Prof. Han Shuifa: Kant in China


Kant was first introduced into China in 1866. In 1886, the British missionary Joseph A. E. mentioned Descartes, Bacon, Locke, Newton, Leibniz, Kant, Hume, and Spencer in his translation of the volume "Science" (i.e., philosophy) of the book "A Brief Description of Western Studies" in a brief introduction to the history of Western philosophy.

In the same year, Kang Youwei, an important Chinese thinker, introduced the nebular hypothesis in the ninth volume of his Lectures on the Heavens, mentioning the Kantian-Laplace nebular hypothesis. In 1903, Liang Qichao wrote an article entitled "The Doctrine of Kant, the First Great Philosopher of the Modern World", which should be the first Chinese article dedicated to Kant's philosophical thought. The first Chinese scholar to engage in the study of Kant in modern times was Wang Guowei, who mainly studied Kant's theory of knowledge, ethics and religion.

Mr. Cai Yuanpei was the first Chinese scholar to systematically study Kant's philosophy, paying particular attention to Kant's theory of aesthetics, as well as to Kant's epistemology and scientific concepts. Many aspects of Cai Yuanpei's thought embody the spirit of Kant's philosophy.

From the 1910s onward, Kant studies in China began to expand gradually. In 1922, Karl Vorlander's biography of Kant was translated into Chinese and published. On April 22, 1924, the bicentennial of Kant's birth, a series of research articles commemorating Kant was published in the newspapers such as the Journal of Learning and the Morning Post, with more than 30 articles in total.

Since the 1930s, Kant's major works began to be translated into Chinese and published one after another: Critique of Pure Reason (1935), Critique of Practical Reason (1936), Inquiry into the Metaphysics of Morals (1939), and Sense of the Beautiful and the Sublime (1940). At the same time, a number of works on Kant studies were translated into Chinese and published, the more important ones being the Soviet scholar Deborine's The Dialectic of Kant (1929), the British scholar Lindsay's Kant's Philosophy (1935), and the Japanese scholar Itsukazu Kuwagi's Kant and Modern Philosophy (1935).

The most important thing is that the works of Chinese scholars on Kant were also gradually published, the famous ones being Fan Shoukang's Kant (1933) and Zheng Xin's A Treatise on Kantology (1946).

After the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, Kant studies entered a new period. On the one hand, in mainland China, several translations of Kant studies by Soviet scholars and Western scholars were published, such as Asmus' Kant's Philosophy and Karabichyan's Critical Analysis of Kant's Philosophy, such as Watterson's Exposition of Kant's Philosophy and Smith's Interpretation of the Critique of Pure Reason. New translations of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason and Critique of Practical Reason were published, as were the Critique of Judgment and Introduction to the History of the Development of the Universe. In Taiwan, Mou Zongsan also translated the Critique of Pure Reason and the Critique of Practical Reason, and he simultaneously interpreted traditional Chinese philosophy with Kant's philosophy as the core; Mr. Laosiguang wrote The Essentials of Kant's Theory of Knowledge.

After the reform and opening up in the 1980s, Kant studies in mainland China began to flourish, and Kant studies became an important area of Chinese philosophical research. Kant's major works began to be re-translated, with Han Shuifa first retranslating the Critique of Practical Reason, followed by Deng Xiaomang's translation of the Three Critiques, and Li Qiu Zero presiding over the Chinese translation of the first nine volumes of the Prussian Academy of Sciences edition of Kant's complete works. At the same time, works by Chinese scholars on Kant also continued to emerge. The influence of Kant studies and Kant's thought extended far beyond philosophy to many areas of academia and culture. At the same time, Kant became the most familiar German cultural celebrity to the Chinese.

Almost every one of China's nearly 100 philosophy departments now offers a course on Kant, and in the philosophy departments of such prestigious Chinese universities as Peking University, Fudan University, Renmin University of China, and Tsinghua University, courses in Kant studies are even more permanent. In recent years, an average of more than 140 papers on Kant studies have been published annually in Chinese academic journals.

In 2019 a large high-level international conference on Kant was held at Peking University with the participation of most internationally renowned Kant scholars, and the Chinese Kant Society was officially announced, its secretariat being located in the Department of Philosophy at Peking University.

With the growth of a new generation of scholars, Kant studies in China would enter a more prosperous period.


                                                     March 30, 2021


© 2021 Prof. Han Shuifa