Constructive Postmodernism

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Zhihe Wang, Huili He and Meijun Fan:

"Different from the deconstructive postmodernism associated with French philosophers such as Jacques Derrida, “constructive postmodernism” is based on Alfred North Whitehead’s process philosophy and refers to a pluralistic but integrative thinking, worldview, and practice. It is postmodern not in the sense of being anti-modern, but rather of trying to build upon the best aspects of modernity and tradition, thus creating new ways of thinking. .. The foremost figures of constructive postmodernism in the West are Whitehead, Cobb, and Griffin."



Influence in China

Zhihe Wang, Huili He and Meijun Fan:

"Before the 1995 Chinese translation of the book Reenchantment of Science, edited by Griffin, almost no one in China had heard the term constructive postmodernism (coined by Griffin). But today it has already “made a significant and positive impact on China,” and its existence and influence is regarded as “an unavoidable fact.”

The People Forum Poll Research Center recently conducted a survey regarding “The Most Valuable Theoretical Point of View in 2012.” The first selection was from Yijie Tang, a professor at Peking University and a well-known scholar of Chinese philosophy:

In the end of last century, constructive postmodernism based on process philosophy proposed integrating the achievements of the first enlightenment and postmodernism, and called for the Second Enlightenment.

If these two trends can be combined organically under the guidance of Marxism, not only taking root in China, but further evolving…China can complete its “First Enlightenment,” realizing its modernization, and also very quickly enter into the “Second Enlightenment,” becoming the standard-bearer of a postmodern society.

Constructive postmodernism is regarded by some Chinese scholars as “not only the most dynamically and creatively advanced philosophy in today’s world, but also a whole new theory to guide newcomer countries striving for modernization to achieve their goal preferably.”

Today, more than twenty research centers focusing on constructive postmodernism and process thought have been established in Chinese universities, including at Zhejiang University, Peking Normal University, and Harbin Institute of Technology. According to Fubin Yang’s study, so far “no other school of contemporary Western philosophy, such as analytical philosophy or phenomenology, has yet established so many special centers of study in China.”

In order to advocate ecological civilization, The Institute for Postmodern Development of China (IPDC), working with the China Project of the Center for Process Studies and its partners (both non-Chinese and Chinese), has organized more than seventy international conferences in China and the United States. The Claremont Forum on Ecological Civilization is the most successful one; starting in 2006, it has organized seven forums so far, with hundreds of Chinese scholars and officials participating in the events. Many conference papers and reports on ecological civilization have been published in prominent Chinese media such as Philosophy Researches, Marxism and Reality, Guangming Daily, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Today, Central Higher Party School Newsletter, and the Journal of Chinese Academy of Governance.

Arranging lectures on ecological civilization in China is another important avenue to foster ecological awareness. So far, IPDC has arranged more than 360 lectures and interviews by non-Chinese thinkers to Chinese officials, scholars, students, and media. Well-received talks include John Cobb’s “China Is the Place Most Likely to Achieve Ecological Civilization,” David R. Griffin’s “The Ecological Crisis: Could China Save Civilization?,” Philip Clayton’s “Science and Religion as Servants of Ecological Civilization,” David Schwerin’s “Green Is Golden,” Cliff Cobb’s “The Practical Steps to Achieve Ecological Civilization,” Michael Perelman’s “An Ecological Future: Marx and Wu-Wei,” and Mary Evelyn Tucker’s “Confucianism and View of Nature.”

It is worth mentioning that the impact of constructive postmodernism on China is not only in the field of philosophy, but has also spread to “economics, jurisprudence, education, psychology, ecology, aesthetics, management, and other fields in the academy.” Some scholars have even used constructive postmodern thinking to study Chinese party history, as well as birth control policy, foreign policy, and agriculture.

More importantly, constructive postmodernism has also begun to be applied to “the social-political field of China in order to solve the various pressing issues facing China.” Some government officials have found ways to put constructive postmodernism into practice. For example, Hongzhong Li, governor of Hubei Province, recently called for “Building Yichang with Postmodern Ideas” (Yichang is a city of 4 million people). By postmodern ideas, Li means not only “plurality, uniqueness and harmonious” but also “asymmetric, natural, and ecological”—that is, he hopes to build Yichang into a livable and green ecological city. Another local official, Jia Li, mayor of Zhuhai City in Guangzhou Province, emphasized learning from the postmodern values of symbiosis, plurality, and inclusiveness, and he called for “planning Zhuhai’s development from such a perspective of postmodernism and postindustrial civilization.”

These events have had a positive impact on the emergence of consciousness of ecological civilization in China. Pan Yue, head of the Environment Department of China, says “Socialist ecological civilization is a critical absorption of environmentalism, eco-ethics, and postmodernism.” Generally speaking, the Chinese turn to ecological civilization is also affected by constructive postmodernism. Weifu Wu says, “Chinese top leaders consciously and unconsciously have shown their interest in, concern for, and acceptance of constructive postmodern philosophy and its way of thinking.” For Wu, the idea of ecological civilization they proposed signaled “a smell of the postmodern.” “China is increasingly marching toward postmodernization.”