Tuesday, February 3, 2015

379. Research on China and Our Founding Fathers

The following is from Dr. Wilton Dillon's new book, Smithsonian Stories: Chronicle of a Golden Age, 1964-1984, published by Transaction Publishers, 2015. Dr. Wilton Dillon is well-known anthropologist in the world. He is f"ormer president of the Institute for Intercultural Studies (founded by Margaret Mead) at the American Museum of Natural History in New York and senior scholar emeritus at the Smithsonian Institution. His four Smithsonian decades drew upon earlier experience as a soldier, journalist, college teacher, foundation executive, and science diplomat. He is a graduate of University of California, Berkeley, and holds a Ph.D. in Anthropology from Columbia University. Additionally, he was honored by the French government with the Chevalier des arts et des lettres, in part, for his book Gifts and Nations. "
I should let my readers know that Dr. Dave Wang has felt that he was flattered by Dr. Dillon's introduction to his research on US founders and China.

"I met Dave Wang at an Aspen Institute meeting of Friends of Franklin. Meeting this Chinese scholar from St. Johns University in New York opened up a floodgate of new insights about Chinese influence on our founding fathers and colonial North America. Prof. Wang travels the world now to share his new findings. I have given copies of some of his papers to former US senators Larry Pressler, Republican from South Dakota, and Harris Wofford, Democrats from Pennsylvania, when they lectured in China on "the two party system." Celebrating one nation's cultural gifts to another--and especially, the capacity to receive--makes for good diplomacy.

'How China Helped to Shape American Culture: The Founding Fathers and Chinese Civilization' is the tile of Wang's 2010 summary of his findings, published in Virginia Review of Asian Studies (2010). Confucian philosophy, tea, porcelain, wallpaper, rhubarb, soybeans, house heating, canal and ship building, ideas about reason, rocketry, and alternative medicine were among many cultural contributions coming from China. Franklin designed a wooden wall inspired by the Great Wall to protect Philadelphia from Indians after the French and Indian War. Jefferson's architecture showed hints of Chinese design. Wang traces Chinese influence on Thomas Paine, John Bartram, Benjamin Rush, and Jedidiah Morse, among others.

His essay starts with a quote from President Barack Obama in his July 27, 2009 remarks at the US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue:

Americans know the richness of China's history because it helped to shape the world and it helped to shape America. We know the talent of the Chinese people because they have helped to create this great country.

Lines need to be drawn between pandering for political, economic, and security goals on one hand, and historical studies of cultural contact on the other. Western, particularly US influence, has helped to revolutionize Greater China. The Asian idea of yin and yang would help both interdependent parties to feel more comfortable with each other. "

Saturday, January 10, 2015

378. Chinese Porcelain Wares and American Nationalism

The colonists in North America wanted to diminish their reliance on taxed imports and ultimately their need for other goods controlled by England. Their pursuing self-supply of Chinese porcelain ware became a powerful call for the patriotic support of American economic independence. Some colonists started attempts to establish a porcelain manufactory company inPhiladelphia in 1769.

They established the factory on Prime Street near the present day navy yard, intended to make china at a savings of 15,000 £. Benjamin Franklin, who was in London at the time, showed his happiness seeing the achievement made by his countrymen. He said, “I am pleased to find so good progress made in the China Manufactory. I wish it Success most heartily.

The American China Manufactory became noted for the porcelain ware it produced. More importantly, it succeeded in cultivating patriotic support. It set in motion an intense competition between the young American factory and its English contemporaries.Although the porcelain factory lasted to 1772, it challenged Britain’s monopoly of the Chinese products and ultimately contributed to the winning of American independence. Benjamin Rush stated clearly, There is but one expedient left whereby we can save our sinking country, and that is by encouraging American manufactures. Unless we do this, we shall be undone forever.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

377. The Founders’ Homes and Chinese Cultural Elements in Colonial North America

Readers of this blog and Dr. Dave Wang’s publications have learned the hard facts of Chinese cultural influence in colonial North America. With this post I want to demonstrate specifically where you could find Chinese cultural elements in colonial North America.
Actually, there are many places one can find them, however you will be amazed that one can find Chinese cultural components in the three homes of the founders.  The first one is Benjamin Franklin’s printing shop in Philadelphia.  It was in his printing shop that Franklin published Confucius moral teachings in his widely circulated Pennsylvania Gazette . The Second is Thomas Jefferson’s main building in Monticello. Jefferson installed Chinese railing on the top of this building. The third is James Madison’s home. He hung Confucius portrait together with some Western saints in his home. In this library he had a copy of Ta-Hyoh (Daxue, GreatLearning) one of the four classics of Confucianism.
From the Chinese civilization in the founders' homes you will further understand the founders' efforts to obtain insights from Chinese civilization in their efforts to build a great nation in North America.  

Sunday, December 21, 2014

376. Like Confucius Benjamin Franklin Would Live for Ages to Come

Seventeen years after Benjamin Franklin stated that Confucius was his example, Dr. Ezra Stiles (1717-1795) assured Franklin that he would live for ages to come. In the following I provide you with the quote from his letter to Benjamin Franklin dated February 26, 1766:

I have somtimes wished, after you had digested such of your Letters and other Writings as you would desire to accompany your Name through all american Ages, that I might be charged with the publication of them, prefixing them with the history of your Life. But this is an honor, to which among your numerous friends I can have no pretension. Confucius and his Posterity have been honored in China for Twenty Ages—the Electrical Philosopher, the American Inventor of the pointed Rods will live for Ages to come to live with him would please no one more than, my Dear Maecenas Your affectionate Friend and obedient Servant.

Ezra Stiles
Dr. Franklin London

Sent by Mr. Robt. Stevens Junior who saild March 9. 1766. on Board the ship America Capt. Osborn from Newport Rh. Isl. for Bristol in England, and Arrived at Bristol Apr. 17.

When Stiles wrote this letter he was  pastor of the Second Congregational Church in New Port, Rhode Island from 1755 until 1777. While in Newport, he also served as Librarian of the Redwood Library.

Monday, December 15, 2014

375. Confucius Institute and Benjamin Franklin's Junto

The Confucius Institutes, non profit organization that promotes Chinese language and culture,  are all over the world today. People may wonder who started the first Confucius Institute in the world. No one is qualified to make the statement that he created the first Confucius institute but Benjamin Franklin, one of the great admirers of Confucius throughout the history.

Franklin founded his Confucius Institute, Junto, in 1727 after returning from England. Most scholars believe that Junto comes from a mistaken use of the Spanish noun “junta,” which means “a meeting.” This word derives from the Latin “iunct,” which means “to join.” However, I do not believe Franklin would commit such an error, since in his leisure moments, Franklin taught himself Spanish and Latin, as well as other languages.

Instead, interestingly enough, Junto (君道) in Chinese translates to the “Way of a Gentleman” or the “Path Leading to a Virtuous Person.” This seems like a more likely interpretation of the name, especially since Franklin hoped to use his establishment to cultivate more virtuous members of society. For more information, one can read Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography, now available online.

Through Dr. Dave Wang's research, we see that Franklin avidly promoted Confucian moral philosophy to the American colonies. For instance, in 1737, Franklin published chapters from The Morals of Confucius in his widely circulated The Pennsylvania Gazette. A decade later, Franklin told George Whitefield that Confucian moral philosophy belonged to all human beings. It is evident that Franklin held Confucian philosophies in high regard. He regarded Confucius as his example. Since Franklin's statement is very significant I will quote in the following:

"I am glad to hear that you have frequent opportunities of preaching among the great. If you can gain them to a good and exemplary life, wonderful changes will follow in the manners of the lower ranks; for, ad Exemplum Regis, &c. On this principle Confucius, the famous eastern reformer, proceeded. When he saw his country sunk in vice, and wickedness of all kinds triumphant, he applied himself first to the grandees; and having by his doctrine won them to the cause of virtue, the commons followed in multitudes. The mode has a wonderful influence on mankind; and there are numbers that perhaps fear less the being in Hell, than out of the fashion! Our more western reformations began with the ignorant mob; and when numbers of them were gained, interest and party-views drew in the wise and great. Where both methods can be used, reformations are like to be more speedy. O that some method could be found to make them lasting! He that shall discover that, will, in my opinion, deserve more, ten thousand times, than the inventor of the longtitude." 

Finally, I should make it clear that Franklin's Junto aimed to improve its members' virtues following Confucian moral philosophy. In this point, Junto is different from contemporary Confucius institutes.  

Sunday, November 23, 2014

374. American Exceptionalism, the Founders and Confucian Moral Philosophy

Usually, American exceptionalism can be traced to Alexis De Tocqueville, the first writer to describe the country as "exceptional" in 1831 and 1840. American exceptionalism is the theory that the United States is qualitatively different from other nations.

Actually, the notion that the United States is a different country is older than that. The founders of the United States worked hard to make the United States a new nation on the earth. Thomas Paine in this widely read Common Sense expressed for the first time the belief that American was not just an extension of Europe but a new land. From In his paper Confucius in the American Founding (Virginia Review of Asian Studies, vol. 16, 2014), Dr. Dave Wang states that the American Revolution was also simultaneously a moral revolution. While the founders were concerned with preserving their civil liberties and economic freedom through their stance, “no taxation without representation,” they were also concerned with public morality. They fully understood that the war was as much a battle against “the corruption of 18th century British high society” as it was against financial oppression. As a result, the founding fathers were determined to construct new virtues responding to the needs of the new nation. Having seen the results of the moral corruption in the old world, the founders worked diligently to use all valuable moral resources available for them to create virtues for the new nation.

As the main designers of the new nation, the founders knew that it took more than a perfect plan of government to preserve liberty. They needed some moral principles accepted by the people to encourage them to obey laws voluntarily. They recognized that a free government should be supported by people who could act morally without compulsion, and would not willfully violate the rights of others. Benjamin Franklin firmly believed that "Laws without morals are in vain." Cultivating new virtues for the fledgling United States therefore became one of the most significant themes during this time of social and political transformation. Thomas Jefferson believed the United States was founded on the confidence of a free and virtuous people. Jefferson sought a radical break from the traditional European morality. He opposed the system of the ruling family over the needs of the people. With this notion in mind, the founders turned to Confucian moral philosophy. These efforts to build new virtue for the new nation laid the intellectual foundations for the Revolutionary concept of American exceptionalism.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

373. The Enlightenment, the United States and China

The founders of the United States were intellectually men of the age of the Enlightenment. One of the most important features of the Enlightenment was that Chinese civilization, particularly Confucius moral philosophy, was highly regarded by main frontrunners of the Enlightenment. Confucius’ principle of that the people possess the power of overthrowing a governor who exploits people was accepted as one of the universal principles in human affairs. The direct influence of this principle is manifestly evident in the Declaration of Independence.

It shouldn’t be regarded as coincidence that he principal writer of it, Thomas Jefferson, was made out of the Enlightenment. Traditional nations have their own ethnic traditions. However, the founders of United States were reluctant to carry across the Atlantic the virtue of their old country. The founders believed the moral corruption in Europe should be excluded from the New Nation. Therefore, they were determined to create new virtue for the new nation. In their eyes, creation of new virtue was so important that its success or not would regulate the future of the direction of the nation they created.

If you want to know more about how Confucian moral philosophy made its mark on the founding of the United States,  I recommend you to read Dr. Dave Wang’s article, CONFUCIUS IN THE AMERICAN FOUNDING: THE FOUNDERS’ EFFORTS TO USE CONFUCIAN MORAL PHILOSOPHY IN THEIR ENDEAVOR TO CREATE NEW VIRTUE FOR THE NEW NATION, in Virginia Review of Asian Studies, Volume 16 (2014). In order to understand fully the United States history, the founders’ efforts to draw positive elements from Chinese civilization should be examined carefully. Their efforts shouldn’t be buried in the piles of historical documents that describe that the United States was formed mainly based on the English heritage and the Christian and Greco-Roman traditions. Today all the nations of the world are in one process of modernization. The founders’ way of dealing with other civilizations has provided a great model for all the nations in the world. The founders’ ideas that learn from other civilizations should be adopted by all mankind.