Perhaps to your surprise, although China had, of course, produced a lot of invaluable ‘
philosophical’ ideas for humankind, the very concept of ‘philosophy as an autonomous academic subject’ did not occur in Chinese language and intellectual life until about 120 years ago. This concept in its Chinese format, namely, 哲学 (zhé xué), was one of many Japanese-made Chinese words that we imported from our neighbor during the last two decades of the nineteenth century. Outside of academia, few know that the first user of it was the Japanese scholar Nishi Amane (1829-1897), an ardent participant of the Meiji Restoration.
The real challenge is to 'do philosophy' directly on our own hands
Due to this historical background and also a series of social-political setbacks that happened in the twentieth century, philosophy in China suffered from slow development for many years. Notwithstanding, thanks to the effort of honorable pioneers, philosophical research is now no longer strange to Chinese people; our works are still short of international visibilities and thus need improvement. The Chinese philosophy community has a clear awareness of this situation and a resolute ambition to make a change.
Being included in that community, when finishing my undergraduate at Jilin University in Changchun, I realized I had better study abroad in order to go faster. As I see it, instead of transmitting—from a bird's eye view—what great Western philosophers had said, the real challenge is to—from a trench-eye view—‘do philosophy' directly on our own hands, that is, to engage in those ongoing debates, working face-to-face with our contemporary peers from all over the world.
I felt so lucky that I subsequently got the chance to enroll in the international Research Master's Programme here at the University of Groningen, which is an outstanding classic university rooted in the north of the Netherlands, a nation that stands in the frontier of philosophy. In fact, as even fewer people know, when Nishi Amane made his original translation, the object in front of him was shown in neither English nor German. Rather, it was the Dutch word ‘wijsbegeerte,' which literally means ‘desire for wisdom,' that fascinated this oriental young, during his stay for study in the Netherlands between 1862 and 1865.
More interestingly, Dutch people take ‘wijsbegeerte’ to be the synonymy of another more informal word which nonetheless indicates philosophy’s Greek origin in a more common way , namely, ‘filosofie’ (i.e. φιλοσοφία, or rather, ‘love of wisdom’). By specifically isolating ‘desire’ from ‘love,’ it seemed that they revealed a more active mentality about how to get along with philosophy , that is, the mentality that philosophy is more like a craft worth doing than simply something worth admiring . Considering that the physical size of the nation is so small, this mentality, which is also the point I think Chinese people should learn, is impressively unusual and perhaps has mattered a lot. Nowadays, Dutch philosophers consistently put out cutting-edge and internationally-recognized works. Every year, a considerable number of papers and books written in Dutch philosophy departments get published in world’s top journals and presses. To be part of this story is, in one word, delightful.
An atmosphere of mutual respect
Three distinctive characteristics of the Faculty of Philosophy (Faculteit Wijsbegeerte) at Groningen and its international Research Master's Programme must be highlighted. First of all, the faculty is the largest one of its kind nationwide. This provides students with comprehensive possibilities to explore their own upgrading routines; that is to say, enrolling in the faculty, students can develop academic interests in almost all branches of philosophy and get appropriate supervision.
Secondly, the structure of the international Research Master Programme is wisely designed, prepares its participants well for getting surviving and thriving in the environment of ‘analytical tradition,' which is currently the dominating research paradigm. (Yet, at the same time, it also teaches us never to underestimate the value of other traditions.) To be precise, the programme is arranged in such a way that it does not only just pass on knowledge but it also has a strong emphasis on the mastery of research skills. Throughout the programme, students are constantly encouraged to think and work as true insiders of academia.
Related to this, thirdly and of the most importance, being ‘research masters,’ we are treated by Groningen professors as not merely students but their future colleagues. Such an atmosphere of mutual respect—not to mention their tremendous patience with those who need much time to grow—is highly exhilarating. To summarize, I think it would be quite fair to say that no matter how rough the path to a philosophical career may be, sitting at Groningen’s research master classes implies a good start-up. Especially, for those from China, like me, as well as—if I may venture to infer—for those from similar non-Western countries, this kind of feeling could be even stronger.