The Sage and the People: The Confucian Revival in China

The Sage and the People: The Confucian Revival in China

The Sage and the People: The Confucian Revival in China

The Sage and the People: The Confucian Revival in China

Synopsis

Winner of the 2015 Pierre-Antoine Bernheim Prize for the History of Religion by the Academie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres After a century during which Confucianism was viewed by academics as a relic of the imperial past or, at best, a philosophical resource, its striking comeback in Chinese society today raises a number of questions about the role that this ancient tradition might play in a contemporary context. The Sage and the People is the first comprehensive enquiry into the "Confucian revival" that began in China during the 2000s. Based on extensive anthropological fieldwork carried out over eight years in various parts of the country, it explores the re-appropriation and reinvention of popular practices in fields as diverse as education, self-cultivation, religion, ritual, and politics. The book analyzes the complexity of the "Confucian revival" within the broader context of emerging challenges to such categories as religion, philosophy, and science that prevailed in modernization narratives throughout the last century. Exploring state cults both in Mainland China and Taiwan, authors Sebastien Billioud and Joel Thoraval compare the interplay between politics and religion on the two shores of the Taiwan strait and attempt to shed light on possible future developments of Confucianism in Chinese society.

Excerpt

The specific ambition of this book crystallizes in its very title—The Sage and the People. In recent years, the “revival of Confucianism” in China has generated an impressive literature. However, whereas normative works or commentaries of discourses are many, studies dedicated to the reappropriation or reinvention of popular practices remain much more scarce. They precisely constitute the core of this book, itself the product of both a question and a surprise.

The question resulted from a previous phase of our research dedicated to the impressive creation in twentieth-century China of a modern philosophy inspired by Confucianism. Whereas in the 1990s discourses claiming a Confucian identity still largely remained confined to academia, it was nevertheless clear that such a specialization and transformation of an ancient and multifaceted tradition in pure “thought” was only the consequence of a recent—and maybe only temporary—historical evolution. It was also clear that after the loosening of state grip in the post-Mao era the Confucian tradition would necessarily generate new developments within the Chinese population. The mere perception of such an objective trend clearly demanded a switch in disciplinary approach. In brief, philosophical questioning had to be complemented with sociological and anthropological fieldwork.

1 See Joël Thoraval, “Idéal du sage, Stratégie du philosophe: Introduction à la pensée de Mou Zongsan,” in Mou Zongsan, Spécificités de la philosophie chinoise, 7–60 (Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 2003); Sébastien Billioud, Thinking through Confucian Modernity: A Study of Mou Zongsan’s Moral Metaphysics (Leiden and Boston, MA: Brill, 2012); Sébastien Billioud and Joël Thoraval, eds., “Regards sur le politique en Chine aujourd’hui,” special issue, Extrême-Orient Extrême-Occident 31 (2009).

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