City University of Hong Kong Dep
Department of Chinese, Translation and Linguistics
To Drive by not Driving: Spontaneity or 自然 Ziran as an Art of Life
Professor Lian Xinda
Date: 14 December 2009 (Monday)
Time: 4:30 – 6:00pm
Venue: B7603 (Lift 3, 7/F, Blue Zone), Academic Building, CityU
The freedom of acting without calculation or conscious effort―a concept that can best be summarized by the term ziran 自然 (self-so), and can be translated into “spontaneity” in English―was an ideal highly valued by ancient Chinese thinkers. The definition of this “spontaneity,” however, differs from school to school. In fact, even thinkers from the same camp did not exactly take the same stand. For instance, spontaneity of Confucius’ brand was what might be called the “second nature,” the result of a long process of training and internalization of rules and regulations, while Mencius saw the spontaneous moral actions as the outward expressions of innate tendencies in human nature. For Laozi and Zhuangzi, spontaneity was the “forgetting” of all man-made values, and the returning to the uncontaminated “original nature.” What is interesting to note is that, despite the fact that the content of the kind of spontaneity the two Daoist thinkers advocated is totally different from that by Mencius, the “deep structures” in the mechanism of the two systems are comparable. Xunzi hardly concerned himself with the implication of the concept of spontaneity, but his cool-minded analysis of the conscious nature and the “artificiality” (wei 伪) of moral conducts brought into relief the pragmatic characteristics of his thought, as opposed to the rather idealistic tendencies in Confucian and Mencian programs of moral edification, and thus shed illuminating light on the nuanced differences between different versions of spontaneity.
Professor LIAN Xinda (連心達), received his Ph.D. in Chinese literature and Comparative literature from the University of Michigan. He is now professor of Chinese and East Asian Studies at Denison University, U.S. His recent research focuses on classical Chinese poetry of the "song-verse" tradition, and the influence of early Chinese thought on the mentality of the Song dynasty literati.