Contemporary Confucianism and Western Culture
Shu-hsien, Liu, Berthrong, John, Swidler, Leonard, Journal of Ecumenical Studies
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. It is fairly easy to mark the nadir of fortunes of Confucianism. By the beginning of the twentieth century the traditional foundations of Confucianism as an established part of Chinese personal, educational, civil and intellectual life were under sustained attack. By 1905 the imperial examination system based on the mastery of Confucian learning was abolished. By 1912 the Qing dynasty was itself overthrown, and the first Chinese republic was proclaimed. By the 1920s many young Chinese intellectuals considered the threadbare shop of Confucius and Sons to have been relegated to the dustbin of history. Nonetheless, such a great scholar as Liang Qichao (18731929), after his disillusioning visit to Europe after World War I, wrote a series of very influential newspaper articles making the point that Europe should no longer be a model for a renewed China. His later histories of Confucianism in the Qing dynasty argued that the tradition was something worth considering in a positive fashion and not something to be ashamed of as a cultural product of the Chinese people.
II. The Rise of Contemporary [New] Confucianism
But, just when things looked their bleakest, scholars such as Liang Shuming (1893-1988) wrote important comparative studies of Confucianism within the emerging global consciousness of humankind, now linked together by modern technologies of communication, economy, foreign policy, and intellectual exchange. Liang argued that Chinese philosophy in general and Confucianism in particular had important cultural insights and sensibilities that were desperately needed in the emerging world civilization of late modernity. Although his Confucian-inspired program for rural development in Shandong province ultimately failed due to the constant wars and civil wars that plagued China from the 1920's to the Communist victory in 1949, Liang Shuming was able to show that it was possible to think of Confucianism as having something positive to share in the creation of human flourishing in the modern world. Moreover, other scholars who sought to put in a good word for the Confucian heritage joined Liang in reviving the study and appreciation of the Confucian tradition. Along with public intellectuals such as Liang, thinkers as diverse as Xiong Shill (1885-1968) and Ma Yifu (18831967) represented a few of the thinkers who would later be honored as the founding generation of the Contemporary Confucian revival.
The philosophical revival known as Contemporary Confucianism is also the beneficiary of another kind of scholarly activity of the twentieth and twemtu-first centuries, namely, the revival of critical scholarly investigation of all aspects of the history of Confucianism. Even for scholars who would not seek and who even actively reject the label of Confucian, there has been an acknowledged renaissance of the scholarly study and interpretation of Confucianism in the twentieth century. If some scholars would now recognize the famous philosophical manifesto drafted by a group of scholars in 1957 and published on January 1, 1958, titled "A Manifesto for a Re-appraisal of Sinology and Reconstruction of Chinese Culture" as the beginning of Contemporary Confucians, an equally strong case can be made for the growing scholarly recognition of the Confucian tradition in the West. If a somewhat arbitrary date must be chosen to parallel the 1958 Manifesto, the publication in 1960 of the first edition of Sources of Chinese Tradition by Professor William Theodore de Bary and his colleagues at Columbia University works as well as any other landmark on the West's growing fascination with the history of East Asia. Not long after the publication of this famous compilation of translations of original Chinese sources, Professor Wing-tsit Chan bought out the justly famous A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy in 1963. The circle of historical interpretation and philosophical renewal was further marked with the publication of the second edition of Sources of Chinese Tradition, again by de Bary and colleagues in 19992000. This expanded second edition now concludes with a chapter about the reopening of the debate about Chinese civilization that includes selections from the writings of the group of Chinese scholars now known as Contemporary [New] Confucians.
The work of Contemporary Confucians as committed Confucians rests on the twin achievements of their own philosophic contributions and the work of dedicated Chinese, Korean, Japanese, European, and American scholars who have opened our eyes afresh to the rich history of the tradition now called Confucian in the English-speaking world. That there is even now a debate about whether or not there is anything like "Confucianism" as a unified cultural movement in traditional East Asia simply underlines the tremendous growth in the quantity and quality of research about the generations of East Asian scholars who identified themselves with the tradition that began with Master Kong so long ago. As archeologists unearth ever more records and artifacts of ancient Chinese civilization, modern ecumenical scholars will continue to ponder the history and meaning of the followers of Master Kong far into the future.
However, there is a further distinction that needs to be emphasized about these two different kinds of Confucian scholarship. On the one hand, some scholars simply study and try to explain as best they can the complex historical and cultural artifact we now call the Confucian tradition across East Asia. Personally, these scholars refrain from commenting on the potential contemporary value of Confucianism in one way or another. They might have private opinions about the value or worth of the traditions or texts they study, but they do not see it as their task to commend these materials to other persons as something that might give shape or orientation to lives at the beginning of the twenty-first century. On the other hand, some scholars actually identify with what they take to be the living substance of the Confucian tradition and devoutly believe that Confucianism has an important and positive contribution to make to the emerging global civilization of the modern world.
III. Hermeneutical Phases of Contemporary [New] Confucianism
In terms of hermeneutics, we can describe the contemporary scholarly revival of Confucian studies via a fourfold process. The first step, the foundation to any genuine appreciation of the role and resources of Confucianism, is to describe accurately and comprehensively the material under investigation. For instance, there now have been painstaking reconsiderations of the historical development of the Confucian tradition over the long run of its 2,500-plus-year history. When someone like Feng Youlan (1895-1990) wrote the first edition of his immensely influential history of Chinese philosophy, he argued that the history of Confucianism had only two periods, namely, the classical period of the founding philosophers and the second phase of commentary on the founders. Today, scholars counter Feng's claims about the periodization of the history of Confucian thought and suggest that there are as many as six distinct epochs in the development of the tradition in China. The history of Confucianism is no longer seen, as Hegel would have had it, as one brief moment of stupendous creativity followed by centuries of eager scholastic drudgery. Historians have provided so much descriptively accurate material about the development of Confucianism that judicious scholars now worry as much about the discontinuities as the continuities of the tradition over its long life.
The second hermeneutic phase is to explain and analyze the material that careful and accurate description has uncovered. It is often at this point that the questions of methodology and preconceptions of scholarly vision arise. For instance, do we project our current concerns and conceptual fascination back onto material that simply resides in other thought worlds? Here reflection on method becomes crucial to the scholarly task. The question arises: Do you apply contemporary research paradigms or do you try to let the ancient texts suggest their own method of investigation? Do you try to think your way into the life world of the text or do you simply stand outside the world of the text and try to understand, as best you can, what was going on in ages past? How would a scholar know which was a better method anyway?
The third phrase flows from the worrying concerns about method and standpoint that arise in the second phase of preliminary explanation and analysis. This is the phase of interpretation per se. For instance, do we remain empirical in looking at each text or individual or even school as a separate phenomenon that needs to be interpreted by itself without recourse to grander theories of interpretation? It is also here that cross-cultural comparative study emerges when a scholar is working in a culture not her or his own. The Western scholar, whether she or he likes it or not, will be drawn to make comparisons between the Confucian material and that of various Western philosophers or theologians. For instance, are Zhu Xi's li or principles more like Plato's ideas or Aristotle's forms? Can we call Wang Yangming an idealist if our notion of idealism derives from someone like Berkeley? Many scholars will vigorously resist any such premature comparison and will go as far as to say that you cannot make such comparisons at all because, the more you know about Confucian thought, the more you realize that it does not fit neatly into any Western philosophical system of interpretive categories.
The fourth stage differs from the first three. In the fourth stage the scholar commends to the reader the value or worth of the philosophy the scholar has identified in the tradition. The scholar might well see herself or himself as a partisan of the tradition rightly described, explained, analyzed, and interpreted and then commended; or, the scholar could stand outside the tradition but, embracing Isaiah Berlin's pluralistic-value pluralism, still recognize the achievement of values that should endure in the minds of people at any time or place. Thus, Confucianism, properly understood as a living tradition, is not just something of value-free historical record but, rather, a living reality in the lives of women and men that has something to say to modern people anywhere in the world. This fourth stage of commendation clearly shades off into what in the West is understood as the proper role of religion, philosophical theology, or even ideology. It is interesting that it was Mou Tsung-san (1909-95), acknowledged as one of the most philosophical of the Contemporary Confucians, who wrote about the religious dimension of the Confucian tradition, If religion (at least in Mou's understanding) is a way of practical life in the world and a moral metaphysics that connects the person to a transcendent dimension of the Dao, while providing the person a concrete plan for moral self-cultivation, Mou deems that Confucianism functions religiously for many people. Contemporary Confucianism may not have priests, pastors or missionaries, but it certainly has scholars who defend and commend its insights as being of value, not just for the Warring States period or the literati world of the Song dynasty, but as a potentially important philosophical and religious form of discourse for human beings seeking to find the path of human flourishing in the modern world.
Moreover, eventually the scholarly success of such a phenomenon as the rise of the Contemporary Confucian movement caught the attention of Western scholars. In 2001 Umberto Bresciani's major Reinventing Confucianism: The New Confucian Movement (Taipei Ricci Institute) was published. Bresciani's extended study of the origins, major figures, and development of the first three generations of Contemporary Confucianism was the first of its kind for a Western audience, presenting a general scholarly introduction to the whole movement. Bresciani also included material about the current generation of scholars of Contemporary Confucianism working in China proper, Taiwan, and overseas in major Western universities. Bresciani's research supports the claim made in Berthrong's and Neville's essays that Confucianism is rapidly becoming an object of research and reflection in the Western world.
Furthermore, 2002 and 2003 likewise appear to be years that show even more propitious signs of a breakthrough in the study of Contemporary Confucianism in Western scholarship. After a gestation of a decade, the Encyclopedia of Chinese Philosophy (Routledge), edited by Antonio S. Cua, was published with almost two-thirds of its articles concentrating on various aspects of Confucianism, both traditional and modern. The various articles on persons, themes, and intellectual movements and schools reflect the current and expansive level of scholarship on Chinese philosophy in the West at the present time. Choice selected the encyclopedia as an outstanding academic title for the year. At the same time New Confucianism. A Critical Examination, edited by John Makeham, was published by Palgrave Macmillan (2003); it presents a focused attempt to describe accurately the historical development of the diverse streams of thought that have been merged into the Contemporary Confucian movement. Makeham and his collaborators strongly argue that Contemporary [New] Confucianism is something that must no longer be ignored by Western scholars and intellectuals. To this end, Makeham advances the interesting theory that Contemporary [New] Confucianism was never a self-defined school or intellectual lineage with a specific historical genealogical lineage until it was retroactively studied and reconstructed during the national research program begun in Mainland China in 1986. In a sense, the studies of the 1980's and 1990's have created a daotong or theory of the transmission of the Contemporary Confucian way, just as Song scholars created their own history of the Teaching of the Way in their time and place.
In 2002 Cheng Chung-ying and Nicholas Bunnin co-edited and published Contemporary Chinese Philosophy (Blackwell Publishing Co.). This collection of essays about modern Chinese philosophers also contains fine studies of many of the major figures of the Contemporary Confucian revival, along with essays on other important Chinese philosophers of the modern period. 2003 also saw the publication of the very extensive Encyclopedia of Confucianism (Curzon Routledge) in two handsome volumes under the general editorship of Xingxhong Yao. The new multi-volume work covers all aspects of the historical and philosophical development of Confucianism, not only in China, but also in Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. Many of its entries address and explain issues and figures in Contemporary Confucian studies. It represents the best collective efforts of an international body of scholars concerning all aspects of the traditional and modern study of Confucianism. Finally, Liu Shu-hsien's Essentials" of Contemporary Neo-Confucian Philosophy (Praeger) was published in 2003. Professor Liu is both an active participant in and an in-depth researcher on Contemporary Confucianism; hence, he is in a unique position to shed much light on the philosophical aspects of the movement. Liu brings to his account an insider's view of the history of the tradition as well as the prudent wisdom of a seasoned historian of Chinese and world philosophy.
With the ever-increasing knowledge of the various dimensions and elements of Confucian tradition from ancient to modern times due to almost five decades of current research, both in East Asian and in Western universities, the time is ripe for significant comparative studies of the Confucian tradition with the various strands of the Western tradition. Scholars with diverse backgrounds, including philosophers, theologians, historians, and Sinologists, were invited to participate in the international conference on "Contemporary Confucianism and the Western Culture," held January 15-17, 2003, at Academia Sinica. Twenty-one essays were presented. Among them, seven scholars presented their essays in English. These seven essays were jointed by two other invited English essays contributed by John Berthrong and Robert Neville, making for a total of nine essays in English on the comparative study of the Confucian tradition. In addition, Professor Leonard Swidler also contributed an additional essay on Confucianism in dialogue with modernity in order to help introduce Contemporary Confucianism to a Western audience. Thus, the current collection has ten es-says devoted to the task of the comparison of Confucianism and Western culture. The essays by Berthrong and Neville were presented after the conference, as they were not able to attend the conference. Although all these essays were delivered at one of the multiple conferences as part of the larger plan for the study of Contemporary New Confucianism, these ten essays form a distinct group on their own. The Institute decided to publish an English volume in order to open up the gate of comparative study even further to the West. This kind of collaborative comparative studies of the Confucian tradition, especially that of Contemporary New Confucianism, is still relatively rare. A good example of this kind of emerging comparative scholarship was the recent publication of Der Konfuzianismus. Ursprunge-Entwicklungen-Perspektiven (Leipzig University Press), edited by Ralf Moritz and Lee Ming-huei, in 1998.
IV. Contributions of These Essays
These ten essays are now arranged in terms of chronologies of the modern and classical subjects treated and by the nature of their content in terms of methodological approach to the comparative enterprise. Leonard Swidler begins the collection with an essay designed to introduce a Western audience to the recent developments and revival of the Confucian tradition known as Contemporary Confucianism. Swidler carries out his task by showing why such an exchange is beneficial to Western philosophers as heirs of Modernity and also to theologians grappling with understanding the rich diversity of the religions of the world at the beginning of the twenty-first century. The essay is primarily focused on a variety of issues that have intrigued Western historians of religion and theologians as they have tried to understand in what sense, if at all, Confucianism can be counted as a religious movement. After having rehearsed the nature of the ongoing debate about the religious dimensions of Confucianism, Swidler then offers a precis of the multi-generational development of Contemporary Confucianism as a revival and reformation of traditional Confucian thought and praxis.
It is by no means an accident that the next three essays form a group, as the four scholars attended the First International Confucian-Christian Conference, held at the Chinese University of Hong Kong in 1988, and have continued to en-gage in interreligious dialogues since then. Berthrong's "Boston Confucianism: The Third Wave of Global Confucianism" contextualizes the term and concept of "Confucianism" as well as that of "Ruism" as a possible alternative term to designate what is called Confucianism in the West. It is futile to look for an easy definition of ru, but Confucian scholars in different ages have no difficulty in realizing their own identity. Berthrong then shows the various continuities and discontinuities between the Neo-Confucian discourse of the Song-Ming period and Contemporary [New] Confucianism. One main difference is Contemporary Confucianism's dialogical engagement with modern Western philosophy and theology. A review of Song Confucianism finds that even such a great authority as Zhu Xi failed to exclude other Confucian scholars from the camp of ru. Such reflections bring us to the contemporary scene. In ongoing interaction Berthrong went beyond the stage of interreligious dialogue and came up with the idea of multiple religious identity. It is owing to such a breakthrough that the possibility of Boston Confucianism, or even Columbia Confucianism, is being entertained.
Neville's "The Conscious and Unconscious Placing of Ritual and Humanity" makes the argument for the portability of the Confucian movement into the intellectual world of the West. What makes Neville's argument especially interesting is that he often tends to focus on the question of ritual to a greater extent than a number of modern Contemporary Confucians do. Neville makes the case for including Xunzi's theory of ritual action in the revival of modern Confucian thought. In a very strong sense, Neville's article can be read as a modern American theory of self-cultivation in the pragmatic mode, making use of traditional Confucian philosophy. He also has made the attempt to explore the unconscious in response to Freud on the one hand and Marx on the other. Neville also shows how Confucianism can be in dialogue with various strains of modern American thought such as pragmatism and why this exchange is so potentially enriching for modern philosophy understood as a global reality in the twenty-first century.
Continuing the dialogue, Liu Shu-hsien's "Confucianism as World Philosophy" takes seriously Neville's formulation of Boston Confucianism as a portable tradition in the recent modern world, giving his response from a Contemporary Confucian perspective. He attempts an analysis of the two positions based on Neville's methodology of comparing significant core texts and motifs within the Confucian tradition; he also makes an observation about why an American philosopher such as Neville would become so interested in Confucian philosophy, especially that of Xunzi. His essay can be seen as a dialogical response to Neville's ongoing process of reinterpreting Confucianism as a contribution to the growth of American philosophy and theology.
The fifth essay, Edward Wang's "Origins of Modern Historical Consciousness," introduces us to yet another possible point of entry into the conversation between Confucian discourse and Western theories of history. Although it jumps to the eighteenth century, it still focuses on classical thought and Neo-Confucian discourse--but at the other end of its development in the nineteenth century. It is welcome to have a essay that focuses on questions of the study of history along with many of the other essays that are concerned with questions in philosophy and theology. It shows how and why classical and Song-Ming-Qing Confucian philosophers were interested in the writing of history and the attendant discipline of historiography.
The next article is Adrian Hsia's "Richard Wilhelm's Reception of Confucianism in Comparison to James Legge's and Max Weber's." Now we switch to the more contemporary study of Confucianism and the modern world. Hsia not only looks at Wilhelm's understanding of Confucius but also compares it to the interpretations of James Legge and Max Weber. This essay begins to move into the area of the philosophical and the theological reception of Confucianism in modern Western philosophy and theology in the nineteenth century. It reminds us that the interpretation of the Confucian tradition was a very important topic in the nineteenth century among early students of early classical China and of the reception of Confucianism by Christian theologians. It contributes to the growing field of the study of the reception of Chinese philosophy into the intellectual world of modern Europe.
Next is Heiner Roetz's "Albert Schweitzer on Chinese Thought and Confucian Ethics." The article is an English excerpt of his German article attached to the recently published manuscripts of Schweitzer on Chinese thought. It is not difficult to find the affinity between Schweitzer's philosophy of civilization and Confucian thought. For example, Schweitzer's The Decay and the Restoration of Civilization (translated from English into Chinese by Liu Shu-hsien) was published in 1958, but very few know that Schweitzer had an early interest in Chinese thought until his manuscripts were published in 2002. These manuscripts have now been translated into Chinese and will be published soon in mainland China, so that Chinese readers may gain access to them earlier than English readers do.
The next essay is Bryan Van Norden's "Mengzi and Virtue Ethics." In early Confucian thought other than that of Confucius, Mencius's has always been a center of attention. Van Norden now ventures to add his interpretation of Mencius. The uniqueness of his approach is that, not only can we learn much about Mencius by interpreting his thought in terms of Western theories of virtue ethics, but we can also learn a great deal of what virtue ethics means by examining the arguments of Mengzi when compared to those of such classical Western thinkers as Aristotle and such contemporary advocates as Alasdair MacIntyre.
Professor Lee Yearley's "Confucianism and Genre: Presentation and Persuasion in Early Confucian Thought" continues the juxtaposition of the interpretation of a classical Confucian text contrasted to modern Western hermeneutical position. If Logical Positivism were still at its prime, early Confucian thought would be regarded as something cognitively meaningless, but the wide gap between the ancient and the modern, and the East and the West is being bridged today. Rational argument is no longer seen as the norm. Yearley has shown convincingly that presentation and persuasion in early Confucian thought has its great attraction at the present time.
The tenth and final essay, Swidler's "What Christianity Can Offer China in the Third Millennium" focuses on the Christian side. As a progressive Roman Catholic thinker, he makes use of contemporary historical scholarship to bring us back to the age of Yeshua, or Jesus, of Nazareth. Deconstruction of certain traditional interpretations of the Christian tradition since the spread of the Christian Gospels helps us to see the humanity of Yeshua as a concrete human being. Swidler makes the argument that contemporary Christian theologians, or at least some of them, have become much more dialogical in their approach to other religions, or spiritual traditions, than would have been the case in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He attempts to show that there are elements in the Christian tradition that can be appreciated within the Chinese context. Indeed, his effort would be much appreciated by many Asian Confucians but also would invite serious controversies within the Christian camp.
Ironically there would not be new dialogues without new controversies joining the list of older debating between Confucians and Western philosophers and theologians. There is no attempt for us to unify our viewpoints or even our styles. However, deep down can be detected a unity in diversity. All of us contributing to this volume have a strong desire to foster dialogue between Confucians and Western scholars. We are not satisfied with comparison on the surface but, rather, crave for the meeting of minds and look for common feelings of the heart. With the advent of 2004 as well as the Year of the Monkey, we want to stir things up from a brand new comparative perspective.…
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Publication information: Article title: Contemporary Confucianism and Western Culture. Contributors: Shu-hsien, Liu - Author, Berthrong, John - Author, Swidler, Leonard - Author. Journal title: Journal of Ecumenical Studies. Volume: 40. Issue: 1-2 Publication date: Spring 2003. Page number: 2+. © 1998 Journal of Ecumenical Studies. COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group.
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