Thomé H. Fang, Tang Junyi and the Appropriation of Huayan Thought

  • King Pong Chiu

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis examines the rationale behind the work of Thomé H. Fang 方東美 (Fang Dongmei, 1899-1977) and Tang Junyi 唐君毅 (1909-1978), two of the most important Confucian thinkers in twentieth-century China, who appropriated aspects of the medieval Chinese Buddhist school of Huayan to develop a response to the challenges of 'scientism', the belief, widespread in their times, that quantitative natural science is the only valuable part of human learning and the only source of truth. As the status of Confucianism in China had declined from the mid-nineteenth century, non-Confucian ideas were appropriated by Chinese thinkers for developing responses to 'scientism', adopting the principle of fanben kaixin 返本開新 (going back to the origin and developing new elements). Buddhist ideas from a range of schools played an important role in this. Unlike other thinkers who turned to the schools of Consciousness-Only and Tiantai, Fang and Tang, for reasons of their own, saw the thought of the Huayan school as the apex of Buddhism and so drew on selected aspects to support and develop their own views.Fang regarded Huayan thought as a fine example of the idea of 'harmony', since in its vision of the perfect state all phenomena co-exist without contradiction. Interpreting the explanation of this given by Dushun 杜順 (557-640) in his own way, Fang argued that human beings are able to integrate physical, biological and psychic elements of the 'natural order' with values such as truth, beauty and goodness which belong to the 'transcendental order'. He thus proposed that scientism's view of humanity as matter could be incorporated without contradiction but also without excluding 'non-scientific' aesthetic, moral and religious values.By contrast, Tang stressed the characteristics of Huayan's theory of 'doctrinal classification', as developed by Fazang 法藏 (643-712). Interpreting this to mean that different ideas could be applicable in different periods, Tang argued that the worldview of 'scientism' may indeed help solve problems in its own sphere, such as the desire for scientific development. Other paradigms, however, are preferable in discussing moral issues. In other words, this Buddhist theory allowed him to claim that both Confucianism and 'scientism' have their own value. Neither of them should be negated in principle.I argue that Fang's and Tang's selective appropriations of Huayan thought not only paid heed to the hermeneutical importance of studying ancient texts in order to be more responsive to modern issues, a concern hotly debated in the field of Chinese philosophical studies, but also helped confirm the values of Confucianism under the challenge of 'scientism'. In short, by absorbing ideas from Huayan thought, both Fang and Tang, to different extents and in different ways, provided responses to the challenge of 'scientism' which gave a place to science without rejecting the importance of human faculties such as aesthetic appreciation and moral judgment or asserting the dominance of perception and cognition over other human faculties, the ultimate cause, as they saw it, of 'scientism'.
Date of Award1 Aug 2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorJackie Hirst (Supervisor) & Alan Williams (Supervisor)


  • Huayan
  • scientism
  • Thomé H. Fang
  • Tang Junyi
  • Contemporary Neo-Confucianism

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