Confucianism and Modernity (4)

This is the last instalment of my translation of Prof Wang Zhicheng‘s essay of May 20 – his reflections on the contemporary Confucian thoughts which he had introduced earlier.

The previous three legs are here:

(1)     (2)     (3)


Assessment and Reflections

Prof Yu Yingshi knows his history. He sees the decline of Confucianism rather clearly, the reason of which is that traditionally, Confucianism couldn’t exist separately from institutions. Once the separation was there, Confucianism lost its pillar and became a roaming ghost. In the mid-1990s, Yu thought that he had found a way for Confucianism to play a role in today’s world. Confucianism becoming part of peoples’ daily lives, or latency within daily life, existing on daily life, pervasion of daily life were apparently views based on the understanding that in post-modernity, Western civilization was dominating.

Prof Tu Weiming is somewhat more optimistic than Prof Yu. He also sees modern-times Confucianism in decline. He seems to have a sense of mission, playing the role of one of contemporary New Confucianism’s third-period representatives. [see “Fourth Category” here.] He wants Confucianism to play a role as a local resource of wisdom in today’s cultural and religious diversity.  Being a scholar who advocates the coexistence and mutual benefit of the different cultures, he encourages Confucianism’s participation in the dialog of cultures and religions and having Confucianism play its proper role through dialog. However, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism and other dialog partners are all very substantial dialog partners, and although Confucianism is seen as a religion by many Westerners, it is a rather small “denomination”, compared with all the others. Also, in China itself, the argument about Confucianism being a religion or not never seems to end, and so far, no final conclusion has been found. If Confucianism can play a role as a religious tradition with similar strength as other religions deserves reflection and even doubt.

As a result of China’s economical and political development, some scholars or non-scholars have begun showing interest in Chinese peoples’ identity and the prospects of China’s development. Therefore, they don’t take the road of  contemporary New Confucianism [xiandai xin ruxue, 现代新儒学, see second category – ruxue rejected by Jiang Qing], but appear to emhasize Chinese Confucian religion, thus protecting or developing Confucianism. Prof Zhang Xianglong sets out from the perspective of cultural diversity and, in view of Western culture being so strong, believes that protecting Confucianism requires special protection zones to maintain the practise of the traditional Confucian way of life. Confucian schools represented by Jiang Qing are more vehement, strongly advocating an organizational Confucian structure. They even believe that Confucian religion has existed since prehistoric times and that it is the root of our civilization which must be promoted and bring about a new era’s outer king. Within today’s gradually developing democratic development, as for the “king”, in terms of connotation and actual significance, Jiang Qing stands for the teachings of one school. But to become reality, any of these ideas needs to be in tune with the context of our times and its development indicators. Traditional Marxist understanding of Confucianism sees Confucianism as an object of research, without much participatory experience. To the Marxists, Confucianism is an academic topic, not a matter to be practised and developed. And to the young Confucian scholars represented by Prof Peng Guoxiang may advance along the direction opened by Yu Yingshi, Tu Weiming, Liu Shuxian, et al. But Peng Guoxiang is also facing a set of problems. Even if Confucianism can be seen “as a religious tradition and as an intellectual tradition” which takes part in the dialog of  religions and civilizations, and if humanist international dialog can give Confucianism “its own significance in its own place” [see Peng Guoxiang, fourth category there], just acting as a specimen of some tradition won’t be sufficient.

We are entering a second Axial Age. As philosopher Karl Jaspers saw it, the eighth to the second century B.C. were the Axial Age, when philosophers and religious teachers whose influence would extend beyond the following two thousand years emerged in different regions of the earth. Having reached the first half of the 20th century, Jaspers became aware that humankind was possibly on the eve of a second axial age. During the second half of the 20th century, especially in the 1990s, more and more people felt  that humanity was entering a second axial age. We might call it the Second Axial Age.

I carried out a comprehensive analysis of the second axial age, summarizing its seven characteristic awarenesses: (1) global or holistic awareness, (2) ecological or earth awareness, (3) feminist or Yin [] consciousness, (4) dialog awareness or awareness of the other, (5) cross-cultural awareness, (6) non-realism (non-essentialism, non-foundamentalism)1), and (7) qinzheng2) or life awareness.

To some extent, Tu Weiming, Liu Shuxian, Peng Guoxiang et al are all aware of the Second Axial Age’s rise. Tu Weiming himself once said that he and Ewert Cousins, who advocated the thought of the second axial age, are good friends, and that he knows the thoughts advocated by Cousins well. Leonard Swidler, several times presented by Liu Shuxian as an advocate of the second axial age as well, sees the second axial age as an age of dialog. No matter how people understand Confucianism, and no matter what Confucianism was traditionally up to, Confucianism must now face the current great transformation of humanity, and even more so, following this great transformation, rise to its appropriate role. This requires that it innovates and undergoes fundamental change. The development of the times calls for realistic Confucian practise. The creation and practise of an age of diversity calls for a modern Confucianism, and for Confucian participation. As for the Confucian problems, we need a new perspective of understanding. To get past the nostalgia of Confucian religion, we need to advance an axial change in thought.

The Era of Confucianness

But up to now, people don’t see eye to eye on what the second axial age is. Some only mind certain or several aspects of it. Under these circumstances, we need a clearer understanding of Confucianism. So far, fundamentally speaking, Confucianism may find it easiest to enter and to accept the second axial age. It can in all likelihood make an extremely important contribution for humankind.

Although there is some awareness of the second axial age among Tu Weiming, Liu Shuxian et al, most of their attention is on Cousins‘ and Swidler‘s concepts of it. They haven’t been fully aware of the concepts of the second axial age  advocated by Don Cupitt and Karen Armstrong. Cousins and Swidler are aware that we are entering the second axial age and have worked to adapt Christianity (particularly Catholicism) to this age. But Cupitt and Armstrong, and Cupitt in particular, are much more radical. Cupitt not only emphasizes that we must adapt to the second axial age, but that there has to be a completely new beginning, that religious tradition must be re-created, towards a second axial age religion.

In a traditional sense, Confucianism, Confucian school and Confucian religion are facing difficulties, somewhat similarly to Christian religions. But speaking in a practical sense, the challenges and blows Confucianism has seen and suffered remain the strongest ones, being in the state of a wandering, roaming ghost. During history, Christian religion saw challenges during its history, too, but although Chistian religion faced more and more challenges in Britain and Northern Europe, as humanism and scientism were thoroughly victorious, Christian relgion still didn’t become a roaming ghost. Also, Christian religion is very differentiated and diverse in itself, sometimes these inside tensions were bigger than tensions between Christian religion and Buddhism. Inside Christian religion, we can see its voice and strength on its way to the second axial age. In fact, it conducted Christian religions’ deconstruction and reconstruction. For example, we can see the reflections on Christian religion of the advocate of cross-cultural dialog, Raimon Panikkar.

According to Panikkar, Christendom is a civilization which is now past, and can’t be restored. Christianity is a religion. When Christendom withdrew, the West entered the era of Christian religion, and maintained it until today. But Panikkar discovered that the Western Christian religious era is gradually entering the era of Christianness. As Cupitt says, in an era where consumerism is popular, religious sanctity became part of daily lives, and daily life itself became the place of sanctity.

Confucianism collapsed and became a roaming ghost. But Confucianism can’t remain a roaming ghost forever.  So how can Confucianism express itself and practise, participate in the creation of the axial age? Maybe we can’t expect a normative answer from Confucianism any more. Maybe the way for Confucianism to express itself is to consciously enter the era of Confucianness. Confucianness is a characteristic of Confucianism participating in the creation of the axial age – just as Confucius himself, back then! As an ethical practise, Confucianness embodies the immanence of Confucian civilization. It’s the Confucian school’s characteristic for the Confucian school. Confucianness doesn’t depend on any form of institutionalization.  Confucianness is open, it invites all universal elements to get involved, global ethics is its outside transformation. Confucianness is about dialog. In dialog with other civilizations, it wants to put questions to its tense self. Of course, Confucianness is also about politics, it carries some kinds of ethical theories. Confucian school is currently its kind of expression, and a kind of method in the creation of the new civilization of a second axial age.

Confucianness belongs to the principles displayed and created by second-axial-age Confucianism. To say it in a traditional way, going towards the second axial age, Confucianism becomes second-axial-age Confucianism and displays abundant Confucianness. The principles of Confucianness and the seven main characteristics of awareness link with each other and may create a completely new Confucianism.  Because of a variety of reasons, Confucianism declined in modern times, but this decline doesn’t  indicate its disappearance. Confucianness is immanent. After having gone through a transitional period, Confucianness can newly regain its vitality – because harmony is humankinds imperative of the highest order.


1) I’ll need an expert’s input for these terms…

2) qinzheng (亲证) apparently means “bearing witness” to something.


Related: A New Axial Age (about Karen Armstrong), EnlightenNext, Dec 2005 – Feb 2006


24 Responses to “Confucianism and Modernity (4)”

  1. I am not that fond of Confucianism. For a simple reason, two dynasties where influence of Confucianism was at its lowest point, we had the most poets and most poems written namely, Tang & Soong, it was most beautiful & creative era, see the pattern.

    Confucianism is at best, helping the emperor / politburo doing crowd control, to justify its oppressive tactics on normal people on the street.

    Feel free to disagree ,,


  2. Hehe. I wish you had written a comment I could flatly quarrel with. 😉
    I’m not sure if Confucianism really has to be an opressive system of thoughts, and suppose that this is what the author refers to when encouraging “Confucianness” rather than Confucian religion or Confucian school.
    But I can’t disagree with your comment, and be it only because other Chinese “schools” are completely left out of account, especially Taoism, but also Buddhism. My take is that proponents of Confucian revival – in an orthodox way – believe that Taoism is in no such position, and that researchers like Peng Guoxiang or the author might believe that Taoism is “within” Confucianism.
    Christian religion, Islam (or atheism, too) aren’t even mentioned – maybe suggesting Christian religion is as Chinese as any other popular religion there would amount to “westernization”?
    Anyway – Confucianism isn’t the only important Chinese philosophy, and that alone makes me skeptical of the ideas described in the essay, the liberal ones included.
    But it is an interesting review of what Confucian scholars are thinking, isn’t it?


  3. The pattern as observed by Prof Yu Yingshi, the separation of institution, in some way led to the decline. Yes, of course, unless the politburo zealots force fed to the normal folks from young, or else it cannot be on its own.

    Are talking about Confucianism 2.0 ?


    Only way for Chinese to regain its identity, is to respect their individualism & freedom of thinking and expression , ever wonder why? People asking, Chinese hardly (very few) become great in their own soil, we see many famous academic prize winner (Nobel, Literature..etc) from Canada,US,Europe.. , unless they are somewhere out of China, or sometime spent out of China, that tells us something, right ? What we have been doing and preached isn;t great and is stopping us becoming great, maybe is time to move on.



  4. I’m naive and curious. Neo-confuciansism, critical Confucianism, Confucianism 2.0 – is this a move led by government, business leaders, scholars, nostalgic westerners? There is no doubt in my mind that there is a revival but the purpose seems questionable.


  5. Methinks Woody’s comments are offering some good hints here.


  6. “For a simple reason, two dynasties where influence of Confucianism was at its lowest point, we had the most poets and most poems written namely, Tang & Soong, it was most beautiful & creative era, see the pattern.”

    No, Confucian influence was not the lowest in the Tang, for the art of ruling depends on Confucian teachings, and it definitely helped the Tang court achieve greateness. As for the Song, it was an era when Confucianism’s influence was quite strong. After all, the Confucian “revivial” of Neo-Confucianism really started in the Song. Some of the most prominent Confucian thinkers in Chinese history, the Cheng brothers, Liu Xiangshan, Zhou Dunyi, Zhang Zai, Shao Yong, Chen Liang and Zhu Xi were all from the Song period. Granted Neo-Confucianism influence got bigger after the Song, it was already there in the minds and thinking of many intellectuals during the Song.

    There is still this common assumption that Confucianism stifles creativity and promotes authoritarianism, or even totalitarianism (the latter is a misnomer to be applied to any traditional polity, since totalitarianism is really a 20th century phenomenon). For one thing, traditional Chinese state does not have the power to control all aspects of the society, so the central state’s influence is far from total. Also, Confuciansim is quite open to outside teachings. That’s why after the importation of Buddhism, you have the Sanjiao Heyi, “3 teachings in one” (Confucianism, Buddhism, Daoism) that have influenced China for a long time. I think people should read the writings of Confucians like Mencius, the Wang Yangming school (which is certainly influenced by Buddhism) Huang Zongxi, Gu Yanwu and so forth. One should get a picture that these thinkers are definitely against authoritarian rule. These writers also promote independent individuality. One can also get a sense of this by reading the “Ruxing” chapter of the Liji. Sure, Confucianism can contribute to authoritarianism and stifle creativity, but it absolutely doesn’t have to be. Mind you, Confucianism has a lot of diverse elements, different schools within itself.

    By the way, many Chinese have been working to find the best way for China to operate in the modern world. So critical Chinese thinkers are definitely out there. As for the CCP, they are not really promoting Confucianism anyway.They are simply using it for window dressing. Chinese schools don’t teach Confucianism in any meaningful way, nor does the CCP want to encourage dissent, which a proper Confucian is required to do, to remonstrate with authority when the authority does something wrong (needless to say, dissent in contemporary China has been and still is pretty loud). Most Chinese don’t understand and don’t follow Confucian teachings anyway. This has been pretty much the case since the May 4th. Those people who are promoting Confucian revival now are more traditionally-minded scholars, and they are a tiny minority in China. In other words, Confucianism as casting a major influence on China is more than likely not going to happen again.


  7. Timothy, I don’t think I’m a real match in discussing Confucianism – translating Wang Zhicheng’s essay was my try to get somewhat familiar with it, and to draw on a source which seemed to be rather sympathetic towards Confucianism. (Btw, I was struggling with a number of terms, and noted that in the footnotes – if you can see some better translations there, please let me know.)

    Every concept or collection of concepts can be used to a variety of ends, but it seems to me that Confucianism has played a role in stifling other ideas, and be it only to maintain a monopoly on government. The sangang appear to have been quite formative both in public and in daily life.

    But I’m far from equating Jiang Qing‘s ideas (for example) with Confucianism itself. Both critics of “Confucianism”, and its advocates, can be very selective in making their point for or against it, and it’s annoying to see how Jiang or Daniel A. Bell make it look merely funny. And the rebuttals they got are probably necessary, but to write them was hardly a challenge, in my view.

    As for Confucianism not going to casting a major influence on China again, I’m wondering if it has ever ceased to be influential. In everyday terms, it still remains to be there, and from my – German, rather than Chinese – experience, it would seem to me that when it comes to universal values, I’ll understand them more easily from German, than from English or Chinese sources (as far as there are commonalities), and that could be true for people from all kinds of cultural or civilizational backgrounds.

    totalitarianism (the latter is a misnomer to be applied to any traditional polity, since totalitarianism is really a 20th century phenomenon)
    Those who developed totalitarian theories in the 20th century weren’t shy of naming it, Timothy. You can be totalitarian and dress it up like something rather beautiful. And even the 20th-century totalitarian rulers never quite achieved the status they tried to get. Neither China, nor Germany, nor Italy, nor Russia, were ever completely under party or state control.


  8. justrecently,

    I don’t deny Confucianism has played a role in stifling other ideas. Nonetheless, Confuciansim also is quite capable in absorbing ideas from other teachings, like Buddhism and so forth. The “Sanggan” principle first appeared in the Eastern Han, more than likelly influenced by legalism thinking. Miind you, the “Sanggan” principle did not stop many Confucians from remonstrating against their lords and protesting against authoritaranism. See the writers I listed above. Many of their works have been translated into English.

    As for totalitarianism, I think one way to define it is an all-encompassing ideology that control people’s lives as much as possible. If we take the example of Ming-Qing China, you will find that in the scholar-official class, while Confucianism was certainly practiced, it did not prevent people from consulting Daoist priests in their daily lives (e.g. exorcisms, funeral practices…etc.) The same is true with Buddhism (e.g. building better karmas by giving to the poor…etc) Now, granted the Book of Changes has also talked about ideas similar to Karma, most Chinese both in the past and present have been influenced more by the Buddhist idea of this concept. If we concentrate on the non-elites in the Ming-Qing period, than we will find more examples of Confucianism mixing with various beliefs, including popular religions, which have not been a part of the Confucian teaching. This is why I mentioned the “3 teachings in one”. Du Weiming’s suggestions, if he is quoted correctly, is not totally right. He is after all an philosopher, not a historian, and from time to time, he does get many of these historical facts wrong. Also, as I said, traditional Chinese state couldn’t really control the empire the way Maoist China or Nazi Germany were able to. Traditional Chinese empire required major helps from local gentry, elites and landlords, many of whom were not in the government to help them govern. Therefore, a lot of grey areas existed between the government and the populace. The government couldn’t really directly control the popular like 20th century regime could. In this sense, I wouldn’t refer to any traditioanal regimes as totalitarian.

    As for Confuciansim continues to be influential, you have to be remember throughout the 20th century, radical anti-traditionalism has been the mainstream. You still see this now, for example, with philosophers like Deng Xiaomeng. There is this general loss of faith in tradition among the Chinese, which is still true today. Only some traces of Confucian traditions remain today. Many Chinese are still against Confucianism, considering it to be backward, authoritarian…etc. The revival talked about by people like Jiang Qing are really not going to be much of an influence. The thing Danile Bell proposed won’t work in China today, given there are no more Confucian scholarly officials left to begin with. And it is next to impossible to really train them. You will be surprised to learn how many elite Chinese know next to nothing about Confuciansim and couldn’t really read classical Chinese. This has been true for decades now.

    Being German, I think you are familiar with the idea of “Sonderweg”, which was viewed as a very negative concept in the post World War II period, in that the Germans are not fit for democracy, that they have a different idea of freedom from the West (see Leonard Krieger’s book). Some contemporary scholars still uses Sonderweg in their analysis, e.g. Cornell professor Isabel Hull’s book on military in Imperial Germany. But after so many decades, I think it is safe to say that you and your fellow compatriots are fine with democractic institutions now. My point, things do change. China, while has always undergone changes in her history, went through probably the most radical changes in her history in the last 150 years or so. She is still changing. Germany has come a long way, so has China. Just to be clear, I am not suggesting Germany today is totally the same as England or America, and that she has nothing to do with her past. However, old ideas while can still have some influences, will also die out when there are tremendous changes. I am not saying Confucianism has no influence on contemporary China, however, its influence is certainly very small, and I doubt it will ever be as big as before.

    As for translations, I glanced through the original Chinese article. But I did notice your footnote 6 on page 2, I’m not sure if you need it. It’s quite clear that both Yu and Du believe the grand idea of “inner sage, outer king” of Confucianism needs to tone down to the more or less everyday life, to serve as the moral and culture principles of the day to day life, and no longer act as grand political ideology or institutions.


  9. Btw, I looked at one of your other translations 理一分殊. I think it should be translated as “One principle with many differentiatons”. (not the best translation, I know). One way to understand this idea is that there is one major principle, but it has different applications in different situations. Some scholars have argued that this idea is a result of Confucian-Buddhist mixing, or Confucian-Daoist mixing.

    Also for the Gongyang tradition, it is indeed a commentary on the Chunqiu. This book contains revolutionary and utopian ideas, that’s why many Confucians throughout history are interested in it.


  10. A correction for an earlier post: It’s Deng Xiaomang, not Deng Xiaomeng.

    Also there was a discussion about Confuciansim and women in one of your links. I think while in general the Confucians did not regard women as equals, their attitudes toward women were also not as bad as some moderns made them out to be. For example, regarding foot bounding, the Confucians did not advocate this. It’s just one of these social mores that started around the Song and certainly became popular by the Ming.

    Had the Confucians come out to oppose it explicitly, it would have been great, but they didn’t. However, neither were they really responsible for this practice. I might note that Cheng Yi, a staunch and famous Confucian of the Song era, forbade his female family members and descendents to bind their feet. There were other Confucians who opposed foot bounding as well.


  11. (1) traditional Chinese state couldn’t really control the empire the way Maoist China or Nazi Germany were able to

    That’s true. But then, China wasn’t a state much of the time – it was a civilization. As I said at the beginning, I’m not very familiar with China’s history of thought – but the degree to which rulers controlled their states or fiefdoms certainly varied from one region to another. But the ambition to be in control was there, and the civil service under a ruler was there to help him rule.

    We are looking at millenia, Timothy – and that every man (and his fellows) live in a reality of their own. In other words: even when Confucianism wasn’t in a monopoly position, Confucianists didn’t merge their ideas with those of others – not in their own view. They adopted them. I’m sure there were some among them who were also practising Buddhists. If popular history has it right, many were “Confucianist during the day and Taoists at night”. But in my view, it is evident what usually came first. To be a mandarin was a breadwinning capacity.

    I think we disagree in two ways. One is that in your view, Confucianism was less pervasive than what I’m inclined to believe. No matter if you want to count legalism into Confucian practice, or see it as an opposite, Confucians applied it much of the time, while emphasizing the natural goodness of human beings. Power corrupts – and Confucianism had been the guiding concept for government most of the time.

    We also seem to disagree about the future role of Confucianism. One may argue that hardly anyone knows “the classics” anymore – and certainly not in a way that would satisfy a traditional exam commission. But then, you may also say that the Chinese civilization doesn’t exist anymore. It’s a matter of how much change a concept can take without losing its Chineseness, its Confucianness, it’s Christianness, etc.. Many things emphasized by Confucianism are still around in everyday life – concepts of loyalty and of filial piety, for example. And that’s not necessarily bad news. Influence isn’t only there where a political class actively seeks it. Or, as an American poet said, “the past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past”.

    (2) Being German, I think you are familiar with the idea of “Sonderweg”, which was viewed as a very negative concept in the post World War II period, in that the Germans are not fit for democracy

    There’s still more of a Sonderweg than many Americans and Europeans seem to believe, Timothy. There is a degree of utopianism, constructive and destructive anger in my country which can easily be underestimated if you only interact with the upper classes here (and they got their share of frustrations, too – not least with the electorate), you may remain unaware of the feelings further down the hierarchy. If I should sum it up, I’d say that the state is stronger here, and civil society is weaker here than in America or Britain. I do actually believe in Sonderwege – I’m (probably) not underestimating the differences between “China and the West”, or differences within the West. It takes the rule of law and ways to negotiate between different groups of interest – “have and have-nots”, “capital and work”, possibly also between religious and secular-minded people. That can take whatever kind of shape, as long as it keeps the peace within a country, and between countries.

    Most Germans, for example, are fine with democracy, but only a razor-thin majority seems to be fine with the way our democratic institutions are actually working (or perceived to be working). So, while I’m not believing that my country would be up to another aggression (or auto-aggression, which wouldn’t be unprecedented either), we keep looking for the right protocol, under which people (including fellow citizens) can interact with each other fairly, and peacefully. That’s a neverending process.


  12. Thanks for your translation advice! I’ll look into the context later this weekend. As for Confucianism and women, I think you’ve probably noticed my long (and pretty fruitless) discussion with one of my fellow commenters there. When it comes to “criticizing Confucius”, there is probably not less irrationality than what there is when advocating it – and double-standards abound.


  13. Isn’t it time for some Japanese surfing girls on your blog (with sin calfs, if possible)?
    For a reference:


  14. With thin calves? Sure, bring them on! But please: respect copyright.


  15. Justrecently ,

    Thanks for the response. Just a few clarifications:

    I am using the term “state” in a very general, political sense, I was not getting into the civilization debate about China. My point was simply that any traditional state will fall short of the reaching power of 20th century regimes. The regime’s Intention is not really the issue here, as no traditional polities had the means to execute and fulfill their ambitions as effectively as 20th century regimes.

    As for the pervasiveness of Confucianism, the Confucian influence has certainly been pervasive in Imperial China. I was just pointing out that Confucianism did change over time and that it also absorbed and adapted elements from many other teachings. In addition, many other teachings did grow and operate on their own despite the dominance of Confucianism (e.g. the development of Chan Buddhism). The worship of the various Daoist and Buddhist deities by the many in Imperial times is another example of this.

    When it comes to political ruling, you are right in that Legalism also played a major role. There is this phrase “Yangru Yinfa”, “Confucianism on the outside, Legalism on the inside” that scholars use to characterize how the many Imperial states have governed in the past.Throughout history, many Confucians such as Zhu Xi believed “Yangru Yinfa” to be true and lamented the fact the real and true Confucian way was never implemented after the 3 dynasties. These people felt that the Imperial Courts were simply using Confucianism as a camouflage to cover their actual governing principles, which were based on Legalism. Whether this is historically true or not is subject to debate. There is also the question of what constitutes “true” Confucianism, “true” Legalism. Another issue is the various distinctions between Confucianism and Legalism and the merging of ideas between the two (Yu Yingshi is someone who has written about many of these topics). However, that Confucians like Zhu Xi genuinely believed that the Imperial rules as not really Confucian is something we need to take into account. We should try to understand how people in the past understood themselves, their own world, their own tradition.

    As for natural human goodness, it is a Mencian idea that became mainstream after the Song. Before the Song, this idea was not necessarily the most dominant take on this issue. For example, Dong Zhongshu in the Han viewed humans needing good education to become good, humans are not naturally inclined to goodness themselves.

    History is often muddy and complicated. Therefore, with the many different elements of different schools and beliefs mixed together, it becomes quite difficult to disentangle the various schools from each other, especially during the later Chinese dynasties. And just like in Christianity, many Confucians in the past have not been faithful to their own teachings. All of these issues mentioned so far complicate the topic we are discussing here.


  16. As for the future of Confucianism, given I have personally interacted with Chinese professors and students in the humanities, my observation is that most people in academia, let alone the general populace, are not that interested in Confucian revivial. They really don’t have the abilities to revive Confucianism anyway, as much of the tradition has been lost. I am quite sure you can find more people wanting Western style democracy than a Confucian type of government in China today. Anti-traditionalism is still pretty strong.

    You are right in that concepts do change over time, and that there comes to a time when the changes can be so big that one wonders if we should still call these new concepts by their old names. Ideas like loyalty and filial piety nowadays are certainly not exactly the same as those of 100 years ago. Even in traditional China, ideas tend to change their meanings over time. But China’s changes in the modern times have been staggering and bigger than changes in the past. As I said, I don’t deny Confucian tradition still has some influences over China. However, I just can’t say China is a Confucian society today. This has been true since roughly the May 4th onward (Btw, I’m not saying you are suggesthing China is a Confucian state today). I also cannot see it becoming one in the future. Unless of course people manage to transform Confucianism and provide it with a modern definition that is very different from the various traditional versions/defitions it had in the past. The good thing is, there has been for some time now, a geunine, both public and private, discussion in China about not only the country’s current problems but also where should China go next. The issues of morality and values have been discussed quite often these days. All of these discussions can be quite lively. Many times one can also find these dicussions online. Needless to say, there is the problem of censorship. But despite of the censorship, many people certainly have been doing their best to keep the discussions going, though.

    If you are still interested in the status of women in Imperial China, I would recommend you take a look at some the works of Patricia Ebrey, Dorothy Ko and Kathryn Bernhardt. The relationships between women and Confucianism is complex. Women’s status in Imperial China isn’t as awful as some modern commentators think it is. Of course, it is not like the moderns either. (btw, I am not sure if people like Jiang Qing really wants to change the status of women. Doubt it). However, as you know, mere stereotypes of Confucianism discrminating against women don’t really get one the best analysis and explanations of the issue. This is true with every other issue other there. So we all have to be more willing to learn and to be better informed, to learn from the good sources that are out there. I also know how much more I still need to learn. So yeah.

    Thanks for your take on the “Sonderweg”. There are quite a few similiarites between Germany and China, especially in their struggles with modernity. This is something that has fascinated me for some time. This is also true with many Chinese thinkers these days, as many of them are interested in people like Leo Strauss, Carl Schmitt and Jürgen Habermas. China’s elite have been quite interested in European thinkers for some time now. The most recent example is from the news just the other day, which is also confirmed by a Chinese friend of mine in Beijing, that many intellectuals, government people and other elites are now reading Tocqueville’s L’Ancien Régime et la Révolution. Many Chinese elite feel this book is still relevant to China’s situation today.

    Anyway, apologies if the posts are too long. Good conversations, though. Thanks.


  17. The regime’s Intention is not really the issue here, as no traditional polities had the means to execute and fulfill their ambitions as effectively as 20th century regimes

    I think the intentions are pretty much the issue, Timothy. If they weren’t, totalitarian streaks in government would go unchecked this century. In my view, Italy’s Fascist regime – ruling from 1922 to 1945, I believe – was totalitarian, even it was struggling, given the influence of the Catholic church, and tradition. Few people would contest that Germany was totalitarian. Still, this didn’t keep people – even some Nazis, at times – from protecting “state enemies” they had known long before 1933. It didn’t keep people who remembered some basic rules of decency from opposing the Nazis. Not all children were allowed by their parents to join the “Hitler Youth”, for example – even if they wanted to join. Nazi rule didn’t keep parsons and bishops from denouncing the Nazis from the pulpit (and not all of them were arrested). The murder of six million jews – many of them German citizens can’t be merely attributed to totalitarianism either. One has to take anti-semitism into account as a major enabler of the Holocaust, too. Euthanasia was by no means that “successful”, given that priests and parents frequently opposed it. Majority support and Mitläufertum doesn’t spell totalitarianism. The regime’s aspiration does.

    If you are still interested in the status of women in Imperial China […]

    I think you are confusing me with Raj, another commenter on the Peking Duck thread in question, Timothy. He thinks of discrimination of women as a major feature of Confucianism, and his suspicion that I were a misogynic Confucian led to a pretty long interrogation (he took the role of the inquisitor there).

    Ideas like loyalty and filial piety nowadays are certainly not exactly the same as those of 100 years ago.

    That’s true. But as muddy and complicated history may be, there’s still no new name to Confucianism.

    Anyway, apologies if the posts are too long.

    No problem at all. I appreciate our conversation. If I had any objections against long comments (or posts, for that matter), I’d be on Twitter, rather than on WordPress.


  18. Justrecently,

    Just saw your response. I didn’t confuse you with Raj. I just mentioned that if you are interested in women history in China, then you might be interested in reading these scholars I suggested. I know Raj was the interrogator in that conversation, quite an unfair one, if I may add. He/she doesn’t seem to be very knowledable either.

    When I mentioned intention was not really the issue, it was in the context of the definition of totalitarianism and its differences with authoritaranism. Of course I recognize that any evil intention of any regime matters big time. The different definitions of these terms like deomcracy, autocracy, totalitarianism are also subjected to heated debates and it can go on forever. For example, Jacob Talmon has this idea of “Totalitarian Democarcy”. So yeah I suppose everyone has their own definitions of there terms.


  19. Should have been “Democracy”, “these terms”. Typed too fast.


  20. Should’ve been “knowledgeable”. Also “these terms” also includes authoritarianism, monarchy, republic and any other similar terms/concepts one can think of. They can all be very hard to define.


  21. Thanks for our discussion, Timothy! Future comments of yours will also be welcome. Best, JR.



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