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At the Library: An Interview with Peng Guoxiang, 2016 Kluge Chair in Countries and Cultures of the North, Library of Congress

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(The following is a repost from 4 Corners of the World: International Collections, written by Qi Qiu, Head of Scholarly Services, Asian Division.)

Professor Peng Guoxiang, Kluge Chair in Countries and Cultures of the North.

For the first time in 16 years the Kluge Chair in Countries and Cultures of the North is a scholar in Chinese Studies. Peng Guoxiang, Professor of Chinese Philosophy, Intellectual History and Religions at Zhejiang University, was selected in July 2016 to “continue his research on the religious dimensions of Confucianism and the political and social thought of contemporary Confucianism.”

This Kluge Chair is a distinguished senior research position in residence at the Library of Congress. It is one of several chairs and fellowships endowed by the John W. Kluge Center which is located in the iconic Thomas Jefferson Building. As Chair in Countries and Cultures of the North, the scholar is expected to explore the history of the regions of North America, Europe, Russia and East Asia, using the massive foreign-language collections in the Library’s specialized reading rooms. Professor Peng’s pick was the Asian reading room, home to more than one million items in its Chinese collection.

Already a highly accomplished scholar in his field, author of seven books that explore such issues as the spirituality of the Confucian tradition and its influence on modern-day Chinese society, Peng has been a frequent visitor to the Asian reading room. He spent the first few days of his residency browsing through the reading room’s card catalogs for the 41,000 titles of older Chinese books that are not found in the Library’s online catalog.

“Wherever I go to an institution or university, I always check out its libraries, and some of my research projects have developed from what I found inadvertently in a library collection,” Peng said. A case in point was a little known monograph he found at Harvard by Mou Zongsan, a paramount figure in the new Confucian philosophy in China. This work, which is not included in the 33 volumes of Mou’s collected works, lays the foundation for understanding his views on Communism. This monograph is the basis of a chapter in Peng’s new book, “This Worldly Concern of the Wise: The Political and Social Thought of Mou Zongsan (1909-1995)” (2016).

Peng has visited a number of libraries in the US and abroad. He has consulted the collections at the University of Hawaii, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Harvard University, Bochum Ruhr University, Goethe University in Frankfurt, the National Taiwan University, and the National University of Singapore, where he was appointed Visiting Scholar or Professor. He has also spent a great deal of time in libraries in China, including Peking University and Tsinghua University, where he taught, and Zhejiang University, where he currently teaches Chinese philosophy.

And now his research brings him to the Library of Congress. “The Library’s Chinese materials published before 1958, those currently only discoverable through card catalogs, are treasures to me. I found some of them, usually not seen in mainland China, intriguing to my interests in modern Chinese intellectual history,” Peng said. Two particular names attracted his attention: Dong Shijin and Zhang Yiping. The former is known for his studies of Chinese agriculture but because of his stand against the government-mandated land reform in the 1950s, contemporary Chinese scholars are not familiar with his works, which are readily available in the Asian reading room. To Peng’s surprise, Zhang Yiping, a Republican period writer and translator, was found to have written children’s books, too. His book series on Chinese historical figures, written for young readers, may be the starting point of Peng’s next endeavor into how intellectuals influence and are influenced by the popular culture of their times.

Among the more than 41,000 titles of older Chinese books housed at the Asian Division, 4,500 of them are rare editions published before 1795, which make the Chinese collection at the Library of Congress a leading collection outside of China. Rather than appreciating the aesthetic values of these rare books, Peng is trying to find content that is new to him and to scholars in his field. Among his exciting findings, “Xing li zhi gui” 性理指歸 (Essentials of human nature and principles) by Yao Shunmu 姚舜牧 and “Guanxue zongchuan” 關學宗傳(The genealogy of learning in the Shanxi region) by Zhang Ji 張驥, for instance, are original and useful materials in the neo-Confucian tradition. These works have not been seriously discussed in previous studies.

Peng views himself as a ‘hybrid’ scholar, in the sense that his research combines both traditional Chinese humanities methodology and Western scholarly approaches to Chinese studies. Within the realm of traditional Chinese scholarship, he turns to both philosophy and history to seek answers. Thanks to his frequent trips to academic institutions across the globe, his interactions with scholars in vastly different disciplines have enabled him to integrate social science paradigms into the humanities. He also endeavors to place contemporary perspectives on Chinese traditional thought and culture in relation to those of other global cultures. This vision has brought him to the Library’s other reading rooms for publications not easily obtainable in mainland China such as the latest scholarly works of Charles Taylor, Martha Nussbaum, and Kwame Anthony Appiah.

On January 26, 2017, in Room LJ-119 of the Jefferson Building, the public can learn more about Peng’s research and findings at the Library of Congress. Looking into the long tradition of Neo- and New [1] Confucianism that spans ten centuries, his talk is expected to add to the important discourse about Confucianism as a religious tradition in an original, balanced, and contemplative way.

For more information on the Asian collection please click here.

For more information on the Kluge Center please click here.


[1] While Neo-Confucianism refers to the form of Confucianism that became dominant from the 11th to the 17th century in response to Buddhism and Daoism, New Confucianism is an intellectual movement of Confucianism that began in the early 20th century as a reaction to Western philosophy and thoughts.


  1. Sorry to miss the lecture on the 26th! It looks fascinating. I look forward to the webcast. So glad Professor Peng Guoxiang is using the LOC collections.

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