Faculty scholars from two prestigious universities joined forces on Tuesday, April 17, to engage in a scholarly dialogue and debate on Confucian classics.
The academic forum, hosted by the William & Mary Confucius Institute (WMCI), is the culminating event of the Chinese Cultural Semester, a series of exciting cultural and academic events celebrating the grand opening of the WMCI this spring. A total of nine scholars from the College and Beijing Normal University (BNU) were grouped into three hour-long panels to examine Confucian classics from traditional China, their cross-cultural influence in Japan, and the use of classical Chinese philosophy in today’s modern era.
“Scholars coming from China have their perspectives and here we have our perspectives, so this is an opportunity for the College and the community to engage in cross-cultural communication, dialogue and understanding at a much deeper level,” said WMCI Director Yanfang Tang.
Tang, who teaches Chinese Studies courses at the College, said the event “also takes advantage of the fact that William & Mary and BNU are two great schools in each country with top-rated scholars who are experts in their fields.”
BNU, one of the top 10 universities in China, is the partnering university for the WMCI, whose opening was announced in August 2011.
The forum kicked off with a keynote speech comparing conceptions of time in Western and traditional Confucian philosophy given by Stephen E. Hanson, vice provost for international affairs and director of the Reves Center. The traditional theme of Confucian Classics transitioned over to the first panel, which discussed the Book of Changes or Yi jing (I Ching). This ancient book is highly regarded in China, said Tang, and is still used by the Chinese people today to derive their ideas, worldviews, spirits and values of life.
“Yi iing is like the Bible of Chinese culture,” Tang said, adding, “the influence of this book can been seen in everything; every aspect of Chinese culture from feng shui, martial arts to architecture, medicine, literature and philosophy.”
Wangeng Zheng, a top scholar of Yi jing study in China, and Xin Wu, William & Mary’s assistant professor of art & art history, joined Tang for the panel. Zheng discussed Yi jing’s overall influence on Chinese culture, Tang looked at how it has shaped Chinese thought patterns, and Wu discussed shu yuan, or Confucian Academies, where Confucian classics, including Yi jing, were taught and transmitted.
At 3:30 p.m. the second panel shifted to Confucianism and its influence in China and neighboring Japan. W&M Japanese Studies Professors Tomoko Connolly and Eric Han were joined by BNU’s Zhen Kang, a celebrity figure in China known for his talks on the TV show, “Platform for 100 Schools”(Bai jia jiang tan). Connolly, who specializes in cultural anthropology, talked about the influence of Confucianism in Japan while Han, who hails from the history department, focused on Confucianism and its reception at the turn of the century. Kang offered insight into the Confucian influence on martial arts.
The final panel begined at 5 p.m. and caped the forum with an examination of Confucianism and its influence in modern China. T.J. Cheng, W&M professor of government, brought a unique voice to the panel analyzing Confucianism through an economic and political lens. Visiting professor Emily Wilcox, who specializes in dance, discussed how Confucianism has influenced Chinese dance and pop culture. Zhen Han, the vice president of BNU, outlined general characteristics of Chinese philosophy and provided concluding remarks.
Tang said the WMCI plans to conduct additional faculty forums on Confucian classics and other scholarly topics in the future.
“Scholarly engagement and collaboration is a very important component of the WMCI,” she said. “It’s very symbolic for William & Mary and the WMCI, and helps to promote the understanding of Chinese culture.”