Conclusions on Chinese Philosophical Thought



My initial interest in conducting cultural ethnography in Beijing was in researching the interactions of ballroom dance and modesty specifically as an aspect of Chinese moral philosophy. As such, with the aid of professor Wilcox I was able to select a ballroom dance studio in Beijing to attend lessons at as my field site. However, due to unexpected complications, namely, an ankle injury, I was unable to continue research in this way. While I returned once more to conduct a final interview, the latter section of my research phased away from the specific topic of ballroom dance and into a broader study of the cultural mindset of China.From a variety of sources including in-class cultural readings, academic articles, and first hand observation and in-field research, I was able to come to conclusive realizations and gain a deeper understanding of my research topic.


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Field Site


舞燃情Ballroom Dance studio is located in the 海淀district of Beijing, right off of the 海淀黄庄subway station on line 10. From the station, you get to the studio by walking past Haidian Theater into the first entrance of the rounded glass building behind it. From there, you take the elevators in the lobby to the fourth floor and the door to the front room of the studio is on the left, clearly marked with a decorated doorframe. There is a LED sign which advertises lessons to the public from the large windows of the main studio that can be seen from the subway station exit.



The weekly class schedule


While 舞燃情 teaches in both standard and latin international ballroom dance, during the summer they only offer classes in latin. Classes are roughly 50 yuan per walk-in, and membership packages include anywhere from eight once-a-week classes to unlimited class options. To the right is the weekly schedule kept behind the front desk in the lobby of the studio. For my research I signed up for the 8 weekly classes in samba and additionally attended a social dance as well. Here’s a short clip of one of the twice weekly held salsa social dance parties I attended at 舞燃情.





Over the visits I paid the studio I took observation directly into a little orange notebook designated as my field journal. From meticulous description of the field site to vocabulary to the retelling of experiences to interviews, this notebook served as a direct window and concrete record of my experiences both at my field site and in other locations around Beijing.




In an academic article published about Asian social sciences, Xu Keqian compares Eastern and Western philosophy in the terms of “Truth” vs. “Dao”. As a prevalent religion in China, Daoism has had a significant historical impact in Chinese history, culture, and philosophical thought. Confucius himself spoke of the Dao and its merits in daily life. Xu’s article illuminates the differences between the concept of “Dao” and the traditionally western pursuit of “Truth” in philosophy, and the consequential advantages and disadvantages of each philosophy on a societal level.


Xu attests that etymologically, the root meaning of the character “Dao” is derived from “way”, “path”, or “speak”, as in the character is depicted two parts, which mean human steps and human head. “Dao” is created by humans for humans, and corresponds more directly to a way of living that is applicable, practical, and efficient. “Truth” on the other hand in the traditionally Western philosophical sense corresponds to the concept of an objective reality which exists outside of the influence of humanity. We can only discover the truth, not create it. While this idea of “Truth” is useful in scientific discovery, it causes problems when applied to social systems and the interaction between and among human beings because it rejects the idea of more than one correct answer or perspective towards a given issue. This tolerance of multiple views is thus the advantage of the concept of “Dao”.




My initial purpose in researching was because of preconceptions of chinese culture that I had myself. I’d been told by teachers that modesty was an important moral issue to Chinese, and if anything that testifies to the fact that the Confucian way of life is still present on some level in the broader social realm of China. However, the uses and applications of this concept of modesty are molded and shaped by the times, in the same way that the dao is constructed by human experience. So, in the face of globalization China holds to its traditions but also carries them into the present in applicable ways – something like Ballroom dance, rather than an immodest hobby, becomes a vocation/aspect/feature that makes one appear to other chinese as cultured and aware.





Keqian, Xu. “Chinese “Dao” And Western “Truth”: A Comparative And Dynamic Perspective.” Asian Social Science 6.12 (2010): 42-49.Academic Search Complete. Web. 2 Aug. 2013. <>