In Memory of Professor Thomé H. Fang [1]

Ludwig C. H. Chen

Tr. Suncrates


Of all the Master’s erst disciples in my generation there are only three in total who, throughout their careers, have remained unswerving in pursuit of philosophy, without departure from its path: namely, Professors Chün-I T’ang, Shih-chuan Cheng, and myself. Though listed among his disciples for mere name sake I myself, simple and plain by nature, have accomplished nothing.[2] Of the three of us only Chün-I[3] and Shih-chuan[4] are capable of transmitting, and developing into ever greater heights, the Master’s teachings.

Early in l924, when I entered the National Southeastern University in Nanking, it was still a six-years institution, with the first two years for preparatory studies, during which period of time I had taken no philosophy courses for the Master had not arrived yet, though the University had kept approaching him with the offer. The courses he offered upon arrival were all in Western philosophy, ranging from such elementary courses as Introduction to Philosophy and Logic to the upper division courses on special topics and figures, such as Idealism and Plato, etc. I took all of them, and was particularly intrigued by the British and American Neo-Realism as covered in his Introductory course, as well as by his lectures on Plato. At the end of the semester no final examination was required; in stead, we were urged to write term papers. I tried to the best I could, as no pain was lacking, to the effect that he was favorably impressed with the works I submitted, especially my paper on Plato, which was commended as "remarkable!" With neither Chün-I nor Shih-chuan signing up in the same class, I could of course very easily distinguish myself as superior, just as the Chinese proverb had it, "With no great captains in the Kingdom of Shu even Liao Hua could cut of himself quite a hero by serving as a vanguard."[5] Fully realizing that the course works mattered little, and that the Master himself had used them as but a device to urge us on, naturally I was led to work all the harder. This very fact itself demonstrates what an excellent teacher he was—a lure to perfection, so to speak!

By the time I soon graduated [in l930] upon completion of all the course requirements and set out for studies abroad [in London and Berlin],[6] the school itself had already changed its name into "the National Central University." Thenceforward, remote in distance and preoccupied in studies and other matters, I was unable to consult him for advises as frequently as before; on my way home from Europe [in l940] to Sze-Chuan via Yun-Nan, I stopped by in Chungking to visit him there in the campus of my alma mater which, to avoid the turmoils of war, had by then already moved from Nanking to Sha-Ping Dame in the suburb of Chungking. Earnestly had he urged me to stay. However, I hesitated because I had already accepted the offer from the National University of Peking for years, and felt that this time I must go there for fulfillment of promise. Thereupon, he worked out a solution: by going through the university authorities concerned, he had succeeded in securing for me a joint appointment with the National University of Peking, such that in the following years I could serve at both institutes alternately on an annual basis. The National University of Peking was then just merged into the National Southwestern Union University as one of its constituent units, situated in Kun-ming, Yun-Nan.

In the following year [l94l] when I went to work in Chungking as scheduled, he had already begun lecturing on the Philosophy of Life. Yet, I had to split my time between Chungking and Kunming, so often down the road to and fro that no sooner had I just got settled in one place than I had to move again to another.

Moreover, starting for the first time in teaching, afraid that any failure of performance on my part would cause him embarrassment, and hence obligated to do the best I could, I came to find myself unavailable to attend, as I wished, his lectures on the subject—though teaching simultaneously at the same school as we were. I only hoped that I could consult him sometime later at our leisure hours. Once, I submitted for his comment and correction the manuscripts of my Commentaries on Plato’s Parmenides; he was so deeply delighted that, in return, he showed me his masterpiece entitled Three Types of Philosophical Wisdom: The Greek, European, and Chinese--a work not only unfathomably profound in substance, but also extremely "classic" in style, so much so that many had complained of its incomprehensibility. I tried my very hardest to study it, until eventually I had to agree with the majority that "the deeper you bore down into it, the harder it becomes!"[7] At this juncture Professor E. R. Dodds of Oxford was visiting in the campus and the Master encouraged me to present him with my manuscripts copy. Dodds carried it back to Oxford, had it translated from the original German into English, and soon published in the Quarterly of Classical Studies. It was the beginning of my long standing contacts with the Greek scholars in the English-speaking world, using their language as medium of communication. To trace to its remote fountainhead, all this was due to the Master’s initiation and encouragement as mentioned above. Such had been typical of his way towards the disciples, which was at once encouraging and promotional [yet with what subtlety and sensitiveness was it administered]!

Following the victory over Japan in l945 the universities had all rehabilitated themselves, one after another; I, too, had returned to my teaching post at the National University of Peking. Next year in l946 when I came home to visit my father in Nanking, Professor Tang Yung-tung [Hsi-yu, l893-l964], then Chairman of the Department, had already set out for the United States on a Visiting Professorship. Seizing upon this opportunity, the Master at once urged the National Central University to reaffirm the terms previously agreed upon, such that I could stay and serve in the South. By that time it was seldom quiet even in the western suburb area of Peking. Under such circumstances my father, of course, would not allow me to go back to the North; I had then to transfer to Nanking for "attending upon his rod and his staff," as we say. Soon afterwards the Master flew to Taiwan across the strait [to assume the Chairmanship in Philosophy at the National Taiwan University]. Taking his bid I, too, followed immediately. In the middle 40s Taiwan was just restored to the territory of China as Fatherland. As regards the reform task in the Philosophy Department, a great deal still remained to be done. Highly competent and vigorous, he directed the departmental affairs orderly and systematically, with equal emphases on the administrative and the academic alike for mutual enrichment. In the wake of the Master himself as paradigm [I was soon to succeed him as Chairman], I had attempted to make my humble contributions. During this period of time when he transferred from the NCU (National Central University) to the NTU (National Taiwan University) the only disciple who had followed up by sea and joined him later was Mr. Cheng-hua Huang, who was soon appointed Teaching and Administrative Assistant in the Department upon graduation maximum cum laude.

Now, there were at least two disciples available at the Master’s service in case of any emergent needs in the Department, for whose educational program he had always cherished as high hopes and great expectations as ever. Though we had already had six to seven faculty members in the department he still felt the difficulty of recruiting an increasing number of new, but well qualified, faculties for reinforcement and promotion. Such has been his deep concern and great sense of duty—a virtue to be looked upon as exemplary for all of us in the academic community.

Soon, another of his masterwork, The Chinese View of Life: The Philosophy of Comprehensive Harmony, was taking shape in conception, addressing itself in English to the western public. One day he came over to visit my father,[8] and mentioned briefly about its chief tenets while I myself, standing in attendance throughout their conversation, had overheard something as outlines only, with no idea about its details. In l958 the World Congress of Philosophy was scheduled to meet in Venice, Rome, Italy, inviting the CPA (Chinese Philosophical Association) to participate. On receiving its invitation those on the Directorial Board, however, considering it unnecessary to "kill the chicken with the cleaver,"[9] had decided that it would do just as well by sending from among its members some one of the lowest caliber. So, the task had fallen upon me. I thought it took less than a month or so for the round trip and there would still be plenty of chance for me to read his work when published after my return. Therefore, I gladly undertook the assignment and set out on the journey. After the conference in Rome I originally planned to return to Taiwan by way of the United States. But, Alas, for lack of stronger will, I got caught in māyā, -- in the web of the mundane world! It was not until almost twenty years later before I got barely one week’s vacation for homecoming to attend the graveyard of my late father. All things settled, I went to visit the Master, noticing that the climate in the studies of philosophy back in the country had now changed so drastically from what it had been before: the focal attention had shifted from the Western to Chinese philosophy, and the central issue at the time was on the question of the authorship of The Ten Wings as Appended Commentaries to I-Ching [The Book of Creativity]. I went to consult him on this very issue. Unfortunately, he was found to be just out [for the afternoon walk] while, on my part, I must rush back to the school for class within a couple of days. Hence, my humble wish of "standing in the snow waiting for the Master at the door"[10] was unfulfilled. Who knows, this was my last opportunity to meet with him in person; once thus missed, it was irretrievably lost, never to be found again.—How remorseful! And how regrettable![11]

Profound in erudition of scholarship, trenchant in framework of thought, the Master had dedicated himself to a teaching career that had lasted consecutively above half a century, thus providing a climate of creative transformation for all those he had taught, perhaps numerically less than 3000 in total, but qualitatively those who have gained a glimpse into the "interior chamber" of his thought must be estimated as nearing the figure of 72,[12] of whom each is accomplished in his own way and all have distinguished themselves with good reputation at home or abroad, or both. Unenlightened and plain as I remain, I myself am not one among them. The course he offered on Plato was but a minor part, of secondary importance, among his early teaching programs. From him I had really learned something in a general way, and my interest [in Greek philosophy, especially Plato and Aristotle] was thus initiated and became self-sustained ever since:

Deep in my bosom are always

Growing such tender sprouts,

As are in no way to be displaced

By whatever I’ve learnt to spell out!

In whichever course

I’ve later immersed!

Thus, it is seen how much I owe him for all that he had so graciously and richly bestowed upon me.

Now, on this special occasion—the l0th anniversary of the Master’s passing coincidental with the 60th anniversary of my first meeting with him at the National Southeastern University in Nanking—in remembrance of things passed I feel called upon to present here these few words of mine, however ill-formulated, as a token of gratitude in acknowledgement of his educational influences upon me as well as a way of expression, by one ten-thousandth perhaps, of my heartfelt respect and admiration for him as teacher, friend, and person.



[Translator’s Note:]

[1] Translated from the original in Chinese, with kind permission by the author.

[2] Editor’s Note: Here Professor Ludwig Chung-hwan Chen has exhibited his great modesty as a great scholar. The understatement that he has "accomplished nothing" is of course not to be taken at its face value. On the contrary, he has distinguished himself as a towering figure in the field of classic philology and philosophy, especially on Plato and Aristotle. In the words of the late Professor Charles Hartshorne, "Chen is world’s number one living authority on Aristotle today." For those taught by Chen at Emory, GA., e.g., Ex-President Frederick P. Whiddon of University of South Alabama, "It is just unbelievable! Chen knows more about Aristotle than Aristotle about himself!"

In addition to numerous articles published in the professional journals such as Phronesis, his works include "Das Chorismos-Problem bei Aristoteles" (l940); Plato’s Dialogue Parmenides: Translsated with Commentaries (l942); "Über Platons Dialog Parmenides" (l943); "A Study of the Theory of Ideas as Represented by Young Socrates" (l944); Sophia: the Science Aristotle Sought (l976), etc.

In China he has taught at the National Southwestern Union University (in Kunming, Yun-Nan), National Central University (in Chungking and Nanking), and National Taiwan University (in Taipei) until l958 when he left for the United States where he has taught at Emory (Atlanta., GA), University of Long Island (N. Y.), University of Texas (Austin, TX), and University of South Florida (Tempa, FA) until his retirement in the early 80’s. In 1993 he Passed in Oxnard, California, at the age of 90.

[3] Professor Chün-I T’ang, a leading figure in Neo-Confucianism of our times, was formerly Professor of Philosophy, National Central University; Dean of New Asia College, Hongkong; Chair Professor & Director of the Graduate Institute for Philosophy, Chinese University of Hongkong; Visiting Professor, Columbia University (N. Y.); Distinguished Visiting Professor, National Taiwan University (l974-75). He passed in l977, a few months after Professor Fang. His works include Chinese Culture and Its Spiritual Values (l953); The Spirit of Humanism and Its Reconstruction, in two volumes (l955); Cultural Consciousness and Moral Reason, in two volumes (l957); Establishment of the Moral Self (l963); Chinese Philosophy: Its Sources and Unity, in three volumes (l968); The Existence of Life and the Worlds of Mind, in two volumes (l978).

[4] Professor Shih-chuan Cheng, formerly Director of the Graduate Institute for Philosophy, Tung-Hai University, was Professor of the Humanities (Emeritus), University of Pennsylvania, University Park, PA.; Visiting Professor of Philosophy, National Taiwan University and National Taiwan Normal University. His works include Chinese Tzu Poetry in Translation; The Philosophy of I-Ching: A New Investigation (l979); The Drops of Thought (l986), etc.

[5] An allusion derived from The Romance of Three Kingdoms .

[6] After graduation from the National Central University Professor Chen had spent eleven years in Europe (l930-l940), one year in England and ten years in Germany where he studied with Nicolai Hartmann, Werner Jaeger, and James Stenzel, etc. at the University of Berlin.

[7] This is Yen Hui’s tribute on Confucius, see The Analects , 9:l0.

[8] The Fang-Chen friendship can be traced at least to two generations, Chen’s father, Mr. Chen Han-kuang, well-known scholar, poet, and artist, was also a good friend of Professor Fang’s. In the late 50s the Chen Senior was awarded the "Outstanding Poet Prize" by the Chinese Art and Literature Association. In l949, despite his age nearly at 70, he presented to the philosopher his painting of "the Landscape of Lung-Shu" (literally, "the Dragon Spreads"). In return for his kindness Professor Fang had composed in his uniquely beautiful calligraphy an exquisite classic poem, entitled "In Appreciation to His Excellency Mr. Chen Han-kuang." See The Complete Poems of Thomé H. Fang (Taipei: the Dawn Cultural Enterprise Inc., l978), pp. 390-392; p. 457.

[9] This is Confucius’ humorous remark to one of his disciples who employed what the Master had taught on the importance of Propriety and Music to the administration of a small city, see The Anelects, l7:4.

[10] An anecdote associated with the Neo-Confucian philosopher Cheng I (l033-ll07), the Cheng Brother Junior, who was reputed for "rigor and toughness" towards the pupils, not excepting even His Majesty the Emperor!

[11] Even late in the middle 70’s, when the translator was serving as Acting Chairman in the Department of Philosophy, National Taiwan University (l973-74), Professor Fang had strongly recommended that Professor Chen be "won" back from the United States, whatever it takes. He was offered a Chair Professorship which was, however, declined for health and research reasons. To their everlasting mutual regret, they had missed the last chance of meeting with each other in l974 when Professor Chen went back to Taipei for the Ch’ing Ming Festival. He came and left incognito, to the know- ledge of no one; the only person he paid a visit to was Professor Fang. Thus, silently he "swept" his father’s graveyard; silently he visited his teacher’s residence; and silently he left as he silently came. What a walking example of "the silent beauty" (to use Fang’s phrase in The Chinese View of Life, on the artistic ideals), so silently and beautifully exemplified! Indeed, for two such great philosophic souls, what has word to do with genuine affection?--to rephrase the Democritean dictum in Santayana’s Dialogue in Limbo., p.2, where it is stated: "What has argument to do with truth?"

[12] These two figures are both alluded to Confucius, who was said to have taught in his life time 3000 disciples, of whom only 72 were said to have mastered the "Six Arts" or "Six Classics" that the Master had transmitted.