I’ve just begun reading the late Qing scholar Tan Sitong’s Renxue 仁學, and I’m pleased to see that Tan seems to have understood ren in some sense similarly to the way I understand it, and that I argue the authors of the Analects understood it, in at least one key feature. Tan says:
仁以通為第一義。… 通之義以 “道通為一” 為最渾 括 The first or fundamental meaning of ren is tong (commonality or connection). … The meaning of tong 通 is best expressed by “the Way connecting things as one”.
Although Tan’s understanding of tong here (as he goes on to explain) is more Buddhistic than representative of the behaviorist communitarianism of the Analects (and I realize that “all things” is what he has in mind here rather than “people in a community”), I think this is still a good way to describe ren, allowing for differences in what falls within the scope of tong. In fact, I think this line from Tan is almost exactly how I’d put it (though I might add a word or two about good or thriving community–but it comes to much the same).
By the way–I learned through Wikipedia that Tan Sitong was portrayed as a character in two Shaw Brothers kung-fu flicks, “Iron Bodyguard” and “The Last Tempest”. As an enormous, ridiculously rabid kung fu movie fan, I find this totally awesome.
Tan Sitong－my new favorite person.