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Academic Taoism

Let's discuss the "discovery"of Taoism by European scholars. Think about the contribution of western missionaries to the spread of Taoist philosophy.
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Let us now discuss the “discovery” of Taoism by European scholars, most of whom were also missionaries. Their first systematic contact with the Chinese civilization started in the 16th century. Marco Polo, it is true, travelled to China in the 13th century, but he mostly just pioneered tales of adventure. The Europeanssearched for reaffirmation of Christianity, and thus they looked for “facts” to support European theology. It didn’t take them long and they were looking for a ‘messiah figure’. They quickly found a “Kong-Fu-Tze” (Kongzi). Following the same logic of Christ -> Christianity, the Europeans designated “new” names for Eastern “religions”; hence Buddha -> Buddhism, Kong Fu Tze ->Konfuzianism, and Lao Tze ->Laoism.
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This has been a spectacular failure for Confucianism in particular, which was, and still is known in China as ru or rujia– it means “literati” or “school of literati”. Kongzi is not the only one. There are many many representatives in ruxue. Imagine someone would come along and recast Western philosophy as “Platonism” because Plato allegedly founded it. How bizarre it would look if we called John Locke, Karl Marx, and Friedrich Nietzsche “Platonists.” Unfortunately, with “Confucianism” in China, the Europeans got their way. As to “Laoism,” it quickly dawned to sinologists that Zhuangzi, the Yi Ching, and the Daozang (the Taoist Canon) were of equal importance to Laozi’sDaodejing.
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So they settled for the more comprehensive term ‘Daoism’, preferably pronounced with a hard‘t’ – hence “Taoism.” That said, as a general rule, every European culture then went on to interpret Chinese history and thought based on their own cultural preferences,
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almost comically so: The Italians understandably wanted to convert the Chinese to Catholicism. The Germans projected Teutonic folklore and the protestant spirit onthe Chinese classics. The Russians looked through Tsarist, Orthodox, and later Lenin’s lenses. The French meanwhile saw like-minded
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Philosophers everywhere in China: Chinese romanticists, Chinese existentialists, Chinese naturalists, and so on and so forth. Portugal, Spain, Italy, and France, and/or those affiliated with Rome or the Catholic mission in China,
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got a considerable head start: here we have Jorge Alvares who’s said to have reached China in 1513, Francis Xavier, Prospero Intorcetta, NicolausLongobardi, Matteo Ricci, Johan Schall von Bell, to name but a few forerunners. Their dominance in the field of sinology lasted for about 300 years, until the British Empire triggered the Opium Wars. After that it was the Northern European scholars from the Germanic cultures, so the Anglo-Saxons, the Germans, the Dutch, who took the lead in sinology. Their privileges lasted until the latter half of the 20th century, when the torch of sinology was passed on to North America. Hopefully, one day it will return to China.

The “discovery” of Taoism by European scholars was mainly made by missionaries who tried to look for “facts” to support European theology. Later on, every European culture then went on to interpret Chinese history and thought based on their own cultural preferences, thus Taoism was interpreted according to their cultural preferences respectively, too.

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Taoism and Western Culture

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