Project Overview

Reframing Hegel: Chinese and Western World Outlooks Juxtaposed

Faculty Sponsor

Jing Wang (


East Asian Languages and Literatures


In globalizing his view of human history, Hegel systematically made China the West’s uglified opposite.  He pronounced China “an immovable mass” determined by its religious spirit to be incapable of freedom and consequently of progress.  Thus, China is placed outside of “mature and universal history” represented by Europe.   To be certain, Hegel does not stand alone in such debasement of China - he was preceded by Montesquieu, Herder, Schelling, and followed by Karl Marx and others.  Yet, in the past three hundred years numerous philosophers in the West regarded Chinese culture as highly emulable.  Leibniz, Woolf, and Voltaire in the Enlightenment age, and Russell, Dewey, and Weber in the 20th century are notable examples among many more.  Regrettably, however, Hegel’s bias persisted, understandably due to the rise of Europe in the 19th century, the cold war in the 20th century, and the predominance of the discourse of Western modernity.  From an external viewpoint, it is clear that Hegel’s thinking operated within his own enclosed intellectual box, teleological and narrowly linear.  He was not interested in China.  His focus was constructing Europe as God’s chosen representative of universal history, and this focus preformed the way he looked at China.  This project reframes Hegel’s assertions about China, by comparing the world outlook that served as his lens and Chinese worldview which he operated without, and by juxtaposing views of China held by philosophers before and after Hegel.  From these dimensions, it explores possibilities of better understanding China and of intellectual opening between China and the West.

One main reason behind this project is Orientalist misinterpretation of China. It would be a commonplace to say that Hegel made his statements on China from a Western perspective.  In fact, working with the preconceived and unstated idea of the East as a backward opposite of the West is a typical form of Orientalism, a regrettably widespread phenomenon.  As another dimension of the same mentality, understanding the East is seen as an unavoidable burden on the path of progress.  As Jung condescendingly suggests: “The European invasion of the East was an outrage on a grand scale that has left us - noblesse oblige - with an obligation to gain some understanding of the East” (Jung, p. 74, QTD Porkert, 30).  Independent-minded scholars in various fields have made painstaking efforts to correct this bias with historical facts that eloquently speak otherwise.  But it seems hardly enough just to speak otherwise, i.e., to argue that the East, instead of being the West’s opposite, is in fact quite progressive, like the West.  At best the tending result is portrayal of the East as similar to, as good as, or perhaps even occasionally better than, the West.  Such practice is undeniably useful, and it has indeed played a pioneering role in dismantling Orientalism.  The issue of this method, however, is its susceptibility to the very thing it resists; it affirms one single - Western - value as the only referential framework.  The East may get promoted, but Eastern value remain largely excluded from the picture.  This is why my project compares Eastern and Western worldviews. 

Student Qualifications

I would prefer a language and humanities major (or prospective major) competent in both Chinese and English.  Reading knowledge of French would also be very helpful.

Number of Student Researchers

1 student

Project Length

8 weeks

Applications open on 01/05/2018 and close on 02/05/2018

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If you have questions, please contact Karyn Belanger (