By Dr. Quan Le
I would like to offer some of my musings on Universal History- More precisely on the theoretical possibility of an everlasting civilization.
That idea is in total contradiction with the meditations by the illustrious French author & poet Paul Valéry (1871-1945) having written in “La Crise de l’Esprit” (The Crisis of the Mind, 1919): “Nous autres, civilisations, nous savons maintenant que nous sommes mortelles” (“We, civilizations, we know now that we are mortal.”) Paul Valéry wrote those words in 1919, just after the mass slaughter of the First World War (1914-1918), in a moment of despair and melancholy often misunderstood as a deep insightful moment.
I will use the case of the Chinese civilization to illustrate the opposite idea.
Why the Chinese civilization?
Simply because it’s the one that I know the best.
My proposition is not excluding anyone from greatness and glory. Greatness and glory already achieved and maintained or to be restored. Maybe more importantly, greatness and glory to be created.
My whole article is simply the development of the following sentence and expressing the opposite of Paul Valéry’s idea: China is an Eternal Idea having espoused History.
Once again, no one is excluded.
Someone knowing any other civilization as I know the Chinese civilization can easily write an equivalent paper on that other civilization.
I will focus on the historical, ontological, epistemological, political and ethical dimensions.
I am keenly aware that my piece is seriously lacking by not addressing the musical, the scientific, the technological, the mathematical, the astronomical, the architectural, the literary, the poetic, the pictorial, the sartorial, the gastronomical, the dramaturgical, the calligraphic, the medical, the pharmaceutical, the ceramic, the exploratory (on land & on the oceans), the cloisonnés & the many artistic crafts, the military, the strategic, the cartographic, the gardens art, the bronze art, the sculptural art, the art of tea, the bibliographical art, the navigational art, etc. dimensions.
China is an Eternal Idea having espoused History.
To the Eternal Idea is associated the Timeless Reality. The Timeless Reality is the realm of the Eternal Forms. The three Eternal Forms of the first order moulding all the others are Truth, Goodness, Beauty. Just under those three are the Eternal Forms of the second order and among them is the Idea (from Eidos meaning Form in Greek) of the Everlasting Civilization, one of the Eternal Forms illustrating the Everlasting Civilization Idea is called China in English.
In Chinese, Truth, Goodness, Beauty are 道 仁 义 (Dao, Ren, Yi)
To History is associated the Time Dimension.
The Eternal Idea (the One) manifests in numerous and diverse phenomena through the Ages (the Many).
The Eternal Idea is embodied in flesh for an everlasting adventure happening in Space-Time-Energy-Matter.
Space-Time-Energy-Matter means Men inhabiting a given Land, incarnating in their daily life certain cultural values, experiencing events chronologically ordered by Reason and by a common, foundational Mythology. A Mythology is the narrative ab origines; a Mythology answers to the fundamental question, the question appearing necessarily and spontaneously in the mind of any man living in and observing the World : WHY ?
WHY Being rather than Non-Existence ?
WHY precisely This existence ?
WHY This phenomenal space-time reality rather than another one ?
WHY The sensations ?
WHY The thoughts ?
WHY The emotions ?
WHY death ?
When a given foundational Mythology (as known by its different versions but essentially the same at its essential core) is not simply manifesting in the imaginary space and bestowing a symbolic, existential meaning to life, thus completely satisfying the emotional needs of a primitive population more or less in stagnation BUT rather is first and foremost a fruitful axio-epistemo-political engine capable of imparting Valor, Wisdom, Humanity, an inner sense of Justice to the people believing in it, even worshipping it with awareness, then that given Mythology is no longer an ordinary fairytale but the original creative matrix infusing energy and enthusiasm for the personal and collective epistemological journey to Beauty, Goodness, Truth by the population inspired by that narrative ab origines. Then imagination is intimately integrated with acute observation, hypothesis making, inventivity, exploration of the inner and the outer realities, artistic creativity, discovery of the timeless harmonic proportions manifesting in different phenomenal domains, discovery of the Cosmic Plan; all the aforementioned mind uplifting having inevitably a direct impact on the creation of the needed tools of exploration and the needed tools of power transforming the environment necessarily improving the living conditions of the adumbrated people and its development to a structured, creative, refined, sophisticated and potentially leviathanesque population. I call such a polity a Sovereign Civilizational State (SCS) having its own World. A Sovereign Civilizational State is also called a Nation-Empire-Civilization (NEC). The Sovereign Civilizational State is the Time Form corresponding to the Timeless Form named the Everlasting Civilization.
China is a Sovereign Civilizational State.
** The complete name of China is 中 华 人 民 共 和 国
Zhong1 Hua2 Ren2 Min2 Gong1 He2 Guo2 (1: first tone, etc.)
The Commonwealth of the Peoples of the Splendid Central Civilization.
** The short version of China’s name is 中 华
“The Splendid Central Civilization”
The Splendid Central Civilization’s foundational Mythology is :
The Chinese people has been inspired, educated & led by Sage Kings (聖 人 pronounced Sheng4 Ren2) since times immemorial and keeping on ceaselessly. The Sage King attracts by his charismatic divine virtue (德 pronounced De2) worthy and talented men (賢 pronounced Xian2) inventing or discovering the needed tools for playfully exploring phenomenal reality and creating knowledge, also the needed tools of power transforming the environment and having organized & regulated the society with Humanity, Wisdom, Valor and Justice at each generation.
The second part of the Splendid Central Civilization’s foundational Mythology is essential and original : the Sage Kings and the worthy, creative men are what they are not because of a whim of Fate or as a result of a supernatural intervention but because of their personal efforts and of their unremitting capacity to learn, to walk relentlessly on the path of the epistemological growth to Beauty, Goodness, Truth.
Last but not least, everyone is invited to the epistemological journey.
Each generation having its cultural heroes, obviously.
Aristocles Kodros aka Plato (427-347 BCE) wrote Philosopher King for the Sage King. Worthy, talented and creative men are called by Aristocles Kodros timocratic men (motivated by justice & honor) and aristocratic men (motivated by creativity, inventivity, discovery and playful exploration).
The Chinese tradition punctuated the flow of Time with Sage Kings or major worthy, creative men.
By chronological order, let’s adumbrate some of them :
* The Yellow Emperor having ruled according to tradition between 2698 & 2598 BCE. Historically & archaeologically, this period belongs to the Longshan Culture (~3000 to ~2000 BCE)
* Yu the Great, according to tradition, 2123 to 2025 BCE
His son Qi created the first Chinese royal dynasty, the Xia 夏 dynasty (~2070~1600 BCE)
* King Tang, the founding sovereign of the second Chinese royal dynasty, the Shang-Yin dynasty (1600 to 1046 BCE)
* King Wen (1112 to 1050 BCE), the founding sovereign of the third Chinese royal dynasty, the Zhou dynasty (1046 to 256 B)
5* King Wu of the Zhou dynasty, having ruled from 1046 to 1043 BCE. A short but meaningful reign. He conquered the decadent Shang-Yin dynasty (1600 to 1046 BCE)
6* Dan, Duke of Zhou. King Wen’s son and King Wu’s brother. He was Prince Regent from 1042 to 1035 BCE for his nephew King Cheng (ruled from 1042 to 1006 BCE). He founded Luoyang as the Zhou Eastern Capital City in 1038 BCE. Luoyang was the Capital City for many ruling houses during 2 millennia. The city still exists. According to tradition, he was one of the authors of the 易 經 Yi Jing (I Ching). For Confucius (551-479 BCE), he embodies the ultimate cultural hero. The Duke of Zhou was lavishly praised through Chinese history for not having seized the throne for himself.
7* Confucius (551-479 BCE)
The archetypical Sage King 聖 人 (Sheng4 Ren2) without a Crown.
The most illustrious member of the School of the Scholars 儒 家 Ru2 Jia1.
The school existed for 30 generations before his birth.
In the West, the School of the Scholars has been named after him, Confucianism.
Beyond his political life which ended in utter failure, Confucius offered to all the educational program which was the privilege of the nobility and thus radically changed Chinese civilization. This aristocratic educational program which Confucius favored is still ongoing in China nowadays in a contemporary form obviously. Its implementation went through, needless to say, ups and downs through the centuries but it is alive and well in the twenty-first century.
The program originally was called The Six Arts 六 兿 (Liu4 Yi4) ::: Rites 礼 (Li3) : Music 乐 (Yue4) : Archery 射 (She4) : Chariotry or Horse Riding 御 (Yu4) : Calligraphy 書 (Shu1) : Mathematics 数 (Shu4). The study of the Classics was done through the practice of those disciplines.
This program is fundamentally aristocratic.
Those having achieved the program are called junzi 君 子, the gentlemen. Jun 君 means ‘Lord’ and Zi 子 means ‘Son’. Originally, a junzi, a gentleman, was a lord’s son. It was a word simply indicating that someone belonged to the hereditary nobility.
From Confucius aka Kong Qiu 孔 丘 (Kong3 Qiu1), gentlemen were not only born but were also made by personal efforts and through embarking sincerely on the infinite epistemological journey.
Let us be reminded of the etymology of the word ‘aristocratic’. This term is derived from the Greek word ‘aristos’ meaning the best and ‘cratos’ meaning power: the power of the best. The best people but also the best in all of us, the Soul. This program is bringing forth from within (in Latin ‘educare’ hence education), from the Soul, the Timeless Forms of Beauty, Goodness, Truth : the three Timeless Forms of the first order, the best in all of us. An aristocratic education is also called a Classical Education or a Timeless Education favoring the power of the best, the power of the Soul, the power of Beauty, Goodness, Truth present in all of us.
As his spiritual brother living at the other end of the World Island, Aristocles Kodros (Plato); Kong Qiu 孔 丘 (Confucius) also deeply realized that learning is a process of discovering step by step, of remembering, of activating, of recollection of the Timeless Forms within the Soul. So to be educated is Being in life with an activated Soul, a kindled Soul.
The co-existence of the gentlemen and the right direction of Universal History has been expounded in the Gongyang interpretation of the Chun Qiu (Spring & Autumn, one of the 5 Classics treating of history, epistemology, psychology, metaphysics, rhetorics). Gongyang Gao was a student of the glorious Zixia aka Bu Shang (507 to 400 BCE), a direct disciple of Confucius.
The vital, essential, absolutely irreplaceable ingredient for creating and maintaining the everlasting civilization is the gentleman or the aristocratic man.
The gentleman radiates the Presence of the Timeless Reality in the Time Dimension. He is capable of such Being because he went through a Classical Education (the epistemological dimension).
The Eternal Idea (the TEMPUS dimension) needs epistemologically advanced men (the KAIROS dimension) to be made manifest in Space-Time-Energy-Matter (the CHRONOS dimension) as the creation not only of brute forces of nature and of the innate biological mechanisms of survival but also of the kindling of the inner fire coming from the right cultivation (using Mencius’ words 372-289 BCE) of the Four Seeds (commiseration, discernment between right & wrong, respect, metaphysical shame) transformed into Humanity, Wisdom, Valor, Justice.
Epistemologically advanced men play properly their roles when handling skillfully the whims of fate (natural disasters, foreign invasions, widespread diseases, etc.)
TEMPUS : KAIROS : CHRONOS
道 ： 势 : 历 史
Dao4 : Shi4 : Li4 Shi3
Within the Splendid Central Civilization, the proposed educational foundation is the epistemological growth as defined by the School of the Scholars, 儒 家 Ru2 Jia1.
A second group of thinkers has been labeled as belonging to the Fa3 Jia1 法 家, very badly translated as Legalism. Here are 2 translations by me : 1- Principes & Practices of Statecraft & Administration (PPSA) 2- The Art of the Ruler.
It’s the more down to earth and practical side of the Chinese thinkers when having to tackle with everyday realities. Not surprisingly, many of the Legalists were military advisors, diplomats and strategists. Those men were invited to solve quite practical problems their rulers were facing. But let’s not forget that they received, at least for many if not for most of them, the Classical Education as defined by the Ru Jia aka Confucianism.
Sun Zi was one of them.
To illustrate the pervasiveness of the School of the Scholars, I want to write down here the first two paragraphs of The Art of War (Bing1 Fa3 兵 法) by Sun1 Zi3 孙 子 (544 to 495? BCE) to show that even in war, the gentleman is unwaveringly himself, possessed by the best in all of us, possessed by the Soul, possessed by Beauty, Goodness, Truth.
孙 子 曰 : 兵 者, 国 之 大 事, 死 生 之 地, 存 亡 之 道, 不 可 不 察 也。
Sun1 Zi3 Yue1 : Bing1 Zhe3, Guo2 Zhi1 Da4 Shi4, Si3 Sheng1 Zhi1 Di4, Cun2 Wang4 Zhi1 Dao4, Bu4 Ke2 Bu4 Cha2 Ye2.
Master Sun said : The Art of war is of vital importance to the State. It is a matter of life and death, a road to either safety or ruin. Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected.
故 经 之 以 五 事, 校 之 以 计, 而 索 其 清, 一 曰 道, 二 曰 天, 三 曰 地, 四 曰 将, 五 曰 法
Gu4 Jing1 Zhi1 Yi2 Wu2 Shi4, Xiao4 Zhi1 Yi2 Ji4, Er2 Suo3 Qi2 Qing2, Yi1 Yue1 Dao4, Er4 Yue1 Tian1, San1 Yue1 Di4, Si4 Yue1 Jiang1, Wu3 Yue1 Fa3.
The Art of war, then, is governed by five constant factors, to be taken into account on one’s deliberations, when seeking to determine the conditions for obtaining the field.
These are : 1-The Moral Law 2-Heaven 3-Earth 4-The Commander 5-Method & Discipline.
I want to add a line from the third paragraph
将 者, 智, 信, 仁, 勇, 严
Jiang1 Zhe3, Zhi1, Xin1, Ren2, Yong3, Yan2
The Commander stands for the virtues of wisdom, sincerity, humanity, courage and strictness.
Here is a short list of “Legalist” strategists & statesmen before the creation of the First Chinese Empire in 221 BCE :
Sunshu Ao ( flourished around 630-593 BCE)
The first Master Sun (Sun Zi) Sun Wu (543-495? BCE)
His Art of war is the famous one : Sun Zi Bing Fa 孙 子 兵 法 Sun1 Zi3 Bing1 Fa3
Li Kui (455-395 BCE)
Wu Qi (440-381 BCE)
Shen Buhai (395-337 BCE)
The 2nd Master Sun, Sun Bin (d. 316 BCE)
His Art of war is called Sun Bin Bing Fa 孙 膑 兵 法 Sun1 Bin4 Bing1 Fa3
Shang Yang (390-338 BCE) He groomed the Qin Principality for Empire
Han Feizi (c.280-233 BCE) Li Si’s classmate
Li Si (c.280-208 BCE) The main advisor of the First Emperor of China
Lü Buwei (290-235 BCE) The Prime Minister (before the creation of the Empire) and most probably the biological father of the First Emperor if we are to believe the gossips transmitted by the Grand Historian Sima Qian (145-c.86 BCE)
Here is a rapprochement between the texts by a member of the Ru Jia 儒 家 aka The School of the Scholars, Mencius (372-289 BCE) and by a member of the Fa Jia 法 家 “Legalist” School, Sun Wu (544-495? BCE).
The Mencius (eponymous book in 14 chapters by Master Meng) can be understood in the following way :
** Chapters 1 to 6 (or 1A, 1B … to 3B) are essentially about the axiological or Timeless Reality.
Chapters 1 & 2 develop the Idea of Truth
Chapters 3 & 4 develop the Idea of Goodness
Chapters 5 & 6 develop the Idea of Beauty
Chapters 7 & 8 (or 4A & 4B) are about Universal History.
Chapters 9 & 10 (or 5A & 5B) are disquisitions on The Society.
Chapters 11 & 12 (or 6A & 6B) offer insights on the Idea of the innate Goodness of the Human Nature.
Chapters 13 & 14 (or 7A & 7B) discuss the epistemological journey.
** The 13 chapters of the Master Sun’s Art of war 孙 子 兵 法 Sun1 Zi3 Bing1 Fa3 by 孙 武 (Sun1 Wu3) are essentially about :
The Timeless Reality (TEMPUS/道) from chapters 1 to 3
The Epistemological Overture (KAIROS/势) from chapters 4 to 6
The Time Dimension (CHRONOS/历 史) from chapters 7 to 13
So, what is truly important is that those men were Jun Zi 君 子 or gentlemen, possessed by Beauty, Goodness, Truth. Their respective “isms”, doctrines, methods were created in order to face specific historical circumstances, nothing more, nothing less.
** The historical novel called The Three Kingdoms written in the XIV century (11 centuries after the events) by Luo Guanzhong begins with 14 famous characters illustrating the everlasting dance of the Timeless (or axio-epistemological) Reality with the Time Dimension making the role of the aristocratic men absolutely vital, handling skillfully and creatively the whims of fate.
The first 6 Chinese characters are for Timelessness.
The last 8 Chinese characters are for Time.
话 说 天 下大 势 : Hua4 Shuo1 Tian1 Xia4 Da4 Shi4
分 久 必 和, 和 久 必 分 : Fen1 Jiu3 Bi4 He2, He2 Jiu3 Bi4 Fen1
The usual translation :
Here begins our tale : the Empire, long divided, will unite. The Empire, long united, will divide.
My suggested translation :
Creating the Path to the Timeless Reality thus rejuvenating the Time Dimension
The Empire, long collapsing, is manifesting
The Empire, long manifesting, is collapsing
A last word.
** The first Confucian Classic, the 易 經 (Yi Jing/I Ching) offers an image symbolizing & synthesizing the epistemological journey at the root of all everlasting civilizations.
That image is the Hexagram.
The epistemological journey is shown from Line 1, at the bottom to Line 6, at the top.
Lines 1 to 3 represent the Time Dimension (CHRONOS/历 史 Li4 Shi3). It is the Lower Trigram.
Lines 4 to 6 stand for the Timeless Reality (TEMPUS/道 Dao4). It is the Upper Trigram.
The space between the Lower Trigram and the Upper Trigram symbolizes the Epistemological Overture (KAIROS/势 Shi4)
Line 6 : Contemplating the Forms : The Sage 聖 人 Sheng4 Ren2
Line 5 : Creating, exploring playfully : The Worthy Sovereign 賢 Xian2
Line 4 : Upholding Honor and Justice : The Worthy Minister 賢 Xian2
Line 3 : the Psyche or the Inchoate Soul : The Officer
Line 2 : the Intellect : The petty Officer
Line 1 : the Senses-Perceptions : the Commoner
An amazing lexical detail revealing much insight : in Chinese, Line 6 can be summarized with one word, 智 (Zhi4) meaning Wisdom. The element 日at the bottom is the Sun, for the Sun of the Absolute, Truth. Line 2 (the Intellect) is 知 (Zhi1), knowledge or information, the 2 upper components are the same than for Wisdom, meaning on the left 矢 (Shi3) meaning arrow and on the right 口(Kou3), the mouth. Arrow & mouth symbolizing motor skills and verbal, conceptual capabilities (the Intellect in one word) but without the Sun of the Absolute, Truth.
Confucius (551-479 BCE) explained the 6 Lines of the Hexagram or the epistemological growth using symbolic ages in the following manner (paragraph 2.4 of the Analects, meaning Selected Sayings or Lun2 Yu3 论 语 ) :
I hope those lines will kindle the desire in other people to keep on exploring the factors contributing to the creation & the perpetuation of The Everlasting Civilization.
Featured painting: “Guanchao Tu” by Yuan Jiang (About 1671 — 1746) — Palace Museum
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