The “Learning of Life”
On Some Motifs in Mou Zongsan’s Autobiography at Fifty
While the twentieth-century Confucian thinker Mou Zongsan (1909–1995) has left behind one of the most thought-provoking and intensively studied bodies of philosophical writings in modern Chinese intellectual history, his own life and its relation to his philosophy (or “learning”), a theme at the centre of his Autobiography at Fifty from the mid-1950s, has so far remained largely unexamined. After some introductory remarks on the context and outlook of the Autobiography, my paper turns to the close relation between Mou’s conception of life and his approach to the “cultural life” of China as a nation. In doing so, I examine the notion of a distinctly Chinese (more precisely, Confucian) “learning of life” in his writing and explore the motif of “life in itself” running through the Autobiography. I argue that this motif is crucial for gaining a better understanding of Mou’s relation to his teacher Xiong Shili (1885–1968), his own father, the social conditions of his childhood in rural Shandong, as well as his overall approach to subjectivity as a space for articulating socio-political concerns.
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