Introduction: Confucian studies East and West

Introduction: Confucian studies East and West
Confucian studies East and West
If we were to characterize in one word the Chinese way of life
for the last two thousand years, the word could be ‘Confucian’.
No other individual in Chinese history has so deeply influenced
the life and thought of his people, as a transmitter, teacher
and creative interpreter of the ancient culture and literature
and as a moulder of the Chinese mind and character.
(de Bary, et al., 1960, vol. 1: 15)
At the end of the sixteenth century, an Italian Jesuit Matteo Ricci (1552–
1610) arrived in China. Ricci soon realised that the first task for him
should not be to win over a great number of people to conversion and
baptism, but instead to try to secure a stable and respectable position
for himself within Chinese society. So Ricci and his fellow missionaries
strenuously attempted to integrate themselves into the community. The
Jesuits saw a similarity between Christianity and Buddhism – both were
religions from the West – and therefore they presented themselves as
‘Monks from the West’, shaving their heads and changing their clothes
to Buddhist robes in order to win the support from the Chinese, just as
they thought the Buddhists had done a thousand years before. However,
it was not too long before the missionaries realised that the Buddhists
were not so highly regarded as they had at first imagined. They discovered that in fact it was Confucian scholars who were the true social
elite of Chinese society. Accordingly the Jesuits changed their habits once
more, wearing Confucian clothes and growing their hair long. In this
way they created a new image of ‘Scholars of the West’. Ricci continued
with his Chinese studies, paying great attention to Confucian texts,
and began to be regarded as a highly respected western scholar (xi shi).
Rule says:
The decisive change from the dress and role of Buddhist monks to
those of Confucian literati was accomplished in May 1595 when
Ricci left Shao-chou for Nanking, but it had been in preparation
for a considerable time . . . Matteo Ricci first discovered and then
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An introduction to Confucianism
adapted himself to Confucianism in the course of his thirty-odd years
in China. (Rule, 1986: 15, 26)
Ricci became friends with a number of Chinese scholars and oAcials
who introduced him to the court. He and his fellow missionaries sent
back hundreds of letters, travel reports, treatises and translations to
Europe which made a major contribution to the introduction of Confucius and Confucianism to the West. Although there had been some
knowledge of China and the Chinese, until Ricci and other Christian
missionaries began their work, Confucianism had hardly been studied in
Europe. The serious way in which the missionaries treated Confucian
doctrines suggested that as Christianity was to the Europeans, so Confucianism was to the Chinese.
Ricci and his fellow missionaries clearly studied Confucian classics as
part of their missionary strategy and their presentation of the Confucian
tradition may indeed be taken as a ‘Jesuit creation’ (Rule, 1986). However, by introducing Confucianism to Europe, Ricci became one of the
pioneers of Confucian Studies in the West. The Jesuit version of Confucianism played a key role in generating Sinophilism among the learned
community in Europe and some Enlightenment thinkers and philosophers,
such as Voltaire and François Quesnay in France, Leibniz and Christian
WolC in Germany, and Matthew Tindal in England thereby became
fascinated by Confucian ethical and social doctrines. For some of them, the
Confucian political blueprint that the state was ruled ‘in accordance with
moral and political maxims enshrined in the Confucian classics’ appeared
to provide an ideal prototype for a modern state (Dawson, 1964: 9). Since
then, Christian missionaries and those influenced by Christian images
of the eastern tradition have continuously played an important role
in the introduction of Confucianism to the West and in promoting the
interpretation of Confucian doctrine within a Christian or European
framework. ‘In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries’, according to Karl
Jaspers, ‘it was not rare for Protestant missionaries in China to be so overwhelmed by the profundity of Chinese thought that they would reverse
their role and return to the West, so to speak, as “Chinese missionaries”’
(Jaspers, 1962: 143–4). The twentieth century has seen a rise in the
number of sinologists, philosophers, anthropologists and historians
taking part in Confucian Studies. As a result, Confucian Studies has
gradually become a discrete discipline and is now an established subject
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Introduction: Confucian studies East and West
not only within the subject of Asian Studies but also in the areas of
philosophy and religious studies.
Modern scholars from West and East introduce and examine the
Confucian tradition from the standpoints both of insiders and of outsiders. More recent examples of preeminent scholars in the West who
take their points of view roughly from within Confucianism but also
critically examine the tradition include, to name but a few, Wing-tsit Chan
(1901–94), Wm. T. de Bary, Tu Wei-ming, Cheng Chung-ying, Roger T.
Ames and Rodney L. Taylor. These scholars have not only introduced
Confucian Studies to western students and readers, but have also
developed and enriched the Confucian tradition itself. In their hands,
Confucianism is not merely treated as an old political ideology or a socioeconomic system, but primarily as a religious or philosophic tradition,
open both to the modern world and to the future. These scholars have
striven to establish a strong link between the past and the present,
a healthy interaction between the Chinese tradition and other great
traditions in the world. Their influence on western students of China
and Confucianism is enormous, and some of them have created a new
image of Confucian masters. This can be seen from Sommer’s testimony
in relation to Wing-tsit Chan, a prominent translator and researcher of
Confucian Learning, that ‘some of us students secretly suspected that,
in some mysterious way, Professor Chan was Chu Hsi [a great NeoConfucian master]’ (Sommer, 1995: ix).
Two main problems engage Confucian Studies in the West. The first
problem is that after about 400 years of study and research, Confucianism in the West is still a subject which only involves a small group
of scholars. This situation is due in part to highly scholarly Confucian
works being less accessible to students pursuing general philosophical
and religious studies. This problem is one of the major factors in the
slow development and expansion of Confucian Studies in the West. The
second problem arises from methodology and the ways in which Confucianism is introduced and studied. Confucianism has been presented
variously in the hands of diCerent scholars, which causes further confusion among readers. These two problems are both caused by, and also
increase, the gap between Confucianism as it is perceived in the West
and the Confucianism understood in the East. More and more scholars
have realised the extent of these problems and have sought to solve them
in one way or another. For example, in a book entitled Thinking Through
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An introduction to Confucianism
Confucius, David L. Hall and Roger T. Ames attempt to return to the presuppositions that sustain the Confucian tradition through reinterpreting
Confucius. They comment that
The primary defect of the majority of Confucius’ interpreters – those
writing from within the Anglo-European tradition as well as those
on the Chinese side who appeal to Western philosophic categories
– has been the failure to search out and articulate those distinctive
presuppositions which have dominated the Chinese tradition.
(Hall & Ames, 1987: 1)
Much of East Asia was once under the influence of Confucianism, but
this has waned, and Confucianism has clearly lost its dominant position
there. Even so, despite all criticism, Confucianism still has an important
role to play in East Asian philosophy, religion, politics, ethics and culture.
Consequently, one of the major tasks facing all scholars of Confucian
studies is how to communicate between traditional values and modern
applications, between eastern and western Confucian scholarship.
Stages of the Confucian evolution
Confucianism is primarily a Chinese, or more precisely, East Asian, tradition. To understand Confucianism as a way of life or as a traditional
system of values, we have to go to its homeland and find out how it came
into being and how it was transformed. A popular method that is used in
presenting the Chinese Confucian tradition is to divide its history into as
many periods as there are Chinese dynasties. In this way Confucianism
becomes part of a much more complicated history and the Confucian progress is mixed up with the general changes in political, social, economic,
religious and cultural life. On many occasions Confucianism gained
strength and positive influence from these changes, yet on other occasions
it suCered from the breakdown of the social fabric and responded by
becoming either more flexible or more dogmatic. Throughout the history of the Chinese dynasties, Confucianism changed and adapted itself
to new political and social demands, and these changes and adaptations
are as important as the teachings of the early Confucian masters.
It can be said in general that the advance of Confucian Learning
was directly related to the replacement of one dynasty with another. The
link between Confucianism and dynastic government was formally forged
during the Former Han Dynasty (206 bce–8 ce) when it was promoted as
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Introduction: Confucian studies East and West
the state ideology. Since then, right up until the beginning of the twentieth
century, Confucian scholar–oAcials were influential in laying down the
basis for government, and the amount of influence exerted by Confucian
scholars more or less depended on the patronage of those people who
were in a position to implement the teachings. None the less it does not
follow that Confucianism was always a shadow of political change. Much
of the development of Confucian Learning was largely independent of
imperial patronage and many of its schools remained outside the political
milieu and presented a direct challenge to the establishment. Confucianism
was not merely a passive tool of government. Rather, it functioned, to a
considerable extent, as a watchdog for ruling activities, endeavouring to
apply its principles to shaping and reshaping the political structure. There
were doctrinal elements that sustained the development of Confucian
schools and there were also spiritual reasons for Confucian masters to
direct their learning away from the current actions and politics of those
in power. In this sense de Bary is right when he points out that
It is probably to the Confucian ethos and Confucian scholarship that
the Chinese dynastic state owed much of its stability and bureaucratic
continuity . . . Yet the reverse was not equally true; Confucianism was
less dependent on the state for survival than the state on it. Even though
aCected by the rise and fall of dynasties, Confucianism found ways to
survive. (de Bary, 1988: 110)
If Confucianism is not simply a shadow of dynastic change, then
how should we present a historical perspective of it? When discussing
the history of Chinese philosophy as a whole, Fung Yu-lan (1895–1990),
one of the great Modern New Confucians, divided this history into two
ages, the creative and the interpretative. He calls the creative age, from
Confucius to the Prince of Huainan (d. 122 bce), the Period of the Philosophers (zi xue); and names the interpretative age, from Dong Zhongshu
(179–104 bce) to Kang Youwei (1858–1927 ce), the Period of Classical
Learning (jing xue) (Fung, 1953: 2). This two-part division reveals some
essential characteristics of the development of the Confucian tradition.
The creative period represents the initial formulation of the early teachings into a cohesive tradition while the interpretative period illustrates
the expansion of the tradition in line with social and political developments that necessarily take place over the centuries. However, if we
simply apply this two-fold pattern to the history of Confucianism, then
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An introduction to Confucianism
our perspective would be seriously limited. By merely singling out the
methodological features of Confucian Learning, this division underemphasises the distinctive contributions made by distinguished masters
and overlooks the multidimensionality of various Confucian schools.
More importantly, this approach does not take suAcient account of the
interplay between Confucianism and the many other traditions that also
existed through its long history and development.
Focusing on the development of modern Confucianism, Mou Zongsan
(1908–95), another modern New Confucian master, formulated a
diCerent pattern for the history of Confucianism, dividing it into three
periods or ‘epochs’ (Fang & Li, 1996: 486–95). His disciples, among
whom Tu Wei-ming presents a most persuasive argument, have developed
this theory further. According to this three-period theory, Confucianism
thus far has gone through three epochs. The first epoch from Confucius
(551–479 bce), Mengzi (371–289 bce) and Xunzi (310?–211? bce) to
Dong Zhongshu represents the origin of Confucianism and the acceptance of the tradition as the mainstream ideology, which corresponds to
the period from the Spring and Autumn period (770–476 bce) to the
end of the Later Han Dynasty (25–220 ce). The second epoch starts from
the renaissance of Neo-Confucianism and its spread to other parts of
East Asia and ends with the abolition of the dominance of Confucianism
in China and East Asia, corresponding to the era from the Song Dynasty
(960–1279) to the beginning of the twentieth century. The third epoch
takes place in the twentieth century, beginning with the critical reflection
on the tradition initiated in the May Fourth Movement (1919) and which
is still an ongoing process. A significant feature of the third epoch is
that modern Confucian scholars propagate and reinterpret Confucian
doctrines in the light of Western traditions, in which Confucianism is
being brought into the world and the world into Confucianism (Tu, 1993:
141–60; 1996a: 418). The primary question behind the three-epoch
theory is whether or not Confucianism is able to develop so that it can
become part of a global spirituality and culture. In search for answers
to this question the emphasis must be on the Confucian expansion of
its geographical area in relation to its self-transformation in response
to external challenges. The three-epoch theory implies that the further
development of Confucianism depends upon whether or not it can respond appropriately and successfully to industrialisation, modernisation,
democracy and the ‘global village’. Commendable as the three-epoch
theory is, it is nevertheless inadequate for us to use this theory to present
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Introduction: Confucian studies East and West
the historical perspective of the Confucian tradition. As a highly abstract
formula, the theory inevitably pays less attention to many significant parts
or periods of Confucian evolution which have made important contributions to sustaining and innovating Confucian Learning. Therefore,
if we use it as a paradigm for the history of Confucianism, it would be
too general to reveal what characterises the Confucian tradition as a constantly growing and changing tradition. If using it to highlight Confucian
history, we would overlook the fact that Confucianism draws its energy
and vitality both from within and from the interaction between itself and
many other traditions, and between the past and the present.
This introduction is not intended as a thorough study of Confucian
history. We nevertheless need to present a brief account of how Confucianism evolved and how it was transformed. In our historical perspective, Confucianism has gone through five stages, or in other words,
it has presented itself in five dimensions. In each of these stages or dimensions, Confucian doctrines gained new characteristics, the contents
of Confucian practices were enriched and the range of Confucian teaching was widened.
Confucianism in formation
In this first stage, Confucianism acquires a ‘classical’ form. The classic
presentation of Confucianism (ruxue or rujia) took shape during the
so-called Spring and Autumn period (770–476 bce). Confucius and his
faithful followers made the first eCorts to formulate a new philosophy
based on the old tradition and propagated it as the path to peace and harmony. Much modification of, elaboration and clarification on classical
Confucianism were added by brilliant scholars in the Warring States period
(475–221 bce), among whom Mengzi and Xunzi became preeminent
in the later Confucian tradition, and due to their eCorts Confucianism
became one of the major schools with many diCerent presentations.
Confucianism in adaptation
In the second stage, Confucianism is reformed and renewed in the interaction between Confucian schools and the schools of Legalism, Yin–Yang
and the Five Elements, Moism and Daoism. Following the replacement
of the Qin Dynasty (221–206 bce) by the Han Dynasty, Confucianism
recovered gradually from the setback under the Qin persecution and the
Legalist discrimination. Having clearly realised that they were in an
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An introduction to Confucianism
eclectic culture, Han Confucians started a long process of adapting their
doctrines to the need of the empire. During the process of adaptation,
classical Confucianism was transformed, elaborated and extended. A
theological and metaphysical doctrine of interaction between Heaven and
humans was established and consequently became the cornerstone of the
revived Confucianism. There were two prominent schools of the time:
the New Text and the Old Text Schools. Debates between them resulted
in new interpretations of Confucius and the Confucian classics. This led
to what is known as ‘Classical Learning’, or more accurately, ‘scholastic
studies of the classics’ (jing xue). Attention focused on close interpretation of words and sentences in the classics and by the end of the Later
Han Dynasty the extensive exegesis had nearly exhausted all the life
energy of Confucian scholars. To counter this stagnation, scholars of
the Wei–Jin Dynasties (220–420) adopted one of two courses. Some
introduced Daoist philosophy into Confucianism while others adapted
Confucian world-views to Daoist principles. In each way Daoism and
Confucianism came together in what is known as Dark Learning or
Mysterious Learning (xuan xue). This was to have a lasting influence
upon the later development of Chinese thought.
Confucianism in transformation
In this stage, Confucianism responds to the challenges from Buddhism
and Daoism by ‘creating’ a new form of Confucian Learning. Confucianism of the Song–Ming Dynasties (960–1279, 1368–1644) regained
its authority over all aspects of social and religious life. Inspired by
Buddhist philosophy and Daoist spirituality, Confucian scholars reformulated the Confucian view of the universe, society and the self
on the one hand, and endeavoured to strip Confucian Learning of the
elements they considered to be Buddhist–Daoist superstitions on the
other. The result of their eCorts was a comprehensive system of new
Confucian Learning called Dao Xue (the Learning of the Way) or Li Xue
(the Learning of the Principle/Reason), which as such is normally translated in the West as Neo-Confucianism.
Confucianism in variation
The fourth period sees Chinese Confucianism being introduced to
other East Asian countries, and combined with local culture and tradition to acquire new forms of presentation. China is the homeland of
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Introduction: Confucian studies East and West
Confucianism, but Confucianism is not confined to China. The history
of Confucianism can be characterised as a process of radiation. From its
origins in the north, it spread to the whole of China and then to other
countries of East Asia. More recently it has spread to North America,
Europe and the rest of the world. According to historical records, Confucian doctrines and institutions were introduced to Vietnam, Korea and
Japan as early as the Former Han Dynasty. In the beginning, scholars
in these countries simply replicated the Chinese system but gradually,
eminent native scholars emerged who, taking the Chinese masters as their
guides, reinterpreted the Confucian classics and commentaries in the light
of their own understanding, experience and insight. In this way, they
successfully recreated a new scholarship by introducing new forms and
contents into Confucian Learning to satisfy the social and political needs
of their own countries. Thus, Chinese Confucianism acquired additional
manifestations, where the common sources of Confucian Learning and
practices were transformed into diCerent and yet related streams flowing into the twentieth century.
Confucianism in renovation
Confucianism is further transformed during this last period and develops
in the light of other world philosophies, especially European philosophical tradition and Christian spirituality in the modern age. Prominent
scholars of the twentieth century such as Xiong Shili (1885–1968), Liang
Suming (1893–1988), Fung Yu-lan (1895–1990), Qian Mu (1895–1990),
Tang Junyi (1909–78) and Mou Zongsan (1909–95), devoted the whole
of their lives to the revival of Confucian values and the transformation
of Confucian doctrines. Their contributions have rejuvenated Confucianism and constitute a significant part of ‘modern new Confucianism’
(xiandai xin ruxue).
While intending to give a brief but clear account of Confucian history,
we recognise that it is not possible in this work to take full account of
all the Confucian schools and sub-schools. Therefore we will have to
single out the most influential masters and examine their contributions
to the development of the Confucian tradition. In so doing, we will
especially emphasise the epoch-making innovations and transformations
achieved and highlight the crucial stages in its development, while
leaving many great Confucians and their teachings unexamined, or less
closely examined than they might otherwise deserve.
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An introduction to Confucianism
Methodological focuses
Taking into account the long history and wide range of Confucian studies
engaged in the East and the West, and the great contributions made by
modern scholars during the last few decades, I will present Confucianism primarily as a philosophical and religious tradition, with a special
focus on its intellectual creativity and its modern relevance. I intend summarily to highlight, and critically examine, what has been achieved both
in the West and in the East. I will also pay special attention to what has
been understood as ‘Confucianism’ with regard to its doctrines, schools,
rituals, sacred places and terminology presented in history, while at the
same time stressing the significance of the adaptations, transformations
and ‘new thinking’ taking place in modern times.
One way to write an introductory book about Confucianism is to
follow its historical development, beginning with the pre-Confucius
age down to modern times. This is the basic structure of a few books of
this kind, and James Legge (1815–97), Herrlee Creel, and more recently
John Berthrong have done it in this way. While giving the reader a linear
account of Confucian intellectualism, these scholars are less successful
in their presentation of Confucianism as a philosophical and religious
spirit penetrating all strata of society. In contrast to them, I will introduce Confucianism as a single tradition with many facets and as an
ancient tradition with contemporary appeal. I hope to give the reader
a multidimensional view of the Confucian tradition by investigating
how Confucianism functioned in the past and how it is applied in the
To examine the Confucian tradition, we need to explore its original
sources, not solely relying on second-hand materials available in the West.
By original sources we mean two kinds of texts. Firstly, original texts
in Chinese either in the form of ancient classics, annotations and commentaries or in modern deliberation and presentation. Secondly, interpretative books and articles in other languages, both highly specialist
materials including translations and annotations, and theme studies and
original research. These two kinds of material are equally important and
cross-references between them will be made throughout the chapters. A
select bibliography containing both categories is appended for further
Whether or not Confucianism is religious is a question of debate, and
this will be closely examined in chapter 1. Here, suAce it to say that
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Introduction: Confucian studies East and West
Confucianism is a tradition open to religious values. There are two
approaches to religious traditions in China adopted by prominent
sinologists; in one, a religion is studied as it was presented in the sacred
writings, while in the other, it is studied as it is applied in the way of life.
At an earlier stage these two methodologies were represented respectively by James Legge and J. J. M. de Groot. W. E. Soothill points out the
deficiency of each of them and believes that any religious tradition must
be studied in both dimensions. This comment is of insight, and will be
useful for our present study of Confucianism:
A study of a religion which limits itself to the teachings of the early
founders, and which ignores the present condition of its development,
will give a very imperfect presentation of the religion as a whole. On
the other hand, a study which is limited to its expression in practice,
without doing justice to the ideals of the founders, equally fails to do
justice to the religion as a whole, for the religious ideals of a people,
while they may be written on the tablets of their hearts and conscience,
often find very imperfect expression in their lives.
(Soothill, 1973: 21)
The Confucian tradition is both a tradition of literature and a way of
life. These two dimensions are related to and supplement each other. To
introduce Confucianism as a living tradition flowing from the past to the
present, we must look into how these two dimensions function together,
i.e., how the Confucian doctrine underlies the life of the people and how
the practice, political or religious, reflects as well as refreshes Confucian
Learning. To examine in detail the complicated relation between the
Confucian Way and Chinese practices is beyond the reach of this introductory book. How Confucian doctrine was used in East Asian politics,
religions, literature, arts and daily life are topics for diCerent kinds of
thematic research. Nevertheless we insist that relevant to our study are
not only the Confucian doctrines of Heaven, humanity and harmony, but
also how these doctrines are put into practice; not only the philosophic
discussion of human nature, but also devoted self-transformation in
relation to one’s spiritual and cultural destiny.
Similar to studies of any other philosophical and religious tradition
where numerous and various interpretations create both depth and confusion, a study of Confucianism is also an area full of diCerences. As an
introduction, this book has to be content with what has been generally
recognised in Confucian studies. While taking into account newly found
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An introduction to Confucianism
evidence, it does not argue for a specific theory, and while discussing the
most important issues concerning Confucian studies, it does not fully
engage in all the current debates. What is intended throughout the book
is to present a phenomenological investigation of what Confucianism
was and is, and to generate a seamless interpretation and presentation of
its religious and philosophical doctrines. Having done this, I will supplement a number of questions to each chapter for further discussion, to
stimulate students and readers in general to think about the questions to
which there are no straightforward answers.
Structure and contents
This book comprises five chapters apart from this introduction.
Chapter 1 is a thematic presentation of what Confucianism is and what
characteristics it has. The focus of this chapter is on Confucius and
his contribution to the Confucian tradition, but attention is also given
to the origin and nature of what is called ‘Confucianism’ in the West.
Chapter 2 presents a historical view of how Confucianism evolved,
focusing on major Confucian schools and their leaders, from the early
records to the time when Confucianism was stepping into the modern
age. It investigates the common heritage of various schools and also
highlights the distinctiveness of each of them, treating them as necessary
links in the whole process of Confucian transformation and evolution.
In terms of geographical location, it concentrates on the unique contributions made by Confucian masters and scholars in China, Korea and
Japan, while leaving Confucianism in other areas such as Vietnam and
Southeast Asia to future studies.
Chapter 3 discusses the key elements of Confucian doctrine, and
presents them in the form of the Three Ways: the Way of Heaven, the
Way of Humans and the Way of Harmony. The Way of Heaven is central to the Confucian view of the transcendental, the metaphysical, the
natural, the ethical, the political and the religious. The Way of Humans
deals with the human correspondence with, and implementation of, the
Way of Heaven, as manifested in human nature, moral virtues, social
integration, political order, and personal destiny. Central to Confucian
belief is that the Way of Heaven cannot be fulfilled, unless it has been
understood and consciously carried out by humans in our life. The Way
of Harmony is concerned with how harmony can be achieved between
humans and Heaven, between conscious activities and the environment,
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Introduction: Confucian studies East and West
between individuals, between family members, as well as in society and
the world. It is argued that harmony is not only a central concept, but
also the spirit manifesting the life and power of Confucianism; it is both
the Confucian reality and the ideal that Confucian believers endeavour
to realise. Confucian harmony is primarily about the unity between
Heaven and humanity. According to Confucian understanding, this
unity indicates a harmonious state of the world in which humans live
and behave, which provides humanity with enjoyment, peace and
order. It also indicates a continuous relationship between the spiritual
and the human, the mind and the body, form and matter, and the traditional and the present, which gives individuals the sense of continuity,
eternity and security. It indicates once more the mutual transformation
of the eternal and the temporal, the infinite and the finite, and the sacred
and the secular, which can be observed in the proper performance of
ritual, and must be carried out in human engagement in conscientious
and industrious activity.
Chapter 4 concentrates on religious ritual and practices fostered
and upheld in the Confucian tradition. It demonstrates how Confucian
values have penetrated the lives of the Chinese, Koreans and Japanese,
and that people in these countries inevitably come under the influence of
Confucianism, and that their thinking is underpinned or shaped by Confucian values, whether or not they have studied the Confucian classics.
It starts with an investigation of how Confucian doctrines are used
to transform religious rituals and practices and how these rituals and
practices reflect the rational and humanistic ideals propagated by
Confucian masters. Confucian practices exist not only in the form of
religious worship and cults, but also in the unique way that Confucianism
takes learning and self-improvement as a spiritual path. Confucian
spirituality is influenced by the interaction between Confucianism and
other religious traditions, notably Daoism, Buddhism and Christianity.
It is in this interaction that Confucianism has transformed itself and has
caused transformations in other traditions as well.
The modern development of Confucianism and the problems facing
modern Confucian scholars are dealt with in chapter 5, in which the
so-called ‘three generations of modern new Confucians’ are examined,
and fresh challenges to Confucian theories and practices and Confucian
responses to these challenges are investigated. Confucianism has survived
the impact of western culture and Communist revolution and is being
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An introduction to Confucianism
revived as a motivating force for modernisation. We are repeatedly
reminded that behind economic, political and social life in East Asia
are the values fostered in the Confucian tradition. Some scholars even
claim that ‘the new patterns of behaviour in these rapidly modernizing
societies are undergoing modification that can only be understood with
reference to the ancient Confucian heritage’ (Küng & Ching, 1989: 95).
In view of the influence and the revitalised image of Confucianism in
the last few decades, some scholars argue that Confucianism is moving
towards a ‘new age’. It is also suggested that the new creativity of Confucianism is not simply confined to East Asia; it has oCered a positive
response to universal and perennial human problems and concerns. In
critically examining these suggestions and taking into account the eCorts
to accentuate Confucianism made by modern scholars in the West and
the East, the book reaches a conclusion that Confucianism is by no means
only a tradition of the past, and that a revived Confucianism is able to
oCer positive values conducive to a healthy life in the modern age.
Translation and transliteration
Most of the original texts quoted in this book have been translated into
English. As a matter of fact, there are perhaps few books from other
non-western traditions that have been rendered into western languages
as often as the key Confucian classics have been. This leads to one of the
problems with which most students of Confucianism are often faced,
namely, the diCerences between various renderings of the same book.
Similar to the rendering of the scriptures of other religious/philosophic
traditions, translation of the Confucian classics often reflects a personal
involvement in re-experiencing the philosophy behind the texts. DiCerent translators have diCerent understandings of the philosophy, and their
renderings inevitably diCer. In order to present the Confucian tradition
in the best way, we cannot possibly adopt single translations exclusively.
As far as the key sources are concerned, especially in the case of Lunyu
or the Analects of Confucius and Mengzi or the Book of Mengzi, I will
make selective use of the translations rendered respectively by James
Legge, Arthur Waley, D. C. Lau and Wing-tsit Chan. When necessary, I
will select the translations I judge most accurate. As these texts are numbered in the order of chapters and paragraphs, it is reasonably easy for
the reader to match our quotations with any of the available translations. On some occasions when no translation is satisfactory, I will
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Introduction: Confucian studies East and West
rerender what is quoted, while on other occasions when there is no translation available for a Confucian text, I will be responsible for rendering
the quoted passages directly from the original source. The references to
the original sources and to their English translators are given in the first
and second parts of the select bibliography.
The second problem facing a student is how to understand Chinese
terms and characters through translations. Some of the Confucian terms
and phrases are so complicated in meaning and application that it would
be impossible to find English equivalents for them, while others have
so wide a range of references that none of the English terms or phrases
is suAcient to denote its meanings. In this case, I will give a number of
English words that are close to the original meanings of a Chinese character, while if possible choosing one of them in the following pages.
The third problem most students find diAcult to handle, is the
romanisation of Chinese words or characters. There are two major systems currently in use for transliterating Chinese characters into English.
The first is the Wade–Giles or modified Wade–Giles system, which used
to be the dominant system for romanising Chinese characters among
western sinologists and the scholars from Taiwan and Hong Kong. The
second is the pinyin system prevailing in Mainland China, Singapore
and Malaysia, which although a newcomer, has recently been adopted
by many western sinologists and Chinese specialists, partly due to the
fact that more and more materials are being published in Mainland
China. Although there are good arguments for either system, this book
will primarily use the pinyin system, only retaining the Wade–Giles transcription for some well-known names, for example, Fung Yu-lan or
Tu Wei-ming, which are so familiar in the West that it would cause misunderstanding or unnecessary diAculty if I were to retransliterate them
into pinyin spellings. I have not changed the Wade–Giles spellings or other
systems of transliteration used in book titles or in quoted passages. To
make it convenient for readers, I have provided a glossary of Chinese,
Japanese and Korean characters, with their pinyin, Wade–Giles or other
transliterations used in this book.
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