Historian of late imperial China (1368 – 1911), Lianbin Dai, joined the York Centre for Asian Research (YCAR) earlier this month as the 2017 Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation (CCKF) Postdoctoral Fellow. During his tenure at YCAR, Dr. Dai will work on his manuscript, Learning to Be Learned: Scholarly Reading and Knowledge in the Late Imperial Chinese Humanities.
Dai’s manuscript is a meditation on the influence of Neo-Confucian philosopher Zhu Xi’s (1130 – 1200) art of reading. Focusing on the historical influence of Zhu’s conceptualization of the practice of reading, Dai is conducting a historical examination of cultures of knowledge acquisition and innovation in China.
Zhu’s philosophy was highly influential in fourteenth century imperial ideology and has since remained dominant in Chinese culture and society. Despite the efforts of his philosophical rivals to distance themselves from his tradition in the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries, Dai suggests, Zhu’s theory remained fundamental to knowledge practices in late imperial China.
One of Zhu’s contributions to knowledge culture in China was his emphasis on book learning, said Dai. Unlike his eleventh-century predecessors who emphasized cultivating one’s mind over reading, Zhu promoted the careful reading of Confucian Classics as the main way to Neo-Confucian intellectual improvement and moral cultivation.
Dai investigates how and why Zhu’s rationalist approach was deliberately downplayed in the over-moralized climate in the sixteenth and seventeenth century China.
“The longevity of Zhu’s influence is evident in how his philosophy shaped the practice of the late imperial Chinese humanities, elite intellectual attitudes towards learning, and Neo-Confucian cultural paradigms in late imperial China,” said Dai.
The YCAR executive established the CCK Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in Chinese Studies, 2017-2018 with the generous support of The Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation for International Scholarly Exchange. The purpose of the fellowship is to fund a promising postdoctoral candidate working on a topic that will shed new light on understandings of Chinese history, culture, society and/or politics. It is awarded to an emerging Canadian scholar in the humanities or social sciences for the revision of a doctoral dissertation for publication and/or to facilitate the beginning of a new research project.
Before joining YCAR, Dai was a curator (2015 – 2016) in the University of Alberta Museums, working on the Mactaggart Art Collection. He taught as a College Fellow (2013 – 2014) in East Asian Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University, and conducted research in the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science (MPIWG) in Berlin (2012). Dai received his BA from Nankai University (Tianjin, China), his MA from the University of British Columbia, and his DPhil from the University of Oxford.
“I hope to be able to make a contribution to the understanding of the East Asian orthodox concept and practice of reading as represented by Zhu’s admirers,” said Dai. “By placing my investigation in the context of the history of knowledge and in particular the tradition of the Chinese humanities, I also hope to contribute to understandings of the relationship of reading to the way that scholarly knowledge and the humanities evolved in China.”
While at York, Dai will be working with YCAR Faculty Associate, Professor Joan Judge (History). He will present his research at a talk in the Winter 2018 term.
Featured Image: Cheng Duanli (1271-1345), Cheng shi jiashu dushu fennian richeng (Daily schedule of reading of the Cheng family school, arranged by age. 1315), 1:1a. This book was intended as an educational program based on Zhu Xi’s (1130-1200) theory of reading, and once widely issued to state Confucian schools in the last years of the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368). Reproduced in the series Sibu congkan (Shanghai: Shangwu yinshuguan, 1934).