The Gongfu Approach to Teaching and Doing Chinese Philosophy across Cultures
Keywords:gongfu, transcultural, methodology, Chinese philosophy, pedagogy
This paper introduces a method of doing and teaching East Asian philosophy transculturally. The method underlies a pedagogy that has proven successful with students from diverse international backgrounds studying primarily in English, which suggests its potential for the wider scholarly community. The method centres on the practice, or gongfu, of doing philosophy with classical Chinese texts. The gongfu approach emphasizes the skill of interpreting and analysing texts within the context of the traditional works themselves. We have found that this skills-based approach to analysis bears much philosophical fruit. It does so, moreover, without subordinating the texts, their ideas, and their arguments to other more academically predominant frameworks. Or in more positive terms, it allows and encourages students to critically philosophize with the early Confucian and Daoist texts on their own terms, and to then creatively bring those unique insights and perspectives to bear on contemporary life.
This paper first introduces the gongfu approach to doing and teaching Chinese philosophy and its distinctive characteristics. It then contextualizes the value of this method through critically examining the nature of Chinese philosophy and how we can do Chinese philosophy in English. (How Chinese is it, and in what ways?) Throughout I offer short case studies from our program. I conclude by highlighting its promise as a mode (or valuable component) of transcultural philosophizing and briefly reflect on some reservations one might have.
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