Mainstream philosophical circles in the West have only accepted Chinese philosophy on the surface. Only a few people take it seriously as a philosophical resource, so believes Ni Peiman, a professor in the Department of Philosophy at Gran Valley State University in the United States.
Through many historical examples and comparative research methods, the author combines his research experience from more than 20 English translations of the Analects of Confucius.
Ni Peimin studied Western philosophy in his early years, and his doctoral thesis was selected for the top three in the 1991 Philosophy Doctoral Thesis Competition in the United States. Since the mid-1990s, Ni Peimin has gradually turned to the study of Eastern and Western comparative philosophy based on his solid Western philosophy and ancient Chinese literature and Sinology. Two different cultural backgrounds and academic backgrounds make his interpretation of Confucius and the Analects of Confucius the essence of Chinese philosophy. However also, the concept and framework of Western philosophy becomes a reference; these are not only new interpretations of ancient ideas, but also an adjustment with modern concepts.
You have taught in the United States for many years. Because of the different educational backgrounds, cultural environments and concepts between China and the United States, I believe that American students’ views on Confucius must be different from those of their Chinese peers.
Ni Peimin: American students have no preconceived concept of Confucius. Out of cultural diversity, they have respect for figures such as Confucius, but they will not blindly accept his ideas. For example, “filial piety” is a basic value recognized by the Chinese people. American students don’t have such a concept, so when it comes to filial piety, American students often feel confused and question it. Most American students can’t accept the idea of Confucian filial piety.
However, on most issues, American students accept Confucius as much as their Chinese peers. Sometimes they are even more likely to appreciate his ideas. This is partly because “the grass always looks greener”. But more importantly, American culture has a spirit of openness. I teach Confucianism in American universities, and I often find that in less than half a semester, many students are more “Confucian” than me. I sometimes remind them to maintain a critical spirit of Confucianism.
As you said, Chinese philosophy has often faced the issue of legitimacy. Many Western philosophers remain sceptical and reserved about “Chinese philosophy”.
Ni Peimin: Chinese traditional thought and the so-called philosophy of the West have their own characteristics. Western missionaries called traditional Chinese thought “philosophy”. Calling it “Chinese thought” can highlight its differences from Western philosophy. However, doing so will hide the interaction and overlap between Chinese thought and the so-called philosophy of the West.
The map of Confucius’ sacred monument “Zigong Cixing”.
As far as I know, some Chinese scholars believe that it is better to name it as Chinese thought, and Chinese thought is not inferior to Western philosophy. What do you think of this point of view?
Ni Peimin: Of course, Chinese thought is not inferior to Western philosophy, and there is no need to condescend and brand it “philosophy”. Many people believe that traditional Chinese ideas should be liberated from the mainstream philosophical framework of the West and described and taught in local languages.
Philosophy refers to “love of wisdom” in ancient Greece. The prominent focus of traditional Chinese thought is precisely the way of life and the practical wisdom ignored by Western philosophy. This is also needed in the development of Western philosophy because the rationalistic limitations of Western philosophy have been criticized by Western post-modern philosophy. Faced with this kind of deconstruction, traditional Chinese ideas can become a constructive resource.
Confucius regards introspection, self-cultivation, “honesty” and etiquette as fair and moral ways to achieve personal and public life, reflecting the highest moral realm. However, for the Chinese, history has proved that Confucian moral standards and ethical norms are extremely difficult to achieve. As far as China is concerned, I think the first thing to do is to advocate the rule of law and talk about morality based on the rule of law. What do you think?
Ni Peimin: I think Confucius would agree with you. China first needs to advocate the rule of law, and then talk about morality on this basis. This does not contradict Confucius’ thoughts. People often think that Confucianism’s concept of governing the country is opposite to the spirit of the rule of law. In fact, Confucianism only says that the rule of law is needed, but a sound society is not enough to rely on the rule of law alone, but also needs courtesy and virtue, and the ideal society has the state of “peace” where law does not need to resort to law.
The function of law is to ensure the bottom line, and the function of etiquette is to achieve higher ideals above the bottom line. In history, Confucianism did not pay enough attention to the construction of the rule of law, which needed to be reflected and corrected. But there is no reason for Confucianism to abolish law for the sake of morality and courtesy. They are all necessary for a sound society, and the law is more basic. Improving the rule of law should actually be the requirement of Confucianism itself.
Confucius’ sacred site map “Counters Shooting”
The reform of retirement age requires social concept reform and institutional practice innovation
China’s 14th Five-Year Plan clearly states that the country should progressively increase the statutory retirement age. In the 1880s, Germany established the world’s first retirement and pension system. Since then, it has gradually become established in all countries in the world. The current statutory retirement age in China was introduced in 1951. The retirement age for male employees is 60 years old and that for female employees is 50 years old. In 1955, the retirement age for females was raised to 55 years old.
Since then, China has not made major changes to its retirement age.
In November 2013, the Government called for study to formulate a gradual increase in the retirement age. Today, this has entered the implementation stage, and a reform plan is about to come out, which has attracted widespread attention from society.
Despite the positive official attitude, public opinion for delaying retirement has been weak. Outdated social concepts and cognitive chaos have become the ideological shackles of promoting the reform of retirement age. An ideological revolution in society’s re-understanding of the values and labour rights of the elderly is imminent.
Yet, under the current labour and employment market and social security system arrangements, many young and potential elderly working people are excluded from the labour market. The creators of social wealth are the consumers of social products. The rich human capital and social capital contained in it are insufficient. Also, the healthy life expectancy of the elderly is close to that of developed countries and the level of health literacy is relatively high. The growth rate of healthy life expectancy of the elderly population in China is faster than that of life expectancy, and healthy life expectancy will maintain a continuous growth momentum in the future.
However, no matter what retirement age adjustment program is finally implemented, before the policy is officially implemented, the whole of society should reach a basic consensus and broad understanding of the concepts.
Delayed retirement policies should also include guaranteeing the right to socio-economic participation of the elderly and avoiding discrimination and exclusion based on the only age criterion. The discussion of the deferred retirement policy should take more account of the basic rights and interests of the elderly population.
Judging from worldwide trends, the retirement age in some developed countries is generally later than that in China and some are still further delaying retirement age for their nationals. The reform of the retirement system in these countries is mainly driven by the increased life expectancy of the population, the increasing dependency ratio, and the inability of the original pension system to adapt to the new demographic structure and social pattern.
In addition, delayed retirement can create a new demographic dividend. Studies have shown that continuing to do some work after the age of 60 can have a positive impact on the physical and mental health of the elderly. On a physiological level, moderate labour (including manual and mental work) is equivalent to participating in a certain degree of exercise, which can promote physical health. From a spiritual perspective, the elderly after the age of 60 continue to participate in some jobs and can get more economic income in addition to pensions, to gain more financial security and value recognition from society. They can also maintain or even expand their social network and avoid disconnections from social and economic life.
Finally, the government should promote the construction of a lifelong learning society, carry out adaptive reform of the current elderly education system, which is mainly based on leisure and entertainment, and encourage enterprises and social organizations to participate widely in lifelong education.