Western Classics in China

The recent vigorous revival of interest in the Western Classics at universities in China was the subject of a fascinating panel at the 2014 APA, “Classics and Reaction: Modern China Confronts the Ancient West.” In the latest edition of Amphora Yongyi Li of Chonqing University surveys the latest developments with regard to Latin, noting that now more than ten universities are regularly teaching Latin, and pointing to the new Center for Studies in Western Classics founded in Peking University and to Latinitas Sinica, an institute devoted to Latin studies at Beijing Foreign Studies University. He ends the article with a moving summation and analysis of the meaning of this trend:

“Most importantly, this outburst of passion for the Western classics has been parallel to, and following a similar historical logic as, our belated reconciliation with our own ancient tradition. After a century’s sterile radical nihilism regarding our heritage, many of us have begun to treat our classics with the respect and care they deserve, refraining from simplified assumptions and searching through painstaking negotiations with the texts for intelligent readings that are relevant both to the original contexts and to our contemporary concerns. Likewise we believe that it is high time we discarded stereotyped generalizations of Western values, ceasing to take modern Euro-American civilizations as the “medicine” for for the “diseases” of an “inherently” diseased Chinese culture, a conviction shared by most advocates of the May Fourth Movement in the 1910s and carried to catastrophic extremes by the Red Guards half a century later. Studies of the Western classics help us understand the roots and ramifications of this drastically different tradition, and reveal ways in which any tradition can be questioned, revised, and transformed in an ongoing dialogue that steers clear of both servile dogmatism and arrogant dismissal.

“Therefore, this new life of Latin in China is not a pale ghost shunning the vital energies of the sun, or a mummy in the museum holding interest only for the curious. Rather, its pulsing arteries and flexing muscles promise active engagement in a labor of love, the building of a bridge across times and traditions, spanning the bitter divide that has stranded people in the cultural East and the Cultural West.”

Yongyi Li, “A New Incarnation of Latin in China,” Amophora 11.1 (Spring 2014), p. 14.

How can classicists living in the West further this exciting cultural dialogue? What resources are most needed? Grammars? Language texts? Translations? Articles and monographs? Academic exchanges?

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