Chinese Wisdom (II)
Written by Alfonso Elizondo
In contrast to Kant, Mencius does not even raise the issue of freedom. Jullien believes that any theoretical conceptualization of freedom in the West comes from the epic and tragicomedy. Then along comes the Enlightenment that conceives of the human being as a moral subject with everything revolving around the decision that human beings take in the face of their dilemmas. On the other hand, in China behavior is spoken about, but not as action associated with spontaneity. For the Chinese, wisdom is the strategy that combines virtue and efficacy to achieve victory through the propagation of ideas and inducements. The greatness of the sage is discreet and seems to be part of the natural regulation of things.
The Chinese sage, instead of exhibiting virtue, makes it obvious. Also the theme of beauty is recurrent in Jullien’s studies and it revolves around what the Chinese call ‘the insipid’ which is praised in all their traditions. Its merit is that it is not limited by any particular determination and resists all traditions. It is the common ideal of all the arts (music, poetry, painting, etc.) as well as artistic traditions (Taoist, Confucian and Buddhist). The view of Chinese art is contrary to the European view which dictates that what is good is what is ‘ tasty’.
Insipidity is subtle and very difficult to appreciate. It is as if in Chinese culture there is a spontaneous recognition of that quality, since China is not multi-colored but flat and pale. But insipidity does not lead to mysticism; it is very concrete and is linked to sensory experience, in addition to having greater simplicity and sobriety. The Chinese term ‘dong’ means both austerity and detachment. It is the expression of a wisdom according to which the insipid life is an ideal.
Insipidity represents naturalness and is expressed in the Chinese symbol par excellence that is water. In painting it is expressed as a monotonous landscape that seems to contain all landscapes. In music the least precise sonorities are the most promising because they seem to retain an undertone of the voice. It is like an attachment to the music that is never expressed and remains contained. The sharp sound is an attenuated sound that retreats, as if dying in a prolonged manner when it is fading.
Insipidity also creates distance, the capacity for affection, and purifies impressions. Poetry is insipid insofar as it tries to capture the invisible within the visible and to evoke emptiness through images. According to Jullien, it was the evolution of Chinese poetry itself that led to the realization of the virtue of insipidity until it was recognized at the beginning of the Song dynasty in the eleventh century. One must understand the poetry of austerity as a world which one has to enter. It can be symbolized in the late autumn when flowers fall from the chrysanthemums reached by the frost and the last heat of the year disappears.
The Chinese reject complicated ornamentation and search for simplicity of expression. Savoring the insipidity of poetry becomes something very ‘tasty’, thanks to the effort required to chew it and the need to use taste and saliva slowly. All appetizing taste and all fictitious beauty are abandoned in favor of the most essential values. With Chinese wisdom Jullien vindicates another perception of life that leads to wonderful consequences for the human being.
Addendum: For those of us who were born and lived in the West, it is very difficult to understand the worldview of the Chinese and Orientals in general, because our sources of information and our education process during our childhood and adolescence does not even contain isolated elements of the way of thinking of a culture that existed thousands of years before Western culture.
I am not trying to say that one culture is better than the other, but to point out that they are two totally different views of the world and that everything suggests that there is an unexpected return of the Chinese and Hindu cultures which, due to their different geopolitical and demographic situations, are taking total control of the world today.