Tan Sitong

Just published: Transforming Consciousness: Yogācāra Thought in Modern China

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Just published including several articles on the influence of Yogācāra Buddhism on some key thinkers such as Zhang Taiyan, Tan Sitong and Liang Shuming, who all had a considerable impact on the modern Chinese understanding of history and time.

Transforming Consciousness: Yogācāra Thought in Modern China (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), edited by John Makeham, xiii+436 pages

Abstract: The Western roots of many aspects of modern Chinese thought have been well documented. Far less well understood, and still largely overlooked, is the influence and significance of the main exemplar of Indian thought in modern China: Yogācāra Buddhist philosophy. This situation is all the more anomalous given that the revival of Yogācāra thought amongst leading Chinese intellectuals in the first three decades of the twentieth century played a decisive role in shaping how they engaged with major currents in modern Chinese thought: empirical science; “mind science” or psychology; evolutionary theory; Hegelian and Kantian philosophy; logic; and the place of Confucian thought in a modernizing China.

The influence and legacy of Indian thought have been ignored in conventional accounts of China’s modern intellectual
history. This volume sets out to achieve three goals. The first is to explain why this Indian philosophical system proved to be so attractive to influential Chinese intellectuals at the very moment in Chinese history when traditional knowledge systems and schemes of knowledge compartmentalization were being confronted by radically new knowledge systems introduced from the West. The next goal is to demonstrate how the revival of Yogācāra thought informed Chinese
responses to the challenges of modernity, in particular modern science and logic. The third goal is to highlight how Yogācāra thought shaped a major current in modern Chinese philosophy: New Confucianism.

Transforming Consciousness forces us to rethink the entire project in modern China of the “translation of the West.” Taken together, the chapters develop a wide-ranging and deeply sourced argument that Yogācāra Buddhism played a much more important role in the development of modern Chinese thought (including philosophy, religion, scientific
thinking, social, thought, and more) than has previously been recognized. They show that Yogācāra Buddhism enabled key intellectuals of the late Qing and early Republic to understand, accept, modify, and critique central elements of Western social, political, and scientific thought.

The chapters cover the entire period of Yogācāra’s distinct shaping of modern Chinese intellectual movements, from its roots in Meiji Japan through its impact on New Confucianism. If non-Buddhists found Yogācāra useful as an indigenous form of logic and scientific thinking, Buddhists found it useful in thinking through the fundamental principles of the Mahāyāna school, textual criticism, and reforming the canon. This is a crucial intervention into contemporary
scholarly understandings of China’s twentieth century, and it comes at a moment in which increasing attention is being paid to modern Chinese thought, both in Western scholarship and within China.


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