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Meaning of Nanjing Symposium

Date:2008-12-22 00:00Author:youzhengli
The Meaning of The Nanjing Symposium to IASS (A statement at the eve of Christmas 2008, revised version) Youzheng Li 1. My Personal Background with respect to the Interaction of IASS and Chinese Semiotics Since I got my US green card and fi

                                        The Meaning of The Nanjing Symposium to IASS

                                  (A statement at the eve of Christmas 2008, revised version)

                                                                     Youzheng Li

1. My Personal Background with respect to the Interaction of IASS and Chinese Semiotics

Since I got my US green card and firstly went back to China (after my 9 years stay in Germany) in 2000, I have begun a series of efforts to promote possible contacts between IASS and Chinese semiotics (in different places and fields, including: semiotics, philosophy, history, literature, Chinese classics and film theory). Among them the more important ones were the following: at the Chinese Academy 2000, at the Zhejiang University 2002, at Chinese Academy 2004, at Shangdong University and Nanjing Normal University 2006, and this time in Nanjing 2008. Meanwhile I continued designing or co-organizing Chinese or comparative round tables in different IASS events:  at Berkeley 1994, at Mexico 1997, at Dresden 1999, at Lyon 2002/2004, and at Helsinki 2007. Among the above the most important ones regarding Chinese semiotics/IASS dialogues were those like: Beijing (literally: North Capital) 2004 and Nanjing (South Capital) 2006. In Beijing we tried to realize the multiply interdisciplinary dialogue, namely that between the western modern semiotics and Chinese traditional humanities (the result is not so successful) ; in Nanjing we realized, firstly in China, a substantial presence of IASS in China. As the designer of the two international conferences, I firstly cooperated with the former IASS president and then with the present president. In the former it was the IASS president who gained two grants from two German foundations and in the latter it was completely prepared by the Chinese organizer. During each of the two preparations we had overcome dozens of troubling details because of the cultural divergence. For promoting Chinese semiotics and its international contacts the non-academic aspects and the academic aspects are equally relevant. There is a quite different context of Chinese semiotics from the western or European-American ones. One of the main reasons for the successes of the related operations were due to my special conditions: 1) the stay in US, 2) academic practice in China (over 8 years I published or finished ca. 10 books in China, written and translated, including the latest one: 900-pp monograph about reinterpreting Chinese ethical history through semiotic and hermeneutic methods. Production location is outside China but the influence is inside China. Appointed by three Chinese institutions as guest senior research fellow I am actually affiliated with Chinese academic life. So my representativieness of Chinese semiotics is based on my actual academic involvement rather than on my political-geographic locality.) and 3) the communication in Internet (This makes person able to be a world personality: an agent is directly faced with the global semiotics. So, by means of my personal website I have kept a quite effective influence on Chinese academic readers in China. So I can directly talk to Chinese semiotic players constantly). Without the conditions of my stay outside China and Internet availability I can do nothing effective to promote international communications (That’s why Sebeok in his recommendation letter for my green card application pointed out to the authorities that my stay in US could help me play a more active academic role inside China ). The point in our e’ era no longer lies in the physical locality of the agent but in the effective communication. Thus, I have done those on the basis of my really international backgrounds. The identity of semiotics is multiply-cross-boundary: the lands, the disciplines, cultures and societies. Semiotics is in essence a World Learning which can no more defined and restricted by national identity. It is oriented toward a true intellectual globalization.

Since entering the Bureau, as a vice-president in charge of promoting Chinese and Asian semiotics, I have tried to do my best for carrying out my duty. After the failure of my several efforts in Asia (Japan, India and Korea) this Chinese one became true. It is a pity, however, that eventually no Asian scholars came to Nanjing. I’d like to see that Nanjing Symposium proves to be a success of IASS in its division of Asia and China.

2. What is Chinese Semiotics ?

What are the purposes of IASS for contacting Chinese semiotics? And who should be regarded as  belonging to Chinese semiotics? In fact, Chinese semiotics consists of three different levels:

A: The actual type: people from fields of foreign language teaching, practical linguistics and logic.
Because of various practical reasons the people in the fields are more
easily accessible to foreign semiotics. Also because of foreign language capability they are naturally the first scholars to organize international gatherings. But on the other hand, because of professional tradition in China, they are still less experienced in doing theoretical studies. The fields are ,however, more open to foreign thoughts and naturally the beginning introducers of foreign thoughts. We can say they form the first wave of the semiotic-stream into China. Because of the above, the people in the fields are also ready for organizing international gatherings. Therefore they show an intention and capability for organizing and leading the semiotic practice in China at the present stage. During the process they will certainly advance their scientific level gradually, going from the present type of teaching practice to the future type of scientific research.
B: The potential type: theoretical scholars in social and human sciences.

More and more scholars in those sciences are involved in semiotic studies but relatively less in the organizing form. But we must indicate that “B” will become the most important semiotic agents in China in near future in two senses: firstly they are more scientifically prepared and secondly their work is more closely related to the progress of social sciences. The latter is even a more important purpose of semiotics: to stimulate the revolutionary development of social and human sciences. So in any case either IASS or Chinese semiotics should take B as the more important objective, although its fruition can only come later or indirectly. But we IASS should do our best to go beyond A to B, or promote the effective link between A and B in China. The people in B will quickly join the international cooperation of semiotic studies in future because of their ever-increasing English capability and their wider international contacts in respective fields already available. Maybe we could realize more deeply a semiotic transformation of social sciences in China than in the West because there is less institutional restriction in China than in the West, as far as I observe. So in contacting B, IASS can even practice more semiotic tests to the emerging sciences of various disciplines than to the western ones which are too much institutionalized yet. And how to promote the solidarity between A and B is also one of our operations in the common task of IASS/Chinese semiotics. We can even regard this as the key to develop Chinese semiotics at a higher level.

C: The kernel type: Semiotic-transformed Chinese classics. The genuine renovating development in Chinese semiotics must lie in this national zone. Chinese classics uniquely preserves a continuous cultural documents over 3000 years indicating a completely different historical experience in human history. But the original formulation of it obstructs its effective communication with scientific theory. Semiotics, more effectively than all other western methodologies, will be the number one important tool to modernize its structure and functions and accordingly make it converge with the European-American theoretical traditions. Why and How? As I point out in many places, in human civilizations, the two essential dimensions are: the theoretical and the historical. If the former originates mainly in the West the latter must consist of different cultural traditions. The particular mode of Chinese history, including its cultural and intellectual parts, will therefore provide an organic components to the common historical stream of mankind.

Of course, the most western scholars cannot and do not need to be directly involved in this kind of studies ( There will be shaped an important separate  branch in our global semiotic movement: “Semiotic studies of Chinese traditional cultures”. How to build up a meaningful link between it and IASS will be one of my major concerns. This completely new type of semiotics in the world should develop itself separately or in some connection with IASS framework? That depends on how will we arrange our projects in China). But an indirect way of the related studies, after the semiotic reformulation of Chinese classics, will lead a profoundly illuminating effect on the Western theoretical forms. The task is therefore far from being a mere Chinese job; instead, it is also a goal indirectly related to entire social and human sciences of humankind. IASS should try to form this really strategic angle in thinking of and organizing programs for future. With this understanding, the interests of IASS in China will be far from being a one-sided introduction of western scholars’ own theories to Chinese scholars but also contains a deeper aim for self-improvements through contacting this first important Stranger or Other.

3. The Global Mind of IASS Agents Facing Chinese Semiotics

So, Chinese semiotics and the contacts between the former and IASS are related to the above three levels and their dynamic interconnection. The semiotics encounter of IASS/Chinese in China should be more comprehensive and more profound. For the purpose we should be more serious and more sincere in organizing the international cooperation. In the planned 2012 project in Nanjing, if realized, the above three levels should be touched at the same time, but with different degrees and scales. And how to make A, B, C work consistently together will be a highly skilled task requesting qualified international and national operators and cooperators. So, IASS should firstly trust in and rely on your Chinese partners working for the IASS projects. But the main task of 2012 event is certainly the introduction of European-American semiotics to the Chinese academia. The fact itself is already a big historic event in contemporary history (I was surprised at an international neglect of the deep historicity of the event because of a professional utilitarianism or a habitual provincialism). So, for 2012 event, first the congress will be exactly same like what we had for the past years in the West; and second, it will start a completely new era in semiotic history: touching on the most thick Chinese civilization heritage. Of course, for the task in the category C, the main role will be played by your Chinese colleagues. Please be more collective minded in dealing with this Asian division program in IASS. In the earlier periods semiotics had been completely a European-American practice, while the period of semiotic globalization requests a much expanded vision of the semiotic activity. Accordingly IASS should carry out a transformation of notion and practice from the European-American central to the globalization with respect to the triple [spatial-temporary-disciplinary] dimensions (the total history, the East-West inclusive, and all-disciplines).

 The progress of B and C in China will be also the fruit to be enjoyed by our western colleagues and the process of semiotic transformation firstly need the help of European-American semiotic experts from various fields. Every important semiotician must find his or her chance in China to introduce one’s own scholarship. IASS activities in China would not in any way bring about some negative effects to IASS itself. The related hesitation and suspicion only indicates an unfamiliarity of the western with the non-western culture and language. We Chinese know little European languages but we are not afraid to go to any strange land whose language we don’t know. Why our Western scholars could feel uneasy in face with strange language? The phobia for language and strange culture is unnecessary in e’ era and contrary to the tendency of semiotic globalization.  Semiotics and IASS request a stronger ethical aspect in reorganizing its future tasks. IASS needs to be more global and international in mentality and practice. Instead of taking IASS as the market for individual and national competition or prestige attaining, we should offer it a more ethical objective: to be devoted to the great goal of modernizing the retarded humanities of humankind through our global semiotic movement. So, semiotics is not another single discipline where agents seek their benefits through a market mechanism based on professional compartmentalization; it should look like what we know from the Enlightenment: a new type of humanist rational endeavors in this completely commercialized times.