• 中文
  • |
  • Français
  • CSSN

·Ye Xiushan

Ye Xiushan, male and from the Han ethnic group, born in June 1935, is a native of Yangzhong, Jiangsu Province and not affiliated to any party; In September 1956, he graduated from the department of philosophy of Peking University. He has been a researcher of the Institute of Philosophy of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and a PhD student advisor, and director of the Western Philosophy Society. His academic expertise is Western philosophy, aesthetics and Chinese and Western comparative philosophy. Since 1991, he has started to enjoy a special allowance awarded by the State Council. In 1995, he won the “Young and Mid-aged Expert with Outstanding Contribution” Award.


Major Academic works


The Study on Pre-Socrates Philosophy, SDX Joint Publishing Company, 1982

Socrates and His Philosophical Thoughts, People’s Press, 1986

Ideology, History and Poetry — The Study on Phenomenology and Philosophy of Existence, People’s Press, 1988

The Philosophy of Beauty, People’s Press, 1991

Endless Learning and Thinking — A Collection of Ye Xiushan’s Essays on PhilosophyYunnan University Press, 1995

A Collection of Ye Xiushan’s Essays (a four-volume edition), Chongqing Press, 2000

A Thorough Understanding of Chinese and Western Wisdom — A Collection of Ye Xiushan’s Essays on Chinese Philosophical Culture, Jiangsu People’s Publishing, LTD, 2002

Philosophy as Creative Wisdom — A Collection of Ye Xiushan’s Essays on Western Philosophy(1998~2002), Jiangsu People’s Publishing, LTD, 2003

A Collection of Ye Xiushan’s Essays: Library of Members of Academic Committee of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Shanghai Lexicographical Publishing House, 2005

Western Philosophy (academic edition) (first volume) Introduction and Part 1: The Changes of Western Philosophical Ideas, Phoenix Publishing House and Jiangsu People’s Publishing, LTD, 2004


Chief-edited Books:

The History of Western Philosophy (11 books, 8 volumes) (academic edition), Jiangsu People’s Publishing, LTD, 2004~2005


Academic Papers:

Transition from cosmology to ethics in Greek Philosophy, in Journal of Jiangsu Administration Institute, 2001.1~2

Philosophy as philosophy, in Social Sciences in China, 2005.6


There Is No End to Learning


Wang Qi (Wang for short below): Mr. Ye, I began to read your works early when I was still a student, and now we’re working in the same office, so I have the honor to be one of the first readers of your new works. For many people, philosophy is an abstruse kind of knowledge, full of obscure concepts and complicated argumentations, and therefore it is deemed  “the pain of wisdom” and “the refuge for the painful souls”. But we  have all observed that your reflection on philosophical questions is joyful rather than painful. “Philosophy” means “love of wisdom” in Greek, so how did you begin to love philosophy?


Ye Xiushan (Ye for short below): I was never a hardworking student in school, but neither was I a naughty one. I did not work hard then because I was not enlightened. Now as I recall, there were perhaps two things during middle-school which were related to my later development. One thing was my interest in plane geometry. I loved studying it and often posed some  questions to my teacher, who also praised me in class. Today it seems that it is helpful for practicing reasoning that is in agreement with ancient Greek approaches. Another thing was that I was affected by several classmates who loved writing and had their articles published. I attempted to write something as well, but I didn’t know where to find good words and sentences. Just then Mr. Lu Shuxiang and Mr. Zhu Dexi’s Talks on Grammar and Rhetorics was published in individual bindings, so I began to read it seriously, and when I came across  given examples, I would analyze them with the theories mentioned earlier until I could understand them. The book not only taught me how to choose my words, but also evoked my interest in language and logic, and made me use my brain. As a result, my analytic geometry teacher Liu Tangui began to take notice of me. Mr. Liu was a doctor of philosophy and once studied in Germany, but ended up teaching math in a middle school. At that time the teachers in our school were organized to study Mao Tse-tung on Contradiction, and Mr. Liu asked me to sit in on their meeting. This was probably the earliest time I was formally exposed to philosophy.


In 1952, I took the college entrance examination and was admitted by the Philosophy Department of Beijing University. At that time the department was in the midst of system readjustment, and almost all the famous philosophers in China gathered in Beijing University. I was not excellent, and seldom expressed my ideas in class, but I acquired the  basic knowledge of philosophy. I chose the “Critique of Kantian Agnosticism” as the topic of my graduation dissertation. Mr. Zheng Xin was my supervisor. My dissertation did not turn out to be a very good one, so he was not satisfied. After graduation, I didn’t work in Beijing University but was chosen by Mr. He Lin to work in the newly-founded Institute of Philosophy of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and stayed there for fifty years. When I was a green hand in the institute, I was not interested in philosophy, but I liked art and wanted to study  aesthetics, so I set my mind on being transferred to a proper position. Mr. He was upset by my ideas. He said philosophy is the foundation of aesthetics’ studies. So I followed him and studied German classical philosophy for a long period. At the time there were  heated discussions on aesthetics, and influenced by Mr. He, I tried to combine the studies of classical philosophy and  reflections on questions of art in writing my papers. Maybe because of this, in 1916 I was selected to compile an Introduction to Aesthetics as  teaching material for colleges and universities. I was  happy and excited because I thought my long-cherished wish would come true. However, I could not transfer to adifferent major through the four years of compilation work,  as I had expected before. On the contrary, I was firmly embedded in the field of philosophy. I felt deeply that aesthetics cannot exist without philosophy. Without philosophy, aesthetics cannot go deep. If we try and trace them, we will find that the sources of many concrete questions are to be found in philosophy. Philosophy is the theoretical system of the human spirit for tracing the sources. It views all the phenomena, including art, from the perspective of world views. Understanding this, I read western classical philosophy more conscientiously than ever before and began to have an interest in philosophical questions. Thinking about philosophical questions is joyful. If you really go deep into philosophy, you will feel from the bottom of your heart that  making  a principle clear is  interesting in itself. Philosophy itself can serve as a goal rather than an approach to realize another goal. Philosophy has a profound and deep historical foundation. An uncounted number of people of great wisdom have studied and reflected upon it. It deserves our interest, pursuit and love. I always hold  faith that philosophy itself has the appeal.


Wang: Can and should philosophy become a person’s “mode of existence”?


Ye: Philosophy is not a “dead” knowledge as many people think. It’s “alive”. It’s not closed, but forever open to new questions. Thus philosophy can become not only our profession, but also our mode of existence in  life. Of course, as a subject, it has a technical side as well. Fundamentally speaking, what philosophy studies is a living source, so we cannot depend on others but have to use our own experience. In a sense, philosophy cannot be taught ready-made. We should use our brains to think, if we want to know what philosophy is. Philosophy can’t be merely a means of making living. In the present situation, if you want to earn your living, you’d better work on economics. For us to study in philosophy is to pursue the truth, which is the mission of philosophers. Traditionally speaking, philosophical studies are “limitless”, then “unrestricted”, namely “free”. It is the “free” attitude that philosophy holds towards everything. It keeps “limitlessness” in limited things, and a rational and sober mind in a world of utility. Just like the metaphors in the allegories in Chuang-tzu, philosophy should focus on the “great uses” rather than the “tiny uses”    of things. Philosophy keeps posing you questions and forces you to think. In this endless thinking, philosophy possesses an endless fascination comparable to art’s lingering charm. We have to experience and feel it by ourselves.


Wang: Let’s first go back to Greece, the cradle of western philosophy. The study of ancient Greek philosophy was the first stop of your academic journey. In the 1980s you once published two monographs called “The study on pre-Socrates philosophy” and “Socrates and his philosophical thoughts”. It seems that you are not satisfied with them. But even today, the professionalism and thoughts reflected in the two books  cannot be neglected. Greek philosophical studies require high professionalism, and some obstacles in language and in collecting materials are hard to  overcome. How did you happen to undertake this hard work?


Ye: It is directly connected with the Cultural Revolution in China. In that extremely crazy and irrational time, I couldn’t stand the sharp changes and unrest, so I didn’t care about other things and just wanted to do my own things. Seen from another angle, “the Cultural Revolution” provided me with a long “free” time in which I could learn things on my own. First I learned to write characters with a Chinese writing brush and then I learned foreign languages. The two books were written in the 1970s, after I returned to Beijing from the cadre school. We went to the cadre school in Henan province in 1970. We first labored in Xi County, and then took part in movements in Minggang where we, as the general mass, could find some time to read books. At that hard time I began to learn foreign languages including both modern languages like English, German and French and ancient languages like Latin and Greek. In the cadre school, I  justifiably read quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung in English and German in daytime, and I read English novels such as Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice with a flashlight in the mosquito net at night. I didn’t learn Latin to the end, and occasionally bought a simple Greek grammar book and read it through unexpectedly. Later, with the help of Mr. Luo Niansheng, an expert  of Greek literature, I managed to read the dialogues of Plato referring to other languages. So I had the motives to study ancient Greek philosophy. Of course, I also considered the fact that the study of ancient Greek philosophy  was of a high professionalism, and it is not easy for it to become a political movement. I thus knew that this work would not get involved with politics. As the saying goes, everything has its source. Philosophy studies are essentially a question of sources, and philosophy itself also has its own source and fundament. In the initial stage of human civilization, these problems exposed themselves more clearly.


Wang: But you often tell us that we should choose German classical philosophy as the first step towards western philosophy studies, because in that period philosophy had “matured”. It can help us understand the questions posed by the philosophers in ancient Greece. I think the reason why you successfully became an expert in ancient Greek philosophy studies is that you’ve put a lot of work in ancient Greek philosophy and have laid a solid foundation. Originally you planned to write about Plato and Aristotle, but obviously you’ve given up the plan due to the attraction of modern philosophy, and have never gone “back” to ancient Greece.


Ye: In 1980 I went to America for two years’ of advanced studies. At that time I felt blind and lost. I made less progress in my major and I had to spend a lot of time adapting myself to the new environment. At the beginning when I was in America, I still wanted to do research  Greek philosophy. However, I found later that American research approaches are very professional, and they focus on both “learning” and “thinking”. You should learn from not only concrete questions and experts, but also from the real philosophers. You should learn not only how to “learn” but also how to “think”. So I “left” Greek philosophy for a period, and took the opportunity to learn something about the new philosophical theories which I had not known before. Since the mainstream in philosophical studies was analytical philosophy, I started from studying Wittgenstein and was deeply attracted by him, but I found that I had chosen a hard way, so I shifted to continental philosophy. I read widely from Neo-Kantianism to phenomenology and couldn’t stop.


Wang: So you wrote the book Ideology, History and Poetry about phenomenology and the philosophy of existence. For you, the book is symbolic, because it’s theoretical and ideological. The title of the book is ideological as well. It is not only a summary of the phenomenological traditions since Husserl, but it is also related to hermeneutics and post-modern philosophy.


Ye: I entitled the book Ideology, History and Poetry because I think that in western philosophy after Husserl and especially Heidegger, “ideology”, “history” and “poetry” are laid at the same level for understanding. The train of thoughts of phenomenology has been apparent early in Hegel, but Hegel’s theory of absolute idea is hierarchical. “Poetry” exists at the lowest level. It’s Heidegger that truly unites the three and lays the basis of  unity in “history”. “Existence” as understood by western philosophical tradition is an abstract “concept”, but Heidegger’s “Dasein” is still “Sein”. It’s not abstract but concrete and historical. This idea is developed creatively by Heidegger on the basis of Husserl’s phenomenology. But Heidegger’s “historical” idea itself has two sides. On the one hand, it’s devastating, since it emphasizes the concreteness and finiteness of idea. On the other hand, it’s inherited, because finite ideas cannot escape from the fate of “history”. The former produces French “post-modern philosophy”, and the latter Gadamer’s “hermeneutics”. The attitude of “post-modern philosophy” represented by Derrida is much more radical than that of “hermeneutics”. “Post-modern philosophy” criticizes the fact that Heidegger has not denied metaphysics completely. Heidegger thinks “ideology” and “art” have their own independent system, the system of “sense”. From the perspective of “post-modern philosophy”, “sense” is broken itself, and there is only horizontal relationship between “senses”, while the longitudinal relationship is only a man-made false appearance. The duty of philosophy is to “disintegrate” the man-made “structure” and restore the original appearances. In terms of the ideological source, even the radical French philosophy is developed, based on the development of German classical philosophy, introduction and studies of Husserl’s phenomenology and criticism of Heidegger. They differ only in the train of thoughts and the results. As we can say, the job of “post-modern philosophers” is to transcend “ideology, history and poetry” or stand out of them.


Wang: From then on, regardless of the man-made divisions in the field of philosophy, you began to “fly” freely in the originally “free” sky of philosophy. Exactly speaking, you broke the limits as an “expert”, and began to “express”  your ideas more, to prove that “reading makes a person rational and wise” and “mastery can be achieved through a comprehensive study of the subject”.


Ye: In terms of professional work, I’ve been never back to Greek philosophy. Actually, philosophical questions cannot be classified as the ancient ones or the modern ones, so in terms of “thinking”, I’ve never “left” Greek philosophical questions. I kept thinking of these questions when I studied Husserl, Heidegger and even French post-modern philosophers. I just focused on “thinking” rather than the meticulousness of professional work. After all, I’m just interested in philosophy and philosophical questions themselves, no matter whether they are Chinese or foreign, ancient or modern. I have studied everything from German classical philosophy and ancient Greek philosophy to modern philosophy and the ideological “zone of fracture” reflected in “post-modern philosophy”. However, in the last two years I have begun to have a new interest in  German classical philosophy. I feel gradually that the “continuity” of “questions” exists in western philosophy itself. That’s to say, while theories and views can be in opposition or deny each other, the “questions” discussed are almost the same. In the whole western philosophy, all  studies can be blended and connected harmoniously, as long as they’ve been done seriously with professionalism. What’s more, Chinese and western philosophy and culture can be connected harmoniously with each other as well. In this sense, philosophy is a general knowledge, and of course this is only a simple answer to “what’s philosophy”. But indeed, philosophical knowledge holds true universally, provided only that you don’t do things without following proper rules.


Wang: This involves the problem of which standpoint we Chinese scholars should choose in studies of western philosophy. You  began early on to attempt to analyze the questions of western philosophy and culture from the Chinese’ own perspective when you wrote Socrates and His Philosophical Thoughts. In the preface of the academic edition of A History of Western Philosophy, you clearly pointed out that you were “doing studies in western philosophy from a Chinese academic perspective”. In your eyes, this is a natural trend. You also wrote some articles about the analysis of Chinese philosophy and culture, and have drawn wide attention within this academic field, but it seems that you always avoid regarding them as “comparative philosophy”.


Ye: Philosophy is a “living” knowledge. It keeps asking the most profound questions about “life”, rather than giving some ready-made answers once and for all. If you want to “live”, you should “live” on the “earth”, not in the “sky”, except that we humankind will be able to build houses and work in the space someday. In that case, the space can be our “earth”. As Chinese scholars, we’re living on the earth of China. It’s unwise and impossible for us to study western philosophy separated from Chinese tradition. Our life shapes us and we inherit thousands of years’ of history and culture. We have our special mode of thinking, and our forms of learning and studies are different from the western ones. No matter whether it’s spontaneous or not, we do grow up under the nurture of Chinese culture. Therefore, it’s our mission to treat our own philosophical tradition and the tradition of western philosophy with innovation. We should have confidence to open in a real sense a “dialogue” with western philosophy, to realize the “communication” between Chinese and western philosophy at the level of wisdom. My personal work on Chinese philosophy and culture emphasizes “communication” rather than “comparison”. “Comparison” is indeed important, but only if developed in the process of or on the basis of “communication”, in which case it will avoid the simplification of the mechanical copy of abstract analogies between “categories” . At the basic level of philosophy, many principles can communicate with each other, but it does not mean that they are “identical”. If they are all the same, it is meaningless to discuss whether they can “communicate” or not, since the question appears only on the premise of “difference”. The task of academic studies is to deeply understand this “difference” and explore the way of “communication” within the “difference”. That’s what we mean with “sameness and difference exist in each other”, by which “communication” can be realized. Now, I’m on the way of “interlink” between Chinese and western philosophy.





Wang: When you talked about the approaches to philosophical studies, you once put forward that those who wants to study philosophy may as well broaden their interests. Philosophy is not a skill, and it should discuss  fundamental questions, which penetrate into everything in the world, so it requires a wide range of knowledge to study philosophy. You’ve become quite accomplished in Beijing opera and calligraphy, and you’re also a big fan of western classical music. Naturally, you’ve made great achievements in aesthetics. They are obvious to all. For art lovers aesthetics holds great appeal, but it’s confusing which direction should be chosen when we study aesthetics. If you go deep, aesthetic studies will become philosophical studies; if not, we’d better study art theories and criticism studies, which are more practical. So, as you conduct studies in these three fields—art, aesthetics and philosophy, what are your feelings and understanding from your experience?



Ye: Under the influence of my father, I began to learn Beijing opera and calligraphy when I was young. When I was a college student, I once served as president of the Beijing Opera Association of Beijing, University and then kept taking part in related activities. I practiced handwriting mainly during the period of “the Cultural Revolution”. At that time I would write Chairman Mao’s poetry in a Chinese writing brush, which the propaganda teams of workers and soldiers could not oppose. While I copied the big-character posters with Chairman Mao’s poetry and quotations  in the open, I found some old books of models of calligraphy to copy in secret, so I made great progress. Actually, when it comes to Beijing opera and calligraphic art, I’m just an amateur. For me, it’s enough. It’s not because I rest on my laurels, but because my interest lies in  theoretical aspects, which are my specialty. I have always wanted to combine art and philosophy, so once in a while I’m fascinated by aesthetics. It’s out of the question that there is a close relationship between philosophy and art, but when we study aesthetics, the focuses are different from one to one. In the beginning I put all my emphasis on art, because I thought I couldn’t talk about art without knowing it, and only by being an expert on art  could I be qualified to talk about aesthetics. So in the 1950s and 1960s, my major work was to summarize a set of “rules” by exploring inside one or more art forms and putting them at the level of philosophy, after which some aesthetic theories could come into being. For example, writing On Philosophy of Stage Play was my first attempt to  consciously connect an art form and philosophical questions. In reference to Kant’s and Hegel’s philosophical aesthetics and Schiller’s aesthetics,  I classified art into three types according to their style: symbolical, classical and romantic;  then I classified Chinese operas into  three types as well depending on my personal understanding and elaborated my views. Because of the novelty of the approach, the article drew attention and was published in a full page in the Wenhui Daily. Maybe because I’m a philosophy major, there seems to be some points in the “rules” I summarized which seem “professional”. But for the real artists and art theorists, what I’ve done is still “amateur”, since my major is not art in the end. As my studies in philosophy go on, I am finding gradually that it will take too much of a long time to move from “experience accumulation” up to “philosophy” for most of us. It means that it’s not easy for us achieve the proper “height” of studies if we only accumulate experience, but there will be  problems like labeling indiscriminately, copying directly and philosophical categories if our studies are forced to that height. But it doesn’t mean that we don’t have to accumulate experience, as experience accumulation is indispensable for directing  practical work including art work. It only means that what we should do in philosophical studies is far more than experience accumulation, and philosophical theories are different from the general empirical ones. Therefore, from my own experience in aesthetic studies, I understand that philosophical studies of aesthetics should start from the source of philosophy. Some philosophers, Hegel for example, think about art in the general world of philosophy, and put art in a “position” of their “system”. Some other philosophers have no “system” or claim that they have none, but they still make a close connection between their reflection on art and philosophy, Heidegger, Derrida and Levinas for example. It doesn’t mean that aesthetics are dependent or subordinate to philosophy; as the truth is exactly the opposite, philosophy in practical experience stems from “non-philosophy”. From  empirical views, we can see only the association between things, just as one thing is the “decoration” of another and “art” is just a “tool”. Only if seen from a philosophical perspective, can all the things be “self” independent, and can “art” “exist” “independently” rather than in a complicated net of relationships. That is to say, only in this case can “art” and even all other things be “free”, because “men” are “free” then. As we know, in calm eyes everything is free. I once wanted to take the road from art to philosophy, but in the last several decades I have just wanted to reverse the road. Though the two roads may lead to the same destination—aesthetics, the paths are different and each has its advantages and disadvantages.




Wang: Reading and writing have already become your modes of existence. Apart from the professional papers, you’ve written some essays like Mr. Shen Youding and His Big Rush-Leaf Fan. It’s really an excellent essay with a magic and delicate touch at the end. You really made it with inspiration. You once said you liked writing essays. But you still regard “literaturizing” scholars with a grain of salt.


Ye: According to Chinese traditional views, as we’re all educated, we should take “reading” as our “major”. “The way of reading” is equal to “the way of living”. I have three ways of reading: when I read at the desk, what I write are professional academic papers; when I read in a casual chair, what I write are papers on Chinese traditional philosophy and culture; when I read while lying in bed, what I write are  essays. As for why I like my short essays, there are many reasons. From my writing experience, I think writing a paper is more difficult than writing a book, and writing a short essay is more difficult than writing a long one. I don’t mean to depreciate those long monumental works, since I know how difficult it is to produce a long work. I just mean that short essays are concise so there is no space left for obscure terms and sentences to make the readers confused and puzzled. In the sense, writing short essays is a basic practice of both wording and thinking. What’s more, short essays are the fruit of long-time thinking and research, and the highly concentrated essence of abundant ideas. On some topics, we can write long academic papers but not short interesting essays, because the work we put into the topics is far from enough. I like writing essays also because they are inseparable from my “temperament” and “personality”. They are “mine” and cannot be “substituted”, though others might criticize or even forsake them. However, there’s still a problem. I’m an academic worker, so my work is to do academic research. Traditionally speaking, in China “the literati” are often admired while “experts and scholars” are despised and even regarded as “workmen of all sorts”. Since the modern times, these common views have changed a lot but some of them still exist in our society. “The literati” do have their own values. They often play an important role in propaganda and agitation. But academic workers also have their values. They analyze and summarize all the trends of thoughts, and improve them to make them become a system. The influence of what they do is far-reaching. By what I say, I just want to highlight the importance of the “experts and scholars” to strengthen the weak link in our cultural traditions. To cool the heels is the motto for those who do academic research. They are willing to cool their heels, because they’ve discovered the permanent values of academic research and they’ve found pleasure in the pursuit of truth, even though it is just the short-time pleasure of “suddenly seeing the light”.


Wang: In recent years, as you’re so insightful in philosophical theories, you’ve written some papers and books such as Philosophy as Creative Wisdom, Philosophy as Philosophy and The Essence of Philosophy. Since time is limited, today we are not to discuss the concrete questions concerning them. I believe that the readers who are interested in philosophy will not miss the chance to read them. Here, in correspondence with the first question I asked, may I ask you the last question— personally speaking, what role does philosophy play in your mind?   


Ye: In philosophical studies, Mr. He Lin is my most important teacher. He sets a good example as a scholar for me, and his influence on me is profound and permanent. He once said, “I can divorce my wife, but I can’t divorce Hegel.” It seems that I incline naturally to his attitude, but I still intend to draw a clear line between my work and life in order to avoid speaking out the same words as Mr. He. Fifty years’ philosophical studies make me deeply understand that philosophy is not a religion but it’s sacred. Towards philosophy we should hold a pious attitude which originates in our reason. All sciences take “the things of concreteness” as the objects, but only philosophy takes “a thing of abstractness”. In philosophy we can see from “abstractness” to “concreteness” and vice versa. We can also see from “the present” to the “the past” and “the future”, or see “the present” from the angles of “the past” and “the future”. Philosophy is a science which looks at “the past” and “the present” from the perspectives of future and hope. Therefore, I’m not willing to “recall”, and I believe “the future” is real. “The future” includes “the past” and “the present”. However, philosophy can teach us how to keep “innovation and vigor” in “empirical studies”, so talking about the empirical understandings is to face “the future” rather than recalling “the past”.


Wang Qi, female and from the Han ethic group, born in 1968, is a native of Xi’an, Shanxi Province. She is an associate researcher of the Institute of Philosophy of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. She has written the book Walk into the Abyss of Despair — Kierkegaard’s Aesthetic Realm of Life and papers Emotional Problems in Western Aesthetics and Belief Crisis and Outlet in the Age of Reason.


(Translated by Xu Xiujun)


Editor: Wang Daohang

Tel: 86-10-85195999 (CASS)    86-10-85886173(CSSN)        E-mail: cssnenglish@cass.org.cn
Add: #5 Jianguomennei Street, Beijing, 100732,P.R.China
Copyright by CASS. All Rights Reserved