Interview | Progress in Comparative Study of Ancient History between China and the West in the past 40 Years

2020-07-10 | By Historian | Filed in: World.

The Progress of Comparative Study of Chinese and Western Ancient History in the past 40 Years

● Liu Jiahe

Summary: Hegel has a prejudice that Eastern civilization is ancient and stagnant. He pointed out in “Philosophy of Century History” that Chinese history is a history without development. This is one of the theoretical roots of many erroneous views of western centralism on Chinese historical issues. Due to the isolation between Chinese history and world history in Chinese academic circles, those who engage in Chinese history do not study foreign countries and those who engage in world history do not study China. For a long time, Hegel’s erroneous views on Chinese history within the scope of world history have not been liquidated. Over the past 40 years of reform and opening up, China has made great progress in the study of ancient world history. Mr. Lin Zhichun put forward that the ancient Chinese and Western civilizations experienced two stages of development from city-state to empire. Mr. Wu Yujin pointed out that world history is a process from multiple to one (i.e. From scattered to integrated), in which horizontal ties promote vertical development, which in turn promotes horizontal ties. These viewpoints show that the ancient history of China and the West have common laws, which is of great significance to break away from the western centralism. However, are there any differences between the same and the same? How to make a theoretical explanation of the unity of world history? Has there been any change or development in Chinese history? On the basis of predecessors and after years of research and thinking, Mr. Liu Jiahe put forward the following viewpoints: comparative research should not only examine the same, see the same from differences, but also distinguish the different, see the different from the same; World history is a development process that sublates all “small ones” (national history) and becomes “big ones” (world history). Chinese civilization has the ability to continuously renew itself and metabolize itself. Chinese history has experienced development and changes and has shown the characteristics of continuity, thus becoming an integral and important part of the organic whole of world history. These views are by far the most theoretically significant responses of Chinese scholars to Hegel’s challenges.

Review and Prospect of the Progress of Comparative Study of Chinese and Western Ancient History in the past 40 Years.Why do you want to talk about this problem?Is this talking about China or foreign countries?In fact, this is a question I put to myself.When I talk about this issue today, on the surface, I don’t think it is either China or the West. In fact, it is also China or the West. To put it bluntly, it is comparison.Specifically, it is the progress of the comparative study of Chinese and Western ancient history, and it is the theoretical problems and historical problems encountered in the process of the comparative study of world ancient history in the past 40 years.I would like to make an introduction, please criticize and correct me.

First of all, I would like to briefly introduce what the discipline of world ancient history in China looked like before and after 1949.

I was admitted to the university in 1947. At that time, the courses offered in the history discipline of the university included Chinese history and western history. The western history textbook used by ordinary universities is “A General History of Europe: From the Origins of Civilization to the Present” (1) compiled by James Henry Brested and James Harvey Robinson. The special ancient history of the world is Brested’s “Ancient Times: A History of the Early World” (2). In this way, the history of China and the history of the West at that time were still very matched, referring to China and the West respectively.

After the founding of the People’s Republic of China, we studied the Soviet Union, and the history of China and the West became the history of China and the history of the world. Chinese history is still Chinese history, but world history does not speak of Chinese history but only of foreign history. The ancient history of the world seen at that time was a Soviet textbook. Of course, in ancient times, the Soviet Union had not yet entered history. However, Uraltu was mentioned in the textbook, and Uraltu was in the Soviet Union in the 1950s. It can be seen that the Soviets still had to talk about the ancient history in the Soviet Union in the world history. We have studied the Soviet Union. For convenience, those who teach Chinese history only teach Chinese history, while those who teach world history only teach foreign history. As a result, there is a dichotomy between Chinese history and world history that is still in use today. So, now, is there China in this world history? No! Why do we Chinese withdraw from world history? Isn’t it strange that while we withdraw automatically, we criticize the western centralism at the same time? Is there a center in world history? Of course there is. In the early 1950s, when I first stayed in school as a teaching assistant, I was assigned to work in the World Ancient Medieval Teaching and Research Section. I did the World Medieval History in 1952-1953 academic year and the World Ancient History in 1953-1954 academic year. At that time, the old man in the teaching and research section was a student studying in the United States. What I wanted to read was He Bingsong’s “Middle and Ancient History of Europe”. I see that its base is Robinson’s “European History”. Later, when I was doing the ancient history of the world, I read the 1935 edition of Brest’s “Ancient History of the World”. He is an Egyptian archaeologist at the University of Chicago in the United States. The main content of this book is early world history, but there is no China or India in it. How can this be regarded as world history? In the 1990s, I saw the Commercial Press publish Cao Shaolian’s “Ancient History of the West” (3), whose content is the compilation of Brested’s “Ancient History of the World”. In short, before 1949 and in a period after that, there was no doubt that the right to speak in China’s ancient and medieval world history was entirely in the hands of foreigners, mainly the West.

This was the case around 1949, when our strength was not good. The old man who worked in the Middle Ages also said to me: “We can’t do it now. We can’t be independent.” I think the older generation was very honest. We did not have the conditions and ability at that time.

Secondly, take a look at the achievements of the 30 years before the reform and opening up.

After 1949, we studied the Soviet Union. For the convenience of teaching, we divided the subject setting into Chinese history and world history. I mentioned just now that Uraltu still exists in the world history of the Soviet Union, but there is no Chinese history in our world history, even the Institute of World History of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences does not have Chinese history. There is something wrong with this. What is the problem? This problem is worth thinking about.

In the 1955-1957 academic year, I went to Northeast Normal University to study with Soviet experts and Mr. Lin Zhichun (1910-2007). At that time, the first Soviet textbook I saw was the Soviet Normal University textbook “Ancient World History” translated by Mr. Lin.The second is the 1956 new edition of the Soviet Normal University textbook “Ancient World History”.The ancient eastern part of the book takes up only a small space.After the primitive society, we will continue to talk about the ancient East, Greece and Rome.Among these three pieces, the ancient eastern part has a preface, which talks about the characteristics of the ancient eastern part:The first is that slavery is underdeveloped and in a patriarchal state.Second, private ownership of land is underdeveloped and rural communes exist for a long time.The third is Eastern despotism.Here, I am not trying to completely deny the Soviet Union’s view. Through the Soviet Union’s teaching materials, I have noticed that the productive forces and relations of production of Marxism and the analysis of history from a class point of view are all progressive.However, I had doubts when listening to lectures.I asked Mr. Lin privately:According to Soviet textbooks, the ancient East was always in the underdeveloped stage of slavery. How can it transition to feudalism?Mr. Lin said to me:The purpose of learning from the Soviet Union is to learn Marxism through it.Mr. Lin is the most active person in promoting the study of the Soviet Union. As a disciple of Mr. Lin, I am also a saddle horse. I actively study and try my best to learn Marxism by studying the Soviet Union.In the 1960s, the situation changed and we gradually wanted to get rid of the influence of Soviet views.

Now let’s talk about the progress of reform and opening up in the past 40 years.

At the beginning of the reform and opening up, Mr. Lin and Mr. Liao Xuesheng once wrote an article “How to Understand Marx’s” Asian Mode of Production “? “⑤. This is a great contribution made by Mr. Lin and Liao Gong. At that time, it was Weiteff’s “Oriental despotism” that was criticized. Mr. Lin has done a lot of work in archaeology and other aspects. After the downfall of the Gang of Four and in the early days of reform and opening up, Mr. Lin also took us students of that year to do this work together. The result was “Outline of World Ancient History”, one in 1979 and one in 1981 ⑥. This is a landmark achievement, and its significance is, first of all, to criticize Whiteff’s theory of oriental despotism. According to Mr. Lin, if we want to say that Eastern despotism does not hold water, we must find out what the East and the West have in common. Is there anything in common between the East and the West and even the whole world? Mr. Lin is very sharp. He saw that “Cambridge Ancient History” mentioned the development of Assyrian studies. History began in Sumer, where there were city-states. Mr. Lin found a basis here and divided the ancient history of the world into two stages: the early stage was the city-state stage and the late stage was the empire stage. As a result, Mr. Lin found a common point in world history. Through comparison, the Indian nations era from the 6th century BC to the 4th century BC is also interpreted as the city-state period, and then the Spring and Autumn Period and Warring States Period in China (especially the Spring and Autumn Period) is interpreted as the city-state period. His article “Re-discussing Ancient Asian Democracy from the Example of” Calling People “in the Spring and Autumn Annals” is one of his representative works. It is under such circumstances that Chinese history must be included in world history. Arguably, world history, as the history of the world, should include the history of all countries. However, the history of the world is not just a matter of piling up the histories of various countries. Later, Mr. Wu Yujin made this truth clearer. We must always find laws and internal connections in it. If only the history of China, Japan, South Korea, Britain, France and Germany are compiled together, is this called world history? This can only be a “hodgepodge”, not world history! Mr. Lin raised the issue of city-states in the Outline of World Ancient History, pointing out that China also has a city-state system, and despotism did not exist from the beginning. Despotism only existed after Qin and Han Dynasties. Greece and Rome also had phased development, as well as city-state stages and empire stages. Mr. Lin’s statement has been approved by some scholars. But then I also had some personal thoughts. Mr. Lin raised this question and saw the same. So, is there any difference between the same and China? This is the question that Mr. Lin left us to really think further. It is true that the history of various countries in the ancient world has something in common. If the same cannot be found, it is a lot of disorganized things. In Kant’s words, it is Mannigfaltikeit, English manifold, it is “heteropoly”. Just like now, it seems that we are full of people. If we don’t look at the same things, we are all heterogeneous. You have to take a closer look. We are all scholars and historians. This is the same. However, can we just see that we are all historians? We also need to see that every historian has his own structure in this conference, including those who engage in historical theories, those who do Chinese, those who do foreign countries and those who do comparisons. Only in this way can we really get to know each other clearly. Therefore, the road opened by Mr. Lin is not over. It is open and we can continue to move forward.

Mr. Lin himself did too much work. After the publication of the Outline of World Ancient History, in 1988, Mr. Lin joined hands with Mr. Zhou Gucheng, Mr. Wu Yujin and Mr. Zhang Zheng.ChaoMr. Hu Houxuan, Mr. Zhou Yiliang, Mr. Ren Jiyu, Mr. Zhang Zhongpei and I initiated the publication of the “World Classical Civilization Series” in the form of a cross-reference version of Chinese and English translation. In this work, the academic team of the Institute of Classical Civilization of Northeast Normal University led by Mr. Lin actually played an important role. In 1989, Mr. Lin edited “Research on the History of Ancient City-States” ⑧; In 1997, Mr. Lin published “A Millennium History of Chinese and Western Classical Civilization” Pet-name Ruby. Mr. Lin taught Chinese history at Shanghai Daxia University in his early years and later at East China Normal University. When he arrived in the Northeast, because he could speak Russian and English very well, he also engaged in foreign history, and when he got old, he worked together with China and the West. Mr. Lin’s main contribution lies in his careful study of the original Marxist classics and his criticism of the popular western centralism, especially Weiteff’s oriental despotism, on the basis of collecting and referring to the latest historical materials, and his establishment of the two-stage theory of development from city-state to empire, which was jointly experienced by ancient Chinese and Western civilizations. In the 1950s, when I was in the Northeast, I did Greek history. Later, when I returned to Beijing, I did Indian history. Later, Mr. Bai Shouyi asked me to do Chinese history. Mr. Lin joked with me when he knew, “You have fled back to Chinese history.” I also said half jokingly to Mr. Lin, “I am not running away, but turning in.” Once upon a time, when the Kuomintang troops were defeated, they did not say they were defeated, but called them “turning in”. I told Mr. Lin that I was turning in, but in fact I was telling the truth. Can I call it world history if I study world history and do not study China?

In addition to Mr. Lin, Mr. Wu Yujin (1913-1993) has also made pioneering work, namely, the progress marked mainly by the six-volume World History edited by Mr. Wu and Mr. Qi Shirong (1926-2015). Mr. Wu Yujin is three years younger than Mr. Lin. I made “Outline of World Ancient History” with Mr. Lin and “World History” with Mr. Wu in six volumes, with Mr. Wu and Mr. Qi as chief editors. At the beginning of this book, there is a long general preface by Mr. Wu, which shows that world history is a process from multiple to one (i.e. From scattered to integrated), in which horizontal ties promote vertical development, and vertical development in turn promotes horizontal ties. At the end of the general order, there is a summary:

To study world history, we must take the world as a whole and examine how it has developed from mutual isolation to close connection and from dispersion to whole. This whole process is world history. It will not meet the needs of the development of the discipline of world history to integrate and compile the history of different countries and regions, or to conduct only the research of different countries and regions while ignoring the comprehensive and overall research. The world has stepped into a brand-new stage since the 15th and 16th centuries, and this discipline, which takes world history as its research object, should also enter a new stage accordingly. ⑩

This “World History” was organized and promoted by the Ministry of Education in 1985. In the autumn of 1986, the first meeting of the chief editor of the book and the chief editor of each volume was held in Jinan, Shandong Province. The editor-in-chief of fascicle 1 was Professor Wang Dunshu and I. Unfortunately, Mr. Wang was unable to attend the academic exchange abroad. At the seminar for several days, Mr. Wu delivered the keynote speech and everyone discussed it together. Then the editor-in-chief of each fascicle put forward the preliminary outline and plan for the compilation of this volume. Under the auspices of Mr. Wu, several days of discussions were held to set the preliminary outline.

After the meeting, I handed over the outline draft of the first fascicle (the previous ancient history volume) to Mr. Wu and Mr. Qi as scheduled. In the autumn of 1987, the chief editor and the chief editor of each fascicle held a meeting in Yanbian, Jilin. I was not in China during the meeting, and Professor Dun Shu was in China and attended. At this meeting, the outline for compiling each fascicle was formally approved. It is divided into six volumes, one or two are ancient history, the first volume is ancient history, and the second volume is ancient history. Two volumes of modern history, two volumes of modern history. After discussion, the outline I made was approved by Mr. Wu.

In the last ancient history volume of World History, I have made concrete practical efforts under the guidance of Mr. Wu’s historical thoughts. In this volume, we do not strictly follow the order of the ancient Eastern, Greek and Roman civilizations, but divide them into sections, sections, periods and periods, each of which mentions China. The original civilization began in 2000 BC. After the West was finished, there was a contemporary comparison between China and the West. China mentioned the Xia Dynasty, and then the Shang, Zhou, Spring and Autumn, Warring States, the Axis Age I talked about, and the Han and Rome were all compared, so I tried to make an explanation. This is Mr. Wu’s guiding ideology, which everyone is familiar with. His world history is a world history from scattered to integrated. Horizontal exchanges have promoted vertical development, and vertical development has expanded horizontal exchanges. The real world history thus formed emerged from the 15th and 16th centuries. Therefore, Mr. Wu also focused on the 15th and 16th centuries. Mr. Wu’s thought is: world history is one, world history is a history as a whole, and world history is not a compilation of the history of various countries and regions. This is a wonderful remark. The history of various countries, like the history of China, is logically at the same level and belongs to the level of national history. World history is a higher concept. It is not the sum of the next level. The sum of the next level is still large. We must also see how the following are structured into a world. Only in this way can we call it world history. Is there any basis for Mr. Wu to say so? Yes, but Mr. Wu did not mention it. Marx said in the introduction of Critique of Political Economy (1857-1858 Manuscript) that world history does not always exist, but is the result of history. The landmark period of appearance is the 15th and 16th centuries. In the previous world, there was no overall world history before communication.

The last ancient history volume was basically completed in 1993. At the beginning of April of that year, the editors-in-chief of each fascicle gathered at Wuhan University to attend Mr. Wu’s 80th birthday celebration and academic seminar. After the meeting, Mr. Wu held another meeting of editors-in-chief of each fascicle. On April 9, Mr. Wu was listening to my report on the fascicle of ancient history when he died suddenly. Sad husband! This book was published by Higher Education Press in May 1994, but unfortunately Mr. Wu could not see it.

Three years after Mr. Wu’s death, in 1996, I published the article “Comparative Study of History and World History” (11), which inherited Mr. Wu’s thinking and made a preliminary discussion in a way closer to logical argumentation. In 2008, I published “How to Understand Ancient History as World History” in the commemorative supplement of “World History”, supplementing the previous article. I further quoted Marx and Engels to illustrate the characteristics of world history. The word world is die welt in German (both come from the same Teutonic root), monde (from Latin mundus) in French and written in Russian. In these languages and characters, the “world” can be divided into different levels, all of which can be large or small. When we talk about “the first world”, “the second world” and “the third world”, the “world” here does not refer to the whole world. Hegel has a book, which was once translated into “Philosophy of History”. In the original version of Hegel’s Complete Works, it is called “Philosophy of World History” (Philosophie der Weltgeschichte). Hegel divided world history into “ancient oriental world”, “Greek world”, “Roman world” and “Germanic world”, thus proving what Mr. Wu said that world history gradually merged from small world into large world. The world here, English is world. Today, what we call the “world” of history can also use the world, and what we call the “world” of Chinese history can also use the world. In Russian, it can be used to refer to the world as large as the rural commune.

Now, let me talk about the efforts made by the academic team of the School of History of Beijing Normal University since the new century.

I graduated from school in 1952 and stayed in school. I originally planned to do Chinese history, but when the leadership assigned me to do world history, I devoted myself to the teaching and research of world history. However, we have never stopped studying and thinking about Chinese history. From the 1950s to the early 1960s, I focused my research on the history of Greece and India. I did research on Sparta’s Black Raux, India’s caste system and Sudra. At the same time, I was also preparing for a comparative study of the social strata and social structure of Greece, India and China in the pre-Qin period. In 1979, Mr. Bai Shouyi transferred me to the Institute of Historiography to study Chinese history, thus giving my comparative study of Chinese and foreign ancient history more room for development. In October 1986, I published a 30,000-word long article “Analysis of the Characteristics of Ancient Chinese Civilization” in the first issue of “Studies of Eastern and Western Cultures”. In this article, I try to explain the characteristics of ancient Chinese civilization from the continuity and unity of ancient Chinese civilization and its relationship. In the first part, I demonstrated the continuous characteristics of the development of ancient Chinese civilization from the political history, cultural history and their mutual relations, and put forward: “The long-term continuous existence of ancient Chinese civilization is because it has maintained changes in its inheritance and inheritance in its transformation.” (12) In this article, I clearly put forward that the purpose of this research is to refute Hegel’s erroneous view that Chinese history has not changed and developed through historical comparative research.

In 1989, the first volume of “Introduction” of “General History of China” edited by Mr. Bai was published, and the ninth chapter “China and the World” was written by me. In this chapter, I mentioned Hegel again. The title of the first section of this chapter is “Characteristics of Chinese History”. After systematically combing the continuity characteristics of Chinese history, I also pointed out Hegel’s mistake of confusing the continuity and stagnation of Chinese history, and reiterated that “the essence of the continuity of the development of Chinese civilization definitely does not lie in any solidification invariance or stagnation, but in the continuous self-renewal and self-metabolism of Chinese civilization.” (13)

However, the above two are only the first clashes on the basis of historical comparative studies. It is a matter of the 21st century to make a concentrated theoretical response to Hegel’s challenges. In late January 2000, the academic team of Beijing Normal University and I began to make preliminary ideological ideas. Later, several teachers of ancient Chinese history and teachers of ancient world history held a meeting to discuss. In August of the same year, a preliminary outline was drawn up for the topic of “Comparative Study of Ancient Chinese and Western History, Historiography and Theory”. On October 21 and November 10, the opinions of the evaluation experts were heard twice and appropriate revisions were made. Then organize the division of labor to write. After ten years, the project was completed. In March 2013, it was included in the National Library of Philosophy and Social Sciences Achievements and published in Beijing Normal University Press. First of all, this book has a long introduction, called “On the Continuity and Unity of Historical Development”, which I will write. The content is to criticize Hegel’s “Philosophy of World History”. Because Hegel’s philosophy of history completely distorts Chinese history, half of him is ignorant, which can be understood and forgiven. However, in the other half, he described the long history of China as “granite”. Chinese history is “non-historical history” and “history without development”. The unity in Chinese history is abstract unity, not diversity unity. This goes against the dialectics he once insisted on. Hegel’s problem is a severe challenge to us, which is the original root of the world ancient history framework such as the ancient eastern world, the Greek world and the Roman world. What is the root of Weiteff? In Hegel! However, it is regrettable that we do not care about Hegel’s problems: scholars who engage in Chinese history think that we only engage in Chinese history, and what I see in Hegel’s books has nothing to do with me; Scholars who engage in world history think that I have no obligation to engage in Hegel in my major, and Hegel is out of date. Those who engage in historical research say that this is a philosophical issue and I don’t care about it. Philosophers will say that Hegel’s main philosophy is not here, and I don’t care about it. However, in my opinion, Hegel’s influence is still at work. How can it be said that it is out of date? Our Chinese history is seriously separated from the world history. As a result, many sharp theoretical problems and challenges are just around the corner, but they have been put aside. Hegel’s “Philosophy of World History” was spoken during the Daoguang period, that is, 20 years before the Opium War. By the 1930s, there had been a Chinese translation, but it had not been understood or responded to in China. But the question is, if such basic issues are not clearly understood, how can we establish our own voice in world history?

World history is an organic and unified structure of the history of various countries and is interrelated. How did the mutual relationship come into being? Mutual relations are built by communication. How is it possible to communicate? If you are exactly the same, you do not need to communicate, and if you are completely different, you do not need to communicate. You eat, I don’t eat, we can’t communicate. You wear a suit and I wear a suit. Why do we communicate? Therefore, there must be similarities and differences. Today’s world is still like this, with similarities and differences, so we need to compare. Comparative study is to break through boundaries and see similarities and differences. To turn world history into real world history, we must do comparative research. This is my opinion. After our book was published, we won an award in 2013 and let me speak. The award ceremony was held in Xijiao Hotel. In my speech, I said: We must meet the challenges of the West and cannot turn a blind eye to the challenges of others. I think we need it. Scholars in Chinese history have the responsibility, as do scholars in world history. This is the most basic question, that is, whether we Chinese can master the right to speak. If you don’t do it yourself, you want others to do it for you. Do you think others can do it? Besides, the view of the world is definitely that each country has different views, different perspectives, and there will certainly be different views. This is also understandable, so that communication can be carried out and integration will gradually take place. But now, we in China are absent on this issue.

I now feel that the remainder of our “Comparative Study of Ancient Chinese and Western History, Historiography and Theory” is still somewhat weak and should be continued. It turned out that in the 5th century, the Western Roman Empire perished. In the past year or two, I think the comparative study between China and the West can continue to do in Wei, Jin, Southern and Northern Dynasties and before Sui and Tang Dynasties. Why do you want to do this? I think it is inconceivable that China can be called China and have a place in the world without the Zhou Dynasty. I think you can agree with this statement. Without the 400 years of the Han Dynasty, there would be no China. Without the Sui and Tang Dynasties of 300 years, there would be no China. After these three periods, China’s foundation has been truly established. Related to this, from the Eastern Zhou Dynasty to the Qin Dynasty, that is, the Spring and Autumn Period and the Warring States Period, China was the most chaotic and prosperous period. The “Five Hu and Sixteen Kingdoms” and the Wei, Jin, Southern and Northern Dynasties were also the most chaotic times in China. They could be called the Second Spring and Autumn Period and the Warring States Period. Its results were completely different from those of the West. If we can make a comparison between China and the West in a wider range, I think it may be of greater significance to our comparative study of world history. My eyes are already blooming. It is difficult to read books. I can’t see small characters. It is very difficult to look up dictionaries. I also need a magnifying glass. The ability to remember and argue also began to decline. I have respect for the world history and the history of China that you have done. What you have done is the content of world history, but I don’t think it is the whole of world history. If you can answer a challenge, it can be said to be an innovation. Ladies and gentlemen, we are marching on the road to respond to the challenges of the West. There are many difficulties and obstacles. Although I have reached the age of the post-90s generation, I am very happy to see all the young and middle-aged friends present here. I want to learn from you and learn from your youthful spirit. I think we need to break down the ideological barriers now. Our history discipline can no longer be limited to the dichotomy between Chinese history and world history, but needs a unified thinking.

This article was originally a speech delivered by Mr. Liu Jiahe at the Academic Seminar on Historical Theory and History on December 15, 2018. It was compiled by Dr. Gu Xiaowei from the School of History of Beijing Normal University and approved by Mr. Liu.


Reprinted from: Wei Shuo Wei Wen

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