【Report】 5th Academic Frontier Lecture Series

Hong Kong and the Disaster Area

On May 7, 2021, the fifth lecture in the Academic Frontier series was held online. The lecturer was Cheung Ching-yuen (張政遠), an associate professor at the University of Tokyo’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, specializing in Japanese philosophy and phenomenology. Cheung had been a lecturer at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (香港中文大學, CUHK) until he took up his current post in May last year, and he discussed CUHK in the lecture. Following his talk for last year’s Academic Frontier series, “30 Years Later in the Disaster Area and Hong Kong,” Cheung this time presented his thoughts from the past year about the character “悪” (evil).
The character “悪” has several meanings. Cheung argued that this polysemy covers at least four usages: as a verb, adjective, adverb, and noun. He discussed “悪” through the framework of four problems: the value problem (価値問題), the human nature problem (人性問題), the parody problem (悪搞問題), and the nuclear problem (原発問題).
The value problem concerns what you like (好) and what you dislike (悪). This is complex, however, because not only individuals but groups also have value hierarchies. Cheung introduced some debates in Ruism (儒学). According to Cheung, the character for “ru” originally referred to people who had lost their country, which is why they aspired to restore their values. After reviewing the traditional values and the situation today, Cheung argued that we should regard life (生) as the absolute value against relativism.
The problem of human nature is also one of the most critical topics in Ruism. Cheung introduced the well-known Mencius doctrine that human nature is fundamentally good, Xunzi’s theory on human evilness, and Gaozi’s theory that human nature is neither originally good nor evil. After that, he pointed out that the problem lies in the meaning of human “nature.” Cheung’s view is as follows: Human beings sometimes behave violently and cause harm to others, but the bigger problem is that they justify their behavior by reason. And this is perhaps where the evil of human nature lies. If that is the case, the important thing is not to cover up the violence but to expose it.
Cheung took up the parody problem and the nuclear power problem in this context. For the former, he referred to an incident when someone rewrote the name of CUHK as “Chinese University of Hong Kong Rioters” (香港中文暴徒大學) on Google Maps after student protests. While this was intended malicious, Cheung recognizes that the university was full of violence. Again, the important thing is to expose (暴露) the violence (暴力) without covering it up. Regarding the nuclear issue, Cheung says it is necessary to uncover “evil.” It is not a matter of relative evaluations of what is good in some respects but bad in others. Cheung sees an absolute evil in the situation in which people can no longer live in their hometowns after the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
At the end of the lecture, Cheung showed the words of Laozi: “為學日益、為道日損” (For learning, you gain daily; for the Way, you lose daily). This emphasizes “losing” (損) rather than “gaining” (益). Losing many things, rather than gaining knowledge, allows us to see things more clearly. Cheung himself goes on pilgrimages in disaster areas, and the lecture seemed to suggest an aspect of that way (道).


Reported by Akihiro Miyata (EAA Research Assistant)