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Semiotics and its double-institutional Aspects: As Analyzin

Date:2013-08-10 12:43Author:youzhengli
Semiotics and its double-institutional Aspects: As Analyzing Methods and as Institutionalized Objects Youzheng Li Abstract: The original reason of modern semiotic movement had been due to the general attemptto systematically advance the sem



Semiotics and its double-institutional Aspects:

As Analyzing Methods and as Institutionalized Objects


                              Youzheng Li



The original reason of modern semiotic movement had been due to the general attemptto systematically advance the semantic clarification of the discourses of the traditional humanities through getting rid of the domination of traditional philosophical-dogmatic stereotypes and by dint of the increased interdisciplinary-directed theoretical creations. The emerging single-disciplinary tendency of current semiotic scholarship caused by professional competitions and determinism of the marketing has stimulated semiotics to develop along a professional-utilitarian and methodological-pragmatic direction. The result of this tendency promotes its further disconnection from the original aim of contemporary semiotic movement directed to the scientific and rational progress of the theoretical humanities. Accordingly, the institutionalization of the single-disciplinary-directed semiotics caused by its commercial-professionalization could systematically weaken the scientific potential and creative energy of semiotic theories. On the other hand, however, a conception of “institutional semiotics” structured along the humanistic interdisciplinary direction can also become a highly effective methodological tool to be used to anatomize the multiple compositions and constitutions of the contemporary culture and academia, disclosing their various hidden ideological mechanisms and implicit functions. Therefore, we should still keep pay a dialectic attention to these double aspects of the institutional semiotics (the term refers especially to certain theoretical semiotics rather than the applied ones in this article) today.



Introduction: what is “institutional semiotics”


The problem of social-cultural-academic institutionalization first of all contains two aspects: the institutionalized phenomena in human history, which amounts to the description and analysis of those phenomena from an institutional point of view, and the modern study of the former in terms of the institutionalizing analysis of various sorts. Secondly, the institutionalizing devices can be further classified into two modes: the investigation of the institutionally determined phenomena and the ideological manipulation of the former. Or simply, they can be summarized in the following two modes: the institutionalized phenomena to be objectively described and scientifically analyzed and the methods creatively applied to the former. Accordingly, regarding the humanities the category can be divided into the special field of the academic activities in general and the humanistic learning in particular. With respect to semiotics our objects will be more specifically defined within the academic contexts. The title “institutional semiotics” can refer to (here always at the theoretical level) three different meanings: a. semiotics is used to study all social-cultural-academic phenomena which are institutionalized; b. semiotics is used to study semiotics itself that is also institutionalized; c. semiotics is manipulated by an institutional procedure for different purposes.


So-called institutional semiotics is a branch of so-called “general institutional analysis” with respect to the social and historical phenomenon culturally or academically institutionalized. It can be divided into two aspects: on one hand, the analysis of all kinds of social, cultural and academic institutions as such and the related institutionalized phenomena, and on the other, the application of the institutionalizing devices to those phenomena for any special purposes. The institutionalized phenomena also include those of the academic and semiotic institutions and institutionalization as such, and the institutionalizing devices can be especially applied to the scholarship and discourses of semiotics and other human sciences. Why only human sciences, within various categories of human knowledge, are mentioned here? The simplest answer is that both natural and social sciences, in different degrees of efficiency, are under the control or supervision of the principle of scientific objectivity and in reference to external reality, while human sciences, as so-called liberal arts, have on one hand lacked such a principle about the exactly objective examination and supervision and on the other innately connected with the subjective problems about spirit, values and faiths, which are nevertheless the most significant for human life. 


The issue of semiotic institutionalization implies two aspects in its scholarship: the static and the dynamic ones. The former is about anatomizing the multiple institutionalized phenomena of society, culture, academia and even semiotics itself, namely analyzing the semiotic manifestations from a multiple institutional point of view. Institutional semiotics in this sense operates with an inside analysis of semiotic institutions as well as with an external analysis of the institutional contexts of semiotics. The latter refers to the application of various institutionalizing tactics into the semiotic practices with an intention to ideologically influence their goals, methods as well as the desirable consequences. The semiotics is then taken as a mere means used to serve any kind of professional-utilitarian or cultural-ideological aims.


In light of the afore-mentioned explanation institutional semiotics keeps an innate link to or being overlapped with the habitually established semiotic-ideological analysis in modern times too. Or, more precisely, the both semiotic fields are mutually complementary with or merged into each other. In this sense there could be a more specially defined synthetic fields called as “the ideological-institutional semiotics” that can focus on the ideological aspects related to institutional analysis of semiotic affairs with respect to both its internal and external parts: namely the ideological-institutional analysis of certain semiotic phenomena and that of semiotics as such in connection with all related contexts, including political, historical, cultural and academic ones. In a sense, we could say that the combination of the semiotic, the institutional and the ideological parts forms a “trio of synthetic analysis”. In our present consideration the interest is especially put in the academic fields. More concretely, we may raise the two interconnected branches here: the (ideological-) institutional analysis of semiotics as such and the semiotic-ideological-institutional analysis of academia as a whole. For the investigation of these two semiotic branches as the thematic topics all other related contexts can be also involved in. These two semiotic-related scholarly subject matters are obviously also connected with our reflection on the general problem of the modernization of human sciences.


The remarkable part of the latest development of semiotic practices is further displayed in its anatomizing the institutional conditions of all humanistic fields as well as in exploring their respective formative processes and functional structures. In certain sense it is the semiotics of cinematic apparatus that instructively helps shape a new scholarly aspect of semiotics: the institutional-ideological analysis in general. The latter explores the causal links between institutional functions and their cultural-academic consequences. This new semiotic model based on this single field can be taken as a heuristic model and applied into different fields. As a result, the semiotic institutional analysis, including its both static and dynamic modes, can provide not only semiotics but also the general humanities with an effective analytical tool. On the other hand, the pan-institutional-analyzing semiotics can also be used to analyze and study itself and then to raise several related questions from the institutional angle, such as: what is the semiotic today? How it works now? Which results can it produce? By whom and for whom it works? And what are its identity, position and roles within the humanities?


  1. Intellectual backgrounds of Contemporary Semiotic Movement  


The main task of the modern semiotic way of thinking lies in the first attempt to more precisely and effectively redefine the conceptual units of humanist discourses and more relevantly distinguish between different levels of reasoning within the humanities which are traditionally characterized by their blurry and vague semantic expressions. The eventual purpose lies in reconstructing more scientifically discourses in the humanities, including semiotics.  Far from been simply a result of so-called autonomous semiotic history, the contemporary western semiotic achievements had been attainted mainly owing to the interdisciplinary-scientific and de-philosophical-central theoretical developments in the modern humanities. The same reason can be used to explain the origin of the French structural movement in the 1960’s. The structural-semiotic movement in France became the typical development of contemporary semiotics because it indicates two main characters: the humanistic-interdisciplinary operations and the de-metaphysical/de-ontological epistemology applied to the theoretical parts of human sciences. Accordingly we see so important non-philosophical-typed theoretical innovations were created during the period of the structural movement and the new theories have accordingly influenced the theoretical orientations and constitutions in various branches of the humanities since the late 60’es. At the same time the very term “human sciences” firstly prevailed too in France. Differently from the spirit of German Geistwissenschaft of  the earlier twenty-century, that still intended to lay its theoretical foundation on philosophy, French human sciences have tended to create and pluralize the new scientific-theoretical modes of thinking about humanistic learning, arts, culture and history. The interdisciplinarity of semiotic-structuralism is embodied among different human sciences, which makes it essentially different from all other kinds of interdisciplinary operations, especially from that prevailed in America. The newly revised term “epistemology” there displays the special meaning that keeps an obvious distance from any traditional philosophical conceptions of epistemology, metaphysics and ontology. Thus we may say that the contemporary semiotic movement mainly guided by the French structural trend accords with the essential request of semiotics for the more relevant reorganization of the semantic and institutional compositions of the traditional humanities whose theoretical basis had been all the time rooted in some philosophical frameworks. If this great intellectual development, which can be historically compared with that of the French Enlightenment, had been completed because of thoroughly employing the humanistic-interdisciplinary strategy, the cross-cultural type of semiotic practice that has been formed since two decades ago in the non-western areas, will perhaps lead to another turn of the epistemological revolution of the humanities.


The original founders of   modern semiotics indicated different ways of interdisciplinary adventures in their creative ways of thinking, such as Saussure, Peirce and Husserl and many others before and after them. When the contemporary semiotic movement attained its higher level mainly owing to the French structuralism characterized by its multiply interdisciplinary activities or deconstructing the traditional-institutionalization in the humanities. It was the French type of human sciences that indicates a more relevant feature of interdisciplinarity realized in the current western humanities. According to this new revolutionary direction of the humanities the first trait is exactly displayed in its tendency against any kind of philosophical-fundamentalism. The philosophical as the long-standing, and even uniquely privileged traditional discipline in western history, is decentralized to become the one among many others in the humanist family; or, it first of all stands in equal terms with other humanities branches with respect to their academic positions and roles. In other words, appeared many non-philosophy-founded theoretical modes in human sciences, such as the linguistic, literary-theoretical, anthropological, various artistic (especially the cinematic), sociological, psychological and psychoanalytical and the others. These remarkable academic creations in the history of human knowledge were technically due to the original interdisciplinary or de-traditional-institutionalizing breaking-up measures taken by the structural semiotics. Furthermore, the results of the French structuralist movement have exercised a widely substantial influence on the composition and formation of the humanities in the West since then. Its effect has been obviously larger, deeper and more lasting than that happened in the pre-War Germany in the earlier 20’s century. By the way, this is why we Chinese at first paid a much more intensive attention to the development of French semiotic structuralism than to other western semiotic achievements since the late 1970’es; unexpectedly we felt something seriously important emerging in the French humanities during the same period when China’s Cultural Revolution had existed. Compared with the French trend all other semiotic achievements are relatively lacking in such a strong humanistic-theoretical interdisciplinarity, or still remain within the philosophy-central or quasi-natural-scientific-directed theoretical frameworks.


We find that structuralism basically indicates a rational, quasi-positivist or quasi-scientific inclination. Even the earlier thoughts of Roland Barthes and Jacque Lacan certainly imply some special types of sceptical rationality and psychological positivity. Its lasting contribution to the humanistic intellectual revolution is expressed in its rationalistic penchant that is realized in its interdisciplinary operations and therefore create a more original and inspiring new way of thinking about the humanities. Furthermore, this new way of humanistic thinking even indicates an especially suitable connection with the requests of the just refreshed modernizing turn of Chinese traditional humanities. By the way we shouldn’t be confused between the idealist criterion regarding the intellectual orientation and any actual (including both positive and negative) fruits historical-occasionally realized in the related concrete practices with respect to the humanities. The practical academic productions are one thing, and the scientific quality or value of the same productions is another thing. The conception of “human sciences” basically formed during the structuralist era keeps the scientific character or the interest in scientific truth through their scholarly operations, which had been also cherished by the earlier Geistwissenshaft despite their different understandings of the conception of the scientific about human affairs.  After all, the both belong to the orientation of the rational-constructive and scientific-directed intellectual line in human history.


As clearly known by us, structuralism is basically overlapped with its humanistic semiotics (semiology). The structural semiotics as a movement becomes a new-typed theoretical efforts within the new humanities that are characterized by their interdisciplinary scientific direction through deconstructing the traditional academic institutions, including especially the professional institutionalization of the western philosophical genealogy. This scholarly direction is therefore equivalent to its de-philosophy-central trait in theoretical pursuits. We should always be aware that the semiotic-theoretical problems are always innately linked with the renewed evaluation and reorganization of the identity of the traditional philosophy with its stereotyped historical lineage. Therefore the both belong to the very center of the epistemological reflection on structure and function of the traditional humanities theoretically based on that ideologically fixed lineage. Since the rise of postmodernist and post-structural trends some current French theoretical thoughts have been turning to be contrary to the above-mentioned two rational-directed characters displayed in the structuralist movement. (Unfortunately, this change of intellectual fashions has been widely taken as a new “correct line” replacing the old “wrong line”!) The quasi-rational or quasi-positivist tendency of the human sciences along this line has been weakened or even mostly replaced by the irrational post-modern theory that tends to use its irrational type of philosophizing to further undermine the human rationality. This typical irrational character even makes the trend be the enemy of the conception “human sciences” otself. Furthermore, the theoretical reasoning in the humanities is interpreted as a special kind of quasi-artistic one. Consequently, since twenty years ago, a nihilist or extreme relativist type of ontological philosophizing in some sense is taken by many scholars as the new theoretical “foundation” of semiotic practice once again, namely many semiotic scholars even try to rely on this fashionable philosophical foundation without thinking that the essence of contemporary semiotic movement is just expressed in its de-philosophical or interdisciplinary-theoretical penchant. No doubt, this irrational turn in certain current semiotic schools is part of the general tendency of the current postmodernist humanities. As a result, the contemporary French theoretical history, either in human sciences in general or in semiotics in particular, exhibits an epistemologically mixed picture containing both rational and irrational creations.


Meanwhile we see another different type of anti-humanistic-interdisciplinary theoretical tendency emerging mainly in North America: the quasi-natural-scientific one, including those based on cognition sciences, language philosophy, natural philosophy and especially pragmatic philosophy which also indicate an inclination towards some scientific or philosophical reductionism of various kinds. And these rigidly scientific-directed trends of doing semiotics further tend to treat the semiotic scholarship as a new discipline with its own independent (namely non-humanistic-interdisciplinary) features. According to this conception semiotics should be taken as one single discipline among many others, so as to even openly exhibit its anti-interdisciplinary character with respect to the humanities. In light of this way of thinking semiotic theory turns to be linked to certain (scientific-typed and language-philosophy-typed) philosophical foundations once again.


As we point out above, the essential interdisciplinarity of semiotics signifies the theoretical interaction among main branches of the humanities, such as philosophy, history, literature, arts and religion; and, the semiotic interdisciplinary is the most typical one among others. That means above all contemporary semiotics is a pluralistically innovated phenomenon realized in various branches of the humanities; it is far from being a mere new discipline especially created or derived from the ready philosophical theories. Its revolutionary spirit is expressed in a deeper and more comprehensive reflection on and criticism of the theoretical ways of the traditional humanities as a whole. Therefore the modern semiotic world can be overlapped with the entire world of the humanities with respect to the related thematic scope. The semiotic represents the epistemological and methodological tools as such within the entire humanities or human sciences with respect to their various aspects such as semantic, logical, inferential and predictable ones. The post-war contemporary semiotic movement guided by the French line is part of the innovative and modernizing efforts made in the entire new humanities. Anti-humanistic-interdisciplinary reactions of certain semiotic-theoretical efforts, including those postmodern schools based on certain philosophical and quasi-philosophical foundations on one hand and the narrowly defined quasi-scientific and scientific-philosophical ones on the other, can be pragmatically converged into one shared tendency: to build up a new single discipline in terms of the operative and thematic restrictions of the existing semiotic learnings so as to be more convenient to survive and win in the present-day highly academic-competitive circumstances.


2. Global Commercialization and Semiotic Professionalization


The recent development of western semiotic ways of thinking goes parallel with the post-Cold-War development of the global commercialization. The latter has led to the overall strengthened institutionalization of all academic activities in accordance with an absolutely dominant, commercial-directed life-philosophy with respect to the social, cultural, academic and intellectual phenomena. Under this Post-Cold-War commercialized conditions the nature and mode of global cultural life have also consistently transformed to be suited to the pressing demands of the technological-commercial power about the purely-entertaining-directed or sensually-pleasing type of culture, or simply, a businessman-taste culture. This popular-cosumerist culture of the global commercialized world today must logically turn to be spiritually superficial, non-intellectual, or even anti-intellectual in nature. Then we see the new cultural modes like electronic cartoon, popular songs and dances, amusing sports and various commercialized competitive games prevailing all over the world. The so-called popular culture today just means a totally commercialized culture whose nature of amusement and consumerism is also determined at the technical-institutional level. The tendency can naturally satisfy the cultural needs of majority of people who are almost totally pan-technical-directed in their education, knowledge and tastes. Thus, we live not only in a commercialized but also in a technically organized world. Such an anti-high-intellectual-culture must be contrary to the spirit of the humanistic-theoretical practices. In fact this culture of technical-domination is also controlling, by dint of the marketing systems, a technical-ideological-guided production of academic life that is logically non-humanistic-theoretical in spirit.  Accordingly, the non-scientific-directed humanities can be more conveniently led and more easily manipulated by the commercial-technical domination. It is clear that the postmodernist idea to make the humanities something quasi-artistic completely accords with the same bias cherished by the technical-commercial domination that prefers to make the human sciences something like the mere spiritual entertainment lacking in any socially and culturally substantial impact. A theoretically weakened type of human sciences will become easier to be put in intellectual obedience to the technical-commercialized direction of society and culture. It is quite clear that only the scientific strength in the humanistic knowledge could become the intellectual and practical force to at least theoretically counterpoise the direction of culture and academia that are basically controlled by the technical-commercial-domination.  It is interesting to note that the thoroughly commercialized globalization has unified the general life style of mankind today regardless of their respective political-socially systematic diversity. And this is the very circumstance under which human sciences and semiotics struggle for their effective existence and creative development. Thus, there exist two kinds of intelligent practices in human life: the scientific-technical-commercial one and the cultural-intellectual-humanistic one. In our completely materialized civilization today the former exercises its absolute mastership while the latter remains to be dependent and even parasitic on the former. Therefore at present, human sciences, especially semiotics, must first of all pay a close attention to this genuine social-cultural condition that becomes really determinative to their existence and activities at present and in future.


In this situation the humanities, including semiotics, have more and more become certain parasitic activities in current societies. The main reason is due to a historically new aspect: they have to firstly choose feasible ways for securely existing under the conditions controlled by the technical-commercial powers; and secondly they have to maintain a professionally permissible existence with the financial support of the former. This consideration from professional profits must turn to restrict the intellectual freedom of the humanistic scholars who know clearly about the actual “absolute imperative” that the cultural and human-scientific products should be also put into the academic marketing for checking and recognition. How to plan, organize and direct one’s intellectual practices in the humanistic professions becomes a matter that the scholars should firstly take account of within this socially determined context. As a result, the possibility of humanistic practices becomes to be more and more determined and controlled by two factors: this objective social-professional preconditions and the scholar’s practical worry about the way to secure the related material profits. The both converge to weaken the ethical will of the academic subjectivity.


If the above description is generally correct, the basic criterion of the current humanistic-scholarly practices have been mainly determined by a non-scientific psychological motive: the desirability or feasibility of possible success in the humanistic-professional marketing, that consists of the strictly guided education, occupation, publication and social effects, all of which must be suited with the forcible demands of the deep-rooted social and academic Establishment. In a word, as for the humanities, the motive and goal in the related academic practices have to be changed, and the final effective criterion of the human scientific studies, will be the professional profits rather than the scientific truth.

It is noteworthy that the post-modernist’s nihilism takes a position against “objective truth” and rationality, exactly according with the domineering logic of this professional-utilitarian determinism. Accordingly the humanistic scholars should obey the institutional rules basically and eventually fixed by technical-commercial power. In this sense, we may state that some post-modernist philosophy is exactly representative of the spirit of the technical-commercialized era today锛沷r, we may say that the postmodernist philosophy is a typical philosophy of our commercialized times. Therefore, when natural sciences still stick on their traditional goal for searching for objective truth and obtaining intelligent power for objective judgments and reasonable prediction, the human sciences couldn’t help giving up, relatively at least, the same scientific goal.


  1. Intensified Commercialization of Postmodernist Times and

The Weakened Interdisciplinarity of Semiotics


The strengthened professionalization of the humanistic academy naturally leads to the multiple institutionalizations in their scholarly conditions and activities. Exactly there exist two kinds of academic institutionalization: the hard one and soft one; or the materially/behaviorally fixed institutional organizations and intellectual/operative rules for organizing scholarly activities. The latter includes intellectual attitude, scholarly aims, practical directions, operative procedures and methods, selection of subject matters, standards and rules of academic publishing and the related marketing, as well as the employment policy on campus and in institutions, etc. All the above items are regulated by the socially fixed professional mechanisms. The objective for the professional success becomes the first important motivation and criterion for scientific practices in the current humanistic-academic communities of all countries, and the professionalization make the chosen academic material-documents and all other academic ways merely as the means to be used for attaining this commercial-professional purposes. Accordingly, the traditional criterion towards objective truth in scholarly life is at first mostly excluded from humanistic epistemology. Therefore, the term “scientific” in the humanities is only used in a metaphorical sense. As a result, the reasoning of the humanities tends to become a rhetoric-styled practice following the socially acceptable patterns that are directly and indirectly determined by the conditions of the academic establishments. It is the same that some semiotic schools have followed the same intellectual games set up under the same conditions.


Originally, the modern semiotic movement searched for semantic clarity and more reasonable reformulation of their scientific discourses. The search for semantic clarity is based on the belief in existence of the objective truth with respect to society, history and culture, so people want to have more precisely defined concepts and terms to represent these realities outside human subjectivity. The epistemological rejection of the objective reality in the humanistic world must lead to the rejection of the term scientific truth for the humanities. Accordingly, semiotics is liable to become another kind of arts or intelligent games that can be designed and operated similarly as what true artists liberally do. Under the nihilist pressure of this postmodernist philosophy some semiotic practices attempt to be epistemologically reunified with that irrational philosophy, intending to be theoretically more closely reliant on the powerful philosophical support. The combination between the postmodernist elements and certain semiotic practices will co-work to form certain single-discipline that can more easily act in the commercialized academic systems. On the other hand, the pan-scientific or natural-pragmatic philosophies support another type of the single-disciplinary-directed semiotics too, as what we point out above. The both directions happen to collaborative in shaping the same turning point that the semiotic becomes the single-disciplinary in constitution and functioning once again. Accordingly, the semiotic organizations of their activities tend to be engaged in the professional-utilitarian pursuits of the disciplinary agents.


Academic professional institutionalization of the western humanities and the social-culturally commercialized development itself for the past one hundred years have been favorable for the establishment of the autonomous existence of the humanities in the gradual segregation from reality at various levels such as the historical, social, political, and even scientific ones. This general tendency also influences semiotics as the part of the humanities. If so, why there is a special problem of semiotic institutionalization? The semiotic scholarship is firstly characterized by its inclination to deconstruct the traditional-institutionalized scholarship; the interdisciplinary operation itself is indeed a measure for breaking down the fixed institutions of disciplinary-compartmentalization of modern traditional academia. In the sense of the hard academic institutionalization the interdisciplinarity refers to the cross-disciplinary-professional organizations and procedures, and in terms of the soft one it refers to the cross-disciplinary intellectual criteria, designs and all related arrangements, as what we describe above. The latter is certainly more typically related to the de-institutionalizing procedure. The revolutionary spirit of semiotics just lies in its special capability to break up the traditional-institutionalized phenomena. When semiotics itself is ideologically manipulated and professionally fixed on its own institutional procedures along the anti-interdisciplinary line it will much weaken or lose this traditional potential for that pan-semantic analytical role. Therefore the term “institutional semiotics” can refer to the two different conceptions: as the way to de-construct the traditional-academic-institutional organizations and as the result of certain institutionalization made in semiotic scholarship. The latter can either promote or obstruct the interdisciplinary development of semiotics.

For example, the postmodern single-disciplinary-directed institutionalization of semiotics can be realized along the two directions, as we point out above. The postmodernist and post-structural trends, which have been shaped during the highly commercialized world regarding society and culture, claim to be anti-rational and even anti-scientific in their intellectual attitude. This new French postmodernist intellectual fashion indicates an quasi-artistic way of using discourses produced by the traditional and modern humanities. Thus, the same intellectual heritage of the humanities can be used by different kinds of the user who accept different epistemological positions and methodological devices: in brief, the scientific-directed and non-scientific-directed kinds. The situation is in some sense similar to that in Chinese-culture-related academic operations employed by western Sinology and modern Chinese theoreticians dealing with the same traditional material although these two have different academic goals and methods (the topic will be further discussed later in this article). It is also highly interesting that it is the postmodernist thinkers who prefer to adopt a self-contradictory position to fight the scientific efforts in the humanities by their chosen strategy: on one hand they declare a position to deconstruct the traditional philosophy and on the other hand, when the structural-semiotic and other rational movements obtains more fruitful scientific achievements, they claims to be the defendant of philosophy as a traditional discipline again so as to display a highly pragmatic-opportunist style in handling theoretical problems of the humanities. So they become the active player of philosophical games again; that means, they like to make a great use of the semantically ambiguous discourses and less definitive reasoning historically implied in the traditional philosophy. As the result, the self-claimed disciplinary-deconstructing strategy turns to be the supporter of the leading traditional disciplinary institution: the philosophical ontology and metaphysics. Therefore discourses of the discipline “philosophy” can be firstly used or manipulated to play a role for deconstructing the semiotic disciplinarity. According to the postmodernist angle it seems that humanity does not need the rational or scientific methods to handle social, historical, cultural and spiritual problems. According to this logic, facing the historical criticism people can only deal with various critical situations “pragmatically”? (The most absurd postmodernist historical theory is expressed in the statement that there is no “historical truth”.) This idea happens to be consistent with the commercial point of view leading to the persistent inferiority of the humanities to the natural and technical sciences.


The central idea of modern semiotic movement is expressed in both the modern interdisciplinary devices and the traditional principle of rationality alike. It is the interdisciplinary approaches against the existing scholarly systems that set up the various new epistemological directions for the contemporary semiotic movement. If one of the postmodernist traits is displayed in its opposition to the scientific direction of semiotics and then the quasi-natural-scientific-directed semiotics of various types tends to be contrary to the humanistic-interdisciplinary methods. The latter also includes the scientific-philosophic trend, intending to lay a narrowly defined scientific foundation for a new discipline with the same term “semiotics”. And then we see a more popular tendency occurring recently that both the post-modernist and the quasi-scientific semiotic practices converge to form a common request to search for the different philosophical foundations for their semiotic practices. This common tendency in searching for some semiotic-philosophical bases along different ways and manners (to say, the dogmatic-rational (scientific) philosophy and the irrationally nihilist philosophy) therefore lead to the same result that intends to weaken the humanistic-interdisciplinarity in semiotic methodology. Or, more precisely, the semiotics based on humanistic-interdisciplinarity (the interdisciplinarity among different disciplinary theories in human sciences) could be replaced by other kinds of interdisciplinary combinations regarding sciences, technology and arts. Theoretically speaking, the so-called inter-disciplinary-oriented way of thinking in semiotics first of all means to take the de-philosophical-central theoretical orientation of any kind and to create new typed theory through promoting the interaction of theoretical sources of different human sciences. The revolutionary development of semiotic theories of structuralism is essentially due to the independent development of the theoretical innovations in various branches of human sciences. As a result, the both postmodernist-directed semiotics and quasi-scientific-philosophical one are combined, through international institutional-professional collaboration, to shape certain new type of the semiotic discipline. Thus the identity of the semiotics as the new single discipline reorganized following the commercial-professional requests will greatly lose its original theoretical character. Why such strange combination could happen around the turn of the new century? Thinking more deeply, it is due to the pressure of academic commercialization and professionalization of our times. For the sake of individual scholars to secure the professional success the mode of single-disciplinary existence seems to be more favorable for the academic operation in an intensively competitive communities.  Put other way, both directions (the irrational and narrowly-rational) cherish the same goal: to struggle for the success in cultural-academic marketing. It is no difficulty to grasp that the competitive success can be obtained by dint of choosing any kind of objects and methods as long as the latter can be artificially manipulated to produce operative efficiency. Thus the scientific idealism has been replaced with the professional-commercialized one.


The above-mentioned new epistemological turns in the current semiotic trends can be also traced back to its historical situation. We find that there exists an interconnection between the philosophical-central semiotic theory, the single-disciplinary-turned semiotics and the commercial-professionalized semiotics. As well known, the contemporary semiotic movement basically consists of two divergent intellectual traditions: the current French humanistic-interdisciplinary drive and the modern Anglo-American linguistic-philosophical and pragmatistic drives. The fact that postmodernist thoughts attack the new conception of the human sciences can also proves its oppositional attitude against the idea of proper semiotics. In retrospective to the French intellectual history, its essentially positivist character had produced the Enlightenment two hundred years ago and the Structuralism later in the middle of last century. Either French contemporary structural-semiotic movement or her historical revolution against the traditional intellectual Establishment can be relevantly reduced to a basically empirical positivism in a broad sense. Therefore, either structuralism or its related semiotics indicates a special type of positivism that naturally contains the scientific elements. We should evaluate the positivist-scientific elements as such which are our basic materials for reconstructing the new human sciences. Of course, once again we shouldn’t mix the positive intellectual traits with its possible negative social-political-practical consequences in historical processes. The epistemological and pragmatic gap between the general principles and practical outcomes always exists in human history. While the lack of faith in scientific truth and the motive for professional profits that are based on irrational epistemology must certainly lead to the serious weakness of semiotic-theoretical capability.


  1. The cross-cultural development of semiotics: the related Chinese experience


The past three decades in Chinese history is generally called the New Period. The difference between the new and the old periods, besides many things, is especially expressed in the gradually increased liberal attitude of the government towards the western academic thoughts concerning the social and human sciences in the New Period. As well known, the Old Period was characterized by its strictly maintained Lenin-Stalinism that takes western social and human sciences as the officially defined ideological enemy. The development of Chinese new humanities in the New Period has been formed through a clear contrast with that of the Old Period: the contrast between the academic lines between the rational-scientific line in the New one and the irrational/non-scientific line of the Old one. On the other hand, when the new Chinese humanities begin to contact with their western counterparts all results of scholarly developments in western historical stages have streamed into China all at the same time, accordingly we are faced with both modernist and postmodernist ways of the humanistic thinking almost simultaneously. What kind of proper attitude or position Chinese scholars should take with respect to the current complicated western intellectual situations then?


For the sake of more clarifying the historical background concerned let’s firstly describe in brief the modern developments of Chinese social and human sciences for the past century.


  1. From the beginning of the century to the beginning of Japanese aggression (1900-1937) there was a remarkably successful modernizing development of Chinese natural-social-human sciences. The fruitful academic results of the period become the main basis for the next development of modern Chinese culture and academia.
  2. From the War to the end of the Cultural Revolution (1937-1978) the development of Chinese social sciences remained in the slowly progressing or even stagnant states in both the Mainland and other Chinese communities. Yes, Hong Kong and Taiwan kept their relatively developing tendencies in the humanities but most of the products were made in philological and practical levels. The theoretical achievements in the their education and academia of the oversea areas were basically Anglo-American practical-pragmatic-directed in nature, gaining little about the new theoretical developments in the new Continental humanities.
  3. From the New Period of the Mainland to the present (1978-2012), namely for the past three decades, all Chinese communities have shared the ever-increased theoretical interest in social and human sciences emerging in all parts of the West. The intellectual achievements of current Western European Continent have been widely introduced into Chinese communities since the late seventies; and it is noteworthy that the main works have been done firstly by scholars living in the Mainland in the New Period, rather than by those scholars living in oversea Chinese communities despite that it is the latter who have kept much lasting and closer contacts with the West. Besides what is pointed out above, those oversea Chinese societies with narrower territories can only make use of their limited historical sources and practical energy to focus on the scientific-technical-commercial projects. And on the other side most graduate students from Hong Kong and Taiwan got their training in America which itself had just started its own new theoretical investigations about current Continental humanities since the end of the War. While many Chinese-American professors teaching in the American humanities belong only to the discipline of  “China Studies” and they naturally have known not much about contemporary western humanist theories. This historical background can explain why during the 1980’s times most Chinese translations of modern and current European-Continental humanistic theories were made firstly by the scholars living in the Mainland of China rather than by those living in Hong Kong and Taiwan which have kept continuously close connections with the West..


The above historical review can also exhibit a present-day contrast of the intellectual roles between Chinese scholars remaining in the Mainland and those working in the West or in the oversea Chinese communities. It is the former who play the role of introducing current western humanistic theoretical thoughts to Chinese cultural-academic societies. This fact also explains why it is the Chinese academia in the Mainland has started the semiotic movement rather than those Chinese who get training in the West. By the way, generally speaking, the Chinese achievement in introducing modern western humanistic thoughts for the past three decades has been basically made by Chinese scholars themselves through their independent investigations. Because the western graduate-educational level remains scientifically elementary, and the relatively backward conditions of the Chinese communities cannot provide those Chinese scholars who get training in the West with a favorable humanistic-scientific circumstances for their continuing advancement of theoretical studies. Furthermore, the fact also indicates the consequence of the western institutionalized graduate programs regarding the humanities as such that can only produce the conditions for humanistic theoretical training at a level of mediocre quality. Such a standardized and professional-directed training can hardly secure a guarantee for the advanced theoretical learning in the humanities after their graduation. As a matter of fact, the obvious shortcomings of the present western graduate-educational system highly institutionalized lies in its restricted possibility for students to perform the creative or original way of thinking or for widely reading in addition  to that the students are all the time worried about future employment situations. If such institutional shortcomings exist in the western higher educations today, the similar sone must become doubly serious in the non-western areas. But on the other hand, from a professional point of view the institutionalized mechanism of training will anyhow workable and profitable, because any chosen humanist-historical-technical materials can be anyhow effectively applied to any kind of professional-directed training and made suitable for the existing marketing. Therefore the change of the epistemological criteria in the humanistic training further commercialized has nothing to do with the efficiency of its application to certain professionally determined systems, no matter whether the criteria are scientific truth or pragmatic success.   Losing the scientific goals for objective truth and the comprehensive knowledge, the potential of scholars for the purely intellectual-spiritual inquiry about human sciences must be systematically deteriorated.


The contemporary Chinese semiotics exactly started since the very beginning of the New Period. Concretely, the direct stimulation of Chinese semiotics came by chance from the initial contacts with the initially imported literature of current structural-semiotic cinematic theory and literary theory. The more fundamental reason for choosing this intellectual line was due to the general reflection of the Chinese humanities on their past experiences during the Twenty Century. The main points of that critical ambition lie in examining the non-scientific and even irrational mistakes in the past humanist ideology prevailing in both the traditional period and the earlier modern periods as well as in inquiring into a more reasonable and more scientific orientation for the new Chinese social sciences. And the refreshed national efforts for establishing new social and human sciences must be faced with the currently controversial western ideological turmoil and forced to make a reasonable choices from divergent and even contradictory sources. We began to understand quickly that we have to more independently reorganize our own desirable arrangement of the western theoretical sources from all fields of western academia. Without the ideological bias caused by any kinds of established academic institutional systems an independent reflection on the desirable theoretical orientations has been naturally formed on the basis of several primary intellectual principles that can be summarized in the following 5 spiritual lines:


      a.   Theoretical and practical rationalism of ancient Greece and Roma; (idealism and rationality)

  1. Inductive-logical empiricism in England; (natural and social reality)
  2. Search for deductive-logical foundation in Germany; (systematic reasoning)
  3. Social-cultural positivism in France; (operational epistemology).
  4. Historical-ethical humanism implied in 3000-year intellectual history in China; (mundane ethical faith)


So, from very beginning of the New Period our semiotic interests were stimulated by a general concern about a more reasonable and more effective type of new social and human sciences as a whole. This preferred interest was initially due to the purely scientific idealism cherished by us and had nothing to do with the contemporary western professional determinism. And the working principles for reorganizing our epistemological and methodological knowledge were fixed in reference to the general intellectual sources of all civilizations as well as to our particular experience in Chinese history. That means the arising of most important part of current Chinese semiotic thoughts had nothing to do with the influence of the contemporary western educational systems. Thus, the top guiding principles for us have always been deduced from afore-mentioned 5 spiritual lines that should be creatively recombined to find various relevantly practical ways to reconstruct our humanistic-scientific projects. In this sense, current semiotics has entered China naturally together with several other Continental streams of thought such as phenomenology, hermeneutics, structuralism and their applications in different fields. We have to deal with them independently by ourselves without just  passively following the contemporary western trends happening to be influential on campus. Gradually, however, there have emerged the sharp confrontations between two different scholarly attitudes towards the western humanistic studies in Chinese academia: the independently originated ones and the younger ones who come back from the western campus. The latter are of course liable to follow the current western fashions indicating both the advantage and disadvantage caused by the backgrounds.


The 5 original spiritual lines should be selectively and relevantly combined to help construct certain new type of humanistic scientific systems, including semiotics, in our new century. In other words, whether for the new human sciences in general or for semiotics in particular, the guiding principles should be determined by the top pluralist-rational criteria. Therefore, we understand that rationality is plural in essence. According to my judgment, our basic guiding line for reconstructing Chinese social and human sciences can only be fixed on the basis of the human rationality Therefore we have to be bravely and firmly confronted with the highly complicated and extremely huge materials of contemporary western humanistic thoughts and make efforts to learn from each of them at first; but simultaneously we also have to strengthen our independent and critical consciousness in order to more wisely select from different intellectual patterns and then recombine them for our independent projects. Regarding the semiotic practice in China this position has been obviously different from another two tendencies also popular in China: the one formed in the fields of foreign language departments and foreign literature studies, who are liable to rashly accept any fashionable thought arising in Continental Europe and America, and that mainly formed in the fields of logic, linguistics and scientific philosophy, who are liable to follow the narrow-scientifically defined semiotic learning prevailing in Anglo-America. And the both share the same the stereotyped patterns in different kinds of comparative studies through directlly juxtaposing the Chinese and western materials co-presenting the superficial similarity and difference of the both. But, on the whole, Chinese semiotics will be far from being so simplistically organized along the customary way of the international comparative literature. And, on the other side, the so-called Chinese semiotic theory cannot be organized on the basis of any philosophical schools either. In my opinion, we have to think about the problem in a deeper way according to a set of more comprehensive and profound principles, such as those mentioned above. One of the main reasons lies in that semiotics is taken by us as merely the organic constituting part of the entire humanities and as an anatomizing-synthetizing tool for reorganizing knowledge of social and human sciences. Therefore our intellectual horizon must be comprehensive enough to focus on the entire system of the humanities. This epistemological position, from very beginning, helps us avoid a purely professional-motivated determinism that is fixed directly by the current conditions of western semiotic fashions much influenced by professional competition.


When Chinese semiotics started to join the international semiotic activities since the early 80’s we have been more and more clear about a scholarly necessity to introduce the cross-cultural elements to the western semiotics as well, if the latter seriously wanted to become the very basis for a genuine semiotic movement in the world. Accordingly we became more concerned with the problem about how to construct the Chinese semiotics properly? So-called Chinese semiotics consists of two parts: the learning from western semiotics and the reorganizing of the new field of semiotics in connection with Chinese historical, social, cultural and scholarly contexts. So Chinese semiotics should first of all explore the multiple institutionalizing backgrounds as the following:


  1. A more comprehensive view of the western semiotic-theoretical composition that consists of its Continental and Anglo-American directions and their larger institutional contexts. Starting from our experience in the structural semiotic movement, differently from most ever-increasingly professionalized tendency of various western semiotic schools, we are focusing on an attention directly towards the rich potential of wider and deeper interdisciplinary operations within western humanities regardless of whether they are popular or not in the current West. In terms of this independent principle we have to from time to time appeal to the above-mentioned higher spiritual lines.
  2. As regards Chinese semiotics we are faced with a more complicated academic situation that is connected with both its relationship to the Chinese tradition and to its relationship to the western tradition. The both are first of all related to the general problem of the modernization of Chinese humanities. So Chinese semiotics is the essential part of the modernizing projects of Chinese humanities. With this more comprehensive background Chinese semiotics must be something that is obviously beyond the fields of comparative literature and Sinology.
  3. Connected with the above, the problem of Chinese semiotics is part of Chinese humanities in general and the latter is today ever more increasingly close to the special influence of the international sinologic network which is theoretically weaker in grasping advanced modern theoretical knowledge and is motivated by a higher professionally utilitarian purpose. But on the other hand, because of the special historical-political backgrounds, this already internationalized sinologic network keeps a special privilege at home and abroad to interfere with and influence on the tasks of the modernization of Chinese thoughts and academic affairs by means of a superficial pragmatism. As a result, the current modernizing process of the Chinese humanities is experiencing a sharp tension between the non-theoretical-directed pan-sinologic scholarship and the modern-theoretical-directed reformative programs of the Chinese humanities. By the way, the theoretical-backward sinologic-network is also supported by the international trio of “natural-scientific/technical/commercial powers” that remains to be ignorant of the necessity for the truly theoretical progress of social and human sciences, or even tends to make the latter be lost in their conservative-philological-parasitic state.   


Practically, within the current Chinese academic life, the situation of Chinese humanities and semiotics indicates the same complicated tendency: The higher education in China has just launched the programs for professionalizing and institutionalizing basically following the current western educational patterns. This institutionalizing tendency in Chinese academia and education would lead to a negative effect on any original and creative potential of the advanced theoretical scholarship. That’s why we attempt to highlight an ethical spirit to encourage the more independent studies in accord with the higher rational principles. The essence and significance of Chinese semiotics, however, can hardly be estimated superficially by the present-day professional semiotic activities that indeed display a more and more active and energetic thrust merely owing to a professional utilitarianism.


The upcoming Nanjing 11th IASS Congress will be a great event that contains a multiply historical significance in global academic history, as I point out in many other places. In our conception it will be different from the regular activities of the international semiotic activities organized in the West. First of all, it will become the converging arena of multiple intellectual trends in the global academic world rather than a mere special gathering for international colleagues belonging to the same institution and sharing the similar professional profits. The most remarkable features are therefore expressed in the following aspects:


  1. To more seriously establish a new global dialogic forum for cross-cultural semiotics, presenting the confrontation between the western and eastern academic-historical heritages;
  2. To further promote the active development of the global interdisciplinary dialogues against the current institutionalized compartmentalization;
  3. To more closely promote the theoretical interaction between semiotics and the human sciences so as to further advance and expand the semiotic role in the entire academia;
  4. To more relevantly organize the crucial dialogue between semiotic theory and the philosophical theories; to more frankly organize the debates between western rationalism and western irrationalism to help form the more desirable semiotic- as ell as humanistic-epistemological orientation in our new century;
  5. To more systematically manifest the panorama of the key problematics of the global human sciences in brave confrontation with the fully commercialized social-cultural conditions today.


International semioticians and humanist scholars should go beyond the current western academic stereotypes and expand their epistemological horizon on a global level. And then they should recognize that a new cross-cultural era arrives, which requests that the epistemological and methodological systems globally reorganized by dint of combining different theoretical experiences of the West and the intellectual-historical experiences of the non-West when the non-western theoretical partners become more and more capable of participating in the requested interdisciplinary and cross-cultural academic dialogues and collaborations with the western colleagues.


  1. Semiotic-institutionalizing analysis and Reconsideration of Identity and Function of Semiotics


Under the pressure of professional competition, the state of semiotic theoretical interdisciplinality tends to be gradually diluted, and its strengthened disciplinary autonomy consists of its artificially defined substantial scope and an especially invented historical genealogy. When the semiotic circle became to be more interested in tracing back to a definite historical origin and the related evolution we could feel that some current western semiotic profession prefers to organize its disciplinary-autonomy through creating an intellectual genealogy in order to increase its independent academic identity and power in the competitive context. Thus we can perceive a functional link existing between the three aspects: the scholarly genealogy, the single-disciplinarity and the professional competition. As a result, the semiotic practice has further maintained a clearer segregation from the large humanities family; or, exactly it prefers to be one more clearly defined discipline among many others.


Now let’s turn to the institutionalization of semiotic operations. Becoming a quasi-autonomous discipline the professional semiotics forms a set of fixed operative rules governing its ways of practices. And all the soft institutionalized aspects are arranged also according to the professional requests. Accordingly all possible agents of this professional discipline, at home and abroad, should follow the same set of rules and criteria. And the final judgment for the quality of the operation of semiotic practices depends on the final test: the normal procedure for the related professional success that is predetermined by the academic-marketing mechanisms. The scientific quality of semiotic scholarship is decided by the double-institutionalizational arrangements, simply losing its reference to scientific objectivity. One result of professional competition in the humanities is that scholars tend to search for some more effective strategy within the predetermined frame of operations in the professional world. Without looking for any objective truth humanistic scholars search for the professionally more feasible and more profitable tactics in their scholarly arrangements and designs. Their attention is more directed to the professionally determined norms and rules than to the objective reality. Living in the intellectual autonomy consisting of historical semiotic elements it seeks for competitively desirable elements from the specially fixed scholarly reservoir. This tendency completely accords with that of the entire humanities whose existence today also depends on the technical-commercialized society and culture. The humanities or human sciences will be no more taken as the genuine scientific practice. Then we could have had someday only one-dimensional science: the natural/technical one. As a result, the humanities are reduced to become some artistic game or spiritual/moral cultivation. In other words, it seems that as regards the material-technical activities in human life we need the scientific way of thinking and rational practices, while regarding the social, cultural and historical activities we do not need the scientific way of thinking and practices.


This cultural tendency essentially determined by the materialized and commercialized powers is making human being lose the most essential capability: rational or scientific way of thinking and action with respect with the problems in social, cultural, humanist-academic and spiritual fields which are in fact much more important than sciences and technology to the essential requirements of mankind. In other words, the problems such as those about values, faiths, history, culture and arts are more directly connected with quality and justice of human life. As a matter of fact, the objective or commonly acceptable knowledge of human nature, culture, society, religion and history should be also handled scientifically in our technical-commercial civilization if we want to deal with those crucial problems in a rational and effective way. The semiotics with its institutional-ideological-analytical devices formed by the interdisciplinary-theoretical pluralism can also be applied to relevantly reflecting the formations of the both vertical processes and lateral structures of the humanities in general and philosophy in particular, making clearer their composition, formation and function in different historical, cultural and ideological contexts.


As one of the academic-institutionalizing arrangements the system of “academic stars” plays a determinative role in guiding the practical directions in the humanities, including semiotics. For example, regarding the traditional humanities, whether we still need to restrict our intellectual horizons in the established framework consisting of series of historical “masters” when the latter are evaluated mainly by their temporary successes in various historical stages and contexts? In other words, whether the historical influence itself should become the authoritative standards for our judging current humanities? If yes, why the habitual way based on the system and lineage of the academic stars has not been accepted by natural sciences? (The humanistic stars system also plays a commercial role in the academic marketing; like famous brands the humanist stars can be easily used in professionally and commercially competitive manipulations) The latter, as the true scientific practice, must rely on objective and experimental criteria? When the network of the famous academic figures become the very base on whose works are formed the scholarly norms and criteria, the humanistic or semiotic practices will be further segregated from various reality and objectivity. The sets of opinions and decisions of powerful individual stars will, replacing the objective world, become the scholarly final judges and authorities.


 Why does semiotic theory always pays an attention to philosophical problems? Because it is traditional philosophy that has played so determinative role in forming the scholarly ways of various social and human sciences in history but it also strangely consists of concepts with different semantic compositions and ways of reasoning produced in different historical-cultural periods and contexts. The highly semantic inconsistence of philosophical conceptual compositions itself proves its unreliable efficiency in joining the family of contemporary human sciences. That’s why semiotic theoreticians want to firstly use pan-semantic methods to analyze the merits and usage of philosophy as a discipline. But on the other hand, semioticians also want to use the traditional philosophical-theoretical elements to enrich the theoretical potential of semiotic theory. In fact, the strengthening of interaction of semiotics and philosophy leads to the mutual improvements of the both. This philosophical influence is especially linked to the ethical knowledge of mankind in all civilizations and accordingly to the fortune of human being. The existing state of semantic uncertainty of philosophies becomes the easily manipulatable means to be used in utilitarian competitions of various kinds. The non-scientific and highly rhetoric-formed features of philosophical discourses with strong semantic vagueness and uncontrollable inferential-disorder are liable to be employed for any kind of intellectual practices.


If such problems would not become the proper questions in the West, they should be the quite justified questions in China. Chinese semiotics must follow the genuinely rational principles to reorganize and readjust our semiotic and humanist learning. Regarding the task of China’s learning of western theoretical discourses the institutional semiotics has another kind of additional role.  Any kind of discourses, the scientific or ethical in nature, can be used or handled by any other purposes or motives, for example, the commercialized and other individual profitable-utilitarian one, and therefore those proper composed academic discourses could serve other kind of roles contrary to the scientific and ethical ones. So the institutional analysis can help guarantee the scientific and ethical quality of the presentation of humanistic scholarly discourses. It is semiotic-institutional analysis that can help distinguish between different layers of compositional and functional structures of the human sciences. This additional function will be especially connected to the ideological analysis of human sciences; and any ideological part is essentially related to the possible role of ethical subjectivity too. The institutionalizational analysis can also help disclose the factual situations that any academic or scholarly practices are connected to the social and cultural contexts, and therefore the academic investigations should be made with respect to the entire related contexts to reach the actual objects and purposes of scholarly practices. There is no purely humanistic scholarly existence. Behind the scholarly discourses and processes, the directly or implicitly connected non-scholarly motive, purpose, the objective and subjective determining factors and multiple contextual determinations can be disclosed beside the denotative meaning of the discourses.


6. Conclusion: the Identity of Semiotics Reconsidered


The general recognition that semiotics is the studies about signs is simplistic in reference to the development of the current semiotic theories. At first, different thinkers have different conceptions about the same term sign (Saussure and Peirce belong to quite divergent lines of thinking, for example). For Peirce his semiotics has been so naturally connected with a history of signs that is mostly part of the history of natural sciences. For Saussure and his followers the conception of sign tends to be multiplly connected to modern social-humanist sciences. In light of the above explanation, whether we should still stick to the traditional saying that semiotics is the study about signs? The semantic clarification touches every level and aspect of scientific discourses and their various preconditions rather than focusing on the signs as the signifying units only. When the study of signs as the basic objects is expanded into that of signification and communication the mechanisms of signifying, recognizing and communication becomes much more complicated and expanded; and then semiotics can be regarded as a total body about certain synthetic hierarchy of signification, communication, constitution and texuality, or simply a multiple-semantic institutionalization consisting of both lateral and vertical dimensions. So we can no longer comfortably call semiotics something specialized in the study of signs. On the other hand, however, the definition of the sign-central semiotics becomes useful for the establishment of professionalization and institutionalization of the single-disciplinary-directed semiotics. The fact also reminds us of the existing links between the philosophy-central semiotic theory and the professional-institutionalizational development of the current semiotic movement. The latter tends therefore to be contrary to the spirit and orientation of the structural-semiotic movement based on the humanist-interdisciplinary operations. In other words, the new direction of the cross-cultural semiotics in our new century should be organized along the professional-defined line or along the line of promoting the modernizing innovation of human sciences? This particular methodological-technical problem within the semiotic practices is directly connected with the more basic epistemological problem within the total human sciences in general. Once again, is so-called semiotics only the name of a single discipline to support academics to live in the cultural marketing, or a general term that represents a much higher and broader intellectual-humanistic program of mankind? The cross-cultural turn of current global semiotic movement has urged us once again to advance the level of our epistemological reflection, further emphasizing the innate interconnection between semiotics and human science.


Therefore, in terms of the above analysis in this paper the present author strongly maintains that international semiotics in its cross-cultural period in the New Century shouldn’t be restricted by the traditional concept of semiotics taken as the learning merely about signs or symbols in cultural history. Despite that signs or symbols can play the important role to organize semantic, functional and pragmatic studies, these semiotic concepts still function within the entire academic and cultural contexts of mankind. So the title of semiotics should be employed for a much larger and more comprehensive thematic domain, namely a pan-semantic analysis about humanistic discourse, and the so-called pan-semantic scholarship will lead to the much more significant set of problems which are about how to more deeply understanding the structure and functions of a social-cultural-historical world. Accordingly, the term semiotics can be added with some new elements and given new functions; or simply, the term can be “re-used” in correspondence with the greatly changed social and cultural contexts in our new century. Between the re-use of the old name and the invention of the new name the former seems to be more desirable and more workable. Once again, in this way, semiotics must live and act within the entire human sciences. The term semiotics should and can be used to represent a significant need for a grandiose task of synthetically reorganizing cross-cultural human sciences for the progress of the globalized civilization.




Bio-Bib 0f Youzheng Li


Born in 1936. Vice-president of IASS, Guest senior fellow of CASS Beijing; Guest Philosophy Professor of North-Western Normal University, Independent researcher in Beijing during 1959-1978;philosohy researcher at Institute of Philosophy, CASS, 1978-1995; visiting Philosophy depts. at Princeton, Columbia, Munich, TU Berlin, Bochum and others between 1982 and 1997. VisitingDirecteur d’ Etudes, EHESS, 1989. Written works in English including: The  Structure of the Chinese Ethical Archetype ,1997,The Constitution of Han-Academic Ideology, 1997,  Epistemological Problems of the Comparative Humanities, 1997 .Also more than 15 works written in Chinese, includ: Current Western Film Semiotics ,1986, Contemporary French-German Ethical Epistemo-logy2000, A Hermeneutic Study of Chinese Historiography,2009; Translations include: Anthology of Roland Barthes 1987, : La Pensée Sauvage, 1987, : Philosophy and Mirror of Nature,1987,Husserl:Ideen I,1992,as well as Ideen II, Ideen III, Formale  und Transzendentale Logik, later 2012.