Lessons in Equality: From Ignorant Schoolmaster to Chinese Aesthetics


  • Ernest Ženko




China, aesthetics, pedagogy, equality, interculturality, Jacques Rancière, Joseph Jacoto


The postponement of equality is not only a recurring topic in Jacques Rancière’s writings, but also the most defining feature of modern Chinese aesthetics. Particularly in the period after 1980’s, when the country opened its doors to Western ideas, Chinese aesthetics extensively played a subordinate role in an imbalanced knowledge transfer, in which structural inequality was only reinforced. Aesthetics in China plays an important role and is expected not only to interpret literature and art, but also to help building a harmonious society within globalized world. This is the reason why some commentators – Wang Jianjiang being one of them – point out that it is of utmost importance to eliminate this imbalance and develop proper Chinese aesthetics. Since the key issue in this development is the problem of inequality, an approach developed by Jacques Rancière, “the philosopher of equality”, is proposed. Even though Rancière wrote extensively about literature, art and aesthetics, in order to confront the problem of Chinese aesthetics, it seems that a different approach, found in his repertoire, could prove to be more fruitful. In 1987, he published a book titled The Ignorant Schoolmaster, which contributed to his ongoing philosophical emancipatory project, and focused on inequality and its conditions in the realm of education. The Ignorant Schoolmaster, nonetheless, stretches far beyond the walls of classroom or even educational system, and brings to the fore political implications that cluster around the fundamental core of Rancière's political philosophy: the definition of politics as the verification of the presupposition of the equality of intelligence. Equality cannot be postponed as a goal to be only attained in the future and, therefore, has to be considered as a premise of egalitarian politics that needs to operate as a presupposition.


Author Biography

Ernest Ženko

University of Primorska, Koper

Ernest Ženko is professor of philosophy of culture at the University of Primorska (Koper, Slovenia). He received his Ph.D. at the University of Ljubljana. He has taught in the Academy of Fine art and Design (University of Ljubljana), and currently teaches in the Faculty for Humanities and in the Faculty of Mathematics, Natural Sciences and Technology (University of Primorska). His research interests include philosophy, aesthetics, film and media theory, and critical theories. He is a member of the Slovenian Society for Aesthetics and the former editor of the IAA/AIE Newsletter. Ženko has published on aesthetics, philosophy of culture, art, media and film, and is author of Space and Art: Space between Philosophy, Fine Art and Science – Leonardo da Vinci, László Moholy-Nagy and Andy Warhol and Totality and Art: Lyotard, Jameson and Welsch.


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How to Cite

Ženko, E. (2017). Lessons in Equality: From Ignorant Schoolmaster to Chinese Aesthetics. AM Journal of Art and Media Studies, (13), 149–162. https://doi.org/10.25038/am.v0i13.192



Beyond the Main Topic: China and the West: Zhuyi and –isms