And really inspiring to see an event like this one being put on. It’s exactly activities like this that drive the vitality of a high-tech economy.
Today I want to talk about the mysteries and opportunities surrounding the notion of Kangqiao.
Kangqiao is a semi-classical term in Chinese for “Cambridge”
Apart from the strength of Cambridge’s reputation in China, Xu Zhimo’s oft-quoted 1928 poem “Farewell to Cambridge (or Kangqiao)” has kept Cambridge alive in China’s popular imagination.
The opening four lines are committed to memory by most educated Chinese.
Qing qing de …
It’s a great poem for reflecting a particular Chinese Taoist notion of sensual perception as a means to self development
For those of you who are interested, a stone memorial of the poem was can be found behind the backs of King’s, where Xu Zhimo had once attended classes.
Some typical concepts that characterize Cambridge to the Chinese are
Those characteristics that deal with sensory and creative attributes reflect a Taoist sensibility
Those that deal with mental and hierarchical attributes reflect a Confucian sensibility
Taoism and Confucianism reflect a key dualism in Chinese thought.
To borrow a Cambridge term, they are “two cultures” of China’s moral sensibility
Taosim, though it likely was not a philosophy founded by any one person, is associated with Lao Zi and its central text is the Dao De Jing
It basically emphasizes a natural path to enlightenment and rejects forms of human control over others or the natural world. The philosophy has wide spread appeal among the masses.
Confucianism was formulated between the 6th – 5th century BCE by the stoic scholar, Confucius.
Confucianism emphasizes discipline and order as the basis for an ideal life.
That such different philosophies not only exist side by side but mutually support one another is but one of many emblematic Chinese riddles.
Others regard spirituality, national identity, social development, and ideology.
What foreigners might find especially perplexing, for example, is how Chinese-style Communism and Confucianism reinforce one another in today’s China.
These are all various examples of how the Chinese approach is to integrate dualism. More on that in a minute.
Now bringing in some Cambridge perspectives, I want to talk briefly about three Cambridge personages and some of their notable ideas as they relate to China.
Both these Cambridge thinkers and their theories in some way relate to enigmas, contradictions, or puzzles.
The first is C. P. Snow.
Snow was both a scientist and a man of letters. He also served in government.
He was a Fellow of Christ’s and is probably best known for his famous 1959 lecture titled “The Two Cultures”
Unlike the Chinese who integrate dualism, like many Westerners, Snow saw schism in duality. Thus we have Science versus the humanities
Upper versus ….
A unique thinker whose articulation of “The Two Cultures” still stirs controversy, Snow’s idea of cultural antagonism is in many ways representative of a Western, particularly Cambridgesque, approach to discovery.
In the West, we believe in the Socratic method. We believe debate and intellectual conflict ultimately reveal truth.
The Chinese approach, on the other hand, is more introspective than overt. It does not seek “truth” as an ideal as we do in the West. This is because in China, truth is already known to reside in harmony.
Another remarkable, representative, and controversial Cambridge figure who can be linked to China is Bertrand Russell.
After dismissal from Trinity College and serving time in jail, Russell’s first academic posting in exile was at Peking University in 1921.
While in China he developed ideas for his book, The Prospects of Industrial Civilization.
China was very different in the 1920s, as evidenced by his quote…
In the book, Russel’s key contention is that
Arguably Cambridge’s most influential China expert of the last 100 years was, curiously enough, a biochemist by training, Joseph Needham.
Needham exhaustively researched the origins of Chinese science and technology.
His magnum opus, Science and Civilization in China, has been an ongoing collaborative publication since 1954. He lived a life covering at least three “two cultures” in regards to his academic disciplines, the societies he operated in, and his integrating of past and present knowledge.
Needham posed a notion which subsequently became known as the Needham Puzzle.
In short, it asks
Somewhat curiously, Needham did not bother to probe a similar question directly relating to his work as a Cambridge scientist
For China today, we can extend the original Needham puzzle to now ask how can China manage to innovate in the Age of Information?
In a similar vein, we can further ask in regards to the future of the Cambridge Phenomenon will Cambridge find a way to lead global technology trends. Note here technology is distinguished from science, where the Cambridge cluster’s leadership position is less questionable.
It’s worth pointing out that Needham’s puzzle about China was not without it’s flip-side, converse proposition. That is, China was still effectively ahead of the West,
Needham’s original puzzle really questions the difference between the intelligence of science and the applications of technology, methodology, and environment.
For example, noting like a Cambridge University or that other place ever appeared in China, not historically and in fact still not today. The distinguishing features of academic excellence driven by intellectual freedom and backed by political, especially fiscal, support is still largely a Western phenomenon.
Preceding the Industrial Revolution, Britain broke ahead of other post-Reneissance European societies with a decidedly empirically based epistemology of reason founded on the sort of ecumenical tolerance espoused by John Locke. Britain also distinguished itself by institutions such as the Royal Society which fostered close interaction between science, capital, and industry.
In the era of technology clusters, Silicon Valley set a new example of regional economic-academic strategy. This was a totally non-accidental occurrence whereby industry (not only government) got involved with academia and public-private management techniques fostered growth in high-tech companies.
It is exactly these sorts of methods and environments that produce corresponding outcomes of scientific excellence, industrialization, and new technology paradigms.
The biggest challenge perplexing China today is how to avoid becoming a victim of its own success.
East Asian societies, whose core cultural underpinnings hail from China, have advanced according to what commentators in the 1980s took to calling a Confucian work ethic.
Diligence, studiousness, and hierarchical conformity are great traits for a society that emerges from agrarian production into the industrial.
These same traits are not as useful in an Information Age were disruptive creativity, expressiveness, and unencumbered information access are determinants of economic value-add.
The editorial shown here came from a recent edition of a Communist Party-backed mass circ Beijing daily, xinjing bao. The headline reads: “We need to innovate an environment that allows students to fearlessly question things.”
This is one of many telling examples of how far China has come since the adoption of economic reform and how far it still has to go.
It must do exactly as the editorial advocates if it is to avoid the “economic equilibrium traps” encountered by other East Asian economies, most notably Japan.
In short, China needs to get Kangqiao. That is, take the positive elements of Cambridge’s essence as they relate to China’s own cultural sensibilities.
It needs to break through the developmental ceiling imposed by an over-reliance on Confucian values and be better balanced by Taoist sensibilities and Western learning practices.
This means getting back to China’s Taoist roots to spur greater scientific creativity, innovative management, and a more entrepreneurial approach to government.
It also needs to proactively engage the West, which historically has been particularly difficult for China to do.
There is an epistemological bridge available.
In the wake of Joseph Needham’s groundbreaking work, more and more of the physical and social sciences have found inspiration if not new intellectual frameworks from Taoism and its associated rationality.
Here are some examples
Looking at Kangqiao opportunities from the respective dimensions of Cambridge’s and China’s hard and soft strengths, this listing gives some illustrative examples.
If you’ve followed that very erudite movie series on Austin Powers, you’ll recall that the protagonist is constantly manifesting his “mojo” essence.
I wonder if Cambridge will embark on its fulfilling its Chinese mojo of Kangqiao. For example,
Thank you for your attention.
I hope I stimulated productive thinking about potential new directions in the Cambridge Phenomenon.
The Chinese words on this page are read as “chang lianxi” and mean “let’s stay in touch.”
I hope that future encounters like today’s might continue, either here or in China.
Rob Koepp's presentation
CAMBRIDGE ENIGMAS, CHINESE RIDDLES,
5 OCTOBER 2010