A translation of Hu Shih’s 1926 essay, “Our Attitude toward Modern Civilization”

Hu Shih (胡適) was an influential Chinese essayist who was known for, among other achievements, his harsh criticisms of traditional Chinese culture and proposals to adopt valorous aspects of modern Western culture.

Hu Shih 1960 color.jpg

He was a promoter of the use of the vernacular language an ardent critic of filial piety; all-in-all, he was a highly controversial but influential figure whose writings served as the basis of China’s New Culture Movement (新文化運動) in the 1920s.

What follows below is a translation of Hu Shih’s 1926 essay, Our Attitude toward Modern Western Civilization (我們對於西洋近代文明的態度), as it appears in The Hu Shi Reader published by Yale University’s Far Eastern Publications. This essay’s foreign perspective on Western and American culture in the early 20th century, as well as its contrasting illumination of classical Chinese thought, should prove interesting to any person curious about the course of radical transformation that Chinese society underwent throughout the 1900s.

Other translations exist, and I make no guarantee of the correctness of the text below. The original text is available at WikiSource. Note that I have only been studying Mandarin for about a year and a half.

Our Attitude toward Modern Western Civilization

Today, the most groundless and harmful superstition is the ridicule of Western civilization as materialistic while worshiping Eastern civilization as spiritual. This is a very old idea, but in recent days has experienced a resurgence of interest. For a while, the people of the East have suffered under the oppression of the West, eventually coming to use this position as a way to divert scorn and criticism and engage in self-consolation. In the past several years especially, the effects of the Great War have even caused some Westerners to lament the development of a scientific civilization, and so we occasionally hear claims that the philosophy of Western scholars reveres the spiritual civilization of the East. These arguments are nothing more than a temporary affliction of the mind, which conveniently suits a type of Oriental megalomania, and from which adherents to classical Chinese philosophy have derived an arrogant and haughty demeanor.

We should not countenance the simple, anachronistic attitudes of today’s youth, and instead debate these viewpoints with thorough understanding and and precision.

Currently, people who talk about “spiritual civilizations” and “materialistic civilizations” often lack a common philosophical foundation; as a result, they can only argue about superficial or semantic differences, and cannot achieve fundamental understanding. I would like to propose several points to serve as the basis of our discussion:

  1. Civilization consists of the fruits of humanity’s labors in adapting and responding to the natural environment.
  2. Culture consists of the manner in which people of a specific civilization conduct their lives.
  3. When talking about the accomplishments of a civilization, we may divide them into two factors: first, the material, encompassing those aspects derived from natural phenomena or resources, and second, the spiritual, encompassing a people’s intellect, emotions, and capacity for logical reasoning. All civilizations are produced from the use of human intellect to harness natural resources and sources of power; as such, there is no such thing as a civilization which is exclusively spiritual or materialistic.

I will not discuss these three points in greater detail, as anyone who pursues this topic of discussion in depth should readily accept them. A clay pot or a large cast iron steam oven, a sampan boat and a large steamboat, a small, single-wheeled car and an electric streetcar; all of these are the products of humanity’s intellect applied to the resources of the natural world, altogether constituting civilization. These creations have a material basis, but they are also the product of mankind’s intelligence, and they differ only in their degree of refinement rather than in any fundamental characteristic. The cast iron steam oven does not laugh at the primitive nature of the clay pot; similarly, a man riding atop single-wheeled car cannot brag about the spiritual sophistication of his civilization or look down upon a man riding an electric streetcar as emblematic of a materialistic civilization.

As all civilizations have innumerable material manifestations, we ought not to use the term “material civilization” as a pejorative. We may say that a motorcycle is an aspect of a materialistic civilization, but we cannot only note its physical form; indeed, a motorcycle is also representative of humanity’s wisdom, and does not fall short of the wisdom embodied in, say, a poem. As such, we cannot compare a “material civilization” to a “spiritual civilization” in a negative light; we need not discuss this topic further.

What we must discuss now is:

  1. What is a “materialistic civilization?”
  2. Is the modern West a materialistic civilization?

People who revere the so-called spiritual civilization of the East claim that the modern West overemphasizes the appreciation of the material and the carnal while ignoring man’s spiritual needs, and hence name the West a materialistic civilization.

We ought to first note that this argument assumes that the flesh and the spirit stand in contention, which we believe to be mistaken. I deeply believe that a spiritual civilization must be built upon a material foundation. Improving mankind’s material comforts, convenience, and safety allows those who would otherwise be unable to contemplate spiritual matters in their limited lifespan to have the capacity to satisfy the needs of their soul. Eastern philosophers have said:

When people are fed and clothed, they can then know honor and shame; when the granaries are full, they can then know etiquette. (衣食足而後知榮辱,倉廩實而後知禮節)

This is not a foreign view on economic history but instead mere common sense. The world of man contains many tragic tales, in which countless people strive with unceasing fortitude and strength, and yet cannot achieve even the very lowest level of human happiness or avoid coldness and starvation. However, an even greater tragedy is that while there are people with great foresight, who know that people are dying of exposure or starvation, they have not been able to put in place measures to afford these sufferers even a modicum of happiness. Instead, they tell people to be content with their lot in life (樂天,安命,知足,安貧), as though giving people hypnotics to delude and console themselves with.

There is a classic Western proverb about a fox who wants to eat grapes: the grapes are too high up for the fox to reach, so he eventually says, “I never liked sour grapes to begin with!” The fox, who cannot reach the sweet grapes, eventually claims the grapes are sour; people who cannot enjoy the happiness of material comforts similarly claim that material comforts are not worth envying, and that destitution is a laudable quality. This sort of self-deluding, self-consoling thought eventually leads way to laziness, rather than being a particularly special or remarkable type of philosophy. These lunatics go even further than this; they mutilate their bodies, chop off their arms, refuse to eat, and immolate themselves, all in pursuit of this delusional concept of spiritual comfort. Their philosophy, which proceeds from self-delusion to self-harm, is not a philosophy of life but a philosophy of death, originates from following a path which disregards the basic needs of man. Following along this path fundamentally goes against human nature and eventually results in the creation of a slothful society, in which people refuse to work hard to satisfy their material needs while also refusing to engage in spiritual development.

The special quality of modern Western civilization is that it fully recognizes the importance of material comforts. In my own opinion, Western civilization is built upon these three precepts:

  1. The goal of human life is happiness.
  2. Therefore, poverty is a great evil.
  3. Therefore, sickness is a great evil.

To use an ancient Chinese proverb, this is a civilization embodied by the idea of 利用厚生 (lit: to enrich the lives of the people). Poverty is a great evil, so they develop natural resources, encourage manufacturing and production, improve the creations of their civilization, and expand the reach of their commerce. Sickness is a great evil, so they research new medicines, promote the hygeine of the people, pay close attention to physical fitness, stop the transmission of contagious diseases, and improve the hereditary lot of mankind. The goal of human life is happiness, so they maintain pleasant living conditions, improve transportation, keep their cities clean, promote the fine arts, create a safe society, and form a transparent and just political order. When we examine the totality of recent Western technological, scientific, and political development, it is true that many new methods of slaughter and aggression have been developed, but we cannot deny that this development has been undertaken with the core principle of improving the people’s standard of living.

Can this civilization, which focuses on improving the lot of the common man, really be said to ignore humanity’s spiritual needs? Is this an example of a “materialistic civilization?”

We confidently assert the following: modern Western civilization absolutely does not ignore mankind’s spiritual needs. We can even go further and say that the degree to which Western civilization manages to satisfy humanity’s spiritual needs is so great that it would be unimaginable by our ancient ancestors in West and East alike. From this perspective, modern Western civilization is absolutely not materialistic. Instead, it is one which is both idealistic and spiritual.

Let us first discuss the aspect of rationality.

In terms of the spiritual side of modern Western civilization, its most unique and special characteristic is that of science. The fundamental spiritual nature of science lies in its search for the truth. Human life is subject to the forces of the natural world, controlled by tradition, and bound by the forces of superstition and prejudice. Only truth can give you freedom, strength, and wisdom; only truth can give you the power to break free of the restraints of your environment, pierce the heavens, conquer the world’s lands, escape fear of the natural world, and become a valorous and dignified man.

Seeking out truth is mankind’s greatest spiritual desire. The ancient civilizations of the East did not merely refuse to satisfy this desire, but often sought to restrain or prohibit it. The sages of the East advised people to “know nothing” (無知), “reject sage wisdom and discard knowledge” (絕聖棄智), and “be free of knowledge and intellect and obediently follow the heavenly laws” (不識不知,順帝之則). This is cowardice and laziness. In such a civilization, can people really boast that the spiritual needs of the people are fulfilled?

The slothful sages of the East say, “life is limited, while knowledge is boundless; pursuit of the infinite with the finite is futile” (吾生也有涯,而知也無涯,以有涯逐無涯). For this reason, they advise that people sit in meditation and clear their minds, without thought or contemplation, and merely respond to events as they occur. This is a form of megalomaniac lunacy which deludes both themselves and others. Truth resides deep within the natural world; if you do not assiduously seek it out, it will not reveal itself to you. A scientific civilization trains us to exercise our intellect and reasoning as we seek out the truth bit by bit, each time allowing less to fall from our grasp as we accumulate more knowledge. Nature is a cunning trickster, and only through force and coercion can we compel it to reveal its true nature. Slothful men and women who reject intellectual thought will eternally remain ignorant, never able to pass through the gates of truth.

The sloths of the East also say: “truth is boundless, so how can man’s desires ever be fulfilled?” (真理是無窮的,人的求知的欲望如何能滿足呢?) Indeed, we will never fully uncover the totality of natural truth. However, scientists do not use this as a reason to shirk away. Scientists know that natural truth and wisdom are infinite in scope, but they nevertheless derive satisfaction: progressing forward one cun (one tenth foot) yields one cun’s worth of happiness, and progressing one chi (slightly longer than one foot) yields one chi’s worth of satisfaction. Over two thousand years ago, a Greek philosopher was grappling with a difficult problem, for which he could not produce a suitable theory; one day, as he entered the bath, he noticed the rising of the water level and suddenly came to a flash of understanding. With overwhelming joy, he ran out naked into the street and, causing a great commotion, exclaimed “Eureka! Eureka!” This is the satisfaction of a scientist. Newton, Pasteur, and Edison all experienced similar flashes of exuberation. Even if only step by step, progress is made, and each step forward brings its own satisfaction. This sort of spiritual joy cannot be dreamed of by the lazy sages of the East.

This is a fundamental difference between the civilizations of the East and the West. One side gives itself over to self-abandonment and the rejection of intellectual thought, while one side continues with its unceasing search for natural truth.

My friends, in the end, which culture satisfies your spiritual needs?

Next, we will consider the emotional and imaginative needs of mankind.

With regard to literature and fine art, we need not discuss these, as the people of the East are generally able to open their eyes to the world and see that, at the very least, Westerners have never scorned the importance of these two aspects.

Let us discuss morals and religion.

Modern civilization has, from a superficial standpoint, never cut ties with the religions of the past, and so modern culture has never clearly erected its own system of new religion or new morals. However, those of us who study history cannot help but point out that modern civilization does have its own novel religious and ethical beliefs. Scientific advancement has elevated humanity’s knowledge, allowing people to seek out knowledge with greater precision, and our powers of discernment have grown stronger, causing the superstitions of old religions to gradually be washed away to the minimum level and introducing doubts into the most basic religious precepts—the existence of the Supreme Deity (上帝) and the immutability of the human soul. As such, the first notable characteristic of the modern world’s new religion is the introduction of rational thought. Modern civilization has depended on the weapon of scientific thought to open up new worlds, discover innumerable new truths, conquer the innumerable forces of the natural world, call upon electricity to move vehicles, send messages through the luminiferous aether, and produce all types of heaven-shaking accomplishments. The development of humanity’s capabilities has progressively increased man’s faith in himself, transforming the religious beliefs of the past which advised contentment with one’s lot into a belief in humanity’s own ability. Consequently, the second notable characteristic of this new religion is its “humanization” or “secularization.” The progression of human wisdom has not only increased mankind’s powers but has also broadened our vision, expanded our ambitions, increased our imaginative abilities, and deepened our empathy for others. At the same time, greater satisfaction of our material needs has also afforded us the spare capacity to ameliorate the basic desires and suffering of others. An expansion in humanity’s empathy combined with an expansion in humanity’s capabilities has brought forth an unprecedented “socialization” in our ethics. The third notable characteristic of this new religion is therefore the “socialization” of its ethical code.

In the ancient past, humanity freely disregarded its intellectual needs in order to attain emotional solace, relying on faith and ignoring evidence, leading to belief in ghosts and demons, gods, the Supreme Deity, heaven, the Pure Land of Buddhism, and hell. Modern science cannot rely on faith in such a way. In fact, science does not denigrate man’s need for emotional contentment; science only requires that all of our beliefs stand up to logical criticism and be completely supported by data. All of those faiths which lack a thorough base of evidence can only be doubted, and cannot become a part of our beliefs. Huxley said it best:

If the condition of my success in unraveling some little difficulty of anatomy or physiology is that I shall rigorously refuse to put faith in that which does not rest on sufficient evidence, I cannot believe that the great mysteries of existence will be laid open to me on other terms. (Letter of reply to Charles Kingsley, 1860)

This is truly the complete fulfillment of humanity’s spiritual needs. If we buy one plot of land and sell two cottages on it, we still need a deed; in regard to a basis for humanity’s greatest hopes and desires, how can we recklessly hold beliefs that are unsupported by evidence?

This attitude of “show me the evidence” can be called the “rationalization” aspect of the modern world’s religion.

In the past, humanity was subject to the natural world’s domination, unable to discover the secrets of nature, and lacked the force to resist the cruelty of natural forces, resulting in the development of a perpetually fearful attitude toward nature; worship of objects and animals, fear of demons, reverence of gods, and admonitions to obey the natural order (小心翼翼,昭事上帝) are all due to humanity’s inability to trust in its own capabilities and inability to refuse reliance on supernatural forces. People of the modern world are much different. Humanity’s intellect has allowed us to conquer the infinite forces of the natural world: above us, flying freely in the air; below us, exploring the depths of the ocean; far away, gazing at the stars; close by, observing the microscopic. These two hands and one brain—mankind—have become lords of the natural world, which cannot help but respect itself. A young revolutionary poet once sang:

I fight alone and, win or sink,

I need no one to make me free,

I want no Jesus Christ to think

That he could ever die for me.

(The Thorough Bohemian by James Murgeon Flagg)

This is the “humanized” religion of the modern age. Trust in the heavens is worse than trust in man, and reliance on the Supreme Deity is worse than reliance on oneself. We now do not hope to enter heaven or paradise, but instead build humanity’s own paradise in this world. We now do not hope to become Daoist immortals, but instead seek to make mankind itself vigorous and healthy. We now do not hope to master the four meditation styles (四禪定) or the six forms of higher knowledge (六神通), but instead seek to improve humanity’s knowledge so that mankind may pierce the heavens and rule the lands. We may perhaps even cease to casually believe in the omnipotence of the Supreme Deity, instead believing in the omnipotence of the methods of science and the infinite potential of mankind’s future. We may perhaps even cease to believe in the immutability of the human soul, instead believing that mankind itself and human rights are sacred.

This is the “humanization” aspect of the modern world’s religion.

However, the most important point is the “socialization” of modern religion’s ethics.

Ancient religions generally focused on the salvation of man; ancient ethics, similarly, generally focused on the cultivation of man. Although there were religions which considered themselves to be paths to universal salvation, and there were ethical systems which considered themselves to benefit all of creation, they were, in the bitter end, lacking in any ability to set hand to the problems at fore and powerless to implement any practical change, ultimately remaining as they were in the past and returning to the introspective notion of self-cultivation of body and mind. The more introspective self-cultivation you do, the more you are unable to perceive reality; the more you play tricks and games with the intangibility of the human mind, the more powerless you are to respond to the practical problems of the real world. For example, the Neo-Confucian school of thought in the 9th century remarkably failed to perceive the cruel immortality of binding the feet of two hundred million women! Sitting in meditation to clear one’s mind and realize the Buddha-nature of all beings (明心見性), how helpful was that toward clarifying their ethical understanding of human suffering and poverty! Sitting in meditation and devout reverence only creates useless animals that don’t move their limbs and can’t distinguish between the five grains (四體不勤,五穀不分, lacking in practical knowledge)!

Modern civilization did not begin with religion, yet ended up creating a new religion; it did not begin with a code of ethics, yet ended up creating a new ethical system. The European countries of the 15th and 16th centuries were little more than bands of naval bandits, such as Columbus, Magellan, and Drake, all of whom were more pirates than explorers. Their goal was simply to search for gold, silver, spices, ivory, and African slaves. Even so, this group of bandits and the merchants they brought along opened up innumerable new lands, expanded the breadth of mankind’s vision, and elevated the power of human imagination, all while increasing Europe’s wealth. The Industrial Revolution soon followed, methods of manufacturing were fundamentally altered, and the power of industrial production continually improved. Within those two or three hundred years, humanity’s material wealth continually increased, and with it so did the scope of human empathy. This expansion of human empathy was the foundation of a new religion. The quest for individual freedom began to incorporate considerations for other people’s freedoms, not only becoming limited by the scope of others’ freedoms but also transforming into a quest for the freedom of most of humanity itself. The pursuit of one’s own happiness while being considerate of the happiness of others resulted in the development of the “utilitarian” philosophical principle, “the greatest amount of the greatest happiness” as a standard to serve as the goal of human society. This is the trend of “socialization.”

The creeds of the new religion of the 18th century were “liberté, égalité, fraternité.” The new religion of the mid-19th century and after is “socialism.” This is the spiritual civilization of the modern West, a civilization that the people of the East have never experienced before.

It is true that in the East, we have had religions that promoted universal brotherhood, as well as the notion of equal division of land and property. However, these never went past the level of written essays, never truly changed the important aspects of daily life in society, never altered the scope of human life, and never greatly affected the culture of the East, much unlike in the West. “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” became the slogan of the revolutions of the 18th century. The American Revolution, the French Revolution, the revolutions across all of Europe in 1848, and the American Civil War of 1862 were all conducted under the banner of these three great principles. The constitution of America, the constitution of France, and even the constitutions of the nations of South America were greatly influenced by these three great principles. The dismantling of old social class structures, the overthrow of autocratic rule, the universal application of the principle that every man is equal under the rule of law, real protection of the freedoms of religion, thought, speech, and publishing, the implementation of mass education, the liberation of women, the fight for women’s rights, the participation of women in the political sphere… All of these are the real manifestations of this new religion and new ethical code. These are not merely empty words written by three or five philosophers in their tracts; these are important elements of the political systems of the modern West, which have become great forces that delineate the scope of human life and have practical, day-to-day effects.

After the 19th century, the world gradually became more conscious of the harmful qualities of individualism, and the suffering that people endured under capitalism gradually became clearer. People who were wise and farsighted knew that a system of free economic competition could not accomplish the goals of “liberté, égalité, fraternité.” Requesting fair treatment from capitalists was like “asking a tiger for its own pelt” (與虎謀皮, asking an evil person to go against their own interests). There were only two courses of relief: first, for a country to use its legal powers to limit capitalists and protect the oppressed classes; second, for the oppressed classes to band together and directly resist the subjugation and abuse of the capitalist class. As a result, various theories of socialism and revolution continuously arose. Modern Western civilization was built upon a foundation of individual pursuit of happiness, so up to that point property rights were considered to be the foremost and greatest of the sacred rights of man. However, after the mid-19th century, this view was fundamentally shaken, with some people saying remarkable things like “property is theft” or “property is robbery.” At present, a system of individual property ownership continues to exist, but countries can impose heavy income or inheritance taxes, so wholly private ownership has not been allowed for a long time. Until now, laborers have been looked down upon; however, capitalist systems made it possible for large numbers of laborers to band together, while the spread of socialist thought and class consciousness made laborers aware of the necessity of solidarity, such that in the span of several decades, the organization of the proletarian class made the most powerful force in society. Ten years later, the leaders of the workers’ parties are able to demand recognition and rights from the world’s strongest countries, general labor strikes can overcome the most powerful governments, and in Russia, the peasant class formed a dictatorship that rules their entire country. This is an era in which socialist revolutions are still being carried out. However, their accomplishments have already been very impressive. In various countries, we have seen the development of social legislation (社會立法), establishment of factory inspections, improvement in workers’ hygienic conditions, relief for female and child workers, implementation of profit-sharing systems, reduction of working hours, creation of workers’ insurance, development of workers’ cooperatives, movements to establish a minimum wage (最低工資), assistance to the unemployed, implementation of a progressive (級進制的) system of income and inheritance tax… All of these are successes that the great revolutions have already attained. These are not mere sentences on paper, but rather important elements of modern civilization.

This is the new religion and new ethics of the “socialization” aspect.

The old schools of thought of the East might say: “this is merely a rabid struggle for power and wealth (爭權奪利), rather than religion or ethics.” This, here, is a true difference between the cultures of East and West. One side preaches contentment with one’s lot and graceful acceptance of suffering; the other, a refusal to be satisfied with the world as it is and continually struggling with great effort to improve one’s circumstances. When people of the East see a rich man, they say that he cultivated his soul well in his past life; when they see a poor man, they say that he neglected spiritual cultivation in his past life or that “this is just how life is” (命該如此). People of the West are different; they say, “inequality between the rich and the poor and differences in how much people suffer are all results of a flawed system, and the system itself can be reformed.” They are not scrambling to seize power and wealth, but instead fighting for freedom, equality, and fairness; the fruits of their struggle are not merely trivial benefits to the individual, but instead the prosperity of the better part of mankind. The greatest amount of prosperity for the greatest number of people is not something that can be accomplished by sitting in meditation and chanting the name of the Buddha, but instead requires great struggle and effort.

Friends, in the end, which culture is capable of satisfying your soul’s spiritual needs?

We may now make a complete appraisal of modern Western civilization. It is a civilization built upon the foundational principle of “the pursuit of human happiness,” which has increased the material comforts of mankind; even so, it has also managed to fulfill humanity’s spiritual needs. In the field of rational inquiry, it has used precise methods to continually seek out truth and explore the infinite mysteries of the natural world. In the field of ethics, superstitious creeds have been dispelled and a rational system of beliefs has been established; the divine right of kings has been abolished, and a new, “humanized” religion has been created; irrational concepts like heaven or the Pure Land of Buddhism have been abandoned, instead preferring to work hard to build an “earthly paradise;” the so-called transcendence of the human soul has been discarded, and instead no efforts are spared in the usage of mankind’s new imaginative abilities and freshly won knowledge to bring about a fully “socialized” religion and set of ethics as well as to bring the greatest amount of happiness possible to the greatest number of people.

The most special characteristic of the Eastern civilization is an attitude of contentment. Modern Western civilization’s most special characteristic is an attitude of discontent.

The people of the East are content with a primitive lifestyle, so they elevate the importance of not desiring material comfort; they are content with ignorance and the religious principle of “being free of knowledge and intellect” (不識不知), which results in neglect of the discovery of natural truth and the invention of new creations; they are content with the current state of the world and the natural trajectories of their lives, so they do not think to conquer nature, only seeking acceptance of their present situations (樂天安命, 安分守己) and acting as obedient citizens rather than considering systemic reform or revolution.

This sort of acceptance of their material environment’s restrictions and oppression, an acceptance which cannot be escaped, which cannot awaken the hearts or intellect of man to change their environment or improve the current state of civilization, is the civilization of a people who are lazy and ineffectual, a truly “materialistic” civilization. Such a civilization can only suppress and never satisfy mankind’s spiritual needs.

The people of the West are largely different, and say that “dissatisfaction is sacred” (Maxwell’s divine discontent). Upon the foundation of material dissatisfaction was built the world of steel and iron, steam, and electricity of the modern day. Upon the foundation of intellectual discontent was built the modern scientific world. Upon the foundation of social and political discontent was built today’s world of human rights, liberal government, equality between man and woman, the sacred cry of labor, and socialist revolution. “Divine discontent” is a completely revolutionary and progressive force.

This sort of complete utilization of the intelligence of man to seek out natural truth and liberate humanity’s spirit, to subjugate the workings of the heavens for the benefit of man, to change and reform the material world, to revolutionize the social and political order, to seek out the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of people—this kind of civilization should be able to satisfy mankind’s spiritual needs; this kind of civilization is a spiritual civilization, is surely an idealistic (理想主義) civilization, and is absolutely not a materialistic civilization.

Certainly, truth is without bound, material pleasures are infinite, the invention of new machines has no end, and the improvement of the social order is an unceasing task. However, each new material possession brings with it its own pleasure, each new innovation brings with it its own satisfaction, and each stage of systemic reform brings with it its own sense of fulfillment. If we cannot succeed today, we can succeed next month or next year; if those before us failed, those after us can carry on their work. Every small expenditure of effort brings with it its own satisfaction; every step in this infinite progression grants fulfilling happiness to those who labor. As such, the great poet Tennyson borrowed the voice of the ancient hero Ulysses to sing:

Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
As tho’ to breathe were life!


Come, my friends,
‘T is not too late to seek a newer world.


Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

1926, 6, 6

(Originally published in Xiandai Pinglun [Modern Review], Vol. 4, No. 83, July 10, 1926; also in Shenghuo Zhoukan [Life Weekly], Nos. 4-6, November 27, December 4 and December 11, 1927)

For completeness of reference, the original text is reproduced below:









  因為一切文明都少不了物質的表現,所以“物質的文明”(Material Civilization)一個名詞不應該有什麼譏貶的涵義。我們說一部摩托車是一種物質的文明,不過單指他的物質的形體;其實一部摩托車所代表的人類的心思智慧決不亞於一首詩所代表的心思智慧。所以“物質的文明”不是和“精神的文明”反對的一個貶詞,我們可以不討論。

  我們現在要討論的是(1)什麼叫做“唯物的文明”(Materialistic Civilization),(2)西洋現代文明是不是唯物的文明。
































  I fight alone and, win or sink,

  I need no one to make me free,

  I want no Jesus Christ to think

  That he could ever die for me。








  十九世紀以來,個人主義的趨勢的流弊漸漸暴白於世了,資本主義之下的苦痛也漸漸明瞭了。遠識的人知道自由競爭的經濟制度不能達到真正“自由,平等,博愛”的目的。向資本家手裡要求公道的待遇,等於“與虎謀皮”。救濟的方法只有兩條大路:一是國家利用其權力,實行裁制資本家,保障被壓迫的階級;一是被壓迫的階級團結起來,直接抵抗資本階級的壓迫與掠奪。於是各種社會主義的理論與運動不斷地發生。西洋近代文明本建築在個人求幸福的基礎之上,所以向來承認“財產”為神聖的人權之一。但十九世紀中葉以後,這個觀念根本動搖了,有的人竟說“財產是賊髒”,有的人竟說“財產是掠奪”。現在私有財產制雖然還存在,然而國家可以徵收極重的所得稅和遺產稅,財產久已不許完全私有了。勞動是向來受賤視的;但資本集中的制度使勞工有大組織的可能,社會主義的宣傳與階級的自覺又使勞工覺悟團結的必要,於是幾十年之中,有組織的勞動階級遂成了社會上最有勢力的分子。十年以來,工党領袖可以執掌世界強國的政權,同盟總罷工可以屈伏最有勢力的政府,俄國的勞農階級竟做了全國的專政階級。這個社會主義的大運動現在還正在進行的時期。但他的成績已很可觀了。各國的“社會立法”(Social Legislation)的發達,工廠的視察,工廠衛生的改良,兒童工作與婦女工作的救濟,紅利分配制度的推行,縮短工作時間的實行,工人的保險,合作制之推行,最低工資(Minimum Wage)的運動,失業的救濟,級進制的(Progressive)所得稅與遺產稅的實行,……這都是這個大運動已經做到的成績。這也不僅僅是紙上的文章,這也都已成了近代文明的重要部分。








  西方人大不然,他們說“不知足是神聖的”(Divine Discontent)。物質上的不知足產生了今日鋼鐵世界,汽機世界,電力世界。理智上的不知足產生了今日的科學世界。社會政治制度上的不知足產生了今日的民權世界,自由政體,男女平權的社會,勞工神聖的喊聲,社會主義的運動。神聖的不知足是一切革新一切進化的動力。






















October 3rd, 2022 | Posted in Chinese

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