Tension and harmony : a comment on Chenyang Li’s The Confucian philosophy of harmony

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Philosophy East and West : a quarterly of comparative philosophy

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University of Hawai'i Press


Chenyang Li’s new book, The Confucian Philosophy of Harmony, challenges current interpretations of Confucianism by focusing on a long neglected idea—harmony. It also challenges an ideology, found in both the East and the West, that harmony is either static conformity or well-disguised conflict. As Li explains, the book is a recla- mation of ‘harmony’ for its proper use in designating the kind of harmony advocated in traditional Chinese thought and, mainly, Confucianism (p. 10).1 Li does this by carefully examining the status of harmony in the Confucian classics, arguing that it is the most comprehensive and penetrating idea. Other Confucian values such as ren 仁, li 禮, zhong 中, and dao 道 are either intertwined with, or derived from, harmony. For Li, Confucian harmony is a continuous process that always produces and tran- scends creative tensions. It may be argued that Confucians view the world not as a static entity, but as an unending harmonization.

Li’s reconstruction of the idea of harmony is largely solid and convincing, and while I generally agree with his view on its conceptual status, my attempts to situate his interpretation in a larger context have generated questions. I address two issues in this comment. The first is the internal tensions between the idea of harmony and other Confucian claims about humanity and the world. The second is the relationship between Confucianism and other strands of traditional Chinese thought, particularly Daoism.



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Chiu, W. W. (2017). Tension and harmony: A comment on Chenyang Li’s The Confucian philosophy of harmony. Philosophy East and West: a quarterly of comparative philosophy, 67(1), 237-245. doi: 10.1353/pew.2017.0015