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Feng Youlan’s ‘History of Chinese Philosophy’

Posted June. 29, 2013 05:20,   

Updated January. 01, 1970 09:00

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“History of Chinese Philosophy,” which Feng Youland completed in 1934, is the first philosophy book written by a Chinese author. While serving as a visiting professor at a U.S. university in 1948, he wrote another book titled, “A Short History of Chinese Philosophy” to use it for his lecturers. When I studied Asian philosophy as a liberal arts subject as a university student, the same book was used as textbook for Chinese philosophy classes. “History of Chinese philosophy” was fully translated into English in 1983 to become the standard book in the field.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye wrote in her contribution to the May 2007 edition of Monthly Essays magazine that Feng’s “History of Chinese Philosophy” came into a corner of her heart during difficult times and became a “great teacher” in her life. She wrote that unlike Western philosophy, which emphasizes logic and demonstration, Asian philosophy taught the righteous ways of life and wisdom for navigating chaotic world. The article became a topic in the Chinese media after it was carried on her book “Park Geun-hye’s Diaries,” which was published ahead.

When Zhang Zhijun, director of the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council, visited Park in January this year as a special envoy to congratulate her on her election as president, the first thing he said was, “Feng Youlan was my teacher.” When Zhang was a student at Beijing University in the 1970s, Feng was a professor. When Jiang Jieshi asked Feng to join him in fleeing to Taiwan in 1949, Feng rejected the offer. Instead, he wrote to Mao Zedong, saying that he had converted to Marxism. Mao reinstated Feng as Beijing University professor.

It seems that President Park made notes of her favorite sentences from “History of Chinese Philosophy.” At a recent meeting with reporters, she said, “I read the notes after a long time, only to realize that I had been putting them into practice.” Among the notes, one read: “Even when you are sitting in a deep room, be careful as if you were walking at a crossroads. Even when you do a small favor, be careful as if you were handling six horses. Then you can avoid all mistakes.”

Editorial Writer Song Pyeong-in (pisong@donga.com)