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"Evenings with the Masters" Lecture series

ICE    Public:ICE    Datetime:2012-5-22
Between April 1st a 5th, a lecture series under the title, "Evenings with the Masters" formed part of the University´s 90th anniversary celebrations. Lectures were given by the renowned scholars Professor He Jingtang, Professor Yi Zhongtian, Mr. Li Ao, Mr. Liu Zaifu, and Master Xingyun.

Professor He Jingtang: Architecture and culture
Professor He Jingtang, an Academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, is not merely an academic architect but very much a practicing architect. One of the most prestigious architects in China, he has enjoyed great success with architectural design commissions, and in academic research and teaching architecture, and is a leading exponent of the Ling Nan style of architecture. As the Chief Architect of the Chinese Pavilion at the 2010 Shanghai World Expo, he has been dubbed the "Father of the Chinese Pavilion".
Professor He´s lecture was entitled Cultural Heritage versus Innovation in Architecture Design. He began by explaining the concept of "harmony" in Chinese traditional architecture. He said that the key to creating modern architecture with Chinese characteristics was to understand the relationship between current times and China´s traditional culture. Architects should try to find the point of balance between regional culture and modern life, combining them cleverly to create modern buildings which retain a traditional aura.
Professor He´s design aesthetic has been profoundly influence by his understanding of the harmonious nature of traditional Chinese architecture. He explained this aesthetic as comprising "Two perspectives and three characteristics". "Two perspectives" referred to the holistic perspective on the one hand and the perspective of sustainable development on the other; "Three characteristics" referred to regional, traditional and temporal characteristics. He said that their combination represented harmony. Regionality he considered as providing the architectural roots of the design; tradition determined the style of the design; and the temporal characteristic reflected the modern spirit of the design. These three elements were inter-related in creating a harmonious whole. Professor He illustrated this aesthetic philosophy clearly and vividly using images of different buildings and designs.

Professor Yi Zhongtian: The concept of the "Scholar" in Pre-Qin times
Professor Yi Zhongtian, of the Xiamen University College of Humanities, is well-known throughout China. He is known for making scholarly topics easy to understand and and amusing to a wide audience. His first TV appearance on TV in 2005, on CCTV-10´s Lecture Room programme, was followed by a hugely successful series of lectures on major figures of the Han Dynasty and the Three Kingdoms periods. In 2008, he then started a series of lectures on the Hundred Schools of Thought.
On April 2nd, Professor Yi gave a talk on the subject of "The scholar in Pre-Qin Dynasty times". He explained that "Shi" - the term normally translated as "scholar" - actually meant different things at different times, and before the time of the Qin Dynasty - 211 to 206 BC - it referred to members of the lowest rank of the aristocracy. As ever, Professor Yi was charmed and greatly amused his audience as he discussed the social status and traditions of the "Shi" and the political roles they played, and explained the reason for their loss of importance in subsequent periods. He said that it was because of the existence of the ´Shi´, and the spirit of the ´Shi´, that China had thereafter enjoyed times of great cultural glory, and had produced so many great philosophers.
On April 4th, Professor Yi Zhongtian went over to the Zhangzhou Campus to give a talk on "Laozi, Zhuangzi and Zen". He received an enthusiastic reception from his audience for his lucid explanation of the philosophy of Laozi with its concept of the power of weakness and non-action, and the abstruse thinking in the Book of Zhuangzi and of Maha Kassapa, Bodhiharma and Master Huineng, and Zen Buddhism.

Mr. Li Ao: Current Issues and politics
On April 3rd, Mr. Li Ao, gave a talk on current issues and politics in the Jiannan Auditorium. The capacity audience erupted with thunderous applause as he was led onto the stage by Xiamen University President Zhu Chongshi.
Mr. Li Ao is a well-known writer, historian, critic and cultural scholar from Taiwan. His works are principally critical essays and commentaries on people from all sectors of society. It is claimed that his criticism covers over 3,000 people, more than any other critic in the world. 96 of his books are banned, again a record. As a supporter of the peaceful unification of Mainland China and Taiwan through the policy of "One Country, Two Systems", he is against Taiwanese independence, the Taiwanese constitution, and the acquisition of arms.
Before Mr Li began his talk, President Zhu Chongshi presented him with a certificate as an Honorary Professor of Xiamen University. As Mr. Li held up the certificate and smiled at the audience, Professor Chen Zhiping, the Deputy Head of the Xiamen University China Research Institute, chairing the session, said, "Mr. Li is one of us now. We can call him Professor Li or Teacher Li."
Although Li Ao´s talk was to be on the topic of the writer Lu Xun and Xiamen University, he also spoke on the Taiwan issue, on Sino-U.S. relations, and on other political issues, making humorous and pithy comments on current events. He said, "My biggest fear is speaking in an auditorium … all the time I have to turn my head this way and that … I feel I must resemble an electric fan."
On Lu Xun, Li Ao said that the reason he is thought of the way he is, is that his books were never banned by the Communist Party. Li Ao´s attitude to Lu Xun clear when he pointed out that the number of his books that were banned by the Kuomintang constituted a world record. He often expresses somewhat outrageous views. "Do you want to know the truth?" he asked. "The real reason why Lu Xun came to Xiamen University was love, not as an escape from warlord persecution as we are normally led to believe."
On mainland China, Li Ao said that although he lived in Taiwan, he was always thinking about the mainland and that he knew it very well, and expressed his happiness at the development and prosperity of Mainland China over recent years.

Liu Zaifu: A Dream of Red Mansions
Liu Zaifu is a famous alumnus of Xiamen University. He joined the University in 1959 as a student of Chinese Language and Literature. During that time, he became editor-in-chief of the literary journal Gu Lang, which had been launched by Lu Xun. Graduating in 1963, he joined the editorial board of the journal New Construction, published by the Philosophy and Social Sciences section of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. In 1985, he was appointed Director of the Institute of Literature of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. A paper on subjectivity and literature which he wrote triggered heated debate in China; his monograph on characterisation in literature published in 1986 was one of the ten best-sellers of the year and won the Golden Key Award. Liu Zaifu returned to his alma mater this year to give a talk on the philosophical significance of A Dream of Red Mansions. His talk certainly enriched the audience´s understanding of this classic work.
Mr. Liu first spoke on the basic understanding and ways of studying A Dream of Red Mansions. He said he considered it the greatest literary masterpiece, and thinks of it not as a mere object for study, rather as an expression of the nature of life and to be read in that spirit. It should be studied in a more subjective manner, which can neither be proved nor refuted. He said that his reading and discussion of the book was simply based on spiritual need and not on any ulterior purpose.
He then spoke on the philosophical significance of A Dream of Red Mansions. He combined traditional Chinese philosophy and Western philosophy to analyse the work from four points of view: as a complete whole, in terms of metaphysics, in terms of Taoist thinking and in terms of spiritual paradox. Looking at it from the point of view of Chinese philosophy, he considered Jia Baoyu to be an embodiment of Buddhist thinking, Xue Baochai an embodiment of Confucian thinking, and Lin Daiyu an exponent of the thinking in the Zhuangzi. Taking the point of view of western philosophy, he made comparisons with Schopenhauer´s pessimism, Nietzsche´s concept of aristocracy, Hegel´s philosophy of death and Spinoza´s pantheism.

Master Xingyun: Emptiness and Non-Emptiness
On April 5th, Master Xingyu, a a renowned Buddhist scholar, highly-reputed monk, educator and a philanthropist from Taiwan gave a talk in the Jiannan Auditorium to a packed audience.
After an exchange of gifts with President Zhu Chongshi, Master Xingyun began by speaking of his connections with Xiamen. He said that his teacher, Master Daduo, was a graduate of the Minnan Buddhist College at Nanputuo, and that, from early on, he had thereby been influenced by the culture of Xiamen. When he arrived in Taiwan 62 years ago, the majority of people he came into contact with were from the Minnan area, and from them he learnt about the outside world for which he was grateful. He said he was delighted to come to Xiamen University to take part in its 90th Anniversary celebrations.
Master Xingyun´s spoke on the relationship between "Emptiness" and "Non-emptiness", giving a wealth of examples to illustrate what he meant. He invited the audience to fold and unfold the palms of their hands to illustrate emptiness versus non-emptiness; referring to the desk before him, he explained that while it appeared to be a table on the outside, on the inside it was an aggregation of sunlight, air and everything else in the universe. He also told many stories to make esoteric Buddhist thinking more easily understandable. As he was talking, one of his disciples was typed what he said for projection onto a screen to help members of the audience taking notes.
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