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Li Zehou’s work can be understood as an account of a Chinese modernity, a vision for Chinese society that seeks to integrate three distinct philosophical approaches. These are Chinese history and culture, which Li understands as largely Confucian; Marxism, which has exerted such influence on a modernizing China; and Western learning more generally, as expressed by figures such as Immanuel Kant and Sigmund Freud. Li also frequently expresses the hope that a Chinese modernity will be one in which the importance of the individual is recognized, and rights and freedoms upheld (e.g., 2006, p. 182). But this stance raises an important question: how are individuality and freedom understood in Li’s philosophical system? In this paper, I want to examine what resources Li offers to help us conceptualize their place in a modernity with Chinese characteristics. Confucian culture is often regarded as authoritarian and hierarchical, less interested than more liberal traditions in an ideal such as freedom. So how does freedom relate to the Confucian root of Chinese culture, as construed by Li? In this paper I explore how Li Zehou’s study of Confucian aesthetics can deliver a novel conception of freedom, one grounded in Confucian thinking about personal cultivation, and aimed at the free creation of delight (樂).


Originally published in: Ames, Roger T., and Jinhua Jia. Li Zehou and Confucian Philosophy. Honolulu (Hawaii): University of Hawaii press, 2018.



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