[Lecture] Chinese Universalism, by Prof Anne Cheng


Event Details


Friday 14 March 2014, 10:30am – 01:00pm Location: CSH, 2 Aurangzeb road, DELHI

Chinese universality : from “all under Heaven” to “Greater China”

The advent of the universality of human rights is generally seen as a pure product of the Enlightenment in Europe, which itself represented the “triumph of Reason”; whereas Chinese universality is inseparable from a certain idea of civilization, with a centre shining upon surrounding regions, and upon which the reality of imperial power superimposed itself.

The geographical embodiment of this shining force is what is commonly called the sinicized world, which includes the entire East Asian region surrounding China itself: Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Mongolia and Tibet – cultures which have been influenced by China to different extents and at different moments in history. Conversely, each time China itself was encroached upon, invaded or occupied by “barbarians”, it was always assumed that the latter would end up being transformed, and adopt Chinese civilization. Imperial China thus depicted itself not only as the centre of the world but also as a sort of “civilization-world”, and it was not until the second half of the nineteenth century, under attack from Western powers, that it had to consider itself as being a nation amongst others.

It is the same universality of “China as a world” which, after having been jeopardized by colonial powers (including Japan) at the end of the nineteenth century, is once again becoming a type of nostalgic self-representation and a unifying factor in the predominant ideology of a “Greater China”, and which is now being opposed as a kind of “Chinese universality” against the universality of human rights.

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Née en 1955 à Paris de parents chinois, Anne Cheng a suivi un parcours complet à l’école de la République, nourri d’humanités classiques et européennes, jusqu’à l’Ecole Normale Supérieure, avant de choisir de se consacrer entièrement aux études chinoises. Depuis près de trente ans, elle a mené ses travaux d’enseignement et de recherche sur l’histoire intellectuelle de la Chine, en particulier sur le confucianisme, d’abord dans le cadre du CNRS (Centre national de la recherche scientifique), puis de l’INALCO (Institut national des langues et civilisations orientales), avant d’être nommée à l’Institut universitaire de France et, tout dernièrement, élue au Collège de France.

Elle est l’auteur notamment d’une traduction en français des Entretiens de Confucius (Seuil, « Points-Sagesses », 1981), d’une étude sur le confucianisme du début de l’ère impériale et d’uneHistoire de la pensée chinoise (Seuil, 1997, rééditée en poche « Points-Essais » en 2002 et déjà traduite en de nombreuses langues). Elle a également dirigé plusieurs ouvrages collectifs dont le plus récent s’intitule La pensée en Chine aujourd’hui (Gallimard, 2007).

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