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Distinguished Lectures on Chinese Culture and Religion (5) - Moral Agency and Humanistic Values in Traditional Chinese Historical Thinking

by Prof. Ng On-Cho, Professor of History, Asian Studies, and Philosophy, and Head of the Asian Studies Department at the Pennsylvania State University

Date                  14 June 2017
Time                 4:30pm-6:00pm
Venue               AG710
(The talk will be conducted in English.)

Traditional Chinese historiography seemed fixated on the individual. In a typical, if not archetypal, way, every personage recorded was notable for his (and in some infrequent cases, her) death and life, which were most of the time heroic and virtuous, although there were necessary instances of infamy, perfidy, and treachery. Thus, the subject matter and principal concern of all Chinese histories may seem to be as monotonous, predictable, and consistent as obituaries, eulogies, dirges, and elegies. I argue, however, such narrative foci and biographical concerns in Chinese historiography do not starve and vitiate the imagination. In fact, this overt attention paid to the individual and his heroic deeds (or perfidious acts) should be gussied up to a sort of humanism, an anthropocentric orientation, such that we must come to the conclusion that human beings create history, and history is humanity’s history; no more, no less. The abiding argument is that when we read the great Chinese historical works, all flanks of our imaginations of human possibilities and conditions will be covered. In that sense, history, being the mirror that reflects things as they are, instills virtues, inspires sagacity, inculcates morals, honors righteousness, teaches statecraft, condemns evil, disdains wickedness, and repulses treachery. It is, in short, our moral compass and practical guide.

Biography of Speaker
On-cho Ng is Professor of History, Asian Studies, and Philosophy, and Head of the Asian Studies Department at the Pennsylvania State University. He is a scholar of late imperial Chinese intellectual history, with special interests in Confucian hermeneutics, religiosity, ethics, and historiography. His books include Cheng-Zhu Confucianism in the Early Qing, Mirroring the Past, and The Imperative of Understanding. His dozens of articles have appeared in major forums such as Dao, Philosophy East and West, Journal of Chinese Philosophy, Journal of World History, and the Journal of the History of Ideas. He co-edits the Book Series on Chinese intellectual history published by National Taiwan University, co-chairs the University Seminar on Neo-Confucian Studies at Columbia University, and serves as associate editor of the Journal of Chinese Philosophy. He is also the Vice-President of the International Association for Yijing Studies (Beijing), and sits on the editorial boards of several academic venues, including Dao.

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