Li Zehou
Born(1930-06-13)13 June 1930
Died2 November 2021(2021-11-02) (aged 91)
Other namesZ.H. Li
Alma materHunan First Normal University
Peking University
Occupation(s)Historian, writer
Years active1954–2021
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese
Simplified Chinese

Li Zehou (Chinese: 李泽厚; 13 June 1930 – 2 November 2021)[1][2][3] was a Chinese scholar of philosophy and intellectual history. He resided in the United States.[4] He is considered an important modern scholar of Chinese history and culture whose work was central to the period known as the Chinese Enlightenment in the 1980s.[5]


Li was born in Daolin, Ningxiang County, Hunan, on 13 June 1930.[6][7][8] (Another saying: he was born in the city of Hankou, but his family moved to Changsha when he was four years old.[9]) His grandfather Li Chaobin (李朝斌) was a general in the Xiang Army under the leadership of Zeng Guofan.[10] His father, an employee of the post office, died of illness in another province. His mother Tao Maolan (陶懋兰) was a teacher in a primary school in his hometown.[11] His elementary school studies occurred at Ningxiang No. 4 High School and his secondary studies at Hunan First Normal University.[12] After graduating from Peking University in 1954, he was dispatched to the Institute of Philosophy, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.[8]

In 1992, he moved to Boulder, Colorado, United States.[8] In 2021, his head was cryopreserved by the Alcor Life Extension Foundation.[13][14]

Role in Chinese culture

On Li's role in Chinese culture, Yu Ying-shih of Princeton University wrote, "Through (his) books he emancipated a whole generation of young Chinese intellectuals from Communist ideology"[4] Li himself writes that "our younger generation longs to make a contribution to the fields of philosophy and that they are searching [for new avenues] to meet the nation's general goal of modernization as well as the challenge to answer the question about what direction the world is heading."[15]

Critic of Chinese government response to Tiananmen Square

As a result of his criticism of the Chinese government's response to the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and massacre, he was confined to house arrest for three years. Following substantial U.S. official and academic pressure, the Chinese government granted Li permission to visit the United States in 1991. Subsequently, the U.S. government granted him permanent resident status. From 1992, Li held numerous academic positions, including appointments at Colorado College, the University of Michigan, the University of Wisconsin, Swarthmore College and the University of Colorado Boulder.[16]

Philosophy of the human being

An overriding goal of Li's work has been to promote a philosophy of the human being that was not only based on the materialistic and historical realities as analyzed and posited by Karl Marx, but which also supported the view of Immanuel Kant as to the individual's intellectual, moral and aesthetic capacities. As a core element in his analysis, he incorporates the thinking of the greats of Chinese philosophy as well. This blended and fundamentally optimistic view of humankind was a counterbalance to the views of humans during and after the Cultural Revolution.[citation needed]

Li's analysis of Marxist philosophy and political theory developed the following philosophical concepts:[citation needed]

Practical philosophy of subjectivity

The "Practical Philosophy of Subjectivity" is the study of the human being on two levels, each level with its own internal additional two sub-levels of content: 1) that of humankind, with both a techno-social structure and a "cultural-psychological" formation; and, 2) that of the individual, at once a member of a society, a social class, an ethnicity, etc., and at the same time a distinct body and mind. These four dimensions interact and are interwoven.[citation needed]

With this construct of "Subjectivity", the most fundamental dimension is the technosocial. "Human beings first need to ensure their bodily existence before they can occupy themselves with other matters". But the cultural-psychological aspect, ritual, communal and linguistic dimension separates humans from animals.[17]

Motor thinking

Motor Thinking is the conscious coordination of using a tool. To elaborate, the use of tools is not an instinctive biological activity, but rather one "attained and consolidated through a long period of posteriori learning from experience". The Motor Thinking process creates self-consciousness arising from the attention paid to tool making. Transmission of tool based activities to others, using primitive language, results in semantic thinking: "The forms of motor thinking gradually made way for the forms of language-led thought". Coupled with primitive language, motor thinking ultimately results in the creation of a "vague, common consciousness of being a community" which develops into the "symbolic tools of shamanic rites and ceremonies resulting in the establishment of primitive human society… fundamentally different from that of the animals".[18]

Chinese aesthetics and the relation to freedom

Li identifies four features that sum up his views on Chinese aesthetics. The concept of Music/Joy (乐: Yue/Le) holds a central place in Chinese culture, "Music is joy". Music has a civilizing effect and "prevents human emotions from developing in an animal-like fashion". Music causes "people to be on good terms with each other, promoting harmony in society". Music is linear, flows in time, and expresses emotion. From this linearity derives the second feature of Chinese aesthetics – the importance of the line in Chinese art. Li recalls that Immanuel Kant also felt was the superior aesthetic visual format. (Chinese art also emphasizes the expression of emotion and pays particular attention to rhythm, rhyme and flavor.) He then goes on to describe the third element which is the blending of feeling and reason: "imaginative reality is more significant than sensible reality." Finally, he lists the "union of heaven and humankind" and describes it as the "fundamental spirit of Chinese philosophy...the relation between human and human, and between humankind and nature." He then proclaims that "to roam with the arts" is essential to the attainment of freedom. Freedom is neither heaven-sent nor given at birth as Rousseau suggested. Freedom is established by humankind ... " For Li, aesthetics are important![19]

Impact on conventional Chinese thought

Li also wrote critiques of contemporary Chinese thought in the second half of the 1980s. Li Zehou’s 1987 essay "The Western is the Substance, and the Chinese is for Application", turned conventional contemporary Chinese thought on its head. Li stated that Western Learning encompasses technology as well as conceptual systems and philosophies including Marxism and is the pluralistic and diverse technosocial basis of modern-day China's reality. Li Zehou concluded that the Chinese application should adapt Western Learning with Chinese traditions, influencing but not dictating the results. To paraphrase, the goal of this examination synthesis should preserve in ethics the strength and splendor of giving precedence to others before oneself; should preserve the value of intuition within the process of reasoning, and should preserve the rich Chinese culture with regard to the handling of inter-human relationships.[20]

In "Dual Variation of Enlightenment and Nationalism", Li Zehou argues that all modern concepts such as freedom, independence human rights, which were discarded after 1919, and all Chinese traditions should be analyzed and investigated. He wrote that following a relatively long period of peace, developing prosperity and modernization, China would benefit from an examination of the West's "centuries of experience in political-legal theory and practice such as the separations of the three powers". He foresaw that the concept of freedom limited by law would protect the weak and prevent Party officials standing above the law.[21]

Selected works


  1. ^ Xu Yuedong (徐悦东) (3 November 2021). 著名哲学家李泽厚逝世,享年91周岁 [Noted philosopher Li Zehou dies at 91] (in Chinese). The Beijing News. Retrieved 9 November 2021.
  2. ^ Ma, Josephine (4 November 2021). "Leading light of 1980s Chinese aesthetics movement dies in the US at 91". South China Morning Post. Retrieved 9 November 2021.
  3. ^ Anthony Blencowe Li Zehou, Confucius and Continuity with the Past in Contemporary China Archived 24 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine. Centre for Asian Studies. University of Adelaide 1993
  4. ^ a b "Li Zehou, The Confucian World". Archived from the original on 30 May 2010. Retrieved 8 October 2010.((cite web)): CS1 maint: unfit URL (link).
  5. ^ "The Transformative Power of Art: LI Zehou's Aesthetic Theory", Jane Cauvel; Philosophy East & West, Vol. 49, 1999
  6. ^ He Lidan (11 October 2005). 李泽厚:哲学家只提供视角 [Li Zehou: Philosophers only provide perspectives]. Xinmin Weekly (in Chinese) – via Sina. 李泽厚,1930年出生,湖南长沙宁乡人。
  7. ^ 湖湘学人 乐观者李泽厚:中国应做文明的调停者 [Li Zehou: China should be a mediator of civilization]. (in Chinese). 23 March 2016. 李泽厚,1930年6月出生于湖南宁乡道林。
  8. ^ a b c 寂寞思想者李泽厚:忆长沙忆故乡 [The Lonely thinker Li Zehou: Recalling Changsha's Hometown]. ifeng (in Chinese). 14 August 2014. 李泽厚,中国湖南长沙宁乡人。
  9. ^ Rošker, Jana S. (2019). Following his Own Path: Li Zehou and Contemporary Chinese Philosophy. New York: SUNY. p. 8. ISBN 978-1-4384-7247-8.
  10. ^ 巨星陨落!长沙人、著名哲学家李泽厚去世,他的著作曾深刻影响几代人. 3 November 2021. Retrieved 27 November 2021.
  11. ^ Chen Wangheng (陈望衡) (3 November 2021). 李泽厚的湖南故乡情. Hunan Daily. Retrieved 27 November 2021.
  12. ^ Shi Zhenzhuan (石祯专) (3 November 2021). 李泽厚对长沙有着深深眷恋,曾向岳麓书院捐赠藏书3000多册. Changsha Evening News.
  13. ^ He Qitong; Lü Xiaoxi (7 February 2024). "Leading Chinese Philosopher's Brain Cryopreserved in the US". Sixth Tone. Retrieved 8 February 2024.
  14. ^ "Complete List of Non-Confidential Cryopreserved Alcor Patients". Retrieved 8 February 2024.
  15. ^ From M.E Sharp, Inc., book publishers, "Contemporary Chinese Thought", Volume 31, Number 2 / Winter 1999–2000, Pages: 3 – 19
  16. ^ A biographical introduction from a Source Cultures in the 21st Century:Conflicts &Convergences A Symposium Celebrating the 125th Anniversary of The Colorado College 4–6 February 1999
  17. ^ "A Supplementary Explanation of Subjectivity" (originally published in 1987), M.E Sharp, Inc., from Summaries of Essays published in "Contemporary Chinese Thought", Volume 31, Number 2 / Winter 1999–2000, Pages 26–31,translated by Peter Wong Yih Jiun
  18. ^ An Outline of the Origin of Humankind (Originally published in 1985), M.E Sharp, Inc., Summaries of Essays published in "Contemporary Chinese Thought", Volume 31, Number 2 / Winter 1999–2000 Pages 20 -26 translated by Peter Wong Yih Jiun.
  19. ^ "A few Questions Concerning the History of Chinese Aesthetics" (originally published in 1985), M.E Sharp, Inc., Summaries of Essays published in "Contemporary Chinese Thought" Volume 31, Number 2 / Winter 1999–2000, pages 66–78 translated by Peter Wong Yih Jiun.
  20. ^ "The Western is the Substance and the Chinese is for Application" (Originally published in 1987), M.E Sharp, Inc., Summaries of Essays published in "Contemporary Chinese Thought" Volume 31, Number 2 / Winter 1999–2000 Pages 32–39,
  21. ^ "Dual Variation of Enlightenment and Nationalism" (Originally published in 1987), M.E Sharp, Inc., Summaries of Essays published in "Contemporary Chinese Thought" Volume 31, Number 2 / Winter 1999–2000 Pages 40 to 43