The emergence of modern Confucianism: from the monopoly over political authority to competing for cultural resources

REN Jiantao1

(1.Department of Political Science, Tsinghua University, Beijing, China 100084)

【Abstract】Modern politics promotes a pluralistic society, which triggers the fusion of Chinese traditional Confucianism and ends the state of Confucian's monopoly of mind resources in state ruling. These changes combined with each other, have turned traditional Confucianism from a dominant school to one of all the particular schools. Thus, the combined structure of the political and the civilized, the embedded relationship between political theory and political practice, has been broken down accordingly. Some people who attempt to rebuild Confucianism in modern times always have the aspiration to restore the dominant position of Confucianism, which is actually an imagination inconsistent with modern circumstance. However, to them, the probably proper approach to recover Confucianism is to face up the momentum of modern transition, guard the social domain, and impel modern development in China, as well as to gather social cultural resources and have Confucianism become an intelligent particular school so as to help promote the modern quality of Chinese culture.

【Keywords】 modern Confucianism; traditional Confucianism; transition;


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    [4]. ② After the dramatic political change in Chinese mainland, the modern new Confucians migrating to Hong Kong and Taiwan exclaimed for “rootless fruit and blossoms,” which clearly showed the embarrassment of Confucianism after the national political change. See Feng, Z. Contemporary Neo-Confucianism (当代新儒家), Beijing: SDX Bookstore, 1–52 (1989). [^Back]

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    [11]. ① The arguer said, “The Florence thinker, Nicolo Machiavelli, broke the net of mediaeval scholasticism and became the first thinker rebuilding political theory under secularization. Republicanism and classical theory have two huge differences. Firstly, he focused on the topic of the political order construction analysis rather than ethic target; and secondly, he advocated popular state as republic regime and believed that only when the common people actively participated in political process can the republic achieve great glory. About the two topics, he subverted the teleology of Aristotle and ‘self-sufficient’ political ideal.” Xiao, G. On the History of Western Republicanism (西方共和主义思想史论), Taipei: Linking Publishing Co., Ltd., 9 (2013). [^Back]

    [12]. ① Qiao, Z. (ed.) Modern Society History of China (中国近代社会史), vol. 3, 363–499. It argues that the change of function and reshaping of education system under the social politics did not accidentally happen in the modern Chinese society. [^Back]

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    [15]. ① See Ren, Z. Works of Political Confucianism Comments (政治儒学评论集). Some authors in the book augue, “Mr. Jiang Qing was the only thinker in Chinese mainland over the past sixty years.” And “when discussing about the ideological contribution of Mr. Jiang Qing, one should firstly pay attention to the suggestion of ‘Political Confucianism’ as a concept.” China University of Political Science and Law Press, 2–3 (2013). [^Back]

    [16]. ② General Secretary Xi Jinping said, “The Chinese Nation, having lasted for thousands of years, has its unique value system. The Chinese excellent traditional culture has become the gene of the Chinese Nation rooted in the mind of Chinese people and influencing the thinking and behaviour of the traditional Chinese people. Today, when upholding and promoting the core value of socialism, we shall draw rich nutrition from it, or its life and influence will be lost.” The excellent traditional values he listed refer to those of traditional Confucianism. See Xi Jinping: The Governance of China (习近平谈治国理政), Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 170–171, (2014). [^Back]

    [17]. ③ In Taiwan, Confucianism is divided into official and folk Confucianisms. The former is represented by Chen Lifu, and the latter is carried by the Neo-Confucianism. The former aims to support the rule of Kuomintang by Confucianism, so it does not have academy as its focus of attention. The latter, with recognizing democracy and science as the condition, is dedicated to driving the modern construction of Confucianism, so it contributes much to the academy of Confucianism. Though the former receives significant power support, the latter has significant separation from power. [^Back]

    [18]. ① Jiang Qing very clearly confirms, “Setting ‘Confucianism House’ in the parliament aimed to ensure that the Confucian political elites, i.e., Confucians, gain higher, larger and more effective power of executing for the saints’ through steady institutional arrangement in the legislation system.” As a result, the Confucian commissioners are groups supplying higher laws rather than world laws. It is the typical symbol of politics-religion unity system. Jiang, Q. Further Analysis on Political Confucianism (再论政治儒学), Shanghai: East China Normal University Press, 118 (2011). [^Back]

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    [20]. ① Among all the complete arguments about modern diversified society, the difference of basic value often leads to a quality of incommensurability. Therefore, to reach an effective dialogue among different complete arguments, it is necessary to find a mutually understandable and acceptable commensurability principle. Therefore, both John Rowls and Alasdair MacIntyre have interpretation in their key works, Political Liberalism and Whose Justice? Which Rationality? [^Back]

    [21]. ② Refer to John Rowls. Political Liberalism (政治自由主义), Preamble, Nanjing: Yilin Press, 4 (2000). [^Back]

    [22]. ① From Study on Taoist Culture (道家文化研究) edited and published by Chen Guying for over 20 years, the active, as well as the recent Neo-Mohist arguments with the Neo-Confucianism from Chinese mainland, we know that the ideological scene of Confucianism unifying the classics and reinterpreting Tianxia is absolutely an imagination. [^Back]

    [23]. ② Refer to Zhang, T. Introduction to the Studies of Schools (诸子学略说), 93. [^Back]

This Article


CN: 11-1396/D

Vol , No. 01, Pages 10-23+125

February 2016


Article Outline


  • 1 Dethroned Confucianism: from dominating classic to competing school
  • 2 Separation of politics from religion and knowledge from action: loss of Confucian authority
  • 3 Merger of politics and religion: Confucianism is hard to recover its political glory
  • 4 Homing of classics: Confucian reshaping and competition for cultural resources
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