AMHERST, Mass. - E. Bruce Brooks, research professor of Chinese at the University of Massachusetts, has been invited to give a presentation during a conference on "Mencius and His Heritage" at the National University of Singapore, Jan. 7-9.
Mencius lived at the end of the fourth century B.C.E. and, after Confucius, is the most revered of Chinese classical thinkers. He is a major source for the authoritative orthodox Confucian thought, or Neo-Confucianism, which has dominated the Chinese intellectual world for the last thousand years. The international conference, sponsored by the Singapore university''s department of philosophy, will bring together Mencius specialists from the U.S., Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Vietnam. Its focus will be the book attributed to Mencius and its influence in the modern world.
Brooks will present his theory that the "Mencius" text is not a simple transcript of the words of Mencius, but rather the cumulative product of the historical Mencius plus several groups of followers after his death over a 70-year period in which the Chinese Imperial State was being created by contemporary statesmen and generals.
According to Alvin Cohen, professor of Asian languages and literatures at UMass, the "Mencius" text is especially important at the end of the 20th century as a classical authority supporting the "Asian Values" argument promoted by Singapore and other countries in opposition to human rights proponents. Brooks''s theory of the text results in an interpretation that contradicts the "Asian Values" arguments and strongly supports human rights, he says.
Reviewers have recognized Brooks''s translation and commentary of the sayings attributed to Confucius, "The Original Analects" (Columbia University Press, 1998), co-authored with A. Taeko Brooks, as breaking entirely new ground in the study of Confucius. Although the "Analects" have traditionally been regarded as literal transcriptions of the teachings of Confucius by his disciples, Brooks argues the "Analects" are actually comprised of only a small number of literal transcriptions of the teachings of Confucius, with the remainder of the text being sayings by later followers over a period of 230 years - but narrated as if spoken by Confucius himself - and reflecting the social and political realities of the later generations in which they were written.
Brooks is a member of the University''s Warring States Project, which is sponsored by the department of Asian languages and literatures. The Warring States Project is a center for research on the fifth through third centuries B.C.E., the era of Confucius and his rival philosophers. That era constitutes the classic period of both war and creative thought that produced the Chinese Imperial State structure characteristic of the succeeding 2,000 years of Chinese history.