John C. H. Wu was a jurist and scholar whose life spanned a remark-able period in the history of China and it relationship with the West.
In a lecture sponsored by the China Association and given at Santa Clara University in April 2019, Professor Robert Gimello spoke about the contributions of this ambassador between cultures and traditions.
Vincent Wu, grandson of John C. H. Wu, and Managing Director of the John C. H. Wu Institute, joined the event.
Prof. Gimello's talk and an overview of the insightful writings of Wu may be found below.
In Chinese thought the Dao is the inner principle of all things, present in all but transcending each and every. In the Gospel of John, the Logos is the Word, spoken by God, by which God constitutes all that is. What do these lines of thought have to do with one another? Is one right and the other wrong? Are they saying the same thing but with different imagery?
In his day, renaissance scholar John C.H. Wu was able to explore the underlying points of contact between Chinese and Western spirituality, as well as the differences that allowed one to illuminate the other. A great figure of twentieth century thought during an important period of encounter between China and the West, his insights continue to inspire us today.
In his reflections on John Wu, famed international scholar Robert Gimello provides an introduction to his life and work. More, in a day when many increasingly find differences threatening and divisive, Gimello draws on John Wu to show what Christians can learn from Chinese thought. Rather than difference being a threat, it can open up new perspectives within one’s own tradition.
About John C.H. Wu (吳經熊)
Born in 1899, during the last years of the Qing Dynasty, John C. H. Wu (吳經熊) is best known as the principle author of the Constitution of the Republic of China. A convert to Catholicism, he also served as China’s first ambassador to the Holy See. Wu translated one of the most famous and challenging of Chinese philosophical works, the Dao De Jing, and provided commentary to make it accessible for a Western audience. He also wrote about the spirituality of Therese of Lisieux, as well as the convergences between Chinese and Western spirituality. A true renaissance man, John C. H. Wu’s life and thought spanned whole eras and cultures.
About Robert Gimello
Robert M. Gimello is Professor Emeritus of Theology at the University of Notre Dame, and a Fellow of the Liu Institute for Asia & Asian Studies. Most known for his study of medieval and early modern Buddhist thought, Gimello’s contributions have informed Catholic theological perspectives on Buddhism. He has taught at Harvard University, Dartmouth, the University of Arizona, UC Santa Barbara, and even several Buddhist universities abroad.
When Professor Gimello was an undergrad at Seton Hall University, he was a student of John C. H. Wu. In regard to giving this talk, Professor Gimello writes, John Wu “was for me a crucial formative influence on my development as a scholar, a model of Chinese learning, and an inspiring example of the ways in which learned respect for Asian thought and religion can be combined with faith in Christ. My debt to Wu cannot really be repaid, but I am glad of the chance to make at least a gesture in that direction by offering a lecture in your new series.”
Selected Works by John C. H. Wu (吴经熊)
Beyond East and West (1951, new edition 2018)
This is John C. H. Wu’s spiritual autobiography. It describes his conversion in 1937 and early years as a Catholic. Upon its publication, it became an instant bestseller, compared to Thomas Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain and even the Confessions of Augustine. Beyond East and West reveals the development of Wu’s thought and the progress of his growth toward love of God, arriving through experience at the conclusion that the wisdom in all of China’s traditions, especially Confucian thought, Taoism, and Buddhism, point to universal truths that come from, and are fulfilled in, Christ. Profound, thoughtful, and beautifully written, this book offers nourishment for those travel paths of spirituality in a our contemporary, multicultural world. The 2018 edition includes a foreword written by Wu’s son John Wu, Jr.
Chinese Humanism and Christian Spirituality (1965, new edition 2017)
In the essays collected here, John C. H. Wu (1899-1986), the prominent 20th-century scholar of both Chinese and western law, philosophy, literature, and spirituality, illustrates with striking originality the harmonious synthesis of Chinese humanism (especially the wisdom of the ancient sages) with Christian spirituality as articulated in the Bible and the writings of the saints, mystics, and such modern spiritual writers as Therese of Lisieux. They display the depth and breadth of Wu's thought, which led him to the conclusion that the wisdom in all of China's traditions--especially Confucian thought, Taoism, and Buddhism--points to universal truths that originate from, and are fulfilled in, Christ, and that the "marriage" of the East and the West in Christ is the key to a future concordant understanding.
The Four Seasons of Tang Poetry (1972)
"Stretching out my hand I feel the pulse of the stars," wrote Li Po, one of the most famous of the T'ang dynasty poets. This superlative study of the Golden Age of Chinese poetry, based on nearly 50,000 poems written by more than 2,000 poets, captures not only the pulse of that period but also the spirit and soul. Of this Tang blossoming, Dr. Wu says that for nearly thirteen centuries after Christ, poetry in Europe, with the exception of Juvenal, kept a death–like silence. It hibernated so long that when it woke up again in the person of Dante, the last poetic voice it could remember was that Virgil. It seems though Mother Earth purposely rocked Europe to sleep for some time that she might teach Asia to sing.
Golden Age Of Zen: Zen Masters Of The T'ang Dynasty (1975) This book gives a fascinating survey of the early years of Chinese Zen (Chan) Buddhism, staying focused on the movement of Buddhism to the land where Taoism and Confucianism flourished. Wu's survey, combined with interesting translations from these earliest Zen masters, reveals a time of spiritual vibrancy and powerful personalities that help explain the later developments of Zen with which western readers are more familiar.
The Interior Carmel: The Threefold Way of Love (1954)
Upon his conversion to Christianity early in his life, John C. H. Wu found the writings of Saint Therese of Lisieux and her "little way of love" a profound source of inspiration. In this volume he takes up the three-fold path of Carmelite spirituality in a lucid and inviting way. Wu holds out the way for growth in sanctity for the ordinary person in the midst of life. This work is a gem, currently out of print. However, the Dr. John C. H. Wu Institute is working to publish a new edition in the near future.