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Wisdom and the Traditional Chinese View of Knowledge by Wang Xiaobo ~ 王小波 《智慧与国学》 with English Translations


王小波 《智慧与国学》








Wisdom and the Traditional Chinese View of Knowledge

A friend of mine, who had been sent to Inner Mongolia to live among the Herdsmen for a number of years, told me that donkeys must never be allowed on the prairie, for if they were, all the herds of horses would “explode”. The reason he gave was as follows: if the long-eared innocent animal from the interior came to the prairie and saw the horses, it would think it had met its cousins and would happily rush over. Whereas the horses on the prairie, who had never seen such a creature, would think a monster had come into their midst and would be so scared that they would disperse with a whinny. With one party anxious to establish its kinship and the other party anxious to evade a monster, the two parties would just go on running until they dropped dead from exhaustion.

In recent times there is indeed a long-eared monster that has galloped across China’s open country and disturbed the herbs of horses here. It is none other than the wisdom which originated in the West.

Let’s firs have a look at the eccentric character of this “donkey”. Many years ago when Euclid was teaching geometry, a student asked him what profit this knowledge could bring him. Euclid told his slave to give the student a coin and said sarcastically, “This gentleman wants to find profit from knowledge!” Many years later Michael Faraday discovered electromagnetic induction. As he was carrying out a demonstration, a rich lady asked, “What’s the use of this?” Faraday replied with a question, “What is the use of a new-born baby?” By Chinese standards, Euclid’s student and the rich lady were right, while Euclid and Faraday were wrong-the acquisition of knowledge is for the purpose of using it, isn’t it? How can useless knowledge be called knowledge?

Some scholars have pointed out that the traditional Chinese way of thinking tends to emphasize the practical use of knowledge, and furthermore they think this is not a bad thing. If we hold this kind of attitude, we can quite appreciate an electric motor, for it is “useful as an appliance”, contributing to the improvement of our daily life. Like a pedantic scholar, we can list in detail its various uses, such as “useful for pumping water” and “useful for ventilating the air”. As to how we acquired such a useful thing, that was still a question. So we think of the person who invented the electric motor-Werner von Siemens or Thomas Edison, take your pick, whose work contributed to making it possible for us to use the electric motor. In other words, his work was of some use and, therefore, can be regarded as “useful for the use of an appliance”. In a similar way, we can identify a large group of such people: Faraday, James Maxwell, etc., who has each done something which is “useful for something that is useful for something that is useful”. For people like me who are friends of the donkey, this way of thinking is not merely a little stupid, it is simply the mindset of a blockhead. I think that behind the invention of an appliance are the methods and skills of man, behind which is man’s understanding of Nature, behind which is man’s at ambition to understand the past, the present and the future. According to traditionalists, this ambition should be regarded as being “something useful for something which is useful for something which is useful for something useful”, for it is the least important of unimportant things. For a man to regard the most noble pursuit of human beings in this way is not only shameful, it should be a capital offence.

未经允许不得转载:STUDY IN CHINA GLOBAL (SCG) » Wisdom and the Traditional Chinese View of Knowledge by Wang Xiaobo ~ 王小波 《智慧与国学》 with English Translations
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