’s distinction of “Tao” and “Qi” and its philosophical significance. In addition, I tried to present theoretically the characteristics of the Chinese people’s mode of thought by way of applying the typical traditional category of philosophy. My investigation into the basic meaning, the development and the evolution of “the category of substance and function” and my criticism of regarding the Chinese and western cultures as two opposite poles and of a dualistic metaphysical thinking mode of substance and function, as well as my opinion of applying the reasonable content in the traditional theory of substance and function to the scientific system of materialistic dialectics were highly appreciated in t philosophical circles. 

The external reason why the category research hasn’t had an effective development was indeed the appearance of the culture craze in the mid-1980’s, which quickly became a major concern of the public. In 1986, I shifted my attention to modern neo-Confucianism as well, and the plans I made concerning philosophical categories were left unfinished.

Some books about  category research in Chinese philosophy were published afterwards and  contributed to the profound research of Chinese philosophical history. There was, however, an insufficiency in the comparison and the connection of the philosophical category between China and the west throughout the ages, unable to bring out the new life from the traditional philosophical category. In his book “New Theory About the Relationship between Man and Nature”, Mr. Zhang (Zhang Dainian) made use of the basic idea of Dialectical Materialism to answer the questions of man and nature, the things and the rules, the mind and the substance, the repetition, the contrastive combination, the knowing of truth, the relationship between group and individual and the “Yi” and “Ming” from Confucius and Mencius. It is a useful attempt to combine Marxist philosophy with Chinese traditional philosophy. Had it succeeded, the traditional philosophical category would have had a new life. Unfortunately, Mr. Zhang hadn’t finished the work and left it unattended, nor did he and his successors later carry it on. While I value the meaning of this work, I haven’t got the ability or the energy to finish it.

Research on  Modern neo-Confucianism: how to define it in general terms is not clearer but more obscure than ever

Zhang: As is known to all, you are an advocator and proponent of  modern neo-Confucianism, leading a research group of more than ten members and having published a series of research works. This has exerted tremendous influence both at home and abroad. And you have received many interviews of this sort so far, so at what  phase you think this research is? Are there any issues that you’d like to mention?


 Fang: It has been exactly 20 years since the development of  modern neo-Confucianism studies in mainland China. It didn’t take long for it to shift from the earlier “unique scholarship” to the later “famous school of thought”. I had made my efforts in the first decade and after that it was up to the younger generations.


At the academic level, modern neo-Confucianism, one of the important schools in the Chinese modern philosophy history, has received due attention nowadays. And it seems that it has received more attention than other schools——schools of Marxism and school of liberalism, at least seen from the number of research findings.


“The research on the modern new Confucian current” is the key project of the Seventh  and the eighth Five-Year Plans of the National Social and Scientific Fund Program. And I think it’s a grave responsibility to bear. In addition to the opening of a new research field and the clarity of the basic pattern of  opposition and interaction among the three modern main trends in Chinathe project should maintain a correct research direction in the complicated environment of contemporary thought. And the guideline for the research group is quite clear, that is to give a balanced analysis and comment  on  modern new Confucianism by applying the standpoints, the views and the methods of Marxism, neither worshiping or blindly believed in foreign things nor writing off their contribution or historical position. And this kind of objective, rational and impartial research attitude received the affirmation from many scholars at home and abroad, but it also received  criticism from cultural conservatism and cultural radicalism. Especially since the 1990’s,  a mixture of neo-Confucians have emerged in Mainland China, and some of them openly hold the banner of cultural conservatism. Then an ideological divergence occurred within the research group, and the differentiation of thoughts in  modern neo-Confucianism research was inevitable. If the research group could dominate the modern neo-Confucian research in the first ten years,  the situation became more complicated in the following ten years. The research has made some local progress, but the general definition seems to have become not clearer but more obscure due to the presence of multiple guiding ideologies.


During this period, neo-Confucianism from Hongkong, Taiwan and  overseas reinforced the momentum for “feedback” or in other words, for accomplishing ideological penetration into inland China, and the conservative atmosphere in philosophical circles was ever denser. The school of neo-Confucianism in mainland China demanding “the replacement of Marxism with Confucianism” went  public in 2004. It required the support of a certain cultural atmosphere, and the “feedback” of the new Confucianism from Hongkong, Taiwan and  overseas also played an important role. So it implicated that how to understand and evaluate neo-Confucianism was not merely an academic problem but a political and cultural choice made in relation to China’s current development path. It is fair to say that without a clear mind, this research can’t be done.


“We should insist on taking the approach of “the Unity of the Three Trends” and the “comprehensive innovation”.

Zhang: The goal of cultural discussion is to solve the problem of what direction the Chinese culture should move towards. You have agreed with the “Cultural theory on  integrated innovation” put forward by Mr. Zhang (Zhang Dainian), and then further enriched and developed this theory, which is of great influence within the philosophical community. Unquestionably it is correct as the basic policy in our cultural construction, but does it need to be made clearer?

Fang: Studies of Modern neo-Confucianism first started in the “cultural craze” trend of the 1980’,s and it was  part of the cultural study and cultural discussion. Before conducting this kind of research one should make clear what their cultural standpoint is. If they don’t, they won’t find a direction in their research and may even go astray. In fact some researchers without their own standpoint totally lose themselves in the object of study.

I defined  modern neo-Confucianism in the context of “The Three Trends of Modern China”, And I observed and comprehended the “Cultural Dispute” in the 1980’s from the perspective of the opposition and the interaction among the three trends, which means that I think the dispute happened among the liberal school of “wholesale Westernization” , the conservative school of “The revival of Confucianism”  and the Marxist school of “comprehensive innovation”. I personally accepted the cultural propositions of the school of comprehensive innovation represented by Mr. Zhang, and I summarized the basic ideas of this school in the following words: to make the past serve the present; to make foreign things serve China; to be critical of inheritance and comprehensively innovate.” Furthermore, I have mentioned in many essays and interviews that I approve of the theory of cultural comprehensive innovation instead of  “Cultural Radicalism” or  “Cultural Conservatism”. Based on this kind of cultural standpoint, I believe that the way of “wholesale Westernization” and “the revival of Confucianism” will go nowhere in China, so I strongly agree with “the unity of the three trends among Chinese culture, western culture and Marxism” advocated by the two brothers Zhang Shenfu and Zhang Dainian over 70 years ago. And I think that when it comes  to the problem of how to treat  Chinese culture,  western culture and Marxism, we should insist on taking the approach of “the Unity of the Three Trends” and of “comprehensive innovation”.

When it comes to how to deal with the relations between  Chinese learning,  western learning and Marxism, I came up with the idea of “the spirit of Marxism, the system of China and the application of the West” trying to solve the problem of how to unify and combine using Marxism as the guideline with the subjectivity of our national culture. The “cultural view of  comprehensive innovation” is correct in general and has received much approval, but it still needs further and explicit development in its content as you just mentioned. And as for how to deepen the studies on the “cultural view of  comprehensive innovation”, when I had an interview with a reporter from “the development of philosophy”, I expressed some of my opinions that the research needed to  go further in every aspect, and it needed someone who would really make an effort. A postgraduate I supervised has already carried out some historical research and some data processing work from a certain perspective. There are also some people who are considering how to deal with the theoretical analysis and the operational methods. I hope that this cultural theory will become more mature through our concerted efforts, and exert a more and more positive effort on the “New Cultural Construction of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics”.

Zhang: Having retired as the dean of the graduate school, you undertook the key project “The trends in traditional Chinese philosophy” funded by the National Social and Scientific Research Program, so what is your basic idea regarding this project? And what’s the current situation?

Fang: In the 1990s, I was mainly engaged in the educational management of  postgraduates and after  retirement, I wanted to get down to some academic research. However the spirit was willing but the flesh was weak, due to my poor health. As for this project, I  invited Professor Zhou Defeng and Professor Kang Zhongqian to join me. At the moment the first draft has been completed,  and is going to be completed after revision. As for the basic content of traditional Chinese philosophy, we try to approach it in five aspects, namely, “the correlation between  heaven and the human”, “the relation between the Yin and Yang”, “the historical evolution in both ancient and modern times”, “the cultivation of the ideal personality” and “the way of attaining knowledge.” These are the questions in Chinese philosophy and they can be compared and connected with ontology (cosmology), dialecticism (development view), the concepts of history, the view of life and  epistemology in western philosophy. With the spread of contemporary western philosophy and science,  traditional Chinese philosophy has transformed profoundly in the process of responding and absorbing the substance from it. In the 20th century, with the spread of Marxism and the formation of the “the oppositional and interactional situation of the “Three Trends”, the consistency of the Sinicization of Marxist philosophy and the modernization of Chinese philosophy revitalized the aspects of traditional philosophy that conform to the real world , making the combination of the essence of Marxist philosophy and Chinese philosophy a possibility, and making the revolutionary transformation of  traditional Chinese philosophy a reality. In the book Chinese Philosophy and Dialectical Materialism, we  mentioned the five transformations “from  naive materialism to  new materialism”, “from  spontaneous dialecticism to the dialecticism of self-consciousness”, “from the subjective theory of reflexion to the dynamic theory of reflexion”, “from the traditional view of history to  historical materialism”, “from the traditional gentleman personality to the overall development of the new person”, and these are  exactly the latest development of the traditional philosophy concerning the five questions including “Studying the Relationship between Heaven and Man”. With regard to the future direction of  traditional Chinese philosophy, we believe that  “comprehensive innovation” points out a promising way for the revival and further advancement of Chinese civilization.


 Zhang: In the afterword of his book “Philosophy and Cultural Studies” Zhou Kezhen mentioned that your consistent aim in conducting yourself and in doing research is to carry forward Chinese culture with Marxism, and this is also a manifestation of your equanimity. Is it fair to say that your research goal or your own interest over the past years is to combine Marxist philosophy with Chinese philosophy and the quintessential part of Chinese culture, so as to let Chinese culture contribute more to human civilization?


Fang: Thank you for making such a summary. I identify with similar views expressed by Dr. Zhou Kezhen, Li Xianghai, Yang Qingzhong, Lu Xinli. During our long-term contact and consultation with each other, some of my students have gained a deep understanding of me and I have, in turn, learned a lot from them. When I answered the questions put to me by the  “Booklist of Ph.D supervisors”, I mentioned that I tried to combine the learning of Marxist philosophy with the learning of Chinese philosophy at the beginning of my academic pursuitand the senior scholars guiding me in the early days such as Guo Moruo, Hou Wailu and Zhang Dainian, etc. were experts in the Marxist history of Chinese thoughts and philosophy . And especially, I had a quite few chances to contact  Mr. Zhang and I cannot agree more with his academic views on “the unity of The Three Trends” and “comprehensive innovation”. In the 1990s, when the Ministry of Education asked me to assist Mr. Zhang in the editorial practice of the nationwide textbooks “An Outline of Chinese Culture” and “Chinese Philosophy and  Dialectical Materialism”, it meant  carrying out the guiding ideology of combining  Marxism and the traditional Chinese philosophy, employing the scientific world view and the excellent national culture to educate the younger generation. And in my academic research, I also laid emphasis on the Sinicization of Marxist Philosophy, and especially the relations between Marxism and traditional Chinese philosophy and how to combine the two, ranging from the research into the issues of “knowing and doing” and “substance and function”, the “ relationship between nature and human” and the studies of “harmonious but different” to the research of Confucianism and neo-Confucianism. Mao Zedong’s On Practice and On Contradiction, Zhang Dainian’s On the Essence of Heaven and Human and Theory of Containment and Synthesis and Feng Qi’s “Transforming Knowledge into Intelligence” are successful models, and their cause should be continued. Although I know that I am not worthy of it, I will still make a diligent effort  to carry on their work.


“I put teaching and educating as the first priority”

Zhang: You have been teaching in the People's University since your graduation, and  we can say your life has all been connected with education, which is a pleasure for you. It’s reported that when you started working in the graduate school of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences,  besides the daily administrative work, you insisted on recruiting postgraduates, supervising several doctoral students both from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and from Nankai University. You gave lectures to your doctoral students in Beijing at night and the ones in Tianjin in the weekends. Wasn’t it a bit too intense

Fang: I have been engaged in teaching for 45 years and it’s fair to say that my main work is being a teacher. “Being able to gather and teach the most talented in the world” is the calling of a teacher and also their greatest happiness and  biggest joy. 

Personally, if I have to rank  teaching work and academic research, I would put the former first. School work is students-oriented so students cannot be dealt with negligently. Many of my academic researches aim to serve  teaching work. The book “History of Chinese Philosophy: the theory of knowing and doing”, for example, is one of the selective courses that I set up in the philosophy department of Naikai University, and the two books “An Outline of Chinese Culture” and “Chinese Philosophy and the Dialectical Materialism” also serve a teaching purpose. I have offered the courses on  general Chinese philosophical history and the selected readings on famous works of Chinese philosophy to the undergraduates and some other courses to the postgraduates, the trainees and the foreign students. After the 1980s, I was mainly devoted to the tutoring of the postgraduates and during the middle and late 1990s, I supervised several PhD students both in our school and in Naikai University, as you mentioned. At that time, I dealt with  administrative work during the day and arranged the classes and the seminars for my students at night. Besides I went to Naikai University to teach in weekends. Of all the postgraduates I tutored, 15 have got their master's degree and 35 have got their doctor's degree. Most of them are the backbones in teaching and scientific research in colleges and universities and the majority of them are now professors and Ph.D supervisors, and six have been accredited as “ Nationwide Excellent Young Teachers”

Thinking that I became a lecturer only when I was  41, I feel fascinated and gratified at the news that many of my students have become professors and Ph. D supervisors in their thirties. And they will make a greater contribution to  academic and educational causes than our generation did.

ZhangIn 1994, you were transferred to the post of dean of the graduate school in the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and at that moment our school was going through a tough time. But when you retired six years later, the situation was much better. So how did you do this and what’s your personal experience and understanding?

FangI was not an expert in  administrative work, but I could only try my best since the Party had made such an arrangement. In the early autumn of 1993, when the graduate school resumed their overall enrollment after a four-year pause, we were confronted with problems in every aspect, such as the inefficient internal and external management system, the poor conditions for  running a school, and the tight economic situation which went to the extent that we couldn’t even afford the copy paper in our office. While compared with other colleges and universities we had an obvious strength in our teaching resources,  there was still a gap in the standardization of the course arrangement and the teaching management. Therefore, whether we could effectively sort out these problems was a severe challenge faced by me and my colleagues.

When dealing with the work in graduate school, I paid close attention to the following aspects: first, to set the right direction in running school, never forgetting my responsibility to train the qualified successors  for our socialist cause, and not its gravediggers; second, to improve every aspect from  postgraduate enrollment to the standardization of  degree courses, the design of the syllabus and the textbooks,  reading guidance,  scientific research training,  social practice , the dissertation defense and  degree conferment with the improvement of the  quality of training as the main goal, trying to maintain and promote the  reputation of our postgraduates; thirdly, to collect funds through varied channels and improve the condition under which the school is run. Besides, we have united and cooperative staff members, with the secretary of the Party Committee Liao Shilun responsible for the internal management of the work team and the ideological and political work towards the staff members and the students, and with several competent associate deans and deputy secretaries. Under our joint efforts, our graduate school finally got out of the doldrums, reaching  a period of relatively stable and fast development. Those six and a half years were the most tiring but the most meaningful stage of my life.

Zhang: My impression was that you have talked a lot about the educational principle of “attaching equal importance to scholarship and character-building; and cultivating both morality and virtuous conduct”. When and why did you come up with such an idea?

Fang: Recently, our graduate school has compiled a book in which the academics in the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences talk about learning, doing research and conducting oneself, and I submitted a manuscript of the conversation I had with a postgraduate. In this manuscript, I mentioned  the educational principle of “attaching equal importance to scholarship and character-building; and cultivating both morality and virtuous conduct”. I first put forward this principle in 1982 when I was in Naikai University and started leading postgraduates, and it is not only a general request of young students, because an emphasis on “the unity of one’s scholarship and the character” is even more important for the postgraduates majoring in Chinese philosophy. Only in this way, can they grasp the spirit of "studying for oneself" and “teaching for attaining virtue” which come from Chinese philosophy. But in my teaching practice, I found that it is not easy to implement this principle. A few students stood out in their scholarly work but had some moral issues. That’s why since the mid-nineties I often say the phrase “Thirty percent destiny and seventy percent diligence” to my postgraduates,  and I apparently lay more emphasis on how to conduct oneself. It conforms to the spirit of valuing moral integrity,  “prioritizing moral education” and “Studying the classics whenever possible” in Chinese philosophy. What’s more, we are now at a time when the competition of opposing interests is quite fierce, so it’s a fundamental principle to know how to be a man and it’s necessary to strengthen the education of " giving priority to justice" and “serving the country with heart and soul” so as to produce gentlemen.

And I often say to my students that as a teacher, my best wish is to see my students exceed me, and that is how the whole academic cause moves forward. The younger generation, however, must be down-to-earth, work step by step, not too eager for quick success or instant benefit nor be opportunistic. Maybe there are some inherent talents for one to make some achievements academically but generally it is the result of  diligence. In my opinion, it’s quite good to be “simple and honest”, and I can often feel the simplicity and honesty of my predecessors from their learning style and writing style. And the “simplicity and honesty” I talk about does not mean “mediocrity”. You can really feel their noble personality and  lofty thoughts through it. It is a far reaching path to success.

Zhang: It reminds me of the words s by Feuerbach: “The real philosophy is not the writing of books but the creation of people.” I think that  philosophical workers should first match their words with their deeds and achieve  unity in conducting themselves and pursing their studies, this way their works will be appealing and not restricted to the form of books. Nowadays, young research talents spring up in large numbers and grow up quite fast in the circles of philosophy and social science. Would you like to say something to them?

Fang: I would like to quote from my two predecessors as a mutual encouragement for me and  these young researchers. One quote, from comrade Zhou Yang speaking at the opening-up ceremony of the graduate school for the first term, is “what we create on the ideological front is not only scholars but also warriors”. It means that philosophical social workers should first be clear about the nature, the features, the orientation and the responsibility of the academic work they devoted themselves to. And it also corresponds to my thought that “One should  first be firmly rooted in the major parts of oneself”. If one remains unclear or even takes the wrong direction, then they won’t be able to achieve the goals of understanding the world, transmitting civilization, administrating and educating people, and serving the community or  what’s worse, they might even go the opposite way . The other quote I want to share is “one should sit still and study for ten years, and never write down anything irrelevant”,  by comrade Fan Zhoulan, which demands us to establish a good learning spirit of hard working and thinking, not being afraid of difficulties and being down-to-earth, not talking empty words. I think doing research requires a kind of spirit akin to the one found in the poem written by Zheng Banqiao “The bamboo clings firmly to the mountain steep; in the chasm of rock it plants its root so deep. In spite of all beats, it stands still, not bending low, whether from east, west, south or north the wind does blow”. As long as you take deep root and make full efforts, I believe you are  bound to get somewhere.


Zhang Tianxing, pen name  Zhang Liming, male, born in 1962, Langfang city, Hebei province, is a Ph.D of philosophy. He works in the Institute of Philosophy of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences as an associate researcher and serves as the secretary of the society of Chinese philosophy. His research field is contemporary Chinese philosophy and his academic works include The Conflicts in the Cultural Choices and The Crossroad and the Tower (co-authored) etc. In addition, he enjoys writing essays besides the professional research.


(Translated by Xu Xiujun)



Editor: Wang Daohang


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