Culture is the main strength of, and attraction to, many cities in China. One county's unique charms are based on a philosopher who will not be forgotten.
The spirit of Feng Youlan (1895-1990), one of the most renowned Chinese scholars who championed the history of Chinese philosophy in the modern era, is inherited in his hometown.
Dec 4 marks the 120th anniversary of Feng's birth in Tanghe county, Henan province. His birth is regarded as a milestone in Chinese philosophy history and in the history of Tanghe.
Qiyi, a small town about 20 kilometers from the county seat of Tanghe, is where Feng grew up.
Feng Youlan's brother, Feng Jinglan, is a famed geologist while his sister, Feng Yuanjun, is one of the nation's pioneering female writers of the early 20th century. Their ancestors settled in Qiyi in 1755 after emigrating from neighboring Shanxi province.
Feng Youlan's grandfather, Feng Yuwen, made his wealth from running a distillery in the town. He also showed strong interest in traditional culture and encouraged his children to nurture their own cultural interests. As a family the Feng's published four volumes of poetry.
In 1915, Feng Youlan passed the entrance exams to get into Peking University and study Chinese philosophy. He gained his PhD from Columbia University in 1924. Pragmatist John Dewey was his teacher. Feng Youlan went on to teach at Yenching University and Tsinghua University after returning to China. In 1952, he became the philosophy professor at Peking University.
A History of Chinese Philosophy, two volumes of which were released in 1931 and 1934, is regarded as his most important book. The book is a solid foundation for the modern systematic study of Chinese philosophy history and is widely used as college textbook reading.
Feng Youlan published a series of books between 1939 and 1946, including New Rational Philosophy, A New Treatise on the Nature of Tao and A New Understanding of Words, which promotes Confucianism.
After the 1950s, he started to use Marxism to explain Chinese philosophy and published new editions of A History of Chinese Philosophy.
Feng Youlan's influence has been gone beyond national boundaries.
In 2007, Park Geun-hye, president of the Republic of Korea, wrote about how she found inner peace reading A History of Chinese Philosophy and that she regards the book as a spiritual mentor in her life.
Feng Youlan never forgot his hometown. In 1985, he donated money to construct a new building for a middle school in Qiyi. In 1988, he sold his house in his hometown and gave the money to Tanghe Library, to which he also donated nearly 1,000 copies of his book. He also kept in close contact with fellow scholars from Tanghe.
Tanghe has also honored him in return. The county's government cooperated with China Central Television to make a documentary about his life in 2013, which was translated into English and Korean. Other films and programs have also been shot in Tanghe to reflect the different periods during his life.
A nationwide symposium studying Feng Youlan's thoughts and concepts was held in Tanghe in 2010. The event attracted 60 scholars, who analyzed the connection between his schools and modern philosophy.
The county invested 20 million yuan ($3.14 million) to build a memorial hall for him in 2011. The hall exhibits his articles, writings and letters, and has become a center for studies of local historical files, art exhibitions and education for the young generations.
The 120-hectare Youlan Wetland Park was named after the philosopher and some local streets and schools are also named after him.
The county is busily preparing for the 120th anniversary celebration, which hopes to spread the teachings of Feng Youlan around the world.
A portrait of Feng Youlan (1895-1990), one of the most renowned Chinese scholars who championed the history of Chinese philosophy in the modern era.
The Feng Youlan Memorial Hall, which exhibits Feng’s articles, writings and letters, has become a center for studies of local historical files, art exhibitions and education for the younger generation.
(China Daily 09/25/2015 page17)