Input: Yu Pin
Source: By Shen Wendi, Chinadaily
Roger T. Ames, vice-president of the International Confucian Association, speaks at the launch event of his English translations of Chinese philosophical classics at the Beijing International Book Fair on Aug 23. [Photo provided to China Daily]
Canadian scholar Roger T. Ames is pushing for Chinese culture to play a global role.
Having cultivated the field of Chinese-Western comparative philosophy studies for over thirty years, Roger T. Ames is already one of its big names. In academic circles, his translations of Chinese philosophical theory are widely regarded as valuable reference materials and accepted as standard texts. Yet, he insists on referring to his contributions as just "a little bit of work that I've done".
The Canadian scholar with the Berggruen Institute is also the vice president of the International Confucian Association and a professor of philosophy at Peking University. He divides his time between Canadian and Chinese universities and academic conferences and has trained over 40 PhD students.
Now, his years of effort in translating Chinese philosophical classics are to be brought to the world through a series of books produced by the Chinese Translation & Publishing House, including eight of the most important Chinese works like Analects of Confucius and Dao De Jing.
"The publisher made a forward-looking decision by choosing the right time and the right person," said Niu Xiping, general secretary of International Confucian Association at the launch event. "It is imperative to construct a way of interpreting our own culture. In this sense, Ames has a incomparable advantage."
The bilingual series is expected to be published by the end of the year.
"My main role is to initiate intelligent conversations.
"Philosophy guides people's behavior. The world is unprecedentedly shattering under the ideology of individualism. The international community is crying out for win-win thought patterns. In this regard, Chinese philosophy has so much to offer; yet it has been neglected and misinterpreted for centuries for political and economic reasons.
"It's time for Chinese philosophy to step forward and have its own voice, at a time when the rest of the world is inflicted with the win-or-lose model. The time of the superpower has passed. China has to shoulder its responsibilities and become an international player," Ames says.
Chinese philosophical ideas were initially introduced to the Western world by missionaries. Many of their concepts had no equivalents in a Western context. Most translations were more like "transplantations" in Ames' view. A common mistake was to translate the word tian as "heaven". But tian in Chinese culture has nothing to do with religion. These translations have resulted in centuries-long misconceptions about the true nature of Chinese philosophical ideas. "That's why Chinese philosophy must be translated within the context of Chinese culture. I call this its 'interpretive context'."
Ames summarized Chinese culture as "the indivisible one and many", while describing Western culture as the "one behind the many". The former always speaks about a generating process, stressing the whole, while the latter pursues the absolute truth, upholding the individual.
"The charm of Chinese philosophy is its natural ties with real life instead of God. It offers practical wisdom to deal with relations, and never pursues abstractness," Ames says.
Ames is not only devoted to addressing the distorted translations of Chinese culture, but also hopes to act as a conduit between Chinese and Western cultures.
"We used to think that the last stop was truth, but now it's more about intelligent conversation," he says. "Western philosophy is starting to speak of progress while looking at China's philosophy. The opportunity for real dialogue between China and the West lies here."
His way of pursuing Chinese philosophy dates back to 1966, when he went to Hong Kong at the age of 18 and was tutored by prestigious Neo-Confucians like Lao Siguang and Tang Junyi as part of an exchange program. As a witness to the enormous changes taking place in China over the past decades, he thinks the time has come to pose a new task for Confucianism.
"Neo-Confucians, represented by the great names of Liang Shuming, Mou Zongsan and so on, are heroes and philosophical warriors," he says. "They were so different individually yet they carried the same mission to save the country. We are standing on their shoulders, but we have a different job to do. It's time for a new band of Confucians to make Chinese culture a world culture and to endow it with a world relevance."
His devotion to Confucianism also comes out of a sense of responsibility to the younger generations.
"My worry for young Chinese people is that everything in this transitional time is too much and too fast for them to take in. The international community needs the wisdom of Chinese philosophy to address global issues. It is indeed imperative to help young Chinese scholars establish a way to express Chinese philosophy precisely."
When asked how philosophy could be brought closer to ordinary people's lives, Ames responds: "I think everyone has to be a philosopher. Their values and attitudes toward life really matter. We should all cherish philosophical insight."
Quoting from the closing speech of the 24th World Congress of Philosophy, Ames adds: "Philosophy will never be the same ever again, now that Chinese philosophy has found its place."