Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The cat's dao, or Free and useless at Fudan II

Sat in on a lecture course on Pre-Qin Political Philosophy today, part of the EMA (English language MA) program in Chinese Philosophy and Culture. One of the texts discussed was Analects 18.6:

Chang Ju and Jie Ni were ploughing the field side by side. When Confucius passed their way, he had Zilu go ask them where the river crossing was. Chang Ju said, Who is holding the reins to the carriage? Zilu said, It is Kong Qiu. He said, Kong Qiu of Lu? Yes, he said. Chang Ju said, Then he knows where the crossing is. Zilu now asked Jie Ni. Jie Ni said, Who are you? He said, I am Zhong You. Jie Ni said, The disciple of Kong Qiu of Lu? Yes, he replied. He said, Flowing on and on, such is all under heaven. With whom can you change it? Now, wouldn't it be far better to follow a gentleman who flees from the world than one who flees from this man or that man? He then went on covering the seed without stopping. Zilu went to report to him, and the Master, perturbed, said, Flocking together with birds and beasts is impossible. If I were not to associate with followers of men, with whom would I associate? If the Way prevailed under heaven, I, Qiu, would not be concerned with changing it. (trans. in Daniel K. Gardner, The Four Books: The Basic Teachings of the Later Confucian Tradition)

Chang Ju and Jie Ni are representative of the recluses who mock Confucius for not fleeing the human world (while subtly undermining themselves in one way or another). One can understand the impulse to leave human society, the professor observed, and mentioned a bumper sticker he saw in the US, The more people I get to know the more I love my dog. But can human beings live among animals without losing their humanity, their humaneness? The class had a sprawly, earnest discussion. One student insisted that dogs are social animals, too.


I asked the professor afterward about the feral but friendly cats who live at the entrance to Guanghua West Tower, the building where the class takes place. I've often seen a driven Fudan student break her earnest stride for a moment of tender torpor stroking one of the cats, before ruefully dutifully heading off to class. He was delighted that I mentioned it: turns out the picture on his WeChat page is of one of the cats (the golden one), which in the winter sometimes lies in the middle of the entrance, supremely insouciant, oblivious to the busy scholars walking around it. Do all Confucians have Daoist fantasies?

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