Confucianism for the Contemporary World

Global Order, Political Plurality, and Social Action

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Tze-ki Hon, Kristin Stapleton
SUNY Series in Chinese Philosophy and Culture
  • Albany, NY: 
    State University of New York Press
    , November
     300 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


After three decades of denial in the People’s Republic of China, Confucianism has emerged as a prospective ideology since China’s “reform and opening up” in the 1980s. As Junhao Hong, Miao Liu, and Wen Huang mention in their chapter, “The Chinese Media’s Campaign for Confucianism: Motivations, Implications, and Problems,” the images of this so-called New Confucianism (xinruxue orxinrujia) projected from the “Confucius Institutes” and from the production of television series (e.g., The Story of Confucius) and a film (e.g., Confucius) are a cultural product of a market economy or a means of political propaganda for the Chinese Communist Party.Butbeyond discussing cultural aspects of the New Confucianism, this book explores the diverse interpretations of New Confucianism among scholars within and outside of China on a broader and deeper level.Moreover, by examining the vicissitudes of Confucian thought after the fall of Imperial China, it not only shows that New Confucianism is not an invention of contemporary China all at once, but that it has also existed throughout the century after the fall of Imperial China. 

It is noteworthy that the focus of this book is the role of Confucianism for today’s China and for the rest of the world as well. Hence, the exploration of how New Confucianism can become an antidote to the problems of alienation, commodification, and social injustice in modern society has relevance for all of us who live in today’s world. Although scholars offer varying interpretations on whether New Confucianism should be seen as a moral metaphysics or as a political philosophy, this book explores New Confucianism as a moral basis for a critique of the modern predicaments of alienation, materialism, individualism, and so on, by focusing on two representative Confucian scholars of the 20thcentury: Mou Zongsan and Tang Junyi. Ming-huei Lee points out that Mou’s emphasis on cultivating “inner sagehood” (nei sheng) is critical as a countermeasure to the pragmatism of contemporary society (chapter 5). While Mou highlights the value of Confucian moral ethics, Tang, according to Thomas Fröhlich and Hok Yin Chan (chapters 9 and 10)emphasizes the humaneness of Confucianism in response to dehumanized totalitarian regimes.Relying on the moral metaphysics of New Confucianism, Stephen C. Angle, An-wu Lin, and Ming-huei Lee suggest democratic governance as an alternative form of politics. 

It is worthwhile to discuss how Confucianism can provide a moral basis to improve the conditions of contemporary world, especially endeavors to explore the possibilities of a role for Confucianism in diverse contexts, such as democratic or totalitarian societies. However, siding with Ke Sheng’s pessimistic view, the viability of the role of New Confucianism in the 21stcentury is dubious for the following reasons: (1) modern predicaments cannot be cured solely by cultivating personal morality since these predicaments are closely related to a societal structure that is beyond a personal level; and (2) although Confucianism has been reinterpreted in diverse ways throughout history, Confucian support of liberal democracy or pluralism is doubtful considering it has long been allied with literati elitism, imperial autocracy, and a restrictive social hierarchy.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Ha Yeon Shin is a graduate student in Chinese at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Date of Review: 
April 27, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Tze-ki Hon is professor of Chinese and history at City University of Hong Kong. He is the author of The Yijingand Chinese Politics: Classical Commentary and Literati Activism in the Northern Song Period, 960–1127, also published by SUNY Press; Revolution as Restoration: Guocui Xuebao and China’s Path to Modernity, 1905–1911; and The Allure of the Nation: The Cultural and Historical Debates in Late Qing and Republican China.

Kristin Stapleton is professor of history at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York. She is the author of Civilizing Chengdu: Chinese Urban Reform, 1895–1937 and Fact in Fiction: 1920s China and Ba Jin’s Family.


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