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Arousing a New Global Awareness (University of East Asia, Macau, 1991)

(University of East Asia, Taipa, Macau, January 30, 1991)

First I would like to say that I consider it a great honor to be the recipient of the first honorary professorship conferred by the University of East Asia1, Macau. In particular, I would like to express my deepest thanks to Dr. Jorge A. H. Rangel, president of the Macau Foundation, to Dr. Hsueh Shou Sheng, rector of the university, and to the many members of your distinguished faculty. I am also deeply grateful to be given the opportunity to deliver some remarks to the students, whose faces are beaming with youth and the passion of intellectual inquiry.

Since the sixteenth century, Macau has been a center for Portuguese trade with the Orient, and has thus played a crucial role in connecting East and West. Macau has also played a vital role in Sino-Japanese trade as a transit port, and was often the "window" through which Japan gained much of her early contact with European civilization.

On this, my first visit to Macau, I have been deeply impressed by the unique scenic beauty of the island, with traditional Chinese structures blending harmoniously with typical Portuguese-style buildings. To me, this city is living proof that Occidental and Oriental cultures can indeed co-exist in a harmonious and complementary fashion.

In April of 1990, we had the honor of receiving a commemorative lecture from Dr. Rangel at Soka University. He made the point that in terms of the history of civilization, Macau has for 450 years assumed the significant role of showing the world that the fusion of Eastern and Western cultures is possible. In this age of globalization, I believe that Macau will be widely recognized as a valuable example of cultural coexistence, and, further, as setting a precedent for global harmonization.

The international character of Macau is also reflected in the University of East Asia, which, as the only university in Macau, is about to celebrate the tenth anniversary of its founding. The faculty includes distinguished scholars from China, the United Kingdom, Portugal, France, the United States, Canada, Germany, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. Soka University has established an agreement for academic exchange with the University of East Asia, and I understand that you are vigorously promoting similar exchanges with many other universities and research institutions throughout the world.

When opening ceremonies for the University of East Asia were held, a total of 135 rectors and chancellors from colleges and universities in twenty-six countries around the world were in attendance. This reflects, I am convinced, both the firm determination of your faculty, administration and student body to play a leading role in the coming international age, as well as the great expectations that educational institutions around the world place in your university. I share these expectations, and feel that the University of East Asia is poised to play a crucial role in the coming borderless era in the Orient. When I contemplate the prospects for the future development of your institution, the image which comes to mind is that of a brilliant sun of hope rising from the land of Macau to shed its light on the world of the twenty-first century.

In the Gulf War, the world now faces a grave crisis under circumstances where a new system of order and harmony to replace the bipolar system dominated by U.S.-Soviet relations has yet to be worked out. A new world order that will pave the way to the spiritual unification of humankind is not in sight; our age, rather, is characterized by chaos. This situation is represented by the explosive upsurge in nationalistic passions worldwide in the wake of the collapse of ideology. While it cannot be denied that nationality or ethnicity is a prime point to which we turn in establishing our identity, there is little prospect that nationalism in itself will lead to the formation of a new global order. The late Norman Cousins, who was my friend, asserted that the primary mission of education lies in teaching people not to be "tribe-conscious" but to be "human-conscious" in their thinking. In other words, tribalism or nationalism, which remains in all of us at some subconscious level, must be cultivated and elevated--by means of education, philosophy and religion--to a more open and universal consciousness directed toward humanity as a whole. Without this, a new world order will never materialize.

Considering the challenge of this task, I cannot help but note the sense of order and harmony which flows like an underground stream through the three thousand years of Chinese civilization. I believe that this spiritual current can also be found in the five cardinal virtues--benevolence, justice, propriety, wisdom and fidelity--which are the motto and founding spirit of the University of East Asia. In recent years, most likely stimulated by the remarkable pace of economic development in Japan and NIES (Newly Industrializing Economies) such as South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong, attempts have been made to categorize these countries and territories, along with mainland China, as constituting an "Asian cultural sphere," or "Chinese-character cultural sphere." And clearly, the significance of Asian culture transcends the economic realm and should be considered from the perspective of the history of civilization.

About ten years ago, the prominent American sinologist, Professor William Theodore de Bary of Columbia University, published a collection of lectures originally delivered at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, entitled The Liberal Chinese Tradition.

In this book, Professor de Bary analyzes such central concepts of Chinese culture as learning for oneself, mastering oneself and returning to propriety, assuming moral responsibility for oneself, and self-attainment. In conclusion, he argues that when closely examined, the Neo-Confucianism of Chu Zi (1130-1200), while normally thought of as forming the ideological basis for feudalism, can be seen to contain elements that have logical connections to modern European individualism and liberalism.

One thing which I think you will have noticed in the above expressions is the repeated appearance of the word "self." There is a logical development between the establishment of the self and liberty; the basic tone pervading all of these expressions is one of individual autonomy based on self-restraint. The idea of pursuing learning for oneself, for instance, is not forced learning, such as was carried out under the classical examination system in China, but is predicated on a return to oneself, that is, on self-cognizance or an understanding of oneself. Here we see a consistent mode that is indeed introspective and self-reflective. This is a point that Dr. Rangel also mentioned in his speech today.

Although Professor de Bary does not bring it up, there is obviously something very Cartesian about this concept of the autonomy of the introspective individual. Amidst the philosophical chaos brought on by the collapse of medieval Scholasticism, Descartes arrived at his famous maxim, "I think, therefore I am" (cogito ergo sum) through an exhaustive process of self-contemplation. It was this essential insight that was to serve as the foundation on which the structure of his entire philosophy was subsequently built. The figure of Descartes, master of himself, striding gallantly down his chosen path, is an imposing one, justifying those who would call him the father of modern European philosophy.

However, it is important to note that Cartesianism, while it may provide for the untrammeled autonomy of the individual, is almost entirely devoid of reference to an "other," and it is on this point that it diverges sharply from the concept of individualism or liberalism expressed in Chinese philosophy.

In the Chinese precept to master oneself and return to propriety, for example, we see the clear and positive involvement of the introspective "self" with the "other" through the medium of social ritual or propriety. The liberal and individualistic currents in Chinese thought differ from their European counterparts in that the existence of society, as the organic setting for the life and the activities of the individual, is always assumed. It is in this respect that I find the down-to-earth sense of harmony evident in traditional Chinese thought to be outstanding; this might be further defined as a sense of the duty and responsibility of the individual to improve society and human existence. In this connection, Professor de Bary states: "Here a radical individualism would seem to be ruled out, and what I would call a Confucian personalism takes its place--a concept of the person as most truly him or herself when most fully in communion with other selves."2

Obviously, "a radical individualism" here means the European individualism whose innate limitations have become increasingly apparent as society has progressed. It seems that this is a point that has come to the attention of Western scholars who are interested in the rise of Northeast Asia.

The erudite Leon Vandermeersch, a leading French sinologist, has stated that his purpose in writing his study of Chinese culture Le nouveau monde sinise was to expose the detrimental tendencies of what he terms Western "ultra-individualism" and to encourage greater awareness and self-examination in Western people.3

None of this should be taken, of course, as an attempt to deny or underestimate the great historical significance of, and the achievements realized by, European individualism. Our contemporary concept of human rights, for one, would not exist without the idea of human rights embodied in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen--a document, written two hundred years ago in France, that sought to protect the dignity of the human being from the intrusions of powerful state authority--or without the spirit of individualism on which it is based. As far as human rights are concerned, I have to say that awareness of human rights, in Japan at least, lags behind that of the West.

Be that as it may, I think that the central defect of Western-style "radical individualism" or "ultra-individualism" is that, in pitting the naked and vulnerable individual against the state, the rights of the individual are emphasized to such a degree that it destabilizes and threatens the organic social setting where human activities are in fact conducted. As typified in the French Revolution, placing overriding emphasis on the confrontation between the state and the individual indeed tends to eradicate the small- and medium-scale communities that exist between these two poles. This trend has been observable in many societies where an expansion and centralization of state authority has occurred.

It is, however, actually quite rare for the individual and the state to come into direct confrontation; the vast majority of our time is spent in "smaller-scale" situations--at home, in the workplace or local community. This setting is the site for our face-to-face, genuine engagement with others and as such is the site of our self-discovery, because it is here that we acutely sense the reality of our existence and appreciate the joys of life and living.

When the individual, while living in an unstable communal framework, is forced into direct confrontation with the state, he is likely either to fall into a condition of anomie or to become vulnerable to the appeal of totalitarianism. This is a phenomenon to which we have often been witness over the course of this century.

There is a well-known anecdote about the legendary sage-king, Emperor Yao, which presents a remarkable contrast to the current status of political leadership in the world. The story describes an idyllic state of common people living in peace and contentment.

One day, concerned about the efficacy of his rule in bringing happiness to his people, Emperor Yao disguises himself as a commoner and ventures into town. At the edge of the town, he comes upon a grey-haired old farmer who, while patting his belly and spinning a wooden top, is singing a song:

I rise with the sun at work
And rest when it sets
For water, I dig a well
To eat, I plow the fields
What is the power of an Emperor to me?

What a wonderfully sound and cheerful affirmation of life this story presents! To me this rustic tale seems to contain the essential spirit that gave birth to and fostered the excellent tradition of Chinese liberalism and individualism, which has been unearthed by the earnest gaze of Western scholars. I use the term "unearthed" quite deliberately, because these elements have indeed been submerged and obscured by the currents of history. The question of why this tradition, while containing the germ of many liberal elements, failed to come to full fruition as such, is one which merits further examination and study.

Nonetheless, the fact of this spiritual heritage cannot be denied. The sense of harmony that permeates the three thousand years of Chinese history--what one is tempted to call the "original awareness of the Chinese people"--while bringing order to the human spirit, ascends to the level of a cosmopolitan spirit. This unique spirituality can clearly be seen reflected in Chinese Buddhism and the Mahayana Buddhism of Japan as the all-embracing and intensely affirmative "perfect teaching" (Jpn. engyo). It is in this aspect of Chinese thought that de Bary and Vandermeersch appear to have found important hints for a way out of the current deadlock of European-led civilization.

Sun Yat Sen, who spent part of his youth in Macau, wrote in effect that when we consider the question of how to maintain permanently the status of the people and the nation, it comes down to a question of morals; proper morals are essential for the permanent maintenance of the nation. The attainment of this kind of morality is possible, not through formalistic adherence to the practice of courtesy and ritual within Chinese civilization, but rather by delving into this deeper vein that I have termed "original awareness" --the belief in a larger order or harmony.

In like manner, the five cardinal virtues that are the motto of your university--benevolence, justice, propriety, wisdom and fidelity--will be given new life and find new meaning as guidelines for the twenty-first century when interpreted in the light of this excellent Chinese tradition.

Buddhism has a great deal to say about the significance of these virtues, and from this perspective I would like to consider what role and meaning these five virtues can have in a contemporary context. The first, benevolence, suggests an awakening of humanism and humanitarian action; more broadly, it implies the kind of love which is directed to the whole of humanity. Justice begins with the conquest of egotistical impulses. We are now in a period of transition where it is necessary, while maintaining mutual respect for the sovereignty of nations, to rise above excessive and parochial nationalism and aspire to the sovereignty of humanity and the benefit of the entire human family. In this respect, the prerequisite for becoming a world citizen is precisely the overcoming of egotistical impulses.

Propriety refers to acknowledging and respecting the existence of others. Our world is an aggregation of many different peoples and nations, each with its own cultures and traditions, which form the core of national identity. Acknowledging and making the effort to understand and respect different cultures is the basis for peaceful coexistence.

The virtue of wisdom is the source of all creative endeavors. As I mentioned earlier, we are now faced with war in the Persian Gulf, which has already precipitated such global problems as the further contamination of the natural environment. It is necessary that we free ourselves from rigid and fixed modes of thinking, tap fresh sources of wisdom that inspire a flexible and adaptive attitude, and bring this wisdom to bear toward the resolution of these dire threats to human existence.

The last of the five cardinal virtues is that of fidelity or, as I think it might be rendered, sincerity. This is the basic element in transforming distrust into trust, hostility into understanding, and hatred into compassion. The elements of confidence and friendship cannot be cultivated "strategically." Real trust is indispensable if the people of the world are to open their hearts and minds to one another.

One individual who artlessly and naturally manifested these virtues was the late Prime Minister Zhou Enlai, whom I had the privilege to meet on my second visit to China in December 1974, about one year before he passed away. I have also been honored by the continued friendship of Madam Deng Yingchao, Premier Zhou's widow. All aspects--the demeanor and speech--of the man conveyed the sense of a firm spirit of self-control. Our meeting took place in a hospital room in Beijing where Premier Zhou was recuperating from an illness. Despite his infirmity, he insisted on rising and coming to the door to greet me and to see me off. I retain to this day the vivid memory of how moving I found his courtesy.

The room where we met was, I recall, very plainly furnished. Frankly acknowledging that "China today is not affluent," he went on to discuss the prospects for friendship between peoples which would extend over generations and would be based on a spirit of equality and mutual benefit. In our talk, I sensed the qualities of a beautiful humility, an emphasis on harmony and self-restraint, coupled with a powerful will to live for one's convictions. I later took the liberty of planting cherry trees in memory of the late Prime Minister on the campus of Soka University. And on a separate occasion, I also planted two cherry trees dedicated to Premier Zhou and Madam Deng.

As you know, Wen Tian Xiang (1236-82) of the Southern Sung dynasty wrote a famous poem describing the expanse of sea surrounding Macau. Having passed the classical examination system for government service with honors, Wen was a general who combined the qualities of great intelligence and valor. Despite his efforts to resist the invasion of the Mongol (Yuan) forces, in the end he was captured. The Mongols, admiring his great ability and character, attempted to win him over and to convince him to change his allegiance. He wrote a poem at that time whose meaning is as follows:

When I was defeated by the Yuan
at the edge of the
rapids of Huangkong in Jiangxi,
I was filled with panic and dread.
I lamented my solitude on the Sea of Lingding.
Since ancient times has there ever been anyone
who escaped death?
If I am to die,
then I would at least want to leave to the world
a record of loyalty and sincerity,
which will shine in history.

With this poem, Wen Tian Xiang expressed his refusal to change loyalties, fully knowing that his failure to comply would mean his death. Eventually he was executed. Wen's name continues to shine as that of a magnificent hero who lived for his convictions to the last moment of his life. This incident continues to hold the power to move us even to this day because it expresses sentiments of truly universal humanity that transcend the specific circumstances.

This land of Macau, overlooking the sea of which Wen Tian Xiang wrote when he expressed his determination to live and die for an honorable cause, and where Sun Yat Sen had dedicated himself to the movement to reform feudalistic China, is truly suitable as a site for youth to awaken to their ideals and goals in life.

As I conclude my remarks, I have before me a vision of the young people who are studying here at the University of East Asia setting out, as the pioneers of a new spirit, of a truly humanity-based consciousness, from this "harbor of new global wisdom" into the great ocean of a peaceful twenty-first century.