Two: Early Confucian Ethics and Resentment Resentment, recognition, and the lifeworld

One of the basic issues of the ethical lifeworld appears to be the complex feeling of resentment. It has two dimensions: (1) the lack of acknowledgment and recognition from others and (2) how to cope with feelings of resentment in oneself and others. Scheler emphasizes transcending these feelings of resentment through positive relational feelings of empathy and sympathy, affects that interconnect the person in love and sympathy with others and with the unity of spirit that intrinsically has a personal and interpersonal instead of a purely natural—whether the order of nature is conceived mechanistically or vitalistically as in Driesch—structure.22 The Chinese, as other peoples, have their own particular way of understanding spirit and the divine for Scheler: they depersonalize its intrinsically personal structure by interpreting it as an impersonal order instead of as the free self-disclosure between persons.23

Nietzsche, in contrast to Scheler’s emphasis on spirit, identifies this spiritual labor of emotional transformation as part of the problem of a more poisonous and deeply entrenched structure of resentment that he designates with the French word ressentiment. The emotional complex designated by ressentiment is a structural (de-)formation of character to be distinguished from ordinary transient feelings of resentment.

Nietzsche’s diagnosis of ressentiment could be potentially applied to the Analects (Lunyu §й1и), a diverse fragmentary compilation representing divergent interpretative tendencies attributed to Kongzi (?LT) himself, as Lu Xun advocated in the spirit of Nietzsche. Lu associated the everyday practice of Confucian values to cannibalism in a literal and metaphorical manner in “A Madman’s Diary” (Kuangren Riji ЙАВ1В), one of his prominent short stories and—similarly to “The True Story of Ah Q” (A Q Zhengzhuan ^QT^)—a story of a culture dominated by ressentiment.24 Lu’s depiction of the gentry class in the stories echoes and further caricaturized the earlier literary image of the suanru (literally, “sour” Confucian), who is perceived as increasingly bookish, dogmatic, resentful, and evermore tainted and embittered by worldly experiences.

Nietzsche and Lu are historically correct that a specific understanding and institutionalization of Confucian morality can result in weakened and pathological conditions of resentful passivity in which the self is burdened by all the cares and obligations of paternal, familial, and communal expectations.

The story of Confucian and consequently Chinese ressentiment articulated by Nietzsche and Lu is complicated by turning to the Confucian classics. Significant passages in the Analects and other early ru M (Confucian) works indicate ethical-psychological strategies for countering resentment and other reactive feelings as part of cultivating oneself as an ethical person.

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