Richard Wilhelm's Reception of Confucianism in Comparison with James Legge's and Max Weber's
Hsia, Adrian, Journal of Ecumenical Studies
Like many of his predecessors, Richard Wilhelm was a Protestant missionary and a sinologue. In modern history, however, Catholic missionaries were the first to enter China, and the first translation of the Confucian canon was published by Pere Philippe Couplet, Confucius Sinarum Philosophus. (1) However, the Catholic reception of Confucianism practically ceased with the Chinese Rites Controversy, which ended in 1742. The dissolution of the Jesuit Order forty years later did not help the matter either, and so the Western world had to wait for more than a century before the Protestant reception occurred. In 1861, the first volume of James Legge's The Chinese Classics was published in Hong Kong. (2) The last volume came out in 1872. It was the first time that the complete Chinese classical canonical works were rendered into a European language and, consequently, set the standard for all subsequent renditions. Legge was a Protestant missionary who pursued sinological studies, while as "le Legge francais," (3) Seraphin Couvreur, who translated and published Les Quatre Livres, was a Catholic missionary. (4)
Translation involves interpretation, which is more an art than an exact science. The subject--that is, the translator--interprets a given text and renders it into his or her own language. The farther apart the linguistic and cultural background of the two entities are, the more subjective the process of interpretation. After all, we all interpret the world, ourselves and the others, from our own acquired perspectives, be they conditioned by our personal experiences or our cultural heritage. Perfect objectivity is as elusive as beauty, existing only in the eyes of the beholder. Invariably, value judgment based on our own view slips in. Similarly, there is no perfect balance between a missionary and a sinologue. One element becomes predominant. In the case of Legge, he was a Protestant missionary first and judged Confucianism from the Christian perspective, as we shall see. He, of course, thought he was objective, taking the middle position between extreme panegyrics (for example, Jean-Pierre-Guillaume Pauthier) and negative critique (that is, the position taken in the Chinese Repository). (5)
Richard Wilhelm can be considered a "German Legge." Michael Lackner seemed to entertain this idea when he wrote, "In terms of quantity" Wilhelm's "work can only be compared to the accomplishments of James Legge." Although Lackner did not compare the quality of their respective translations, he did point out the major difference: "Legge, however, did not feel compelled to 'love China' (he maintained a good deal of sometimes rather malevolent skepticism), whereas Richard Wilhelm displayed a commitment to China that was almost without reserve." (6) This comparison merits substantiation. Therefore, in the present essay, we shall first present Legge's position before studying Wilhelm's reception of Confucianism. As a conclusion, we shall compare and contrast Wilhelm's concept with Max Weber's critique of Confucianism. Thus, we may get a clear picture of Wilhelm's (1873-1930) position in light of his time, for Legge (1815-97) and Weber (1864-1920) are both his predecessors and his contemporaries.
II James Legge
Let us first examine Legge's fundamental position toward Confucianism. He commented:
Confucianism is not antagonistic to Christianity, as Buddhism and Brah-manism are. It is not atheistic like the former, nor pantheistic like the lat-ter. It is, however, a system whose issues are bounded by the East and by time; and though missionaries try to acknowledge what is good in it, and to use it as not abusing it, they cannot avoid sometimes seeming to pull down Confucius from his elevation. They cannot set forth the Gospel as the wisdom of God and the power of God unto salvation, and proclaim the supreme love of God and of Christ, without deploring the want of any deep sense of sin, and of any glow of piety in the followers of the Chinese sage. (7)
It is clear that Legge was first and foremost a missionary. Translating the Chinese classics served as a means for the missionaries to preach to the Chinese more efficiently so that Jesus Christ would be "soon ... enthroned in His room in the hearts of the Chinese people." The Chinese classics, of course, had some intrinsic flaws because of their origin in time and space. One wonders what Legge meant by "the East"; it is not quite clear if he meant that China was east of the Near East (where Jesus had lived) or of Europe (which Christ never knew). The time factor is also a bit murky, because the Chinese classics are not older than the Hebrew Bible and only a few centuries older than the Christian Scriptures. However, Legge was very clear about what the missionaries and, consequently, Christians must deplore in Confucianism: its lack of any sense of sin and piety toward God and Christ. The "good deal of sometimes rather malevolent skepticism" mentioned by Lackner is the result of pulling "down Confucius from his elevation."
We shall examine some of Legge's criticisms, beginning with the non-malevolent ones. Discussing Daxue, he criticized the over-emphasis of the "influence of example" by assuming it to be omnipotent. The reader may sympathize with his opinion; however, she of he may wish to see more concrete substantiation than a mere generalization. Legge merely wrote: "Proceeding from the view of human nature that it is entirely good, and led astray only by influences from without, the sage of China and his followers attribute to personal example and to instruction a power which we do not find that they actually possess." (8) Nevertheless, Legge's overall judgment was positive. While he agreed with Chinese Repository's criticism of the commonplace comments mentioned above, he also characterized the Confucian principles in Daxue as "eternal verities." (9) His judgment of Zhongyong was less favorable, however. He wrote:
It begins sufficiently well, but the author has hardly enunciated his preliminary apophthegms, when he conducts into an obscurity where we can hardly grope our way, and when we emerge from that, it is to be bewildered by his gorgeous but unsubstantial pictures of sagely perfection. He has eminently contributed to nourish the pride of his countrymen. He has exalted their sages above all that is called God or is worshipped, and taught the masses of the people that with them they have need of nothing from without. In the mean time it is antagonistic to Christianity. By and by, when Christianity has prevailed in China, men will refer to it as a striking proof how their fathers by their wisdom knew neither God nor themselves. (10)
Legge faulted Confucius for putting sages above God and for expecting human beings to rely on themselves without help from above. This independence of humans he considered to be most anti-Christian, as if it had been Confucius' intention to thwart the doctrine of Christianity before Christ was born. As a matter of fact, Legge did accuse Confucius of having changed ancient tradition …
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Publication information: Article title: Richard Wilhelm's Reception of Confucianism in Comparison with James Legge's and Max Weber's. Contributors: Hsia, Adrian - Author. Journal title: Journal of Ecumenical Studies. Volume: 40. Issue: 1-2 Publication date: Spring 2003. Page number: 96+. © 1998 Journal of Ecumenical Studies. COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group.
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