Zhuo Xinping, male and from the Tujia ethnic group, born in March 1955, is a native of Cili, Hunan Province and a member of the Communist Party of China. He graduated from the department of philosophy of Ludwing Maximilian Muenchen Universitaet as a PhD. He is the director, researcher and PhD student advisor of the Institute of World Religion; he is also the chairman of the Religious Society of China, executive director of the China United Front Theory Research Association, and director of the China International Culture Exchange Centre. His academic specialties are religious studies and philosophy of religion. He was given the “Returned Foreign Students with Outstanding Contributions” Award by the State Education Commission, the Ministry of Personnel of the People’s Republic of China and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in 1991. In 1986, he won the “Young and Mid-aged Expert with Outstanding Contribution” Award.
Pursuing Studies with Sincerity, Treating Others in an Amicable Way and Taking Beauty as Target
Mr. Zhuo Xinping is the expert in religious studies who enjoys good reputation at home and abroad in the current Chinese academic circles. He is a famous scholar and leader in the field of religious researches on the Christianity in our country. The first time when the writer met with Mr. Zhuo is in the winter in 2002 when the academic seminar of “Christian religion in the context of secularization” that was held in Beijing. At that time, as a new doctoral student I intended to attend the meeting in the capacity of an associate student. Since I was shy, I was pacing up and down outside the meeting place of the hotel all long. At that time, a gentle “staff” for the meeting came towards me and said hello to me. He asked what my name is and whether he can help me. An amiable greeting made me, a slightly immature young man with reverence and awe feel relaxed. I told him why I came here. After the “staff” hearing what I said, he nicely relied to my request and welcomed me to attend the meeting. In addition, he asked me to give some meeting materials and books to my mentor. After that, he asked me whether it was convenient for me to go back to have lunch at noon. If it would take me a long time to go back, I could have lunch at the meeting. At that moment, I was grateful and subconsciously caught an eye at this staff’s attendance certificate. “Zhuo Xinping” made me feel extremely flattered. I thought I was so lucky that this scholar who I had long desired to know was so close to me and talking with me so amiably. However, I had gone so far as to regard him as a “staff” for the meeting. In July 2005, the writer entered the Christianity Research Office of the Institute of World Religions to work. With this, the opportunities to be in contact with Mr. Zhuo were increased. His amicable attitude towards others and conducting himself, his style of work of earnestly practicing what one advocates, his academic style of diligence and preciseness as well as his gentle and cultivated words and manners have in-depth influence on me from beginning to end and brought me the inspiration of life and the motivation to go forward. This activity of “Young Scholars Learning from and Talking with Commissioners of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences” launched by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences makes it possible for me to make an overall and in-depth communication with Mr. Zhuo, to appreciate his academic life and share his life experience as well as his style of pursing studies and managing the institute as well. It may be called a great fortune for me.
As agreed previously, the writer comes to Mr. Zhuo’s office. The room is not so large and very simple and crude. The bookcase is as large as a whole wall, where books are full of the bookcase in apple-pie order. Of the books, the most majority are his personal monographs, works written in collaboration with others as well as the works he took part in editing. Right in front of the bookcase, the desk, the computer desk and a set of sofa and tea table which seem to be of the style of the 1980s are placed side by side. The floor has been worn off and the color has been fading. The desk is not large and there are a great number of various letters and magazines on it. Our conversation is taking place on the sofa that has the historical flavor.
Attitude towards Life – Being Natural in Life and Aloof in Spirit
Tang Xiaofeng (hereinafter referred to as Tang): If I only read your resume, it seems that your life experience and academic experience are filled with “legends” and seems to be very smooth as well. You graduated as a postgraduate student at the age of 26 and at the age of 33 you completed your doctor program in the University of Munich in Germany before returning to our country. 10 years later, you have become the director of the Institute of World Religions of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. During the more than 20 years before that, you were still a ignorant youth who just graduated from Chengde Normal Training College in Hunan and went to the countryside for receiving the tempering through manual labor. What is your opinion on your own life experience?
Zhuo Xinping (hereinafter referred to as Zhuo): If it can be said that my life experience and academic experience are very smooth, as far as I am concerned, it is because I live in the context of the country’s and national development as well as the prosperity of ideological and cultural undertakings. Chinese religious studies subject has developed rapidly in last 20 years, which offers a platform, the materials and the angel of view for my own academic researches and makes it possible for me to express my own professional points of view as well. I still remember that at that time it was the principle of managing the institute of “accumulating materials and cultivating talents” that put forward by Mr. Ren Jiyu that gave me the opportunity to come to the Institute of World Religions of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences as one of the first postgraduate students who study for a degree of science of religion in 1978 and at last when I graduated I became one of the team members in the research on religion science in China. It was because of the rise of religion subject in China as well as the demand for the talents who are engaged in the researches of religions that enabled me to make up my mind to continue engaging in the researches by returning to our country. Therefore, no matter you called it as “legend” or fortune as well, it is a kind of historical fortune for me. There is no doubt that such kind of fortune is still in the wake of pressure from the beginning to the end. Since the very moment when I entered the Institute of World Religions for proceeding to the degree of master, I dare not be slightly inattentive or relaxed at all, since as far as I am concerned, my command of knowledge in the field of religion science was not very comprehensive and my academic foundation was still very weak. However, I am very glad to make joint efforts with other academic seniors and colleagues for the development of Chinese religion science and shoulder such pressure together with them as well as sharing such fortune with them.
Tang: As you mentioned just now, there are the factors of historical context and culture for such “smoothness” of your life path. Certainly, we have seen the painstaking efforts and hardships you have given and suffered from. Among all of these, which event or choice in your opinion has the greatest influence on your own life path? What its influence on you?
Zhuo: One’s life always consists of different life experiences and some of them are decisive factors. For example, after I graduated from the normal training college and experienced the three year long training in the countryside, I still made up my mind to take part in the entrance exams for postgraduate schools and make preparation for it. In addition, I chose the major of religion science. Moreover, going abroad for further study should also be one important change in my life experience. There is no doubt that if I have to choose one of the most important choices I have made from all of those life experiences, I think the decision to retuning to our country after I studied abroad may be one of the most important things. Once one have made success in your studies and adapted themselves to the living environment abroad, it will be a question that shall be taken into account with care for oversea students before making the choice whether to decide on returning to our country or staying in the foreign country. The same as many overseas students, I chose to return to my own country. Different from the researches on natural science, especially the science and technology studies, the religious studies I am engaged in is a subject rarely known by people at the beginning of reform and opening up in China. In addition, even of the arts and social science studies, it is also one of the most sensitive subjects in our country as well. When I studied for the degree of master in our country, I used to be in face of varied non understanding or even misunderstanding from others. In addition, I also ran into a lot of embarrassing situations that made me not know whether to laugh or cry. I still remember that before the celebration party of graduation as a master, I and another classmate went shopping with the driver of our institute. When we paid the money and asked the salesman to make out an invoice, he asked, “What is your working unit?” We answered, “Institute of Religion”. The salesman was very surprised and said, “You are monks!” At that moment, the driver who was in the company of us pointed at us two postgraduates at once and said, “They are monks. I am not!” He gave us a feeling that become pale even at the mention of the name of religion. However, in the western countries, religion study is a subject that has a wide range and a great number of people participate in it. There are a lot of opportunities to do relevant researches and works. After I got the degree of doctor in five years, my supervisor asked me to stay and continue my researches of the professor qualification thesis that was peculiar to Germany. I was also provided with the opportunity to proceed to the degree of doctor in the USA. On the other hand, the institution in our country expressed the hope that I could return to my own country as soon as possible. Under the circumstances, I chose the way of returning to my own country and becoming the first scholar who finished the proceeding to the degree of doctor in the field of religion study in a foreign country since the reform and opening up in Chinese mainland as well as the first scholar in this filed who completed the study abroad and returned home. Due to the great differences in the field of academics, culture, ideas and tradition as I mentioned just now, though a lot of Chinese completed their proceeding to the doctor in the field of religion study in a foreign country after that, most of them chose to stay in the foreign country. So far, the overseas students who choose to return to our country actually are as rare as the hair of a phoenix and the horns of a giraffe. After returning to my own country, with the help of my colleagues and the encouragement of the scholars of the senior generation, I gradually adapted myself to the research environment in China. In the first five years when I was working in our country after returning from the foreign country (1988 to 1993), I reached the golden period of my academic development. I constantly gave out research results and took part in various academic exchanges. In addition, I was promoted to be the associate researcher in the end of 1988. In 1992, I was appointed as a research by making an exception. Therefore, in general, the decision of returning to my own country after the overseas study is an important choice in my life. It has changed my life path and academic experience as well.
Tang: How will you describe if you are required to sum up your attitude towards life in one sentence?
Zhuo: Being natural in life and aloof in spirit and keeping a usual mind. To insist on one goal and keep it up persistently and try your best to cultivate. Not to be swayed by considerations of gain and loss or vacillate in your opinion and betwixt and between. Not to take into account whether your own efforts and persistence is worthwhile or not or what you will obtain.
Experience Gained from Study Pursing – Extensive and Profound, Systemic and Meticulous
Tang: As is known to all, your unremitting efforts have played an important part in the coordination and leading of the healthy development of researches on Christianity in Chinese mainland and even the religion studies as a whole; in addition, you have also cultivated a great number of new comers as well as created and published a great number of new works, enabling the Chinese academic circles to have a more comprehensive understanding of religion science, the new and developing subject. In this process, what are your experience and realizations that can be used for reference by the academic counterparts and the successors in terms of pursing studies?
Zhuo: As for my experience and realizations in terms of pursing studies, there is, as a matter of fact, not any mysterious and abstruse principle. First of all, you shall be very learned and well-informed and shall develop your interest in academics. You are supposed to lay a sound foundation for research and form the keen observation ability and the ability to find out problems; secondly, on the specific stage of research, the key point shall be laid emphasis on and attach importance to make a specialty and get to the bottom of a matter as well as try your best to be systemic and meticulous; as for the humane and sociological science in detail, as far as I am concerned, we shall give expression to a structure of pyramid with respect to knowledge and research, to be extensive and profound.
Tang: You have talked about your experience and realization of pursing studies over the years. Are they related to you attitude towards life that you have mentioned just now? What is your opinion on the relation between “pursing studies” and “life”?
Zhuo: There is no doubt that such kind of influence does exist. For example, as I mentioned just now, we shall keep a usual mind in our life and insist on our goals instead of being swayed by considerations of gain and loss. These play an important part during the process when I am pursuing studies. When I just returned from the foreign country to my own country and began my work, I ran into a lot of difficulties. Some people advised me to go abroad once again. However, as for me, now that I chose to return to my own country and I had been in my country then, I found it my duty and obligation to go forward and not to turn back. I was supposed not to think of the route of retreat or be irresolute and change my mind from time to time. I should come down to earth and take my own way. In this way, I took part in the development and construction of academics in our country with a “usual mind” and showed my own academic character and features by means of “academic investment” and “academic results”. I tried my best to receive the acknowledgement and identity in the academic circles in our country so as to make joint efforts to make it possible that the religion study can develop from a “sensitive subject” in our country into an “important subject” that everyone can understand its significance and necessity. In addition, there is a kind of interactive relation between the object of study and the researcher to certain degree. Someone used to ask me whether the religion study would have influence on one’s thought and spirit. I relied to him by means of the “knowledge forms and trains character” and “knowledge changes temperament” (Abeunt studia mores, i.e. “knowledge blends in character”) and affirmed such influence. On one hand, since I went depth into the religion from an access of knowledge and culture, I always have the understanding of “idealism” and “aestheticism” of religion and have a higher expectation than realizing religious phenomenon. Such “unrealistic thought” of mine is often criticized by my friends in this field and is blamed as a kind of “excessive demand” or “extravagant hope”. It is divorced from reality greatly. However, I always think that if one has dream he will also have the hope; if one has the expectation, he will also have the pursuit. The scholars’ thorough inquiry and exploration of knowledge shall be based on its objectivity and shall not go beyond this objectivity. However, it is unavoidable that the scholars’ point of view on the scientific principle or law, the world and the life will have its subjectivity.
Academic Point of View – “Science of Religion with Chinese Characteristics” and “Academic Theology”
Tang: As the leader of the only institution specially designated for the religion studies at a national level in China as well as the president of Chinese Society for Religion Study, you influence in the academic circles at home and abroad is obvious to all. The praise and honor you have received are too numerous to mention one by one. At this point, how do you sum up your own academic achievements in the more than two decades?
Zhuo: With respect to the researches on the since of religion, I attach greater importance to promoting the sound development of religion science in China and highlighting its systematicness, integrality and professionalism as a subject. I advocate taking active measures to innovate on the premise of standardization of subject by adopting the comparative study approach of religion science and fishing out the unique way of development of Chinese science of religion. I propose to do the two combinations well with respect to the researches on the science of religion: one is to respect the academic tradition of the science of religion as a subject and make a good combination of religion science and researches on western thoughts and cultures; the other one is to show the awareness of Chinese problems and make a good combination of doing the religious studies well and laying emphasis on the Chinese thoughts and culture. With respect to the religious study of Christianity, I pay great attention to and lay stress on the peculiarity of Chinese modern society and academic atmosphere. Therefore, I emphasize that the orientation and attitude of Chinese research are different from the same subject researches in foreign countries in their nature; the researches done by the Chinese academic circles are mainly the researches of the type of “academics”, “knowledge”, “college” and “scholar” and we shall insist on the standpoint and method of religion science more so as to show the difference from the researches in foreign countries which are based on faith and their religious lineage. However, such different understanding and positioning of “theology” are not of closure property but of conversation type. The research has the features of being open and enlightened. I have not so many achievements in this field and it does not deserve mentioning. I am still keeping exploring.
Tang: A professor from University of Bonn in Germany has ever said that you have be the precedent who starts the conversation in terms of the theories of religion science between China and the western countries. In the previous conversation, you have laid great emphasis on the difference of research methods and points of view between our country and the foreign countries. In addition, you laid stress on the research features of being open and having conversation. Would you please talk about your opinion on the conversations and exchanges in terms of religious study?
Zhuo: As the Chinese old saying goes, “A gentleman gets along with others, but does not necessarily agree with them while base persons are in disharmony with each other in spite of uniformity among them.” This sentence has two meanings at different levels: first of all, it is an objective fact that the people in different cultural and social backgrounds have different beliefs as well as different cultural perspectives and points of view. Though the objective content of truth is absolute, people’s understanding and grasping of truth are relative and of different levels and from different points of view. Secondly, the people who are in search of the truth shall respect the different understandings and experience. They are supposed to hold a tolerant attitude of seeking common points while reserving difference for the sake of making communications. Only in this way, can he make up for the limitation of his own cognition. As a matter of fact, the varied religious phenomena themselves are, to a certain degree, the outcome of communications between and integrations of different cultures. Take the Christianity for example. It is based on the ancient Hebrew culture and the ancient Greek culture. It experienced the collection and collision of varied cultures in the ancient Mediterranean world during the times under the reign of the Roman Empire. In addition, it also took an active part in the construction of western cultures during the cross-culture process and its settled cultural characteristics have come into being. In addition, this kind of cross-culture movement of Christianity has not stopped for it entered the great unified world of Christianity of Europe in the mediaeval times. On the contrary, its cross-culture communication has continued and the re-structuring of multi cultures has been constantly going on. This theory of communication and integration between different religions is also appropriate for the academic researches on religion. In recent years, the researches on Christianity in modern China is getting rid of the coldness style and situation of dreariness that have been lasted for several hundred years and has created a brand new age of objective, authentic and scientific researches. This scientific attitude makes our researches not limited on the biased matters that result from the cultural conflict and the political competition in the history any more. It is not a kind of exclusive perspective and that either this or that any more, but show the mind of “all rivers run into sea, and wide heart embraces all”. The people who have different beliefs as their background, different political stands as well as different cultural orientations are enabled to communicate with each other and understand the attitudes of each other so as to communicate discuss and deliberate in a sincere way. Therefore, we are supposed to not provide a certain kind of mode or insist on a certain kind of orientation. The prosperity of academics lies in all flowers bloom together and all schools of thoughts contend for attention”, lies in make friends by means of literature and associate by means of “academics” so as to achieve a universally existing harmony. In a word, as far as I am concerned, the comparative research of the Chinese and the Western religions, thoughts and cultures is a kind of intelligence of art and communication. This communication can not only be beneficial to Chinese nation, but also be beneficial to the people all over the world.
Tang: As you mentioned that the researches on Christianity in Chinese academic circles are mainly the type of “academics”, “knowledge”, “college” and “scholar”. It is different from the researches based on the belief and its religious lineage in the foreign countries. In many speeches you have delivered recently, you have mentioned the concept of “academic theology”. Can it be said that this concept is your summary of the researches on theology that are done by the academic circles in Chinese mainland? Would you please make a further explanation on the connotation of this concept for us?
Zhuo: It can be said like this. In China where the Christianity is only the belief of a small number of people, it is impossible for the “theology” and its study to be only the “thoughts of church”. Instead, it shall have a more extensive implication. If one pays close attention to the academic reality in China, he will find that “there is still theology beyond the scope of church”. It is the “academic theology”. As far back as the time when Plato used the word “theology” for the first time, this expression has the implication of “academics”, since “theology”, at the very beginning, was referred to the “words and expressions related to the God”, the “logical reasoning” and the “thorough inquiry and exploration” rather than the “demonstration of believing in God”. One of the purposes for Plato to establish the “college” was to make the “scholars” do researches on “God” (ultimate reality”), a “subject and knowledge”. Since the establishment of Christianity, the “theology” has been its “system of belief” and been limited to the tradition of its “church”. Even so, the leap bounds and breakthrough of the “theology” have been kept to a certain degree. Take the scholasticism that is closely related to the theological system of Christianity for example. It not only is to explain and publicize theory in “colleges” but also belongs to the “Perennial Philosophy” that dates from the philosophy of ancient Greek and exceeds the tradition of Christianity. Looking back upon and profoundly rethink this history, one is certain to feel that in the social and cultural atmosphere in China, it is not only possible but also necessary to have a kind of “academic theology” that is different from the “church theology”. The religion study in modern China is still based on the development of religion science in China. Naturally, it also makes it possible for the researches of “theology” in the academic circles in China. It can be said that this is a kind of the “theology” “recovering its original simplicity” in the academic circles in China and returning to its original nature. However, this kind of development of theology that is based on the theory system of religion science and research method, applying the research resources of religion science in the traditional environment of non church in China can only be the “academic theology”. In addition, it certainly will combine with the theology tightly and receive an in-depth influence on the research method and academic standpoint of the theology. All of this kind of “academic theology” which is aimed at “doing researches on the God” is greatly different from the “church theology” which is the “subject of belief in God”, but the former is the important supplement and enrichment of the latter.
Basic Opinion and Hope for the Research Field – from the “Dangers Subject” to the “Well-known Subject”
Tang: I read a great number of the articles and works that you published in recent years and also attended many of your reports and speeches. I have learnt a lot from them in terms of the theory of theology, methods and your opinion on the Christianity. I benefit a lot. At this point, would you please talk about your opinion on the concept of religion itself?
Zhuo: Since there is subject difference among the researchers, and the difference result in the difference of their understanding of other research objects. Therefore, there are varied definitions of the “religion” with the philosophic bent, the sociality as well as the belief, among others. My understanding of the “religion” can be summed up as follows: the religion is the value system, the social formation and the practical behaviors of human to overcome or sublime their selves by means of the transcendent belief. There is no doubt that this statement is not certain to be complete and accurate. It is juts my own realization for your reference. By the way, when we mention the religion, many people share the same opinion that China is a nation with no religion. As far as I am concerned, when a nation is in search of its own development, it always tries its best to trace back to the origin of value so as to get the potential spiritual strength. This origin is always the religion. The pursuit of holiness is the universal pursuit of every nation. There is also this spiritual factor in the traditional culture of China.
Tang: As an expert and leader in the field of the subject – theology, would you please talk about the development process of this subject in recent years as well as the characteristics shown form the process?
Zhuo: The “theology” is the subject that does descriptive and standardized researches on the origin, the evolution, the nature, the law and the function, etc. of the religions – a kind of human’s spirit and social phenomena. It is a new and developing subject in Chinese mainland. Its development on the earlier stage laid emphasis on the collection of historical records and the historical science of religions that is expert in textual research. After that, it paid close attention to the philosophy of religion with the method of making intellectual enquiries and reasoning. In recent years, the sociology of religion and the anthropology of religion with the features of investigation and survey as well as the analysis on the human groups appeared as well. As far as I am concerned, the innovation or breakthrough with respect to the study approach of religion science shall shown in the comparison and communication of its different fields and different approaches as well as the “integration between different subjects” that joins and integrates relevant subjects from this. In this way, it is possible to realize the research of comprehensiveness and integrity of religion in a multi-level and overall way. At present, the development of Chinese theology subject is going towards this target gradually.
Tang: In the academic circles of China, though the researches on religion science have made outstanding achievements in the last more than ten years, after all it is a new and developing subject and thus there are still some shortcomings in its theory and methods. Would you please talk about your expectation towards its development in the future?
Zhuo: In the whole world, the religion science is a large subject, especially in the field of humanities and social sciences in foreign countries. It takes up a large proportion. The current situation of the development of religion science in China is not in line with its status of a large academic country. The understanding and support from different walks of life are necessary and it shall be further opened and developed. We are supposed to regard the religion science as an independent subject and develop it instead of regarding it as the subject leeching on to other subjects and thus be restricted and restrained. As a strong country in the field of politics, economics and culture, the modern China shall not have a religion science that is a “dangerous subject” any more, but a “well-known subject” instead. With respect to the development of the subject of religion itself, there are still a lot of things for the religion science to do. The development potential is also extensive and long. If we regard the stage of the initial establishment of Chinese religion science is to “accumulate materials and cultivate talents”, our current development shall transit from this to the objective of “systemic research and establishment of school of thought”. On the basis of learning, absorption and reference and under the conditions of having materials and a great number of talents with special skill and knowledge, Chinese religion science shall set up the discourse system and theoretical framework with respect to religion science of Chinese people our own and thus make the Chinese school or Chinese system of religion science come into being. There is no doubt that it is not as easy as it sounds to achieve this objective. We are supposed to make efforts to this objective consciously now.
Tang: As we see that most of your works and the series of books that you participated in as a chief editor are in the field of researches on the Christianity. This is also what you are expert in. Would you please talk about your opinion and expectation with respect to the researches on the Christianity?
Zhuo: The Christianity is the religion which the largest number of people believes in and has the largest influence all over the world at present. It has a long history and is rich in content. In addition, it has the close relation with the development of the history of human civilization. However, in the researches of religion science in China at present, the researches on the Christianity is one of the weakest, the most sensitive and the most controversial fields. However, it is also due to this significance that the researches in this field shall be strengthened, expanded and deepened to the greatest extent as well. We are supposed to enable the people from “not understanding” to “understanding”, from, a kind of “sensitive” cognition to a kind of “meaningful” cognition and thus make this subject develops from a “dangerous” subject full of danger to a safe and harmonious research and become a popular and universally acknowledged “well-known” subject. The overall development of the researches on the Christianity and the extensive development of this subject are a historical mission and the requirements of the age. It is necessary for everyone to participate in an active way and make joint efforts.
Consideration over the Frontier Issues – the “Academic Nature” and the “Sociality” are on a Par with One Another
Tang: China is a multinational country and a country where there are varied kinds of religious beliefs. In addition, we are taking active measures to make efforts for the construction of harmonious socialist society. In December 2006, you organized an academic seminar which was themed by “The Christianity and the Harmonious Society”, which had an extensive influence in the academic circles of religion science. Please expound the relation between the researches on religion and the harmonious society again.
Zhuo: The religion science has a wide range and there are a great number of issues that shall be studied; we are supposed to advocate that the “academic” or “knowledge-based” studies shall keep abreast of the “social” or “political” studies and each of them has their own strong points. On the other hand, both of them shall have the both-way interaction and supplement and perfect each other. The relation between the researches on religion science and the construction of harmonious socialist society are very typical at this aspect. Different kinds of religious belief imply the rich ideological and cultural content. They have a unique contribution to the harmony without uniformity, the peaceful coexistence, the peace and common prosperity as well as the integration and mutual symbiosis of the different powers and factors in the society. In addition, China is a country where a variety of religious beliefs exist together. There is no doubt that the researches on the various religious phenomena will be conducive to the communication and dialogue between the different religions, and thus make its unique contribution to the construction of a harmonious socialist society. For another example, the religion studies have three kinds of powers including those in the political circle, the religious circle and the academic circle. Their perspectives and methods of doing researches are different from each other and the difference often take place with respect to their realization and understandings of each other. What the political circle shows solicitude for is the politics of religion. What the religious circle shows solicitude for is the religion itself. What the academic circle shows solicitude for is mainly the academic research on the religious phenomena. Due to the same object of study, the three circles relate to each other in a close way. Due to the different emphases, they differ from each other. Therefore, I always advocate that every research power shall have corresponding understanding, making allowance for and respect of other standpoints, methods and behaviors, and proceed to the next step that it is possible to make a kind of dynamic benign interaction and organic co-construction in its true sense come into being. It can be said that it is an embodiment of efforts of construction harmonious socialist society in the interior of a subject.
Tang: Different from the situation of “harmonious” coexistence between the various religious beliefs in China, we can see that there are opposition and conflicts between the various religions in the world nowadays. How do you explain the conflict between this situation and the belief of every religion that advocates “good will” and “peace”?
Zhuo: The ideal of peace of the religion dose not rose all the way when it was implemented in the actual situation. Due to the numerous and complicated social, political, economic and cultural factors and so on, it make the great distance between the ideal and the reality. However, as a matter of fact, both of them are not contradictory to each other. There are two reasons: on one hand, the religion always acknowledges the relativity and limitation of the world by means of its transcendent inspection. Therefore, the religions do not evade the contradictions and conflicts in the world. On the other hand, there is a more fundamental reason, which is that the religious conflicts are mainly rooted in its national, historical, social and economic conflicts. Therefore, we are supposed to reveal the secret of religious conflicts in the society and history so as to search for the methods to solve the conflicts. In order to solve the conflicts between different religions, we shall solve the historical, social and economic roots where this kind of conflict makes a start basically. In addition, we shall take active measures to create an atmosphere for the communication, understanding and harmony of religions.
Tang: As you mentioned just now, the researches on the Christianity in China is the most sensitive and the most controversial subject. The problem of how to treat the relation between the Christianity and the Chinese society and culture as well as the position in the process of Chinese development in the future is also involved. What is your opinion?
Zhuo: The Christianity has a long history and an extensive and in-depth influence. To a certain degree, it provides the spiritual concept for the construction of European and American societies and offers spiritual motivation to their sustainable development. We must make great efforts to do an in-depth research on this value and the culture type, which is necessary for China’s opening up and going global. There is no doubt that we shall also see that the Christianity has ever had conflicts with the Chinese society and culture when they met in the history; the Christianity’s missionary works in China were also related to the aggression of western colonialism and imperialism to China. With respect to this, on one hand, we shall not avoid meeting; on the other hand, we shall relate it to the overall history of the relation between China and the western world. In other words, we shall explain the religion by means of the history rather than explain the history by means of the religion. As far as I am concerned, the basic resolution of this problem depends on the development of the relation between China and every country in Europe and America as well as their societies and cultures. In this process, we are supposed to strengthen rather than loosen or even give up the researches on the Christianity. If we only say it at the level of communications in terms of culture and values, it is not only necessary but also natural for the Chinese scholars to engage in the comparative researches on the Chinese and western religions as well as the thoughts and cultures. Looking back on the Chinese history, the periods when Chinese society developed and Chinese culture had great prosperity are all the periods when China opened up to the outside world, sent far and wide to invite men of ability, learnt widely from others' strong points and drew on the wisdom of the masses. We are just in the time when China is in the opening up period in the contemporary situations. It is the period of important opportunities for China to go global and impel the China's renaissance by herself and the period of important opportunities for the world to have a new understanding of China and enables China to make greater achievements on the stage of the world as well. The reason why we are engaged in the researches on Chinese and western thoughts and cultures is also to play a part in serving as a road and bridge for the organic coincidence of the two periods of important opportunities. Even though there may be some people who cannot understand it, misunderstand it or turn their nose up at it, we shall still insist – because this kind of communication is not only beneficial for Chinese nation but also for the people all over the world. As for the significance of the Christianity on Chinese social development, it is also the concern which I puzzle out and search for answers painstakingly. As a kind of belief system, value system and ideological and cultural system, the Christianity has a multi-level and overall influence on the process of civilization of the world. Certainly, its significances for the modernization of Chinese society is shown in may way as well. For example, the concept of original sin, the concept of saving, the concept of transcendence and the concept of universal value are of the function for reference with respect to our culture and values to a certain degree.
Behavior Style – Stick to the Truth and Come down to Earth
Tang: As you mentioned just now, the pursing of studies is closely related to the attitudes towards life. At this point, would you please talk about your main principles in terms of conducting yourself, handling affairs and pursuing studies in a brief way? I believe it will of significance of inspiration for us young scholars.
Zhuo: My principle of behavior is to stick to the truth and have an independent mind. We shall keep a watchful eye on reality and master the relation between personality and group between the present and the future. We shall have perspective and come down to earth.
Tang: In a conversation, you mentioned that you spoke highly of Bonhoeffer, the fighter against Nazi in the circle of Christianity. In addition, I noticed that you have made introduction to his thoughts for many times in your works. Would you please make a brief explanation on the reason for that?
Zhuo: The reasons why I admire Bonhoeffer are that on one hand his thoughts are deep and profound. He dares to challenge the traditional concepts. In addition, this innovation of thoughts mainly took place in the jail; on the other hand he has the courage to forget himself and sacrifice himself for truth and justice. In the period when the Nazi indulged in wanton massacre or persecution, he had a post of being a teacher in New York, the USA in the first place. He was able to lead a stable life. However, his conscience and sense of responsibility made him neglect his safety and turn a deaf ear to his friends’ advices and returned to Germany resolutely and determinedly for devoting himself into the fight against the Nazi. For the sake of the spiritual concept and the immortality of belief, he dare confront the death and finally die a tragic death in the concentration camp. The choice and destiny of Bonhoeffer is of great enlightenment for our life and also touches the hearts of a great number of people. If one has this spirit, he will not attach too much importance to the ups and downs of destiny and he will find what he shall do his duty and obligation to go forward and not to turn back. Therefore, when people are complaining that they have bad destiny and feel that they cannot find the opportunity for change, they shall think of Bonhoeffer’s choice and sufferings. Maybe it will be helpful and it can help you to restore the serenity of heart.
Experience and Realization in terms of Academic Management – Academic Organization Is the Important Part of the Academic Development
Tang: As a scholar, you also hold the concurrent posts of the Director of the Institute of World Religions and the President of the Chinese Society for Religion Study as well as many other administrative and social posts. How do you coordinate the relation between the academic research and the administrative management works?
Zhuo: There must be conflicts between the two with respect to the time. We are supposed to have the spirit to sacrifice and the service consciousness; we shall also see that the works of the academic organizations are still the important part of our academic development. To join the organizations is a kind of cultivation of our academic ability. To this point, I think I still have a long way to go. With respect to academics, I have a lot of dreams and most of them have not been achieved so far. Therefore, I really hope that I can fully return to the field of academics and devote myself to pursuing the studies, trying my best to make a difference. On the other hand, as the administrative manager of an academic institution, I fully understand that my ability is limited and I do not have the so-called “rare gifts and bold strategy” to implement. There is large assembly of men of talent in the field of religion science in China. If one wants to do as well as the predecessor directors at the position of administrator of the institute, it is really very difficult. I am given the opportunity to manage to do a difficult job beyond my reach and it is a kind of praising and promoting me to show favor for me as well as a kind of challenge. There is no doubt that if I can take this opportunity and organize academic operation and implement academic plans, I this it will be a kind of pleasure as well.
With respect to the service consciousness, so far I still remember that the leader who encouraged me to accept the post of the deputy director of the Institute of Religion at that time used to tell me that, “Young as you are, you have held the post of researcher. You shall serve everyone.” With the spirit of “serving”, “returning” and showing gratitude to the superiors for their “trust”, I took the post of “leader” of the institute and continued to hold the post of the director of the institute from 1998. As a scholar, I still continue to fulfill a great number of tasks of scientific research and academics. I shall not retire at the height of my official career from the field of academics. Instead, I increase more academic organization and liaison works. Though during the past more than ten years, I have the experience of taking the posts of a “leader” and a “scholar” and lost the “natural and unrestrained” as well as “free and unfettered” temperament and interest and what I have had instead is the feeling of being “busy” and “tired”, in general, I still feel that I am enriched by these academic life and works. It seems that I have a lot of works to do that can never be finished, thus I will devote my heart and soul to the time that “is always insufficient” naturally. When seeing my busy, tired and weak state, my friend used to give me advice, “you have achieved success and won recognition so you are supposed to retire at the height of your official career so as to attach most importance to keeping a healthy body.” Indeed, I often consider being able to “retire at the height of my official career” and return to the free, quiet and free and unfettered life when I returned to my own country then. However, it is in such situation of being “busy” and even “risking my life”, you will see that the academic undertakings in the field which you are engaged in have been developing rapidly in China, hear the footstep of religious communication and dialogue and human’s pursuit of world peace and progress in this age to go forward, and feel the development and breakthrough of Chinese society in terms of humanistic concern and final pursuit. On the other hand, you can take part in such a grand undertaking and make your own contribution, though limited, by means of the restricted “self” and really feel that you have been engaged in the development and advancement of your motherland, the “self” that is tired will also get a kind of comfort.
Suggestion to the Young Scholars – Being Determined to Devote Yourselves to Academics Is the Significance of Your Life
Tang: Thank you very much for managing to find time to have such interview which is very important to me though you are so busy. At last, please talk about your suggestions to us young scholars.
Zhuo: Seen from my own academic experience, I think if the young people determine to pursue studies, they shall be ready for bearing sufferings and hardships as well as getting the short end of the stick. Whether you can make success in the future is not something that shall be weighed and considered balance at present. The behavior of being determined to devote yourselves to academics itself is the significance of your life. Therefore, you shall have the attitude and realm of just making cultivations and do not consider the harvest so as to achieve a kind of being natural as the spirit of “man proposes and god disposes”.
The interview with Mr. Zhuo enables me to really understand the interactive relation between the “time” and the “hero” and realize that the contribution of the small “self” to the society is not as small as what the people think sometimes. The religion science has developed from a “dangerous subject” that is left with few people to care for it to a “well-known subject” that is absolutely necessary for Chinese humanities and social sciences. It not only is the inevitability of the development of this subject, but also cannot do without some scholars with professional quality that add fuel to the fire and lead the directions as well. There is no doubt that Mr. Zhuo is the outstanding person among them. I used to have the opinion that “academics are for the sake of life rather than life is for the sake of academics”. However, I found from Mr. Zhuo that there is not the difference of purpose and approach between the academics and the life. “The academics are life and the life is academics”. “The behavior of being determined to devote yourselves to academics itself is the significance of your life.” When receiving the interview of a journalist from certain magazine, Mr. Zhuo used to say that, “I often think that we shall treat others in an amicable way and pursue studies with sincerity. This is the dream of beauty. However we are still supposed to make unremitting endeavor for achieving this realm.” Indeed, “to treat others in an amicable way and pursue studies with sincerity” is a realm of beauty. It is a kind of ideal and we shall make unremitting endeavor for it; on the other hand, it is also a kind of process to root in the present. Mr. Zhuo’s attitude towards life, way of pursuing studies, academic style as well as thoughts and theories are all connected with “the true” and “the good” and are close to the target of the beautiful.
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(Translated by Xu Jin)
Editor: Wang Daohang