Celebrating Bonny Hicks' Passion for Life

● 杜维明教授 By Prof. Tu Weiming

  Professor Tu of the Harvard University and Director of 
the Harvard-Yenching Institute met Bonny Hicks once in 
Singapore at the Conference on Thinking. He was deeply 
impressed by her cultural outlook, particularly her 
knowledge in Confucianism. On the occasion of the first 
anniversary of the SilkAir crash, he wrote this article to 
express his sense of sorrow and loss of a young lady whose 
life was so eventful yet colourful.

  In sharp contrast to Hobbes' cynic view of human 
existence, Bonny Hicks exemplified a form of life that is 
loving, caring and sharing. Even though she died at the 
tender age of 29, she had lived colourfully, vibrantly and 

  True to the intensity of her passion for embracing the 
vicissitudes of the lived experience that cosmopolitan 
Jarkata and Singapore can offer, she was often in 
betweenness: "Heaven can wait, but I won't !" Yet, she was 
not in a hurry and she did not strike me as being restless. 
My only face-to-face encounter with her, a brief 
conversation after my presentation at the International 
Conference on Thinking at the Singapore Convention Hall in 
June 1997, gave me the distinct impression that she was 
self-possessed and self-confident in a calm and unassuming 
way. I at the time was unaware of her career as a model and 
her highly publicised entrance into the Singapore literary 

  My knowledge about her life history is limited; I have 
not yet had an opportunity to read Excuse Me, Are You a 
Model? If I had, I might have agreed with her critique that 
what she disclosed in her autobiographic presentation was 
indeed "too much, too soon." What I have to say about her 
1990 self-description, when she was only 22, is 
inconsequential. However, I feel impelled to join her circle
of friends in sharing my sense of sorrow and loss on the 
first anniversary of her sudden death in the tragic SilkAir 
crash on December 19, 1997.

  Bonny Hicks appeared to me to be the paradigmatic 
example of an autonomous, free-choosing individual who 
decided early on to construct a lifestyle congenial to her 
idiosyncratic sense of self-expression. As "a Singaporean of
mixed parentage (English and Chinese) living in Jakarta" and
as a child growing up in a multi-ethnic and multi-lingual 
environment ("My neighbours were Malays, Indians and other 
Chinese dialect groups"), Bonny seemed to have learned to 
cross cultural boundaries. While she found a comfortable 
niche in the betwixt and between of dominant cultural 
traditions, her longing to return to the roots that her 
grandmother, through exemplary teaching, had planted in her 
inner psyche, remained strong and persistent.

   Her impassioned attachment to Granny (Porpor) enabled 
her to build a bridge to a world where cultural 
sophistication, without literacy and true communication 
beyond words, is taken for granted. Although she was 
nourished in the loving care of her Porpor's understanding 
("the need to be independent, to explore, to travel"), she 
had to transcend Granny's parochialism (that is, politically
incorrect racial attitudes) to be "colour-blind" and to see 
people as they are. She was primarily a seeker of meaningful
existence, a learner.

  In her constant search for the purpose that would give 
her life meaning, she discovered Confucian humanism. 
Specifically, she rediscovered that the Confucian way of 
learning to be human involves active participation in 
society rather than passive acceptance of the status quo. 
Through reading and reflection, she realised that the 
Confucian "learning for the sake of the self" requires 
critical thinking and experiential knowing. That recognition
prompted her to recognise the Confucian roots in her soul. 
As she began to embrace her heritage, she was able to argue 
against those who condemned the Confucian tradition as 
submissive. Once she decided to put into focus her purpose—
"the study and conscious practice of Confucianism"—she 
embarked on an intellectual journey to become a college 
student. Her letter to me (dated November 21, 1997), 
together with the application essay, clearly indicated a new
selfhood in creative transformation.

  ...Confucianism in its totality is enlightening and 
uplifting. It teaches one that learning to be human is 
learning to be moral and above all, Confucianism celebrates 
this life and believes in the perfectibility of the human 
being... I now want to make that which has been implicit in 
my life explicit."

  The world that Bonny Hicks chose for herself may seem 
incommensurable with the Confucian sense of situatedness. 
Indeed, she so much cherished freedom of inquiry, movement 
and association that it is difficult to imagine that she 
would have chosen to lead a typical life of career, marriage
and family. 

  She did for a long while see Confucianism in terms of 
submissiveness, obedience, and conventionality. However, as 
soon as she recognised that behind the Confucian insistence 
on responsibility, civility and decency is the primacy of 
creativity and transformation as an integral part of one's 
commitment to learning to be human, she put the idea into 
practice not only as an interpreter but also as an activist.

  Bonny Hicks' article, "I think and feel, therefore I am"
published posthumously in the Straits Times (December 28, 
1997) strikes a sympathetic resonance in my heart and mind. 
Her reflection on the Chinese character si ("thinking" or 
"thought") was an obvious response to my address on the 
World Conference on Thinking. It is particularly gratifying 
to learn that her gloss on my idea tizhi (embodied knowing) 
took on new shades of meaning readily accessible to the 
general readership:

  "Thinking is more than just conceiving ideas and drawing
inferences; thinking is also reflection and contemplation. 
When we take embodied thinking rather than abstract 
reasoning as a goal for our mind, then we understand that 
thinking is a transformative act.

  The mind will not only deduce, speculate, and 
comprehend, but it will also awaken, will, enlighten and 

  Si, is how I have thought, and always will think."

  In a piece in memory of her Porpor, Bonny confessed that
she believed in life after death, that her Porpor continued 
to live in another realm, that someday, she would be with 
her again. "Right now," she reiterated, "I miss talking to 
her, touching her, hearing her." Bonny made her debut as a 
student of Confucian learning by submitting a letter to the 
Straits Times challenging what she maintained was "the lack 
of understanding of Confucianism as it was intended to be 
and the political version of the ideology to which we are 
exposed today." Her attempt at the archaeology of knowledge 
to retrieve the contemporary message of Confucian teaching 
lasted only a few months. Yet, since she ruminated on 
Confucian humanism not only with her head but with her body 
and soul, she was well on her way to becoming an articulate 
transmitter of the Confucian way. I deeply lament her 
untimely death but I truly cherish the fleeting moments 
talking to her, reading her thoughts, and experientially 
knowing, if only a glimpse, of her life of the mind.
    作者是美国哈佛大学教授以及哈佛—燕京学社社长,也是本报国 际文化咨询团成员。他曾在新加坡一个有关思维的会议上与彭妮有一 面之缘,并对她的文化修养,特别是她对儒家学说的见解,留下深刻 的印象。际此胜安空难一周年纪念,杜教授特为文对这位一生坎坷, 却又多姿多采的年青女子,表达心中的悲痛和惋惜。   彭妮的生命代表了一个充满爱心、关怀和分享的生命,与霍布斯 愤世嫉俗的人生观形成强烈对比。虽然她29岁就离开这个世界,但她 却有过多姿多采、活力四射和充实的生活。她对生命的热忱,使她完 全投入雅加达和新加坡两地之间瞬息万变的生活经验。她曾说过:“ 天堂可以等候,我却不能!”然而她从不匆匆忙忙,也从不显得烦躁 。1997年6月,我在新达城举行的国际思维研讨会上发表演说之后, 和彭妮有过一面之缘。我和她交谈的时间不长,却对她的印象很深刻 。我觉得她在冷静沉着、充满自信之余,却能保持着其谦逊的一面。 当时我并不知道她曾当过模特儿,也不晓得她在新加坡文化界内所引 起的轩然大波。   我对她的过去所知不多,我未曾有机会阅读她的著作《对不起, 你是模特儿吗?》。如果我有这个机会的话,或许我会同意她对这本 自传的自我评估——她不该那么快在自传里透露那么多。她这本自传 于1990年出版,当时才不过22岁。我对自传的看法并不重要。然而, 在她突然逝世于1997年12月19日胜安空难的一周年,我觉得我必须与 她的朋友们分享我心中的悲痛和惋惜。   对我而言,彭妮充分体现了一个自由自主的人,如何在年轻的时 候根据个人的自我表现来决定她所要的生活方式。身为一个“居住在 雅加达的新加坡混血儿(英国人和华人血统)”,以及一个在多元种 族、多种语言环境中长大的小孩(“我的邻居都是马来人、印度人和 其他籍贯的华人”),彭妮似乎学会了如何跨越文化的界限。虽然她 在主流文化传统之间找到了自己的定位,她还是坚毅地寻找她婆婆通 过警戒教诲,在她心中所种下的根。她对婆婆的至情成为一个桥梁, 把她带到一个文盲、不用语言沟通、但却具高度文化层次的世界里。 虽然她在婆婆无微不至的爱护和谅解中成长(“我需要独立、探索、 周游世界各地”),但她也要超越婆婆的狭隘思想(即不正确的种族 观念),做一个“色盲”的人,以个人的素质来判断他人。她不断追 求一个有意义的生命。她是一名求道之士。   在她不断寻求人生意义的道路上,她发现了儒家的人文主义。她 重新发现到,儒家思想教导人类应积极地参与社会,而不是默默地接 受社会现状。经过阅读和思考,她发觉到儒家“为己而习之”的理念 ,须要用到独立思考和人生经验。她这个发现,使她意识到深藏在她 灵魂之中的儒家根本。她开始接受她的儒家思想遗产,并反驳那些指 儒家传统为屈服于当权者的人士。当她决定把精神集中于“学习并实 践儒家思想”的目标时,她报名入大学,踏上寻求知识学问的道路上 。她寄给我的一封信(1997年11月21日),连同申请入学的文章,清 楚地显现了她蜕变后的崭新自我认识:   “……儒家思想在整体上是开明和振奋人心的。儒家思想教导我 们,学习如何做人相等于学习如何做一个有道德观念的人。最重要的 是,儒家思想专注于目前的生命,并深信人是可臻完美的……我现在 要把藏在心中的东西展示出来。”   彭妮为自己所选择的世界似乎和儒家的安居生活方式格格不入。 她非常珍惜探究问题、行动和与人交流的自由,因此很难想象她会选 择一个以事业、婚姻和家庭为重的普通生活。她曾一度视儒家思想为 一种屈服、顺从和坚守传统的思想。但过后她发现到儒家所注重的责 任感、礼貌规矩和高尚品格之背后,有着人类不可缺少的创意和求变 。之后她立即实践这个理念,不但对之加以阐释,而且还积极提倡。   彭妮在《海峡时报》(1997年12月28日)刊登的遗稿《吾思、吾 触、吾为》,在我的心中引起共鸣。她对“思”的看法无疑是对我在 国际思维研讨会中演说的反应。令我欣慰的,是她对我“体知”思维 方式的诠释,使之有了全新意义,让广大读者能够体会到这种思维方 式:   “思维不只是构思出新的概念和推断结论。思维也是思考和沉思 。当我们运用体知思维方式,而不是抽象的推理,我们就会了解到, 思维其实是一个充满变化的过程。人的思想不仅能够推想、推测和理 解,也能够觉醒、遂愿、启迪和激励。过去我如此地思,以后也会如 此地想。”   在悼念婆婆的一篇稿中,彭妮承认她相信来世。她相信去世的婆 婆继续活在另一个空间,而终有一天,她们会再相聚。她重申:“我 现在很怀念和她谈话、触摸她、聆听她的日子。”彭妮投函给《海峡 时报》,阐述当今“对儒家思想原意的误解,和目前呈现在我们眼前 的政治化儒家意识形态”。她企图凿开知识的封土,找回儒家思想的 原意。虽然她只能付出几个月的努力,但她不只用她的思想来探讨儒 家人文主义,她也全心全力地以身体和灵魂来体会。她日后必能成为 儒家思想的传播人。她不幸赍志而没,令我深感悲痛。但我珍惜我们 那一瞬间的交谈,也珍惜阅读她思绪的机会,从而窥见她的思想生活。
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