Abandon selfish Western anthropocentrism to solve pandemic with Chinese man-nature philosophy
Published: Sep 03, 2021 03:50 PM
Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

The enlightenment movement of the 17th and 18th centuries in the West ignited the light of human reason. People were liberated from the repression of gods in the middle ages and began to control the world with reason. However, serious problems also followed. Under the guidance of the light of reason, people's thinking was liberated, human society has undergone three scientific and technological revolutions and achieved great leaps in productivity. But at the same time, the appetite for resources has created a number of serious challenges. 

For example, the massive consumption of fossil fuels has brought about global warming and the "greenhouse effect," which affects us today. The "greenhouse effect" has made the world's climate increasingly volatile. Airborne pollution has become more common, forest grassland is in rapid retreat, and areas of arid land are expanding. Unrestricted destructive exploitation in the real world means chickens are exploited for their eggs, waterways are drained for their fish, and humanity may be slowly digging its own grave. The root of this crisis, to a large extent, can be linked to human factors, the alienation of human nature and the advocacy of anthropocentrism in Western culture. Anthropocentrism believes that man and nature are separate, that man is above nature, and that human life has intrinsic value, while other entities (including animals, plants, mineral resources, etc.) are resources that can be reasonably exploited based on the need of man. Many ethicists find the roots of anthropocentrism in the creation story told in the Judeo-Christian bible genesis. In creation stories, humans are created in the image of God and instructed to "conquer" the earth and "rule" all other living things. This passage has been interpreted as both a manifestation of human superiority over nature and a connivance with an instrumental view of nature that the natural world's main value is to benefits humans. This idea is not limited to Jewish and Christian theology, and can be found in Aristotle's Politics and Immanuel Kant's Moral Philosophy. Being the only rational being on Earth, and therefore capable of imposing its will on others, shows that man is, of course, the titular Lord of nature in his own right, and that if nature is regarded as a system of ends, his mission is to attain the ultimate end of nature.

Anthropocentrism believes that humans are the most important entity in the universe. Anthropocentrism explains or views the world in terms of human values and experience. The human-centered modernization in Western civilization has caused havoc in human civilization. Entering the 21st century, especially given the carnage caused by the novel coronavirus, one must reflect on the problems arising in the process of modernization.

It can be said that both the SARS virus, which affected China in 2003, and the novel coronavirus, which is now ravishing the world, are the price paid by humans for their excessive exploitation of nature. Viruses that exist naturally in animals are transmitted to humans through intermediate hosts in the context of human activity. The human tragedy brought by the plague has repeatedly forewarned human beings to abandon anthropocentrism in Western civilization, respect nature, live in balance with nature and renew human concepts. 

How can we avoid the huge risks posed by COVID-19 and find the right cures for the diseases of today's world? With Western civilization reaching a bottleneck, perhaps the answer can be found in the traditional Chinese philosophy, which combines Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism.

As a Chinese saying goes, the sea refuses no river. The spirit of Chinese culture - being tolerant - is not found in Western so-called unification theory. There is no reason for human civilization to keep imposing huge responsibilities on European and American civilizations. With the development of the human race in modern times, various problems have emerged, and mankind needs a new way of governance. The Western-centered world order has begun to show signs of weakness. The non-Western world represented by China is rising in an all-round way, and human history will enter the post-Western-centered era. The wisdom of Chinese ancestors is to expand the community of human life to the community of man and all things in the world which can guide the world back to the right track of harmony. China's 5,000-year civilization has bred extensive and profound traditional Chinese culture, the core and essence of which remain the foundation on which we live. Harmony between man and nature is the most basic concept in traditional Chinese philosophy. 

Western civilization originated in the sea and was driven forward through exploration, competition and expansion. The West has brought the world into a unified economic market by constant struggle, but it has failed to establish a harmonious, orderly and sustainable development system for the world. Chinese culture is extremely inclusive, and our cultural tradition contains the power to return to the source of creation in the universe. Today, as global conflicts become increasingly acute and intensified, Chinese civilization has the responsibility, the right and the opportunity to participate in the dialogue among world civilizations and contribute to the development of a higher level of human thinking. 

In the ancient Chinese sage's ideology, all things in the world are identical, that is, the community of human destiny. On the surface, the proposal of a community with a shared future for mankind aims to resolve tensions and conflicts among human groups, which belongs to the dimension of interpersonal and state-to-state relations. Another important dimension of the community of shared future for mankind is the relationship between man and nature. In Tao Te Ching, a classic Chinese philosophical literature, Laozi repeatedly emphasized that people should follow the law of the universe. Tao is the mother of all things under heaven, the source of all energy, the origin of heaven and earth, and the source of all things. All things under heaven are the sons of Tao. Human beings and all things under heaven are identical beings. Human beings should treat all beings equally and compassionately, instead of killing, stealing and obscenity. Confucianism entrusts "tao" with the content of benevolence and righteousness, and proposes that just causes receive much help, while unjust causes receive little help. 

The current international community should transcend the limitations of race, ethnicity, color, region, language, culture, religion, gender, country, and class. Only when we realize that we all breathe the same air, share the same destiny, work together to fight the epidemic and live in harmony with nature can we, as a society, have a chance to turn the crisis around.

If we embark on the path of fragmentation, with each country acting in its own way or pursuing a beggar-thy-neighbor policy, we will not see no end to the pandemic crisis, the results of which are likely trigger an even bigger global disaster.  

The countries of the world should focus on the common aspirations and missions of humanity rather than blame each other for the interests of one's own country and miss the opportunity to fight the pandemic. Mankind should face up to the consequences of violating the laws of nature, follow the way of Heaven, make amends at an early date, transcend the existing graphic thinking, and regain the ancient Chinese philosophy of "unity of heaven and man" to seek the well-being of all mankind. 

Pu Jingxin is an associate professor at the School of Foreign Languages, Nanjing University of Finance and Economics. pujingxin@126.com 

Guo Song is a ph.D candidate at the Institute of International Studies, School of History, Nanjing University. gstutor2010@126.com

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