Project Overview

“Middle” as Method: Chinese Worldview of Heaven, Earth, and Human

Faculty Sponsor

Jing Wang (


East Asian Languages and Literatures


Summer 2019 Research Proposal for Faculty-Initiated Fellowship
Jing Wang, EALL
 “Middle” as Method: Chinese Worldview of Heaven, Earth, and Human
A part of the intellectual background of my research is clearly captured by Edward Said – Orientalism. I prefer to call it Western-centrism, without   which Orientalism would not have been conceived. Historically – from the Enlightenment to the Cold War – most Western philosophers had asserted their positions on Chinese culture, based on information provided by missionaries in China, on their individual goals, and more importantly on their own philosophical reasoning. My research so far shows that what links most of their positions, positive or negative, seems to be binarism or dualism – a way of seeing in terms of evaluative opposition. Given the deep-rootedness of such an interpretive model in the Western intellectual tradition, Western philosophers unexposed to other thinking tools have no choice but to pronounce China to be the West’s uglified opposite. Given how they reached their conclusions – externally –misunderstanding was inevitable, though their opinions were not necessarily valueless. In fact, as historically required to learn from others, China absorbed Western criticism of various kinds, to the point where most modern Chinese intellectuals denounced traditional culture (such as Chinese characters and Chinese medicine) as the source of backwardness and hence to be revamped to say the least. Ultimately, China benefited from this historical act of critical self-reflection. John Fairbank used Toynbee’s challenge-response model to explain modern China as the result of responding to the West, surely with good reasons. What remains to be considered is, unless all civilizations would respond in the same way, is it possible to explain China’s capacity to rise not above but with its traditions from within its own cultural logic? I am not the first one to ask this question, of course.
To better understand China as well as Western philosophic opinions of China derived from the Western world outlook, I attempt to engage with the Chinese world outlook which I believed can be best expressed as “Integration of Heaven and Human” (Tian Ren He Yi). In a more extended version, the phraseology represents the three tier-relationship of Heaven above, Earth below, and human in the middle. It is around the philosophy and practice of “middle” that I would like to build my project. Because of its assumption of multiple factors in flux instead of dichotomized static extremes, I join scholars both Chinese and Western in turning to the Chinese notion “Integration of Heaven and Human,” which is an all-inclusive model of thinking, as a potentially useful complement to Western binarism. My teaching and research seem to direct me to the Chinese writing system (characters) and Chinese science (as medicine) as plausible manifestations of “Integration of Heaven and Human” – both based on imagistic thinking and analogical reasoning that organize reality into effective systems of correspondence.

The project itself concerns Chinese worldview. The student will read, with the professor, Chinese and English texts on Chinese thought. The student will take notes, organize the professor's existing notes, compile bibliography, and engage in discussion with the professor.

Student Qualifications

Qualifications of Students
The student needs to have native proficiency in Chinese and proficiency to read philosophy in English, preferably a history major with research experience and a passion for Chinese language.

Number of Student Researchers

1 student

Project Length

10 weeks. 8 weeks okay too it that suits the student better. weeks

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If you have questions, please contact Karyn Belanger (