Philosopher Carl Hempel's connection to China and Chinese Philosophy.

About the project:

I was first introduced to philosophy when I took a ‘Philosophy of Neuroscience’ class last semester. Seeing how philosophers’ ideas about the mind evolved overtime was very intriguing to me. As an aspiring neuroscientist, I have always thought about questions like What classifies something as science?  What truly gives meaning to statements humans say? This semester, I decided to feed my curiosity about this topic by participating in this project. In work for this project, I was elated to build an interesting project around Carl Gustav Hempel’s papers, which are housed in the Archive of Scientific Philosophy at Pitt. 

My inspiration for this project began when I discovered philosopher Carl Hempel’s type-written lecture from the archives, titled, “The Irrelevance of the Concept of Truth for the Critical Appraisal of Scientific Claims''. After further exploration, I came across Hempel’s revised draft of a lecture titled, “Logical Empiricism: Its Problems and It’s Changes”. To my surprise, he had delivered this lecture in China! I thought, Why would Hempel be in China? When was this lecture delivered? Who invited him? That is when I noticed a handwritten note on the first page of the document that said, “Revised, submitted to Hung,” dated 9 June 1981. 

The folder with this revised manuscript also included a handwritten draft of the lecture. In that draft, Hempel mentioned that he had met the Chinese philosopher, Tscha Hung, 50 years ago through the Vienna Circle. This came as a surprise to me and raised new questions: Who was Hung and what was a Chinese philosopher doing at the Vienna Circle?  From my philosophy class, I knew that the Vienna Circle was a group of philosophers based in Vienna who met regularly to discuss and promote the ideas of logical empiricism. They were primarily concerned with how sentences derive their meanings. They promoted using the method of verificationism and considered metaphysical statements meaningless. The major participants, such as Moritz Schlick, Rudolf Carnap, Otto Neurath, were all philosophers based in Vienna or elsewhere in Europe. This led to further questions: 

What was this Chinese philosopher doing in Vienna in 1930? Was the intellectual relationship between China and the West more open than I had thought? Did philosophers and other scholars travel freely between Europe and China in the 1930s? How open was China to getting knowledge from the West considering its political climate? 

To answer all these questions, I focused my research on Hung and Hempel, investigating how they were connected both philosophically and personally.

hempel gets published in China-page-001.jpg

Austrian philosopher Carl Gustav Hempel follows up with this letter to send Chinese philosopher Tscha Hung the revised lecture Hempel is to deliver at Hung's university in Beijing University. 


This letter dated 9 June 1981 reveals relevant and interesting details about the relationship between Hempel and Hung as well as or Chinese philosophy and Western philosophy more generally. Firstly, it is addressed to Dr. Tscha Hung who at that time was a professor at the Institute of Western Philosophy at Beijing University. The fact that this university in the Chinese capital had an institute devoted to “Western Philosophy” suggests that China had an interest in western philosophical knowledge. From additional research, I learned that the department of Western Philosophy was founded in 1919 by Yan Fu, an influential Chinese philosopher who was one of the first to translate and introduce western philosophy to the Chinese public (Wang, 2013, LittleJohn, 2014).

Given that the letter is dated 9 June 1981, I speculated that it was sent along with the manuscript of the lecture Hempel delivered in China, which was also dated ‘6/9/81’. In this letter, Hempel asked Hung to tell him the name of the journal in which Hempel’s lecture was to be published.  

The manuscript of this lecture, in the archives, had a hand-written part where Hempel addressed his relationship with Tscha Hung and the dynamics of the Vienna Circle members too. I wondered why he omitted this when he made a type-written copy of the lecture. But since the lecture was edited for publication in a Chinese journal, that likely explains why Hempel omitted the biographical connection between himself and Hung. This, in fact, would have fit within the context of a public lecture, with Hung in attendance, but would not make sense in the published version.

The letter ends on a friendly tone with Hempel mentioning that the photos that they took together, outside Hung’s house, during Hempel’s visit to China, turned out well, and Hempel promises to send them to Hung after getting copies. 

From this letter and Hempel’s handwritten China lecture manuscript, I was able to piece together additional aspects of the relationship between Hempel and Hung. For instance, I learned that they had met back in the 1930s at the Vienna Circle.

Hung was mentored by Moritz Schlick, one of the founders of the Vienna Circle, for his doctorate.  Hempel, who was based in Berlin, joined the Vienna Circle for a year upon Rudolf Carnap’s invitation. Hung began his studies at the University of Vienna in 1928 (Cohen, Beijing international conference), and in 1929, Hempel spent a semester with Schlick and Carnap at the University of Vienna, which is where I think they would have become acquaintances.


This letter from Carl Hempel to Paul Masoner, a month after Hempel had returned from his trip, sheds more light on the relationship between Western and Chinese philosophy. It is an official letter in which Hempel recounts his visit for what seems like an official purpose for Pitt. It is dated May 27, 1981. Along with this letter were many items that were sent to Masoner by Hempel to get reimbursed for the trip. This explains why Hempel was recounting his trip for Pitt - They were partially funding it. Additionally, another letter in the archives mentioned that Chancellor Posvar had some initiatives for Pitt in China. Perhaps this trip was part of a stronger connection between Pitt and China.

Hempel also mentions that two of his lectures are getting published in Chinese Journals! This letter also hints at China’s political situation and Hempel elaborates on his stay in China. Hempel writes that “while much of the philosophical thinking and teaching in China seems to be broadly Marxist in orientation, there was never the slightest suggestion of ideological pressure on me, and very few of the issues raised in discussions and smaller conferences had any Marxist tinge”. This strongly suggests that Chinese scholars were very open to western views in philosophy and weren’t imposing their traditional ideas. This inspired me to inquire How did China’s political climate evolve?


Timeline for the sociopolitical phases in China as described below.

China has a rich sociopolitical history which has influenced the history of philosophy as well. It can be broadly divided into four phases – 1910s- 1920, 1920-1930s, 1930s-1970s, 1980s – present.

New Culture Movement: 1910s and 1920s

The New culture movement in China (1910-1920s) was a result of Chinese intellectuals’ belief that adoption of the western ways of equality, democracy, and science was the way to help China return to its international position of power and economic growth, after colonization (Asia for educators, 2021). Prior to the 1920s, there was little Western philosophy from the analytic tradition in China. Around that time, however, philosopher Yan Fu began to translate many western works into local languages. There were other notable Chinese philosophers like Hu Shi and Liang Qichao, who aided in the dissemination of western philosophy in China. 

During this time, Hu Shi invited pragmatist philosopher John Dewey to visit China and give a lecture. Surprisingly, Dewey stayed in China for two years and, while he might have been welcomed when he entered, he was not accorded the same praise by the time he left. This is because the rise of communism was right around the corner and there were increasingly negative attitudes about western ideas like democracy and equality (Jiang, 2010). Bertrand Russell’s 1920 visit to China was the nation’s first introduction to analytic philosophy, and it marked the start of the next philosophical phase.

Rise of the Communist Party: 1930s - 1970s

Around this time, Communist leaders began denouncing Western philosophy, including logical positivism (Jiang, 2010). This belief made it difficult for Chinese academics to study Western analytical philosophy. Attempting to find a middle ground, Chinese journalist Liang Qichao advocated for conserving traditional Confucian philosophy alongside western politics and technology. As it turns out, Tscha Hung, Hempel’s acquaintance from their Vienna Circle days, was mentored by Liang Qichao, and it was Liang who encouraged him to pursue western philosophy in Vienna (Cohen, 1992). Thus, it is highly likely that Liang was Hung’s influence for studying Western Philosophy while keeping valuable ideas from traditional Chinese philosophy.

For the most part, the second philosophical phase debated the anti-metaphysics stance of analytic philosophy. Hung left China to go to Germany in 1928 and stayed there till 1937 (Cohen, 1992). The political climate all around the world was very tense throughout this period. The communist party was on the rise in China and soon after Hung enrolled in the University of Vienna, the Nazi dominance in Vienna had increased. This resulted in the loss of his beloved mentor, Moritz Schlick, who was assassinated in 1936. Hung then returned to China in 1937 when the Sino-Japanese war broke out. Two years following this, World War II was declared. This explains how politically heated the climate was all over the world. 

Another detail I noticed was the use of white-out in the first sentence on "People’s republic”. While examining the actual document over Zoom with my archivist mentor, we saw that Hempel started to type “Republic of China” instead of ''People's republic of China''. While this may have simply been an innocent mistake, this shift from the Republic of China to the People’s Republic of China marks the commencement of phase three. During the 1950s- 1970s, the strong communist ideologies that ruled China almost completely halted research as well in analytic philosophy, and only research on Marxist ideologies was permitted. Due to this, many Chinese philosophers who wanted to study analytic philosophy could only study history because that would contribute to the origin of Marxism too (Jiang, 2010). This seemed to silence many Chinese philosophers like Hung who had an interest in research and furthering the field of analytic philosophy; instead, they were forced to do the basic translation or editing work. 

Reform and Opening-up in China: 1980s - present

The 1980s were different due to the implementation of the ‘Reform and Opening-up Policy'. This was aimed at economic growth for China but also implied more leniency on knowledge influx from the west (Asia for Educators, 2021). In the letter, Hempel also mentions that two of his lectures are getting published in Chinese Journals! The University of Pittsburgh Archives also has a few letters from Hung addressed to Hempel enquiring about any scope of Hung traveling to the US. Given Hung’s age, in 1980, when this letter was sent. It was likely he wanted to immigrate to the states. The USA, after all, is where most of the Vienna circle members fled to after the Nazi party broke up the group.

About the creator of this page

Simone Mohite is a Junior at Pitt majoring in Neuroscience and minoring in Theatre Arts, French studies, and Chemistry. She is an aspiring neuroscientist and appreciates research work in general and thus, decided to work on Archival research remotely. 

If you are interested in learning more, please go to the ULS archives and explore! There is also a short Tumblr post created by Simone on the origin of this project. Feel free to click this link to check it out!


I want to sincerely thank my archivist Jacob Neal and Faculty mentor Nedah Nemati for supporting me throughout this project. I also want to extend my thanks to Jeanann Haas, Gesina Philips, and Laura Nelson at the ULS who helped me out and supported my project. 


Bo, WANG. "Chinese Philosophy Education at Peking University." Frontiers of Philosophy in China 8, no. 2 (2013): 278-88. Accessed April 4, 2021.

Jiang, Yi, and Tongdong Bai. "Studies in analytic philosophy in China." Synthese 175.1 (2010): 3-12.

Littlejohn, Ronnie. "Chinese receptions of Western philosophy." ASIANetwork Exchange: A Journal for Asian Studies in the Liberal Arts 22.1 (2015).

Cohen, Robert S., Risto Hilpinen, and Ren-Zong Qiu, eds. Realism and Anti-realism in the Philosophy of Science. Vol. 169. Springer Science & Business Media, 2013.

(2021). Before and after the May Fourth Movement: Asia for Educators: Columbia University. Retrieved March 24, 2021, from

Hempel in China