Download as iCal file
Thinking about China in Dark Times with Hannah Arendt (Yang XIAO, Kenyon College)
Thursday, March 02, 2023, 05:30pm - 07:00pm
Contact Xun LIU (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

This in-person talk is open to the public. This event is generously co-sponsored by Rutgers Global.

yang xiao


There is a saying, often mistakenly attributed to Confucius, which is known as the “Chinese curse”: Confucius supposedly said to someone: “May you live in interesting times”. It is a curse because no one wants to live in “interesting” or “dark” times, we all prefer living in “boring” times – times of prosperity, tranquility, peace, certainty, and predictability. However, it seems that we now are indeed living in one of the darkest times. Here I also want to use the term “dark times” in Arendt’s sense – they are dark because we cannot see, we have difficulty “thinking about what we are doing” because our traditional concepts are no longer applicable. We cannot make sense of what is going on. We now have to think about China “without a banister”. When she was asked “What are you? Are you a conservative? Are you a liberal?”, Arendt said that she didn’t know, and couldn’t care less, and that the real questions of the world would not get any kind of illumination by this kind of labeling. Arendt then used a metaphor to describe the situation: “I call it thinking without a banister. That is, as you go up and down the stairs you can always hold on to the banister so that you don’t fall down. But we have lost this banister.” Since the 1980s, I have been trying to understand China by thinking with (and against) Arendt, together with other thinkers like her. In this talk I want to look back at some of the case studies, such as the founding of Chinese republicanism, the Cultural Revolution, civil disobedience, and misinformation, in light of the ideas from Arendt, such as “thinking” (judging, understanding), “authority” (as well the other two in the “Roman trinity”: “tradition” and “religion”), “power”, “violence”, the “Jewish question”, “world”, “nativity”, and “public happiness”.


Yang Xiao 蕭陽 has been teaching in the Department of Philosophy at Kenyon College since 2003. He received his Ph.D. from the New School for Social Research in New York. His areas of specializations include ethics, political philosophy, Chinese philosophy, philosophy of language, and eco-philosophy (environmental philosophy and climate change).

Location  Van Dyck Hall #301 (History Department Conference Room)