Transformations of the Confucian Way

Transformations of the Confucian Way

Transformations of the Confucian Way

Transformations of the Confucian Way

Synopsis

From its beginnings, Confucianism has vibrantly taught that each person is able to find the Way individually in service to the community & the world. This comprehensive new work tells the story of the grand intellectual development of the Confucian tradition, revealing all the historical phases of Confucianism & opening the reader's eyes to the often neglected gifts of scholars of the Han, T'ang, & the modern periods, as well as to the vast contributions of Korea & Japan. The author concludes his revelatory study with an examination of the contemporary renewal of the Confucian Way in East Asia & its spread to the West.

Excerpt

The twentieth century has been cruel to the Confucian tradition throughout East Asia. At the beginning of the century it was painfully obvious that traditional China was in terminal dynastic decline as well as being under persistent attack by the powerful Western colonial powers. Korea was already partially incorporated into the reinvigorated Japanese imperial system. Vietnam was a French colony. the Confucian tradition was likewise considered moribund because its fortunes were assumed to be inextricably intertwined with the fate of the late Chinese and Korean imperial states. Joseph Levenson, at the end of his great trilogy about the fate of the Confucian tradition, wrote, "When Confucianism finally passed into history, it was because history passed out of Confucianism. Intrinsic classical learning, the exercise of divining from canonical historical records how men in general should make history for all time, lapsed" (1968:3, 100).

Although Levenson mourned the shattering of the Confucian world under the hammer blows of Maoist ideology and Western modernism, it was clear both to him and to the revolutionaries that there was much to be condemned in the Confucian past before East Asia could rise again.

However, the predicted demise of Confucianism and the Chinese empire proved premature. Confucianism now shows signs of rejoining the history of East Asia and is expanding rapidly into the larger global community of nations. But just as the projected demise of Confucianism proved chimerical, so the renewal is likewise subject to various interpretations. At one end there are scholars who firmly believe that we are witnessing a renewal of the tradition, albeit in a remarkably different manner than ever before. What we are seeing, according to this positive reinterpretation, is the emergence of an ecumenical Confucianism, at once chastened by the failures of the past and open to the influences of the modern and primarily Western world. At the other end of the spectrum there are those who note that whatever else may happen with Confucianism, the traditional pattern of what Mark Elvin (1996) has perceptively called "scriptural Confucianism . . ."

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