最近，美国友人寄来马萨诸塞州威廉斯姆学院（Williams College）教授萨姆·克兰（Sam Crane）的文章，题目为《新法家：为了民族主义歪曲中国历史和哲学》（The New Legalists: Distorting Chinese History and Chinese Philosophy for Nationalist Ends），笔者读后如鲠在喉，不吐不快。
萨姆·克兰教授不仅是一位汉学家，还是一位伟大的父亲。他著有《艾丹之路》（Aidan’s Way: The Story of a Boy’s Life and a Father’s Journey；2004年，东方出版社引入了该书的中文版），任何一位读过这本书的人都会为之动容，萨姆·克兰用伟大的父爱和道家的智慧养育着自己的孩子——集聋哑盲傻于一身的艾丹——那是人道有胜利、父爱的成就、生命的凯歌！
萨姆·克兰先生还说法家摧毁了美和艺术，并以其亲眼所见的文物为例；我也去过陕西省博物馆（Shanxi Provincial History Museum ），是的，秦代的青铜器不如西周的华美，但是萨姆·克兰先生知道吗，就是在那些不华美的青铜器后面，有着先进的现代化管理理念。从“物勒主名”到“物勒工名”，那是怎样伟大的工业管理革命啊！——大秦帝国在那个时代就实现了美国当代汽车工业的标准化，这可能超出太多人的想象为之外？
您说她是纯粹的胡说八道（This is unadulterated rubbish）。并以汉朝和明朝为例说明中国侵略过别人。萨姆·克兰先生，您知道当时中国是靠什么维持和平吗？今天与美国维持和平是靠中国人给美国送商品、当时不仅要送商品，还要送女人，这叫“和亲政策”。如果中国不进行战略反击，匈奴还不是像今天的美国这样对中国进行层层战略包围。您研究国际政治，您知道，今天中国连第一岛链都走不出去，建了半个航母，都说中国是“民族主义”。拜托，请将您的“民族主义”大帽子转交给美利坚合众国的总统——无论他是白人、黑人还是绿人（我们区别不清楚别人肤色的原因是传统上中国人心中只有人的概念，有河北人、山东人、西藏人、满人等等，他们不以肤色和种族区分一个人。）！
The New Legalists: Distorting Chinese History and Chinese Philosophy for Nationalist Ends
I have stumbled upon a website, The New Legalist, (Chinese version here：http://www.xinfajia.net/index.page, with much more stuff) and am dismayed at the distortions I find there.
It seems to be the product of people with a fairly unremarkable nationalist, anti-globalization, anti-Westernization mindset. They are searching not only for a new basis for critique but also for a distinct non-Western cultural foundation upon which to build a new global presence for China. I say this is unremarkable because it has traces of the Say No nationalists of the 1990s. Indeed, its underlying cultural anxiety traces back to the 19th century and the worries then about the balance between Western knowledge and Chinese "essence," the old ti/yong distinction.
It is novel, however, in that, instead of the usual reach for Confucianism as the new and distinctively Chinese cultural foundation, these guys go for the Legalism.
Let me say right up front that I absolutely believe that ancient Chinese thought can provide novel and important insights to modern life. It is something I think and write about almost every day. China today, of course, is vastly different from ancient China; indeed, contemporary China is more similar to contemporary America than it is to ancient China. The past really is a different country, one that is very far away. Yet even in our fraught modern times, ancient thought is useful and interesting. Americans, as well as contemporary Chinese, can learn much about themselves and their world from the ancient texts.
When nationalism enters the picture, however, when the past is put to work to legitimize the political interests of contemporary ruling groups and states, serious problems arise. Perhaps we are always doomed to misinterpret or misuse the past, but nationalist appropriations are almost always the most dangerous, because they can be invoked to rationalize war and killing; that is what nationalists tend to do, whether American or Chinese or Serbian or whatever...
The New Legalists are nationalists who have seized upon and distorted the most brutish features of "Chinese culture:" Legalism. It is true, of course, that Legalist thought has long been a central element of Chinese statecraft. It is the intellectual apparatus that defined the centralized bureaucratic state that proved so resilient over the long stretch of history. But we must always keep in mind the human cost of the consolidation and reproduction of that state. Quite simply, Legalist rulers were quite willing to kill untold numbers of Chinese people to maintain and continue their autocratic hold on power. They also oversaw the destruction of significant amounts of Chinese culture in their obsessions to hold on to power. Just ask the Mohists (which we cannot because the Qin essentially wiped them out as an intellectual force). What might China have been if the Mohists had survived and thrived?
The fundamental inhumanity of Legalism is best illustrated by the brevity of the Qin dynasty, which lasted only about 15 years, a fleeting moment in Chinese history. The extreme brutality of Legalist rule, in its purest Qin form, was unsustainable. It was only after the Han dynasty emerged and backed off Qin’s totalitarianism (though keeping a good dose of Legalist statecraft) that the centralized bureaucratic state could find its bearings.
As to the aesthetic destructiveness of the Legalist Qin one of the best demonstrations is to be found in the Shanxi Provincial History Museum in Xian. When I was there a couple of years ago I was amazed at the extraordinary Zhou bronzes. Beautiful, detailed work; supreme craftsmanship. But when I reached the end of the long case of Zhou artwork, I turned to look for the next part of the permanent exhibit and there, across the hall, was a display of flat, crude pots and cups huddled up against an array of weaponry. It was Qin, the time when all art was turned to the megalomaniacal purposes of the power-crazed ruler, when all craftsmen were forced to build a fantasy underground army to protect Qin in the next life. Thousands upon thousands of people were sacrificed to the ersatz glory of the ruler. Beauty was trampled under power. And the people soon rose up and overthrew him.
That is the history that the New Legalists want us to embrace; but that is not quite how they tell it. Here is there take on Qin’s extermination of intellectual life:
“The First Emperor of Qin is said to have burned Confucian books and buried alive Confucian scholars (It’s not true according to famous Chinese history book Shih-chi by Ssu-ma Ch’ien).”
Perhaps they mean to suggest that only the burying of scholars alive did not happen. But careful scholarship tells us that (see Baumler comment here), while the actual burying of scholars alive is in doubt, the fact of extensive persecution of intellectuals and destruction of texts is certain. We can quibble over whether the corpses of the scholars were cold or not but we cannot deny Qin’s assault on Chinese culture. The New Legalists are trying to prettify an ugly history.
Here’s another example:
“Throughout human history, the Chinese civilization is the only one which has not flourished by force of gunboat conquest and colonial expansion but through free interracial marriages and free migration, i.e., through the unity of blood and land. It has been powerful at times, but never an empire——it has been a highly-civilized organic social body. A convincing evidence of the natural development of the Chinese civilization is the fact that so far the distances between Shaanxi, the location of its origin, and China’s current borders in all directions are roughly equal.”
This is unadulterated rubbish. Of course, the centralized Chinese state conquered and expanded by means of military force. The Han did it; the Ming did it; the Qing (who I guess, since they were Manchu and not Chinese, don’t count for the New Legalists) did it. "Free interracial marriages and free migration." Yeah, sure. Ask the Uighurs or the Tibetans. All one big happy Chinese family. And, additionally, the notion that "Chinese civilization" sprung up, fully formed, in Shaanxi, and then expanded outward, is fiction. Someone needs to tell these guys to read what the archeologist’s and historians have to say about the ancient Chinese interaction sphere.
I do not mean to suggest that Chinese civilization is somehow bad or different than others. Quite to the contrary, I would argue that Chinese civilization, while it has its own unique features and inventions, was similar to other large-scale political formations in its use of both military force and cultural hegemony to secure compliance to the state within a given territory. There is no need to white-wash that reality.
But that is what the New Legalists are doing. It is rather strange, really. They take the most brutal element of China’s vast intellectual legacy and try to gussy it up. They are obviously drawn to Legalism’s political realism, but they want to divert our attention away from precisely that same thing.
There are certain philosohical distortions as well. The use of Legalism, which is staunchly anti-traditionalist, as the foundation for neo-traditionalist state legitimation strikes me as contradictory. And then the enlistment of Taoism, and especially the Tao Te Ching, in this same project. Wow. That opens them up to all sorts of trouble: making Taoism serve nationalist ends. But it’s getting late - maybe I’ll expand on those ideas tomorrow....
February 27, 2008
A comment on the "nationalist, anti-globalization, anti-Westernization mindset" of the New Legalists:
1. How comes advocating protecting national interests from the intrusive and destructive International Private Bankers be so bad? There should be differences between protecting legtimate national interests and seeking national interests at the expenses of other nations. I don’t see they are advocating invading other nations; Isn’t the one aspects of the democracy is supposed to protect the livinghoods of the people?
2. As to their attitude toward the globalization, isn’t it a legitimate question that the globalists are only promoting the freedom (of movement) of the capital and not the freedom (of movement) of the labor? Isn’t it true that the gaps between the developed world and developing world and gags even within the developing world are getting bigger every day? How advocating harnessing the trend of the globalization should be treated as pariah of the polite society? What happened to the so-called academic freedom of the West?
3. There are two kinds of Westernizations: outside imposed and self motivated. The first one is often the victim of colonization. Philippines is the perfect case... with all the western institutions as a facade and tutorships of two imperial powers it is still a backward country... perfect for the U.S. sailors to have a good time. Of course, China doesn’t want to follow that example, except the Liu Xiaobe who was (is) advocating 400 years of colonization for China from the Anglo Saxon’s. (He is still live and kicking and writing in Beijing and that shows how much freedom China has currently.)
I don’t believe many elites in U.S. seriously want China to imitate U.S., they want China to do what is told but not want China to follow its examples.( with good reasons ). They know too well that all the resources of the world couldn’t sustain U.S. style lifestyle for the Chinese people and the westernization is a whole package.
I believe a lot of Chinese are starting to understand the situation, too, that China couldn’t imitate U.S. for the goodness of World and what China is doing have no reference book available. That is why all the available orientation tools in the box have to be polished. Legalism is one of them. Apparently it is out of favor in Beijing by the current administration so they don’t have the mandate from Hu-Weng. It is actually using their so called New Legalism discourse to criticise current policies and try to make serious policy changes.
Posted by: isha | February 28, 2008 at 06:50 PM
Possibly the first book I read on China was "The Tiger of Ch’in" by Leonard Cottrell. Grim.
Thinking of bronzes, the quiet National Museum in Taipei has them in abundance. Perhaps the most striking is a big, beautifully shaped drum. With such quality, who would think of quantity? If the drum were at the grand National Palace Museum, I’m sure it would be noticed and appreciated, but it would be just another marvel.
The New Legalist website is certainly zippy-looking.
Posted by: David Martin | February 29, 2008 at 05:53 AM
I’m not surprised that Legalism is being used as a nationalist discourse: it’s the first, and perhaps the only, native Chinese tradition which justifies militarism, expansionism, strength as opposed to humility, humanity, revolution or communism (Mohist or Maoist, whatever).
The rest of it reminds me of the Roman tradition of asking the priests of Janus whether a war was justified by self-defense before going to battle: it always was. It’s always possible to rationalize conquest as "consolidation," "pacification," "self-defense," "defense of an ally," or "defense of principles." You’re right that it’s ahistorical: but nationalism always is.
Posted by: Jonathan Dresner | February 29, 2008 at 11:59 PM