DOI: 10.3390/rel15010055 ISSN: 2077-1444

Abstract or Concrete Utopia? Concerning the Ideal Society in Chinese Philosophy and Culture

Roland Boer
  • Religious studies

In seeking an appropriate approach to the ideal society in Chinese thought, the present study comprises two main parts. The first part deals with a debate in Chinese philosophy concerning the possibility of an inner or immanent transcendence as a way of defining Chinese culture. As this debate unfolded, it became clear that Chinese philosophers—especially on the mainland—do not regard the transcendent–immanent distinction as applicable to Chinese culture and philosophy. In short, this culture and its philosophy simply has no need for transcendence. Instead, other terms are needed, especially those drawn from a tradition that “secularised” them many millennia ago: moral cultivation, regeneration, home, and intimacy. In this light, the second part of the study deals with two approaches to the ideal society: the Confucian “Great Harmony [大同 datong]” and the short story “Peach Blossom Spring [桃花源 taohuayuan]”. These terms are mediated by a treatment of the “Three Worlds Theory [三世说 sanshishuo]”, developed most fully by He Xiu (129–82 CE). The outcome of this investigation is that the ideal society is very much part of this world. It can be known only through direct observation, empirical investigation, and it is achievable only by detailed planning. It is nothing less than home.