Citations and Speeches


124th Congregation (1985)

ZHU Guangqian
B.A., M.A., Doctorat es Lettres

The Public Orator Professor Francis Charles Timothy Moore, M.A., D.PHIL., wrote and delivered the following citation:

Mr. Chancellor, some activities are universal to human beings. Eating and drinking for example! But it is very surprising that there are activities like telling stories, or drawing pictures, which do not have an obvious or immediate purpose, yet which also appear to be universal in human culture. This universality of literature and the fine arts is a starting point for the enquiry known as aesthetics, the enquiry to which Zhu Guangqian has devoted a good part of his life.

Mr. Chancellor, you have been led by your office, I believe, to pay some attention to the year 1997. Allow me to distract you from that year, and draw your attention to the year 1897, for it was in that year that Zhu Quangqian was born, in Tongcheng.

He showed an early penchant for learning, and as a young man received a Chinese Government scholarship to come to this University in the year 1918. In the Department of Education, he studied English, Education, Biology, and Psychology. He received his B.A. degree in 1923. In 1925, with the benefit of another scholarship, he went to the University of Edinburgh, where he obtained his M.A. in 1928. He then pursued postgraduate studies in London, Paris, and Strasbourg, where, under Blondel, he obtained the degree of Docteur es Lettres for a study of the psychology of tragedy.

Thus, after the grounding of a classical Chinese education until the age of 21, the young Zhu went through a long period of exposure to Western Culture, first in this University, and then in Europe.

We may illustrate the effect which this exposure had upon him by looking at his book ‘On Poetry’, published in 1943. There he quoted the following lines of Shelley:

Music, when soft voices die,

Vibrates in the memory;

Odours, when sweet violets sicken,

Live within the sense they quicken.

And he quoted them to contrast the poetic genius of Western tongues with that of Chinese: consider, for instance, the utterly different form of evocation belonging to the line:

Peach red willow green

The comparison marks a man who fruitfully employed his familiarity with different cultures to help him in confronting that enigma which is the universality of the arts.

Such is the man, Mr. Chancellor, I present to you today.

You may wonder in what way his studies, and in particular his studies of Western thinkers, helped him to approach this enigma. He himself described his attitude with a pleasing candour, writing as follows: “I have always had a bad tendency: every time I happen to wander round a market, I at once think of buying things I notice. If there is something which appeals to me then and there, even if it is some useless rubbish, I simply can’t help spending every penny in my purse. And it is the same – he continued – with my studies.

He read and studied widely, and became familiar with the work of many Western thinkers on aesthetics, and on other topics. But the Italian philosopher and aesthetician, Benedetto Croce, had a particularly important impact.

Croce’s aesthetic theory belongs to a whole tradition of Western Idealist philosophy. Mr. Chancellor, do not be alarmed: I shall not attempt to expound these abstract doctrines. But Zhu Quangqian took a great deal from them. For they resonated with his own sense of the value of poetry, of literature, of the fine arts.

Yet, as we have already seen, by his example of the market, he was no simple disciple of Croce. What he admired, he criticized; what he took, he modified. What he did not like, he threw away. Indeed, his own worked out aesthetical position has been said to owe as much to Taoism and even Confucian traditions as to the work of the Italian Idealist.

His main writings on psychology and aesthetics were published in China between 1930 and 1963, though other collection, new editions, and new translations, have appeared since that time. They included ‘The Psychology of Tragedy’, ‘On Aesthetics’, ‘On Poetry’, ‘On Literature’, ‘The Psychology of Arts’, ‘A Commentary on Croce’s Philosophy’, and his two volume ‘History of western Aesthetics’, as well as a series of translations of Western authors on aesthetics which gave a wider Chinese public access to their ideas for the first time.

Aesthetic experience, which is, for Professor Zhu, a non-rational intuition of form, involves both empathy, 移情, and distance. Empathy, because the artist loses self-awareness and becomes at one with the Universe. Zhu writes: “Every one of us has an inner structure of his own. We all absorb different elements from the objective world, and the content and horizon of our inner world vary accordingly. The ordinary man’s horizon cannot exceed the limitations of his experiences. The inner realm of the poet, and the complete man, is free from obstructions. He identifies with the Universe, and interfuses with all things.”

But this oneness with the Universe is itself achieved only by keeping a certain distance. We have to be able to detach ourselves from our immediate practical involvement in the world, just as a sailor will best sense the reality and the beauty of a sea-mist only by being able to detach himself to a degree from the practical danger which it presents to navigation. Goethe’s words put it well: “Man weicht der Welt nicht sicherer mit ihr als durch die Kunst, und man verknupft sich nicht sicherer mit ihr als durch die Kunst” – “There is no surer deliverance from the world than through art; and one can form no surer bond with it than through art.”

These may sound abstract doctrines, Mr. Chancellor, but Zhu Quangqian has never believed in the Ivory tower. Croce himself had written: “Tutta la scienza sta in rapporto al bisogno generals di mantenere e da crescere la vita civile ed attiva dell’umana societa” – “All knowledge stands in relation to the general need to maintain and promote the active communal life of human society”. Collingwood, the English philosopher who was also influenced by Croce, wrote, similarly, but more concretely: “The aesthetician, if I understand his business aright, is not concerned with dateless realities lodged in some metaphysical heaven, but with the facts of his own place and his own time”.

In like spirit, Professor Zhu himself wrote: “If we develop our interests every day only in reading books, we shall be imprisoned in another world. We shall feel strange and uneasy when one day we look at those human beings in everyday life”. This was in his famous letters to the youth, which he always signed: “Your friend, Guangqian”.

These letters were full of advice to the young. We should, he said, “leave the ivory tower, and go to the crossroads. Art must not become stagnant water, but must circulate freely”. At the same time a distance must be kept: “We must expand our individuality freely, and not be swallowed by the impact of the crossroads”.

But what, Mr. Chancellor, is the purpose of sending the student of aesthetics to the crossroads? What is the purpose, indeed, in a University like our own, of sending out not only doctors, architects or lawyers, but also poets and philosophers, students of the fine arts or music? It is not for me to attempt to answer such a question here. But Professor Zhu had an answer to it. He believed that when a society encountered troubles, this could not always be sufficiently explained by material economic conditions, or by the social structures that existed. Problems could also arise from the very way of thinking – the mentality – of the people at large. And in the late nineteen twenties, Zhu expressed the belief that aesthetics, not only in the narrower sense of a love of poetry and art and a concern for their values, but in the broader sense of a detached yet compassionate view of the world around us, had a part to play in improving people’s mentality, and thereby helping to improve social life as a whole.

Much later on, in a similar spirit, but in a quite different context, Professor Zhu contributed to the political debate concerning the role of arts in society. In the sixties, he boldly advocated a middle way between the subjectivist or idealist view of the arts (which good Marxists are bound to repudiate), and the objective or materialist interpretation. He claimed that this was a false dilemma, since the inner feeling and the outer reality were not two distinct entities. But the ideologists of the time took the view that his middle way was itself a form of idealism, and Professor Zhu went through a period of not being able to work productively until his rehabilitation some five years ago.

Professor Zhu has been Dean of Liberal Arts at Szechuan University, Professor of Foreign Languages at Wuhan University, once again Professor in the Department of Western Languages and Literature at Peking University, Member of the Standing Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, Member of the academic division of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Committee member of the Central Executive Committee of the China Democratic League.

Mr. Chancellor, for his distinguished scholarship in the field of aesthetics and for his contribution to higher education in China, I present to you Zhu Guangqian, a bridge of East and West, of Materialism and Idealism, of ivory tower and crossroads, our graduate but also our model, humane educator absorbed by the enigma of arts, and inveterate snapper up not only of trifles in the street market but also of ideas in that universal intellectual workshop to which our universities aspire, Zhu Guangqian, our friend, for the award of the degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa.