Contemporary Confucianism and Western Culture

Article excerpt

I. Background

In 1986 Mainland China scholars, based on a proposal by Professor Fang Keli, began an extensive historical and philosophic research program, "Contemporary Confucianism," as a designated national project for a period of ten years. The renewed study of Confucianism suddenly caught fire among scholars and became an unexpectedly hot arena for research and public interest that attracted a number of Mainland China scholars to begin a reassessment of the modern Confucian movement called "Contemporary Confucianism." This modern revival of Confucianism scholarship is sometimes also known in English as "New Confucianism" or "Contemporary New Confucianism" in order to differentiate the Contemporary Confucian movement from the classical traditions of the Warring States period and the great revival of Confucian scholarship that took place during the Song, Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties, which is known as Neo-Confucianism in Western studies. Professor Swidler's brief introduction to the history of Contemporary Confucianism in this collection explains in outline the development of this new philosophic movement.

Against such a background of revived interest in the study of Contemporary Confucianism by intellectuals in mainland China, in 1993 Professor Liu Shu-hsien, then affiliated with the Chinese University of Hong Kong, visited the Academia Sinica to start a parallel research project on Contemporary Confucianism. Professor Liu discussed the feasibility of a multiphase research project on "Contemporary Confucianism" with Professor Tai Lien-chang, then director of the Institute of Chinese Literature and Philosophy. One aim of the project would be to prevent mainland China scholars from having a complete monopoly on the interpretation of the emerging study of the history and philosophic significance of the rise of Contemporary Confucianism. The essays in this collection were part of the third phase in the Academia Sinica's research program on Contemporary Confucianism.

Over the last decade, the research project on Contemporary Confucianism sponsored by Academia Sinica thrived by hosting three seminars on various dimensions of the study of Contemporary Confucianism. Since 1993 a series of triannum projects have been completed. The topics of the three studies are: "The Response of Contemporary Confucianism to Problems of Modern Times" (1993-96), "The Development of Confucian Thought in Modern East Asia and Its Significance" (1996-99, with Professor Lee Ming-huei replacing Professor Tai Lien-chang as co-director of the project), and "The Interaction and Comparison between Contemporary Confucianism and Western Culture" (1999-2002). Upon his retirement from the Chinese University of Hong Kong in 1999, Professor Liu Shu-hsien joined the Academia Sinica research team. The Contemporary Confucianism research project entered into its fourth phase with the topic of "Understanding, Interpretation, and the Confucian Tradition" (2002-05). In the last decade more than a dozen scholarly conferences, large- and small-scale, were convened, and many volumes were published concerning the historical and philosophical interpretation of Contemporary Confucianism. Once the gates were opened, surprisingly enough to some observers, scholars on both sides of the Taiwan Strait, along with other international scholars, have been in close interaction in the study of the issues involved in understanding the history and relevance of Contemporary Confucianism for modern China and to the rest of the increasingly interconnected global scholarly world. Fierce debates have been conducted with friendly competition on the one hand and mutual complementations of different views have been shared on the other hand. The process continues without any end in sight for the near future.

The study of Contemporary Confucianism is a story set against the background of the tumultuous history of modern China. One of the fascinating learnings drawn from the study that is illustrated in the essays that follow is that, just when it might have been thought that Confucianism was on its last legs, there was the beginning of yet another revival of Confucian thought. …