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Confucianism and Spiritual Traditions in

Modern China and Beyond

Religion in Chinese Societies
Edited by
Kenneth Dean, McGill University
Richard Madsen, University of California, San Diego
David Palmer, University of Hong Kong
Confucianism and Spiritual
Traditions in Modern China
and Beyond
Edited by
Fenggang Yang and Joseph B. Tamney
ISSN 1877-6264
ISBN 978 90 04 21239 8
Copyright 2012 by Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands.
Koninklijke Brill NV incorporates the imprints Brill, Global Oriental, Hotei Publishing,
IDC Publishers, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers and VSP.
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Fees are subject to change.
This book is printed on acid-free paper.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Confucianism and spiritual traditions in modern China and beyond / edited by
Fenggang Yang and Joseph B. Tamney.
p. cm. (Religion in Chinese societies ; v. 3)
ISBN 978-90-04-21239-8 (hardback : alk. paper) 1. Philosophy, Confucian.
2. ConfucianismChina. 3. ConfucianismRelations. 4. ChinaReligion. 5. Confucianism.
I. Yang, Fenggang. II. Tamney, Joseph B.
B5233.C6C65 2011
Acknowledgments ....................................................................... vii
List of Contributors .................................................................... ix
Introduction: Nationalism, Globalization, and Chinese
Traditions in the Twenty-First Century ................................ 1
Joseph B. Tamney and Fenggang Yang
A Study of the Renaissance of Traditional Confucian
Culture in Contemporary China ........................................... 33
Kang Xiaoguang
Confucian Spirituality in Contemporary China ........................ 75
Tu Weiming
The Resilience of Confucianism in Chinese Societies .............. 97
Joseph B. Tamney
From Beijing to Boston: The Future Contributions of the
Globalization of New Confucianism ...................................... 131
John Berthrong
The Daoist Encounter with Modernity: Some Issues in the
History and Sociology of Daoism in the Modern Era .......... 151
David A. Palmer and Xun Liu
vi contents
The Modern Signicance of Some Basic Concepts in Chinese
Buddhism ................................................................................ 175
Fang Litian
Indigenization of Imported Religions in China: The Case of
Islam and the Hui People ...................................................... 201
Jian Zhixiang and Ma Rong
Protestantism in Modern China as Foreign Religion and
Chinese Religion: Autonomy, Independence, and the
Constraints of Foreign Hegemony ......................................... 229
Daniel H. Bays
Confucianism, Christianity, and Religious Freedom: Debates
in the Transformation Period of Modern China
(19001920s) ........................................................................... 247
Liu Yi
Spiritual Accomplishment in Confucianism and Spiritual
Transcendence in Christianity ............................................... 277
Zhuo Xinping
Confucian Humaneness (Ren) Across Social Barriers ................ 295
Robert Cummings Neville
The Revival of Confucian Rites in Contemporary China ........ 309
Anna Sun
Religion, Ritual, and the Public Good in China ...................... 329
Robert P. Weller
Index ........................................................................................... 351
This book is dedicated to the memory of my co-editor Joseph B. Tam-
ney, who passed away on October 25, 2009, in Reston, Virginia, due
to complications from cancer. He was born in Queens, New York
City, on January 8, 1933. He served as Editor of Sociology of Religion
(19942000) and President of the Association for the Sociology of Reli-
gion (20032004). Joe was a humble and easygoing person with a
great sense of humor. He was a great colleague to work with. I enjoyed
his many visits to West Lafayette, Indiana, in preparation for the 2004
annual meeting of the Association for the Sociology of Religion, for
which I was the Program Chair under his presidency. Confucianism
and other religions in Asian societies are one of the foci of his numer-
ous publications. Joe actively participated in the Beijing Summit on
Chinese Spirituality and Society at Peking University on October
810, 2008, at which the chapters in this volume were initially pre-
sented. Upon the conclusion of the summit, Joe readily agreed to join
me in co-editing this volume and worked hard, even while enduring
much pain in his last days, to draft the introductory chapter and send
me his ideas about the volume. His contribution to this volume is
indispensable, and for any fault or weakness in the editing I must take
The Beijing Summit on Chinese Spirituality and Society in 2008,
and the publication of the two volumes it produced (the other one is
Social Scientic Studies of Religion in China: Methodology, Theories and Find-
ings, co-edited by Fenggang Yang and Graeme Lang), were made pos-
sible by a generous grant from the John Templeton Foundation to the
Center on Religion and Chinese Society at Purdue University. I thank
Dr. Yunfeng Lu of Peking University to serve as the host of the Bei-
jing Summit, and all the authors of this volume for their cooperation,
patience, and diligence in making the revisions. I am grateful to Dr.
Lily Szeto, the tireless and efcient Project Manager throughout the
long process. Many people provided assistance during the summit and
during the editing of this volume, including the translators and on-site
interpreters: Anning Hu of Purdue University, Joy Lam of the Univer-
sity of Southern California, Dr. Eric Y. Liu, Jun L of Purdue Univer-
sity, Dr. Joy Tong of Purdue University, Dr. Chi-ying Alice Wang of
viii acknowledgments
Purdue University, Dr. Junmin Wang of the University of Memphis,
Dr. Yuting Wang of the American University of Sharjah, Dr. Changqi
Xia of Wuhan University, and Dr. Jiexia (Elisa) Zhai of Miami Uni-
versity. I would like to express my appreciation to Brill editor Katelyn
Chin and copy editor Gene McGarry, whose excellent work made the
nal stage of editing this volume much enjoyable.
Fenggang Yang
May 18, 2011
John Berthrong (Ph.D. in 1979, University of Chicago) is Associate
Professor of Comparative Theology (School of Theology) and Acting
Director of Division of Religious and Theological Studies at Boston
University. His most recent book is Expanding Process (SUNY, 2008).
Fang Litian is Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Ren-
min University of China, and the Dean of the Advanced Institute of
Religious Studies. He is the author of ten books, including two national
award-winning books: Buddhist Philosophy and Essentials of Chinese Bud-
dhist Philosophy (in Chinese).
Jian Zhixiang (Ph.D. in 2008, The Minzu University of China) is Asso-
ciate Professor in School of Ethnology and Sociology at the Minzu
University of China. One of her books is Self Identication and Social
Denition of Ethnic Belonging: A Case Study of Bao-an (Minzu Press, China,
Kang Xiaoguang is Professor in School of Public Administration at
Renmin University of China. He has published eight monographs,
more than ten co-authored books, more than 40 papers in relations
between state and society, Political development and political stabil-
ity and political culture.
Liu Xun (Ph.D. in 2001, University of Southern California) is Asso-
ciate Professor of History at Rutgers University. He is the author of
Daoist Modern: Innovation, Lay Practice, and the Community of Inner Alchemy
in Republican Shanghai (Harvard, 2009).
Liu Yi (Ph.D. in 2008, The Chinese University of Hong Kong) is
Assistant Professor of History and Executive Director of Center for the
Study of Religion and Society at Shanghai University. He is author
of Religion and Politics in a Global Context (Shanghai University Press,
x list of contributors
Ma Rong (Ph.D. in 1987, Brown University) is Professor of Sociology
at Peking University. His recent book is Population and Society in Contem-
porary Tibet (Hong Kong University Press, 2011).
Robert Cummings Neville (Ph.D. in 1963, Yale University) is Profes-
sor of Philosophy, Religion, and Theology at Boston University where
he is also Dean Emeritus of the School of Theology. Two of his recent
books are Ritual and Deference and Realism in Religion (SUNY Press).
David A. Palmer (Ph.D. in 2002, Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes) is
Assistant Professor of Sociology and Fellow of the Centre for Anthro-
pological Research at the University of Hong Kong. His latest book
is The Religious Question in Modern China (University of Chicago Press,
Anna Sun (Ph.D. in 2008, Princeton University) is Assistant Professor
of Sociology at Kenyon College. She is completing her book Confusions
over Confucianism: Concepts, Methods, and Realities.
Joseph B. Tamney (19332009) was Emeritus Professor of Sociology
at Ball State University. He received his Ph. D. from Cornell Univer-
sity in 1962. He published seventy-seven articles in scientic research
journals and nine books on topics including religion, politics, and com-
Tu Weiming (Ph.D. in 1968, Harvard University) is the Director of
Institute for the Advanced Humanistic Studies at Peking University and
Research Professor at Harvard University. His essay on the Confucian
discourse in cultural China, The Global Signicance of Concrete Humanity,
was published by Centre for Studies in Civilizations in India, 2010.
Robert P. Weller (Ph.D. in 1981, Johns Hopkins University) is Pro-
fessor and Chair of Anthropology at Boston University. His most
recent book is Ritual and Its Consequences: An Essay on the Limits of Sincerity
(Oxford 2008, co-authored with A. Seligman, M. Puett, and B. Simon).
Fenggang Yang (Ph.D. in 1997, the Catholic University of America)
is Professor of Sociology and Director of Center on Religion and Chi-
nese Society at Purdue University in Indiana. His latest book is Religion
list of contributors xi
in China: Survival and Revival under Communist Rule (Oxford University
Press, 2011).
Zhuo Xinping (Ph.D. in 1987, Munich University in Germany) is Pro-
fessor and Director of Institute of World Religions, Chinese Academy
of Social Sciences. His recent book is Global Religions and Contemporary
Joseph B. Tamney and Fenggang Yang
In the beginning of the twentieth century, Confucianism, which had
been the state-sanctioned orthodoxy in imperial China for centuries,
was rst dethroned by the imperial court in 1905, then deposed by
intellectuals in the New Culture and May Fourth Movements around
1919, and nally swept away from society during the Cultural Revo-
lution in the 1960s and 1970s. At the beginning of the twenty-rst
century, Confucianism has returned, spurred by assorted domestic and
international forces. In the Peoples Republic of China (PRC), which
continues to be under the rule of the Chinese Communist Party, cul-
tural and political elites have been seeking alternatives to replace the
fraying orthodoxy of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. A fraction of them
have rediscovered Confucianism as a possible tool for maintaining the
political order, social cohesion, and territorial integrity of China. Thus
Confucianism has become a major political culture competing with
Marxism-Leninism-Maoism and liberalism to dene Chinese national
identity and politics.
Beyond mainland China, the economic rise of
Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea, and Japan has boosted
condence in Confucianism among Confucian intellectuals in these
and other societies. In North America, some academic humanists and
Christian theologians have begun to appropriate Confucian values to
complement and amend modernist liberalism and Judeo-Christian
culture for the rapidly changing and globalizing world.
This revival and expansion of Confucianism in the twenty-rst
century has not received much scholarly attention in the West
except among a small circle of Sinologists.
However, a discussion of
Fenggang Yang, Cultural Dynamics in China: Today and in 2020, Asia Policy
4 ( July, 2007): 4152.
For example, Sbastien Billioud and Jol Thoraval, Jiaohua: The Confucian
Revival in China as an Educative Project, China Perspectives, 2007, no. 4: 420; idem,
The Contemporary Revival of Confucianism: Anshen liming or the Religious Dimension
2 joseph b. tamney and fenggang yang
Confucianism can easily draw large crowds in China today. When
some of the articles in this volume were rst presented at Peking Uni-
versity, during an evening session of the Beijing Summit on Chinese
Spirituality and Society (October 810, 2008), at least eight hundred
people packed the auditorium beyond its capacity, with people sit-
ting in the aisles and standing outside the doors. Most of the people
in the audience were young peoplecollege students and faculty. In
addition to the scholarly effervescence and popular movement taking
place in China itself, since 2004 the Chinese government has provided
resources to establish hundreds of Confucius Institutes in many coun-
tries on all continents to teach the Chinese language and culture.
Indeed, Confucianism has become such a critical topic in China
today that it has drawn a response from many scholars of various
disciplines and specialties. This volume provides a unique combina-
tion of articles by both keen observers of and active campaigners in
this revival and expansion of Confucianism. It includes anthropolo-
gists, sociologists, historians, philosophers, theologians, and religionists
specializing in Confucianism, Buddhism, Daoism, Islam, and Christi-
anity. These scholars met rst at the Beijing Summit and engaged in
an interdisciplinary exchange on many spiritual and religious issues
raised by the social changes taking place in China and beyond, with
a special focus on Confucianism and its relationships with other spiri-
tual traditions and cultures. There are many issues to be sorted out:
Given the troubled history of Confucianism in the twentieth century,
will the Confucian revival in recent years have a future in China and
beyond? How will it relate to other Chinese cultural traditions, West-
ern spiritual traditions, and the Communist ideology that continues
its dominance in the PRC, at least in name? While it is impossible to
predict the future, can we learn anything from the past? What was the
relationship in earlier centuries between the dominant Confucianism
and other religions? What has happened to religions imported into
China, including Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity? If Confucian-
ism reemerges as the new orthodoxy of China, how might it relate
to other religions and modern liberalism, as envisioned by Confucian
advocates but also as assessed by observers? What contributions will
of Confucianism, China Perspectives, 2008, no. 3: 88106; idem, Lijiao: The Return of
the Ceremonies to Honour Confucius in Mainland China Today, China Perspectives,
2009, no. 4: 82100; Daniel A. Bell, Chinas New Confucianism: Politics and Everyday Life
in a Changing Society (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008).
introduction 3
a revived Confucianism make to Chinese society and the globalized
world? As China rises as an economic power, the prevailing cultural
and ideological identities of the Chinese bear importance not only for
China but also for the globalizing world.
This volume is a collection of both descriptive and reective chap-
ters by Chinese and Western scholars in various disciplines that address
some of these questions. Some historians and social scientists try to
provide detached descriptions of historical developments or current
social movements. The theologians and philosophers offer exegetic or
prescriptive reections. Indeed, to engage the issues at stake, which
have great social, cultural, and political implications for China and
beyond, strict disciplinary boundaries cannot stand as rewalls. The
disciplinary separation or demarcation itself is an articial, modern
Western construct that deserves to be deconstructed in light of Con-
fucianism, as many new Confucian scholars in China and the West
argue. As a matter of fact, not only are philosophers and theologians
often empirically informed, social scientists also frequently engage in
active arguments for particular policies and directions of development
in the future. This thoroughly interdisciplinary volume can be read
both as a collection of source materials (data) on Confucianism and as
a sample of engaged discussions of Confucianism and other spiritual
traditions in China and beyond.
Modernization and Globalization
China is modernizing, the world is globalizing, and the Chinese state
is adjusting its policies toward religion and cultural traditions. Old
spiritual traditions are resurfacing, but their expressions are being
affected by the new social context of nationalism, modernization, and
The nature of modernization is explicitly discussed in the chapters
by Joseph B. Tamney and by David A. Palmer and Xun Liu. The
relevant aspects of modernization are structural differentiation (i.e., the
appearance of new, independent institutions such as a religious institu-
tion free from state control or a capitalist economy), the fragmentation
of societal culture (pluralism), and the growing importance of the indi-
vidual at the expense of groups. Palmer and Liu describe in more con-
crete terms some of the structural changes associated with the modern
periodthe modern state, the gender revolution, and capitalism.
4 joseph b. tamney and fenggang yang
The increasing importance of the individual has two aspects: individ-
uation and individualism. Individuation means a person has an identity
apart from social roles and group memberships.
Thus modernization
is a process in which people become increasingly self-conscious about
a personal identity that is increasingly unique. As individuation pro-
ceeds, group-thinking declines. Palmer and Liu refer to modernity as
the changing subjectivity and increasing self-reexivity of individuals
in a changing world. Individuation, in turn, gives rise to individualism,
which is the cultural afrmation of the value of the individual, and of
every individual. The human rights movement embodies individual-
ism and is increasingly understood as universally applicable.
As Stephen Cohen of the Brookings Institution emphasizes, in tra-
ditional societies groups such as families or tribes have more rights
than individuals. In America, groups have rights, but individuals have
more powerful rights. Thats one of the fundamental clashes between
America and the so-called Islamic world, but also between America
and traditional societies everywhere.
But as Peter Berger wrote, indi-
viduation is now occurring everywhere: All sectors of the emerging
global culture enhance the independence of the individual over against
tradition and the collectivity.
Globalization is the current stage of societal expansion, a basic
feature of modernization. Globalization can be described in rela-
tion to social structure, culture, and personality. Structurally, global-
ization means an ever-densening network of interconnections and
Culturally, globalization means the weakening of
any relation between place and cultural optionsthat is, the same
options are becoming available everywhere; more immediately the
process refers to the appearance of globalized cultures, that is, not
a single global culture but cultures sharing some basic characteristics
such as support for human rights. As this process proceeds, individuals
Rose Laub Coser, In Defense of Modernity: Role Complexity and Individual Autonomy
(Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1991).
Journey into Islam: The Crisis of Globalization, event transcript of June 13,
aspx (accessed February 6, 2011).
Peter L. Berger, The Cultural Dynamics of Globalization, in Many Globaliza-
tions, ed. Peter L. Berger and Samuel P. Huntington (New York: Oxford University
Press, 2002), 116, at 2.
John Tomlinson, Globalization and Culture (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
1999), 2.
introduction 5
borrow from different cultures, and people become cosmopolitan:
they have an identity that is not totally circumscribed by the immediate
locality, but, crucially, that embraces a sense of what unites us as human
beings, of common risks and possibilities, of mutual responsibilities.
Modernization is not the path to utopia. The change to a more
modern society involves losses and gains. The judgment by a contem-
porary Confucian that Western modernism includes negative aspects,
such as exploitation, mercantilism, consumerism, materialism, greed,
egoism, and brutal competitiveness,
could have been written by
Western critics of their own societies. Indeed modernization results in
a sense of moral crisis everywhere, the consequence of which is mak-
ing spiritual traditions more salient in peoples lives.
A major issue resulting from modernization concerns the separation
of the religious institution and the state. During imperial times, the
Chinese state controlled religion to the extent of its full capacity to do
so. For about two thousand years, the imperial Chinese government
regulated religions. Religious groups were required to register with the
state. Institutional Buddhism, Daoism, Islam, and in some centuries
Christianity were recognized. Roaming monks, who were not associ-
ated with recognized temples, and members of sects were considered
dangerous and were often suppressed. In practice, the behavior of
local authorities toward unregistered religious groups often varied from
disinterested neglect to violent crackdown, depending on the locality.

Thus for about two thousand years, China had state-supported reli-
gious organizations that were pressured to serve the political goals of
the ruling elite.
World empires, such as the Roman Empire, the Ottoman Empire,
and the Chinese empire, were large bureaucratic structures that
encompassed many peoples and many diverse cultural practices. . . .
Ibid., 194.
Tu Weiming, Implications of the Rise of Confucian East Asia, in Multiple
Modernities, ed. Shmuel N. Eisenstadt (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers,
2002), 206.
For a more detailed discussion of the modernization/globalization model, see
Joseph B. Tamney, The Struggle over Singapores Soul: Western Modernization and Asian Cul-
ture (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1996), 1018; Joseph B. Tamney and Linda Hsueh-
ling Chiang, Modernization, Globalization, and Confucianism in Chinese Societies (Westport,
CT: Praeger, 2002), 59, 1722, 2730.
Daniel H. Bays, A Tradition of State Dominance, in God and Caesar in China,
ed. Jason Kindopp and Carol Lee Hamrin (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution
Press, 2004), 2539, at 27.
6 joseph b. tamney and fenggang yang
World-empires were sometimes imperious, insisting on obeisance to
and observance of the dominant religious practices. But, on the whole,
imperiousness caused unnecessary resistance, and undermined the sta-
bility of the empire. So world-empires worked out forms of tolerance
for religious minorities, provided only that they accepted their minority
Han China exemplied this imperial response to diversity.
The contemporary Chinese state still seeks to control religions. For
instance, the government selects and appoints religious leaders, gov-
ernment ofcials are appointed to work within religious organizations,
and religious leaders are co-opted by the government. But religion is
no longer an internal affair. Increasing globalization is weakening
the power of the state to control religion.
The Chinese government is still seeking a unied ideology to legiti-
mize a unied state. Marxism is too Western, and the nature of a
Sinicized Marxism unclear. The loss of faith in Marxism has resulted
in Confucianism gaining signicance as the basis of a cultural nation-
alist movement. Confucianism, it is argued, is part of the essence of
traditional Chinese culture. Although it is debatable to what extent
historically Confucianism was the unifying ideology of China, today
there is a movement to make Confucianism the basis of Chinese cul-
tural and national identity.
Confucian Revivals in China and Beyond
Some European scholars based in Hong Kong have observed: The
new millennium has brought a signicant and growing revival of
classic Chinese traditions, particularly Confucianism, in mainland
China. This phenomenon is not limited to political utilization of cul-
ture, nor is it purely the prerogative of the elite. Rather, it has spread
progressively to different strata of society, taking on different forms in
various states of maturity.
In this volume, Kang Xiaoguang offers
descriptions of the activists and the popular attitudes of this cultural
Immanuel Wallerstein, Render Unto Caesar?: The Dilemmas of a Multicultural
World, Sociology of Religion 66, no. 2 (2005): 121134, at 124.
Billioud and Thoraval, Jiaohua: The Confucian Revival in China as an Educa-
tive Project, 4; see also idem, The Contemporary Revival of Confucianism; idem,
Lijiao: The Return of the Ceremonies to Honour Confucius in Mainland China
introduction 7
nationalist movement. Important reasons for the rise of this move-
ment, according to Kang, are a pride in the increasing power of the
Chinese nation that has increased nationalistic feelings, a loss of faith
in Communism, and government support for a Confucian renaissance.
Indeed, given the many achievements of the Chinese people and their
current rise toward becoming a superpower, such a movement is not
a surprise. However, what Kang means by this movement is ambigu-
ous. He refers to traditional culture but also to Chinese traditional
culture centered on Confucianism. Other than Confucianism, it is
not clear what the movement is about. Actually, the complexity and
the ambiguity of the phenomenon reect the nature of this nascent
movement itself.
An increasing number of Chinese scholars assume
that Confucianism is synonymous with Chinese culture, or the core
of Chinese culture. Kang, as one of the leading advocates for Con-
fucianism in recent years, has called to Confucianize the civil service
cadres, the school system, and even the Chinese Communist Party.
When elaborating on what Confucianism is, however, the Confucian
advocates usually blend in some Daoist, Buddhist, and other notions.
By carrying out an empirical study, Kang seems to be trying to sort
out and clarify what this movement is and is about.
In this mostly descriptive chapter, Kang uses both a representa-
tive sample of the Chinese public and a sample of the activists in the
cultural nationalist movement. Survey data from a random sample of
Chinese people purports to show that the people still believe in Chi-
nese traditional values that could loosely be labeled as Confucian. The
questions refer to crucial political thoughts in Confucianism that
demonstrate support for a patriarchic government. For instance,
63 percent agree that the government should decide if certain values
can be discussed in society, although only 54 percent agree that the
government leaders are like the heads of the households, and we should
follow their decisions. These questions seem to reect acceptance of
a patriarchal view of government, and support for these ideas seems
to suggest a continuing belief in an aspect of the traditional culture
that Confucians have accommodated rather than a commitment to
Confucianism itself.
Sbastien Billioud, Confucianism, Cultural Tradition, and Ofcial Discourse
in China at the Start of the New Century, China Perspectives 2007 (3): 5065.
8 joseph b. tamney and fenggang yang
Using data from the activists, Kang concludes: This is a movement
led by a group of highly educated, wealthy, open-minded, passionate,
and powerful Chinese people. Interestingly, 41 percent of the activists
are members of the Communist Party. Moreover, 78 percent want the
movement to be government-initiated. Participants in the movement
favor political authoritarianism. They are more likely than the average
citizen to believe that multiparty elections will have dire consequences
such as increased crime, political corruption, and increased class and
ethnic conicts. Kang claims that the government does not directly
control the movement, yet his ndings raise the question: To what
extent is this movement indirectly a creation of the government? To
what extent does this movement have popular support? An observa-
tion by Sbastien Billioud puts the revival movement in perspective:
(a) The nature of the relationship between the Communist Party and
Chinese tradition (understood in the largest sense) is complex, since
the legitimacy of the regime stems from a rupture with the old order
even though certain aspects of that order (notably in terms of epistemol-
ogy and the moralisation of politics, what is often call the sinicisation
of Marxism) have been somehow perpetuated. (b) In the last thirty years
there has been an evident shift in the regimes attitude towards that tra-
dition; Confucian-sounding references gure into the regimes overall
political orientation, although great care is taken to provide a Marxist
justication for the new concepts and to avoid breaking the thread of
ideological continuity. In certain domains, such as culture and education,
a turning point nevertheless appears to have been reached whereby clas-
sical culture and popular traditions once again enjoy a place of honour
or are being reinvented and students are encouraged to take an inter-
est in them; the regime seems to have entered a new period of careful
and critical reassessment of traditional culture in designating elements
compatible with the socialist legacy. (c) While this re-evaluation serves
clear political purposes (legitimation, fortifying national cohesion), it is
not a simple matter of an authoritarian, top-down, cultural instrumen-
talism; it is a phenomenon that can be linked to a more general evolu-
tion of perspectives on classical culture (and Confucianism) at both the
level of society as a whole and within more limited intellectual spheres;
in this sense, it reects a style of rule in which the Party no longer
seeks to impose its will directly at all levels of society but instead allows
for a certain degree of autonomy while tightly controlling the changes
Sbastien Billioud 2007, p. 64.
introduction 9
Kangs essay shows signicant differences between the key partici-
pants in the movement and nonparticipants. While many of the latter
show admiration for Confucius, many more think highly of Mao and
about the same percentage respect Sun Yatsen as well as Confucius.
Among the nonparticipants, few think that Confucianism is the great-
est religious or cultural tradition; more chose Buddhism. How will
the activists win the people over to their view of Confucianism? One
reason for such success could be the involvement of the government
in trying to strengthen the appeal of Confucianism. But the govern-
ment is mainly interested in aspects of Confucianism that serve its own
political interests. The experience of other Chinese-led governments in
Singapore and Taiwan that have attempted similar programs suggests
that citizens are turned off by the self-serving nature of government-
supported attempts to revitalize Confucianism.
Alternatively, Confu-
cianism in traditional China was transmitted through and reinforced
by the elite literati class, while the masses were left to practice folk reli-
gion and absorbed Confucian ethics through their spiritual practices.
If the elitist Confucianism is to be revived, the elite activists in Kangs
sample may not see the need to popularize Confucianism itself except
through reviving traditional folk religion.
Kang also suggests that the movement will inuence the worlds
cultural and political systems through shaping Chinas cultures. What
is needed is an interpretation that takes globalization into account.
Today, contemporary Chinese artists exhibit their work in Western
cities. The martial arts attract a popular following. Chinese chefs inu-
ence tastes around the world. Classical works by Confucius and other
writers are available in major bookstores in the West. Some Western-
ers, such as those associated with Boston Confucianism, as reected
in this volume by Tu, Neville, and Berthrong, seek to develop this
tradition further and to infuse it into Western culture. In turn, these
interactions with the West will feed back to China. Cultural inuence
is not a one-way street.
Moreover, it is even questionable whether the authoritarianism
favored by the Confucianist tradition will win the day in China, let
alone inuence political developments in other parts of the world. At
the end of 2008, Chinas Charter 08 was initially signed by 303 Chi-
nese intellectuals and then by several thousand citizens. It includes
See the essay by Joseph B. Tamney in this volume.
10 joseph b. tamney and fenggang yang
this statement: The Chinese people, who have endured human rights
disasters and uncountable struggles across these same years [since the
writing of Chinas rst constitution in 1912], now include many who
see clearly that freedom, equality, and human rights are universal val-
ues of humankind and that democracy and constitutional government
are the fundamental framework for protecting these values. Appar-
ently, the modern liberalism that originated in the West appeals to a
substantial segment of Chinese intellectuals and citizens. A battle is
taking place in China that Kang chooses to ignore in his chapter, but
otherwise has engaged himself against it. While the government wants
to portray it as a battle between Chinese and Western ideas, Charter
08 portrays it as a battle between traditional and universal values.
In addition, Kang does not acknowledge that Confucianism is being
interpreted in diverse ways, as evidenced in other essays in this book.
Tu Weiming has been active in promoting Confucianism in Chinese
and Western societies. His chapter in this volume recapitulates his
endeavors over the decades toward the exposition and reinterpretation
of Confucianism in the globalizing era. The major part of his chapter
is his discussion of what he believes to be a new form of Confucian-
ism that is emerging in China, what he calls a Confucian spirituality.
It is distinct from the politicized Confucianism emphasized by Kang.
Having learned from the West for more than a century, New Con-
fucianism inherited the Enlightenment legacy and became committed
to universal values rooted in the modern Western experience: liberty,
due process of law, human rights, and the dignity of the individual.
Note the basic differences between Kangs Confucianism and Tus:
the latter does not espouse a politicized Confucianism and refers to
universal values such as liberty.
Central to Tus understanding of the New Confucianism is the idea
of holistic humanism. While the uniqueness of individuals must be rec-
ognized, it is equally important to appreciate the interconnectedness
of all things. The highest manifestation of humanity is cosmological
and anthropological. Self-realization must include the perfection of
the cosmos.
Tu Weiming, John Berthrong, and Robert Cummings Neville
are members of the Boston Confucianism group. Their project, as
Berthrong explains in his chapter, is to develop a form of Confucian-
ism that would be viewed as appealing outside Chinese societies, using
the United States as a test case. Today Confucianism is gaining global
inuence. The Boston group is trying to adapt Confucianism so that
introduction 11
it can play a role in the spiritual life of Americans. But in a globalized
world, such a development will have consequences for Confucianism
in China.
Joseph B. Tamney emphasizes that Confucianism is an ever-evolving
tradition. He argues that three forms of Confucianism that exist in
Chinese societies today are reactions to modernization. Traditionalist
Confucianism expresses resistance to important aspects of modernity;
proponents favor authoritarian government, patriarchal families, and
compulsory lial piety. State-sponsored Confucianism is a form com-
patible with a capitalist society; proponents select those elements from
the tradition that are likely to advance economic development and to
maintain political stability. Finally, modernist Confucianism accepts
modernity; proponents accommodate structural differentiation, cul-
tural pluralism, and the importance of the individual. Tamney gives
examples of people who support each of these forms. Such diversity
characterizes all religious/ethical traditions in modern societies. In
China, all three forms compete for a following.
While Kang seems to assume the existence of a Confucianism, it
is clear that many different interpretations of this tradition coexist. In
the past, such diversity might have remained a secret among scholars.
In the age of mass media, the Internet, and mass education, this can
no longer be true. How, then, can a Chinese government impose its
version of the scholarly tradition?
Charles Taylor argued that the afrmation of universal human
rightsto life, citizenship, self-realizationwas accepted in Western
society because of the demise of Christendom.
A Christian society
would not establish these rights because in such a society all institu-
tions, cultural products, and individual acts would conform to what
would be considered Christian values. In such a society, full rights
would not be granted to non-Christians or to those who violated of-
cial Christian norms. These problems would not be caused by Christi-
anity itself but by the nature of a society that is based on conformity to
a total ideology. The issue in China is whether scholars and politicians
will succeed in creating a Confucian society, that is, a Confucian ver-
sion of Christendom. Public awareness of the diverse interpretations of
James L. Heft, ed., A Catholic Modernity?: Charles Taylors Marianist Award Lecture,
with Responses by William M. Shea, Rosemary Luling Haughton, George Marsden, and Jean Bethke
Elshtain (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 16.
12 joseph b. tamney and fenggang yang
Confucianism, struggle among proponents of rival versions of Confu-
cianism, and growing support for human rights would seem to make
the creation of a Confucian society unlikely.
Indeed, as the chapter by Liu Yi shows, at the dawn of the modern
Republic era of China, the traditionalist Confucians tried hard, but
failed, to institutionalize the dominance of Confucianism, whether it
was called a religion or not. Following intense battles between the
ardent traditionalist Confucians on the one hand and Christian-led
believers of various religions on the other, freedom of religion was
inscribed in the Constitution of the Republic of China.
Confucianism and Religious Diversity
The Chinese authorities have recognized only ve major religions
as legal, including Daoism, Buddhism, Islam, Catholicism, and Prot-
estant Christianity. Other religious groups and folk religion have to
operate either underground or in an ambiguous legal/illegal status.

Among the ve legal religions recognized by the Chinese government,
only Daoism originated in China. Sociologist Max Weber treated it
as the major heterodoxy vis--vis the Confucian orthodoxy in impe-
rial China.
Modernization and the Communists have brought bru-
tal damage to Daoism. In the globalizing era, Daoism has begun to
attract non-Chinese practitioners. While the spread of Daoism may
boost the pride of Chinese Daoists, it also makes it complicated for the
Chinese reconstruction of nationalism based on traditional cultures.
David A. Palmer and Xun Liu describe how, despite an initial belief
that Daoism was a crude assortment of superstitions that would not
survive modernity, it now appears that this religious tradition is suc-
cessfully adapting to modernity. In part, the modernization of Dao-
ism was encouraged by the Chinese state through the establishment
of the China Daoist Association. In part, the modernization was the
result of new scholarly interest in Daoism among both Chinese and
foreign scholars who changed the image of the religion from a heap
of superstitions to a rich textual tradition. In part, Daoist temples in
Fenggang Yang, The Red, Black, and Gray Markets of Religion in China,
Sociological Quarterly 47 (2006): 93122.
Max Weber, The Religion of China (New York: Free Press, 1968).
introduction 13
Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Southeast Asia contributed to the revival on
the mainland and the spread of Daoism to the West.
While liturgical Daoism seems to be resilient in rural China, urban
residents are exposed to the Daoist classics and to Daoist themes in
martial arts lms and novels and, especially, to various body technolo-
gies. The Daoist focus on nurturing the body ts the modern quest
for individual selfhood and authenticity rooted in embodied experi-
ence, which makes Daoism a reservoir of cultural resources with
global appeal. Daoist health and meditation techniques offer a form
of individual spirituality grounded in the care of the body that can be
practiced by people everywhere. But the modernizing of the tradition
does not seem to be leading to an increase in people who identify
themselves as Daoists. The Daoist tradition is a storehouse of cultural
resources, available to any and all who wish to delve into it.
Religious hybrids borrow from different religious traditions. They
have been common in Chinese history. But there are two ways of
understanding such mixing. On the one hand, it may reect a tradi-
tional folk understanding of religion; that is, a person should honor
whatever gods seem useful, as long as the various activities do not
undermine ones ethnic identity. On the other hand, such mixing may
reect a late-modern willingness to combine religious beliefs and prac-
tices from different traditions that are compatible with ones lifestyle.
In other words, mixing religious elements can have two quite differ-
ent meanings. The changes in urban Daoism may reect the effect of
modernization, which favors a shift from the rst to the second mean-
ing of hybridism. Urban Daoism is now appealing to the second type
of spiritual hybrid.
At least in urban areas, Buddhism and Daoism are becoming less an
expression of folk versions of these religions and more an expression of
purer forms of these traditions. The emphasis is on personal spiritual
development through studying the scriptures and using technologies to
achieve spiritual enlightenment. Especially the well-educated followers
of these religions may resemble young Singaporean Chinese, who see
their religious needs as personal, no longer tied to the religious needs
of their families or community. Thus, religion, to many of them, is a
personal quest for spiritualism.
Kuah-pearce Khun Eng, State, Society, and Religious Engineering (Singapore: Eastern
Universities Press, 2003), 7.
14 joseph b. tamney and fenggang yang
Buddhism did not originate in China, but it has been well integrated
into traditional Chinese culture under the dominance of Confucian-
ism. Fang Litian is a renowned scholar of Buddhist philosophy and the
founding director of the Institute of Buddhism and Religious Theories
at Renmin University, the largest center devoted to Buddhist studies
in mainland China. Although his essay does not address Confucianism
directly, he begins by describing the many problems of the Chinese as
a consequence of modernization and globalization. In his Confucian-
toned opinion, the people are less moral. Great economic inequalities
exist, which are likely to fuel social unrest. People ght for jobs, races
compete for economic success, and nations compete for world power.
Moreover, in this globalizing world, religions compete with each other,
and while some religious people take advantage of the opportunity
for dialogue, others incite conict and even violence. Finally, humans
are creating ecological problems because they see nature as simply
something to conquer. As Fang writes, the fate of Buddhism depends
on whether it can help the Chinese people cope with or solve these
Buddhists in the East and in the West are developing a modernist or
reformed version of Buddhism. This movement dates back to the rst
half of the twentieth century in China; its nature was partly shaped by
contact with Christian groups.
The reform movement is the result of
the modernization of traditional societies, state policies (especially in
mainland China), challenges from Christianity, and increasing contact
between Asian Buddhists and Western Buddhists. Buddhism in China
seems to have become less an amalgamation of folk and Buddhist tra-
ditions and more often a purer form of the religion. Fang, as one of the
most respected scholars of Buddhist philosophy in China who himself
does not claim to be a Buddhist believer, is nonetheless contributing to
the modernizing project of Buddhism. He wants to increase the knowl-
edge of and consequential effect of basic Buddhist ideasdependent
origination, karma, equality, compassionas a means of solving con-
temporary problems.
Fang believes that world peace is more likely to be achieved as the
Buddhist ideas of equality, mutual respect, and compassion for others
Fenggang Yang and Dedong Wei, The Bailin Buddhist Temple: Thriving under
Communism, in State, Market, and Religions in Chinese Societies, ed. Fenggang Yang and
Joseph B. Tamney (Leiden: Brill, 2005), 6386, at 69.
introduction 15
become more commonly accepted. At the same time, he acknowledges
that social conict is at least partly the result of the income gap among
people in a society and among societies. But it is a leap to go from
abstract Buddhist ideas to concrete plans that would reduce income
gaps. The latter is not reducible to the former, nor does the latter
require the acceptance of the former. As Fang points out, Chinese
Buddhist groups have increasingly become involved in charity work
such as disaster relief. But charity does not result in social justice, and
in fact might make it easier for people to endure injustice. So in the
end, Fang realistically says that although Buddhist philosophy cannot
solve the fundamental social problems of our time, nevertheless the
religion offers a way of thinking that could be useful in moving toward
Fang argues that the doctrine of no-self, if accepted, would restrain
materialism, lessen the desire for pleasure, and dampen the pursuit
of wealth. In saying this, however, Fang assumes that nonattachment
to the self means commitment to an ascetic lifestyle, which seems
presumptuous. Moreover Fang claims that nonattachment to the self
results in believing that the well-being of the society is higher than
that of the individual. This Confucian attitude seems more a reec-
tion of the inuence of Chinese culture than of the philosophy of Bud-
dhism. After all, society is just as much an illusion as the self. Why
should one illusion be superior to another? Moreover, the profound
theoretical ideas of Buddhism have been mostly conned to Buddhist
scholars and high-ranking monks, whereas lay Buddhists tend to know
little of them.
Fang is on surer ground when discussing ecological issues. Bud-
dhism, like Daoism, has a perspective on the nonhuman that seems
more conducive to saving the environment. The ideas of the interde-
pendence of all things and the equality of all living things are likely
to favor working with nature rather than encouraging the conquest
of nature. However, Buddhist groups did not become active in the
environmental movement until secular groups had already started the
Empirical studies will likely clarify more of the positive
functions of Buddhism claimed by Fang and other Chinese scholars.
Graeme Lang and Yunfeng Lu, Religion and Environmentalism in Chinese
Societies, in Social Scientic Studies of Religion in China: Methodology, Theories, and Findings,
ed. Fenggang Yang and Graeme Lang (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2011), 245272.
16 joseph b. tamney and fenggang yang
Buddhists in Chinese societies are increasingly well educated.

This change should make Fangs version of Buddhism more appeal-
ing. However, contemporary research on Buddhism has found that
as people become more educated, the aspect of Buddhism that grows
most attractive is meditation. Meditation was not important among the
masses of Asian Buddhists.
However, it is of central importance to
Western Buddhists,
and becoming more important to Asian-American
Buddhists and to Buddhists in Asia.
Dharma Drum Mountain in
Taiwan is led by a monk who preaches the Buddhist philosophy dis-
cussed by Fang, but the main attraction seems to be not the doctrines
but the meditation practice, which is undertaken for a variety of rea-
sons including improving health. This practice pushes the practitioner
beyond commitment to bounded social institutions. . . . It creates an
individuated self, separated from traditional attachments to family,
ethnic group, or even nationand then it strives to reintegrate that
self with others on the basis of universalistic principles.
destroys the illusion of autonomy and creates a sense of nonattachment.
The extent to which Fangs prescriptions are being accepted by the
people is a question to be studied by empirical research. However, it
seems highly likely that the ideas discussed by Fang will become more
widely accepted. One consequence of a greater knowledge of Bud-
dhism may be an increase in the number of people self-identifying
as Buddhists. Competition from Christian groups has pressured Bud-
Yang and Wei, The Bailin Buddhist Temple, 71; Tamney in this volume.
Ian Reader, Zazenless Zen? The Position of Zazen in Institutional Zen Bud-
dhism, Japanese Religions 14, no. 3 (1986): 727; Martin Baumann, Protective Amu-
lets and Awareness Techniques, or How to Make Sense of Buddhism in the West, in
Westward Dharma: Buddhism beyond Asia, ed. Charles S. Prebish and Martin Baumann
(Los Angeles and Berkelely: University of California Press, 2002), 5165, at 57.
Henry C. Finney, American Zens Japan Connection: A Critical Case Study of
Zen Buddhisms Diffusion to the West, Sociological Analysis 52 (1991): 379396; Sen-
ryo Asai and Duncan Ryuken Williams, Japanese American Zen Temples: Cultural
Identity and Economics, in American Buddhism, ed. Duncan Ryuken Williams and
Christopher S. Queen (Surrey, UK: Curzon, 1999), 2035.
Paul David Numrich, Old Wisdom in the New World (Knoxville: University of Ten-
nessee Press, 1996), xvii; Baumann, Protective Amulets and Awareness Techniques,
57; and see the discussion and references about reform Buddhism in Joseph B. Tam-
ney, Introduction, pp. 118 in State, Market, and Religions in Chinese Societies, ed. Feng-
gang Yang and Joseph B. Tamney (Leiden: Brill, 2005), 89.
Richard Madsen, Democracys Dharma (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: Uni-
versity of California Press, 2007), 89.
introduction 17
dhists to protect their following by clarifying their identities and more
adequately schooling their youth in the meaning of their faith.
As Robert P. Weller makes clear, Chinese religions tradition-
ally provided temporary services, such as ood relief, to people with
whom they shared particularistic ties of kinship or locality. Today this
is changing. Under the inuence especially of Buddhist groups, there
has been a change in the nature of helping: There has been a great
increase in generalized charity, that is, attempts to help a broad range
of humanity simply because they are humans in need, rather than
because they share any particular ties of place, kinship, or even reli-
gious belief.
Today Buddhist organizations, especially the Tzu Chi Foundation,
are leading the way. All forms of religion are now actively involved
in charitable work in all Chinese societies. They take on a very simi-
lar range of activities, including medical care, help for the poor and
elderly, scholarships or classes for students, and emergency relief.
Moreover these groups do not respond only to immediate needs. They
also seek structural changes that will have lasting effects. Weller notes
that the members of Tzu Chi, for example, are interested in improving
health care: For medical care, they do not just help subsidize care
for the needy, but attempt to advance and reform the entire medical
system through direct provision of medical care and training of doc-
tors and nurses.
Globalization has played a role in bringing about such change.
Buddhist groups were, in part, motivated by a need to compete with
Christian groups.
Members of Tzu Chi (the Buddhist Compassion
Relief Association), which originated in Taiwan, told Richard Madsen
that their disaster relief work was an expression of their Buddhist sense
of the interconnectedness of all beings.
However in the past, people
attending Buddhist temples would express their compassion only or
mainly toward other followers. Why the change? During the 1970s,
provincial governments instructed all temples to carry out charity
work. It t a general strategy (common to East Asian NICs) of keep-
ing government social welfare expenditures low by relying on the
Tamney and Chiang, Modernization, Globalization, and Confucianism in Chinese Societies,
Madsen, Democracys Dharma, 140; Yang and Wei, The Bailin Buddhist Temple,
Madsen, Democracys Dharma, xvii.
18 joseph b. tamney and fenggang yang
private sector to take care of the poor, sick, and weak.
Moreover the
involvement in community service projects was, in part, an emulation
of Christian groups in Taiwan.
Buddhism was the rst major foreign religion imported and inte-
grated into Chinese culture and society. Islam and Christianity arrived
hundreds of years later. Jian Zhixiang and Ma Rong provide a brief
history of the entrance and growth of Islam in China. They emphasize
the accommodation of Chinese Muslims to Chinese culture, especially
Confucianism. But cooperating with the central government and help-
ing to maintain or achieve political stability seem more important in
explaining the continued existence of Muslim communities in China.
Chinas Muslim population is divided among ten ethnic groups, with
the vast majority belonging to two ethnic groups, the Hui and the
Uygur. The Hui speak Chinese and are widely distributed throughout
the country. The Uygur speak a Turkic dialect and mostly live in the
Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in western China.
The chapter
by Jian and Ma, both of whom are of Hui ethnicity, is mostly about
the Hui ethnic group, which has been more integrated with the Han
Chinese than the Uygur Muslims.
Actually, Hui has been used to mean all Muslims or just the Chi-
nese-speaking Muslims who are considered to constitute the Hui eth-
nic group. In the past, if you wanted to ask if someone were Muslim,
you would say, are they Hui. Ofcially Hui is an ethnic identity,
but people conated ethnic and religious identities. In the minds of
the Hui, to be Hui is to be Muslim.
Things have changed. After the
founding of the Peoples Republic of China, it was ofcial policy that
Hui meant an ethnic group and not a religious group; this policy
was part of the effort to lessen the signicance of religion.
Chinese Muslims very self-consciously will distinguish between being
Hui and their being Muslim. For example, the response could now
be, yes, theyre Hui, and they are also Muslim. Or they are Hui, but
they are not Muslim.
This strategy has been promoted by conservative political movements in both the
East and West; see Tamney, The Struggle over Singapores Soul, 134.
Zhou Chuanbin and Ma Xuefeng, Beijings Hui Muslim Community (Chiang Mai,
Thailand: Silkworm Books, 2009), 12.
Ibid., 54.
Ibid., 33.
Jacqueline Armijo, Islam in China, in Asian Islam in the 21st Century, ed. John
L. Esposito, John O. Voll, and Osman Bakar (New York: Oxford University Press,
2008), 197228, at 206.
introduction 19
Today the Hui community may be in danger of disintegration.
Zhou Chuanbin and Ma Xuefeng describe the decline of the Hui
Muslim community in Beijing during the last fty years. The govern-
ment has closed down mosque-related schools; nationalized the more
modern religious schools that taught Western science, Chinese history
and literature, as well as Islam; and torn down old ethnic neighbor-
hoods, scattering their residents. At the same time, the Hui lost their
hold over such traditional occupations as the cattle, sheep, and camel
trade. Intermarriage with Han Chinese is increasing. Thus Zhou and
Ma worry about the possible decline of the Hui nationality in Beijing.
Similar processes may be occurring in other parts of China.
The story is different for the Uyghur in todays Xinjiang. For about
two thousand years, China and the many small kingdoms in the region
had a kind of suzerain relationship. During the 1940s, the Chinese
Communist Party encouraged Uighur separatism as a way to weaken
the Kuomintang government. With Mao Zedongs blessing, part of
the region seceded, and the leaders established the East Turkistan
Republic in 19441945. Soon after gaining power, the communist
government destroyed the separatist movement.
The Xinjiang region was overwhelmingly Uyghur until recently.
The percentage of the population who are Han Chinese has grown
from 6 percent in 1949 to 40 percent in 2000, according to a journalist
Migrants were attracted by the governments plan to develop
the region economically, which the government has been doing.
A Uyghur middle class has grown. However, the Uyghur believe
that development has disproportionately helped the Han, who, the
Uyghurs claim, get the better jobs.
Being less educated than the Han
migrants and concentrated in the rural parts of the region, Uyghurs
have difculty competing with the migrants.
Moreover they claim
that government restricts their religious practice and political activity.
For example, it is said that the government has banned prayer at
Ching Cheong, Ethnic Unrest in Xinjiang,
Review/Others/STIStory_401117.html/ (accessed July 10, 2009).
John Pomfret, In China, Following General Tsos Imperial Recipe, Washington
Post, July 12, 2009, B5.
Edward Wong, China Seals off Cities Battered by Ethnic Fight, New York Times,
July 7, 2009, A1, A6.
Sim Chi Yin, News Analysis: Economic Grievances Behind Riots, www.straits (accessed July 7, 2009).
20 joseph b. tamney and fenggang yang
As a result, the region experiences periodic outbreaks of
unrest. How might a revived Confucianism help to pacify the region?
Jian and Ma seem to suggest that the historical experience of the Hui
ethnic group might provide some hints.
However, globalization is affecting Chinese Muslims on the other
direction. Over the centuries, Chinese Hui Muslims developed a form
of calligraphy that showed the inuence of Chinese writing. Since the
1990s, as more Chinese students study overseas, the preference for tra-
ditional Arab calligraphy styles is spreading. Many Muslims are buy-
ing Islamic-themed posters from Pakistan and the Middle East that
are viewed as more authentic than works in the local styles.
This is
a sign that a globalized form of Islam is gaining acceptance in China,
which can be a centrifugal force.
An editorial writer in the Straits Times of Singapore wrote imme-
diately after the riot in Xianjiang in 2009 that the economic situ-
ation breeds resentment of the Han, who do not help matters by
their attitude toward the Uyghur. They see themselves as superior
to the Uyghur and do not make an effort to understand or mix with
them. They are also resentful of afrmative programs to give Uyghurs
a leg-up.
After the recent riots in Urumqi in July 2009, a Han Chi-
nese woman told a reporter that she favored the use of a lot of force
to stop the disorder. Their mind is very simple. If you crack down
on one, youll scare all of them. The government should come down
Journalist and author John Pomfret has compared the situations in
Tibet and Xinjiang. In both places, China seems more empire than
He argues that the government sees the native peoples
in both regions as needing to be civilized, an attitude shared by some,
perhaps many, ordinary Han Chinese. Mixed marriages are common
in the city of Kashgar. Pomfret asked his Han cabbie whether his wife
was Uyghur. The guy practically veered into an oncoming truck and
Erik Eckholm, China Points to Another Leader in Exile, New York Times,
July 7, 2009, A6.
Armijo, Islam in China, 222 n. 3.
Editorial, Xinjiang Unrest: Live and Let Live,
Review/Editorial/STIStory_400735.html/ (accessed July 9, 2009).
Quoted in Wong, China Seals off Cities Battered by Ethnic Fight, A6.
Pomfret, In China, Following General Tsos Imperial Recipe, B5.
introduction 21
then proceeded to regale me with anecdotes about the wanton sexual-
ity of Uighur girls. But were civilizing them! he assured me.
At the Beijing Summit in 2008, Mou Zhongjian, a leading scholar
of religion and ethnicity at the Central University of Nationalities in
Beijing, made a claim in his presentation that the nature of Chinese
history has resulted in a cultural tolerance of religious differences.
Throughout its existence the Chinese nation has shown impressive
cultural continuity; Confucianism, Daoism, and the traditional patriar-
chal religion have sustained the Chinese people for over two millennia.
Other religions have been able to take root in China by accommodat-
ing these basic Chinese belief systems, although it is also true that the
foreign religions inuenced the Chinese religions. Most Chinese are
religious hybrids, that is, they use more than one religion in real
life. Mou asserts that the Chinese people are religiously open and
tolerant. There is no other country like China around the world with
regard to this aspect. And the experience of the Chinese may help
other nations learn to accommodate both internal religious differences
as well as civilizational differences. Mou has led a team of research-
ers at the Central University of Nationalities to develop a suggestive
model for national unity in ethnic and religious diversity. His view of
the nature of Chinese culture is echoed by many Chinese intellectu-
als, including those belonging to ethnic minorities. In this volume, the
chapter by Jian and Ma, who are themselves ethnic Hui, demonstrates
the inuence of Mous perspective. Except for the Qing Dynasty, they
argue, Islam in China was Confucianized and Muslims were very
much integrated into Chinese society.
Certainly, there were characteristics of Chinese society that favored
peaceful relations among religions. Because they view Confucianism
as primarily a moral code, Confucians can tolerate the existence of
any religion that accepts this moral code. Moreover the emphasis on
morality has separated ethnic identity from religious identity. Among
the Chinese, religion is not part of their ethnic, and therefore personal,
identity, and this separation of ethnicity and religion allows Chinese
to convert to different religions relatively easily.
For example, Malay-
sian Chinese nd it easier and more acceptable to become Christians
Tamney and Chiang, Modernization, Globalization, and Confucianism in Chinese Societ-
ies, 157.
22 joseph b. tamney and fenggang yang
than Muslims because a Chinese Christian still remains a Chinese
In contrast, Chinese Muslims in Malaysia often feel the
need to adopt Malay cultural practices. Chinese people can accept a
religion if it does not come embedded in a foreign culture.
Second, most Chinese were folk religionists, and this form of religion
has weak boundaries and is open to the incorporation of elements from
other religions. In China, it is quite common for religious people to
worship whatever gods are being honored at a particular religious site
without any feeling that such behavior might be open to question.

In Southeast Asia, Chinese folk religion regards the famous Admiral
Zheng He, who led voyages to the region, as a deity, regardless of the
fact that the admiral was a Muslim.
During the last two thousand years, folk religionists have borrowed
beliefs and practices from Buddhism and Daoism. Many of them
believe in the doctrines of karma and seek help from the Buddha and
other revered Buddhist gures. The Daoist belief in the need to bal-
ance the forces of yin (gentility, the feminine) and yang (ferocity, the
masculine) is also inuential among folk religionists, leading many of
them, for instance, to follow dietary rules that are meant to balance
hot and cold elements in the body as a way to a healthy life. Chinese
folk religionists accept values that are associated with Confucianism,
most notably lial piety; thus it is believed that only when husbands,
wives, and children play their proper roles in the patriarchal family
structure can there be balance, peace, and harmony in the home.
Some folk religionists have formed voluntary formal organizations.
These sects are consciously syncretistic, borrowing from folk religion,
Confucianism, Buddhism, and Daoism, and in some cases from Chris-
tianity and Islam. These ve teachings sects, such as the Universal
Red Swastika Society, worship Confucius, Laozi, Buddha, Jesus, and
Religious groups with weak boundaries are less likely
to encourage religious violence.
Third, the historic institutional religions of China, Buddhism and
Daoism, are not generally missionary religions. Many key gures have
Lee Kam Hing and Tan Chee Beng, The Chinese in Malaysia (New York: Oxford
University Press, 2000), 306.
Xinzhong Yao and Paul Badham, eds., Religious Experience in Contemporary China
(Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2007), p. 175.
Lee and Tan, The Chinese in Malaysia, 289.
Ibid., 296.
introduction 23
chosen to withdraw to monasteries. Of course, Buddhism has become
involved in religious violence. Monks associated with the current
nationalistic form of Buddhism in Sri Lanka justify the numerous Tamil
deaths in war by claiming they are necessary to save Buddhism. Some
prominent modern Buddhist leaders have been sincere Buddhists who
understood the universal message of Buddhism but also argued that
the historic destiny of the Sinhalese people, and of the government
of Sri Lanka that they control, is to protect true Buddhism, and that
violence in this cause is justied.
The combination of Buddhism and
nationalism can cause religious violence. But generally nonmissionary
religions are less likely to be involved in religious violence.
Since the thirteenth century, however, folk religion has in differ-
ent times and places crystallized into sects. The imperial governments
always dened the sects as heterodox. Hence they were considered
dangerous to the state and were suppressed. Other indicators of
religious controversy, including the repression of Buddhism and the
expulsion of the Jesuits by the imperial government, which suppos-
edly upheld the Confucian orthodoxy, are also ignored. Some level
of religious tolerance existed, but only with the understanding that all
other religions were politically submissive to the state orthodoxy of
Is this Confucianism-based culture similarly open to absorbing
Christianity? Daniel H. Bayss chapter is a commentary on the his-
tory of Christianity in China. Until recently, Western missionaries
were motivated by the ideal of Christendom; their goal was to create
a Christian/Western society wherever they went. Religious pluralism
was an undesirable, evil, civilizational diversity. To be a proper Chris-
tian it was considered necessary to become Western. Globalization has
all but eliminated that mindset. Today Christendom as co-identity of
Christianity and the West is gone forever. Bays concludes, At the
end of the day, Christianity is neither a Western religion nor a Chinese
religion, but a world religion.
Contemporary missionaries think in terms of contextualization,
of trying to convey their religion through the language, beliefs, and
practices of local cultures. Boston Confucianism is an example of
the attempt to contextualize Confucianism in the United States. The
Patrick Grant, Buddhism and Ethnic Conict in Sri Lanka (Albany: State University
of New York Press, 2009).
24 joseph b. tamney and fenggang yang
global reach of religions requires their contextualization, and this pro-
cess further diversies these religious traditions. But contextualization
should also make Christianity more competitive locally, including
in China.
Liu Yis chapter is a historical study of contention over the place of
Confucianism in the rst two decades of the twentieth century. Con-
fucianism lost its orthodox status near the end of the Qing Dynasty.
In 1905, the imperial examination system (ke ju), which had helped to
reinforce Confucian orthodoxy for more than a thousand years, was
abolished by the Qing imperial court. Instead, education in modern
sciences was emphasized when selecting government ofcials. Facing
the challenge of the modern West, some Chinese literati advocated
reforming Confucianism and institutionalizing it as the Chinese state
religion, on the model of Britain and other European countries that
had some kind of Christianity as the state church. But the corrupt
Qing government crumbled before it had the opportunity to imple-
ment social, political, and cultural reforms. The 1911 Xinhai Revo-
lution overthrew the Qing Dynasty and led to the establishment of
the Republic of China on January 1, 1912. In the rst decades of
the new Republic, amid political and military turmoil, erce debates
about Confucianism arose in drafting and redrafting the constitution
of the Republic. Confucian reformers allied with political traditional-
ists to make Confucianism the state religion of the Republic, whereas
liberals united with religious believers to oppose it. The opposition
was led by Chinese Catholic and Protestant leaders who effectively
mobilized Buddhists and Muslims to ght for the constitutional sepa-
ration of religion and state and the constitutional right of religious
freedom. Besides the constitutional struggles documented by Liu Yi
in this chapter, the campaign to make Confucianism the state religion
eventually backred in the socio-cultural sphere. From the mid-1910s
to the 1920s, the New Culture and May Fourth Movements led by
liberal intellectuals and young people rose up to attack and abandon
Confucianism as the feudalist ideology that had held China back from
social progress. Confucianism failed to gain establishment status and
lost respect among the majority of intellectuals even before the Com-
munist triumphs after 1949.
Following decades of the destruction of Confucianism and other
cultural traditions, however, a new social and political movement has
emerged in the twenty-rst century to revitalize Confucianism as a
religion and even make it a kind of de facto or de jure state religion.
introduction 25
Kang Xiaoguangs chapter describes such efforts by activists and active
participants in this cultural nationalist movement. Meanwhile, the
Institute of World Religions (IWR) at the Chinese Academy of Social
Sciences (CASS) has been entrusted by the authorities with the task of
studying various religions and providing policy suggestions. Interest-
ingly, even though Confucianism has not been one of the recognized
religions, the IWR has established a Division of Confucian Religion
(ru jiao yanjiu shi). In 2005, it further developed the Center on Confu-
cian Religion (ru jiao yanjiu zhongxin) in order to draw researchers and
resources from other divisions as well as from beyond the CASS. In
addition to the Marxist theoreticians, the director of the State Admin-
istration of Religious Affairs, Ye Xiaowen, was also present at the
opening ceremony and spoke in endorsement of the center.
Zhuo Xinping, a scholar of Christian theology who has been the
IWR director since 1998, has also engaged in active discussion about
Confucianism. As Zhuo made clear in his presentation at the Beijing
Summit on Chinese Spirituality and Society in 2008, the relationship
between religion and the Chinese state is being rethought. This shift
is occurring at a time of increasing globalization that is weakening the
power of the state to control religion. In this context, religious tradi-
tions in China have divided into above-ground and under-ground.
The latter have more contacts with their counterparts in other coun-
tries and favor more democracy and a free civil society. The loss of
faith in Marxism has resulted in Confucianism gaining signicance
because it is part of the essence of traditional Chinese culture. Thus it
is important that scholars understand Confucian spirituality.
Like the failed attempt to make Confucianism the state religion about
a hundred years ago, the current movement to make Confucianism a
state religion faces challenges from other religions, especially Christian-
ity. The numbers of Catholics and Protestants are many times greater
than they were in the early twentieth century, so much so that Zhuos
chapter in this volume articulates the complementary contribution of
Christianity to the Confucian culture. He argues that the key concept
in the spiritual accomplishment of Confucianism is benevolence and
its relationship with rites or social order. The Confucian notion of
benevolence in social life and the Christian notion of the role of Gods
love in human salvation are actually complementary to each other;
benevolence and divine love represent, respectively, realist concerns
and ultimate concerns, the social order and the holy order, and
inherent transcendence and external transcendence.
26 joseph b. tamney and fenggang yang
Confucian Rites and the Social Realities of Ritual
What is Confucianism? Is Confucianism a religion? Will it become
recognized as a religion in Chinese society? In this volume, we leave
these questions open to multiple interpretations, as there are mul-
tiple perspectives, approaches, and forces competing to dene Con-
fucianism. Another interesting question is this: As the world religion
of Christianity accommodates itself to the Chinese culture, will Con-
fucianism accommodate itself to other cultures so that it becomes a
genuinely global spirituality? This is what the Boston Confucianism
philosophers hope to see, but the realization of this goal remains to
be studied empirically.
Confucianism is not only a system of ideas, but also a system of rites.
Indeed, Confucianism has another name: li jiao, the religion of rites or
the teaching of rites. During the New Culture and May Fourth Move-
ments in the 1910s and 1920s, Chinese intellectuals rejected Confu-
cianism as li jiao, blaming Confucianism for suppressing human nature
and creativity and for weakening the Chinese nation as it faced the
modernized Western political and military powers. However, nowa-
days an increasing number of scholars see the positive or benecial
consequences of rituals. The last group of chapters in this volume
focuses on ritual.
The Christian theologian and philosopher Robert Cummings Neville
argues that modern societies would benet from adopting the Confu-
cian idea of love with distinctions. Moreover he urges the devel-
opment of rituals that express humaneness across social boundaries,
such as between social classes: Put in a preliminary way, I advocate
a Confucian project of social analysis that inquires into the existence
of rituals that inhibit or prevent the expression of humaneness [albeit
with distinctions] across social barriers, and that goes on to develop
rituals for the interaction of contending groups that allow for all par-
ticipants to treat one another humanely even while in conict.
From a sociological perspective, Anna Sun examines the actual
practices of people who conduct rituals that are related to Confucius,
particularly the rites performed in Confucius temples (Confucius wor-
ship), and the rites performed in ancestral temples or by the graves of
ancestors (ancestral worship). This chapter draws on eldwork con-
ducted in China and Taiwan between 2005 and 2010, as well as the
latest survey data on Chinese religious practice.
The anthropologists do not nd a distinct, unalloyed Confucian-
ism in Chinese society. Rather, they have often found Confucianism
introduction 27
embedded in folk religious practices in traditional Chinese societies. As
anthropologist Robert Weller makes clear, Chinese religions did not
traditionally set up private organizations such as hospitals to provide
public services. Today this is changing. Even local temples are provid-
ing services such as scholarships for local students. Activities such as
medical relief missions were brought to China by Christian mission-
aries during the nineteenth century. Today Buddhist organizations,
especially the Tzu Chi Foundation, whose founder was inuenced by
Christians, are leading the way. All forms of religion are now actively
involved in charitable work in all Chinese societies. They take on a
very similar range of activities, including medical care, help for the
poor and elderly, scholarships or classes for students, and emergency
relief. To some extent, religious groups are resuming the kinds of
activities they carried out prior to the appearance of governments
in China and Taiwan that sought to marginalize religious groups in
order to strengthen the power of governments. However, under the
inuence especially of Buddhist groups, there has been a change in
the nature of helping: There has been a great increase in generalized
charity, that is, attempts to help a broad range of humanity simply
because they are humans in need, rather than because they share any
particular ties of place, kinship, or even religious belief.
Modernization, then, has religious consequences. Purer forms of
Buddhism, Daoism, and probably also of Christianity are becoming
more popular. Followers are more interested in the classical texts and
in techniques for personal spiritual development. The declining impor-
tance of particularistic ties is allowing the development of universalis-
tic interpretations of moral norms. In turn, these changes mean that
people will make personal decisions to borrow elements of different
religions. Such borrowing should make a religious diverse society more
socially acceptable.
Further, the religious contribution to modern life is not only the pro-
vision of charity or social services. Following the Durkheimian under-
standing of the social function of ritual, Weller in his chapter argues
that religious rituals, be they Christian, Buddhist, or folk religious, are
themselves functioning as a kind of public good for the community
and society.
Indeed, in many areas of China today, people spend a
Also see Kenneth Dean, Local Ritual Traditions of Southeast China: A Chal-
lenge to Denitions of Religion and Theories of Ritual, in Social Scientic Studies of
Religion in China: Methodology, Theories, and Findings, ed. Fenggang Yang and Graeme
Lang (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2011), 133164.
28 joseph b. tamney and fenggang yang
signicant amount of money on religious activities such as festivals for
the gods; charitable contributions for such things as religious proces-
sions, but also for community projects; the construction of new ritual
sites; and the hiring of diviners, spirit mediums, and geomantic mas-
ters. In addition, religious activities are performed to ensure business
success, to improve or protect ones social status, or to ensure an easier
time in the afterlife. Many ritual activities make valuable contributions
to strengthening kinship and local ties that normal business activities
would never offer. The local community benets from the building of
a village park and of temples and churches. As the countryside under-
goes signicant modernization, many people have moved from rural
areas into towns and cities. Some locals have traveled overseas. With
such rapid modernization, the seemingly wasteful expenditures on
rituals may help people avoid feelings of alienation that occur because
of modernization. Religious experiences and the feelings aroused
in religious rituals would allow people to transcend the alienation
experienced in alienating labor. After decades of destructions in mod-
ern times, from the May Fourth Movement to the Cultural Revolu-
tion and then the economic marketization, Chinese intellectuals and
scholars are once again reconsidering the restoration or invention of
social and religious rituals for rebuilding Chinese society in the era of
Globalization and modernization are affecting all aspects of Chinese
culture. Cultural revival is a self-conscious process and inevitably a
selective one. In traditional societies there is no conscious, ideolo-
gized attachment to the legacy of the past. In them, instead, the past
lives on unproblematically, thereby continuing to shape the present.

In modernizing societies, traditionalists identify a legacy and claim
to be the authentic defender of that legacy. Such a claim hopefully,
from their point of view, lends legitimacy to their project. But cultural
Clive S. Kessler, Archaism and Modernity: Contemporary Malay Political Cul-
ture, in Fragmented Vision: Culture and Politics in Contemporary Malaysia, ed. Joel Khan and
Francis Loh Kok Wah (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1992), 134.
introduction 29
revival is a contentious process. Thus, for example, there is a struggle
to shape the meaning of Confucianism.
The essayists in this volume, understandably, argue for the need to
change the way people think as a way to solve Chinas problems. Cer-
tainly, convincing people of the value of compassion would make the
world a better place. Spiritual traditions may also help people cope with
their frustrations through meditation or accepting that certain things
are simply beyond ones control. But there are limits to spiritual solu-
tions. Structural problems require structural changes. In an authoritar-
ian society, religious or spiritual groups are unlikely to engage in the
political campaigns necessary to achieve structural changes.
The activists in the nationalist cultural movement studied by Kang
Xiaoguang perceive traditional cultural values as a basis for solving
the social problems experienced by the Chinese people. However,
the activists themselves make distinctions between the personal and
social effects of their work. On the one hand, three-quarters of them
believe that rebuilding traditional culture will alleviate feelings of
personal meaninglessness. On the other hand, less than half believe
such rebuilding will alleviate the problem of social inequality. Kang
argues that the activists believe that Chinas problems can be solved
by rebuilding peoples mindsets through education, but even the
activists understand the limitations of this approach.
Ultimately, Chinas imperial mindset is unlikely to be sustainable.
Globalization will expose more and more Chinese citizens to liberal,
Western societies, and this will increase internal demand for the lib-
eralization of religious policies. The traditionalists try to dene values
such as religious freedom as Western and therefore foreign, but mod-
ernists present them as universal. In addition, globalization is separat-
ing religions from specic cultural contexts, thereby enhancing their
claim to be universal religions. Religions within China are clarifying
their identities, becoming purer and less tied to an ethnic identity.
Under these circumstances, it is questionable to what extent the gov-
ernment can use Confucianism or any other spiritual tradition to unify
the Chinese people.
Kang Xiaoguang
Renmin University of China
I. Research Background and Research Questions
One of the fundamental features in Chinas modern history is the
decline of Chinese traditional cultures. Despite continuous resistance
from culturally conservative groups, this historical tendency of the
decline of Chinese cultures has continued. Since 1976, along with the
end of the anti-Lin Biao and anti-Confucius campaign, the Chinese
government has put a stop to formalized and organized anti-tradition
activities. However, the nightmare for Chinese traditional cultures has
not yet ended. Since Chinas opening up, anti-tradition activities have
been spreading in Chinese society. This anti-tradition wind reached its
peak in the 1980s. Since 1989, the Chinese government has started to
deliberately promote the renaissance of Chinese traditional cultures,
resulting in the rise of Guoxue fever or the fever of traditional cul-
tures in the 1990s. Unfortunately, this cultural movement quickly
declined because it lacked roots in the populace.
At the turn of the new century, however, a government-sponsored
renaissance of Chinese traditional cultures has emerged and developed
rapidly within a short period of time. A signicant number of partici-
pants have been involved in cultural activities. They have organized
themselves in various organizational forms. Although there is no uni-
ed leadership directing the events, most participants share common
beliefs, embracing a strong commitment and identity. More impor-
tant, these participants have challenged mainstream values and have
pursued rebuilding the social value system. Thus, these cultural events
have shown fundamental features of a social movement. Because
this cultural movement clearly aims to reestablish the Chinese tra-
ditional culture centered on Confucianism in contemporary Chinese
society, we dene it as a cultural nationalist movement.
This cultural nationalist movement is worthy of in-depth examina-
tion because it demonstrates three types of fundamental forces that
34 kang xiaoguang
will inuence Chinas direction of development in the future: Chinas
cultural traditions, its nationalism, and the elements of social move-
ments. Chinas cultural traditions represent a deep and enduring
force for determining Chinas fate. Chinas nationalism has shaped
Chinas modern history considerably since 1840, representing a long-
lasting inuential ideology. The elements of social movements play a
role in these social changes. A school of thought cannot substantially
effect social change unless it is embraced by a social movement. In
this sense, the cultural nationalist movement is important because it is
simultaneously a social movement. However, there is a lack of system-
atic academic studies of the cultural nationalist movement.
The present empirical study of the renaissance of traditional Confu-
cian culture in China poses three sets of questions. First, what are the
causes of the emergence of the cultural nationalist movement? Will this
movement develop more extensively and endure? Second, who has
participated in this cultural movement? What has encouraged them
to take action? What responses have they made during this move-
ment? How have they dened the issues facing them? What solutions
have they worked out accordingly? What actions have they adopted?
What resources have they employed and in what ways? Third, what
outcomes will this cultural movement bring about? What effects will
this movement exert on Chinas culture, domestic politics, and for-
eign relations? How will this movement inuence China and the rest
of the world? These three sets of questions seek to explain why this
cultural movement arose, how it is unfolding, and what outcomes it
will produce.
II. Research Framework and Theoretical Approaches
The main theoretical approaches drawn on in this study include the
theories of social movements, nationalism, and political cultures.
First, this article employs the classical research framework of social
movement theory and describes the current status of Chinas cultural
nationalist movement.
This theoretical framework includes a series
of key terms such as structural tensions, collective action, mobiliza-
See Donatella della Porta and Mario Diani, Introduction to Social Movements [in Chi-
nese] ( Juliu Books Inc., 2002); He Mingxiu, Introduction to Social Movements [in Chinese]
(Sanming Books Inc., 2005).
a study of the renaissance of traditional confucian culture 35
tion structure, behavioral means, and political opportunity structures.
These terms are helpful for our analysis of the rise of this cultural
movement and its development. The existence of structural tensions
causes the emergence of a movement, and certain political opportu-
nity structures create the external environment for its development.
A structure of collective action provides participants with new values,
helps to nd new problems and propose solutions, and motivates par-
ticipants to take action. People share these values, take part in the
movement, and mobilize a variety of resources. From these perspec-
tives, this article analyzes the background of the cultural nationalist
movement, the structure of collective action in this movement, and the
characteristics of the participants and their behaviors.
Second, the theories regarding nationalism examine the relation-
ships between nations, national cultures, and nation-states.
nationalism and cultural nationalism are two major representative
forms of nationalism. Political nationalism stresses the establishment
of modern nation-states based on the peoples sovereignty. Cultural
nationalism emphasizes nationalistic spirit and the advantages of cul-
tural traditions and thus advocates national unication on a cultural
basis. This article concludes that the shared identity of the Chinese
and their increasing national consciousness as well as Chinas rise in
the world as a more powerful nation-state have led to the emergence
of the cultural nationalist movement.
Finally, theories regarding political cultures state that the rise of any
culture will bring about extensive and deep effects on the society as a
It will inuence not only moral systems and social values but
also political cultures. Moreover, a new culture will further inuence
the goals, developmental patterns, and directions of a political regime.
Building on this logic, this article analyzes and predicts the effects and
outcomes of the cultural nationalist movement, focusing on Chinas
cultural and political features following the emergence of this move-
ment and their effects on international society in general.
See Ernest Gellner, Nations and Nationalism [in Chinese] (Chinese Central Edition
& Translation Publisher, 2002); Eric Hobsbawm, Nations and Nationalism [in Chinese]
(Shanghai Century Publisher, 2006); Anthony D. Smith, Nationalism: Theory, Ideology,
History [in Chinese] (Shanghai Century Publisher, 2006).
See Wang Leli, Introduction to Political Cultures [in Chinese] (Wunan Books Inc.,
2002); Jin Yaoji, Chinese Political Cultures [in Chinese] (Oxford University Press, 1997).
36 kang xiaoguang
III. Sources of Data
This article is based on empirical studies.
Our data are from inter-
views of core activists, a questionnaire survey of active participants,
and a survey of the general public. The rst interviewees were chosen
on the basis of media reports and from the authors own personal
networks. Through snowballing we greatly expanded the number of
interviewees. Eventually, the interview study of core activists covered
twenty-six provincial-level administrative agencies, more than forty
district-level and county-level administrative agencies, more than fty
organizations, and over two hundred interviewees. The interviewees
include private individuals, business people, and government ofcials.
The activities in which the interviewees engaged represented almost
all the types of activity reported of this social movement. The organi-
zations involved in the survey include formal and informal organiza-
tions, as well as close and loose alliances. Through the interviews we
gathered information on the core activists of the movement, including
demographic characteristics, perceptions of reality, main demands,
methods of action, organization types, resources needed and mobi-
lized in the activities, and the political opportunity structure that the
activities had.
On the basis of the interview study, we designed a questionnaire
that we used to survey both the active participants and the general
public in a randomly selected sample. These surveys were designed to
identify differences between the attitudes and behaviors of the active
participants and the general public.
The term active participants refers to those who have partici-
pated in relevant activities multiple times or played a signicant role
in certain kind of activities. The list of active participants was com-
piled during the rst phase of interviews with the core activists. To
ensure the samples representativeness, we took into account activity
types, demographic characteristics, and place of residence. Eventually
we selected 954 active participants for the sample. We had previously
interviewed some of them in depth and made brief contacts with some
This article derives from a research project entitled A Study of the Social Move-
ment of the Renaissance of Traditional Cultures in Contemporary China, which is
directed by the author and funded by the Ford Foundation (No. 1055-0790).
a study of the renaissance of traditional confucian culture 37
others. The rest of the respondents were either recommended by the
interviewees or identied from media reports.
The survey of active participants was conducted by a professional
survey company. In order to improve the quality of the survey, we
submitted the list of active participants to the research company in
three batches. The rst batch includes 500 people with whom we had
established direct contact, including most of the core activists inter-
viewed in the rst phase of the project. The second batch includes 160
people whom we had interviewed or briey contacted, or who were
recommended by the earlier interviewees. The third batch includes
294 people who were recommended by interviewees or identied
from media reports. We hoped that this arrangement would increase
the rate of valid responses by core activists and ensure the quality of
the survey of active participants. In the end, we received 382 valid
responses in the survey of active participants (Table 1).
Next, for the survey of the general public, we randomly selected
ten cities, including Beijing, Shijiazhuang, Baoding, Taiyuan, Taigu,
Chengdu, Luojiang, Mianyang, Shehong, and Ziyang. In selecting
these cities, we considered two main factors: the geographical loca-
tion and size of the cities. First, we selected three big citiesBeijing,
Taiyuan, and Chengdulocated respectively in the eastern, middle,
and western regions. Second, around these three big cities, we selected
middle-scale (district-level ) cities and small (county-level ) cities. We
then randomly selected our sample from these ten cities. We selected
a sample of 1,299 people, of whom 1,254 were valid cases. The valid
response rate is 96.5% (Table 2).
Table 1: The Response Rate and Number of Cases in the Survey of Active
Group Number of
submitted names
Number of valid
Response rate
1 500 262 52.4
2 160 67 41.9
3 294 53 18.0
Total 954 382 40.0
38 kang xiaoguang
Table 2: The Valid Response Rate of the Random Sample of the
General Public
Area City Number of cases
in the sample
Number of
valid cases
Rate (%)
Eastern Beijing 406 388 95.6
Shijiazhuang 103 101 98.1
Baoding 55 55 100.0
Middle Taiyuan 104 96 92.3
Taigu 52 51 98.1
Western Chengdu 309 307 99.4
Luojiang 54 52 96.3
Mianyang 110 98 89.1
Shehong 53 53 100.0
Ziyang 53 53 100.0
Total 1299 1254 96.5
IV. Background of Chinas Cultural Nationalist Movement
The key reason for the rise of Chinas cultural nationalist movement is
the transition initiated by Deng Xiaoping. A series of social problems
during Chinas transition have produced structural tensions in Chinese
society, creating the essential conditions for the cultural movement.
Chinas transition has also shaped a new political system that deter-
mines the political opportunity structures of this movement. Such a
new political system has not only created new space for this movement,
but also drawn the boundaries for peoples behaviors in the move-
ment. In addition, Chinas transition has stimulated the rise of China
as a powerful nation in the world, making possible and necessary the
renaissance of Chinese culture. Moreover, the vitality of Chinese cul-
ture has provided a solid foundation for this cultural movement. Only
by examining the above-mentioned backgrounds can we understand
both the crises and opportunities facing China and understand why
this cultural movement has emerged at this moment.
1. Transition
Chinas transition refers to the structural changes taking place dur-
ing Dengs era. The fundamental outcomes of this transition include
the following three developments. The rst is institutional change.
a study of the renaissance of traditional confucian culture 39
During three decades of market-oriented economic reforms, market
mechanisms have become the dominating force in Chinas distribution
of resources. At the same time, the government has withdrawn its con-
trol over economic activities, and the private sphere has been freed.
Accordingly, other cultural spheres such as thought, speech, media,
and the press have obtained a certain degree of freedom. Certain col-
lective actions have emerged on a small scale. However, the Chinese
government has maintained a tight control over the public sphere and
continued its political monopoly. The marketization process has grad-
ually destroyed the sacred status of Marxism in Chinese society. The
ideology and corresponding moral values of Maos era have lost their
hegemony, no longer providing effective legitimization for the ruling
party. In general, Chinas previous totalitarianism has been replaced
by an authoritarian regime.
The second outcome of this transition is a change in social class
structure. The capitalists and landlords who were eliminated in Maos
era have arisen again and become new elites because of their newly
gained wealth. The intellectuals who were once abandoned have now
become social elites as well, while the previous leadership class
(workers) and its allied class (peasants) have become the new lowest
The third outcome is that the ruling circle has developed new con-
trol strategies, choosing to unite capitalists and intellectuals in an elite
alliance, and at the same time abandoned the working class and peas-
ants. These three developments account for the fundamental roots of
Chinas cultural nationalist movement.
2. Structural Tensions
Chinas market-oriented reforms, led by an authoritarian government
and its elite alliance, have brought tremendous accomplishments in
many areas. However, during this process a number of problems have
emerged in the political, economic, cultural, and social spheres. In the
economic eld, due to the immaturity of the market and the govern-
ments misconduct, a major portion of the new wealth has owed into
the governments pockets while workers and peasants have shared the
economic burden created by the reforms. Severe social inequalities
have emerged in line with economic inequalities. In the political eld,
corruption has spread into every corner of the country. The ofcial
ideology has lost its credibility. In the cultural eld, the introduction of
40 kang xiaoguang
Western values accompanying the intellectual liberation movement
has challenged Chinese culture. The Chinese people have felt con-
fused, frustrated, and lost. With the old values being destroyed, the
Chinese people have been faced with a value vacuum (see Table 6
for the structural tensions felt by the participants).
On the surface these are the problems of individuals. But an in-depth
examination shows that these problems are in essence institutional and
cultural. Individuals behaviors are controlled and inuenced by insti-
tutions and cultures. The cultural force is even more inuential than
the institutional force. Thus, in this sense, the current problems in
Chinese society can be treated as a cultural crisis. This is probably the
logic used by participants in this cultural movement when exercising
their judgment and making choices.
3. Political Opportunity Structures
According to the theory of political opportunity structures, social
movements are unlikely to emerge in an entirely open or closed politi-
cal environment, but a half-open political environment helps to breed
social movements. As a natural outcome of the economic transition,
Chinas political regime has been transformed from a totalitarian to an
authoritarian one, creating a half-open political environment and thus
favorable conditions for the emergence of social movements.
In addition, historical materialism offered a legitimate basis for the
Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to hold power. The most crucial things
that the CCP promised to maintain include public property rights,
the planned economy, and rule by the proletariat. Chinas reforms
and opening up have made the CCP give up its commitment to pub-
lic property rights and the planned economy. As a result, the legiti-
macy offered by historical materialism has been gradually lost. Facing
a legitimacy crisis, the Chinese government has realized that it must
enforce ideological innovations in order to confront newly introduced
Western ideologies and cultures. At the same time, the government
has realized that Chinese culture must be rebuilt in order to deal with
all kinds of social problems. The leadership in the CCP has adopted
two strategies: saving Marxism and seeking new sources of thought. In
addition, the CCP has begun to focus more on traditional culture in
Chinese society and less on Western cultural sources. Thus the govern-
ment has begun to change its attitudes towards Confucianism and has
a study of the renaissance of traditional confucian culture 41
become the active stimulator of the renaissance of Confucianism. This
is the biggest political opportunity for this cultural movement.
4. The Rise of China as a Powerful Nation in the World
Since the reform and opening up, China has made unprecedented
strides, and its international economic and political status has risen
rapidly. It can be said that China is realizing the dream of becoming
a great power. What Samuel P. Huntington calls the modernization
of the instrumental culture
has achieved great success in our coun-
try. According to Huntingtons theory, Chinas rise also indicates the
possibility of the revival of traditional Chinese culture. He thinks that
with Chinas rise and success in modernizing its instrumental cul-
ture, Chinas cultural development will follow a reformism model.

During the initial phase, in line with the modernization of the instru-
mental culture, Chinas consummatory culture was quickly West-
ernized. However, at some point, the Westernization process will
be reversed while the basic values in the Chinese culture are reem-
phasized, and the society will begin to reject Western values. Put in
another way, accompanying its successes in the economic, political,
and military elds, China has gained cultural condence and Chinas
cultural nationalism has grown. The Westernization process of this
nations consummatory culture has followed an inverted U curve
(see the curve E in Figure 1).
To test Huntingtons theory, the best way is to gather relevant
national time-series data, and then see whether the relationship
between these data accords with Huntingtons theoretical predictions.
Unfortunately, we do not have such time-series data. However, we
can use the cross-sectional data collected for this project to carry out
a less stringent test.
Samuel Huntington distinguished between instrumental culture and consum-
matory culture in his book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order.
Instrumental culture includes not only the sciences, but also economic and politi-
cal systems, while consummatory culture contains the core values of a civilization.
Consummatory culture is often reected in the teachings of the great religions of a
Samuel Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order [in
Chinese] (Xinhua News Press, 2002).
42 kang xiaoguang
First, we invited the experts
to score the degree of modernization
of the instrumental culture of ten sample cities,
assuming that these
scores from small to large are able to indicate the modernization pro-
cess of Chinas instrumental culture from low to high. This process
The selected experts are Liu Dehuan, Kang Xiaoguang, Li Lianfeng, Ma Qing-
bin, Han Heng, and Lu Xianying. Liu Dehuan is an experienced market research
expert, associate professor of the School of Journalism and Communication at Peking
University, deputy director of Peking Universitys Marketing and Media Research
Center, and vice chairman of the China Market Research association. Professor Kang
Xiaoguang is the author of this article, director of Renmin University of Chinas NPO
Research Center. Li Lianfeng is the CEO of the company that conducted our ques-
tionnaire survey. Dr. Ma Qingbin is an expert in the study of urban competitiveness,
and the author of Urban Competitiveness and Urban Ecological Environment. Dr. Han Heng
is an associate professor at the Public Administration School of Zhengzhou University.
Dr. Lu Xianying is an assistant researcher at the Rural Development Institute of the
Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Dr. Han Heng and Lu Xianying were deeply
involved in the project from which this article derives.
Based on the scores for the degree of modernization of instrumental culture, the
experts assigned each of the ten sample cities to one of eight levels. The lower the
level of the city, the lower the degree of modernization of its instrumental culture.
The following are the experts ranking of the cities: level 1, Luojiang, Shehong, and
Taigu; level 2, Ziyang; level 3, Mianyang; level 4, Baoding; level 5, Taiyuan; level 6,
Shijiazhuang; level 7, Chengdu; level 8, Beijing.
Figure 1: Alternative Responses to the Impact of the West
a study of the renaissance of traditional confucian culture 43
yielded eight levels of modernization. Next, we reviewed the survey
results of the 1,254 participants selected at random from those ten cit-
ies, and we identied the percentage of respondents in the city or cities
at each level of development who identied with Confucian values (see
part VI below for a denition of identifying with Confucian values).
This gives the proportion of people identifying with the native culture
in each stage of development: the larger the proportion, the higher the
degree of peoples identication with the native culture at that stage
of development, and the lower the degree of the local cultures West-
ernization. If we take the modernization degree of the instrumental
culture of the ten sample cities as the horizontal axis, and the percent-
age of people who identify with the native culture as the vertical axis,
then according to Huntingtons theory, as the modernization degree
of the instrumental culture increases, the change in the percentage of
people who identify with the native culture should be represented as
a U-shaped curve.
Figure 2 shows the results of the test. Obviously, it conrms Hun-
tingtons theory. With the increasing modernization of the instrumental
Figure 2: The Test of Huntingtons Theory. X: Degree of the Instrumen-
tal Culture Modernization in Selected Cities (DICMSC); Y: Percentage of
Respondents Who Identify with Confucianism in Each City (PIWIC).
44 kang xiaoguang
culture, the percentage of individuals who identify with Confucianism
falls and then rises. Thus we can employ Huntingtons theory to ana-
lyze Chinese cultural changes. We may conclude that Confucianism,
as the essence of the Chinese traditional culture, is not out of date.
On the contrary, its revival signals an era of renaissance. In addition,
the current renaissance of Confucian culture is a historically necessary
outcome rather than an accidental event. Therefore, we conclude that
the rise of China as a great power is the largest factor contributing to
the emergence of a Confucian revival movement at this time.
5. The Vitality of Chinese Culture
The revival of native culture also presupposes that it has a lengthy and
enduring heritage. If there had been no heritage of a great culture, it
would have been unlikely for China to experience a cultural renais-
sance. Based on the survey of 1,254 people in ten cities, we evaluated
the current status of Chinese traditional culture and the historical and
realistic bases for Chinas cultural nationalist movement. Our analy-
sis shows that the Chinese people still love their own culture. They
are culturally condent and under some circumstances even arrogant:
60% of the respondents are proud of Chinas history and culture and
90.8% agree that our traditional culture is the best although our
nation is not the most powerful today.
Confucianism is still the essence of Chinese traditional culture
despite more than a century of chaos in Chinese society. The Chinese
people still love and believe in Confucian values, and 24.7% of respon-
dents think that Confucius is the greatest thinker. Most Chinese people
accept Confucian political thought and support the patriarchic gov-
ernment: 90.1% of respondents agree that the government should be
responsible for advocating good moral values, 84.8% of respondents
think that the government is responsible for its peoples happiness,
and 62.7% of respondents agree that the government should decide
whether certain values can be discussed in society. Most respondents
trust leaders who are morally respectable, with 69.1% of respondents
agreeing that if a leader is honest and morally correct, we can let
him/her determine political affairs, and 53.5% of respondents think-
ing that the governmental leaders are like the heads of the house-
holds, and we should follow their decisions. Most people support the
family-centered and state-centered approaches, with 72.2% of respon-
dents thinking that the individuals should place their own interests
a study of the renaissance of traditional confucian culture 45
behind their family interests while 71.9% of respondents agree that
for the nations interests, the individuals should be prepared to sac-
rice their own interests. Most people respect the authority of senior
people, with 54.1% of respondents thinking that the senior people
should handle the conicts, tensions, or ghts among people.
In addition, the Chinese people hope to rebuild the social and moral
value system based on national traditions and cultures. As shown in
Table 3, 47.5% of respondents think that Chinese culture is the most
important source for rebuilding Chinas value system. The socialist
tradition is the second most important source, behind Chinese cul-
ture. The capitalist tradition is the least important source; only 4.5%
respondents selected it as their answer.
In sum, China has said goodbye to the anti-tradition and anti-
Confucianism era. The traditional culture is still alive and even more
deeply embedded in peoples lives. This is the most fundamental basis
for the rise and rapid development of Chinas cultural nationalist
V. Government Participation in the Movement
In social movements, the government usually appears as a factor of
the external political environment or political opportunity structure.
The movement will emerge only when the political opportunity struc-
ture opens space for it, as we discussed above (IV.3). However, this
movement is different from general social movements because the
Table 3: Sources for Rebuilding Chinas Moral Values
Number of
Respondents who
Percent of
Respondents who
Agree (%)
Chinese traditional culture 596 47.5 1
Socialistic culture 428 34.1 2
Capitalistic culture 57 4.5 3
Other 1 0.1
N/A 172 13.7
Sum 1,254 100.0
Note: The question is, If China rebuilds its moral value system in the future, which
one among the following cultures do you think is the necessary source that China has
to depend on? The respondent can choose only one option.
46 kang xiaoguang
government is the main participant in and supporter of the move-
ment, a partner of the participants, and in some sense a speculator
on the movement, with a direct interest in its outcome. Therefore,
this movement has two main actors: the government and civil society.
This section focuses on the framework, strategies, and characteristics
of government action. The next section examines civil participation in
the movement.
It should be noted that government here is a broad concept that
includes the administrative system, the National Peoples Congress
and the Peoples Political Consultation Conference, the Communist
Youth League, and institutions that the government controls directly,
such as China Central Television and all kinds of Communist Party
organs. Data used in this section were mainly obtained from interviews
with core activists.
1. The Governments Action Framework
Based on our analysis of the central governments ofcial documents
and the speeches of major leaders, the Chinese government aims to
deal with some urgent and important issues through rebuilding the key
position of traditional culture in society.
The rst goal is to rebuild the collapsing moral and value system.
In September 2001, the central government published Guidelines for
Establishing Moral Rules for Chinese Citizens. This document admits
that there are numerous problems in our citizens moral system, such
as moral disorder, money worship, gluttony, extreme individualism,
and selshness, as well as blurred boundaries between right and wrong,
kindness and malice, and beauty and ugliness. In addition, dishonesty,
cheating, corruption, and degeneration have spread in Chinese soci-
ety. If these problems are not solved in a timely and efcient man-
ner, Chinas economic and social order will be damaged, and Chinas
stable and promising reform environment will be destroyed.
The second goal is to prevent Western culture from encroaching
on Chinese society. In March 2003, the Central Propaganda Depart-
ment and the Department of Education announced the Guidelines
for Developing and Cultivating Nationalist Spirit among Middle- and
Primary-School Students. This document states that we are faced
with a world where various schools of thought are in conict with each
other, and that hostile Western forces have been trying to Western-
ize and divide our citizens and especially to win over our com-
a study of the renaissance of traditional confucian culture 47
ing generations. Thus it is an urgent task to develop and cultivate
nationalist spirit in middle and primary schools and strengthen young
peoples condence in and commitment to our national culture.
The third goal is to strengthen the nations cohesion and identica-
tion. In June 2005, the Central Propaganda Department, the Central
Cultural Bureau, the Department of Education, the Department of
Civil Affairs, and the Department of Culture Affairs announced the
Remarks on Developing the Fine Traditions in the Nationalist Cul-
ture during the Traditional Holidays. According to these Remarks,
we should take full advantage of the traditional holidays to emphasize
the ne traditions in national culture. This will be important for shap-
ing mutual relationships among individuals and building a friendly
and harmonious social environment. In addition, the nations cohe-
sion will be strengthened, which will help realize Chinas unication
as a nation, advance the Chinese culture, and maintain the nations
cultural interests.
The fourth goal is to improve Chinas competitive capacities in
the world. In November 2006, Hu Jintao pointed out in the eighth
National Meeting of the Representatives in the Cultural Field and the
seventh National Meeting of Writers Representatives that a crucial
realistic issue is how to determine our direction for developing Chinas
cultures, create a new summit for Chinas national cultures, improve
the competitive capacities of Chinese culture, and advance our nations
soft power. This issue is important and urgent because we are faced
with a world where various ideas have emerged and come into conict
with each other. Domestically, we are faced with the urgent need to
develop our culture in response to peoples changing lives.
2. The Governments Action Strategies
The general aim of the government is to rebuild traditional cultures,
especially the Confucian culture. Several strategies have been employed
to serve this aim. The rst strategy of the government is to change
its previously hostile attitude towards traditional cultures and gradu-
ally accept traditional values, especially those of Confucianism. Since
1976, the Chinese government has put an end to the anti-Confucius
movement. In October 1977, the Central Government provided funds
to renovate the three Confucius sites (san kong, which includes the
Confucius Temple, the Confucius Mansion, and the Confucius Cem-
etery). In May 1978, Li Xiannian, then vice president and vice prime
48 kang xiaoguang
minister of the State Council, visited the three Confucius sites. In Feb-
ruary 1981, the Chinese government arranged for Franois Mitterrand,
then the leader of the French Socialists, to visit the Confucius Temple.
On September 13, 1982, Kuang Yaming published in the Guangming
Daily an article entitled Restudy and Reevaluate Confucius. This
was a signicant political signal that triggered strong responses. In
November 1982, Hu Yaobang, then the CCPs General Secretary,
visited Qufu and ordered the rebuilding of the Confucius Statue in
the Great Palace (Dacheng Dian) in Qufu. Afterwards, Deng Yingchao,
Li Ruihuan, Jiang Zemin, and other leaders visited Qufu and the
three Confucius sites. Since 2004, the government has begun to hold
memorial ceremonies for Confucius, and the scale of these activities
has gradually increased. In 2007, administrative responsibility for the
institutions in charge of the memorial ceremonies for Confucius was
transferred from the county-level government to the provincial-level
government in Shangdong, and on the national level to the Depart-
ment of Cultural Affairs and Department of Education.
Ideologically, the Chinese government has gradually abandoned
Western discourses and instead employed traditional Chinese terms
to describe its own blueprints for development. During Maos era,
the Chinese government used communism and international
revolutionleftist concepts in Western societiesto dene its ide-
alistic goals. During Dengs era, modernization was used. This is a
relatively objective rightist concept in Western societies. Under Jiangs
leadership, the goal was changed into extensively building a xiaokang
shehui (a moderately prosperous society), which is entirely a traditional
Chinese term. During Hu Jintaos era, the concept of a hexie shehui (a
harmonious society) has been used, and this is a typical key concept in
Confucian social thought. Hu employed Chinese traditional culture to
explain the ideas of a harmonious society in his speech at the con-
ference regarding improving provincial-level governmental ofcials
social capacity to conduct a socialist harmonious society. During the
current transitions, there is a clear tendency toward returning to Chi-
nese discourses.
The second strategy of the government is to directly make use of its
resources to initiate, organize, and carry out relevant actions. In recent
years, Hu Jintao, Wen Jiabao, and other leaders have given a series
of relevant public speeches, and the central government has issued
a series of ofcial documents regarding this goal. Examples include
a study of the renaissance of traditional confucian culture 49
Hus speech at the conference regarding improving provincial-level
governmental ofcials social capacity to conduct a socialist harmoni-
ous society, Statements on Further Advancing the Youths Moral
Values, Guidelines for Developing and Cultivating Nationalist
Spirit among Middle- and Primary-School Students, Remarks on
Developing the Fine Traditions in the Nationalist Cultures during the
Traditional Holidays, and Guidelines for Chinas Cultural Develop-
ment during the Eleventh Five-Year Plan Period. These speeches and
documents have considerably stimulated the development of Chinas
cultural nationalist movement.
In addition, the government has taken advantage of the media it
controls to produce large-scale, continuous, and high-quality propa-
ganda. For example, the Channel of Science and Education in the
Chinese Central Television (CCTV) network has started a program
called Baijia Jiangtan (One Hundred Schools Forum). A series of lec-
tures such as Yu Dans expositions of the Analects have been given on
this program, inducing the fever of the Analects in the society. To
take another example, during the Spring Festival of 2006, CCTVs
Channel of Science and Education aired a documentary lm, Our
Festivals, that carefully analyzed traditional Chinese holidays. This
lm was broadcast on many other channels afterwards.
Moreover, the government has directly initiated and organized a
series of signicant events. For example, in 1998, the Chinese Acad-
emy of Social Sciences carried out the Chinese Cultural Ties Project.
In 2000, the city-level government in Jining proposed to construct an
emblematic symbol city of Chinese cultures in the city of Jining
Confuciuss hometownand submitted its proposal to the commit-
tee of the Chinese Cultural Ties Project. In March 2004, Hu Jintao,
Wen Jiabao, and other leaders made signicant suggestions about
this proposal. On September 28, 2004, the rst government-initiated
memorial ceremony for Confucius was held in the Confucius Temple
in Qufu. This ceremony was broadcast live by CCTV. Since then,
government-initiated ceremonies have been held annually, and the
scale of these ceremonies has increased in recent years.
The governments third strategy is to guide, encourage, and support
civil activities pertinent to rebuilding Chinese traditional culture. The
government has propagandized its attitudes in support of this goal and
extensively publicized representative examples in society. For example,
since the rst ofcial memorial ceremonies for Confucius were held in
50 kang xiaoguang
2004, the CCTV has produced a live broadcast of these ceremonies
every year, and numerous domestic and international media organi-
zations have reported these ceremonies in many ways. All levels of
government-controlled media have extensively reported on exemplary
cases such as Li Li, Fu Lujiang and his village private school, Feng
Fei and his Tamma Hall, Jiang Qing and his Yangming Jingshe, and
Wang Caigui and his speech on children reading the classics. These
extensive reports have exerted a powerful exemplary force on society.
On the other hand, the government has actively responded to sug-
gestions and actions made by civil groups. For example, in September
1997, Ye Jiaying wrote to Jiang Zemin, suggesting that the govern-
ment organize children to study Chinas traditional poems in order
to build citizens essential qualities of character. Jiang swiftly made a
supportive response. In June 1998, Chinas Youth Development Foun-
dation began to carry out a project of chanting Chinese traditional
poems and classics. This project has been supported by both the cen-
tral government and local governments.
Another strategy adopted by the government is to actively export
Chinese culture, which enlarges the scope of cultural communication
between China and the world. The government aims to export Chi-
nese culture in order to improve Chinas soft power, advance Chinas
competitive capacities in the world, eliminate the prejudices of the
China threat theory, and create a favorable external environment
for Chinas peaceful rise.
For instance, since 2002, the Department of Education and State
Leading Group for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language has been
establishing overseas institutions where Chinese can be taught. In
March 2004, these institutions were ofcially named Confucius Insti-
tutes. In July 2004, the Chinese Bridge project was established, aim-
ing to build Confucius Institutes as overseas organizations for teaching
Chinese language and culture. By April 2007, there were 140 Con-
fucius Institutes located in fty-two countries and regions. These proj-
ects are government-initiated but carried out in a nongovernmental
way. At the same time, both governmental resources and overseas
resources have been used in these projects.
3. Characteristics of Government Action
On the whole, the governments action framework responds to almost
all the urgent and serious cultural issues it faced. This shows that the
a study of the renaissance of traditional confucian culture 51
government has not only recognized these issues but also anticipated
using the cultural nationalist movement to address these issues. The
government has taken a variety of actions. Different actions with differ-
ent functions for different environments can solve different problems.
They have their own strengths, but each also has its shortcomings.
If these actions are organized rationally and systematically, they can
achieve complementary effects. In fact, the government has organized
them effectively and established a system toolbox.
The governments overall strategy is to mobilize all positive
resources. Resources that the government has mobilized come from
both the government and civil society, and from domestic and over-
seas sources. Overseas resources are provided by foreign governments
and nongovernmental and international organizations. The means
that the governmental strategy used to mobilize resources is exible
and diverse. It changes according to the locations, the time, the events,
or the persons involved. For the government, administrative orders
are the main means of mobilizing. Even for government agencies and
local governments, however, administrative orders are not the only
means of mobilization, due to historical factors and ideological taboos.
The government encourages agencies and local governments to act but
does not punish those who do not participate. The government guides
civil society using positive methods and never advances it forcibly nor
seeks to replace it. In accordance with its own interests, the govern-
ment has supported civil society selectively, but at the same time has
not relaxed its restrictions. Civil society has received encouragements
from the government but still maintains its independence. The govern-
ment has received inspiration and support from civil society and kept
pace with its development, neither too far ahead nor too much behind.
Overall, the government and civil society have interacted positively,
and the relation between them can be dened as tacit agreement-
based cooperation.
The governments action is rational. In accordance with its capabili-
ties and environmental conditions, the government has selected and
organized activities, resources, and means of mobilization, and it has
pursued its goals efciently in a more reasonable way. The govern-
ment is rational because its agencies and ofcials are rational. In fact,
as long as the institutions and their members are pursuing their own
best interests, the action of the government is bound to follow and
reect a rational logic.
52 kang xiaoguang
VI. Civil Societys Participation in the Movement
The cultural nationalist movement has two main objectives. One
objective is to promulgate Confucian values in mainstream society
and thereby control the leadership of culture. The other objective is
to change the existing system of values and establish a new system that
is consistent with and supportive of the movements advocated values.
Mobilizing more and more people to participate in the movement is
the precondition for seizing leadership in the development of culture.
The number and strength of the participants in the movement are the
key factors that will directly determine the movements fate.
1. Denition of the Participants
There is controversy over the denition of the participants in this
cultural movement. The mainstream understanding is that partici-
pants are individuals who both participate in and identify with the
movement. We adopt this view and dene participant in the cultural
nationalist movement as one who takes part in at least one activity
widely recognized as part of the movement and who identies with
the movement.
Through interviews with core activists, we have learned about the
types of action taken by the movement. Therefore, it is easy to iden-
tify participatory behavior. But it is hard to dene what it means to
identify with the movement. Based on our understanding of the key
goals of the movement, we think the answer is identifying with Con-
fucianism, and more accurately, the answer is to conrm the contem-
porary function of Confucianism. However, to measure this concept is
undoubtedly an enormous challenge.
Confucian culture is an all-inclusive system. It is a knowledge sys-
tem, an ethical value system, a political philosophy, and a principle of
international affairs. We employed a Likert scale based on seven state-
ments to measure the respondents identication with Confucianism.
The seven statements cover all the aspects of Confucianism mentioned
above. Statement 1 refers in a general and loosely positive fashion
to the secular function of Confucianism: Many Confucian ideas can
still be used to guide regular practices in todays China. Statement
2 focuses on the knowledge dimension: Chinese people should know
Confucian classics such as the Analects. Statement 3 pays attention to
the moral dimension: Chinese people should follow Confucian moral
a study of the renaissance of traditional confucian culture 53
values in their everyday lives. Statements 4 and 5 are about the philo-
sophical dimension: Chinese politicians should rule according to Con-
fuciuss and Menciuss political ideas; Todays China needs a politics
of benevolence instead of multiparty democracy and elections. State-
ments 6 and 7 address the contemporary features of Confucian culture
from the perspective of international relations: Confucianism helps
China become a powerful nation in the world; China should follow
Confucianism in order to become a powerful nation. The seven state-
ments are signicantly correlated to each other and measure the same
concept, and thus can be used to measure the respondents identica-
tion with Confucianism.
Survey results show that, in both the sample of activists and the
sample drawn from the general public, people who participated in
activities aimed at reviving the traditional culture scored high on state-
ments 1, 2, and 3. This means that people identify with these state-
ments very much (see Table 4).
Table 4: Percent of Respondents Who Agreed or Strongly Agreed on Each Statement
Activist sample Respondents in the public
sample who have participated
in activities of the movement
Statement 1: Many Confucian ideas
can still be used to guide regular
practices in todays China.
88.7 69.6
Statement 2: Chinese people should
know Confucian classics such as the
93.2 65.2
Statement 3: Chinese people should
follow Confucian moral values in
their everyday lives.
78.5 56.4
Statement 4: Chinese politicians
should rule according to Confuciuss
and Menciuss political ideas.
54.5 31.3
Statement 5: Todays China needs a
politics of benevolence instead of
multiparty democracy and elections.
60.2 57.3
Statement 6: Confucianism helps
China become a powerful nation in
the world.
70.4 41.0
Statement 7: China should follow
Confucianism in order to become a
powerful nation.
54.7 30.8
54 kang xiaoguang
Further analysis nds that there is a certain hierarchy among the seven
statements. Most of the respondents who agreed with statements 4, 5,
6, or 7 also agreed with statements 1, 2, and 3. Therefore, we think
that the rst three statements indicate a basic level of identication
(or sharing of opinions) with this cultural movement. Using a scale of
1 to 5 (strongly disagree = 1, disagree = 2, neutral = 3, agree = 4,
and strongly agree = 5), if a respondent receives a score of four or
more on all three statements, the respondent is classied as one who
identies with the basic aims of this cultural movement. Reckoned
according to our denition of participant, the number of the par-
ticipants among the activist sample and the public sample can be seen
in Table 5.
In the discussion that follows, participants refers to the 279 par-
ticipants in the activist movement, and nonparticipants refers to the
1,164 nonparticipants in the sample drawn from the general public.
2. Characteristics of the Participants
The most noteworthy nding is that a large proportion of the partici-
pants are CCP members, 40.9% to be precise. This is 4.6 times the
proportion of CCP members among the nonparticipants. Considering
that there is some tension or even conict between the CCPs ideology
and Confucian ideas, we can reason that in reality most CCP mem-
bers have no genuine or substantial belief in Communist ideology.
Another possibility is that the CCP does not restrict its members from
participating in this cultural movement.
Among the participants, 68.5% are male, and 89.6% have received
a college or higher degree. Among the nonparticipants, 75.7% do not
have a college degree. The participants tend to have higher profes-
sional positions: 13.3% are governmental ofcials, 14% are owners or
managers in the private sector, 52% belong to white-collar professions,
Table 5: Number of Participants and Nonparticipants
Sample Group Participant Nonparticipant Total
Act and
Identify but
do not act
Act but do
not identify
Neither act
nor identify
Activist Sample 279 0 103 0 103 382
Public Sample 90 341 137 686 1164 1254
a study of the renaissance of traditional confucian culture 55
and only 2.3% belong to blue-collar occupations. Among the nonpar-
ticipants, 0.9% are government ofcials, 3.8% are owners or managers,
22.2% are white-collar workers, and 30.2% are blue-collar workers. It
is clear that the percentage of non-blue-collar workers is higher among
the participants, and the percentage of blue-collar workers is lower
among the participants. As for retired people, students, housewives,
and other nonemployees, these individuals make up 17.2% of the par-
ticipants and 42.4% of the nonparticipants. Participants tend to have
a higher income: 68.8% received an average monthly salary of 3,000
yuan or above, while 65.9% of nonparticipants received an average
monthly salary of less than 3,000 yuan.
Participants pay more attention to the media. They are more inter-
ested in both domestic and international news regarding politics, cul-
ture, education, and religion. They spend much more time using the
Internet and BBS (Bulletin Board Systems). They read more journals.
The participants have more travel opportunities domestically and
internationally: 35.1% have traveled abroad (including Hong Kong
and Macao), while only 2.4% of the nonparticipants have done so. In
the past year, 83.5% of the participants traveled in other provinces or
regions, while only 25.3% of the nonparticipants did so. In addition, as
for the number of foreign countries and regions where the interviewees
have traveled, the mean for participants is 32.3 times the mean for
nonparticipants. As for the number of provinces and regions visited in
China, the mean for participants is 6.8 times the mean for nonpartici-
pants. Our ndings with respect to the respondents exposure to media
and external environments strongly support Huntingtons theory that
international communication stimulates individuals to determine or
strengthen their own cultural identication.
In addition, participants are more satised with their personal and
family life. They have a more positive opinion of government ofcials.
They are more likely to think that social problems are severe. These
two ndings help us understand why participants tend to adopt a more
activist approach to solving social problems, and why they prefer to
cooperate with rather than confront the government.
The participants are more likely to trust other people. In addition
to their family members, participants most trustworthy individuals
are those in the same camp and those with the same interests or
hobbies who have been known for many years. This is perhaps one
of the reasons why participants are more likely to become involved in
collective action with idealistic characteristics.
56 kang xiaoguang
Participants tend to have a strong sense of social responsibility. They
are more likely to employ advanced technologies and modern institu-
tions to solve their own problems. This means that they are more
familiar with modern institutions and advanced mechanisms, and they
believe that they can nd solutions through their own efforts.
In sum, we can conclude that Chinas cultural nationalist movement
is not led by a group of people who are relatively nave, poor, isolated,
poorly educated, selsh, conservative, voiceless, and powerless in soci-
ety. Instead, this is a movement led by a group of highly educated,
wealthy, open-minded, passionate, and powerful Chinese people. Sim-
ply put, this is a cultural movement led by the middle class instead
of the lowest class. It is a reformist movement led by the group that
has beneted the most from the current institutions and has sought to
improve upon them. It is not a confrontational or revolutionary move-
ment led by those who are oppressed in Chinese society.
3. Civil Societys Action Framework
Based on our literature review and interviews, we designed a set of
questions about social problems for the questionnaire that covers cul-
tural, social, and political elds as well as international relations. The
multiple-choice questions are, What do you think are the current
problems in China nowadays? And which problems do you think can
be resolved by reviving traditional culture? The answers of the par-
ticipants are reported in Table 6.
Our survey shows that participants are strongly aware of the existence
of these problems in China. All the problems are identied by more
than 60% of the participants. Among the above-mentioned problems,
problems in the social eld are recognized by the greatest number of
participants, with 92.8% of participants agreeing that social inequali-
ties are becoming severe; the gap between the richest and the poor-
est is increasing. More than 85% of the participants recognize the
existence of severe cultural problems, especially with respect to moral
values in Chinese society, with most participants agreeing that money
worship is spreading in Chinese society (88.9%), moral education is
missing; the current education system urgent needs to be reformed
(87.1%), and people feel that their spiritual world is empty, and their
lives are meaningless (86.4%). In addition, more than 80% of the
participants point to political problems and the problem of Chinas
international competitiveness, while 82.4% of the participants agree
a study of the renaissance of traditional confucian culture 57
that state ofcials are corrupt and are not concerned with the peo-
ples well-being, and 80.3% of the participants think that China has
no cultural charms as a rising powerful nation.
The participants think that the root of all the problems listed above
is the decline of traditional culture, and that rebuilding traditional Chi-
nese culture will help to solve all the problems, especially the cultural
problems. More than 60% of the participants agree that traditional
Chinese culture can solve the problems of the declining moral sys-
tem, peoples empty spiritual world, and the declining Chinese culture;
76.7% of the participants think that traditional Chinese culture can
improve moral education; 74.6% think that bringing back traditions
can revitalize peoples spiritual world; 70.6% agree that traditional
Table 6: Attitudes of the Participants toward Social Problems
No. Social Problems Problems identied
by the participants
Problems that participants
believe can be solved by
reviving traditional culture
Percent (%) Order Percent (%) Order
1 Chinas moral system has collapsed. 82.1 6 73.1 3
2 State ofcials are corrupt and are not
concerned with the peoples well-being.
82.4 5 53.8 10
3 Social inequalities are becoming severe;
the gap between the richest and the
poorest is increasing.
92.8 1 45.2 12
4 Money worship is spreading in Chinese
88.9 2 70.6 5
5 Sympathy, morality, and justice are
lacking in Chinese society.
69.2 11 60.2 8
6 Unfairness is severe; disadvantaged
groups are in hot water.
75.6 9 48.0 11
7 The number of believers in
Communism has decreased.
66.3 13 28.0 14
8 Social tensions and conicts have
63.4 14 43.4 13
9 People feel that their spiritual world is
empty, and their lives are meaningless.
86.4 4 74.6 2
10 People have lost their ideals. 72.4 10 60.0 9
11 Chinese culture is gradually declining. 69.2 11 60.9 7
12 Western cultures are heavily invading
78.9 8 65.9 6
13 China has no cultural charms as a rising
powerful nation.
80.3 7 73.1 3
14 Moral education is missing; the current
educational system urgently needs to be
87.1 3 76.7 1
58 kang xiaoguang
cultures can weaken the Chinese peoples money worship, and 60%
believe that the return of traditional culture can make people more
idealistic. In addition, 73.1% of the participants believe that the
renaissance of Chinese cultures can advance Chinas cultural competi-
tive capacities, 65.9% think that this approach can prevent Western
culture from dominating Chinese society, and 60.9% believe that tra-
ditional cultures can prevent Chinese culture from collapsing.
In addition, we examined the motivation of participants in the
movement. Our analyses show that the strongest motivation for the
participants is to solve the problems of the moral system and moral
education. The second strongest motivation is to prevent Western
culture from spreading in China and save the national culture. The
third strongest motivation is to employ traditional cultures to solve
the current social, political, and international problems. It can be
seen that this is consistent with the analysis above.
Of course, reviving traditional culture to solve contemporary prob-
lems is not the only motive of the participants acting in the movement.
In fact, besides the basic demands, any social movement would have
some speculative motives, including the participants own political
goals, prots, reputation, religion, or pleasure in participating in a
movement. This type of motivation is selsh. With such a motivation,
the participants treat the movement as an instrument to realize their
own personal goals.
It should be said that during this initial period of the movement,
the framework of the movement is quite decentralized, and it seeks
to advance multiple goals. But this feature does not mean that this
movement has no common goals. In fact, from the analysis above,
we nd that participants followed the same logic when they tried to
identify problems, nd their causes, and propose solutions. That is,
participants identify many problems in society and regard the decline
of traditional cultures as the cause of these problems; thus reviving
traditional culture will certainly be the method to address all these
problems. It is precisely on the basis of this consensus that the partici-
pants design and implement a variety of activities in accordance with
their resources and political opportunity structures.
At the same time, cultural chaos has put the common interests of
the Chinese people in danger. The cultural crisis in Chinese society
has become the common crisis facing the entire nation. As a strategy
for solving the cultural crisis, the renaissance of Chinese traditional
cultures has become the common pursuit of the entire nation. It is
a study of the renaissance of traditional confucian culture 59
because of this common pursuit that Chinas cultural nationalist move-
ment aiming to rebuild the moral system has developed into a social
movement involving various social groups and having an extensive
social basis.
However, there is no doubt that consensus is not enough; a mature
movement also needs a dominant framework that can only be con-
structed as the movement develops.
4. Features of Civil Societys Action
Based on our surveys, we have a basic grasp of the activities in this
movement (see Table 7). By asking the survey respondents what activi-
ties they had participated in, we learned that the three most popular
kinds of activities are the most direct and efcient educational activi-
ties: Chanting traditional classics and organizing learning courses
for Guoxue (84.2% of the participants), Conducting academic work,
participating in conferences, or giving speeches on traditional cul-
tures (69.2%), and Reporting and publicizing traditional cultures
and other relevant activities (67.7%). Holding memorial ceremo-
nies for Confucius is practiced by 64.5% of the participants, which
means most participants still worship Confucius. Over half (57.7%) of
the participants employ traditional cultures in their regular manage-
ment activities. A large proportion of the participants are involved
in activities related to traditional music (51.6%), costumes (46.6%),
rituals (44.8%), and schools (41.2%). Two-fths (40.9%) of the partici-
pants are involved in relevant discussions via the Internet. The least
popular activities are political ones that carry a high risk and are thus
difcult to carry out, so it is reasonable for the participants to avoid
these activities: Instituting and enforcing laws and rules to publicize
traditional cultures (9.7%), Advocating relevant activities (e.g., wear-
ing traditional costumes, using traditional scripts, etc.) among a larger
group of individuals (27.2%), and Launching research associations
for education about traditional cultures (34.4%).
Table 7 shows that the movement does not engage in confronta-
tional activities, such as demonstrations, strikes, violent conicts, tak-
ing over ofces, and obstructing trafc, which are often used in social
movements in the West. The absence of evidence for such activities is
not due to our negligence; they were not mentioned in media searches,
the interviews, or the surveys. In fact, the most important feature of
this movement is precisely that its activities are free from antagonistic
60 kang xiaoguang
or destructive tendencies or erce actions. Alternatively, it can be said
that participants in the movement rely on quantitative logic and
attraction logic instead of material damage logic to achieve their
purposes; in other words, their success depends on the large number
of participants and the inspiring nature of their goals.
Three main reasons account for the peaceful nature of the move-
ment. First, with respect to political opportunity structures, the Chinese
government has exerted strict control over marches, demonstrations,
and political gatherings, which makes it impossible to adopt certain
Table 7: Categories of Activities in Chinas Cultural Nationalist Movement
No. Categories of Activities Percent (%) Order
1 Selling products and services relevant to
Chinas traditional cultures, such as traditional
costumes, books, music products, etc.
40.5 11
2 Regular management activities based on
traditional ideologies and values
57.7 5
3 Instituting and enforcing laws and rules to
publicize traditional cultures
9.7 15
4 Reporting and publicizing traditional cultures
and other relevant activities
67.7 3
5 Publishing books and journals relevant to
traditional cultures
34.8 12
6 Conducting academic work, participating in
conferences, or giving speeches on traditional
69.2 2
7 Designing, making, or purchasing traditional
costumes (e.g., Tang and Han costumes) or
other relevant activities
44.8 8
8 Studying or educating traditional music 51.6 6
9 Exhibiting, publicizing, and educating people
about traditional rituals and rites
46.6 7
10 Holding memorial ceremonies for Confucius 64.5 4
11 Chanting traditional classics and organizing
learning courses for Guoxue
84.2 1
12 Building schools and classrooms for educating
people about traditional cultures
41.2 9
13 Launching research associations for educating
people about traditional cultures
34.4 13
14 Advocating relevant activities (e.g., wearing
traditional costumes, using traditional scripts,
etc.) among a larger group of individuals
27.2 14
15 Discussing traditional cultures via the Internet 40.9 10
a study of the renaissance of traditional confucian culture 61
forms of action or organization. Second, this cultural movement is
centered on the renaissance of Confucian culture. Because the essence
of Confucian culture is harmony, participants are unlikely to adopt con-
frontational actions. The third reason pertains to the strategies adopted
by participants. Our survey shows that 99.3% of the participants think
that the government should directly take part in this cultural move-
ment; 72.4% of the participants think that the government should be
the main initiator of this movement; and 78.5% of the participants
agree that a government-initiated movement would be more efcient.
Thus, most participants hope for the governments assistance, sup-
port, and even leadership. They have never treated the government
as their enemy, and naturally they would not intentionally oppose the
One of the main features of this social movement is that its orga-
nization is diverse and informal. The movement as a whole has no
nationwide organizational system, nor any leader or leading group
recognized by all the participants. Many loose or tight small-scale
groups exist in the movement, but there is no vertical afliation among
On the micro level, the organizational patterns used in the move-
ment are very basic. The movement includes four types of organi-
zations: formal organizations, informal organizations, tightly united
entities, and loosely united entities. Formal organizations are regis-
tered legal persons governed by an ofcial constitution and various
organizational structures; they have a stable membership and con-
duct regular organizational activities. Our survey shows that in this
movement the formal organizations are the most active organizations,
as 69.9% of the participants have joined formal organizations to act
in the movement. These organizations are established infrastructures.
The participants actively and efciently take advantage of these exis-
tent social infrastructures. In addition, there are a few organizations
that were formed exclusively for this movement, such as the Confucian
Association founded by Liu Hedong and Yan Ping.
The informal organizations, the tightly united entities, and the
loosely united entities are also very active. The informal organiza-
tions are not registered with the government. They have constitutions,
organizational structures, stable members, and regular organizational
activities. The tightly united entities, also unregistered, do not have
formal constitutions or organizational structures. Their membership is
relatively stable and members regularly participate in activities. The
62 kang xiaoguang
loosely united entities, also unregistered, do not have constitutions or
organizational structures, and their membership is not stable. These
entities hold regular activities. The questionnaire survey shows that
47.7% of the participants have acted in the movement through infor-
mal organizations, 36.2% of the participants have acted in the move-
ment through tightly united entities, and 45.2% of the participants
have acted in the movement through loosely united entities. These
entities were quite likely created during and exclusively for this move-
ment. They are many in number and very active. They have played a
signicant role in mobilizing members and resources for the movement.
With regard to mobilization channels, social networks have played
an important role in human resource mobilization: 67.7% of the par-
ticipants have mobilized colleagues and friends, and 48% of the par-
ticipants have mobilized families and relatives. This nding is highly
consistent with general theories of social movements. In addition,
40.9% of the participants have mobilized strangers to take part in
their activities.
In terms of the instruments of mobilization, 31.9% of the partici-
pants make use of the Internet, and 64.9% of the participants take
advantage of their own institutional systems. Only 26.5% of the par-
ticipants use professional associations for human resource mobiliza-
tion. As for the subjects mobilized, the participants prefer social elites,
as 46.2% of the participants have mobilized social elites and 21.9%
have mobilized political elites. Among those participants who have
successfully encouraged other people to participate, more than 90%
of the participants report that their subjects have taken part in activi-
ties without being paid. Only 10% of the participants report that they
have paid their subjects. These ndings show that this movement is
highly voluntary.
Among the participants, 68.8% reported that they have used their
own money to carry out their activities; 9% have received funds of
some sort, 19% have received money from their own work units, and
27.2% have obtained social funds. Thus, we may conclude that the
government and social groups have provided some funds for this move-
ment, but the most common services are contributed by participants
free of charge. In addition, 13.3% of the participants have obtained
funds by collecting fees for their activities or selling their products and
services. This indicates that those participating in this movement have
certain capacities for nancial self-maintenance.
The participants place a high emphasis on the media. They have
actively taken advantage of the media and also won a great deal of
a study of the renaissance of traditional confucian culture 63
attention from the media: 68.1% of the participants have accepted
requests for interviews or have been invited to attend public events,
and 43.7% have actively contacted the media. Many activists in the
movement have frequently appeared on television or in other media.
Some examples are Fu Lujiang, Li Li, and Pan Fei. However, citizen-
participants are not the only force that has mobilized the media. The
government has played a crucial role, which is closely related to the
governments control of media institutions and the governments atti-
tude towards this movement.
Among the external supports that the participants have obtained,
their social networks are the most important: 60% of the participants
have received support from their families, relatives, friends, and col-
leagues, 46.2% from the media, 45.2% from civil society groups, and
44.1% from celebrities. Participant have also received support from
the government (24.4% of participants), enterprises (22.1%), religious
organizations (12.2%), and overseas organizations (10.4%).
Among various difculties that the participants have faced, economic
pressure is the biggest (54.1%). The second most difcult factor (29%)
is other peoples misunderstanding of the movement, opposition to it,
and even intervention in its activities. Participants tend to care greatly
about the attitudes of people around them. The responses of their
primary groups are usually the most inuential. Pressure created by
media criticism is the second most inuential factor (16.3%). In addi-
tion, pressure from the government still exists, but is not quite as inu-
ential (less than 10%); 9.3% of the participants have been prevented
from registering a formal organization, 7.9% have had their activities
stopped by the relevant government departments, 7.9% have been
investigated, and 6.5% have been forbidden to take action. Consider-
ing the general attitudes of the Chinese government towards large-
scale collective actions, this cultural movement has met with relative
favor from the government. It may be concluded that the political
climate for this movement is quite favorable.
VII. The Nature of the Movement: Social or Political?
Based on the analysis above, we nd that Chinas cultural nationalist
movement is not purely a social movement like those in Western soci-
eties, nor a political movement like those during Maos era. Its major
difference from Western-style movements is the lack of antagonism.
Few confrontational methods have been used in this movement, and
64 kang xiaoguang
thus little damage has been caused. Almost all the activities have been
carried out within the legal framework or the boundaries dened by
the government. Second, the goals of this movement are consistent
with the governments goals. The participants actions are allowed by
the government. Third, the government is not the target of this move-
ment or a potential enemy, but a direct actor and supporter. In some
circumstances, the government is the leader of this movement.
Several features distinguish this movement from Maos political
movements. First, the participants have volunteered to join this move-
ment. They are not mobilized by the government. Second, the par-
ticipants are independent. Although they must take into account the
governments responses, the government has no direct political effect
on their activities. The government functions as part of the politi-
cal opportunity structure. Third, there is no hierarchical relationship
between the government and the participants. They have interacted
with each other as equals. Fourth, the government is not the only
leader or initiator. The government has not provided a set of guide-
lines for the participants to follow. It has not taken advantage of its
administrative system to mobilize social groups. No one has been
forced to participate in activities.
Thus, this article concludes that this cultural nationalist movement
is a combination of a Western-style social movement and a Maoist
political movement. It is a hybrid movement grounded in interac-
tion between the government and civil society. Their cooperation has
stimulated the rapid development of this movement. In todays China,
only this type of mixed movement can obtain support from both the gov-
ernment and society and thus survive and continuously develop. Such
a mixed movement can effectively pass on new ideologies, mobilize
people, inuence social norms and institutions, and even affect the
international world. A pure Western social movement or Maoist politi-
cal movement cannot be effective or last for a long time.
VIII. The Outcomes of Chinas Cultural Nationalist Movement
The success of the movement will ultimately be judged according to
the dominant framework adopted in the campaign to reintroduce
Confucian values into the social mainstream. However, the movement
has not yet created a dominant framework so far, and thus we have to
nd alternative ways to evaluate the results of the movement.
a study of the renaissance of traditional confucian culture 65
Who dominates the development of the movement? Who is deter-
mining its fate? It is the core activists or, we might say, the fanatic
participants. Their views are ahead of the times, clear-cut, and revo-
lutionary. They are full of enthusiasm, energy, and activity. They are
seless, indomitable, and full of the spirit of sacrice. They are the
beacons, engines, and sowers of the movement. Although they are few
in number, they are extremely powerful and have a profound impact
on the movement. Assuming that their ideas will not change in the
future, we can use their values today to project the shape that the
dominant framework of the movement will assume, and accordingly
to predict the movements consequences.
To do this, we must rst determine who the core activists or fanat-
ics are; they will constitute the core activists sample group. Next, we
dene the core values of the members of the sample through statisti-
cal analysis and treat these values as representing the values or the
political culture of the movement as a whole. We will then use these
values in our prediction. In Table 4 above, we dened participants
as those who scored more than 4 on each of the rst three statements
of the Likert scale. Out of those 279 participants we make a further
selection: those participants who scored more than 4 on all seven state-
ments of the Likert Scale in Table 4 are dened as core activists of
the cultural nationalist movement. According to this criterion, we have
171 core activists. We will compare them with the 1,164 nonpartici-
pants (see Table 5). Here we treat the values of the nonparticipants as
the current mainstream values and the values of the core activists as
the future mainstream values. The comparison between current and
future values will provide information allowing us to predict the conse-
quences if the movement succeeds. Note that the test variables include
age, gender, education, income, place of residence (city), international
travel, and domestic travel. The p-value for testing the signicance of
difference is 0.1.
1. Cultural and Political Effects of the Movement
As Table 8 shows, the core activists identify with ancient thinkers more
than modern thinkers. Confucius, Laozi, Sakyamuni, and Mencius are
the ancient thinkers with whom the core activists most identify. Mao
Zedong and Karl Marx are the modern thinkers with whom they most
identify. As for the nonparticipants, they identify with modern think-
ers more than ancient thinkers. The modern thinkers with whom the
66 kang xiaoguang
nonparticipants most identify are Mao, Sun Yatsen, and Karl Marx,
and the ancient thinkers with whom they identify are Confucius and
Laozi. Both groups identify with national thinkers more than foreign
thinkers. Only Karl Marx is cited by more than 10% of both core activ-
ists and nonparticipants. It is worth noting that Marx represents the
socialist camp in the West. For both groups, Adam Smith, Rousseau,
and Darwin are the thinkers with whom they identify least.
Table 9 shows that the core activists identify with Confucianism
much more than nonparticipants do. The nonparticipants are most
likely to identify with Buddhism. Both groups identify with Chinese
national religions much more than foreign religions. Especially among
the core activists, their identication with foreign religions is consider-
ably weak. Only 0.6% of the core activists identify with Catholicism,
Christianity, or Islam. Therefore, as this movement advances the status
of Confucianism in Chinese culture, it will at the same time weaken
the effects of imported religions, cultures, and ideas in Chinese society.
Compared with the nonparticipants, the core activists have a stron-
ger belief in the government. They are more likely to think that the
government should be responsible for the peoples well-being and
Table 8: Identication with Thinkers
Core activists Nonparticipants Signicance of
difference Order Portion (%) Order Portion (%)
Confucius 1 95.9 2 57.9 +
Laozi 2 57.9 5 15.5
Sakyamuni 3 34.5 3.1
Mao Zedong 4 23.4 1 82.4
Mencius 5 19.3 6 8.4
Karl Marx 6 12.9 4 29.9
Sun Yatsen 9.9 3 51.5
Jesus 8.2 3.1
Plato 5.3 4.7
Mo-tse 3.5 2
Muhammad 2.3 1.3
Rousseau 2.3 1.4
Darwin 2.3 7.3
Hanfeizi 1.8 2
Adam Smith 1.8 0.4
Others 4.1 1.6
Dont Know 0.6 1.4
Note: The question is, Among the following gures, which one(s) do you think are
the greatest thinkers? (The respondents may select up to three answers.)
a study of the renaissance of traditional confucian culture 67
that the government should be responsible for advocating good val-
ues. In regard to political culture, the core activists are more likely to
identify with Confucianism and particularly with authoritarianism as
it appears in Confucian thought.
The important institutions in a democratic regime are the multi-
party system and universal elections. Table 10 shows the respondents
opinions on democracy and authority. Our survey nds that com-
pared with nonparticipants, core activists are more likely to distrust
the multiparty system and universal elections, and they tend to have
an unfavorable attitude towards the results that enforcing these institu-
tions would have in China. They tend to think that if these institutions
were enforced, the government would be more likely to treat citizens
unfairly, the economy would probably decline, the crime rate would
probably rise, the political system would probably become more cor-
rupt, tensions between social classes and ethnic groups would probably
increase, and Taiwan would be more likely to declare independence.
These beliefs show that the core activists have a much weaker identi-
cation with democracy than the nonparticipants.
The core activists are more radical reformers, whereas the non-
participants are more conservative. Only 2.9% of the core activists
are unwilling to reform and prefer to keep the current institutions.
15.1% of the nonparticipants prefer not to reform. Regarding the
reform approaches, 87.7% of the core activists and 55.2% of the non-
participants agree on a gradualist reform approach, while 2.9% of
Table 9: Identication with Religious or Cultural Ideas
Core activists Nonparticipants Signicance of
difference Order Percentage
Order Percentage
Confucianism 1 59.6 2 14.5
Buddhism 2 26.3 1 32.1
Daoism 3 4.1 3.2
Catholicism 0.6 2.5
Christianity 0.0 3 6.4
Islam 0.0 2.4
Others 0.0 6.9
Dont Know 9.4 32.0
Sum 100.0 100.0
Note: The question is, Which one do you think is the greatest among the following
religious or cultural traditions? (The interviewees may select only one answer.)
68 kang xiaoguang
Table 10: Perception of the Outcomes of Enforcing a Multiparty System and
Universal Elections in China
activists (%)
of difference
Results of the
elaboration analysis
Everybody could
freely express his/
her opinions.
39.8 38.5 Suppressor variables
take effect; there
is association;
the core activists
identication is
stronger than that of
the nonparticipants.
The government
would treat every
citizen fairly.
25.1 25.5 Suppressor variables
take effect; there
is association; the
identication is
stronger than that of
the core activists.
Individuals could join
any organization
they like.
41.5 22.9 + The original
relationship holds;
specication occurs.
The economy would
19.3 8.8 + The original
relationship holds;
specication occurs.
Crime rates would
rise, and society
would become
more disorderly.
39.2 20.3 + The original
relationship holds;
specication occurs.
The political system
would become
more corrupt.
26.3 12.6 + The original
relationship holds;
specication occurs.
Tensions between
classes would
30.4 16.3 + The original
relationship holds;
specication occurs.
Ethnic relationships
would become
38.0 20.1 + The original
relationship holds;
specication occurs.
Chinas sovereignty
would be
35.7 13.9 + The original
relationship holds;
specication occurs.
Taiwan would declare
26.3 10.8 + The original
relationship holds;
specication occurs.
Note: The question is, What do you think would happen if China enforced the institutions of mul-
tiple parties and universal elections? (The interviewees may select one or more answers.)
a study of the renaissance of traditional confucian culture 69
the core activists and 12.4% of the nonparticipants tend to agree on
a radical approach. It can be inferred that compared with nonpartici-
pants, the core activists prefer gradual changes in a stable environ-
ment. Therefore, this cultural movement plays a positive role in the
renaissance of Confucian political philosophy and the establishment of
a Confucian authoritarian regime. This cultural movement intensies
Chinese peoples worries about the effectiveness of free democracy. In
turn, this disbelief in democracy is harmful to Chinas democratization
process and thus indirectly helps maintain the stability of Chinas cur-
rent authoritarian regime. At the same time, this movement helps to
enforce and stabilize the gradualist reforms and thus improves Chinas
political stability.
2. Effects of the Movement on International Relations
As Table 11 shows, compared with the nonparticipants, the core activ-
ists are more likely to agree with the following statements: Chinas
national culture is the best; the Chinese should live according to the
traditions inherited from the ancestors; and the government should
protect the Chinese lifestyle, limit foreign inuences, and at the same
time export nationalist ne culture in an organized way. These opin-
ions demonstrate that the core activists have a stronger cultural nation-
alist consciousness than nonparticipants.
Table 12 shows that, compared with the nonparticipants, the core
activists are more likely to think that China should not seek to develop
into a powerful nation in the world. This indicates that the core activ-
ists are more likely to pursue peace than the nonparticipants. For the
Chinese people, a super-powerful nation is more of a negative con-
cept and often used to describe the status of the United States.
Therefore, this cultural movement helps to improve Chinese citi-
zens identication with their nation-state and to restore the high
status of Chinese traditional culture. In addition, this movement will
stimulate the government-led export of Chinas nationalist culture and
encourage Chinas entry into the international community in a peace-
ful way, resulting in the peaceful rise of China.
Table 13 examines the opinions of core activists and nonpartici-
pants on Chinas relations with Japan. Regarding the issue of Japanese
politicians praying at the Yasukuni Shrine, our survey shows that non-
participants are more likely to oppose Japanese politicians visits to the
Yasukuni Shrine. This indicates that nonparticipants have a stronger
70 kang xiaoguang
Table 11: Opinions on National Cultures
Mean Signicance
of difference
Results of the
Although our nation
is not the most
powerful in the
world, our national
culture is the best.
4.72 4.29 + The original
relationship holds;
Chinese people should
live according to the
traditions inherited
from the ancestors.
3.58 3.20 + The original
relationship holds;
The government
should protect the
Chinese lifestyle
and limit foreign
4.04 3.68 + The original
relationship holds;
The government should
export nationalist
ne culture in an
organized way.
4.64 3.98 + Replication.
Note: The question is, Do you agree with the following statements? Scores are assigned to each
response: strongly agree (5), agree (4), unsure (3), disagree (2), and strongly disagree (1). The inter-
viewees may select only one answer.
Table 12: Opinions on Building China into a Super-Powerful Nation
Core activists
Signicance of
China should seek to develop into a
powerful nation in the world.
46.2 60.3
+ China should not seek to develop
into a powerful nation in the
43.3 18.5
Dont know 8.8 20.1
No answer 1.8 1.1
Sum 100.0 100.0
Note: The question is, Do you think that China should seek to develop into a powerful nation in
the world? (The interviewees may select only one answer.)
a study of the renaissance of traditional confucian culture 71
conviction on this issue. The core activists are more likely to agree
that Japanese politicians may visit the Yasukuni Shrine if the tablets
of the war criminals are removed from it. It seems that core activists
are more reasonable than nonparticipants. In general, with respect to
Chinas relationship with Japan, core activists are more rational than
Therefore, this cultural movement helps to advance Chinese citi-
zens knowledge of international issues and helps them to analyze the
national interests of different countries more objectively and accu-
rately. This movement encourages Chinese citizens to view the rela-
tions between China and other nations more rationally and to evaluate
other countries more generously, and thus it lessens Chinese citizens
emotional response and extreme thoughts and even actions towards
other nations. In addition, this movement weakens the functions of the
Chinese governments propaganda and improves individuals capac-
ity to evaluate international issues independently. As a result, Chinas
cultural nationalist movement will contribute to world peace and ulti-
mately to Chinas national interests.
Table 13: Opinions on Japanese Politicians Praying at the
Yasukuni Shrine
Core activists Nonparticipants Signicance
Order Percentage
Order Percentage
Japanese politicians
should not visit the
Yasukuni Shrine.
1 41.5 1 65.4 +
Japanese politicians may
visit the Yasukuni
Shrine if the tablets
of the war criminals
are removed from the
2 37.4 2 14.9
Praying at the Yasukuni
Shrine is Japans
internal affair; China
should not interfere.
3 6.4 3 6.7
None of the above 9.4 6.4
No answer 5.3 6.5
Sum 100.0 100.0
Note: The question is, The Chinese government and people are discontented with some
Japanese politicians visit to the Yasukuni Shrine. Which opinion do you agree with most?
(The interviewees may select only one answer.)
72 kang xiaoguang
In sum, this article concludes that if Chinas cultural nationalist
movement succeeds in the future, it is likely to change Chinas cultural
system. First, the movement will weaken the inuences of imported
cultures and ideologiesmainly liberal democracy and Marxismin
Chinese society. Second, this movement will strengthen the status of
Chinas national culture. If it succeeds, this movement will establish
the leading position of traditional culture in Chinas cultural system.
Consistent with Gramscis theory, the reestablishment of Confucianism
as the leading culture in Chinese society will shape the Chinese peo-
ples valuation of political legitimacy, inuence their political choices,
and thus likely direct Chinas political development towards the Wang
Dao politics () advocated by Confucianism. In addition, this
cultural movement will exert an impact on other elds through its
inuence on culture and politics. It will inuence the worlds cultural
and political systems by shaping Chinas culture. Thus, Chinas cul-
tural nationalist movement may shape the fate of not only the Chinese
nation but also the entire world.
The question we discuss here is what the consequences for China
and the worlds culture and politics will be if this movement succeeds.
First of all, we do not claim that the movement will inevitably succeed.
We simply evaluate what would happen if the movement were to suc-
ceed. We argued earlier that Chinas emergence as a great power and
the modernization of its instrumental culture provide a historical basis
for the revival of Chinese traditional culture, and we do hope for that
result. However, we know very well that the success of a movement
depends on a variety of complex factors. The movements goals and
aspirations, its framework, and its actors and their behavior, as well
as the political opportunity structures that the movement faces, are
all important factors affecting the movement. Many unexpected and
uncontrollable factors, as well as the power balance between support
and opposition, will also have a complex and profound impact on the
movement. In the early stages of a social movement, the situation is
even more uncertain. Therefore, at this stage, we cannot and do not
conclude that the movement will succeed in the future. However, we
note that the movement developed rapidly and is presently healthy. If
things continue thus, the movement does have a substantial likelihood
of achieving success. This explains why we carried out this study to
assess and predict the consequences of the movement.
Second, we mentioned in this article that Confucian culture is an
all-inclusive system. It is a knowledge system, an ethical value system,
a study of the renaissance of traditional confucian culture 73
a political philosophy, and a principle for the conduct of international
affairs. As a complete system, the Confucian culture ruled China for
over two thousand years. But today, people have many controversial
views about the contemporary value of Confucian culture as a political
philosophy, rather than as a system of knowledge or a moral standard.
This article is focused on this most important dimension of Confucian
culture. We discussed the impact that Confucian culture, considered
as a political culture, may have in the future on China and the world
as a result of a successful revival movement. Other dimensions of Con-
fucian culture are beyond the scope of this article.
TU Weiming
Peking University and Harvard University
An American theologian visiting China might assume that the Chinese
are not religious. This is because the inuence of secular humanism is
so prominent that the Chinese appear to be practical, pragmatic, real-
istic, and materialistic. In addition, the market economy is so powerful
that it penetrates all aspects of life, including educational institutions
and religious organizations. After visits to churches and temples, one
has the impression that the Chinese do not take religion seriously, or at
least they are eclectic and utilitarian. The fact that the so-called Three
Teachings (Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism) are honored in the
same temples and embraced by the same persons shows that purity of
faith, the quest for authenticity of belief, and exclusive commitment to
one God are not prominent on the Chinese religious landscape. This
assumption is basically correct from the perspective of monotheistic
religions, notably Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, but the Confucian
way of life may offer an explanation. I will focus on the elite. But a
full picture of the Chinese religious landscape requires an appreciation
of both the elite and the folk traditions, and cultural anthropologists
are better equipped to deal with the latter. Nevertheless, a discussion
of the Confucian legacy in a historical context is necessary to under-
stand the modern transformation of Chinese consciousness. This will
provide an opportunity to probe the psycho-cultural background of
the contemporary Chinese religious mentality.
Scholars who study ancient Chinese intellectual history propose
that a salient feature of Confucianism is rationalism. We can char-
acterize Confucian development since the time of Confucius in the
sixth century BCE. as a process of rationalization. Indeed, Confucius
is noted for his decision to reject nonrational, not to mention irratio-
nal, elements in the human experience. Such evidence is found in The
Analects. When the Master was asked about death, he retorted that
if we do not know life well, how can we know death? His response
to the question about serving spirits was similar: If we cannot serve
76 tu weiming
humans well, how can we serve spirits?
The conclusion is that an
educated person should know life rather than death and serve humans
rather than spirits. Based on this critical passage, scholars accept that
although people of simple intelligence are affected by religious senti-
ments, the educated elite are not. This assertion was enhanced with
the advent of Marxism as the dominant Chinese ideology for more
than ve decades.
If we examine the mentality of the modern Chinese intelligentsia
since the May Fourth Movement (1919), we nd an antireligious atti-
tude. The impact of the West that reduced China from the Mid-
dle Kingdom to a geographic expression compelled the Chinese to
become nationalistic for survival. The lifelong mission of patriots of all
persuasions was to save the nation. Military, economic, and political
issues loomed large, whereas culture was relegated to the background
and philosophical contemplation was treated as a dispensable luxury.
Religion became a form of escapism to be avoided.
The case of Liang Shuming is revealing. Liang preferred the Bud-
dhist way of renouncement, but given the gravity of the situation at the
time, he chose the Confucian commitment to social activism. How-
ever, Liangs choice was exceptional. The majority of his contempo-
raries, especially those who had returned from abroad, did not believe
that the Confucian way, a dening characteristic of Chinese cultural
identity, was adequate to deal with Chinas poverty, impotence, and
helplessness. Other indigenous traditions, such as Buddhism, Daoism,
and the folk traditions, were also irrelevant to saving the nation. Thus,
the source of strength for Chinas survival had to be imported from
the advanced Western civilizations. The West symbolized a host of
factors that Chinese civilization lacked, in particular science and tech-
nology, military might, and economic dynamism based on effective
political institutions, including the core values of liberty, rationality,
due process of law, human rights, and the dignity of the individual.
Understandably, politically conscious Chinese were preoccupied with
wealth and power. They agreed that science and democracy were the
necessary methods to save China from subjugation by Western impe-
rialism and colonialism. As a result of this tough-minded approach to
politics, religion became a private matter of the heart. Among radical
Xie Bingying et al., eds., Xinyi Sishu Duben (Taibei: Sanmin Shuju, 2002), 190;
Analects 11.11.
confucian spirituality in contemporary china 77
revolutionaries, it was condemned as a weakness of will. Detrimental
to national reconstruction, it had to be expunged from the minds of
the young. Ironically, even though wholesale Westernization was in
vogue, this Westernization did not include Christianity.
The Confucian elements that remained in the public discourse were
those that were compatible with science and technology. For example,
Hu Shi regarded philological studies and textual analyses of the so-
called Qian-Jia School of the Qing dynasty as progressive because
they employed proto-scientic methodology. There were also efforts to
reconstruct Confucianism to keep it consistent with democratic ideas.
In short, Western criteria were used to judge the values of Confucian
and other indigenous traditions.
However, despite decades of iconoclastic attack by some of the most
brilliant minds, such Lu Xun, Hu Shi, and Chen Duxiu, why has Con-
fucianism survived? Indeed, it has even ourished. Apparently Confu-
cian rationalism is compatible with Marxist materialism. By focusing
on the world here and now, Confucians, like Marxists, are committed
to the transformation of the world from within. They both empha-
size social praxis and education as important to their political mission.
They both stress the importance of economic well-being for all, espe-
cially for the underprivileged and marginalized, and they also share
ideas of equality and distributive justice. In a sense, Confucianism may
be regarded as Marxist in its life-orientation. Indeed, some scholars
have noted that Confucianism provided fertile soil for Chinese accep-
tance of Marxism. Arguably, the indigenization of Marxism in China
turned it into an ideology with Chinese characteristics.
Although Confucianism may have helped to develop Marxism in
China, it is a mistake to understand Confucianism from a Marxist
perspective. Without an appreciation of Confucianism, it is difcult
to understand Maoism, but any attempt to understand Confucianism
through Maoism leads to gross distortions. As a revolutionary ideology,
Maoism advocates violence. Mao Zedongs insistence on class struggle
as an essential part of one continuous revolution is Marxist to the
core. For Mao, Chinese society could transform itself from feudalism
to socialism only through struggle.
Furthermore, the Confucian way of learning to be human is dia-
metrically opposed to the Marxist project of liberation. Marxism is an
extreme form of secularism that rejects religion as an outmoded stage
of development. Marxists take for granted the Comtean thesis that his-
tory progresses from religion to metaphysics to science. The ve stages
78 tu weiming
of productive relationships are an inevitable process of history. Unless
feudalism is transformed into capitalism, it cannot lead to socialism.
Confucianism as a product of the feudal age cannot contribute to a
self-understanding of capitalism, let alone socialism. If we follow this
line of thinking, the legitimacy of Confucianism as a vibrant trend of
thought in the current intellectual ethos is highly problematical.
Yet, Confucianism did indeed ourish, and it is likely to continue to
ourish for years to come. It is now widely recognized that Confucian-
ism, together with socialism and liberalism, is one of the three domi-
nant intellectual trends in China. By contrast, Maoism, the former
guiding principle for loyal members of the Chinese Communist Party,
has faded from the scene. An easy explanation is that external and
internal circumstances signaled an end to the revolutionary period,
ushering in a new era of reconstruction and development. China has
maintained relative peace since its reform and opening in the 1970s,
especially after Deng Xiaopings 1992 trip to the South. As a result,
the standard of living in China has improved dramatically.
With Chinas peaceful rise signicantly altering the global geopo-
litical order, a new condence appeared, especially among the politi-
cal and intellectual elite, along with a rise in nationalist sentiment.
This naturally led to a reexamination of Chinas past. The iconoclastic
attacks on tradition have been replaced by admiration for Chinas great
historical achievements. The Chinese invention of paper, printing, and
gunpowder, as well as advances in astronomy, medicine, weaponry,
agriculture, and maritime technology, are common knowledge. The
humanities, notably literature, history, and philosophy, have produced
awe-inspiring cultural achievements. In practical terms, reading the
classics is now a widely observed phenomenon. Many executives, of-
cials, journalists, and lawyers attend lectures on The Four Books, particu-
larly The Analects. Even children are encouraged to recite the classics.
Harmony rather than struggle is promoted by the government and
accepted by the people.
This philosophical turn is profoundly signicant. The tough-minded
commitment to change the world through violence delegitimized
positive feelings of commiseration and harmony that are congenial
to building communities based on organic solidarity. Harmony is an
attempt to seek common ground for different opinions, commitments,
and ideological orientations. It presupposes diversity, recognizing the
other and celebrating difference.
confucian spirituality in contemporary china 79
The New Confucianism that is emerging in China is not a form
of rationalism, nor is it secular humanism. In many critical areas, it
is diametrically opposed to Marxism and Maoism. In the 1980s, fol-
lowing the rapid economic development of the so-called Four Mini-
Dragons in the Confucian cultural area, Max Webers classical idea
was applied and the Confucian ethic was promoted as a motivating
force to generate a spirit of capitalism. This forcefully refuted the
assertion that Confucianism was feudalistic. Rather, Confucianism was
believed to be compatible with a modern form of life and instrumental
in facilitating East Asian modernization. This thesis is controversial,
but the idea of an elective afnity between Confucian ethics and the
rise of Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Main-
land China, and Vietnam is widely accepted.
The advent of New Confucianism since the May Fourth movement
is central to our discussion of Confucian spirituality. It indicates the
likely course of action that the modern transformation of Confucian
humanism may take in Cultural China and beyond. When teaching
Confucian philosophy at Peking University in 1985, I witnessed this
immensely complex phenomenon both as an outside observer and as
an inner participant.
The Confucian value-orientation, as I envision it, is guided by a
critical spirit. It is consciously different from politicized Confucianism
willingly co-opted as a mechanism of symbolic control. It is a refuta-
tion of the marketization of society and a rejection of materialism,
commercialism, economism, and scientism. Instead, it is a compre-
hensive and integrated spiritual humanism, unlike the radical forms of
secularism noted for their dispirited and denatured worldviews.
Yet, this New Confucianism is neither a romantic attack on ratio-
nality nor a postmodern rejection of modernity. Having learned from
the West for more than a century, New Confucianism inherited the
Enlightenment legacy and became committed to universal values
rooted in the modern Western experience: liberty, due process of law,
human rights, and the dignity of the individual. It considers Western
institutions, such as the market economy, democratic polity, and civil
society, as necessary vehicles for human security and development.
Although it is keenly aware of the negative consequences of science
and technology, it celebrates the scientic spirit as a great human
Furthermore, New Confucianism has already found a niche in mod-
ern society that is characterized by highly differentiated spheres of
80 tu weiming
interesteconomics, politics, society, and culture. It can function in
complex modern organizations, such as bureaucracies, multinational
corporations, universities, and nancial institutions. It also has a vision
of self-identity in the idea of the public intellectual in contemporary
society. Politically concerned, socially engaged, and culturally sensi-
tive, a Confucian personality can function in government, the mass
media, academia, business, the professions, and nongovernmental
A historical and comparative note is in order here. In traditional
China, the Confucian idea of an accomplished person was a scholar,
a literatus, or an ofcial. More specically, he was a scholar-ofcial
who was also actively involved in public activities such as security,
economics, governance, and social organizations. These dimensions
of his work enabled him to combine self-cultivation and social ser-
vice. The inner dimension of the quest for cultural fulllment and the
outer dimension of serving the people were inseparable, if not fully
integrated. Thus, a Confucian as a member of the elite could be easily
differentiated from accomplished persons in other civilizations, such as
persons in the Hindu, Buddhist, Judaic, Greek, Christian, or Islamic
traditions. The Hindus commitment to the unity of the real self and
cosmic reality makes it explicit that the Brahman is primarily, often
exclusively, devoted to inner spirituality and the transcendent realm.
Similarly, for the Buddhist, delivery from worldly affairs is a precon-
dition for entering Nirvana. The Jewish Yahweh as source of all val-
ues takes precedence over all worldly concerns, for the covenant with
God denes the identity of the Jewish community. Greek philosophers
aspire to the Truth through the contemplative life of the mind and,
in general, theory takes precedence over the practical. Christian faith
is in the Lord on high rather than in the world of the Caesars, and
Muslim devotion is directed to Allah through the Prophet. All of these
great religious traditions presuppose that the spiritual sanctuary, which
is essentially different from the world here and now, gives ultimate
meaning to our existence. Their engagement in and management of
worldly affairs is often relegated to the background and is secondary
to their ultimate concern.
By contrast, Confucians take the world here and now as their point
of departure. They may nd involvement with nature and communion
with Heaven profoundly meaningful for personal self-realization, but
they always return to ordinary daily life as the proper home for human
ourishing. They are self-consciously in the world, even though they
confucian spirituality in contemporary china 81
are often not of the world. This distinctive feature of Confucianism
enables it to provide an antecedent for the idea of the intellectual as
we understand it today. A person passionately devoted to a higher
reality beyond the mundane concerns of the secular world seems to
choose not to be an intellectual. I would contend that the minimum
requirements for an intellectual include three closely linked qualities.
(1) The intellectual must be politically concerned. One need not become
an ofcial or assume an active role in the political process, but those
who are not interested in politics broadly dened, for instance those
entering a monastic order, apparently have chosen not to be intel-
lectuals. (2) The intellectual must also be socially engaged. A dening
characteristic of an intellectual is one who considers social affairs to
be relevant and signicant. Without this supposition, it is impossible
to have a social conscience and, as a result, the role of the intellectual
is rejected either by choice or by default. (3) Finally, the intellectual
is culturally informed and sensitive. An intellectual should enhance
the cultural life of society. It is difcult to imagine that an intellectual
does not integrate culture into his or her way of life. Taking culture,
especially education, seriously is a salient characteristic of the intel-
lectual. A religious person may consider culture to be marginal to a
meaningful life, but an intellectual recognizes that cultural activities
are essential for creating a rich and varied lifestyle. Surely all spiri-
tual traditions are inevitably embedded in the ordinary lives of their
devotees. Yet it is undeniable that, by and large, their relationship to
ordinary life is rife with tensions. Understandably, the modern intellec-
tual is signicantly different from the guru, monk, rabbi, philosopher,
priest, or mullah. But the Confucian as scholar, literatus, or ofcial is
quite compatible with the form of life of the modern intellectual. What
are the implications for Confucian spirituality?
Confucius made the existential decision to be an integral part of the
world in order to transform it from within. He opted for a form of life
unique among the axial-age civilizations. Confucian followers came
from many walks of life. His closest disciples were talented in politics,
diplomacy, military affairs, and business. Some were rich, others poor,
even poverty-stricken, but they were all primarily action- oriented
intellectuals, deeply immersed in managing the world ( jingshi ) in
order to bring benets to the people. They tried to transform politics,
dened in terms of wealth and power, through culture, specically
through moral education. Historically, Confucian moral education
was instrumental in developing a distinctive East Asian leader who
82 tu weiming
was not necessarily in government, but who exerted a great inuence
on society as a teacher, community leader, bureaucrat, or ofcial. The
inuence of Confucianism extended beyond governmental affairs. It
was also manifested in social norms, cultural values, ethics, and artistic
expressions. Confucian scholar-ofcials were regarded as the guardians
of the people, for they served the long-term well-being of the entire
community. This is also what we expect of a modern intellectual. Can
a modern Confucian intellectual nd a proper niche in a highly dif-
ferentiated academic community?
In general, intellectuals today are thought to be scholars afliated
with institutes of higher learning. Scholars in the humanities and
social sciences who emphasize culture are considered exemplars of
the intellectual. This is understandable because scholars who dedicate
themselves to the study of literature, history, and philosophy are sup-
posed to take an active role in the preservation of the cultural heri-
tage, maintenance of social solidarity, and protection of the political
order. Yet the actual situation is much more complex. Scholars as
researchers and teachers are independent-minded. There is a wide
variety of possibilities in their academic pursuits. They study cultural
traditions throughout the world, analyze the structure and function
of society, investigate the formal and informal aspects of the politi-
cal process, and probe the nature of the economy. They may not
be interested in anything beyond their own scholarly inquiries. Over-
whelmed by the demands of their professions, they refuse and some-
times resist the temptation to engage in activities that do not have a
direct bearing on their careers. Viewed in this context, the Confu-
cians are generalists without expertise. They are very different from
academicianslinguists, literary critics, archaeologists, theoreticians
in the social sciences, and developmental economists, not to mention
analytical philosophers. However, it is not inconceivable that even the
most self-consciously restricted academicians may have broad and deep
humanistic concerns beyond the humanities. These concerns are read-
ily observable not only among scholars of literature, history, theology,
philosophy, and the social sciences, but also among natural scientists.
It is quite possible that evolutionary biologists, high-energy physicists,
or chemists are as humanistically concerned as their colleagues in the
humanities and social sciences. The relevance of the Confucian tradi-
tion to this phenomenon is not obvious, but we can imagine that the
Confucian intellectual as a generalist exemplies the humanistic values
shared among academically-oriented scholars.
confucian spirituality in contemporary china 83
Academia is not the only arena that provides a public forum for
intellectuals. There are also self-conscious intellectuals in government,
the mass media, business, social organizations, and particularly NGOs.
Unlike the Russian model, intellectuals in Europe and North America
are critics of the status quo, but because they principally function not
as adversaries but as loyal opponents or deliberate collaborators with
the government, their criticism is often from within. This is also the
case in contemporary China. The liberals choice to distance them-
selves from the political center as dissidents in the 1980s has been
gradually replaced by a desire to exert their inuence on government
policies as reformers and even as consultants. Actually, even in the
1980s some of the most vocal and effective protesters against the cen-
tral government were high ofcials and party members. They were
widely referred to as conscientious intellectuals in the great tradition
of the Confucian spirit of protest. Denitely more signicant was the
embodiment of the Confucian principle of rightness among the stu-
dent demonstrators in 1989. They identied themselves as inheritors
of the student movements of the past and as transmitters of Confucian
moral indignation against corrupt government.
It is important to note that Confucians are not necessarily conserva-
tive. There are liberal as well as socialist Confucians. Although Confu-
cian humanism sometimes conicts with liberal individualism, it is not
only compatible with democracy but also supportive of democratiza-
tion. China is not a liberal democracy, but it is readily observable that
Chinese political culture has been substantially transformed since the
reform and opening period of the late 1970s. This transformation
has gathered great momentum during the last two decades. It will
take time for China to develop into a vibrant civil society, but it is
undeniable that Chinese society has become pluralistic, and this plu-
ralist trend is unstoppable. As a result, there is more than one center
of inuence. The central government is still the most powerful political
force in the country; indeed politics is more inuential than society.
But other centers of inuence are also emerging. The central govern-
ment cannot be immune to public opinion. Gradually and surely, the
role of the central government is being transformed into one of less
proactive leadership, even into the role of negotiator. Currently, the
mass media have limited freedom for self-expression. The discipline
imposed from above is comprehensive and pervasive. The potential of
independent-mindedness, especially in social reporting, is being real-
ized. There is an inevitable trend to develop a more open society.
84 tu weiming
The governments preoccupation with stability has continuously pre-
vented that trench from becoming a visible force. A noteworthy case is
the explosive vibrancy of the Internet. Due to the rapid expansion of
active participation by Netizens in the political process, the Internet
is perhaps the most powerful force in shaping a new order. Given its
unpredictability and in numerous cases irresponsibility, it may also
present a major threat to any form of stability.
The emergence of business leaders as articulate members of society
has not yet been fully appreciated, but their inuence in the political
process, even in policy formulation, cannot be underestimated. The
increasing sophistication of senior executives in understanding tradi-
tional Chinese culture as well as modern styles of management enables
them to assume leadership roles unprecedented since the founding of
the Peoples Republic in 1949. The increasing presence of NGOs is
another noteworthy phenomenon. Even though China still does not
have full-edged NGOs, with the exception of those focusing on envi-
ronmentalism, the potential for domestic and international NGOs in
China is great. It is most promising that even the ostensibly state-
sponsored and state-controlled civic organizations maintain substantial
de facto independence. With respect to the activism of NGOs, China
lags far behind India. With its estimated one million NGOs, India can
serve as a valuable point of reference for China. Of course, the Chinese
situation is radically different from that in India, but the unintended pos-
itive consequences of NGOs in cultivating public-spiritedness in order
to make political and social leaders more accountable will greatly ben-
et Chinas quest for a more equitable and just society.
Against this background, the upsurge of Confucian teachings during
the last three decades must be recognized as the single most important
cultural phenomenon since the iconoclastic attack on traditional cul-
ture during the May Fourth movement of 1919. It is worth noting that
the Confucian revival on the current cultural scene has widely been
characterized as a genuine renaissance. This new movement is not
conned only to the academic community. Government sponsorship
of the Confucius Institutes is an outstanding example. In merely ve
years, more than three hundred such institutes have been established
throughout the world. The mass media continually sponsor a variety
of programs on traditional Chinese culture. Through their encourage-
ment and even demand, parents have compelled primary and second-
ary schools, mainly in major cities, to offer programs in Confucian
teaching as part of the regular curriculum as well as in extracurricular
confucian spirituality in contemporary china 85
activities. Numerous private academies have been established to provide
lessons on the classics for both adults and children. Some of the best sell-
ers are commentaries on Confucian classics such as the Four Books.
What are the implications of the Confucian revival against the
background of the growing pluralism in China? We need to put this
question in the broader intellectual context. As the eminent University
of Chicago professor Edward Shils observed, the Confucian literati,
scholars or ofcials, can very well be conceived of as the forerunners
of the modern intellectual. We may support Shilss claim with some
comparative examples. First of all, as scholar-ofcials, they perform
their social functions through the bureaucracy. Also, like Indian gurus,
they are teachers; like Buddhist monks, they are moral exemplars; like
Jewish rabbis, they are erudite scholars; like Greek philosophers, they
are wise men; like Christian priests, they are spiritual guides; and like
Islamic mullahs, they are community leaders. From a comparative
religious perspective, their commitment to the improvement of the
human condition, rather than to the transcendent beyond this world,
forces them to take on social and political responsibilities comparable
to those of modern intellectuals. It is undeniable that the Confucian
literatus is most compatible with the modern intellectual in both the-
ory and practice. For the Confucian literatus, this shore and the other
shore, the sacred and the secular, and the mundane world on earth
and the Kingdom of God yet to come are inseparable. Any perceived
rupture is neither necessary nor desirable. Confucians take for granted
that a conscientious ethical and religious leader is deeply concerned
with politics, actively engaged in society, and profoundly sensitive to
Today, this seemingly unique Confucian spiritual orientation has
been embraced by most, if not all, major religious traditions. Like the
Confucians, the secular is regarded as sacred, or, more dramatically,
the separation between the deled earth and the sublime Heaven is
rejected. Indeed, virtually all axial-age civilizations have undergone sub-
stantial transformations in order to respond meaningfully to the crises
confronting humanity in the modern world. No mainstream religious
leader can afford to ignore environmental pollution, abject poverty,
social instability, terrorism, torture, crime, or drugs as worldly affairs
only marginal to their God-centered spirituality. All religions subscribe
to compassion and sympathy as core values; thus, all forms of suffering,
from violence to boredom, are to be dealt with by spiritual leaders.
However, since the ultimate concern is a transcendent commitment,
86 tu weiming
salvation is seldom found in the world here and now. Understandably,
religious leaders do not consider politics to be a calling, nor do they
accept the secular bureaucracy as religiously relevant.
Under the inuence of Max Weber, modernization entails rational-
ization and secularization. In the rationalized and secularized world,
virtually all religions have undergone fundamental transformations.
Unlike premodern communities, contemporary societies are man-
aged by secular governments. The United States is currently the most
religious country in the West, but it still maintains the separation of
church and state. In the political process, religion is perceived of as
a matter of the heart inappropriate for public debate. Educational
institutions prohibit religious advocacy and they insist on neutrality in
religious disputes.
Religious leaders, challenged by the demands of the secular world,
are compelled to deal with problems and issues outside of the religious
domain. It is obvious that they have to learn to become bilingual.
First, they must remain procient in the language of their respective
faith communities. The Christian language, with its symbol of the
cross, ideas of incarnation, virgin birth, crucixion, and resurrection,
and the doctrine of the trinity, is fundamentally different from the
Buddhist language, with vocabulary such as dharma, karma, nirvana,
and bodhisattva. The two languages cannot be translated nor can they
be compared. Therefore, in addition, religious leaders must also learn
to be procient in the language of global citizenship. In other words,
they must assume the role of a public intellectual. Bilingualism enables
them to recognize the distinctness of their religions and at the same
time encourages them to bring their own spiritual resources to address
the crises of the global village: environmental degradation, abject pov-
erty, gender inequality, child labor, drug trafcking, and terrorism,
to mention just a few. In the information age, religious leaders may
choose to focus on their own communities, but the spiritual well-being
of their followers is intertwined with the major events occurring in the
world at large. If religious leaders are duty-bound to be global citizens,
responsible persons in other occupations must be even more involved
in the secular world.
The secular world is noted for specialization and professionaliza-
tion. The most prominent feature of the specialized and profession-
alized modern secular society is its bureaucracy. An example of a
highly efcient bureaucracy is the military establishment, but modern
bureaucracies in general are civic organizations. The word civil, as
in civil society, features prominently in the Confucian tradition. It
confucian spirituality in contemporary china 87
is contrasted with barbaric and military. As expected, an ethos
of civility, rather than a martial spirit, pervades the Confucian idea
of bureaucracy. Civility is one of the cardinal virtues in Confucian
teaching. Although law is necessary to maintain social order, organic
social solidarity is only possible when civil discipline takes precedence
over legal sanctions.
Confucian literati were humanists, the Chinese version of the
Renaissance man. As a rule, they were seasoned in poetry, calligraphy,
music, and painting. Although Confucian scholar-ofcials were gener-
alists, they handled concrete affairs both efciently and conscientiously,
such as legal cases, budgets, public works, famine relief, criminality,
and, above all, education. Under extraordinary circumstances, they
even led military campaigns against rebellions. Of course, they were
assisted by a group of experts from various elds. But their leadership
was crucial for the success of their missions. It was not their expertise
or professionalism, but rather their personality, vision, and leadership
that really mattered.
Expertise and professionalism are distinctive features of a highly dif-
ferentiated modern bureaucracy. Virtually all aspects of our life have
been touched by experts or professionals. Lawyers and doctors are
the most conspicuous. Even in religion, priests and nuns try to learn
and relearn new technologies in order to compete with psychologists,
psychoanalysts, and social workers to do their ministerial work. Nev-
ertheless, it is premature to conclude that we are already living in
a technocracy. The epoch-making debate on red vs. expert in the
Peoples Republic of China in the 1960s should be revisited. Mao
Zedongs attempt to hoist a red ag against bureaucratization in the
party, systematization in the economy, and professionalization in the
failed miserably and Maos romantic revolutionism is no
longer present in Chinese politics. Even the idea of revolution has
been denitively rejected by ofcial ideologists. On the surface, the
reform and opening

policy strongly suggests that expertise has tri-
umphed and redness has faded away. Yet, although Chinas rise as an
economic power may have enhanced her political stature on the world
stage, in the ethos of Chinas quest for a cultural identity, the techno-
cratic mindset is incapable of providing the necessary leadership. In
Tu Wei-ming, Confucianism: Symbol and Substance in Recent Times, in Tu
Wei-ming, Humanity and Self-Cultivation (repr., Boston: Cheng & Tsui Co., 1998), 259.
88 tu weiming
this connection, Confucian humanism is profoundly meaningful as a
point of reference.
The dominant ideology in China is no longer Marxism or Maoism
but rather scientism. The ubiquitous presence of scientists, especially
engineers, in all spheres of interest clearly indicates that Chinese politi-
cal and intellectual leadership is fundamentally different from the Con-
fucian idea of the literatus. The technocratic mentality is short-term,
quantitative, instrumental, and utilitarian. It is a form of rationalism
that is inadequate to face up to the challenges of the contemporary
world. A dening characteristic of leadership in the twenty-rst cen-
tury is insight into the long-term benets for the entire society. Equally
important is the ability to accumulate social capital, educate cultural
competence, enhance ethical intelligence, and cultivate spiritual values
among all citizens, especially the young. True leaders are resourceful
and inspiring. They must be able to tap the rich symbolic resources
of their own cultures. They are immersed in living traditions shared
by the populace as their habits of the heart. Furthermore, they are
capable of exemplifying their vision through concrete action.
A narrowly focused technocratic mindset is not sufciently imagi-
native, creative, or exible to serve as an inspiration to accomplish
such tasks. The complexity of the human condition requires a broad
humanistic vision to serve as a guide for action. It entails a new cos-
mology and a new way of life. We are sure that there will be enough
data, information, and knowledge to guide us. But we are in need of an
ideological vision beyond expertise. The issue of the priority of values
underlying the red vs. expert debate is far from being settled. The
outmoded and damaging redness in the Maoist era will denitely be
rejected, but we cannot embrace expertise uncritically. Public-spirited
intellectuals must go beyond their expertise to identify the best prac-
tices for managing the world. They should offer us a reasonable course
of action to survive and ourish on our blue planet. The contemporary
Confucian literati are thus charged with a heavy burden. Zengzi, one
of Confuciuss most famous disciples, observed: A scholar [ literatus]
must be strong and resolute, for his burden is heavy, and his journey
is long. His burden is humanity: is this not heavy? His journey ends
only with death: is this not long?
Analects, 8.7; Simon Leys, trans., The Analects of Confucius (New York: W. W. Norton,
1997), 36.
confucian spirituality in contemporary china 89
Confucian humanism, unlike secular humanism in the modern West,
is a comprehensive and integrated vision of the human condition. It
seeks to integrate four dimensions of the human experience: self, com-
munity, nature, and Heaven. As a holistic humanistic way of life it
proposes that the agenda of human ourishing entails (1) sustained
integration of the body and mind; (2) fruitful interaction between
the self and community; (3) a harmonious relationship between the
human species and nature; and (4) mutual responsiveness between the
human heart-and-mind and the Way of Heaven. A human being so
conceived is an observer, appreciator, partner, and co-creator of the
evolutionary, indeed the cosmic, process. Human responsibility must
be expanded from the self, family, community, nation, world, nature,
and ultimately to the great transformation of the cosmos.
At the same time, primordial ties such as race, gender, age, lan-
guage, place, class, and faith are also relevant here. In a way, each
of us is fated to be that unique person, situated in a particular time
and space, who has never existed before and will never appear again.
Indeed, we are as different as our faces. Yet Confucians also believe
that the commonality and communicability of our heart-and-mind is
such that we can and should share our experience. This conuence of
difference and similarity enables us to become what we ought to be
not by severing the primordial ties that have allowed us to be concrete
and living persons. Rather, we can and should transform these ties
into vehicles for self-realization. This is the reason that as learners our
lives are enriched by encountering a variety of humans who are indi-
vidually unique and communally integral parts of the same universe.
Therefore, learning to be human is a central Confucian concern.
Indeed, the great strength of modern East Asia is its intellectual and
spiritual self-denition as a learning civilization. This may very well be
the most precious legacy of Confucian humanism. The rst character
in the Confucian Analects is learning (xue). Learning to be human is a
ceaseless process of self-realization. Confucius, in his spiritual autobiog-
raphy, envisions his life history as a lifelong commitment to learning:
At fteen, I set my heart upon learning.
At thirty I established myself.
At forty I no longer had perplexities.
At fty I knew the Mandate of Heaven.
At sixty I was at ease with whatever I heard.
At seventy I could follow my hearts desire without transgressing the
boundaries of right. (Analects, 2.4; Simon Leys, trans., The Analects of Con-
fucius (New York: W. W. Norton, 1997), 6.)
90 tu weiming
In the Confucian perspective, not only a person, but also a family,
a community, a nation, a region, and the world at large must learn.
All human constructionseconomic organizations, social structures,
political institutions, universities, churches, philosophical systems,
and ideologiesare evolving processes. Without learning guided by
a communal critical self-consciousness, they will inevitably become
Learning for the sake of the self is learning to be fully human. The
actualization of humanity entails our ability to embody all forms of
interconnection in our self-awareness and personal knowledge: self,
family, community, society, nation, world, nature, and cosmos. Not
surprisingly, in both theory and practice, the self is not an isolated
individual but rather a center of relationships. As a owing stream
rather than an island, the self is a constantly evolving process and
never a static structure. For the self to grow, develop, and realize its
full potential, it needs to learn to transcend egoism, nepotism, paro-
chialism, communalism, nationalism, and anthropocentrism. As we
expand our intellectual and spiritual horizons to incorporate an ever-
expanding network of meaningful relationships into our sensitivity, we
come to the realization that we are integral parts of an immensely
complex, highly differentiated, and yet integrated wholeness.
This sense of wholeness is captured by the idea of forming one
body with Heaven, Earth, and the myriads. This is the basis for sev-
eral salient features of Confucian humanism:
(1) As a comprehensive and integrated anthropocosmic vision, its
humanism encompasses both nature and religion. This is a clear
rejection of any identication of the humanist as fundamentally
different from the naturalist or the spiritualist. Indeed, it is human
to be both a naturalist and a spiritualist.
(2) It assumes that a concrete, living person is a center of relationships.
In terms of a center, the dignity, independence, and autonomy of
the individual is an essential feature of the living person; in terms
of relationships, sociality is indispensable for personal identity.
(3) The Confucian idea of the person is rooted in body and home, and
yet it is always connected with community, world, and cosmos. But
it must learn to transcend egoism, parochialism, nationalism, and
even anthropocentrism.
confucian spirituality in contemporary china 91
(4) Confucians regard the secular world as sacred by overcoming the
exclusive dichotomies of body/mind, spirit/matter, creator/crea-
ture, and sacred/profane.
(5) The Confucian way of life embodies self, community, nature, and
Heaven in an ethic of care and responsibility.
(6) Humanity as the core value of Confucianism embodies Heaven,
Earth, and the myriad things in its sensitivity and consciousness.
(7) Confucianism seeks harmony without uniformity through
The ve core values in the Confucian traditionhumanity, righteous-
ness, propriety, wisdom, and trustare not merely Asian values but
universal values rooted in East Asian theory and practice. Together,
they present a coherent vision of human ourishing. Liberty without
justice, rationality without sympathy, legality without civility, rights
without responsibility, and individual dignity without social solidar-
ity cannot bring about an enduring world order nurtured by a richly
textured culture of peace.
It is obvious that a remarkable transformation of the cultural scene
in Mainland China has taken place during the last twenty years.
Confucian discourse is no longer conned to the academic commu-
nity. This crossing of boundaries is evident in a number of spheres
of interestgovernment, business, mass media, the professions, and
social movements.
The reemergence of the Confucian discourse denitely symbolizes a
fundamental and thorough rejection of the anti-tradition mentality. It is
also an acknowledgment by the politically concerned, socially engaged,
and culturally informed elite that the ideological vacuum and corro-
sive power of the market and its excessive consumerism have seriously
eroded public mores and have substantially undermined the effective-
ness of the body politic. For Chinese public intellectuals, beneath the
apparent economic achievements, the social costs (inequality, insecu-
rity, incivility, and disharmony) are high and there is a strong and
urgently felt need for a sense of direction. Worries about the blatant
lack of social capital, cultural competence, ethical intelligence, and
spiritual values at all institutional levels throughout the country loom
large in the minds of Chinese intellectuals.
Whither China? This question weighs heavily on the conscience of
all reective minds in the Sinic world (the mainland, Taiwan, Hong
Kong, Macau, Singapore, and the Chinese Diaspora). With a view
92 tu weiming
toward the future, Chinas modernization cannot be guided by an
uninching faith in materialism, instrumental rationality, progressiv-
ism, and social engineering. Policies formulated by a technocratic
mentality without reference to culture and ethics are not sustainable.
In a deeper sense, a critical reection on the strengths and limitations
of the modernist mentality that taps into traditional resources is both
necessary and desirable to formulate a wholesome cultural identity.
The time is ripe for Chinese intellectuals to transcend the Western-
oriented modernist mentality and to formulate their own cultural iden-
tity with full recognition of the value of openness, cultural diversity,
and self-reexivity. Learning from great non-Western civilizations will
nurture a new cosmopolitan spirit.
Confucianism as humanism addresses the perennial human condition
with a new sense of urgency and responsibility. It offers a worldview that
is open, pluralistic, and self-reexive. Deeply rooted in the philosophi-
cal insights of the rst two epochs of the tradition (Cultural China and
East Asia), it also is transformed into a globally signicant local knowl-
edge, with the West no longer the other threatening its inner identity.
Rather, as a radical otherness, the West is a source of inspiration and a
point of reference. For more than half a century Big Brother Russia,
the functional equivalent of a mentor, served the same purpose. Increas-
ingly, this is also the case with India, the Islamic world, Latin America,
Africa, and so forth. Confucian humanism can contribute substantially
to Chinas quest for a new cultural identity. Through dialogue among
civilizations, it can play a mediating role in the new age.
This may be an authentic possibility, but, in my view, the essential
requirement for Confucian humanism to reemerge as a source of inspi-
ration for the global community is its ability to continue but also to
transcend the Enlightenment mentality, in particular its instrumental
rationality, anthropocentrism, and secularism. Confucian humanism is
not secular, anthropocentric, or instrumentally rational. Rather, it is
rooted in a philosophy of life characterized by a profoundly spiritual
anthropocosmic vision. In R. Balasubramanians felicitous depic-
tion, Confucian humanism is a form of spiritual humanism. But this
dimension of Confucian spirituality has been neglected for so long
that, with the exception of the major New Confucian thinkers, there
is little evidence that it is still a viable tradition in the Chinese intel-
lectual heritage.
However, I am condent that my sketch of the core ideas of Con-
fucian humanism will strike a sympathetic resonance in the minds of
confucian spirituality in contemporary china 93
those who are willing to probe the underlying reasons why the Confu-
cian persuasion persists in contemporary China. The majority of Chi-
nese public intellectuals, including specialists in Chinese thought who
are obsessed with Chinas restless march toward modernity, may con-
sider it irrelevant at the moment, but I would argue that if and when
they begin to reect upon Chinas new cultural identity, these core
ideas will appeal naturally to their philosophies of life and worldviews
and they will inevitably address these core values that have always
been an integral part of their habits of the heart.
Let us begin with things at hand. Since the late 1960s, with the
help of the astronauts, our naked eye has been endowed with the
capacity to gaze at the earth from a transcending perspective. Never
in history had the human seen the blue planet holistically. We have
come to the realization that minerals, soil, water, and air are all vul-
nerable to degradation and pollution. We are not merely the outcome
of evolution but also active participants in the evolutionary process.
Direct and conscious intervention as well as unintended negative con-
sequences have fundamentally changed the human-earth relationship.
Our increasing capacity to destroy our environment has enhanced
our awareness that the global village is also a lifeboat for human
survival. Through information and communication technologies the
interconnectedness of the human world is growing exponentially. The
sense of vulnerability is greatly heightened when news about disasters
can be instantaneously shared throughout the world. Tragically, as our
knowledge grows and our awareness of the necessary steps we must
take to deal with the viability of the human species intensies, we
are even more incapacitated by the infrastructure we have inherited
and the developmental trajectory to which we are committed. This is
not simply a question of science and technology. It is also rooted in
attitude and belief. China is at a critical developmental and environ-
mental juncture.
The idea of the continuity of being can serve as a point of depar-
ture. In this view, the human is connected with all modalities of
beingminerals, plants, and animals. If we probe deeply to nd some
linkages, we are part of a continuum. But the uniqueness of being
human is qualitatively different from all other modalities of being. The
dening characteristics of human being are not reducible to any of the
properties that have become constitutive parts of the human condi-
tion. For example, Xunzi observes:
94 tu weiming
Fire and water possess energy but are without life. Grass and trees have
life but no consciousness and feeling. Birds and beasts have conscious-
ness and feeling but no sense of rightness (morality). The human pos-
sesses energy, life, consciousness, and feeling, and, in addition, a sense
of rightness.
This idea of being human is predicated on interconnectedness. The
distinctiveness of the human is based not on separation but on connec-
tion. Although an emergent property is unique and cannot be reduc-
ible to its constitutive parts, structurally it is always intertwined with all
the elements that contribute to its particular form of existence.
A contemporary implication of the continuity of being is that it is
evolutionary rather than materialistic or secular. One can well imagine
that human beings are interconnected not only with the human world
but also with all members of the animal kingdom, the life world, the
earth, and beyond. This connectedness enables the human to develop
a vision of cosmopolitanism. A manifestation of this is acceptance of
the earth as our proper home, all humans as our brothers and sis-
ters, and all things our companions because they share the continuity,
indeed the consanguinity, that makes the universe an integral part of
our existence.
By implication, spirituality is embedded in the lifeworld. It is not
dened by reference to the transcendent. Radical transcendence is
not even a rejected possibility. The contrast between the secular and
sacred does not exist. Herbert Fingarettes characterization of Con-
fucius, the secular as the sacred, is revealing, but the dichotomy is
All exclusive dichotomies, such as body/mind, spirit/
matter, mental/physical, and esh/soul, are alien to the Confucian
conceptual thinking of yin/yang. They are different, conictual, and
sometimes tension-ridden, but in both principle and practice, they are
complementary. More signicantly, they are coexistent and mutually
inltrating. There is no yang without yin and no yin without yang.
There is always yang in the yin of the yang, and so forth. This enables
Confucians to see unity in contradiction and to experience the world
as both materiality and spirituality.
Xunzi (Hunan: Hunan Peoples Publishing House, 1999), 236; Wangzhi 9.19.
See Zhang Zais Western Inscription. Wing-tsit Chan, trans., A Source Book in
Chinese Philosophy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1963), 497500.
Herbert Fingarette, Confucius: The Secular as Sacred (New York: Harper and Row,
confucian spirituality in contemporary china 95
Since human nature is endowed by Heaven, the Heavenly Way is
encoded in human nature.
Heaven makes humans human, but what
the human does affects Heaven as well. Thus Confucius observes that
the Way can be enlarged by the human but it cannot enlarge the
This implies that humans have the capacity and responsibility
to bring the Way to fruition in the world. The highest manifestation of
humanity is cosmological and anthropological. In short, it is anthro-
pocosmic, predicated on a holistic and integrated humanism that is
substantially different from secular humanism. The anthropocosmic
vision presupposes a unity between anthropological and cosmological
perceptions of the human condition. In the Book of Change the cos-
mos is always a dynamic process generating new realities by creatively
transforming the existing order.
Through their own personal cultivation, human beings can actively
take part in Heavens creativity. They are also capable of committing
grave mistakes contrary to the Heavenly virtue of genuineness and
vitality, damaging to themselves and detrimental to their environment.
Human beings may survive all natural catastrophes, but they can de-
nitely be destroyed by their own doing. Man-made disasters, beyond
Heavens power to prevent them, raise doubts about the viability of
the human species.
Let us return to the initial question. Under the inuence of Con-
fucian humanism, Chinese religiosity is predominantly immanent. It
may point in the direction of the transcendent, even to a radical
otherness, but it is the lived reality here and now that serves as a
point of departure and the destiny of eventual return. The Confucian
conviction that the ultimate meaning of life is realizable and ought to
be realized in this world comprised of body, family, community, and
earth makes it possible to congure the transcendent as an integral
part of the immanent. Thus, what happens in daily life is meaningful
in a cosmic, anthropological, and sociological sense.
An obvious negative consequence is the instrumentalization and vul-
garization of religion. However, it is important to note that underly-
ing the apparent utilitarian and materialistic appropriation of religious
ideas and practices is the potency of the ritualization of life, which
Xie, Xinyi Sishu Duben, 25; Zhongyong.
Xie, Xinyi Sishu Duben, 258; Analects 15.29.
See, for instance, the description of the hexagram qian in the Book of Change. Guo
Jianxun, ed., Xinyi Yijing Duben (Taibei: Sanmin Shuju, 2004), 7.
96 tu weiming
is profoundly signicant for understanding how religions, including
the Three Teachings, indeed the Five Teachings (including Christian-
ity and Islam) function in Chinese society. The implicationmanifest
in a variety of patterns of ritualization for religious tolerance, peace-
ful coexistence of distinct religious communities, mutual respect and
learning among religions, dual or multiple membership in more than
one religious tradition, and interreligious dialogueis far-reaching. It
is worth exploring from an intercivilizational perspective.
Yet marketization is pervasive in China today. It penetrates all
spheres of interestgovernment, academia, mass media, social insti-
tutions, and even religion. Chinas market economy is ourishing but
its market society has major difculties in accumulating social capital,
educating cultural competence, and cultivating ethical intelligence. The
restless march toward money and goods motivated by sheer necessity
for survival, the reasonable quest for an adequate life, and blatant
greed have converted China into a land of economism, modernism,
progressivism, commercialism, and materialism. In this spiritual void,
a revival of all religions, whether those committed to uplifting the spirit
and improving the life of the mind or those damaging to personal well-
being and social solidarity, is understandable.
Confucian humanism is likely to play a major role in shaping Chi-
nas cultural identity. It can either promote narrow-minded national-
ism in the guise of patriotism or it can encourage an open, pluralistic,
and reexive self-understanding. The emergence of a corporate criti-
cal consciousness engendering a wholesome environment for a sym-
pathetic religious understanding is no longer wishful thinking. For its
psycho-cultural health, China cannot afford to be unattuned to human
Joseph B. TAMNEY
Ball State University
There is, of course, no such thing as Confucianism. A set of texts that
are collectively identied as the scholarly or Confucian tradition exists,
but these texts are understood through various interpreters. Moreover
Confucianism is not an internally consistent body of teachings. As
ancient texts were passed down and commented on by generations of
scholars over many centuries, they received various interpretations,
in which new elements were introduced, and non-Confucian ideas
were creatively adapted and assimilated.

There is no unchanging essence of any tradition. Today different
carriers, to use Christian Jochims term, of the Confucian tradi-
tionclassical scholars, social scientists, governments (and especially
the schools), religious groups, and popular writersare self-consciously
working to save Confucianism by accommodating it to modernity.
The interpretations of such carriers constitute the contemporary Con-
fucian tradition.
In turn, these interpretations are ltered through
peoples experiences. The eventual products are the various forms of
lived Confucianism.
A movement to modernize Confucianism began in the early twen-
tieth century, was lost from sight on the mainland from 1949 until the
late 1970s, but was actively pursued in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the
West from the 1940s until now.
To be successful, this movement must
Joseph Chan, Confucian Attitudes toward Ethical Pluralism, in The Many and
the One, ed. Richard Madsen and Tracy B. Strong ( Princeton: Princeton University
Press, 2003), 129153, at 106; see also Liu Shu-hsien, John Berthrong, and Leonard
Swidler, Contemporary Confucianism and Western Culture, Journal of Ecumenical
Studies 40, nos. 1/2 (2003): 211, at 4.
Christian Jochim, Confucius and Capitalism: Views of Confucianism in Works
on Confucianism and Economic Development, Journal of Chinese Religions 20 (1992):
Song Xianlin, Reconstructing the Confucian Ideal in 1980s China: The Cul-
ture Craze and New Confucianism, in New Confucianism: A Critical Examination, ed.
John Makeham (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), 81104; Chan, Confucian
98 joseph b. tamney
understand the nature of modernity. In this chapter, I offer a mod-
ernization/globalization model that might be useful in understanding
attempts to modernize Confucianism. Then I discuss two basic forms
of Confucianism: one that seeks to reverse the modernization process,
and one that accommodates the process. At the present time, there is
a third kindstate Confucianismwhich I describe and relate to the
two basic forms of Confucianism. Following the introduction of these
three types, I illustrate the different reactions of their proponents to
the modernization of personal life. Throughout the essay, the reactions
of various carriers of Confucianism to social changes are presented. I
conclude with a consideration of how Confucians might relate to the
current moral crisis in Chinese societies.
Modernization and Globalization
Modernization, as I conceive it, has ve basic components: technologi-
cal development, societal expansion and increasing population den-
sity, structural differentiation (i.e., the appearance of new, independent
institutions such as a religious institution free from state control or
a capitalist economy), the fragmentation of societal culture (plural-
ism), and the growing importance of the individual at the expense of
Modernization does not result in homogenization. For instance, the
degree of separation of church and state is different in the United
States, Great Britain, and Germany, but the situation in all three coun-
tries is clearly distinct from Iran, where the religious institution tries to
control everything, or Singapore, where state policies set denite limits
on the political involvement of the religious institution.
The increasing importance of the individual has two aspects: individ-
uation and individualism. Individuation means a person has an identity
apart from social roles and group memberships.
Thus modernization
is a process in which people are more and more self-conscious about a
Attitudes toward Ethical Pluralism; Liu, Berthrong, and Swidler, Contemporary
Confucianism and Western Culture, 2003.
Joseph B. Tamney, The Struggle over Singapores Soul (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter,
1996), 3537.
Rose Laub Coser, In Defense of Modernity (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press,
the resilience of confucianism in chinese societies 99
personal identity that is increasingly unique. Individuation undermines
traditional or folk-religious ethics, to use Gustav Menschings term,
in which moral values are related to the welfare and security of the
That is, good and evil are what is valuable or harmful for the
survival of a particular people. As individuation proceeds, such group-
thinking declines.
Individuation, in turn, gives rise to individualism, which is the cul-
tural afrmation of the value of the individual, of every individual.
As Emile Durkheim wrote: Individualism . . . is the glorication not
of the self but of the individual in general. It springs not from egoism
but from sympathy for all that is human, a broader pity for all suffer-
ing, for all human miseries, a more ardent need to combat them and
mitigate them, a greater thirst for justice.
Modern ethics embodies
individualism and is increasingly understood as universally applicable.
This form of morality values the use of reason (rather than appeals to
force or tradition), democracy, and ending patriarchy.
Globalization is the current stage of societal expansion, a basic
feature of modernization. Globalization can be described in relation
to personality, social structure, and culture. As this process proceeds,
individuals borrow from different cultures; people become cosmopoli-
tan, that is, they have an identity that is not totally circumscribed by
the immediate locality, but, crucially, that embraces a sense of what
unites us as human beings, of common risks and possibilities, of mutual
Cosmopolitans know that each ethnic group believes
in the value of its own culture, but they also understand the impossibil-
ity of using reason to prove the superiority of any one culture.
Structurally globalization means an ever-densening network of
interconnections and interdependences.
Culturally globalization
means the weakening of any relation between place and cultural
options; that is, the same options are becoming available everywhere.
More immediately the process refers to the appearance of globalized
Gustav Mensching, Folk and Universal Religion, in Readings on the Sociology of
Religion, ed. Thomas F. ODea and Janet K. ODea (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-
Hall, 1973), 8391, at 84.
Emile Durkheim, Individualism and the Intellectuals, in Emile Durkheim on
Morality and Society, ed. Robert N. Bellah (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1973),
4357, at 4849.
John Tomlinson, Globalization and Culture (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
1999), 194.
Ibid., 2.
100 joseph b. tamney
cultures, that is, not a single global culture but cultures sharing some
basic characteristics such as support for human rights.
Modernization is not the path to utopia. The change to a more
modern society involves losses and gains. The judgment by a contem-
porary Confucian that Western modernism includes negative aspects,
such as exploitation, mercantilism, consumerism, materialism, greed,
egoism, and brutal competitiveness,
could have been written by
Western critics of their own societies. Indeed modernization results in
a sense of moral crisis everywhere.
Chinese Modernity
Chinese societies are changing in ways consistent with the modern-
ization model. Technological development and societal expansion are
obviously occurring. Structural differentiation is also taking place in
Chinese societies. Economies are being given more freedom from gov-
ernmental control. Scholars are changing from being priest-like guard-
ians of the scholarly tradition to being intellectualsscholars who are
guided by the spirit of inquiry and a faith in reason. Although censor-
ship and self-censorship are practiced,
cultural diversity is increasing.
In the Peoples Republic, for instance, artists react not only to political
reality, but also to commercial considerations as well as to aesthetic
and personal moral concerns.
Popular culture is about having fun,
feeling good, and ultimately making money, which goal empowers
not only arts angels but also ordinary people.
While some changes
have made Chinese societies more democratic, the process is obviously
further along in Taiwan.

Tu Weiming, Multiple ModernitiesImplications of the Rise of Confucian
East Asia, in Chinese Ethics in a Global Context, ed. Karl-Heinz Pohl and Anselm W.
Muller (Leiden: Brill, 2002), 5577, at 66.
For a more detailed discussion of the modernization/globalization model, see
Tamney, The Struggle over Singapores Soul, 1018; and see also Joseph B. Tamney and
Linda Hsueh-Ling Chiang, Modernization, Globalization, and Confucianism in Chinese Societ-
ies (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2002), 59, 1722, 2730.
Richard Curt Kraus, The Party and the Arty in China (Lanham, MD: Rowman &
Littleeld, 2004); Tamney, The Struggle over Singapores Soul.
Kraus, The Party and the Arty in China.
Ibid., viiix; Tamney and Chiang, Modernization, Globalization, and Confucianism in
Chinese Societies, 124, 103.
For a detailed discussion of modernization in Singapore, see Tamney, The Struggle
over Singapores Soul, and the references cited therein.
the resilience of confucianism in chinese societies 101
While there is one process of modernization, there are many forms
of modern society. Modernization is not the same as Westernization.
In the current global situation, all societies must react to the West
because of the political-economic dominance of this region; however,
the long-term implication of globalization is a decentering of the his-
torical process.
According to the model that I am suggesting, while all
societies will experience modernization/globalization as just described,
the resulting societies will be a mix of global and local features.
Consider the matter of conict resolution, as analyzed by Albert H. Y.
Chen. In the past, there has been a difference between the American
and Chinese approaches to conict resolution: the former favors litiga-
tion, the latter mediation. The latter approach supposedly t an agrar-
ian society composed of fairly homogeneous communities. Mediation
was championed by many, if not all, Confucians because it was more
likely to reestablish harmonious relationships and because mediation
involved the use of persuasion and education rather than force; the lat-
ter aspect meant that the individuals involved in a conict might grow
morally in the process of resolving the dispute. However Western-
ers are increasingly using mediation, most notably in divorce cases.

They recognize that litigation might in itself generate hostility; more-
over it is accepted that mediation can empower individuals and aid
moral growth. But there are problems with mediationfor example,
inequality between disputants can result in unjust outcomes. Given all
these considerations, Chen suggested that mediation should be used
in all modern societies under the following conditions: that it is not
the predominant mode of conict resolution, that those who choose
mediation have the option of using litigation later, and that the basis
of the discussion between the disputants is mutual equality.

Given the importance of mediation in Chinese tradition, it is likely
that mediation will for the foreseeable future be more frequently used
in Chinese than Western societies, although the nature of the process
John Tomlinson, Globalization and Culture (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
1999), 29, 105; Malcolm Waters, Globalization (London: Routledge, 1995), 34.
For a discussion of the use of mediation and litigation in divorce cases in the
Peoples Republic of China, see Margaret Y. K. Woo, Contesting Citizenship: Mar-
riage and Divorce in the Peoples Republic of China, in Sex and Sexuality in China, ed.
Elaine Jeffreys (London: Routledge, 2006), 6281.
Albert H. Y. Chen, Mediation, Litigation, and Justice: Confucian Reections in
a Modern Liberal Society, in Confucianism for the Modern World, ed. Daniel B. Bell and
Hahm Chaibong (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 257287.
102 joseph b. tamney
as well as the motivations for undertaking the process are likely to
become more and more similar. Thus while Chinese and Western
societies might converge in how conicts are resolved, they will also
remain distinct.

Chinese societies, then, are changing in ways that are consistent
with the model. What is the role of Confucianism in this process?
A Confucian Society
Some scholars in the Peoples Republic advocate policies that would
reverse the modernization process as I have described it. Jiang Qing
and Kang Xiaoguang advocate making Confucianism the state reli-
gion, while allowing other religions to be practiced. Jiang has argued
that Confucian religion is the core of Chinese civilization and should
be made the state religion so that it will be the basis for a national cul-
tural consensus.
The educational system would spread this religion.

Kang rejected liberal democracy, because it could lead to national
fragmentation on the mainland, with Tibet, Xinjiang, Hong Kong,
and Taiwan seeking independence.
Moreover democracy requires
equality, but in a market economy, economic inequality is necessary,
and such inequality means political inequality; in practice, the bour-
geoisie control not only the economic and political sectors but they
also control culture through civil society organizations. There has
never been such a thing as the people being the masters of their own
country, neither in the past, nor now; neither in the United States nor
in China.
In both countries, the powerful moneyed classes control
Jiang criticized democracy because of the possibility of the tyranny
of the majority, or even the tyranny of those who can vote; for instance,
policies may hurt children or future generations. Moreover, in societ-
ies without a historical commitment to democracy, if a democratically
A similar analysis might be done regarding the Wests dichotomous worldview
and the Chinese holistic mode of thinking. Tu, Multiple Modernities Implications
of the Rise of Confucian East Asia, 61.
Huang Qing, Confucianism Will Never Be Embraced as Religion, China Daily,
January 6, 2006, 4; Confucius Makes a Comeback, Economist, May 19, 2007, 48.
Kang Xiaoguang, Confucianization: A Future in the Tradition, Social Research
73, no.1 (2006): 77120, 95.
Ibid., 90.
Ibid., 93.
the resilience of confucianism in chinese societies 103
elected government failed to provide economic development, then the
people might prefer other political forms such as fascism.

Kang favors rule by benevolent people, that is, people who embrace
and practice Confucianism: Benevolent government is a dictator-
ship by the community of Confucian scholars.
The scholars would
respond both to the will of heaven and to public opinion. To ensure
that the people are heard, there should be an open mass media,
consultations with the people, and the use of occupational groups,
which would be organized democratically. Realistically the power of
the scholars would also be limited by the wealthy class in a capitalist
Jiang proposed a legislature that includes representatives of Confu-
cian elites, of elites entrusted with the task of cultural continuity, and
of the people.
Members of the rst component would be chosen
by Confucian organizations. Those elites entrusted to provide cultural
continuity would be representatives of the various religions in China
and descendents of great sages. Members of the third component
would be chosen by popular election and by occupational groups. The
component composed of Confucians would have more power than
the one representing the people, although Jiang also proposed a limit
on the number of times the scholars might overrule the people in a
ve-year period.
As Daniel A. Bell wrote, a deeply rooted idea in Chinese culture is
that the most talented and public-spirited members of the political
community should rule, or at least should be given extra shares of
political power.
However, the proposals of Kang and Jiang for such
an elitist form of government do show the inuence of democratic
criticisms of authoritarian societies.
An Alternative View of Confucianism
Yu Dan wrote a popular book on the Analects and has hosted a televi-
sion series on the classics in the Peoples Republic. As of 2008, her
Daniel A. Bell, Chinas New Confucianism (Princeton: Princeton University Press,
Kang, Confucianization: A Future in the Tradition, 96.
Daniel A. Bell, Confucianism Gaining Ground in Modern China, The Star
(Malaysia), September 18, 2006, W36.
Bell, Chinas New Confucianism, 186.
104 joseph b. tamney
book had sold over 10 million copies, which makes it a best seller.
While the book is full of quotes from the Analects, Yu also quotes from
Daoism, the Bible, and other sources; her rather eclectic references
express an open-mindedness.
As Yu told an interviewer: We can-
not go back to a single culture theory anymore. Chinese culture and
Western culture must complement each other.
Part of the books appeal is that Yu Dan relates the scholarly tradi-
tion to daily life.
On the rst page of her book, Professor Yu says
that The essence of the Analects is to tell everyone how to live the
happy life that our souls crave.
Yu wrote that the Analects is a guide
to spiritual happiness.
In this classic, Yu nds advice for stress
reduction, simple living, and success. She told an interviewer that with
people having so many choices in modern China, the country is in
danger of becoming a society that knows wealth but not value. Yu
Dan preaches that everyone can become an exemplary person.
A cost of the present stage of development in the Peoples Repub-
lic is the gap between what people now expect in terms of jobs and
income and the reality of what most of them will get. Daniel A. Bell
paraphrased Yus response as follows: One solution is to reduce the
expectations, and thats what Yu Dan counsels. Dont worry so much
about your car, your house, or your career. Dont worry about what
other people think of you. What matters is your inner heart. So long
as you have condence and a strong sense of self-worth, you will be

Another problem in a modernizing society is, to use my term, indi-
viduation, and the increasing temptation to be selsh. Here too, Yu
Dan provides a soothing message. And best of all, it doesnt require
much effort! All we have to do is focus on our own inner happiness.
If we do that, others will also benet and the world will be better for
Ibid., 164.
Quoted in Sheila Melvin, In China, a Return to Confucius, International Herald
Tribune, August 30, 2007, 7.
Bell, Chinas New Confucianism, 165.
Quoted in Clarissa Oon, Clearing up Confucian Confusion, www.straitstimes
.com/vgn-ext-templating/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=06a21008ce59901/ (accessed March 24,
Quoted in Melvin, In China, a Return to Confucius, 7.
Bell, Chinas New Confucianism, 166.
Ibid., 165.
the resilience of confucianism in chinese societies 105
The message seems to be that it is not wrong to think
about the self.
Professor Yu believes that many parts of the Analects are out-of-date.
She favors the democratization of culture. As she told an interviewer:
Everyone can get something out of reading the classics, but what that
something is, is serendipitous. It is like climbing a mountainwhat
each person sees depends on the day and the weather. Again: Must
interpreting the classics only be the prerogative of the elite? I believe
everyone, from a 60-year-old grandmother to a 14-year-old child, is
entitled to personal insights from the Analects.
Two Forms of Confucianism
Today all moral/religious traditions react to modernity in two ways:
traditionalists try to eliminate three characteristics of modernization:
structural differentiation (especially the separation of religion and
the state), the fragmentation of societal culture (pluralism), and the
importance of the individual at the expense of groups. Modernists
try to accommodate these characteristics. They emphasize individual
responsibility for choosing values, accept diversity, and perceive the
essence of a tradition to be abstract ethical values such as love, justice,
or peace, which approach allows these religions to accommodate the
separation of religion and the state.

The Confucians Kang and Jiang are traditionalists. They want to
create a Confucian society, that is, a society in which scholars run a
state that ensures that all institutions express Confucian values, and
in which the entire culture supports these same values. Traditionalists
limit the signicance of the individual, such as by minimizing oppor-
tunities to choose among alternative value systems and by opposing

Of course, traditionalists vary in the extent that they t my descrip-
tion of this type. For instance, the relationship between Confucianism
and democracy is a complex matter. Confucians who favor democracy
Ibid., 165.
Oon, Clearing up Confucian Confusion.
Joseph B. Tamney, The Resilience of Conservative Religion (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2002).
Tamney and Chiang, Modernization, Globalization, and Confucianism in Chinese Societ-
ies, 60.
106 joseph b. tamney
have argued that several important traits of Confucianism are consis-
tent with democracy, such as dening the purpose of government to
be the welfare of the people, a preference for persuasion rather than
force [and] the valuing of self-cultivation.
Moreover over the last
two hundred years, there have been important Chinese scholars who
espoused both Confucianism and democracy.
However, a democratic
society in the narrow sense of having a popularly elected government
may also be morally traditionalistic.
In making an assessment of the degree to which a particular Confu-
cian political program is traditionalistic, specic issues need to be con-
sidered: how much power would be given to Confucians because they
are Confucians, would the state nancially support Confucianism, how
much ideological freedom would intermediate groups between the fam-
ily and the state have, would education and the arts be dominated by
Confucian values, and would the state practice moral policingthat
is, would violations of Confucian norms be criminalized to preserve
Confucianism. Traditionalists would want to make everyone a follower
of their version of Confucianism, but some might prefer to accomplish
this through moral policing, others through the control of the schools,
and yet others through both methods.
The last group would be the
most traditionalistic.
Yu Dan offers a modernist form of Confucianism: an acceptance of
different interpretations of classic texts and of alternative ideologies,
a concern for individual well-being with an emphasis on the impor-
tance of the individuals self-esteem, and a message that everyone can
become a sage.
Anthony C. Yu has criticized contemporary attempts to harmonize
Confucianism and human rights, and in the process has implied some
other traits of modernist Confucianism. First, the classical view of
relationships is hierarchical and therefore ensures inequality. Second,
Confucians have not argued for establishing institutions to defend sub-
ordinates when their superiors fail to act virtuously. Subjects, wives,
Ibid., 41.
Wang Juntao, Confucian Democrats in Chinese History, in Confucianism for
the Modern World, ed. Daniel A. Bell and Hahm Chaibong (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2003), 6989; John Makeham, ed., New Confucianism: A Critical Exami-
nation (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003). However, the message is not always
unambiguous; see Tamney and Chiang, Modernization, Globalization, and Confucianism in
Chinese Societies, 4346.
J. Chan, Confucian Attitudes toward Ethical Pluralism, 142.
the resilience of confucianism in chinese societies 107
children, and inquisitive journalists may be swiftly penalized if they
err, but who will effectively censure, curb, or bring to justice the trans-
gressive emperor, the patriarch, the judge, the senior minister, or the
members of the ruling party?
The presence of ways to challenge
those in authority would threaten harmony, at least temporarily, but
such procedures are necessary if human rights are to be respected.
Third, Chinese governments have equated the merit of a religion with
the performance of meritorious service to the state, in the words of a
Ming Dynasty degree establishing how to evaluate religious practices.

That is, traditionally good behavior meant advancing the interests of
the state. In contrast, modernist Confucianism emphasizes equality,
would institutionalize procedures enabling the less powerful to chal-
lenge those with power, and evaluates an ideology in terms of the
extent to which it advances individual well-being.
Lee H. Yearley has argued that there have always been two strands
in Confucianism, one associated with Xunzi and the other with
Mencius. In the Xunzi strand, a Confucian elite should rule societ-
ies because past sages best understood heavens plans and provided
highly differentiated social forms that need to be followed if humans
are to be perfected. In this strand, virtues like ritual (li ) and loyalty
are highlighted. In the Mencius strand, anyone can become a sage,
and the emphasis is on the virtues of benevolence and righteousness.

Traditionalist and modernist forms of Confucianism can be seen as
contemporary examples of these two strands.
The State and Confucianism
At different points in time the governments of the Peoples Repub-
lic of China, Singapore, and Taiwan have sponsored Confucian pro-
grams. During the period 19451990, the Taiwanese government
actively propagated Confucianism in the schools, especially through
Anthony C. Yu, Which Values? Whose Perspective?, Journal of Religion 80
(2000): 299304, at 301.
Quoted in ibid., 303.
Lee H. Yearley, Two Strands of Confucianism, in The Many and the One, ed.
Richard Madsen and Tracy B. Strong (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University
press, 2003), 154160, at 155156.
108 joseph b. tamney
classes on moral and civic education but also in literature classes.

During the 1980s, there was a revitalization movement in Singapore
to promote Confucianism. It had been preceded by public discussion
about a moral crisis accompanying economic development. To resist
evil inuences coming from the West, it was considered necessary to
revive traditional values, and thereby to increase peoples condence
in their own culture and ethnic identity. The movement was led by
the government, which among other things created a course for sec-
ondary-school students on Confucian ethics, established the Institute
of East Asian Philosophy, which focused on Confucianism, and ini-
tiated the still-ongoing Speak Mandarin Campaign. The movement
was well supported by the Chinese-speaking part of civil society, such
as the Chinese-language newspapers and organizations such as the
Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Since the
1980s, the mainland government has funded the revival of Confucian-
Today there are Confucian study programs in primary schools,
secondary schools, and universities.
The Communist Partys Central
Party School in Beijing now teaches the Confucian classics.

Chinese governments have been interested in Confucianism to
achieve economic development and to revive Chinese nationalism.
However, they have made a distinction between useful and harmful
aspects of the tradition.
Undesirable Elements
The keynote speaker, Gu Mu, at a conference in Beijing presented
a familiar framework for cultural modernization. The rst rule was
described as inherit the essence and discard the dross of the tradi-
tional national culture. The second rule was to incorporate elements
from the advanced cultures of the outside world, keeping the tra-
Christian Jochim, Carrying Confucianism into the Modern World: The Tai-
wanese Case, in Religion in Modern Taiwan, ed. Philip Clart and Charles B. Jones
(Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2003), 4883.
Eddie C. Y. Kuo, Confucianism as Political Discourse in Singapore: The Case
of an Incomplete Revitalization Movement, in Confucian Traditions in East Asian Moder-
nity, ed. Tu Wei-ming (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996), 294309.
Song, Reconstructing the Confucian Ideal in 1980s China; Liu, Berthrong,
and Swidler, Contemporary Confucianism and Western Culture.
Bell, Confucianism Gaining Ground in Modern China; Confucius Makes a
Comeback, Economist, 2007.
Bell, Chinas New Confucianism, 194.
the resilience of confucianism in chinese societies 109
ditional culture as the mainstay.
But who determines what the
essence of Confucianism is? In effect, political leaders have been try-
ing to design a Confucianism that retains from the scholarly tradition
what is useful for economic development and political stability.
These leaders have criticized aspects of Confucianism that seem to
inhibit economic development, such as the low prestige of entrepre-
neurs and the idealization of the gentleman, as well as the traditional
preference for studying the arts rather than science. Moreover since
constant change is the only way to avoid falling behind economically,
governments want to reform obstacles to change: the emphasis on
a status-quo oriented state and the use of past dynasties as a politi-
cal model; the canonization of tradition; fatalistic references to fate
and heaven; and an educational system that emphasizes memorization
rather than creativity and individual initiative.
What, then, should
be retained?
Confucianism and Economic Development
Beginning in the 1970s, social scientists both in the West and in East
Asia explained the economic miracle of Japan, Singapore, South
Korea, and Taiwan as, at least partially, the result of an equivalent to
the Protestant ethic within the Confucian tradition.
The shared view
was that certain elements of this tradition in the right social context
could increase productivity. Prominent among the various lists of such
values have been thrift, hard work, educational achievement, social
harmony, respect for authority, acceptance of paternalistic forms of
government, the need to achieve worldly success, which was related to
a fear of shame and a need to glorify the ancestors, and lial piety.

Quoted in Wm. Theodore de Bary, The New Confucianism in Beijing, The
American Scholar 64, no. 2 (1995): 175189, at 181.
Tamney and Chiang, Modernization, Globalization, and Confucianism in Chinese Societ-
ies, 9, 22, 7175.
Jochim, Confucius and Capitalism.
Jochim, Carrying Confucianism into the Modern World, 6970; Lee Seung-
hwan, Asian Values and the Future of the Confucian Culture,
.vol12_1/leeseunghwan.htm/ (accessed May 29, 2008); Tamney, The Struggle over Sin-
gapores Soul. A preference for family-like business relations also appeared on some
lists. However, crony capitalism has also been blamed on such a preference; see
Richard Madsen, Ethics and the Family: China/West, in Chinese Ethics in a Global
Context, ed. Karl-Heinz Pohl and Anselm W. Muller (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2002),
279300, at 296.
110 joseph b. tamney
Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore said there is now a
Beijing Consensus alternative to the Washington Consensus. The lat-
ter is an economic policy that favors free trade, minimal state interven-
tion in the economy, and democratic politics. The Beijing Consensus
claims that economic growth requires order, certainty, hard work,
market-friendly policies, savings and investment, trade, education and
The Beijing consensus combines traits from capitalism and
Nationalism implies that people incorporate into their personal identi-
ties their role as citizens, and also that, given the universal desire to be
esteemed, they want to protect and enhance the honor of the nation.
In the Peoples Republic, national honor is perceived in comparison to
the United States, primarily, and Japan, secondarily.
China is inse-
cure about its international status. Moreover the Chinese people are
inuenced by the widespread awareness of the century of humili-
ation, beginning with Chinas defeat in the First Opium War and
ending with Communist victory. This collective memory is joined by
the evidence, such as the invasion of Iraq, for the desire of American
leaders to control the world, including China. Nationalists respond in
two ways: trumpeting increased economic and political power, and
claiming cultural or spiritual superiority.
The latter strategy includes an emphasis on the merits of Confu-
By mid-2007, the Peoples Republic had established over
140 Confucius Institutes in more than fty countries, and more are
on their way.
The name was chosen because Confucius is interna-
tionally recognized as a symbol of Chinese culture.
The institutes
organize cultural exchanges, exhibitions, and language classes. They
Quoted in Li Xueying, MM: Beijing Leads New Approach to Growth, www (accessed May 7, 2008).
Peter Hays Gries, Chinas New Nationalism (Berkeley: University of California
Press, 2004), 135. Singaporeans probably place more emphasis on ethnic identity
than national identity. The Taiwanese situation is complicated by the tension with
the Peoples Republic.
Gries, Chinas New Nationalism, 8.
Bell, Chinas New Confucianism, 2008.
Anna Sun, The Fate of Confucianism as a Religion in Socialist China: Contro-
versies and Paradoxes, in State, Market, and Religions in Chinese Societies, ed. Fenggang
Yang and Joseph B. Tamney (Leiden: Brill, 2005), 229253, at 249.
the resilience of confucianism in chinese societies 111
seem to be part of a program to gain international prestige for Chinese
culture. Linking the scholarly tradition with nationalistic purposes puts
pressure on Confucians to argue for the global superiority of their
moral views.
The attempt of states to use Confucianism brings out the problem-
atic nature of lived Confucianism. In practice, traditional teachings
resulted in people focusing on the family to the detriment of the state.
Among ordinary Chinese people, lived Confucianism meant being
devoted to protecting and advancing the familythe nuclear family,
the extended family, the ancestors, and the lineage. In the words of
Lin Yutang: The family, with its friends, became a walled castle,
with the greatest communistic cooperation and mutual help within,
but coldly indifferent toward, and fortied against, the world without.
In the end, as it worked out, the family became a walled castle outside
of which everything is legitimate loot.
Familism preempts national-
ism and thus is a problem for governments. Moreover familism elimi-
nates what Lin called Samaritan virtue, that is, benevolence toward
strangers. Richard Madsen found familistic selshness to be preva-
lent in the rural part of China that he studied.
But an urban society,
in which mobility is high, needs people to practice Samaritan virtue.
For example, the Singaporean government has struggled to bring
volunteer charity work up to the Western level. Traditional kinship
selshness is not a foundation on which to build a caring society.

So, familism must go. Thus the Taiwanese government sought to use
the schools to convince students that the orthodox Confucian principle
was to expand loyalty from the family to the state.

The nature of state Confucianism must be understood in the con-
text of capitalist societies. Modern societies, Chinese and Western, are
capitalist societies, that is, societies in which all institutions are shaped
by the goals of a free-enterprise economy: higher GNPs, better indus-
trial infrastructure, more adequate nancial planning, and such. The
main national goal, whether in Chinese societies or elsewhere, is no
Quoted in David K. Jordan, Filial Piety in Taiwanese Popular Thought, in
Confucianism and the Family, ed. Walter H. Slote and George A. De Vos (Albany: State
University of New York Press, 1998), 267284, at 276.
Richard Madsen, Chinas Catholics (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of Cali-
fornia Press, 1998), 8081.
Tamney, The Struggle over Singapores Soul, 198; see also 116 n. 24.
Jochim, Carrying Confucianism into the Modern World; see also Tamney, The
Struggle over Singapores Soul, 113 n. 9.
112 joseph b. tamney
longer to be in harmony with the cosmos; it is to respond to the ebb
and ow of market forces.

A capitalist society is one in which the economy is the dominant
institution and all others serve the goal of economic growth (of the
nation or of the wealthy minority). The state gives priority to a grow-
ing economy. In schools, moral development is secondary to the
development of needed skills; competition among students replaces
The government treats the arts as a growth industry
valuable in producing economic development.
Popular culture is
useful to the extent it focuses peoples attention on consumption and
momentary pleasures, thereby distracting them from critical reec-
Thus prized elements of the Confucian tradition are ones that
advance economic goalsthat is, state Confucianism.

State Confucianism in Decline?
Today the Singaporean and Taiwanese governments play less of a
role in dening and promulgating Confucianism.
In Singapore the
revitalization movement zzled out by the early 1990s. Chinese values
are still being taught in moral education classes and elsewhere, but
the movement itself dissolved in Singapore. There was some aware-
ness among the Singaporean public of practical reasons for the gov-
ernments manipulation of Confucianism, such as to legitimize the
paternalistic form of government favored by the ruling party, to use
a Confucian work ethic to achieve economic development, and to
reduce the pressure on the government to provide public housing and
Jochim, Confucius and Capitalism, 158.
Huang Yufu, Chinese Conceptions of Moral Development, in Chinese Ethics
in a Global Context, ed. Karl-Heinz Pohl and Anselm W. Muller (Leiden: Brill, 2002),
119136, at 135.
Kraus, The Party and the Arty in China, 230; Tamney, The Struggle over Singapores
Soul, 154157.
Kenneth Paul Tan, Cinema and Television in Singapore (Leiden: Brill, 2008).
An alternative model of society portrays it as composed of increasingly inde-
pendent institutions; see the collected writings of Max Weber in Guenther Roth and
Claus Wittich, eds., Max Weber, Economy, and Society (New York: Bedminster Press,
1968). For instance, the professionalization of artists in the Peoples Republic has
meant that artists use rules they have developed for their practice (Kraus, The Party and
the Arty in China, 167). Social reality is a mix of Marxist and Weberian ideas.
Kuo, Confucianism as Political Discourse in Singapore; Jochim, Carrying
Confucianism into the Modern World, 75.
the resilience of confucianism in chinese societies 113
social welfare by promoting the three-generation family.
ments in Singapore suggest that when governments dene their own
form of Confucianism, this state form of Confucianism is perceived as
self-serving, which perception creates cynicism and undermines the
usefulness of governmental support for the scholarly tradition.
Another problem for proponents of state Confucianism has to do
with the use of the tradition to strengthen nationalism. They may have
difculty convincing scholars, especially, to support the notion of the
superiority of Confucianism. Confucians are not of one mind about
this situation. Globally and nationally Confucianism is involved in a
competitive ideological market. Confucians have a dilemma: empha-
size what is shared with other traditions so as to form alliances with
their supporters and thus increase the inuence of Confucianism both
nationally and globally, or emphasize what is distinctive in Confucian-
ism to strengthen the loyalty of the support base and enhance competi-
tive advantage in the national and global competitive markets.

The responses of traditionalists and modernists to competition dif-
fer. The former assert their superiority over all competitors and either
seek to eliminate the others or reluctantly tolerate them. Such attitudes
are consistent with the desire to establish a Confucian society. Mod-
ernists accept diversity; they are interested in dialogue and search for
common ground. While some modernists continue to believe in the
superiority of their values, others perceive all or many competitors as
equally valid or useful.
Nationalists favor the traditionalists, cosmo-
politans, the modernists.
But there may be a middle way. The well-known Confucian mod-
ernizer, Mou Zongsan, believed that there are universal truths and
values that can be appreciated by the entire humanity, but that no one
culture expresses all of these truths and values. Rather, each culture
tends to express in its particular way some of these truths and values,
and cultures enrich one another by offering different paths to the real-
ization of universal truths and values.
Mous approach would seem
Kuo, Confucianism as Political Discourse in Singapore, 303; see also Tamney,
The Struggle over Singapores Soul, 3740.
For a more detailed discussion of the responses of Confucian scholars to global-
ization, see Tamney and Chiang, Modernization, Globalization, and Confucianism in Chinese
Societies, 202204.
Tamney and Chiang, Modernization, Globalization, and Confucianism in Chinese Societies.
J. Chan, Confucian Attitudes toward Ethical Pluralism, 135.
114 joseph b. tamney
to allow both for efforts to create a Confucian society and for coopera-
tive actions at the global level.
The diversity of approaches among Confucian scholars to competi-
tive markets means there will not be a closing of the ranks among
them around the nationalistic ambitions of Chinese governments.
Moreover Christian Jochim claimed that as the role of the Taiwanese
state in dening Confucianism decreased, and as the importance of
independent scholars and lay-led sects has increased, interpretations
of Confucianism in Taiwan have become more universalistic and less
nationalistic, linked more to personal cultivation than to the usefulness
of the ideology as a support for nationalism,
that is, the interpreta-
tions are becoming more modernist.
State Confucianism is closer to the traditionalist version of the schol-
arly tradition than to the modernist version. Both traditionalists and
proponents of state Confucianism emphasize self-sacrice, for instance,
by being lial children. Both stress maintaining harmony and respect-
ing authority. Of course, state Confucianism is inconsistent with both
of the other forms because of the greater importance of material devel-
opment than of spiritual cultivation in the state version.
Modernist Confucianism would seem least useful in a capitalist soci-
ety because of the primacy given to abstract values, especially benevo-
lence, and because of the importance of individual needs. However,
even modernist versions of Confucianism may indirectly support a
capitalist society. Bell criticized the failure of Yu Dan to address the
structural reasons for peoples frustrations. For instance, people are
advised to reect on their own failures to explain the lack of work
By concentrating on inner happiness, Bell believes that
Yu Dan deects attention from the economic and political conditions
that actually cause peoples misery, as well as the sorts of collective
solutions needed to bring about substantial improvement to peoples
Modernist versions of morality that ignore the need for struc-
tural changes can t into capitalist societies.
In the next section, I will illustrate the reaction of each of the three
forms of Confucianism to the changes taking place in private life as a
result of modernization.
Jochim, Carrying Confucianism into the Modern World, 76.
Bell, Chinas New Confucianism, 228.
Ibid., 174.
the resilience of confucianism in chinese societies 115
Modernization of Personal Life: The Family and Gender
Based on research in a variety of societies, including Hong Kong and
Singapore, Wardlow and Hirsh concluded that there is a global ideo-
logical shift in favor of companionate marriage. Spouses are chosen
by each other, often on the basis of romantic love. Intimacy provides
the binding power between spouses, who are seeking companionship.
Personal fulllment, pleasure, and personal happiness are accepted
goals within marriage, at times even replacing reproduction as the
purpose of marriage. The marital relationship takes precedence over
ties to parents and other family members.
The companionate marriage ideal is part of modernization. The
ideological shift is linked to smaller families and longer life-spans,
which factors increase the number of years parents live without depen-
dent children. Moreover changes in the lives of women have meant
changes in what they expect from marriagefrom economic security
to personal fulllment.
The ideological shift represents a change to a
society in which people are experiencing individuation and coming to
accept individualism. This shift is being encouraged by popular enter-
tainments, advertisements, and even Christian publications.

Selina Ching Chan compared the marriages of women in Hong
Kong and Singapore who were married during the 1960s and such
marriages that took place during the 1980s.
The changes that she
found are consistent with the shift in favor of companionate marriage.
For the older group, marriages were arranged; romantic love was not
relevant; people got married to have children, especially sons; and
the jewelry given to women symbolized the transfer of rights over
these women from the natal family to the husbands family. All had
changed by the 1980s. Marriages now serve the interests of the couple.
Marriage has today been transformed from an event that was strictly
embedded in a large [patriarchal] complex family system to an occa-
sion that is largely taken charge of by the couple.
Today, wedding
Holly Wardlow and Jennifer S. Hirsch, Introduction, in Modern Loves, ed. Jen-
nifer S. Hirsch and Holly Wardlow (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2006),
131, at 8.
Ibid., 25.
Selina Ching Chan, Love and Jewelry: Patriarchal Control, Conjugal Ties, and
Changing Identities, in Modern Loves, ed. Jennifer S. Hirsch and Holly Wardlow (Ann
Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2006), 3550.
Ibid., 40.
116 joseph b. tamney
rings are no longer unilateral gifts given by the grooms parents to
the bride, but are chosen by the couple. The rings emphasize the
symbolic transition of both bride and groom from single to married,
and not the symbolic transfer of the bride from the natal family into
her husbands family.
As modernization proceeds, Chinese families are becoming more
similar to Western families. However, the two forms of family remain
different; for instance, the divorce rate remains relatively low in Chi-
nese societies.
An important empirical question is just how far con-
vergence will go.
The global womens movement, as well as the national movements
in Chinese societies, is also changing private life among Chinese peo-
ple. Womens issues have become politically prominent: equal oppor-
tunity in education and work, sexual harassment, and family abuse.

In addition, issues considered radical or Western are now being dis-
cussed in Chinese societies: the end of the cult of virginity for unmar-
ried women, the sexual liberation of women, the pressure on women
to remain in relationships with unfaithful husbands, and enforced
celibacy among widowed and divorced women. Discussion of the
aforementioned issues must contribute to the heightened awareness
of women, of the human rights of individual women. Indeed, only
recently in Chinese societies has attention been given to woman as
a category of analysis separate from class or kinship.
Generally in the scholarly tradition, women were to be restricted
to the home, in which the men had the nal authority.
But Patri-
cia Ebrey claimed that contemporary Confucian scholars accept the
ideal of gender equality. They do not want to reinstate arranged mar-
Ibid., 46. Men in modern societies sometimes use gifts of jewelry as a way to buy
wifely submission. The prevalence of the ideal of companionate marriage does not
mean that all marriages embody this ideal. Chan, Love and Jewelry, 48.
Madsen, Ethics and the Family, 293. Summaries of research about the chang-
ing Chinese family are in Tamney, The Struggle over Singapores Soul, 9596, 127140.
Catherine S. P. Farris, Womens Liberation Under East Asian Modernity in
China and Taiwan, in Women in the New Taiwan, ed. Catherine Farris, Anru Lee, and
Murray Rubinstein (Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 2004), 325376, at 365, 369370.
Vivian-Lee Nyitray, The Real Trouble with Confucianism, in Love, Sex, and
Gender in the World Religions, ed. Joseph Runzo and Nancy M. Martin (Oxford: One-
world, 2000), 181200, at 194. For a more detailed discussion of changing gender
roles in Chinese societies and of the womens movements in these societies, see Tam-
ney and Chiang, Modernization, Globalization, and Confucianism in Chinese Societies, 133
142, 142148.
J. Chan, Confucian Attitudes toward Ethical Pluralism, 133134.
the resilience of confucianism in chinese societies 117
riages, do not want wives or children to accept mistreatment out of
lial duty, and do not want widows to renounce remarriage. Feminists
sympathetic to Confucianism argue that the core ideas of the founders
such as Confucius and Mencius are worth preserving; supposedly they
may have been guilty of ignoring women or taking their status for
granted, but they never set out to denigrate or oppress them.

Joseph Chan has suggested that a modern Confucian approach to
gender issues could be built on these Confucian principles: women
and men have the same moral potential, education should be avail-
able to all, government positions should be lled using a meritocratic
But Chan noted the difculty of searching for a social and
political perspective that is attractive to modern men and women and
yet sufciently connected with traditional Confucianism to be worthy
of the name Confucianism.
I discuss three examples of how Con-
fucianism is being related to family life that represent the three forms
of Confucianism.
State Confucianism and the Family
In the Peoples Republic, Singapore, and Taiwan, governments make
reference to Chinese tradition or specically to Confucianism to justify
the primary dependence on the family to provide welfare services.

Thus these governments have used the traditional emphasis on l-
ial piety to gain support for welfare policies that are believed to aid
economic development. In all three countries, adult children, if they
are able, are legally required to take care of their aging parents. After
reviewing studies of the welfare policies of East Asian countries and of
Singapore, two social scientists concluded that the main use of Confu-
cianism was to legitimate the provision of limited welfare services, an
outcome that is consistent with the pressure coming from a capitalist
global economy.
Patricia Ebrey, Foreword, in The Sage and the Second Sex, ed. Chenyang Li (Chi-
cago and La Salle, IL: Open Court, 2000), ixxiii, at x.
J. Chan, Confucian Attitudes toward Ethical Pluralism, 144145.
Ibid., 151.
Alan Walker and Chack-kie Wong, Conclusion: From Confucianism to Glo-
balization, in East Asian Welfare Regimes in Transition, ed. Alan Walker and Chack-kie
Wong (Bristol, UK: Policy Press, 2005), 213224.
Ibid., 215, 221.
118 joseph b. tamney
However, social changes are not consistent with the welfare ideol-
ogy of Chinese governments. Extended families are in decline, and
more and more women are in paid employment. Aging populations
are increasing the demand for services at a time when families are
less able or willing to provide care. In addition, a growing number
of the elderly in Singapore, and perhaps elsewhere, are expressing
a preference to live apart from their children as a way of avoiding
familial conict. Sociologist Paulin Straughan said: Wanting to live
alone is probably a pragmatic reaction on the part of these seniors,
as they know their kids want to live by themselves.
Moreover lial
piety is less often perceived as an automatic duty. The tribunal that
hears cases regarding the parental maintenance law in Singapore told
the media that parents who neglect or abuse their children should
not expect their children to support them.
The changes taking place
in the family life of Chinese peoples may force their governments to
change their policies regarding welfare.
Traditionalist Confucianism and Gender in Morality Books
Civil society also inuences the development of Confucianism, for
example through the morality books, many of which are written
and published by members of lay-led sects. Dating back to the Song
Dynasty (tenththirteenth centuries), these books are meant for a pop-
ular audience. They prescribe moral duties and present them often
within a religious worldview, which may include Buddhist, Daoist, or
currently, even Christian ideas. Today they appear not only as books
but as audiotapes and CDs.

Philip Clart compared two morality books meant especially for
women that, he says, are representative of the periods in which they
were written.
One book was published on the mainland in 1921;
Quoted in Theresa Tan, More Elderly People Want to Live Alone, http:// straitstimes,5578,323855,00.html?/ (accessed June 21, 2005).
Tamney and Chiang, Modernization, Globalization, and Confucianism in Chinese Societ-
ies, 73.
Ling Chi-shiang, Morality Books and the Moral Order: A Study of the Moral
Sustaining Function of Morality Books In Taiwan, in State, Market, and Religions in
Chinese Societies, ed. Fenggang Yang and Joseph B. Tamney (Leiden: Brill, 2005),
Philip Clart, Chinese Tradition and Taiwanese Modernity: Morality Books as
Social Commentary and Critique, in Religion in Modern China, ed. Philip Clart and
Charles B. Jones (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2003), 8497.
the resilience of confucianism in chinese societies 119
the other appeared in Taiwan in 1989. Both were produced by spirit-
writings sects and were predominantly Confucian in orientation. Both
accept male domination of wives and are critical of divorce.
However, Clart found important differences between the two books.
Whereas the earlier book simply told women to obey their husbands,
the later book says that now obedience is a choice because women
are more economically independent, and so it is necessary to reason
with women to get them to accept the subservient role. The book
from the twenties focuses on the lineage, but the later book is more
concerned about the husband-wife relationship and stresses the need
for coordination.
The newer morality book expresses a minimal accommodation
of modernization. Wives need to be reasoned with because they are
more nancially independent, but men should rule the home. More
stress is placed on cooperation between spouses, but divorce is still
Changing Traditionalism: The Inuence of Christianity on Gender Relations
among Taiwanese Migrants in the United States
Based on his study of Chinese Christians in the United States, Feng-
gang Yang argued that the Chinese Christian church has become
an institutional base for passing on transformed Confucian values to
younger generations.
These Christians embrace Confucian values,
such as love (ren), lial piety, and family harmony,
and at the same
time provide a stronger foundation for them by relating these values
to supernatural expectations of humans.
In the process of passing on Chinese tradition, Christian churches
are also changing it. Carolyn Chen studied Taiwanese migrants who
converted to Christianity in the United States.
In part, the Chinese-
American church that they joined provided continuity with traditional
Chinese culture by reinforcing the importance of obeying parents and
respecting elders.
At the same time, their experience in this Christian
Fenggang Yang, Chinese Christians in America (University Park: Pennsylvania State
University Press, 1999), 51.
Ibid., 149150.
Ibid., 153.
Carolyn Chen, Getting Saved in America: Taiwanese Immigration and Religious Experience
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008).
Ibid., 200.
120 joseph b. tamney
congregation encouraged transforming tradition. Conversion was the
source of a new-found freedom from traditional expectations regarding
who they are as women. The Taiwanese women told Chen stories of
discovering authentic selves that transcend familial and societal de-
nitions, especially the patriarchal denitions of womens selfhood.

Some of them used Christian teachings to become more independent.
Chen described one interviewee as follows: After becoming Chris-
tian, her new identity as a daughter of God takes precedence over
her secular identities and legitimates her freedom to act outside of
traditional expectations, even if it means disobeying her mother-in-
In another case, the woman expressed her willingness to chal-
lenge her husband if he asks her to do something contrary to biblical
Chen emphasized that familial roles remained important
to these women, but they did experience more freedom within these
roles after conversion.
As Chinese women join Christian churches, even conservative
ones such as the churches studied by Yang and Chen, they are likely
to become a force for change regarding the marital expectations of
women, because these women tend to perceive themselves apart from
the roles they play in the family as individuals with rights. Chinese
Christianity may inuence Chinese culture, and therefore Confucians,
by weakening the appeal of patriarchal families.
Modernist Confucianism and the Family: Shirley Yuen
Shirley Yuen was born in Hong Kong and currently lives in the United
States, where she lectures and writes about parenting and child devel-
opment. Her book, The Three Virtues of Effective Parenting, is subtitled
Lessons from Confucius on the Power of Benevolence, Wisdom, and Courage.

Ibid., 111112.
Ibid., 122123.
Ibid., 128.
Women in a village in the Peoples Republic were supposedly attracted to Chris-
tianity because of the subordinate role of women in traditional organizations (When
Opium Can Be Benign, Economist, February 3, 2007, 2526); see also Tamney and
Chiang, Modernization, Globalization, and Confucianism in Chinese Societies, 174175.
Shirley Yuen, The Three Virtues of Effective Parenting (Tokyo: Tuttle Publishing,
2005). The book was published by Tuttle Publishing, which has distribution organiza-
tions in the United States, Japan, and Singapore. My son bought a copy of the book
for me in Taipei.
the resilience of confucianism in chinese societies 121
Benevolence is equated with ren. Signs of benevolence are respectful-
ness, forgiveness, trustworthiness, and generosity.
Self-examination is stressed as a way to ensure that the three afore-
mentioned Confucian virtues are applied in parenting. We must be
honest with ourselves and become aware of our feelings, thoughts, and
actions. At the same time, we must strive to understand others, such
as our children. Meditation is a useful tool. We must struggle against
a culture focused on externals such as success and recognition that
disconnects us from our inner selves.
Parents must learn to play three roles in their relations with chil-
dren: ruler (absolute authority gure), teacher, and friend. Which role
is played should depend on what the parent feels a child needs at
a specic time and place. Although at times parents must be rulers,
children should not feel that challenges to authority are out of the
question, as long as they behave politely. Moreover this aspect of the
parent should become less prominent as children grow into teenagers.
Familial harmony does not require sameness. Parents and children
need to accept their differences.

If the child needs support and companionship, the parent needs to
be a friend. When playing this role, the parent must allow the child
freedom. In Chinese families, adult children are sometimes ill at ease
with their parents because their relationship has been based on respect,
obedience, and fear. They are not friends. Parents need to remember
that when children become adults, the ruler and the teacher will retire,
but a friend will never need to retire and parent-child friendship
can last a lifetime.
Confucius is criticized for emphasizing authority-oriented groups.
Many Chinese parents use shaming too much, which is likely to dam-
age a childs self-esteem and self-condence. In democratic societies,
absolute obedience is not acceptable. It does not matter if you are the
president, the boss, the teacher, the parent, or anyone else in a posi-
tion of authority, you will be expected to be accountable for the things
Ibid., 120121, 19, 128.
Ibid., 12.
Ibid., 108; see also 65, 86, 89, 93, 109. At least two well-known Confucian
scholars, Ho Hsin-yin and Tan Sitong, chose friendship out of the ve traditional
relationships to be the model for social relationships. Tamney and Chiang, Moderniza-
tion, Globalization, and Confucianism in Chinese Societies, 2526.
122 joseph b. tamney
you do. Subordinates are expected to respect and obey superiors only
if they have earned it.

Filial piety traditionally forbade disrespectful behavior to parents.
But not all parents deserve respect, because they may have treated
their children poorly, abusing or neglecting them. Just like autocratic
sovereignty, or job loyalty, absolute lial piety is a thing of the past,
and todays parents should wake up and recognize that lial piety is
no longer an obligation for todays young people.
Filial piety can
result from tradition, a sense of duty, money, or the nature of the
particular parent-child relationship. The rst two bases are declining
in relevance. Money, at best, buys cosmetic lial piety. Only in a
parent-child relationship that has included friendship will the child
become the forever friend that will provide his parents with love and
care from the heart. In traditional China, regardless of the kind of
relationship they had with their parents, children were obligated to
repay their parents with care and obedience.
They had no option.
Today lial piety is optional.
This new attitude is not limited to American Chinese. As David
Jordan found when studying Taiwanese during the 1970s, among tra-
ditional Chinese, lial piety has been the supreme virtue. As passed on
in popular tales and family socialization, lial piety meant the unques-
tioned obedience of parents, the obligation of children to nurture their
parents, and the duty to express affection for them, especially while
mourning their deaths.
Jordans informants stressed that lial piety
related to the status more than to the personalities of their parents. A
child honors its father because he is a father, whether or not he is by
any other criterion a worthy person.
However, Jordan found some
evidence in the mid-1980s for the emergence of a modernist view of
lial piety as an emotion of gratitude felt toward parents (and parent
surrogates) because of their earlier nurturance rather than as a duty
owed to the status of parent.
The mainland scholar, Li Zehou, has
Yuen, The Three Virtues of Effective Parenting, 123125.
Ibid., 115.
Ibid., 116.
Jordan, Filial Piety in Taiwanese Popular Thought.
Ibid., 274.
Ibid., 278.
the resilience of confucianism in chinese societies 123
speculated that in the modern context lial piety will become volun-
tary, an earned reward.
These examples illustrate three levels of accommodation to modern-
ization. Yuens approach is modernist: She gives priority to abstract
values and redenes roles to reect both traditional and modern val-
ues. The parental role is less identied with authority, parents and
children should be friends, and lial piety is optional. However there
are important traditional ideas in Yuens book. As parents, she wrote,
we should focus on the well-being of our children and not be self-
centered. Sacricial love is called for by benevolence.
of course, are expected to make sacrices for their children, but the
equating of love with self-sacrice is part of the traditional outlook.
Modernization and Moral Crisis
Given all the changes taking place in Chinese societies, it is not sur-
prising that people talk of a moral crisis. However, not everyone per-
ceives the same crisis. Political leaders both decry business practices
that prevent economic development and public actions that threaten
stability. New Left intellectuals are concerned about social inequal-
ity, corruption, the unavailability of health care, and the absence of
democracy. Various kinds of critics lament the widespread worship of
money, gambling, and corruption.
There are multiple crises, which I will try to understand using the
modernization model. For some people, the mere fact of signicant
social change generates a sense of crisis. Given that Confucians of all
types believe that the tradition must be changed, they cannot meet the
need for stability. However, the traditionalists would be more appeal-
ing to those who are fearful of change itself because traditionalist ideol-
ogies provide greater continuity with the past than modernist ones. In
contrast, some specic problems stem from incomplete modernization,
Tamney and Chiang, Modernization, Globalization, and Confucianism in Chinese Societ-
ies, 54.
Yuen, The Three Virtues of Effective Parenting, 103.
Wang Hui, Chinas New Order, ed. Theodore Huters (Cambridge: Harvard Uni-
versity Press, 2003); Tamney and Chiang, Modernization, Globalization, and Confucianism
in Chinese Societies, 75; Ling, Morality Books and the Moral Order, 208.
124 joseph b. tamney
such as authoritarianism and familial abuse. Modernist Confucianism
would seem more relevant to the elimination of these problems.
Other problems are related to the capitalist form of modernity that is
currently prevalent in the world. Capitalist societies encourage selsh-
ness and greed in economic matters. They require consumerism and
social inequalities. How, then, do moralists deal with the crises stem-
ming from the capitalist nature of modern societies? Professor Kang
Xiaoguang argued that Confucianizing the Communist Party leader-
ship as well as the masses of ordinary people would lessen political cor-
ruption, economic inequality, and moral degeneration.
Wang Hui
claimed that ending such problems requires institutionalizing politi-
cal, economic, and cultural (media) democracy.
Yu Dan counseled
people to place less importance on material things and to concentrate
on spiritual development.
Yet other problems stem from the very nature of modernization.
Globalization and pluralism favor the appearance of cosmopolitans,
who are more likely to question their own cultural assumptions, myths,
and so on. While such questioning might result in openness to other
cultures, it might also lead to cynicism.
Deviant acts of all kinds,
such as gambling, are a likely result of the loosening of social control
that results from social processes associated with modernization, such
as increased physical mobility. Individuation seems always to increase
selshness and loneliness.
Since these features of modernizationglobalization, pluralism,
mobility, and individuationcome as a package, a decision must
be made to modernize or not. For instance, suppose we decide to
eliminate individuation. Such change would require eliminating struc-
tural differentiation and cultural pluralism. The latter condition, for
example, means that people are aware of alternative values and goals,
and thus pluralism pressures individuals to make choices. Moreover
individuation is related to characteristics of late modernity, notably
afuence (a signicant middle class) and the spread of tertiary-level
education. Late-modern people are more concerned about mental
health, self-actualization, and dening what the meaning of the good
life is once necessities are no longer an issue. Life is no longer deter-
Confucius Makes a Comeback, Economist, May 19, 2007, 48.
Wang, Chinas New Order, 174.
Tomlinson, Globalization and Culture.
the resilience of confucianism in chinese societies 125
mined by fate or tradition, but by us. Because late-modern individuals
are both no longer poor and powerless and have the time and training
to reect, they are more likely to seek personalized lifestyles.
we willing to eliminate structural differentiation, pluralism, afuence,
and tertiary-level education? Moreover, if we pursued the draconian
procedures necessary to eliminate individuation, we would also destroy
commitment to individualism, and thus to human rights. Is that what
we desire? Given the inevitable costs of modernization, moralists must
weigh them against the benets of modernization. If the decision is
to modernize, then the moralists must discuss how best to cope with
these unavoidable costs.
A problem such as loneliness may, in part, be a result of unique
features of American or European societies that are not part of the
modernization model. Catherine Farris has suggested that, although
both men and women in Chinese societies seek more autonomy in
the family, they will not seek independence in the American sense.

As in Farriss analysis, there is a tendency to equate individualism
with American attitudes about the individual. The American form of
modernity is probably distinguished by its emphasis on self-reliance.
Supposedly Americans believe that they owe nothing to any man,
[and] they expect nothing from any man; they acquire the habit of
always considering themselves as standing alone, and they are apt to
imagine that their whole destiny is in their own hands.
Americans more than other Westerners value independence. Mod-
ernization should not be equated with what seems to be a peculiarly
American, or perhaps Anglo-Saxon, form of individualism, which to
avoid confusion I prefer to call radical libertarianism.
Thus theo-
retically there is no reason to assume that Chinese societies will come
to accept radical libertarianism.
Farris believes the Chinese will continue to emphasize interconnect-
edness among people, as well as the rights and responsibilities attached
Anthony Giddens, Modernity and Self-Identity (Stanford, CA: Stanford University
Press, 1991).
Farris, Womens Liberation Under East Asian Modernity in China and
Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (New York: Vintage Books, 1952),
Tamney, The Struggle over Singapores Soul, 12.
126 joseph b. tamney
to specic roles.
But such emphases are not unique to the Chinese.
Around the world, people continue to value connectedness. For exam-
ple, the family is a valued institution globally. When a national sample
of South Koreans was asked in 2000 whether or not they agreed that
the ideal society is like a family, 87 percent said they agreed. Soon
after, the researchers were surprised when they asked the same ques-
tion in a Danish survey, because 75 percent agreed with it.
ever, while the family remains very important everywhere, there is
wide disagreement about what is meant by this term. The issue is not
whether people should be connected but what form connectedness
should take. The traditionalist response would be different from the
modernist response.
Consider the matter of divorce, which although relatively rare is
increasing in Chinese societies. Divorce is becoming more socially
In reaction, 180 couples took part in a renewal of mari-
tal vows ceremony in Beijing in 2004 before family, friends, and gov-
ernment ofcials as special guests. In front of a portrait of Confucius,
the couples declared that they would never divorce.
Divorce can
be considered a cost of modernization. The renewal ritual identied
Confucianism with eliminating the option of divorce, a traditionalist
Such an approach ignores the causes of divorce. Singaporean social
scientists suggested that reasons for the increase in divorce in their
country include the improved social status of women, which means
that if a marriage is not satisfying, women are freer to leave the rela-
tionship; changing expectations about marriage as people come to
expect marriage to bring happiness; and having more opportunities
to meet others via the Internet. As sociologist Paulin Straughan said:
Farris, Womens Liberation Under East Asian Modernity in China and
Geir Helgesen, The Case for Moral Education, in Confucianism for the Modern
World, ed. Daniel B. Bell and Hahm Chaibong (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 2003), 161177, at 162, 165.
State Confucians would take positions on the family similar to those of the
Winnie W. Kung, Suet-Lin Hung, and Cecilia L. W. Chan, How the Socio-
Cultural Context Shapes Womens Divorce Experience in Hong Kong, Journal of
Comparative Family Studies 35, no. 1 (2004): 3350.
Melissa Sim, Number of Divorces to 5,937 Last Year,
print/Prime%2BNews/Story/STIStory/ (accessed May 8, 2008).
the resilience of confucianism in chinese societies 127
So those who feel trapped in a loveless marriage are more likely to
want to exit.

Chinese-style divorce was a phrase used in popular womens mag-
azines in Taiwan to refer to people who stayed in unhappy marriages,
who were divorced in spirit although not in fact. Such marriages were
said to be the result of womens fears about economic security and
about being able to keep the children.
However, in the Peoples
Republic, as elsewhere, some contemporary women are speaking a
new personal language of self-fulllment, and their increased nan-
cial independence is allowing them to leave unhappy homes.

Divorce is a cost of modernization but it also has benets. People,
especially women, in unhappy marriages are freer to leave them. At
least in part, the unhappiness is a result of new expectations related
to the shift in favor of companionate marriage. One response to the
increase in divorce, then, would be to help people make the transition
to new family forms, thereby increasing happiness within the fam-
ily. Traditionalists and modernists would help in different ways; for
instance, the former, as in the contemporary morality book discussed
earlier, might try to save the patriarchal family, while at the same
time encouraging more reasoning and cooperation between spouses.
Modernists would emphasize a shift to equality. Quite possibly the tra-
ditionalists will nd a wider audience because their responses involve
a less radical break with the past.
Confucianism is resilient for two fundamental reasons: rst, it is being
adapted to modernity, and second, it is taking different forms that
allow it to meet different needs. I have given examples of adaptation
from different carriers of Confucianism: scholars, government ofcials,
popularizers in the mass media, morality books, Chinese Christians,
Quoted in ibid.; see also Tamney, The Struggle over Singapores Soul, 125126;
Tamney and Chiang, Modernization, Globalization, and Confucianism in Chinese Societies,
Ibid., 137.
Woo, Contesting Citizenship, 75, 69.
128 joseph b. tamney
and overseas Chinese self-help writers. In this essay, three forms have
been discussed: traditionalist, state, and modernist Confucianisms.

Traditionalists want to create a Confucian society: leaders would be
Confucians and Confucian values and practices would be supported by
the state. Traditionalists emphasize creating strong families and strong
states. The key virtues are lial piety and patriotism. Institutions are
hierarchical structures, lacking any mechanisms enabling subordinates
to challenge those in authority before a third party. Self-cultivation,
in this institutional approach, means developing ones abilities to carry
out the assigned duties within the family and the state.
State Confucianism supports those elements of the scholarly tradi-
tion thought to aid economic development (e.g., valuing hard work,
educational achievement, and lial piety) and those elements that con-
tribute to social harmony (respect for those in authority, patriotism,
and a belief in the superiority of Confucianism). Because traditional-
ist and state forms of Confucianism have overlapping traits (empha-
sizing self-sacrice for the family, nationalism), their supporters are
likely to cooperate. However, proponents of state Confucianism have
problems, such as overcoming a cynical view of their efforts, gaining
support for the portrayal of Confucianism as superior to other moral
systems, and convincing new generations that families should be the
primary provider of welfare services.
Modernist Confucianism gives priority to values such as benevo-
lence and pluralism. Dependence on moral experts is criticized. Yu
Dans democratization of culture is the ideal. The social goal is not
strong social institutions but the spiritual advancement of individuals.
Ideally individuals should give themselves a sense of self-esteem. They
should not be stressed out by the roles that they play. Modernists seek
to design roles in conformity with these values and attitudes. For
instance, while modernists continue to value lial piety, they see it as
a reward to be earned by family members who act with each other
in a manner that expresses reciprocity, mutual respect, and love.

The Confucian scholar Harry Hsiao proposed a somewhat similar typology of
Feudalistic Confucianism, Imperial Confucianism, and Junzi Confucianism. Jochim,
Confucius and Capitalism, 161.
Tamney and Chiang, Modernization, Globalization, and Confucianism in Chinese Societ-
ies, 53.
Ibid., 197.
the resilience of confucianism in chinese societies 129
Given the dynamic world in which we live, however, nothing stays
unchanged, and this applies to all forms of Confucianism.
In the past, the Xunzi strand was dominant in Chinese history.

Thus the stress on authority within Confucianism was more prominent
than the concern about mutuality in lived Confucianism.
Today tra-
ditionalist Confucianism is probably more inuential than modernist
Confucianism. It is the traditionalists who are most likely to be able
to help people cope with the moral crises that they are experiencing,
because the traditionalists provide both continuity with the past and
a way to adjust to the changing world. However, this advantage may
lessen with continuing modernization.
Little is known about contemporary lived Confucianism. How does
it differ among Chinese societies? To what extent does it reect the
different forms of Confucianism? Which carriers are having the most
inuence, and why? Is familism still the core of lived Confucianism?
To what extent is lived Confucianism helping people cope with their
sense of moral crisis and, if it is helping, how is it doing so? Research
is needed on these matters.
I have developed this idea with regard to Christianity in The Resilience of Conserva-
tive Religion.
Yearley, Two Strands of Confucianism.
Madsen, Ethics and the Family: China/West, 297.
Boston University
Without a doubt the movement called New Confucianism will have
an impact on the philosophical, spiritual, social, and ethical develop-
ment of global philosophy, although just what the impact will be is
still clouded in the realm of speculative prophecy. For instance, how
can a tradition in the midst of a profound internal process of reform,
renewal, and regeneration have an impact on other cultural regions
that do not share in any historical or social memory of a Confucian
past? Can modern New Confucianismand we must remember that
this in and of itself is a highly contested notionbe transmitted to
an alien environment such as Boston? What would be the dialogical
connections between the New Confucianism of Beijing, Hong Kong,
or Taipei and Boston Confucianism? The very question of the global-
ization of New Confucianism is complex in terms of the task of the
hermeneutics of retrieval and renewal within the intellectual matrix
of East Asia itself, not to mention conversations with those who share
different historical worldviews and inherited cultural patterns. Yet
globalization drives just such a conversation about the future role of
Confucian philosophy.
The following presentation is a research project about the future of
contemporary New Confucianism in a globalizing world. Globaliza-
tion will ultimately include ideas, as well as the myriad items of mate-
rial culture making inroads around the world. Anyone who visits East
Asian universities knows that this is already the case for the transmis-
sion of Western philosophy into Vietnam, China, Korea, and Japan.
We need to nd new forms of philosophical and religious imaginaries
and more encompassing and nuanced forms of cross-cultural com-
municative repertories in order to enable this modern transformation
132 john berthrong
of our inherited cumulative traditions, including the Confucian Way
(rudao ).
What will follow is a particular kind of presentation, a
thought-experiment in a cross-cultural form as one version of the reap-
propriation and re-visioning of Zhu Xis daoxue. St. Aquinas argued
that when you present the work of another scholar you have the obli-
gation to provide the best possible version of the argument; in fact,
if you can think of a stronger version than the one offered, you are
obligated to give your revised version in order to avoid simply attack-
ing a weak position. This is what I intend to do, although it would be
presumptuous to claim that I will improve on Master Zhu; rather, the
great Southern Song philosopher provides my point of departure.
However, I am aware how complicated and conicted the history
of Confucian discourse and practice has been in China, Korea, Japan,
and Vietnam. For instance, Hoyt Cleveland Tillman
has written with
great precision about how utterly complex and contested the history
of the Confucian/Ruist
Way (siwen ), or this culture of ours in
Peter Bols felicitous phraseology, has been. The history of Ruist philo-
sophical discourse as well as private and social praxis was not always a
pretty picture, to say the least, in terms of the actions of individuals or
the anticipated and unanticipated social consequencesphilosophical
speculation that in the Confucian case was often indeed designed to
inuence private and public social policy.
But in terms of the philo-
I have used pinyin Romanization except when citing sources that use the Wade-
Giles system.
Hoyt Cleveland Tillman, Reections on Classifying Confucian Lineages: Rein-
ventions of Tradition in Song China, in Rethinking Confucianism: Past and Present in
China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam, ed. Benjamin A. Elman, John B. Duncan, and Her-
man Ooms (Los Angeles: Asia Institutes UCLA Asian Pacic Monograph Series,
2002), 3364.
I will explain below why I have used the term Ruist as an alternative or
supplement to the more common English terms Confucian and Confucianism.
Professor Tillmans essay is also an apt reminder to students of Ruist thought of the
complex nature of the various strands of Song and post-Song philosophy. Moreover,
he further reminds us that even such a great scholar as Zhu Xi sometimes transgressed
the boundaries of scholarly propriety in his role as the editor of the work of others.
No one philosophy is ever what Whitehead called a perfect or complete philosophic
dictionary; and we are all made of, as Kant reminded us, the crooked timber of
humanity. Of course human aws, ambition, and lack of vision in no way diminish
our overall admiration of the work of intellectual giants, nor our need to stand on
their shoulders to try to see farther.
For instance there is little doubt that Song and post-Song Ruist philosophy could
not be considered positive for the lives of women. Of course, as my colleague Rita
Gross pointed out long ago, this does not mean that all Ruist philosophers after the
from beijing to boston 133
sophical thought experiment that follows, I hope to provide what I
deem is a plausible and intrinsically worthy revised and adapted ver-
sion of Boston daoxue. This is, of course, only one of many possible
revisions of the lineage of Ruist discourse that takes Zhu Xis daoxue as
its Song model. This experiment rests on the very large, and to some
objectionable, assumption that Ruist thought is what Robert Neville

has called a portable tradition, that is, it is a philosophical vision that
spread from China to Korea, Vietnam, and Japan and could and
probably will now move onto the complex stage of the twenty-rst-
century global philosophical republic of letters.
Exegesis and Extensive Elaboration
Scholars of the history of religion and philosophy have always com-
mented on a dialectical balance in the study of any cumulative tradi-
tion: (1) First there is exegetical piety towards the inherited tradition,
even when it takes the form of a strong rejection of the tradition. The
critic takes aim at a cumulative tradition and attempts to demonstrate
that it is wrong, mistaken, or unworthy in its current formand in
doing so nonetheless provides an exegesis of the traditional material,
arguing that the critics reading of the tradition is actually superior,
albeit hostile, to those who defend the tradition as some kind of ortho-
dox or inuential authentic deposition. In the classical period of the
emergence of Chinese philosophy, Mozi represents a prefect
example of this dialectical encounter via his criticism of the Confu-
cian betrayal of the proper praxis of genuine ritual action through
excessively lavish performances.
Then, of course, on the other hand, (2) there are the faithful exe-
getes who seek to carefully preserve as much of the inherited cumula-
tive tradition in as pristine a form and format as possible. Even when it
is embraced through this kind of pious rehearsal of the past, there is an
inevitable extensive elaboration of the cumulative tradition. Change
and some kind of creativity seem to govern the lives of all cumula-
tive religious and philosophical traditions. Various forms of expansion
Song were intentional misogynists. But it is fairly clear that Ruist philosophy could not
be counted as having an overall positive impact on the life of East Asian women.
Robert Cummings Neville, Boston Confucianism: Portable Tradition in the Late-Modern
World (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000).
134 john berthrong
or tinkering always happen as the tradition is passed down from one
generation to the next.
Take the famous saying about his position on tradition attributed to
Kongzi (Analects 7.1),
transmit but do not create (shu er bu zuo
). This rubric is taken to demonstrate the great piety of the Mas-
ter for the grand and cumulative contributions of the ancient sages and
the rulers of the Shang and Zhou dynasties. Yet as scholars have now
recognized, in transmitting faithfullyand we need harbor no suspi-
cion concerning Master Kongs aimsno one could have been more
creative than the First Teacher of the Ten Thousand Generations.
For instance, the famous discussion of ren in terms of the one thread
of zhong (dedicated loyalty) and shu (empathy) demonstrates how
even the most history-loving of exegetes expands or extends the mean-
ing of the inherited philosophical lexicography (Analects 4.15).
The same phenomenon can be observed in the Neo-Confucian

scholars of the Song-Ming-Qing period in diverse manifestations. Each
of the various schools that comprise this vast religious, social, political,
and philosophical Song and post-Song Confucian/Ruist movement
vied with each other in claiming that their particular school embodied
the true teachings of the classical tradition. Zhu Xi (11301200)
went as far as to perfect the theory of the daotong (transmission of
the way) in order to claim that true Confucian thought had been cut
off after the death of Mengzi, only to be revived in the Northern Song
dynasty by a series of public intellectuals whom Master Zhu considered
the masters of the authentic truth of the Mencian tradition. Based on
this understanding of the daotong, Master Zhu called this newly restored
ancient classical wisdom daoxue (Teaching of the Way), imply-
ing that it was the one true path of the Confucian Way/Rudao .
Needless to say, other great Song, Ming, and Qing masters, along
with some Korean and many Japanese scholars, hotly contested Zhus
exegesis of the classical tradition and offered a plethora of alternative
interpretations and transmissions of the Confucian Way.
This debate about what constitutes the main line of this culture
of ours continues down to today and is beautifully exemplied, for
Roger T. Ames and Henry Rosemont, trans., The Analects of Confucius: A Philosophic
Translation (New York: Ballantine Books, 1998).
As if the term Confucian werent problematic enough, Neo-Confucianism
may be even more variegated because of its myriad forms in China, Korea, Japan,
and Vietnam.
from beijing to boston 135
instance, in the work of Mou Zongsan (19091995) and his
brilliant attempt to reconstitute the true transmission of the Mencian
mainline of the Confucian Way for the modern world.
Just as was
the case with his Song, Ming, and Qing ancestors, there are those
who champion Mou as a true transmitter of mainstream Confucian
discourse and those who object to what they take to be his many mis-
takes and extravagant ights of exegetical and philosophical fancy
not to mention his fascination with Kant and Tiantai Buddhism. In
Mous case his main criticism is that Zhu Xi paid too much atten-
tion to the purely philosophical and external, scattered epistemologi-
cal issues of discernment of the exterior world and did not manifest
enough concern for the complex personal dynamics of genuine Men-
cian self-cultivation.
If this exegetical battle over the true orthodox transmission of the
way were not enough, there was and is the equally vexing question
of the potential international portability of the Confucian Way. For
instance, could a Korean, Japanese, or Vietnamese scholar contribute
to the emic transmission of the Confucian Way? On the whole most
premodern Chinese intellectuals were blissfully unconcerned with non-
Chinese Confucian scholarship. Yet in Korea, Japan, and Vietnam
debates about the Confucian Way were intricate and integral aspects
of the religious, historical, political, and philosophical developments
of all of these countries, especially since the fourteenth century. And
the question of portability now becomes even more complicated. Con-
temporary Chinese scholars have begun to take a much greater inter-
est in the Confucian Way as it was expressed in Korean, Japan, and
Vietnam. The reason for the easy appropriation of this material is
relatively simple: in the premodern era, Korean, Japanese, and Viet-
namese Confucian scholars wrote philosophy in literary Chinese, the
scholarly lingua franca of East Asia.
With the rise of New Confucianism in the twentieth and twenty-
rst centuries as an attempt, much like the great revival of Confucian
For an exhaustive study of Mou Zongsans attack on Zhu Xis philosophy in
general and Zhus daotong, see Matthew A. Levey, Chu Hsi As A Neo-Confucian:
Chu Hsis Critique of Heterodoxy, Heresy, and the Confucian Tradition (PhD
diss., University of Chicago, 1991). Mous thesis is that Zhu, by the power of his justly
famous philosophical synthesis, hijacked the legitimate Mencian Song mainline repre-
sented by Cheng Hao and Hu Hong. One of the sad outcomes, according to Mou, is
that someone as prescient and important as Hu Hong has been relegated to the status
of a mere footnote to the history of the development of Song philosophy.
136 john berthrong
learning in the Song dynasty, to reform and reconstitute the Con-
fucian Way for the contemporary world, the very question of the
relevance of exegesis and expansion or extension arises again with
a renewed vengeance. One of the most amazing questions among
many others is, Can there be something worthy of the name Boston
The answer to this complex question of portability, as Robert Neville

explained, rests on the related answers to two different questions. First,
how do we dene Chinese philosophy? In one instance it is the
case that Chinese Philosophy is simply philosophy composed at any
given time by ethnic Chinese, such as great medieval Buddhist scholar-
monks or contemporary Chinese academics writing about Heidegger,
Whitehead, Quine, Rorty, or postcolonial theory. Or it could mean
scholars writing about the contemporary relevance of Confucianism,
Daoism, Buddhism, or any other indigenous Chinese cultural tradi-
tion. Here the second question arises. Can a non-Chinese scholar
write about indigenous Chinese philosophical and religious traditions
in an emic mode? Would Chinese scholars, for instance, recognize
the great Korean Four-Seven Debate as Confucian discourse? In the
contemporary world the simple answer would be yes, and the proof
is to be found in the growing recognition of the brilliant contributions
of generations of Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese scholars to the
rich foliation of the Confucian Way. Therefore, based on historical
precedence, there is no reason logically to deny that the Confucian
Way could establish a branch or branches on the shores of the Charles
River in Boston and Cambridge.
While I hate to indulge in speculative prophecy about the future of
any religious or philosophic cumulative tradition, I see no reason why
Confucianism cannot play a role in the philosophical and religious life
of North America. Therefore Boston Confucianism may be a harbin-
ger of future transcultural developments in religion and philosophy in
North America.
Again, it is important to note that such an extensive transcultural
elaboration of the cumulative Ru/ Confucian tradition has already
occurred in East Asia. The rst fruits of this elaboration are, of course,
found in what is now called the New Confucian movement. The term
Neville, Boston Confucianism; and idem, Ritual and Deference: Extending Chinese Philoso-
phy in a Comparative Context (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2008).
from beijing to boston 137
New Confucian is used to designate and distinguish contemporary
Confucian thought from its ancestors in the classical, Han, medieval,
and Song-Ming-Qing periods, and also from the parallel, though
often highly divergent, developments from the fourteenth century on
in Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. Of course, the New Confucian move-
ment is already a highly variegated movement well into its fourth
generation of development.
Moreover, just as was the case with its
Song-Ming-Qing ancestors, some scholars relish the revival of Confu-
cian discourse and others rue the day when Confucianism might again
lay its heavy hand of ritual hegemony and outdated metaphysics on
the living body of modern China.
Even among the New Confucians and scholars sympathetic to their
aims, there is universal recognition that the world has changed dra-
matically again compared to the world of the great medieval and early
modern East and South Asian Song and post-Song philosophers.

The arrival of imperial Western inuences and political hegemony in
the middle of the nineteenth century forever disrupted all aspects of
religious, philosophical, cultural, economic, social, and political life in
East and South Asia. One of these changes has been the encounter of
Chinese intellectuals such as Xiong Shili, Liang Shuming, Hu Shi, Xu
Fuguan, Tang Junyi, Fang Dongmei, Mou Zongsan, Liu Shuxian, Du
Weiming, and many others with the Western theological and philo-
sophical world. The only comparable encounter of this magnitude in
China was the arrival of the Buddhist Dharma in China at the end
of the classical world and the beginning of the medieval period. The
impact of Western philosophy, for instance, has been profound and
massive. While most Western philosophers are almost completely igno-
rant of any East and South Asian philosophical history, all the scholars
mentioned above and their students, in various degrees, have acquired
a profound understanding and appreciation of Western philosophy.
Many of the second, third, and fourth generation New Confucians
have studied and taken advanced degrees in philosophy in Western
John Makeham, Lost Soul: Confucianism in Contemporary Chinese Academic Discourse
(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008); Thomas A. Metzger, A Cloud across
the Pacic: Essays on the Clash between Chinese and Western Political Theories Today (Hong
Kong: The Chinese University Press, 2005).
For instance it can be questioned whether post-fourteenth-century Vietnamese
Confucian scholars joined in the Neo-Confucian debates with anything like the verve
of their Chinese, Korean, and Japanese cousins.
138 john berthrong
universities and have often been visiting professors at prestigious West-
ern academic institutions.
Most modern Chinese philosophers can discuss insightfully the pre-
Socratics and the Yijing. I have heard wonderfully nuanced discus-
sions of Whitehead, Quine, Gadamer, Ricouer, Heidegger, Levinas,
and Rorty (among others) along with Mengzi, Xunzi, Zuangxi, Zhiyi,
Zongmi, Zhu Xi, Wang Yangming, and Dai Zhen in various Chinese
university settings. So in one sense, the grand experiment in transcul-
tural global philosophy has already begun. With the rapid political,
economic, and cultural rise of East Asia, it is only a matter of time
before Western philosophers and theologians will have to take as much
notice of East and South Asian modes of thought as East and South
Asians have achieved in the study of various Western intellectual tra-
ditions. One does not have to be a Marxist or a prophetic magus to
discern that intellectual interests will follow economic, political, social,
and cultural success in the global city of the twenty-rst century.
An Exploration of Boston Confucianism
One of the concerns that has constantly been expressed about the
viability of Boston Confucianism is that it lacks a crucial characteristic
that distinguishes it radically from Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese
Confucianism. This is the issue of the language of transmission. It has
been noted that in the case of the transmission of the Confucian Way
from China to the other countries of East and South Asia, the lin-
guistic medium was always classical or literary Chinese. For instance,
Japanese scholars during the Tokugawa era became so procient in
the study of classical and literary Chinese that they carried on elabo-
rate and sophisticated philological contestations with Song and Ming
philosophical texts in terms of the interpretation (or Song-Ming mis-
interpretation) of the true teachings of the classical Confucian corpus.
Korean philosophers were famous for arguing over the ner points of
Zhu Xis philosophy in a brilliant and creative set of debates about
critical unresolved issues in the massive deposition of Master Zhus
daoxue .
The use of classical or literary Chinese was the medium by which
the Confucian Way was transmitted in East and Southeast Asia. This
style of linguistic transmission is hardly likely to occur when the Con-
fucian Dao comes to the West. However, there are examples even
from beijing to boston 139
within East Asian intellectual history that can be deployed to counter
the claim that great cultural constructs such as the Confucian Way
must everywhere and always be richly and exhaustively appropriated
in the original Chinese. The case of Buddhism in China itself is a
counterexample. While it is true that some Chinese Buddhist scholar-
monks did develop facility with Sanskrit, Pali, and a variety of Central
Asian languages as the medium of the transmission of the Dharma, it is
entirely fair to say that most of the greatest Chinese Buddhist scholar-
monks worked completely from Chinese translations of the South and
Central Asian original texts. Few would deny the philosophical genius
of philosophers and religious thinkers like Zhiyi and Kueifeng Zongmi.
In the Western world almost all modern Western philosophers work
with the classical texts of the Western tradition in modern vernacular
translations rather than in the original Hebrew, Greek, or Latin (of
course there are scholars who do use the classical languages, but they
are in a distinct minority). Would we throw out the whole of con-
temporary Anglo-American analytic or pragmatic philosophy simply
because these thinkers, if they engage the pre-Enlightenment world of
Western thought, do so via modern scholarly translations of the pre-
modern Western classics? I doubt that we would do so any more than
modern Buddhists ignore Zhiyi and Zongmi.
Notwithstanding the importance of linguistic facility for religious
and philosophical thought, there has been a blossoming of scholarly
translations of various Chinese texts for the last century in Western
academic and popular circles. A modern Western scholar who devel-
ops an interest these days in comparative philosophy can nd access to
many excellent translations of all forms of Chinese philosophical and
religious texts. Therefore there is no reason to assume that a Western
scholar cannot play the same role within her or his philosophical world
as did the great Chinese Buddhist masters of the golden age of Bud-
dhist philosophy in China. However, I must stress that this is merely
a speculative hypothesis about what might happen in Western philoso-
phy if Western philosophers nally begin to notice the importance of
South and East Asian philosophical and religious traditions.
I have written about the potential benets of such an intercultural exchange in
Expanding Process: Exploring Philosophical and Theological Transformations in China and the West
(Albany: SUNY Press, 2008).
140 john berthrong
Finally, perhaps the most fascinating early modern example of this
kind of hybrid translation project is the Confucian Islamic philosophy
and theology of Liu Zhis Tiangfang xingli (Nature
and principle in Islam), written in 1704. This brilliant explanation,
replete with a set of diagrams, of a Confucian-Islamic cosmology is
part of Lius trilogy of works designed to explain Islamic philosophy
and theology via a highly sophisticated Neo-Confucian lexicography.
It functions as an Islamic daoxue, even though it is not a work based
on Zhu Xis Southern Song corpus per se. In fact one suspects that
Chinese literati from many different perspectives on Ruist thought
would read this cosmological work without hardly realizing they were
being presented with an Islamic vision because the creative fusion of
Ruist thought and Islamic themes is almost seamless. Of course, one
of the maps included among the many diagrams in the text would
introduce Chinese readers to a map of the world according to learned
Islamic geography from the early eighteenth century
which would
be something novel to a Chinese reader.
The Boston Daoxue Philosophical Imaginary and Repertoire
The noted French feminist philosopher Michle Le Doeuff
has made
the point that all philosophers have an imaginary, a set of deeply seated
beliefs, views, and metaphors
that govern how they think about the
world and frame their philosophical vision. In other works (both pub-
lished and forthcoming) I have attempted to outline what would be a
plausible philosophical lexicography of Boston daoxues imaginary. It is
an imaginary because it is not designed to present a historical account,
exegesis, or exhaustive terminological index of Zhu Xis vast corpus.
Rather, it is a concise lexicon or terminological imaginary of the
Sachiko Murata, William C. Chittick, and Tu Weiming, The Sage Learning of Liu
Zhi: Islamic Thought in Confucian Terms (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press,
Michle Le Deouff, The Philosophical Imaginary, trans. Colin Gordon (Stanford:
Stanford University Press, 1989).
Stephen C. Pepper made this point in 1942: see his World Hypotheses: A Study in
Evidence (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1942); and George
Lakoff and Mark Johnson have continued the analysis of the pivotal role of metaphor
in the construction of philosophy through a series of inuential texts: Metaphors We Live
By (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980) and Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied
Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought (New York: Basic Books, 1999).
from beijing to boston 141
Chinese philosophical vocabulary that appears in Master Zhus mature
cosmological axiology and is divided into four major domains:
Ti = States/Conditions & Coherent Patterns
Yong = Functions or Processes
He = Civilizing Cultural Achievements
De = Axiological Outcomes & Virtue
Moreover, this fourfold architectonic schema serves to link the vision
of the Southern Song master to the completely different world of Bos-
ton in the twenty-rst century. This philosophical lexicon provides the
raw material for the creation of a new form of Confucian discourse; it
is one that will be a distinctively new elaboration and yet conjoined to
its ancestor through a shared cumulative and expansive tradition.
Another hypothesis to test is whether or not other scholars will
judge the selected terms adequate and applicable in providing a cred-
ible cross-cultural parallel between the modern and revised English
and the traditional East and South Asian Neo-Confucian and
New Confucian philosophical lexicography. If the match is deemed
plausible, one very important step will have been taken in the creation
of a thematic lexicon for a new version of Boston Confucianism in the
twenty-rst century. The initial elaboration of a new imaginary is a
fruitful exegetical connection between the historical traditions of the
Confucian Way in its East and Southeast Asian home countries and
its extensive elaboration in new venues such as Boston.
The elaboration of the new lexicography is, of course, not a repro-
duction of a pristine Southern Song religious and philosophical vision.
Furthermore, there is a cross-cultural linguistic parallel in how the lexicon is
organized. I framed my rst formulation of Master Zhus mature cosmology in the
vague general terms of the fourfold pattern of coherent form, dynamics, unication,
and a moral goal. This terminology owes its debt to Western process, pragmatic, and
naturalist philosophy. These traits, terms, and metaphors that order and schematize
this repertoire of philosophical terms and concepts are generally drawn from the rst
six quan of Master Zhus yulei and various essays and writing from the wenji
and a careful comparison of the vocabulary of these sources with Chen Chuns
famous philosophical glossary, the Beixi ziyi . However, this vague English
formulation is not the terminology that Master Zhu would have used. My hypothesis
is that in Zhus own thought ti , yong , he , and de parallel the general vague
traits of coherent states (patterns), dynamic functions or processes, unifying cultural
achievements, and axiological goals and outcomes in the lexicon of Boston daoxue
In this case the English lexicon is indebted to pragmatism, American naturalism,
and process philosophy.
142 john berthrong
No retelling or elaboration could ever be. Chen Chun,
admired for
his lucid delity and insight into Zhus vision, still had subtle differ-
ences with the work of the master and added some elaborations of his
own. The great Korean daoxue scholars Yi Toegye and Yi Yulgok

likewise present us with an extensive elaboration of certain contested
points in the development of the lixue imaginary. Boston daoxue is
a modern
attempt to select aspects and traits of Master Zhus daoxue
and transpose this imaginary into a contemporary North American
cross-cultural philosophical speculative exploration. In this respect it
is both Neo- and New Confucian, in the sense that the faithful trans-
mission of the way daotong was a critical feature of Zhus mature
discourse and imaginary.
However, being incurably a child of the
post-Enlightenment world, I cherish creative elaboration as much as
faithful transmission, and hence feel the freedom and necessity to try
to nd a new voice for a revived and reformed daoxue philosophical
discourse and imaginary for the twenty-rst century.
What, for instance, would be a few relevant examples of the lexi-
cographical bridge between Song daoxue and contemporary Boston
I will select four clusters of traits from the Song and post-Song
Chen Chun (11591223), Neo-Confucian Terms Explained (The Pei-hsi tzu-I) by Chen
Chun (11591223), trans. and ed. Wing Tsit-chan (New York: Columbia University
Press, 1986).
John H. Berthrong, Transformations of the Confucian Way (Boulder, CO: Westview
Press, 1998); Edward Y. J. Chung, The Korean Neo-Confucianism of Yi Toegye and Yi Yul-
gok: A Reappraisal of the Four-Seven Thesis and Its Practical Implications for Self-Cultivation
(Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1995).
Or postmodern attempt, if one assumes that all contemporary comparative phi-
losophy is postmodern in that it moves beyond the connes of the modernist project
as dened by the Enlightenment.
My daotong will diverge dramatically from Zhus famous version. As generations
of East Asian and Western scholars have shown, Zhus daotong is what we might gener-
ously call a pious ction. My version will not be nearly so pious but is still intended
to indicate those thinkers I consider highly useful in formulating Boston daoxue. For
instance, Xunzi will play just as great a role as Mengzi in my version of Boston
The genre of what John Tucker calls philosophical lexicography has a long tra-
dition in East Asia. One of the most famous early examples is Chen Chuns glos-
sary of daoxue terminology. Tucker himself has provided excellent translations and
explanations of the Japanese legacy and adaptation of the genre, both pro and con
daoxue discourse, in Tokugawa Japan; see his It Jinsais Gom Jigi and the Philosophi-
cal Denition of Early Modern Japan (Leiden: Brill, 1998). In China we can remember
the work of Dai Zhen in the late Qing period and the contemporary work of Zhang
Dainian in continuing the discussion of the repertoire of key Confucian philosophical
semantic markers.
from beijing to boston 143
period that I think will be critical to a renewed global Confucianism
repertoire in the twenty-rst century. I frankly think it would be hard
to conceive of the future of any kind of New Confucianism without
recourse to these traits, and this would hold both for daoxue-style phi-
losophy and alternative formulations of the contemporary Confucian
Way such as that offered by Mou Zongsan. Of course, there are count-
less other aspects of Song and post-Song Ruist thought that must be
considered as well. As so many scholars have now pointed out,
transition to contemporary study of the Confucian Way is incredibly
complex and no one account can be considered exhaustive or norma-
tive for the entire range of Ruist studies and culture in China, Korea,
Japan, and Vietnam.
In terms of the lexicon of Boston daoxue, in the rst place we have
the hallowed notion of xue studythe Analects begins by remind-
ing us of the pleasures and necessity of study in the cultivation of
the person and indeed society as a whole. Kongzis praise of study
is literally the rst step on the path of self-cultivation, and with the
Neo-Confucians, the transformation of the entire cosmos. Without the
study of the teachings of the sages and the things and events (wushi
) of the cosmos, a person cannot begin to follow the Dao. More-
over, study leads to teaching ( jiao ; see below) what one has learned
in dialog with other people. If virtue loves neighbors (Analects 4.25),
then study and teaching love friends equally dedicated to the examina-
tion of the way of the sages.
A key question will be, What do we mean by study? For instance,
do we follow someone like Zhu Xi with a broad program of study
(daowenxue ) that includes self-cultivation along with a robust
agenda of empirical studies as well? Or do we follow the line of what
we might call therapeutic self-cultivation (zundexing ) identied
with the teaching of Wang Yangmingthe uncovering of our innate
moral mind-heart? This is, of course, the grand debate about how
to nd a balance point that recognizes both of these twin traditional
cultivation goals of the person in service to self, family, society, nation,
world, and even the cosmos. As Thomas Metzger
has pointed out,
Benjamin A. Elman, John B. Duncan, and Herman Ooms, eds., Rethinking Con-
fucius in Past and Present in China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam (Los Angles: UCLA Asian
Pacic Monograph Series, University of California Press, 2002).
Metzger, A Cloud across the Pacic.
144 john berthrong
the New Confucians are as committed to these kinds of goals as were
their ancestors.
Because of the persistent Ruist (, )
demand that study
(xue ) is foundational for any elaboration of the Confucian Way,
jiao as the function and role of teaching, education, and learning
will remain a prime process by which a person becomes a profound
( junzi ) or worthy (xian ) person. Sheng (sagehood) is held
out as the ultimate goal for a person who cultivates her/himself with
further education and self-cultivationthe highest and most perfect
state a person can aspire to achieve, though it is almost impossible
to achieve. Just how difcult it is to attain the nal sought-for end
of study and education as sagehood is always inscribed on the Ruist
mind-heart and memory because Kongzi never claimed to be a sage
or even a person who practiced ren (humaneness) consistently.
The root method of Ru/Confucian self-cultivation is the process
of learning, educating, teaching, reection, discernment, and authentic
ethical action. As we shall see in the section below on gewu, Zhus Song
daoxue specication of the proper methodology of xue (learning) and jiao
(teaching) is by means of gewu, the investigation of things. Agreeing
with but expanding Zhus broad scholarly interests, I would argue that
the path of learning is long and in fact does not end until death itself.
If we radically expand the range of the notion of daotong to include
reections on the ne arts, literature, science (both natural and social ),
medicine, political theory, ecology, technology, and in fact any and all
forms of human inquiry that conduce to the creation of a ourishing
human society set on a sustainable and viable planet earth, we have
added new branches to the robust root of Ruist thought.
As we have seen, the whole complex question about the use of the English terms
Confucian and Confucianism has become more and more troubling. As we have
also seen, one of the best suggestions for an alternative rendering is to use Ru
or Ruist for the whole complex as found in China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. It
is in fact what scholars such as Zhu Xi and Chen Chun would call themselves when
contrasting their Way with those of Lao (i.e., Daoism) and Fo (i.e., Bud-
dhism). Of course what we mean by Daoism and Buddhism is just as complicated.
I rather doubt that after long usage scholars will be able to replace Confucian as
a general term for a long, long time. But this does not mean that we can shirk the
obligation to explain the great complexity and even confusion that arises without a
carefully qualied use of Confucian or Confucianism.
Though Kongzi did mention that his favorite student, Yan Hui, did practice ren
for three months running.
from beijing to boston 145
Gewu , the investigation or rectication of things, was and is a
key (and highly contested) epistemological methodology for the exami-
nation of the concrete objects and events of the world and the inner
workings of the mind-heart. It covers both the outward examination
of the world and human interaction with the world. But, typical of
Song and post-Song Ruist philosophy, the examination of things also
included what we would now consider personal self-cultivation, per-
haps even going so far as to say that study and gewu had a spiritual
dimension in terms of the transformation of the person toward the
goal of becoming an exemplary human being. In terms of a naturalist
theory of human query ( Justus Buchler,
for example) the range of
what counts as things worthy of study is expanded in directions not
anticipated by Song scholars. For instance there is parity between the
reality (shi ) and concreteness of physical objects and social events.
In terms of moral epistemology, gewu is a crucial aspect of the regi-
men of personal cultivation such that the examination of things is
pivotal as the praxis of zhujing qiongli (to reside in reverence
in order to exhaust coherent pattern) in Zhus daoxue.
When a person
resides in reverence in order to exhaust [comprehend] coherent pat-
terns through a progression of steps that include study, learning, and
reection with gongfu as a structured moral and cognitive
effort, it is possible to transform a persons mind-heart (xin ) so that
the person can make real moral progress on the path to becoming a
worthy or authoritative person. Jing (reverence) is the marker for the
kind of sincere effort, a true reverence for the task of self-cultivation,
that is necessary to make the kind of epistemological and axiological
progress mandated in daoxue. Study, teaching, and the examination
of things are just three of the traits needed to reappropriate daoxue in
terms of contemporary global philosophy.
Of course, the process of study, teaching, and the examination of
things, in and of themselves, are not ultimate ends, but rather are
organic penultimate means to actualize zhishan (or yuanshan ,
Justus Buchler, Metaphysics of Natural Complexes, 2nd ed. (Albany, NY: State Uni-
versity of New York Press, 1990).
Of course it is precisely at this point that the great split occurs between Zhus
methodology and that of what is called the Lu-Wang School. While Zhu does want
attention given to the study of the external world, he is by no means unaware of the
need for the inner cultivation of the xin (mind-heart). But Zhu really does want to
examine the external world and not simply (as if this kind of Lu-Wang philosophy
were really simple, which it most denitely is not) to rectify the mind-heart itself.
146 john berthrong
the highest good) as the realization of harmony and centrality .
The ideal for a self-actualized (cheng ) person would be to become
a sheng ( sage)a theoretical ideal but in practice very difcult to
achieve; perhaps more realistically a junzi or a xian (worthy
or noble person) seeking harmony with tiandao (the supernal Way
of Heaven). The person who achieves such a lofty goal nds le , the
quality of true happiness or joy, and the reward of virtue for a Ru/
The notion of genuine happiness (le ) is vital. The nal ideal goal
of a revived Ruist philosophy as an expansive humanistic axiology
would be of little worth if it were not an object of genuine pleasure.
It must provide a true and authentic happiness for the person and a
ourishing and just society for humankind, as well as an ecologically
oriented moral anthropology in tune with the modern world. Boston
Confucianism as a global philosophy must be a joyful celebration of
the co-creative potential of heaven (tian ), earth (di ), and human
beings (ren ). Anything less would not be worth the effort involved.
As I mentioned above, a critical rst test of a thought-experiment
focused on the hybrid daoxue is to discern whether fellow scholars of the
Confucian Way consider the various items in the philosophical lexicon
necessary and sufcient for the task of articulating a new cross-cultural
contemporary Boston Confucian daoxue. W. C. Smith has argued that
theology and comparative philosophy are best done in dialog with
both etic and emic dimensions.
One of the marks of good dialog
is that members of a philosophical or religious cumulative tradition
recognize the tradition in a new perspective, either in an emic or etic
mode. The presentation might express a different, even startling, sen-
sibility, but nonetheless it is a vision that can be acknowledged as rep-
resenting noteworthy innovations germane to the cumulative tradition.
So the dialogical question is, Does the brief sketch of a revised contem-
porary philosophical lexicon and schematic architectonic for Boston
daoxue sufciently and plausibly transmit, elaborate, appropriate, and
represent a modern and globally expansive vision for the future? This
will be for the international Ruist community to decide. The second
anticipated step is to query Boston daoxues contribution to the emer-
Wilfred Cantwell Smith, The Meaning and End of Religion (San Francisco: Harper &
Row, 1978); idem, Toward a World Theology: Faith and the History of Religion (Philadelphia:
The Westminster Press, 1981).
from beijing to boston 147
gence of a truly global philosophical future for the diverse branches
of the cumulative traditions of the Confucian Way, in both East and
West. These are questions for dialog among philosophers, scholars,
and public intellectuals concerned with reection on the Ruist siwen
(this culture of ours). The debate about the future of the Ruist
tradition has begun in earnest in Asia. Perhaps the same will happen
on the banks of the Charles River as well.
David A. PALMER and Xun LIU
For the mainstream of Chinese reformers, modernizers, and revolu-
tionaries, as well as for many Western scholars of China, the twentieth
century was long seen as the twilight of Chinese religion in general and
of its chief institutionalized indigenous form, Daoism, in particular.
Dismissed as a crude assortment of superstitions, whatever remained
of Daoism after the effects of modernization could only be the exotic
remnants of an archaic Chinese past. And yet, as we begin a new
century and secularist ideologies are reevaluated and their utopian
promises put into doubt, Daoism appears to be playing an increas-
ingly signicant role in a variety of social and cultural developments:
it structures much of the revival of popular religion in contemporary
rural China; it provides a trove of symbols, concepts, and practices
for the elaboration of new intellectual discourses and cultural move-
ments aiming to revitalize Chinese tradition or to synthesize it with
modernity; and it supplies many ingredients to the palette of spiritual
and therapeutic resources popular in the West under the rubrics of
alternative medicine and Oriental spirituality.
This chapter is a slightly modied version of the introductory chapter to the
volume Daoism in the 20th Century: Between Eternity and Modernity, ed. David A. Palmer
and Xun Liu (University of California Press, 2011), which includes papers presented
at the conference on the same theme held in June 2006 at the Fairbank Center for
East Asian Studies, Harvard University, cosponsored by the Fairbank Center and the
cole Franaise dExtrme-Orient, with the nancial support of the American Coun-
cil of Learned Societies. We would like to thank all our colleagues whose contribu-
tions at the conference or at the preparatory meeting held in 2005 helped shape the
ideas presented in this chapter: Franciscus Verellen, Wilt Idema, Kristofer Schipper,
Alain Arrault, Adam Chau, Ken Dean, Prasenjit Duara, Fan Guangchun, Patrice
Fava, Vincent Goossaert, Adeline Herrou, Gai Jianming, Paul Katz, Lai Chi-tim, Lee
Fong-mao, Livia Kohn, Li Dahua, Li Yuanguo, Liu Zhongyu, L Xichen, Rebecca
Nedostup, Michael Puett, Elijah Siegler, Elena Valussi, Wang Ka, Robert Weller,
Yang Der-ruey, Mayfair Yang, and Everett Zhang.
152 david a. palmer and xun liu
These contemporary developments are a product and a continua-
tion of an evolution that has taken place since the late nineteenth cen-
tury, as Daoist practitioners, communities, and networks attempted to
survive, adapt, and thrive under the impact of ideological and political
campaigns, modern state construction, and global capitalism. The eld
of Daoist studies, however, has until now paid little attention to this
fascinating period in the history of the religion. An important reason
is simply that Daoism remains one of the least studied of the worlds
main religions; its foundational scriptures, rituals, practices, and early
movements are still not adequately understood and have thus drawn
more attention than modern developments.
Another reason is that for
too long our understanding of Daoism has been affected by two dog-
gedly persistent views. One has held that Daoism is a timeless system
of philosophical and ethical teachings that have changed little since
its inception in time immemorial. The other has viewed Daoism as a
religious tradition whose political power and cultural relevance have
declined irreversibly since the Song era.
These views partly derived
from the long-held Confucian view of Daoism, which privileged its
early philosophical classics over its later religious traditions, and partly
stemmed from the early Western missionary bias that regarded Daoist
spiritual and religious beliefs and practice as superstition.
Until recently these views have hindered a social scientic and his-
torical understanding of the development of Daoism during Chinas
late imperial and especially her modern and contemporary periods.
Since the late 1990s, however, scholars from various disciplines and
elds in the West and China have begun to focus on this gap. Using
multidisciplinary methods of analysis, historians, anthropologists, soci-
ologists, political scientists, scholars of religion, and sinologists have
investigated various aspects of the relationship between Daoism and
social and political change in the modern period. The new data they
For example, Isabelle Robinets seminal work Taoism: Growth of a Religion, trans.
Phyllis Brooks (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997), which is the only historical
survey of Daoism existing in English, covers the period from antiquity to the four-
teenth century CE.
The post-Song decline thesis remains persistent among many historians of Dao-
ism. See Qing Xitai , ed., Zhongguo daojiao shi [A History of Daoism
in China], vol. 4 (Chengdu: Sichuan renmin chubanshe, 1995); and Ren Jiyu ,
Zhongguo daojiao shi [The History of Chinese Daoism] (Shanghai: Shang-
hai renmin chubanshe, 1990). But the view is not limited to scholars of Daoism. It is
even more prevalent among historians of modern China. For example, the venerable
Cambridge History series on the Late Qing, the Republic, and the Peoples Republic
of China contains hardly any discussion of Daoism within its multiple volumes.
the daoist encounter with modernity 153
have uncovered through eldwork and textual analysis, and the fresh
perspectives and innovative arguments they have advanced through
their individual work, have opened our eyes to the history of modern
Daoism by creating a new area of inquiry for scholars of both Daoist
studies and modern China.
For example, Vincent Goossaert, in The Taoists of Peking and
other publications,
as well as his ongoing project on Temples and
has engaged in a pioneering study of Daoist institutional
history and clerical changes from the late Qing until the present. Xun
Lius Daoist Modern follows Chen Yingning (18801969) and his asso-
ciates efforts at reforming and reformulating Daoist inner alchemy
theories and practice in the context of rising nationalism, science,
and new urban culture in Shanghai,
while his Quanzhen Prolifer-
ates Learning
examines how a major Daoist temple in Nanyang
actively participated in modern social and educational reforms in the
late Qing and Republican periods. Kenneth Dean
and Lai Chi-tim,

Goossaert, Vincent, The Taoists of Peking, 18001949: A Social History of Urban Cler-
ics (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2007); idem, The Quanzhen
Clergy, 17001950, in Religion and Chinese Society, vol. 2, Taoism and Local Religion in
Modern China, ed. John Lagerwey (Paris: cole Franaise dExtrme-Orient; Hong
Kong: Chinese University of Hong Kong Press, 2004), 699771; idem, Daoists in
the Modern Self-Cultivation Market: The Case of Beijing, 18501949, in Daoism in
the 20th Century; idem, Quanzhen, What Quanzhen? Late Imperial Daoist Clerical
Identities in Lay Perspective, in Quanzhen Daoism in Modern Chinese Society, ed. Xun Liu
and Vincent Goossaert, forthcoming.
See a preliminary presentation in Goossaert, Vincent, and Fang Ling, Temples
and Daoists in Urban China since 1980, China Perspectives 2009, no. 4: 3240.
Liu Xun, Daoist Modern: Innovation, Lay Practice, and Community of Inner Alchemy in
Republican Shanghai (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Centre, 2009).
Liu Xun, Quanzhen Proliferates Learning: The Xuanmiao Monastery and the Mod-
ern Reforms in Nanyang, 1880s1940s, in Quanzhen Daoism, ed. Liu and Goossaert.
Dean, Kenneth, Daoist Ritual and Popular Cults of Southeast China (Princeton: Princ-
eton University Press, 1993); idem, Lord of the Three in One: The Spread of a Cult in
Southeast China (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998); idem, Further Partings
of the Way, in Making Religion, Making the State: The Politics of Religion in Contemporary
China, ed. Ashiwa Yoshiko and David L. Wank (Stanford: Stanford University Press,
2009), 179210; idem, Daoists and Transnational Chinese Society: The Circula-
tion of Daoist Priests, Three in One Self-Cultivators, and Spirit Mediums between
Fujian and South-East Asia, in Daoism in the 20th Century; Kenneth Dean and Thomas
Lamarre, Ritual Matters, in Traces 3: Impacts of Modernity, ed. Thomas Lamarre and
Kang Nai-hui (Hong Kong: Chinese University of Hong Kong Press, 2003), 257284;
Kenneth Dean and Zheng Zhenman, Ritual Alliances of the Putian Plain, 2 vols. (Leiden:
Brill, 2010).
Lai Chi-tim , Minguo shiqi guangzhoushi nahm-mouh daoyuan de lishi
kaojiu [History of Nahm-Mouh Daoist
Halls in Republican Canton], Bulletin of the Institute of Modern History of the Academia
Sinica 37 (2002): 140; idem, Daoism in China Today, in Religion in China Today,
154 david a. palmer and xun liu
through painstaking historical and ethnographic research, have recon-
structed the modern history of Daoist traditions within the broader
context of the religious culture of the Putian plains of Fujian and in
the Pearl River Delta, and traced the impact of the revival of Dao-
ist ritual among rural communities in South and Southeast China in
the wake of Chinas reforms. Several works on Daoist temples, ritual
specialists, and spirit-writing cults in Hong Kong and Southern China
consider the impact of historical and political changes of the twenti-
eth century.
John Lagerwey,
Wang Chiu-kui
and their collabo-
rators in Southeast China, Alain Arrault,
Patrice Fava
and their
collaborators in Hunan,
and Stephen Jones in North China,
in the
course of collecting oral histories and organizing local eld studies on
communal religious and musical traditions, have uncovered several
previously unknown local Daoist ritual traditions that have remained
alive until today. Yang Der-Rueys doctoral dissertation, The Edu-
cation of Taoist Priests, traces the inuence of modern educational
reforms and their impact on the Zhengyi Daoist clerical training in
post-Mao Shanghai.
Adeline Herrous ethnographic study of Quan-
ed. Daniel L. Overmyer, China Quarterly Special Issue, n.s., 3 (New York: Cambridge
University Press, 2003), 107121; idem, Hong Kong Daoism: A Study of Daoist
Altars and L Dongbin Cults, Social Compass 50 (2003): 459470; idem, Guangdong
difang daojiao yanjiu [The Study of Local Daoism in Guangdong]
(Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, 2007).
See, for example, Bartholomew P. M. Tsui, Taoist Tradition and Change: The Story of
the Complete Perfection Sect in Hong Kong (Hong Kong: Christian Study Centre on Chinese
Religion and Culture, 1991); Graeme Lang and Lars Ragvald, The Rise of a Refugee God:
Hong Kongs Wong Tai Sin (Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 1993).
John Lagerwey, ed., Traditional Hakka Society Series (Hong
Kong: Traditional Hakka Studies Association and EFEO, 19962008).
Wang Chiu-kui , ed., Minsu quyi congshu [Studies in Chi-
nese Ritual, Theatre, and Folklore], 80 vols. (Taipei: Shih Hocheng Foundation,
Project on Daoism and Local Society: Liturgical Structures of Central
Han Xins Revenge: A Daoist Mystery, directed by Patrice Fava (Paris: EFEO/CNRS
Images, 2008).
See for example David Mozina, Quelling the Divine: Thunder Ritual in South
China (PhD diss., Harvard University, 2008), and Georges Favrauds forthcoming
doctoral dissertation at the Universit de Paris-Nanterre.
Stephen Jones, In Search of the Folk Daoists of North China (London: Ashgate,
Yang Der-ruey, The Education of Taoist Priests in Contemporary Shanghai,
China (D.Phil. diss., London School of Economics and Political Science, 2003); idem,
The Changing Economy of Temple Daoism in Shanghai, in State, Market, and Reli-
gions in Chinese Societies, ed. Fenggang Yang and Joseph B. Tamney (Leiden: Brill,
the daoist encounter with modernity 155
zhen monasticism in contemporary Southern Shaanxi (La vie entre soi)
describes the revival and reconguration of inter-monastic networks in
a context of market reforms and state management of religious affairs.

David Palmers study of the qigong movement in the post-1949 period
(Qigong Fever) looks at attempts to reinvent Chinese tradition through
modernizing Daoist self-cultivation technologies, and their impact on
contemporary Chinese health care, sports, science, social life, and poli-
Elijah Siegler has studied the dissemination and transformations
of Daoism in American religious culture.

At the same time, the past few years have seen a rapid growth
in the scholarship on religion in modern and contemporary China.
These works have led to questioning of the longstanding narrative of
the decline and destruction of Chinese religion followed by its partial
revival in the post-Mao era, pointing instead to complex and intense
processes of constant reinventions and innovations of Chinese tra-
dition, in which the pivotal changes occurred in the very last years
of the Qing
and during the Republican era (19111949). Three
decades after the pioneering work of Holmes Welch on modern Chi-
nese Buddhism,
Prasenjit Duara, in Rescuing History from the Nation and
2005), 113148; idem, Revolution of Temporality: The Modern Schooling of Daoist
Priests in Shanghai at the Turn of the 21st Century, in Daoism in the 20th Century.
Adeline Herrou, La vie entre soi: Les moines taostes aujourdhui en Chine (Nanterre:
Socit dethnologie, collection Haute Asie, 2005); idem, Daoist Monasticism at
the Turn of the 21st Century: Ethnography of a Quanzhen Community in Shaanxi
Province, in Daoism in the 20th Century.
David A. Palmer, Qigong Fever: Body, Science, and Utopia in China (New York: Colum-
bia University Press, 2007); see also Xu Jian, Body, Discourse, and the Cultural Poli-
tics of Contemporary Chinese Qigong, Journal of Asian Studies 58, no. 4 (Nov 1999):
961991; Nancy Chen, Breathing Spaces: Qigong, Psychiatry, and Healing in China (New York:
Columbia University Press, 2003); David A. Palmer, Embodying Utopia: Charisma in
the post-Mao Qigong Craze, Nova Religio 12, no. 2 (Nov 2008): 6989; David Ownby,
Falun Gong and the Future of China (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).
Elijah Siegler, Chinese Traditions in Euro-American Society, in Chinese Reli-
gions in Contemporary Societies, ed. James Miller (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO Press,
2006), 257280; idem, Back to the Pristine: Identity Formation and Legitimation
in Contemporary American Daoism, Nova Religio 14, no. 1 (2010); Elijah Siegler and
David A. Palmer, Dream Trippers: Global Daoism and the Predicament of Modern Spirituality,
forthcoming; see also Louis Komjathy, Qigong in America, in Daoist Body Cultivation:
Traditional Models and Contemporary Practices, ed. Livia Kohn (Magdalena, NM: Three
Pines Press, 2006), 203236.
Vincent Goossaert, 1898: The Beginning of the End for Chinese Religion?,
Journal of Asian Studies 65, no. 2 (2006): 307336.
Holmes Welch, The Buddhist Revival in China (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univer-
sity Press, 1968); The Practice of Chinese Buddhism: 19001950 (Cambridge, MA: Har-
vard University Press, 1967).
156 david a. palmer and xun liu
Sovereignty and Authenticity, was one of the rst to evoke how the process
of modern Chinese and Japanese nation-building entailed a profound
restructuring of the Chinese religious eld, with campaigns against
superstition on the one hand and the invention of new forms of reli-
gion on the other.
These themes have been pursued in more detail
in studies of the anti-superstition policies of the Nationalist regime
in Nanjing, by Rebecca Nedostup, and in Guangzhou, by Shuk-wah
The continuities between the Republican-era state policies on
religion and superstition and those of the Peoples Republic of China,
and in forms of religious reinventions and recongurations spanning
the entire twentieth century, have led to fruitful dialogues between
scholars of both periods, resulting in works such as Mayfair Yangs
edited collection Chinese Religiosities
and Goossaert and Palmers The
Religious Question in Modern China.

We are thus beginning to understand how Daoism, as a set of reli-
gious institutions and self-cultivation traditions, has fared during the
profound social, political, and cultural transformations of the past cen-
tury. Studies are beginning to reveal how Daoist monasteries, lineages,
clerics, practitioners, techniques, and traditions interacted with modern
ideologies and social processes such as nationalism, scientism, gender
revolutions, state-nation building, and social and political movements.
We are even beginning to gain some insights on how modern Chinese
culture and society might have in turn been affected or even shaped
by its encounter with Daoism as a living tradition.

Prasenjit Duara, Rescuing History from the Nation: Questioning Narratives of Modern
China (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995); idem, Sovereignty and Authenticity:
Manchukuo and the East Asian Modern (Lantham, MD: Rowman and Littleeld, 2003).
Rebecca Allyn Nedostup, Superstitious Regimes: Religion and the Politics of Chinese
Modernity (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010); Shuk-wah Poon, Nego-
tiating Religion in Modern China: State and Common People in Guangzhou, 19001937 (Hong
Kong: Chinese University Press, 2010).
Mayfair Mei-hui Yang, ed., Chinese Religiosities: Afictions of Modernity and State For-
mation (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2008).
Vincent Goossaert and David A. Palmer, The Religious Question in Modern China
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011). Other representative collections among
the rapidly growing literature on religion in contemporary China include Yang and
Tamney, eds., State, Market, and Religions; Ashiwa and Wank, eds., Making Religion, Mak-
ing the State; Sbastien Billioud and David A. Palmer, eds., Religious Recongura-
tions in the Peoples Republic of China, thematic issue, China Perspectives 2009, no. 4;
Adam Yuet Chau, ed., Religion in Contemporary China: Revitalization and Innovation (Lon-
don: Routledge, 2011.)
the daoist encounter with modernity 157
This chapter is a brief sketch of the social history and anthropology
of Daoism from the end of the nineteenth until the early twenty-rst
century, with special attention to the interactions between Daoism and
the sociopolitical transformations of the modern era. We begin with
the question of labeling: In the absence of a universally recognized
Daoist orthodoxy, on what grounds can we consider a certain group
or practice to be relevant to a discussion on the theme of Daoism?
Having laid out some parameters, we continue with a brief outline of
the historical development of Daoism during this period. This leads us
to a few conceptual questions that need to be raised in order to frame
a social-scientic approach to the study of Daoism: Firstly, the issue of
modernityhow can we trace and understand how broader processes
of social and cultural change play themselves out in Daoism? And
secondly, the issue of analytical categories, such as religion, supersti-
tion, science, sports, and medicine, and how these categories not only
shape our understanding of Daoism but also the modern evolution of
the Daoist tradition itself.
The Daoist Label
When we consider what is done and said in the name of Daoism
today, we are confronted with a diversity of practices and discourses
that do not present themselves as a unied whole. Scholars of modern
Daoism are in broad agreement that Daoism cannot be limited to the
Quanzhen and Zhengyi orders. At the other extreme, the understand-
ing of Daoism should not be so broad as to encompass all of Chinese
culture, based on its purported roots in Daoism or its expression of
Daoist patterns of thought. The question lies with borderline commu-
nities and movements such as local temples, qigong, salvational groups,
martial arts, and Chinese medicine, which are not afliated to Daoist
institutions but draw heavily on Daoist practices, concepts, and sym-
bols, and often consciously engage with what is posited as the Daoist
tradition and assign it a place within a repertoire of other traditions
and discourses such as Buddhism, science, or Western medicine.
One way to approach this diversity without getting bogged down
in debates on the denition of Daoism, or on the degree of orthodoxy
of various movements, is to include in our discussion whatever is claimed
by the actors themselves to be Daoist, but not require that the Daoist afli-
ation be exclusive. The Daoist afliation may, in some cases, be weak.
158 david a. palmer and xun liu
Field research has shown that the lay clients of ritual specialists, for
example, are often completely indifferent to the religious afliation of
their priests; for the priests themselves it often hardly matters. Dao-
ism is usually only a secondary afliation of redemptive societies and
qigong groups. Westerners who sign up for courses in Mantak Chias
courses in Healing Tao may also be involved in Susm, Native Amer-
ican Shamanism, or other contemporary spiritual movements. It is
among Quanzhen clerics that the sense of exclusive Daoist identity is
strongestbut, in spite of its high visibility and (or perhaps because of )
its orthodox and government-supported status, Quanzhen monasticism
is perhaps the least dynamic of all the social forms of Daoismagain,
in stark contrast to its monastic counterparts in Buddhism. The result
of all this is that although Daoist ideas and practices are widely dif-
fused in Chinese societies and rapidly spreading in the West and else-
where, there is little sense of a collective Daoist identity or a broader
Daoist community encompassing all the different types of groups and
networks that claim a Daoist afliation.
Indeed, any consideration of the evolution of Daoism in the twen-
tieth century must consider the relationship between the broadly
dened tradition of texts, symbols, and practices commonly designated
as Daoist and specic forms of social networks, organizations, and
movements that consciously, but not necessarily exclusively, draw on
that tradition. In spite of the diversity of forms we might call Daoist
presented in this book, all draw, directly or indirectly, on practices
recorded in a self-consciously Daoist scriptural tradition, especially as
it pertains to ritual and liturgy, the cultivation of the body, and philo-
sophical textswhat Schipper has called the gene bank of Chinese
Much of the practical and symbolic content of modern Dao-
ist practices can be linked to this common scriptural tradition, while
the social containers of the tradition present a bewildering diversity.
Different containers draw on different components of the scriptural
tradition, mix them differently with elements of other traditions and
ideologies, interpret them in different ways, and associate them with
different sets of practices. With the onset of modernity and the appear-
Kristofer Schipper, The Gene Bank of Culture: Reections on the Function
of the Humanities, 1992 Uhlenbeck Lecture, Netherlands Institute for Advanced
Studies in the Humanities and Social Sciences (Wassenaar: NIAS, 1994); French edi-
tion, Kristofer Schipper, La religion de la Chine: La tradition vivante (Paris: Fayard, 2008),
the daoist encounter with modernity 159
ance of new types of social organization, new ideologies and forms of
discourse, and new congurations of social life, we see the appearance
of many new or hybrid social containers, each of which has been the
result of efforts to reform or repackage the Daoist tradition so that it
could better suit contemporary times.
What is of interest in these cases is not whether they correspond
to an essentialized denition of Daoism, but how their claimed links
to Daoism are constructed. Any group, movement, or discourse that
claimed an afliation to Daoism as part of its self-identity or genealogy
would then be considered relevant to our discussion. Such a denition
can just as well encompass rural ritual specialists of the Three-in-One
Teachings in Fujian and Canadian practitioners of Taoist Tai Chi.
The Daoist afliation need not be exclusive, nor even the primary
afliation of the group in question. Many Republican-era redemptive
societies, for example, often claim to incorporate Daoist practices and
teachings alongside those of Confucianism, Buddhism, Christianity,
and Islam, while post-Mao qigong groups typically claim to combine
the best of Daoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Chinese medicine, and
martial arts. To include such groups in the history of twentieth- century
Daoism is not to say that they are primarily Daoist; indeed, they should
also be considered in any history of Buddhism, Confucianism, or mar-
tial arts. Similarly, recent eldwork has discovered that many ritual
specialists in parts of South and Southeast China claim both Buddhist
and Daoist afliations; they are thus legitimate subjects for the history
and anthropology of both Buddhism and Daoism.
As we know too
well, rigid compartmentalization is simply not a common feature of
Chinese religion in its lived practice.
But discussion of, say, a temple cult or of qigong would need, to be rel-
evant, to consider how the temple or movement in question conceived
of and constructed its afliation to or relationship with Daoism.
How such claims are constructed, justied, contested, and diffused in
John Lagerwey, Popular Ritual Specialists in West Central Fujian, in Shehui,
minzu yu wenhua zhanyan guoji yantaohui lunwenji
[Collected Papers from the International Conference on Social, Ethnic and Cul-
tural Transformation], ed. Wang Chiu-kui , Chuang Ying-chang , and
Chen Chung-min (Taipei: Hanxue yanjiu zhongxin, 2001), 435507; Tam
Wai-lun , Cong Yuebei Yingde de nahm-mouh jiaoyi kan minjian fojiao
[A perspective on popular Buddhism from the
Nahm-mouh jiao rituals of Yingde, Northern Guangdong] Minsu quyi 163
(2009): 71115.
160 david a. palmer and xun liu
the modern era thus becomes one possible line of questioning that can
allow the comparison of a broad array of groups and practices within
a common historical framework. Indeed, the revolutions and transfor-
mations that mark the history of the twentieth-century Chinese world
have seen the breaking off of lineages and the loss of genealogies, but
also their reconstruction and their reformulation. While on the one
hand much has disappeared, on the other hand modern mass liter-
acy, printing, media, and information technologies have made possible
the dissemination and appropriation of the memory of Daoism to an
unprecedented degree, often in new forms and new settings.
A Historical Overview
For historians, the modern period for China or Daoism often begins
in the Qing (16441911), the Ming (13631644), or even as early as
the Song (9601279).
Here, however, when we speak of modern
Daoism, we simply mean Daoism within the modern period begin-
ning in the late nineteenth centurya time when Chinese society and
culture, including Daoism, began its intensive encounter with various
forces of modernity such as state building, nationalism, science, social
and gender revolutions, and Christianity.
By the late Qing, the Zhengyi traditionwhich claimed to inherit
the teachings of the Han dynasty Celestial Masters, and had been
privileged by the imperial state during the Minghad lost ofcial
favor and its social status was in decline. It did maintain an ortho-
dox status, however, with its hereditary masters conferring prestigious
ordination certicates on Daoist priests who visited their headquarters
at Longhushan, paid a fee, and demonstrated their knowledge of Dao-
ist ritual.
To have an ordination certicate from Longhushan was
a rare and highly respected accomplishment among the hundreds of
thousands of local priests who served the ritual needs of communities
See, for example, Lagerweys edited volume on Religion and Chinese Society (Hong
Kong: Chinese University Press; Paris: cole franaise dExtrme-Orient, 2004),
which denes the modern period as beginning in the Song.
Vincent Goossaert, Bureaucratic Charisma among the Daoists: The Zhang
Heavenly Master Institution and Court Daoists in Late Qing China, Asia Major, 3rd
series, 17, no. 2 (2004): 121159.
the daoist encounter with modernity 161
and temples throughout China, claiming Zhengyi but also Lshan,
Meishan, and other Daoist afliations.

It was the elite Quanzhen Order, however, which was favored by
the imperial state as the dominant, orthodox institution of Daoism.
In its idealized form a monastic community exclusively devoted to
spiritual cultivation and textual study, in reality the vast majority of
Quanzhen clerics were employed by small temples that lacked a strong
Daoist afliation. The Quanzhen label
was also claimed by a pro-
liferation of spirit-writing cults that received revelations from Daoist
immortals such as L Dongbin and Zhang Sanfeng, and had their
own lay priests who were not celibate monks but claimed a Quan-
zhen lineagea situation that was especially common in South China.
Texts revealed by these groups included manuals of inner alchemical
meditation, medical and ritual healing prescriptions, exhortations to
philanthropic deeds, and morality books. Many of these groups were
small and loosely organized, and overlapped with even more diffuse
networks of body cultivators, while others were organized on a more
permanent basis as philanthropic societies, the shantang.

Several martial arts lineages and traditions that appeared during
this period, such as the Taijiquan, Baguazhang, and Wudangshan lin-
eages, were based on Daoist practices and concepts of self-cultivation
and were loosely organized as networks of masters and disciples.

Also widespread were the salvational movements, often referred to in
the scholarly literature as the popular sects, which worshipped the
Unborn Mother goddess (wusheng laomu) and subscribed to an incipient
millenarian message.
These groups, the most widespread of which
See Lagerwey, ed., Traditional Hakka Society Series; Tam Wai-lun , ed., Min-
jian fojiao yanjiu [Studies on Popular Buddhism] (Beijing: Zhonghua
shuju, 2007).
Goossaert, Quanzhen? What Quanzhen?
See Vivienne Shue, The Quality of Mercy: Confucian Charity and the Mixed
Metaphors of Modernity in Tianjin, Modern China 32, no. 4 (2006): 411452; Joanna F.
Handlin Smith, Benevolent Societies: The Reshaping of Charity during the Late
Ming and Early Ching, Journal of Asian Studies 2 (1987): 309337; Yau Chi-On (You
Zian) , Shan yu ren tong: Ming Qing yilai de cishan yu jiaohua :
[Charity and Community: Philanthropy and Moral Education since
the Ming and Qing] (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 2005).
Meir Shahar, The Shaolin Monastery: History, Religion, and the Chinese Martial Arts
(Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2008).
Daniel L. Overmyer, Folk Buddhist Religion: Dissenting Sects in Late Traditional China
(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1976); Hubert Michael Seiwert, in
162 david a. palmer and xun liu
was Xiantiandao, practiced Buddhist vegetarianism as well as Daoist
inner alchemy.

The Republican period (19111949) was marked by the collapse
of the imperial social order, the construction of a modern state in a
context of civil and international war, ideological polemics, and cam-
paigns for cultural reform, which had a differential type of effect on the
various forms of Daoism. The newly introduced concepts of religion
(zongjiao) and superstition (mixin) had a profound impact, creating
a new standard of orthodoxy for Daoism. The monastic Quanzhen
order, which corresponded most closely with Western, Christian-
derived notions of religion, fared best under the new conguration,
although, as was the case with Buddhist monks, Daoist clerics were
under pressure to devote themselves exclusively to spiritual pursuits
and stop providing ritual services for communities. Such activities
clearly fell under the category of superstition, which was banned by
law in 1929 and was the subject of iconoclastic campaigns.
campaigns primarily aimed to convert temples into schools or govern-
ment ofces,
and, as described by Lai Chi-tim, had a direct impact
on the Daoist priests and ritual specialists who worked for those tem-
ples and their communities.
They were ostracized as mere peddlers
of superstition, falling outside the purview of the new discourse on
the freedom of religion. In this generally hostile sociopolitical con-
text, Daoists of both the Quanzhen and Zhengyi traditions established
modern-style national representative associations to defend their inter-
ests vis--vis the new state and to propose reform projects (which never
came to fruition).

collaboration with Ma Xisha, Popular Religious Movements and Heterodox Sects in Chinese
History (Leiden: Brill, 2003).
Jan Jakob Maria De Groot, Sectarianism and Religious Persecution in China: A Page in
the History of Religions (repr., Taipei: Cheng Wen Publishing Co., 1976), devotes several
chapters to Xiantiandao-related groups; other studies of Xiantiandao include Marjorie
Topley, The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious
Sects, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 26, no. 2 (1963): 362392, and
the ongoing research by Shiga Ichiko, Yau Chi-on, and Ngai Ting-ming (see the
forthcoming Minsu quyi no. 173).
Rebecca Allyn Nedostup, Superstitious Regimes: Religion and the Politics of Chinese
Modernity (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010).
See Goossaert, 1898.
Lai Chi-tim, Zhengyi Daoist Masters in the Pearl River Delta: Ruptures and
Continuities in the Transmission of Tradition, in Daoism in the 20th Century.
Vincent Goossaert, Republican Church Engineering: The National Religious
Associations in 1912 China, in Chinese Religiosities: Afictions of Modernity and State For-
the daoist encounter with modernity 163
It was outside of the monastic institutions and liturgical lineages,
however, that Daoist practices were the most widespread, in the form
of the redemptive societies that grew out of the ourishing spirit-
writing groups and salvational movements.
From the 1910s to the
1930s, offshoots of Xiantiandao such as the Tongshanshe, for instance,
disseminated neidan meditation to millions of followers,
as did the
Daoyuan, which operated the Red Swastika Society (Hong wanzihui ),
Chinas largest charitable organization during that period.
individuals, notably Chen Yingning, who operated outside of Daoist
institutions, also set out to modernize the Daoist tradition.
After the establishment of the Peoples Republic of China in 1949,
the redemptive societies were banned and ruthlessly exterminated
as reactionary sects and secret societies ( fandong huidaomen).
priests and ritual specialists fared little better under the land reform
campaigns and later during the collectivization of the late 1950s, when
they were accused of engaging in feudal superstition and ordered
to engage in productive activity. The large urban temples and
mountain monasteries were maintained, however, and with the estab-
lishment of the state-sponsored China Daoist Association in 1957,

Daoism was belatedly included as one of the ve ofcially recognized
religions, alongside Buddhism, Protestantism, Catholicism, and Islam.
Chen Yingning, with his credentials as a reformer and secularizer of
Daoism, was appointed as one of the early leaders of the association,
mation, ed. Mayfair Mei-hui Yang (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California
Press, 2008), 209232.
See David A. Palmer, Paul Katz, and Wang Jianchuan (Wang Chien-chuan)
, eds., Redemptive Societies and Modern Chinese Religious Movements,
double thematic issue, Minsu quyi 2011, nos. 172173. On the category of
redemptive societies, see Duara, Sovereignty and Authenticity, chap. 3; David A. Palmer,
Chinese Redemptive Societies: Historical Phenomenon or Sociological Category?,
Minsu quyi 172, 151.
Wang Jianchuan (Wang Chien-chuan) , Tongshanshe zaoqi lishi (1912
1945) chutan [A Preliminary Survey of the Early History of
the Tongshanshe (19121945)], Minjian zongjiao 1 (1995): 5781.
Thomas D. DuBois, The Salvation of Religion? Public Charity and the New
Religions of the Early Republic, Minsu quyi 172.
See Shao Yong, , Zhongguo huidaomen [Chinese Sectarian Societ-
ies] (Shanghai: Shanghai renmin chubanshe, 1997); David A. Palmer, Heretical Doc-
trines, Reactionary Secret Societies, Evil Cults: Labelling Heterodoxy in 20th Century
China, in Chinese Religiosities, ed. Mayfair Yang, 113134.
For an ofcial history of the China Daoist Association and its activities and poli-
cies, see Li Yangzheng , ed., Dangdai daojiao [Modern Daoism] (Bei-
jing: Dongfang chubanshe, 2000).
164 david a. palmer and xun liu
which was largely composed of representatives of the Quanzhen tra-
ditionwhich came to be seen as the only orthodox and legitimate
Daoist school.
After the interlude of the Cultural Revolution (19661976), in which
even the Daoist Association was dissolved and the monasteries closed
or converted to secular uses, Daoism, together with the four other
ofcial religions, was reinstated. The China Daoist Association was
re-formed and provincial and local associations gradually established
in most parts of the country, under the supervision of the Religious
Affairs Bureau. A process began, through arduous negotiations with
the government departments that occupied the premises, of restor-
ing Daoist monasteries to religious uses under the management of the
local Daoist association. The academic study of Daoism, which during
the Maoist period had been largely conned to Japan and France,
began to ourish on the Chinese mainland, giving Daoism a legiti-
mate place within scholarly discourse and giving rise to a generation of
researchers who, in a context in which most Daoist clerics were poorly
educated, acquired the role of exponents of Daoist politico-religious
orthodoxy, compatible both with textual tradition and Marxist ideol-
ogy. Chinese and foreign scholarship thus played a signicant role in
changing the image of Daoism from a heap of superstitions to a rich
textual tradition with a systematic body of knowledge and important
contributions to Chinese philosophy, art, music, architecture, medi-
cine and health cultivation, and local culture. All of this helped to
enhance the status of Daoism in the eyes of the Chinese statea status
consecrated with the World Daodejing Forum, held in Xian and Hong
Kong in April 2007 under the auspices of the State Administration of
Religious Affairs (SARA).

The post-Mao period also witnessed the revival of local temple reli-
gion in many parts of rural China, as well as the activities of unreg-
istered Zhengyi priests and other liturgical specialists. Although most
of these temples and priests still theoretically fell under the category
of superstition, being recognized as neither religious nor Daoist, by
the end of the twentieth century many had found paths to legitimacy:
ofcial Daoist associations in various parts of China began registering
popular temples and priests, and SARA began to consider the issue of
At the national level, the Religious Affairs Bureau was renamed the State Admin-
istration of Religious Affairs in 1998.
the daoist encounter with modernity 165
popular faith, while ritual practices were in some places designated
as intangible cultural heritage.
Daoist practices were also widely disseminated in the post-Mao era
through the qigong movement, in which mass transmission networks
of body cultivation techniques, led by charismatic masters, many of
them claiming Daoist afliations, were able to expand under the guise
of Chinese medicine, traditional health and life-cultivation practices,
sports, and the promise of a new paranormal science. Tens if not hun-
dreds of millions were exposed to Daoist self-cultivation practices dur-
ing the qigong boom in the 1980s and 1990s, until the crackdown on
Falungong in 1999 led to the disbanding of all the mass qigong groups.

Many qigong practitioners then turned to more explicitly religious forms
of Daoism (as well as Buddhism and Christianity)as did many read-
ers and viewers of martial arts ction, popularized by the best-selling
works of the serial novelist Jin Yong,
as well as Hong Kong kung fu
lms, which were often replete with Daoist themes and characters.
In Taiwan, the historical and political context led to a different con-
guration after the Guomindang regime moved to the island in 1949.
Quanzhen monasticism had little historical presence on the island,
while the Zhang Heavenly Master ed to the island and became the
chairman of the Daoist Association of the Republic of China, through
which the state hoped to control the Daoist community.
Many of the
redemptive societies had also moved to Taiwan from the mainland;
although most were banned by the KMT, they drew a wide following
and often secured legal protection by becoming members of the Dao-
ist Association. Overall, although there were restrictions on religious
activity prior to the lifting of martial law in 1987, they were light in
comparison with the mainland: Daoist body cultivation traditions took
a wide range of forms ranging from loose networks to the fully formed
new religious organization of Tiandijiao.
Daoist temples in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Southeast Asia played
an important role in the revival of Daoism on the mainland and in
See Goossaert and Fang, Temples and Daoists; David A. Palmer, Chinas
Religious Danwei: Institutionalizing Religion in the Peoples Republic, China Perspec-
tives 2009, no. 4: 1731.
Palmer, Qigong Fever.
On Jin Yong, see John Christopher Hamm, Paper Swordsmen: Jin Yong and the
Modern Chinese Martial Arts Novel (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2005).
Holmes Welch, The Chang Tien Shih and Daoism in China, Journal of Oriental
Studies 4 (19571958): 188212.
166 david a. palmer and xun liu
the spread of Daoism in the West. Most of the early Daoist temples
in Hong Kong were originally spirit-writing cults or branches of the
Way of Anterior Heaven (Xiantiandao), a lay tradition that is best
known for being the matrix out of which the Way of Pervasive Unity
(Yiguandao), the largest redemptive society in Republican China and
Taiwan, was born in the late nineteenth century.
In Hong Kong,
the trend has been for the Way of Anterior Heaven temples to be
progressively integrated into the Daoist mainstream, and for the larg-
est temples to abandon the practice of spirit-writing.
These temples
have nanced the reconstruction of Daoist temples on the mainland,
sponsored multilingual websites and international conferences, and
established branches overseas. They have become key nodes in an
expanding transnational circuit of Daoist funds, personnel, events, and
practitioners, a circuit that yet had little overlap with another global
network: that of Western Daoistspractitioners of qigong, Tai chi and
Daoist yogawhich grew through the followers of Chinese masters
who rst emigrated to North American and Europe in the 1950s and
1960s, dovetailing with the counterculture and New Age movements.

These masters and groups established their own training centers and
retreats and organized spiritual tours at Daoist sacred sites in China.

The Question of Modernity
Parallel to these developments at the level of organizations and prac-
tices has been an intellectual exploration of the potential contributions
of Daoism to contemporary public discourse. The issue of Daoism
and modernity has been the subject of several conferences and edited
On Yiguandao, see David K. Jordan and Daniel L. Overmyer, The Flying Phoenix:
Aspects of Chinese Sectarianism in Taiwan (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986);
Lu Yunfeng, The Transformation of Yiguan Dao in Taiwan: Adapting to a Changing Religious
Economy (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2008).
Yau Chi-on (You Zian) , Xianggang Xiantiandao bainian lishi gaishu
[Hong Kong Xiantiandao: Outline of 100 Years of His-
tory], in Xianggang ji Huanan Daojiao yanjiu [Studies on Daoism
in Hong Kong and South China], ed. Lai Chi-tim (Hong Kong: Zhonghua
shuju, 2005), 6673.
Siegler, Chinese Traditions.
Siegler, Back to the Pristine; David A. Palmer, Globalization and the Quan-
zhen Daoists, in Quanzhen Daoism, ed. Liu and Goossaert; Siegler and Palmer, Dream
the daoist encounter with modernity 167
volumes in China in the past few years,
fruits of a lively and ongo-
ing debate among Chinese scholars of Daoism. These discussions have
mostly focused on points of convergence between an abstracted Dao-
ist culture and modern needs and values, such as in the areas of
health cultivation, ecology, or ethics. But how did concrete instances
of practices and discourses claiming a link to Daoism interact with,
resist, or participate in the historical processes collectively referred to
as modernity, including ideologies, sociopolitical systems, and indi-
vidual subjectivities?
We may look at this question by considering several related but
distinct dimensions of the concept of the modern: rst, in terms
of modernist ideology, which self-consciously aims to bring about
a wholesale transformation of culture and society, dening itself
against the traditional; secondly, in terms of modernizationthe
objective changes that have occurred in society, culture, economics,
and politics since the late nineteenth century; and third, in terms of
modernitythe changing subjectivity and increasing self-reexivity
of individuals who live and experience the world as it undergoes such
At the level of ideology, in the early twentieth century Chinese mod-
ernism was especially hostile towards Daoism. Reformist intellectu-
als, inheriting their Confucian forbears disdain for Daoism, saw it as
emblematic of the thick forest of traditional superstition which needed
to be cleared to make way for the advance of modern science, which
was seen as Chinas only path of salvation. Daoism was only belat-
edly accorded the status of religion within the new organization of
See, for example, Ge Rongjin , ed., Daojia wenhua yu xiandai wenming
[Daoist Culture and Modern Civilization] (Beijing: Zhongguo renmin
daxue chubanshe, 1991); Luo Chuanfang , ed., Daojiao wenhua yu xiandai shehui
[Daoist Culture and Modern Society] (Shenyang: Shenyang
chubanshe, 2001); Guo Wu , ed., Daojiao jiaoyi yu xiandai shehui
[Daoist Teachings and Modern Society] (Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe,
2003); Zhongguo Daojiao xiehui Daojiao wenhua yanjiusuo
, Shanghai shi Daojiao xiehui , and Shanghai Chenghuang-
miao , eds., Daojiao jiaoyi de xiandai chanshi: Daojiao sixiang yu Zhongguo shehui
fazhan jinbu yantaohui lunwenji
[The Modern Interpretation of Daoist Teachings: Proceedings of the
Conference on Daoist Thought and Chinas Social Development] (Beijing: Zongjiao
wenhua chubanshe, 2003); Chen Guying , ed., Daojia wenhua yanjiu di ershiyi ji
Daojiao yu xiandai shenghuo zhuanhao
[Daoist Culture Studies, vol. 20, Daoism and Modern Life special issue] (Beijing:
Sanlian shudian, 2006).
168 david a. palmer and xun liu
knowledge, but, as was the case with Buddhism, only if it was purged
of its superstitious elements. These attacks did not fail to provoke a
response from Chinese traditionalists, who sought to preserve and
defend the national essence ( guocui ) in the elds of culture, philoso-
phy, art, Chinese medicine, and the martial arts. Common to these
projects was the notion that Chinese civilization is not only morally
and spiritually superior to Western culture, but also possesses within
itself the resources for strengthening the Chinese nation and restoring
its lost dignity. Thus, Chen Yingning saw in inner alchemy the key to
restoring the weakened body of the Chinese nation.
Li Yujie, a May
Fourth activist who became a politician and mystic active in Daoist
circles and nally founded the Tiandijiao (Heavenly Lord Teachings)
religious movement in 1979, is seen by his followers as having saved
China from defeat at the hands of the Japanese, thanks to his myste-
rious connection with the Dao at Huashan.
Both of these cases are
examples of how Daoist cosmology and practices are tapped to build
a concept of the Chinese nation. Such attempts typically draw heavily
on scientism, reformulating Daoist ideas in scientic terms and repack-
aging self-cultivation regimens into rationalized body cultivation tech-
nologies, thereby claiming that Daoism not only has scientic validity
but is itself a form of science that goes further in piercing the myster-
ies of the universe than the mechanistic methods of the West. Such
ideas were particularly salient in the qigong movement and have been
popularized in the West through best-selling books such as Kapras
The Tao of Physics and Gary Zukavs The Dancing Wu Li Masters.
compatibility of Daoism with progressive social ideals has also been
stressed by some advocates, beginning with Chen Yingnings reec-
tions on gender and his popularization of feminine inner alchemy in
the 1930s, and continuing today with a stress on the ecological orien-
tation of Daoist thought and practice.
Drawing on these elements,
Liu Xun, Scientizing the Body for the Nation: Chen Yingning and the Reinven-
tion of Daoist Inner Alchemy in 1930s Shanghai, in Daoism in the 20th Century.
David A. Palmer, Dao and Nation. Li Yujie: May Fourth Activist, Daoist Culti-
vator, and Redemptive Society Patriarch in Mainland China and Taiwan, in Daoism
in the 20th Century.
Fritjof Capra, The Tao of Physics: An Exploration of the Parallels between Modern Physics
and Eastern Mysticism (London: Wildwood House, 1975); Gary Zukav, The Dancing Wu
Li Masters: An Overview of the New Physics (London: Rider/Hutchinson, 1979).
See Norman Girardot, James Miller, and Liu Xiaogan, eds., Daoism and Ecol-
ogy: Ways Within a Cosmic Landscape (Cambridge, MA: Center for the Study of World
Religions, 2001).
the daoist encounter with modernity 169
the scholar Hu Fuchen at the China Academy of Social Sciences, a
student of the architect of Chinas atomic bomb and promoter of para-
normal research Qian Xuesen, has been advocating the adoption of
neo-Daoism (xin daoxue) as a new ideology for China in the twenty-
rst century.
At the level of ideas, Daoism has thus been recast by
advocates as a scientic system of knowledge and practice rooted in
ancient spirituality and mysticism, which is essentially compatible with
ecological and progressive social ideals.
Looking at the level of objective social changes brought about
through modernization, however, a far more complicated picture
appears. Urbanization and the associated changes in social structure
have radically changed Daoisms social base. In late imperial China,
social life was largely structured through the ritual life of families, lin-
eages, and corporate and territorial communities; Daoist priests (along-
side Buddhist monks, Confucian ritualists, and others) were among
the most widespread types of ritual specialists. In both cities and vil-
lages, most people, even if they did not identify themselves as Daoist,
regularly participated in rituals ofciated by Daoists; thus Kristofer
Schipper has argued that Daoism provided the liturgical structures
of Chinese society.

Daoism was thus an integral part of the dense fabric of local com-
munity, with its lineages, its guilds, and its neighborhood and temple
associations, in which everyone took parta type of traditional com-
munity life that has largely disappeared in most of the cities where the
majority of the Chinese people now live. Even in Hong Kong, where
Daoist priests were never persecuted as they had been on the mainland
during much of the twentieth century, and have, as described by Lai
preserved the historical continuity of the Heavenly Masters
tradition, the Zhengyi priests now operate primarily in the indigenous
villages of the New Territories and the outlying islands, while the vast
majority of the inhabitants, living in dense apartment blocks, have no
Hu Fuchen , 21 shiji de xin daoxue wenhua zhanlue 21
[A Cultural Strategy for Neo-Daoist Studies in the 21st Century], in Daoxue
tonglun [Daoist Studies], ed. Hu Fuchen & L Xichen (Beijing: Shehui kexue
wenxian chubanshe, 2004), 716744.
Kristofer Schipper, The Daoist Body, trans. Karen C. Duval (Berkeley and Los
Angeles: University of California Press, 1993), 220 n. 33; idem, Structures liturgiques
et socit civile Pkin, Sanjiao wenxian 1 (1997): 923.
Lai Chi-tim, Zhengyi Daoist Masters in the Pearl River Delta: Ruptures and
Continuities in the Transmission of Tradition, in Daoism in the 20th Century.
170 david a. palmer and xun liu
contact with them or their rituals, save at funeral services, which are
centralized at two locations in the city and offer a choice of standard-
ized funeral packages, one of which includes a Daoist service.
Shanghai, Hangzhou, and other large cities, the number of Daoist
priests is increasing, but their current repertoire of services is not as
extensive as it was prior to 1949.

To be sure, in many parts of rural China, as described in Kenneth
Deans work, liturgical Daoism is resilient, even ourishing in some
areas, and has fully integrated the nancial, technological, and cul-
tural resources offered by modernity, with priests plying transnational
circuits connecting mainland and diasporic temples. But in the urban
context, where the majority of Chinese now live, what remains of litur-
gical Daoism are but residual fragments of a once mighty tradition.
The type of Daoism that urban residents are likely to encounter
besides exposure to the Daodejing and Daoist themes in martial arts
lms and novelsis characterized by its self-cultivation technologies.
Be it through qigong, martial arts, taijiquan, inner alchemy, or medita-
tion techniques promoted by new religious movements, this type of
Daoism ts well with modern urban lifestyles, with their individual-
ized life trajectories and concern for the care of the body. Whether
through redemptive societies, mass qigong organizations, new religious
movements or looser networks of adepts,
or even commercialized
Daoist body cultivation traditions have been promoted in
a wide diversity of forms and social settings, both in the Chinese world
and abroad.
Another key feature of modern life is the pervasive expansion of cap-
italism. In this area, it has been easy for Daoist practices, be they ritual
services or body cultivation techniques, to be offered in a commercial
context: as argued by Goossaert, a self-cultivation market has long
existed in China, with masters of self-cultivation techniques competing
against each other to offer their services to spiritual seekers;
the same
Chan Yuk Wah, Packaging Tradition: Chinese Death Management in Urban
Hong Kong, Asian Anthropology 2 (2003): 139160.
Yang Der-ruey, The Changing Economy; Goossaert and Fang, Temples and
See Lee Fongmao, Transmission and Innovation: The Modernization of Daoist
Inner Alchemy in Post-War Taiwan, in Daoism in the 20th Century.
See Elijah Siegler, Daoism beyond Modernity: The Healing Tao as Postmod-
ern Movement, in Daoism in the 20th Century.
Goossaert, Daoists in the Modern Self-Cultivation Market.
the daoist encounter with modernity 171
holds for priests offering their ritual services, for a fee, to communities
and temples willing to hire them. What has changed in the twentieth
century has been the forms of organization, marketing, and packaging
adopted by some groups, especially in the realm of qigong and body
cultivation regimens.
It might appear, then, that, having survived decades of ideological
and political assaults, Daoisms encounter with modernity is nally
turning out to be more than a process of victimization and perse-
cution. Indeed, it promises to be a more optimistic experience than
might have been expected. Liturgical Daoism ourishes in some areas
where its social base continues to exist; Daoist teachings offer the pos-
sibility of marrying tradition and spirituality with avant-garde science,
and are compatible with environmentalism and progressive social
principles; Daoist health and meditation techniques are well-adapted
to modern life, offering a form of individual spirituality grounded in
the care of the body that can be practiced by people of any cultural
background; they lend themselves easily to commercial dissemination,
and can be practiced in a wide variety of formats, from isolated indi-
vidual practice and one-off retreats and courses, to more structured
membership in religious communities.
Categorizing Daoism
But if that is the case, why is Daoist identity so weak? After all, in
China Daoism has by far the lowest number of self-identied followers
a number that is dwarfed by the rapid growth in the number of those
who identify as Christians and Buddhists.
The immediate explana-
tion of this problem is simply that Daoism is not a mass religion and
does not require formal membership in the way Christianity or Islam
do. The same, however, was true of Buddhism in traditional China,
but by the late twentieth century growing numbers of lay Chinese had
identied themselves as Buddhists, a trend that began in Taiwan and
In recent surveys in urban China, less than 1% of respondents identied them-
selves as Daoists, compared with almost 4% of Christians and 1116% of Buddhists.
For a discussion of these surveys, see Benot Vermander, Religious Revival and Exit
from Religion, China Perspectives 2009, no. 4: 56.
172 david a. palmer and xun liu
has spread to Singapore, Hong Kong, and mainland China.
explanation for this phenomenon is the success of the modern Bud-
dhist movements such as Foguangshan and Tzu Chi, which have cre-
ated viable paths of Buddhist identication for masses of lay people.

And yet, there is no shortage of modern mass movements that have a
strong Daoist content or inspiration, from redemptive societies to qigong
movements to new religious groups like Tiandijiaobut few of these
groups have claimed a dominant Daoist identity, thereby offering a
path for mass identication to Daoism. Another historical explanation
might be that Daoism never underwent a robust and expansive lay-
centered activist revival movement in its name in the early twentieth
century, as its Buddhist counterpart had.
This question remains to be further explored and debated, but any
discussion needs to consider the role of modern categories in shaping
not only debates on the nature of Daoism, but also the forms of relat-
ing to and identifying with the Daoist tradition. Indeed, a crucial fac-
tor in the diverse trajectories of different Daoist practices and networks
through the twentieth century has been the classication, by both the
emerging modern state and reform-minded intellectuals within and
outside Daoist circles, of the tradition within sets of exclusive categories
imported from the West in the early 1900sclassications that could
have signicant legal and political consequences. One of the rst of
these sets of categories was religion and superstitionin which, from
Republican China until today, the former is regarded by the intellec-
tual elite as having some degree of legitimacy, while the latter should
be stamped out. For Daoism to be recognized as a religion at all, and
thus for its institutions and temples to enjoy legal protection, was not
a given: both in the Republican period and in the PRC, Daoism was
In Taiwan, by the 1990s, surveys indicated that between 26% and 38% of Tai-
wanese identied as Buddhist. See Hsin-Huang Michael Hsiao and David Schak,
Taiwans Socially Engaged Buddhist Groups, China Perspectives 59 (2005): 4355.
Among the Chinese of Singapore, the number of self-identied Buddhists increased
from 34.3% to 53.6% between 1980 and 2000, while the number of Taoists (a
survey category including all forms of Chinese popular religion) declined from 38.2%
to 10.8%. See Chee Kiong Tong, Rationalizing Religion: Religious Conversion, Revivalism,
and Competition in Singapore Society (Leiden: Brill, 2007), 63.
See Richard Madsen, Democracys Dharma: Religious Renaissance and Political Devel-
opment in Taiwan (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2007);
C. Julia Huang, Charisma and Compassion: Cheng Yen and the Buddhist Tzu Chi Movement
(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008).
Welch, The Buddhist Revival.
the daoist encounter with modernity 173
almost forgotten when the state indentied which religions would
enjoy ofcial recognition. Claiming Daoism as a legitimate religion
involved purging it of its superstitious elementspractically and
politically speaking, this meant further stigmatizing liturgical Daoism
and favoring the more other-worldly Quanzhen.
But religion was not necessarily the preferred category of all those
who engaged in or drew on the Daoist tradition. In the case of redemp-
tive societies, for instance, while some, such as Tiandijiao, explicitly tried
to present themselves as fully edged religions, with their own scriptures,
priesthood, hymns, and rituals, others, such as the Daoyuan, rejected
the exclusivist connotations of the religion concept. For some indi-
vidual reformers such as Chen Yingning, who promoted the notion of
immortalist studies (xianxue), and for many qigong groups, which aimed
to create a new somatic science (renti kexue), the goal was to see the
Daoist tradition as part of a scientic and not religious project. These
scientic approaches implied an emphasis on body technologies and
rational cosmology, and the discarding of rituals and divinities. And then
there was the Western-style academic institution, which saw a place for
Daoism in philosophy departmentsbut this required making a dis-
tinction between a so-called philosophical Daoism, based on abstract
speculations and divorced from any form of practice, and religious
Daoism, which became a catch-all term for everything that wasnt rel-
evant to Western philosophical discourse. Other groups have stressed
the medical, sports, cultural, heritage, or touristic nature or value of
Daoist traditionscategorizations which, in the PRC, could make it
easier to promote them, but also implied eliminating, circumscribing, or
commodifying the elements of worship and community associated with
Daoism. And in the West, Daoism is often pursued under the category
of spirituality, which is seen as a way to avoid not only organized
religion, but any kind of obedience to master, lineage, tradition, or
precept, in a consumer-oriented spiritual supermarket.
All of these categories were narrower than the Daoist tradition itself,
which had come into being and achieved a stable form long before
the introduction of categories from the West in the early twentieth
century. Their application to Daoism, then, inevitably led scholars to
divide, cut, and sort elements of Daoism in ways that were not natural
to the tradition itselfleading to endless controversies and debates,
and to a profound tearing apart of the fabric of the traditioneven if,
ultimately, it was impossible to neatly separate the religious, super-
stitious, scientic, medical, or cultural aspects of Daoism.
174 david a. palmer and xun liu
The history and sociology of modern Daoism thus largely intersects
with the story of how an array of containers of the tradition have
appeared, evolved, and been categorized in changing sociopolitical
contexts, in the form of different types of social groups, congurations
of practices, and conceptual and symbolic formulations. The lack of a
strong identity and sense of community, coupled with the easy com-
mercialization of Daoist practices, has turned the Daoist tradition into
a storehouse of cultural resources, available to any and all who wish to
delve into it, to mine gems from it, to sell or buy from it, and to pack
it into new containers.
Fang Litian
Renmin University of China
In the global modernization process, does Chinese Buddhist philoso-
phy still have any value for contemporary society? If so, what is its
modern value? This is a question that researchers of Chinese Buddhist
philosophy must answer. Only after we reconstruct the value of Bud-
dhism can it achieve full vitality. What modern transformation do we
need to perform in order to reestablish the modern value of Chinese
Buddhist philosophy and let its modern function be actualized? This
is a question that researchers of Chinese Buddhist philosophy should
answer and explain.
Buddhism, which offers a way of deliverance relevant to the ulti-
mate concerns of mankind, is an enormous system of beliefs, philoso-
phy, and values. Buddhism has had billions of believers in its long
history of more than twenty-ve hundred years, including more than
two thousand years in China. This shows the lasting vitality and eter-
nal value of Buddhism. But we should also recognize that how Bud-
dhism should reestablish its value and develop its function in the future
is both a tremendous problem of theory and a serious and urgent
problem of practice.
The fate of Buddhism depends on its caring for society. The mod-
ern value of Buddhism depends on its function in the human society
of the twenty-rst century. Since man parted ways with apes, human
society has made unprecedented progress. In our time of constant
progress, however, men have also developed the means to destroy the
earth and nature. The progress of human society should be credited
to mankind, and so should the threat that endangers the existence
and development of human society. In the meantime, we should also
recognize that modernization has an impact on many aspects of our
material life, institutional regulations, and thoughts. Human society
today faces the problems of a crisis in belief, moral decline, and loss
of conscience, which collectively indicate a grievous loss of the spirit of
humanity. This provides an unprecedented historical opportunity for
176 fang litian
Buddhist philosophy, which is equipped with a conception of cosmic
totality and a humane religious spirit that pursues transcendence and
readjusts the relationship between men themselves and between man
and nature.
In order to reevaluate and reconstruct Chinese Buddhism to
enhance its modern value, we must conduct an in-depth analysis of
current human society and its characteristics, and the basic trajec-
tory of future society. We must sort through the resources of Chinese
Buddhism to reveal the fundamental concepts and principles that can
have real meaning for societies in the present and future. We need to
combine the basic principles of Buddhism with social reality in order
to offer meaningful suggestions for the steps to take to solve basic con-
icts in contemporary human society.
I. Basic Characteristics and Conicts of Twenty-First Century Human Society
Since the 1970s, the progress of Chinese modernization has achieved
great results that have attracted the worlds attention. The developed
coastal regions have been industrialized and have begun the progress of
intellectualization. The development of the western regions has also
unfolded energetically. The coordinated development of industrializa-
tion and intellectualization will certainly hasten the pace of Chinas
modernization. There are great differences in the production, circula-
tion, and distribution of intellectual and industrial economies. These
developments, especially the rise of the intellectual economy and the
globalization that characterizes it, have a broad and profound impact
on the relations between man and himself, men and other men, eth-
nicities and nations, and man and nature. Thus these developments
have in turn given rise to the development of new contradictions and
conicts in human society.
Because of the great achievement of modernization, the mate-
rial conditions of mens life keep improving and their lifestyles keep
renewing. In todays world, material wealth and mans material desires
grow at the same pace. In the pursuit of external material wealth,
some neglect their own internal values and spiritual life, so much so
that they lose their humanity and values in a life of wealth and com-
fort. With the improvement of material life, the spiritual life declines.
With the increase of scientic knowledge, moral cultivation becomes
deprived. The contrast between the abundance of material life and the
the modern significance of some basic concepts 177
lack of spiritual life will be prevalent and long-lasting. Emptiness of
spirit and poverty of mind are a spiritual crisis of humanity as well as
a crisis of values. This spiritual and moral decline has become a great
barrier to mans progress today. It has also become one of the sources
of the many problems of human society. Mans desires and needs are
dictated by certain values. If mans desires and needs remain for a
long time on the level of material enjoyment, they fuel a pernicious
consumption, which in turn brings forth pernicious development and
affects the sustainable development of the society. In the mean time,
such materialism also lowers the level of spiritual life, causes a decline
in the quality of citizens, and affects the holistic development of man
Due to the achievement of an industrial economy and the develop-
ment of an intellectual economy, the economies of various nations and
regions are moving toward globalization. Globalization of an economy
drives the development of a world economy, which also means that
the time will come when all mankind will share the same fortune or
misfortune. However, international enterprises have taken hold of the
current globalization of the economy. The rapid expansion of these
enterprises creates a widening gap between rich and poor. In particu-
lar, the globalization of the economy brings opportunities for devel-
oping countries, but it also creates a tremendous impact that forms
a widening gap between rich and poor in the northern and southern
hemispheres. The developed countries generate 86% of the GDP and
control 82% of the global export market, while the developing coun-
tries that have the worlds largest populations generate 14% of the
GDP and control 18% of the global export market.
The rich become
richer and the poor become poorer. History and current events have
repeatedly proven that a world with a large gap between rich and
poor is unstable and unsafe. The condition of inequality between the
wealthy and the poor, the powerful and the weak, fosters rich and
powerful hegemonies on the one hand, while on the other, the poor
and the weak tend to grow discontented and hateful, and their resent-
ment gradually becomes a signicant source of social instability and
See Jiang Zemins Speech in the United Nations Meeting of the Millennium for
National Leaders, Guangming Daily News, September 7, 2009.
178 fang litian
Due to a lack of regulation in a new international social, political,
economic, and cultural order, globalization of the economy will also
create or increase a series of social tensions, such as people ghting for
jobs, or competition for outstanding human resources. Moreover, under
the condition of deepening economic globalization, countries compete
to develop their own economies, which intensies international com-
petition. In addition, due to historical or contemporary causes, racial
conicts keep growing; some even escalate to regional wars.
The acceleration of global economic progress and the formation
of the global Internet will surely hasten the clash of civilizations and
values between East and West. It will also lead to more frequent inter-
action between different religions. When different religions meet, on
the one hand there is an opportunity for mutual dialogue, interaction,
communication, understanding, respect, and caring for each other; on
the other hand, among some extreme fundamentalist sects of religious
fanatics, interreligious contact provokes bigotry, self-righteousness, the
rejection of heretics, and the rejection of others, and causes conicts
among sects and religions, even appealing to violence. Religion, often
interwoven with contemporary international struggles and conicts,
becomes a major factor in international and global politics. How to
transform the concept of extreme fundamentalism in order to resolve
religious conicts is a major project on the agenda of adherents of
various religions in the world.
With the unprecedented progress of modern scientic technology,
in macroscience, man has reached a universe of 18 billion light years
away. In microscience, man has unveiled the secret of genes. Scientic
technology is a two-edged sword that can be used to create benets
for mankind, but if the human spirit is distorted to such an extent
that it fails to use scientic technology with rationality, it may destroy
humanity. In his conquest and reformation of nature, the more man
achieves, the stronger the force with which nature retaliates. The loss
of equilibrium in ecology, as well as environmental pollution, global
warming, the population explosion, the crisis of energy sources, and
shortage of foodall these tribulations have become increasingly dis-
turbing for mankind. This is another great conict of the twenty-rst
century. Man conceives of the earth and nature to be objects of con-
quest and pays a tremendous price for it. Mankind must strive harder
to invent and develop new scientic technology to alleviate the vicious
effects of his exploitation of nature, and he must strongly promote the
concept of humanity to strengthen awareness of the importance of
the modern significance of some basic concepts 179
environmental protection in order to safeguard the harmonious rela-
tion between man and nature.
II. Basic Concepts of Chinese Buddhist Philosophy
As we examine the trajectory of the twenty-rst centurys develop-
ment, we think many concepts of Chinese Buddhist philosophy t the
needs of human society. Among those, the most important ones are
the following:
1. Dependent Origination (or Dependent Arising, )
There is a Buddhist ode, The Verse on the Dharma-Body, that is
often engraved on the base of statutes of Buddha or inside pagodas:
Whatever groups of dharmas arise from causes,
The Tathagata has declared their causes and
Also their extinction through the extinction of causes
Thus spoke the Great Samana.
The Great Samana is a respectful form of address for the Buddha.
This verse teaches that all the dharmas in the universe rise and
become extinct on account of dependent origination, which includes
the external material environment and the spiritual mind. They all
come or cease to be depending on certain conditions. When the given
conditions come together, the dharmas are born; when the conditions
are gone, the dharmas also become extinct. This is the basic idea of
dependent origination. Dependent origination is the most basic concept
of Buddhism, its most fundamental teaching, which reveals the basic
Buddhist view with regard to the universe, human life, existence, and
life. The thought of dependent origination is a specic teaching and
signicant concept of Buddhism, just like its fundamental philosophi-
cal concepts of cause and fruition , equality , compassion
, the Middle Way , and complete interfusion . In other
words, all the various teachings and important concepts of Buddhism
Taisho Shinshu Daizokyo, or 14768
English title in citation abbreviated as T14, 768b. English translation: A Dictionary of
Buddhism: Chinese-Sanskrit-English-Thai (Bangkok: Chinese Buddhist Order of Sangha in
Thailand), 43.
180 fang litian
are an expansion of the idea of dependent arising. Different from the
theories of no-cause, chance, creationism, and fatalism, the theory
of dependent origination is a more reasonable theory of the forma-
tion and evolution of all the beings of the universe and the reality of
the world. The theory of dependent origination is a unique Buddhist
worldview; it is the most important characteristic of Buddhism and
the fundamental feature that distinguishes it from other religions and
The Buddhist idea of dependent origination includes two important
concepts: namely, relation and process. The idea of dependent
origination is a worldview based on the theories of relation and
In chapter 10 of the Samyuktagama Sutra, it is said, That being, this
comes to be; from the arising of that, this arises; that being absent,
this is not; from the cessation of that, this ceases.
This and that
constitute an indivisible totality in their mutual interactive relation-
ship, i.e., any thing or object can only exist under a multitude of
conditions in combination with certain relations. Things and objects
cannot create themselves or exist by themselves. They come to be in
relations and they exist in relations. They are the embodiment of rela-
tions. Chapter 12 of the Samyuktagama Sutra says, Its like three reed
stalks standing in the eld by leaning against each other. If one were
removed, the other two would not stand; if two were removed, one
would not stand, either.
This is to say, dependent origination rises
from mutual dependence, which includes the theory of the coexistence
of things and objects, and the theory of mutual connection and inte-
gral wholeness.
Dependent origination is a relationship as well as a process. Bud-
dhism holds that due to the dependent origination of all things in the
universe, everything shares the four phases of birth, staying, change,
and extinction. So do human beings, who dwell in the constantly mov-
ing process of birth, aging, sickness, and death. One should acknowl-
edge that this concept contains the ideas of movement, change, and
development, and should be regarded as a manifestation of dialectical
T2, 67a. English translation: Samyutta Nikaya; trans. C. A. F. Rhys Davids and
F. L. Woodward, The Book of Kindred Sayings, 5 vols. (London: PTS, 19171930).
T2, 81a.
the modern significance of some basic concepts 181
2. Cause and Fruition ()
Dependent origination maintains that causes and conditions give rise
to effect or fruition (). What the teaching of dependent origination
discusses is also the relationship of cause and fruition. What generates
the fruition is the cause; what is generated from the cause is fruition.
In terms of time, the cause comes before the fruition, which is to say
the cause and fruition exist at different times. In terms of space, as
in the above-mentioned image of leaning reed stalks, the cause and
fruition exist simultaneously. Cause and fruition exist in consequential
transformation as well as in interdependent coexistence. Where there
is a cause, there is fruition, and vice versa. All things and phenomena
come into existence and change according to the principle of cause
and fruition. This tenet of cause and fruition is what Buddhism uses
to illuminate the basic law of the interdependent relationship of all
things in the world.
Based on the tenet of dependent origination, Buddhism takes a fur-
ther step to elaborate the concept of cause, effect, and consequence to
explain the karma resulting from the physical and mental activities of
all living beings and its relationship to fruition. This idea, manifested
in ethical terms, is the theory that good is rewarded with goodness,
and evil with evil: good cause/joyful fruition and pernicious cause/
pernicious fruition. This theory offers a strong and effective basis of
thought for believers practice of eradicating the evil and following
the good.
Buddhism holds that the physical and mental activities of living
beings not only bring forth fruition for themselves, but also impact
the space and environment in which they exist. Therefore, fruition is
divided into two kinds: direct fruition () and dependent fruition
(). The so-called direct fruition refers to the present state of ones
physical body and mind, as a direct result of ones past karma; that
is, the present existence of life is the subject of the direct result of the
fruition. So-called dependent fruition refers to the external condition
and environment generated from past karma, which sentient beings
live in and depend upon. This includes clothing, houses, the territory
of a nation, landscape, even the entire world environment. To put it
simply, direct fruition refers to living beings and the world of people;
dependent fruition refers to the world in which sentient beings exist:
the land and the external world. As is the case with dependent fruition,
Buddhism also holds that the background of time, living environment,
182 fang litian
land, nature, and so forth constitute the shared fruition that all living
beings engender collectively; thus it is called shared fruition ().
These Buddhist concepts of cause and fruition express the Buddhist
insight into the relationship of the interrelated dependent origination
of the subjective and the objective worlds, and the worlds perceived
from subjective or objective perspectives. It also embodies the Bud-
dhist concern for the results of the activities of all beings, and for
natural environment, life environment, and ecological environment.
3. Equality ()
Buddhism is a religion that promotes equality. The Buddhist denition
of equality covers four levels: (1) Equality among individual people. The
Ekottarikagamah Sutra says in book 37, In my teaching, there are people
from the four castes who have become the samana of my teaching.
Their former names are not recorded, let alone other things. They
are like the four rivers throwing themselves into the sea and becoming
one avor without any other names.
This teaching maintains that
in the ancient society of India, people of the four castesthe Brah-
mins, the warrior rulers, the merchants, and the laborersought to be
equal. Buddhism is opposed to any hierarchy based on caste or class;
it emphasizes ones achievement in terms of morality and wisdom, and
advocates that one should elevate ones moral and intellectual qual-
ity and practice in order to enter the ideal state of life. The Buddhist
postulate of the equality of the four castes embodies the thought of
equal human rights. This is ancient Indian Buddhisms unique human
rights stance against discrimination based on caste and class oppres-
sion, which is consistent with modern societys requirement of equal
human rights.
(2) Equality among sentient beings (). In Buddhism, the term
sentient beings refers to all beings that have consciousness and are
thus considered to be living beings. In general, Buddhism considers,
except for those in the realm of the Buddha, the beings in the nine
of the ten dharma realms from that of the Bodhisattva to hell, and
especially the six realms from the realm of deities to hell, to be sentient
T2, 753a.
the modern significance of some basic concepts 183
Buddhism maintains that in spite of the differences among
sentient beings, the basic nature of their existence and life is equal.
Moreover, it emphasizes that all sentient beings have the Buddha-
nature; as the Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra states, All living beings
have the Buddha-nature.
In theory, Buddhism afrms that all liv-
ing beings have the Buddha-nature; that is, on the grounds that all
share the cause, the foundation, and the possibility of becoming a Bud-
dha, all are equal. Although the Buddhist discourse on sentient beings
focuses on human beings, its concept of equality for all living beings is
a warning against and a rejection of anthropocentrism.
(3) Equality between living beings and the Buddha. Buddhism
teaches that the living beings and the Buddha are not two, rather
the living beings and the Buddha are one and alike. They maintain
that in their inherent nature, all sentient beings and the Buddha have
the complete suchness of the Buddha-nature. Confused living beings
do not lose their Buddha-nature, nor does the enlightened Buddha
have an augmented Buddha-nature. In terms of their nature and pos-
sibility of becoming the Buddha, sentient beings and the Buddha are
equal. This is very different from some religions that regard humans
and God as two distinct entities and claim that man was created by
God, or generated from God.
(4) Equality between sentient and non-sentient beings. Non-sentience
refers to objects without perception or feelings, and without spiritual-
ity. For instance, the Chinese school of Tiantai Buddhism holds the
doctrine of the inherent nature without sentience and maintains
that all vegetation, rivers, mountains, and the earth have the Buddha-
nature; the fragrance of blossoms and the greenness of trees, the move-
ment of the wind and the ow of the water are all physical expressions
of the Buddha-nature. In terms of having the Buddha-nature, all the
non-sentient things and living beings are not different in nature, but
one and the same. This view asserts the dignity of both living beings
and non-living beings in nature; it calls for respect and compassion for
the myriad things in nature, and for their protection.
The Buddhist view of equality is based on the theory of dependent
origination and built on the idea of the equality of cause and fruition.
descending hierarchical order, the nine realms are the realms of Bodhisattva, Pratyeka-
buddha, Sravakas, deities, human beings, demons, animals, hungry ghosts, and hell.
T12, 574-575a.
184 fang litian
All living beings and the Buddha have the same Buddha-nature, which
shows that they are equal in their potential to become the Buddha. All
living beings and the Buddha can achieve supreme Buddhahood and
enter the highest realm of Parinirvana; this demonstrates equality on
the level of results. All living beings and the Buddha are equal without
differentiation. This Buddhist concept of cause and fruition is built on
potentiality instead of actuality, and on what can be instead of what
already is. This provides the theoretical basis for the Buddhist thesis
of deliverance.
The Buddhist view of equality shows consistency between Buddhist
views of life, nature, and values. Buddhism emphasizes the equality of
all lives in the universe; it cares about life, cherishes life, and respects
life. Buddhists also uphold the theory that even non-sentient beings
have the Buddha-nature, and thus they respect, hold in awe, cher-
ish, and safeguard nature. They also uphold the ultimate goal of the
nal deliverance of all living beings and the myriad of things, and the
highest ideal of entering the pure, wonderful, and sublime Pure Land
of the Buddha. All of these beliefs represent the prevailing, universal,
and sacred nature of the Buddhist view of equality.
In modern times, the view of equality highlights the equality of
God-given human rights: everyone is equal before the law. This is
truly complementary to the equality of deliverance promoted by Bud-
dhism. In this light, it is not by chance that people like Kang Youwei
and Tan Sitong would uphold the banner of Buddhist equality in their
promotion of the Reformation Movement in the late Qing Dynasty.
4. Compassion ()
On the basis of dependent origination and equality, Buddhism thinks
that at a certain point of time, in the great cosmic gyre, all living
beings might have been our kinsmen, and nature is what our lives
depend on. We ought to bestow happiness and relieve all living beings
from suffering through the minds understanding of equality, feelings
of gratitude, and the hearts sense of compassion. Compassion is an
indiscriminate, deep, and sincere care and love for all living beings.
Buddhism promotes the theory that there are three kinds of compas-
sion () and pity () directed toward three different objects. Hence
the three kinds of compassion and pity are described as follows:
the modern significance of some basic concepts 185
There are three kinds of pity: 1. Pity for all beings: because all beings
are in pain, one wants to relieve them from the pain. . . . As one observes
living beings oating and turning in the twelve-linked dependent origina-
tion of life and death, one feels pity for them. . . . 2. The pity that rises
from ones knowledge of all things and their consequences: one observes
that living beings, oneself and others alike, are all trapped in the mental
and physical sufferings arising from the full-orbed activities of the skand-
has (), and feels pity for them. . . . 3. Pity without external cause, i.e.,
because of his own nature: as one recognizes that all living beings and
all their sufferings are empty after all, and feels pity for them. . . . There
are also three kinds of compassion: 1. Compassion for all beings: it rises
from ones compassion for all beings that makes one want to share ones
joy with them. . . . 2. The compassion that rises from ones knowledge of
all things and their consequences: one observes that living beings, oneself
and others alike, are all trapped in the mental and physical sufferings
arising from the full-orbed activities of the skandhas (), and gener-
ates compassion. . . . 3. Compassion without external cause, i.e., because
of his own nature: as one recognizes that all living beings and all their
sufferings are empty after all, and generates compassion.
These three respective kinds of compassion and pity arise from the
concern for living beings, the Buddhist teachings, and the ultimate
extinction (i.e., emptiness). They are based on the theory of emptiness
and dependent origination.
Among these three kinds of compassion and pity, the highest is the
compassion and pity of no cause. The Mahaprajnaparamita-sastra says
in book 40, There are three kinds of compassion and pity: for the
living beings, for the teachings, and for no cause. For ordinary people,
there is (compassion and pity) for living beings. For Sravakas, Pratyeka-
budhha, and Bodhisattva, there are rst (compassion and pity) for the
living beings, and then for the teachings. The Buddhas practices of
goodness achieve the ultimate emptiness, therefore their compassion
and pity have no cause but rise from their nature.
The great com-
passion of no cause and the great pity of no cause promoted by
Buddhism are absolute and indiscriminate love and compassion; they
are generated from the understanding of the indiscriminate reality of
the theory of emptiness.
Compassion/pity is a unique concept of Buddhism. It is not exactly
the same as the benevolence and love upheld by some other schools.
Compassion/pity is not restrained by hierarchy or class. It also excludes
T44, 743b.
T25, 350b.
186 fang litian
narrow selshness. Buddhist compassion/pity is also pragmatic and
underscores concern for people, the world, and the society. On this
basis, it is strongly involved in activities of social welfare and charities,
functions as a lubricant in history and in current society, relieves the
plight and sufferings of the weak and those who labor hard at the bot-
tom of society, and brings hope for all.
5. The Middle Way ()
The Middle Way transcends the bias of polarities such as existence
and emptiness, oneness and difference, suffering and joy, and love
and hate. It does not lean toward one side or the other. The Middle
Way is the fundamental position and basic characteristic of Buddhism.
Sakyamuni opposes the Brahmanist teaching of the gods vs. the self
and promotes his theory of dependent origination: That being, this
comes to be; from the arising of that, this arises; that being absent,
this is not; from the cessation of that, this ceases. On this basis, he
stresses that it is necessary to stay away from the two sides and teach
the Middle Way.
On the basis of dependent origination, he teaches
neither existence nor emptiness, neither one nor difference, neither
lasting nor breaking, and neither coming nor going. In practice,
Sakyamuni proposes the Eightfold Path,
which is against hedo-
nism and asceticism, and teaches the neither-hedonistic-nor-ascetic
Middle Way: ones thinking, discourse, behavior, mind, and lifestyle
should all be appropriate and within restraint, holding onto the middle
unbiased way.
Emptiness and existence are the two basic Buddhist views regarding
the universe and humanity. One may even say that all the Buddhist
teachings are concerned with the realms of emptiness and existence.
After Sakyamuni, Buddhism gradually develops into the schools of
emptiness and of existence. In the Theravada School, the Jushe (Kosa,
) school belongs to the school of existence, and the Chengshi
(Satyasiddhi, ) school belongs to the school of emptiness.
T2, 85c. Samyuttea-nikaya, II, 28. English translation: Donald W. Mitchell, Bud-
dhism: Introducing the Buddhist Experience (New York: Oxford University Press), 39.
Eightfold Path consists of right understanding, right thought, right speech, right
action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration
(Mitchell, Buddhism, 50).
the modern significance of some basic concepts 187
Mahayana Buddhism also consists of two similarly paired traditions.
The Madhyamika school () belongs to the tradition of empti-
ness, and the Yogacara school () belongs to the tradition of
existence. The traditions of both emptiness and existence agree on the
basic theoretical framework of emptiness and dependent origination,
differing only in their views on how this basic theory unfolds itself;
in relative terms, the school of emptiness stresses the perspective of
the emptiness of the dharma teachings, while the school of existence
stresses the perspective of the existence of the dependent origination
of the dharma.
The thesis of emptiness is based on the theory of dependent origi-
nation. Because all things are dependent-arising, they exist only in
relation to other things; emptiness is thus self-less. Without the self,
there is no substantiality, i.e., the inherent nature and essence are thus
empty. This is the original meaning of emptiness. Along the same
lines, since all things only exist in relation to one another, they must
exist in a process of interacting transformation that has an inherent
nature of impermanence. Both their birth and cessation are imperma-
nent, hence also empty. One may say that the theory of dependent
origination gives rise to the doctrine of emptiness; therefore the theory
of dependent origination is the doctrine of emptiness, and the terms
are synonymous. One may also say that since the theory of dependent
origination gives rise to the doctrine of emptiness, emptiness is the
permanent reality that denies the substantial construction of all things,
and hence is the denial of the substantiality of things. This is a declara-
tion of the nature of no-inherent-essence and the state of insubstantial-
ity of all things. Emptiness is not merely void. Emptiness is to empty,
to cease the attachment to substantial objects. Emptiness itself is not
a substantial object. The teachings of the Middle Way School also
include the rejection of all biases or set opinions. In their view, all dif-
ferentiations and opinions are relative, and thus none can be qualied
as the highest truth. As far as this theory is concerned, emptiness is a
principle, the highest absolute truth. When one perceives and grasps
the principle of emptiness and gains the wisdom of emptiness, one
enters the realm of emptiness, i.e., the ideal realm of extinction.
In general, there are two kinds of emptiness: the emptiness of the
(human) individual, and the emptiness of things. The emptiness of
the individual is also called the emptiness of the self, which is to say
that the subjective individual has no inherent essence. The emptiness
of things is that objective things also have no intrinsic substance. As
188 fang litian
for the question of whether things have substantial existence, which is
to say the question of the relation and distinction between dependent
origination and substantial existence, things and their inherent essence,
and phenomena and substance, it is a very complex problem. In gen-
eral all Buddhist schools agree with the ideas of dependent origination
and the emptiness of essence, but the Reality School of Theravada
Buddhism claims the constant existence of things, which in a sense
acknowledges the substantiality of the existence of objects and things.
The Mahayana Yogacara school proposes the theory of the three
natures of all existence: attachment by pervasive discrimination, arising
in dependence on other things, and the nature of complete becoming.
This teaching states that in addition to things arising in dependence on
other things, there is also the perfect nature of suchness. In Chinese
Buddhism, the Tiantai and Huayan schools consider the appearance
and substance of causal dependent things to be one, i.e., all existence is
their apparent substance, and hence rule out the idea of any substance
beyond existent things. The schools of Tiantai and Sanlun also claim
that Theravada Buddhism underlines analytical emptiness (),
while Mahayana Buddhism accentuates essential emptiness ().

Analytical emptiness refers to analysis of the composing elements of
things. In the end, through the process of analysis, one discovers the
lack of inherent existence in all things; things are merely insubstantial
names, or emptiness. Instead of breaking things apart in the process of
analysis, the theory of essential emptiness asserts the empty nature of
things. Chinese Buddhist scholars afrm the superiority of the theory
of essential emptiness to the theory of analytical emptiness.
While the essence of all things of dependent origination is asserted as
empty, the phenomenal nature of all things of dependent origination
is afrmed as existent. All things originate in dependence, expressing
themselves in myriad complex appearances. These phenomena pres-
ent themselves to peoples eyes; each has its unique form, shape, and
sustaining quality, which exerts specic functions and impact. This
phenomenon is existence (). As opposed to emptiness (non-being
/), existence refers to existing phenomena. As far as existence is
concerned, Buddhism distinguishes between provisional existence or
phenomena ( jiayou ), the real existence (), and the super-
natural existence (or the absolute reality ). Provisional existence
refers to phenomenal existence. Real existence refers to substantial
the modern significance of some basic concepts 189
existence. While Sarvastivadha, the Realistic School, maintains that as
the three states (past, present, future) are real, so the substance of all
things is permanent, the Yogacara school emphasizes the existence of
the substantial nature of all things. However, what the two schools
mean by substantial existence () is also different. As for super-
natural existence, some Buddhist scholars conceive of it as suchness,
others as the non-emptiness attained after breaking up the attachment
to emptiness.
From what has been stated above one may recognize that when one
looks at it from the aspect of phenomena of the dependent origina-
tion, things exist; when perceived from the aspect of the essence of the
dependent origination, they are empty. Existence and emptiness are
perceptions of two sides of one thing. The existence of all phenomena
is the emptiness of substance. Emptiness is the absence of phenomenal
existence; there is no emptiness beyond existence. Zhiyi says, There
is not a single form or a single smell that is not the Middle Way.

A single form or a single smell is any blade of grass or any blos-
som. All ordinary things and objects embody the highest truth of the
Middle Way. Zhiyi also says, The meaning of the Middle is not-
two (), the Way is so named because it passes through.
Middle Way is the state of staying away from oppositions, from the
two sides of existence () and emptiness (), the highest truth
that combines being, non-being, and non-duality. The Middle Way is
the unswerving right understanding. The perceptions of existence and
emptiness are narrow and biased marginal perceptions. The Middle
Way is to exclude the erroneous view of attachment to the duality of
existence and emptiness. Just as the perspective of existence will lead
one to the claim of an imperishable soul, so will the perspective of
emptiness lead one to the nihilism that sees all things as nonexistent.
Either view will violate Buddhist teachings and create greater dangers.
The theory of the Middle Way requires one to see the two sides of
phenomena and essence in order to establish a framework of thinking
that leans to neither extreme. This is to advocate dualism (), to
avoid extremism, and to stress the observation of things in their totality
to avoid partiality, which contains the rational elements of dialectical
T46, 1c.
T38, 525c.
190 fang litian
6. Yuanrong ( perfect interfusion )
On the theoretical basis of dependent origination and the Middle
Way, the Chinese Huayan and Tiantai schools both stress the idea
of yuanrong (), or perfect interfusion and complete communion.
The Huayan school emphasizes the wholeness and unimpeded inter-
penetrations of essence and phenomena, and among the phenomena
themselves. The Tiantai school claims the coexistence of the Three
Levels of Truth: emptiness (), illusory existence (), and the Middle
Truth (), which is to say that these three levels of truth are one
and interfused with each other. Yuanrong is an important concept of
Chinese Buddhist views regarding the universe and truth. It is also
the foundation of a method for promoting tolerance and harmony,
coordination and adjustment. Yuanrong requires respect for the vari-
ous constituents of things and objects, and respect for the coexistence
and shared prosperity of different parties. In the light of the Buddhist
view of yuanrong, the world is a coherent whole of richly colored mul-
titudes. In the theory of yuanrong, there is no hierarchy between the
cultures of various nations and races, nor does there exist the inevita-
bility of mutual conicts, as all characteristics of various cultures ought
to be respected. We think, given the current rapid homogenization of
regions and the globalization of economies, it is particularly important
to protect the cultural characteristics of each nation and race. This is
an essential element of constructing a harmonious world.
The intrinsic yuanrong of Chinese Buddhism mainly manifests itself
in the following: (1) differentiation and elucidation of religious sects
and schools; (2) interfusion of the heterogeneous Chinese and Indian
cultures; and (3) conuence of the diversied schools. Differentiation
and elucidation of religious sects and schools is to differentiate vari-
ous religious schools. Buddhist sutras are as vast as the clouds and the
ocean. Moreover, when the various teachings of both Theravada and
Mahayana schools were introduced to China, they were not properly
distinguished from each other, and there exist many inconsistencies in
these teachings. Chinese Buddhist schools commonly use the means
of differentiation and elucidation to sort through the scriptures and
arrange the teachings in accordance to chronological order, intended
audience, content, and form to establish a consistent system and elimi-
nate contradiction. With regard to the Chinese and Indian cultures,
the Indian culture looks to the future and stresses resolution in the
coming world. The Chinese culture, following the doctrines of loyalty,
the modern significance of some basic concepts 191
lial piety, humanity, and righteousness, stresses concern for the
present. The basic natures of these two cultures are different. Chinese
Buddhism uses the spirit of the Middle Way and yuanrong to interfuse
the two and successfully realize the integration of Sinicizing Buddhism.
In accordance with the above theory, from the Tang Dynasty on,
interfusion between various schools also becomes increasingly strong.
First comes the cohesion of the Chan school and the the Buddhist reli-
gion, then the combination of all other schools with the school of Pure
Land, followed by the great interfusion of all schools centering around
the unied Chan and Pure Land schools. This is also an important
reason why Chinese Buddhism maintains its lasting strength without
being marginalized.
The external yuanrong of Chinese Buddhism appears in its inter-
penetration with Chinese society, politics, ethics and morals, values,
beliefs, and customs. For instance, Buddhism advocates the polity of
humanity () and maintains that the existence of Buddhism needs
the support of the leaders of the nation. Buddhism takes the initiative
to adjust points of its discourse that are at odds with Chinese ethics
and morality, and promotes lial piety to parents and loyalty to the
monarch in order to be consistent with Chinese concepts of ethics and
morality. Buddhism combines the theory of cause and fruition with the
traditional Chinese concept of recompense and retribution to put forth
a new value of life and death. It also combines traditional Chinese folk
practices, customs, and needs with the system of god-worship evolved
around the bodhisattva belief of Guanyin and Maitreya. The interfu-
sion of Buddhism and traditional Chinese culture may also be said to
have occurred in its interfusion with Confucianism and Daoism. Bud-
dhism has points of both conict and interfusion with Confucianism
and Daoism, but it is mostly interfused with the others. In comparison,
the combination of Buddhism and Confucianism focuses on ethics and
morality, and the combination of Buddhism and Daoism focuses on
the level of philosophical concepts. Most noteworthy is that Buddhism
constantly claims that Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism share
one source, one body, and one Way, hence an amalgamated one.
Regarding the interfusion of the three religions, the focus lies on the
mind and nature. Stressing that Confucianism, Buddhism, and Dao-
ism are mere names, Buddhism maintains that their heart/mind is the
reality. The heart/mind is the basis that brings the ideal character of
human beings or deities in the three traditions to perfection. Because
of the commonality between the heart/mind of the three traditions,
192 fang litian
the heart/mind becomes the point of interfusion for the three; hence,
to keep the original heart uncovered becomes the common goal
for the three teachings/religions. Buddhism teaches that its center of
interfusion with Confucianism and Daoism is the theory of heart/
mind and nature. This is of great signicance for understanding Chi-
nese Buddhism, philosophy, and cultural characteristics.
III. The Modern Signicance of Chinese Buddhist Philosophy
The rst part of this essay showed that in modern society, some of the
fundamental conicts between man and the self, man and other men,
and man and nature have appeared in different forms, and others
have become more acute. The modern signicance of Chinese Bud-
dhism lies in the following: as its important principles become increas-
ingly elaborated and more creatively interpreted, its functions become
more evident. The application of Buddhist philosophy in relieving the
basic conicts of human society will surely help to raise the quality of
human spirituality, alleviate peoples pain in real life, fulll the new
needs of the human race, and foster peaceful coexistence and shared
development in human society.
1. Focusing on the conict between man and himself to elevate mans spiritual
With regard to its path of deliverance in human life, Buddhism has
developed systematic theses on mans position in the universe, his basic
nature, his values, his ideals, and so forth. Among these teachings, the
concepts of no-self and deliverance are especially edifying as a point of
reference for transforming mens view of the self, making psychological
adjustments, and perfecting the mind and the spirit.
On the basis of the theory of dependent origination that gives rise
to the myriad of mutually related things, Buddhism posits the con-
cept of no-self. Here, the self refers to the permanent, whole, and
predominant self. This permanent, unchanging own-being is the self.
Buddhism denies the substantial self or the existence of the soul, and
excludes the concept of self existence. No-self is the basic Buddhist
concept. The major content of no-self includes no attachment to the
self, no illusion of the self, no (selsh) love for the self, no arrogance
of the self, and so forth. Attachment to the self in Buddhist teaching
the modern significance of some basic concepts 193
refers to holding on to the self as a permanent substantial entity. Illu-
sion of the self is holding on to the illusion of a substantial permanent
self. Selsh love of the self is an egoistic love, or greed. Arrogance
of the self is a self-centered attitude of arrogance. Attachment to the
self will certainly bring forth illusion, selsh love, and arrogance of
the self. Buddhism considers self-attachment as the source of all evils
and the root of all sorrows, and maintains the ideas of no-self and
no self-attachment. No self attachment requires the elimination of all
biases and errors in cognition, desire, and psychology. In light of the
modern view, the concept of no-self includes the ideas that spiritual life
is superior to material life, the value of character is higher than that
of life, and the well-being of society is more important than that of
the individual. Currently, some people in society have become slaves
to their physical needs and materialist desires. They become money
worshipers, hedonists, extreme individualists, or even commit corrup-
tive crimes, engaging in robbery and theft, smuggling, drug addiction,
prostitution, and so on. These are distortions of human nature, causes
of degeneration in human character, and sorrows of mankind. The
Buddhist view of no-self is helpful in alleviating mans attachment to
his environment, restraining the materialist desires, toning down the
desire for pleasure, and cooling the pursuit of fame and wealth, hence
elevating the spirituality.
In substance, the Buddhist concept of deliverance is the transcen-
dence of the meaning of life, and the elevation of spirituality. The
pursuit of such transcendence and elevation makes one objectively
and calmly reect on ones life journey and examine ones imper-
fections from a long-term perspective. It constantly requires that one
strive toward self-discipline for spiritual advancement. It also helps
to generate the multitude functions of psychological contentment,
comfort, adjustment, support, and encouragement, hence the allevi-
ation or even elimination of helplessness, worries, anxiety, sorrows,
and pain.
Buddhism holds that deliverance is the karma of each person. It
is the joyful fruition of good karma. If one can follow the principles
of cause and fruition, he or she will afrm an upward course of
efforts to overcome immoral mental elements and open ones heart
toward goodness, to eradicate evils forever. Therefore, Buddhism is
helpful for purifying ones heart and perfecting ones life. As its prac-
tice spreads, it helps to raise the morality of society and to maintain
social order.
194 fang litian
2. Harmonizing conicts among people to safeguard world peace
Here, the human relationships in question are the relationships
between one and another, man and society, man and his race, and
man and his country. In terms of the world, there are presently two
great problems of human relationship. First, due to conicts of inter-
est regarding race, religion, territory, and resources, regional upheav-
als break out one after another. People in some regions are suffering
the plight of war. In the meantime, not only do the above problems
remain unresolved, in recent years terrorism and other unconven-
tional problems of security issues have become increasingly severe.
Second, the gap between the rich and the poor and the global South
and North is widening. There are a considerable amount of people
living in poverty, without enough clothing to wear or food to eat,
suffering from cold and hunger. On the theoretical level, some basic
Buddhist ideas are signicant to a certain extent for solving these
With regard to the two problems stated above, peace and peaceful
coexistence are the greatest problems. As we all know, during the two
World Wars of the twentieth century, men killed one another; tens of
millions of lives were destroyed. If a world war should break out in the
twenty-rst century, human beings could cause their own extinction.
In order to avoid wars, we must eliminate the sources of war. One of
these sources is that people do not know how to relate and exist with
each other, nor do they understand the principle, derived from depen-
dent origination, of helping oneself by helping others. People fail to
appreciate communication or reconciliation. Instead, they regard oth-
ers as enemies and fail to respect others lives. The Buddhist concept
of equality underlines the equality of everyones nature, personality,
and dignity. Equality suggests respect and peace. The Buddhist idea of
mutual respect is helpful for promoting peaceful coexistence, the pur-
suit of common ideals, and the construction of the Pure Land in this
world. Peace comes from a profound understanding of the equality
between the self and the other. Peace is established in equality. Peace
constructed on the basis of equality is the true, substantial, and lasting
peace. The Buddhist idea of love and compassion embodies sympa-
thy and care for others; it keeps war at a far distance and safeguards
peace. The Buddhist teachings of love and compassion, deliverance,
the modern significance of some basic concepts 195
the Five Precepts,
and the ten kinds of meritorious paths of action,

all include the prohibition of killing as their primary principle. Killing
is considered the greatest crime and causes one to descend into hell.
Buddhists strong opposition to killing manifests their sublime char-
acter and their respect for life and for others. Ever since the Vener-
able Taixus vigorous promotion of Buddhism for the human world,
Chinese Buddhism has concerned itself with world peace, both longing
for world peace and calling for world peace. Safeguarding world peace
has become an important issue on the agenda of current Buddhist
evangelism. In promoting and safeguarding world peace, Buddhism
has developed its unique, irreplaceable function.
The problem of the gap between the rich and the poor of the global
South and North and the problem of poverty are not only directly
relevant to the survival of the weak and of the laborers at the bot-
tom of the society; they will also become a source of upheaval and
have a direct impact on regional or world peace. The Buddhist view
of equality, love, and compassion offers guidelines for resolving these
problems. Buddhism has always underlined love and compassion,
deliverance of the world, helping others to relieve their pain, and
bringing happiness to people. Giving is an important Buddhist way of
practicing the dharma. It is to give blessing and well-being to others
with a heart of love and compassion. It is to give others wealth and
physical and intellectual help, to create blessings for others, and to help
them attain wisdom. Currently, Buddhism on both sides of the Taiwan
Strait (both in Mainland China and in Taiwan) endeavors to develop
the bodhisattvas spirit of the great love and compassion that seeks
peace and joy not for the self, but wishes that all living beings be deliv-
ered from suffering. Practitioners have fully developed the Buddhist
function of charity and disaster relief by supporting the poor, helping
()The Five
Precepts include refraining from killing, stealing and cheating, improper sexual behav-
ior, telling lies, and consuming intoxicating drinks.

The ten kinds of meritorious paths of action include
abstaining from killing, from stealing and cheating, from improper sexual behavior,
from telling lies, from backbiting, from rambling speech and nonsense, from coveting,
from being vindictive, and from wrong understanding or views which are not in line
with the dharma.
196 fang litian
the distressed, offering medical care, patronizing Project Hope, and
providing instruction for fallen criminals, in order to give the recipi-
ents of their help both material aid and spiritual advancement.
In addition, some peoples thoughts and behaviorsselshness,
greed, vindictiveness, and cheatinghave severely eroded harmony
and trust in relationships among modern people. In these respects,
the Buddhist disciplines, such as the ten meritorious acts of refraining
from theft, sexual promiscuity, lying, backbiting, rambling speech and
nonsense, coveting, and vindictiveness, and shunning wrong under-
standings or views that are not in line with dharma, all have direct
signicance for resolving these problems. It should be pointed out that
the rst four of the ve preceptsrefraining from killing, stealing,
improper sexual behavior, and lyingmay be used as an important
starting point for the construction of a universal ethics currently under
One may foresee that if we promote the Buddhist ethical principles
of eliminating evil and following the good, practicing equality and
love and compassion, helping the self and others, and other pertinent
moral codes of social and ethical signicance, so that they are widely
accessible and permeate human relations, it will denitely help allevi-
ate callous, opposing, or even hostile relationships among people, and
will help establish relationships of friendship, love, harmony, honesty,
and trust.
3. Harmonizing the conicts between man and nature to advance common and
sustainable development
The greatest problem that modern human society faces is achieving
peace and development. If human relationships must be harmonized
in order to safeguard world peace, the achievement of common and
sustainable development needs even more effort. It also requires man
to harmonize his relationship with nature to ensure that the entire
ecology of nature, on which human beings rely for their present and
sustained existence, is well protected. A large number of facts make it
clear that, in the process of modernization, man may at times follow
a path that injures nature. Overdevelopment and savage looting are
seriously damaging the harmony between man and nature and alter-
ing the environment of mans growth and rest, hence creating a severe
threat to the existence of humanity.
the modern significance of some basic concepts 197
At present, insightful people have become aware of the severe, press-
ing, and acute nature of environmental problems, but their awareness
still needs to be raised, and their direction ne-tuned. With regard
to these challenges, to a certain extent, Buddhist philosophy is worth
First, as the basis of Buddhist philosophy, the thesis of dependent
origination stresses that all things are composed of a multitude of
causes and conditions; nothing exists independently. The Tiantai and
Huayan schools of Chinese Buddhism also propagate the idea that all
things and objects in the universe are mutually dependent, interpen-
etrating, and interfusing. One can be sure that all this sophisticated
thought is uniquely signicant for our understanding of the universe
and of human society. For instance, the global village in which we live
consists of the earth, ocean, sky, and all kinds of animals and vegeta-
tion. If the earth were polluted, the ocean poisoned, the ozone layer
thinned, and animals and vegetation kept moving toward extinction,
the existence of mother earth would be problematic, and so would
mans existence. We think that the Buddhist worldview of dependent
origination and the theory of organic wholeness may offer a theoretical
basis for a contemporary philosophy of environment.
Next, the Buddhist theory of direct and dependent cause and frui-
tion underlines the living context of all lives, including rivers and
mountains, the land and the earth, nation and homes, even the entire
environment; all of these are the fruition brought forth by the behavior
of all living beings. Buddhism also advocates the thesis that purity of
the heart is purity of the nations land, to promote ones contribution
to the welfare of the nations land. Here, the subject and the environ-
ment are inseparable. The spiritual activities of the subject generate
the idea of the transformation of the subject and the environment. The
improvement of the environment depends on the purication of the
subjects subjective view of the world, and on fostering a mentality that
respects nature and treats it kindly. These are all inspiring idea.
Furthermore, on the basis of dependent origination, the Buddhist
declaration of respect for others, for the differences among us, and
for lifeincluding the idea that all living beings are equal, all shar-
ing Buddha-nature and possessed of the potential to become the
Buddhaacknowledges the right to existence of various forms of life.
This is not only different from harmful behaviors such as killing others,
vandalizing the environment, and breaking the equilibrium of ecol-
ogy; it is also different from the view that conceives of environmental
198 fang litian
protection as mans demonstration of pity and mercy toward the weak.
The Buddhist view of equality is different from human-centrism,
environment-centrism, or creature-centrism. On the basis of
equality, Buddhism also advocates a vegetarian diet and the release of
animals into nature; these practices are not only benecial for peoples
physical and mental health, helping them to purify their heart and
mind and to reduce their desires and still their thoughts, they also
help to protect species from extinction and maintain the equilibrium of
ecology. Thus, if one applies the Buddhist idea of equality to ecology,
it will undoubtedly help in the construction of a more complete theory
of ecological ethics.
Finally, the Buddhist ideal is the advancement of all living beings
into the world of utmost bliss. This world of utmost bliss is described
as a beautiful place with fresh air, lush vegetation, chirping birds, and
sweet-smelling owers. It embodies the Buddhist vision of an ideal
ecology. Ever since ancient times, monks have built many structures
on well-known mountains. Buddhists have always enjoyed building
temples and monasteries in the mountains or by the water. The tem-
ples and the landscape interfuse into one in the dignied serenity of
the bright mountain and charming water, green pines and emerald
cypress, the Buddhist temples and the treasured pagodas. Even when
they are constructed in loud and boisterous cities, Buddhist temples,
graced with trees and owers, are serene and elegant. One may say
that Buddhism is a model of environmental awareness and the desire
to protect the ecology.
In sum, the modernization of human society and the fundamen-
tal conicts caused by this transformation are related to the fate of
all humanity and to global development, which is an issue worthy of
our close attention. Managing relationships between man and himself,
among individual people, and between man and nature will involve
society, the economy, and the system, as well as scientic technol-
ogy and human intelligence. Buddhism has its share of inherent and
adherent errors and misconceptions, nor can Buddhist philosophy
solve the fundamental conicts of human society or its multitude of
problems. But from certain perspectives, it can offer a way of thinking
that is missing from the secular society of politics, economy, and law.
Buddhisms contribution is to cultivate a high regard for the construc-
tion of peoples own spirituality in order to adjust ones values, modify
ones mentality, transform ones awareness, and advance ones wis-
dom, all with the goal of helping to resolve the conicts and problems
the modern significance of some basic concepts 199
of human society. Given this conclusion, we would like to emphasize
again that in order for Buddhist philosophy to fully develop the social
function, we need to dig deep into the resources of thought and make
timely, responsive interpretations. We need to continue to strengthen
our concern for and contact with modern society. We need to make
timely responses to the great problems occurring in this new society.
We think Buddhist philosophy undoubtedly has value in the mod-
ern world. The application and full-scale presentation of the value of
Buddhist philosophy in modern society awaits and hinges on peoples
(Translated by Wang, Chi-ying Alice)
Jian Zhixiang
Minzu University of China
Ma Rong
Peking University
Confucianism, like Daoism, Legalism, and other schools that came
to exist in the Spring and Autumn and Warring States Periods
(770221 BC), is not a religion in the strict sense, as that term is
usually understood in Western civilization. First, these schools provide
no story of the creation of the world by God. Second, they contain no
concept of reincarnation nor do they imagine a nal judgment and
the end of the world. Third, there is no human representative of a
god or gods in these secular schools, such as Jesus Christ in Christian-
ity, Mohammed in Islam, or Sakyamuni in Buddhism. The leaders of
these schools were considered master teachers and they were mainly
concerned with the ethics and moral norms that men should follow in
their daily lives.
Confucianism, which became dominant in Chinese culture during
the Han Dynasty and had its status reinforced through the imperial
examinations (ke-ju), shows a very open-minded tolerance toward other
schools of thought and various kinds of religions. For example, during
the Tang Dynasty, as the historian John K. Fairbank argues, The
revived Confucian bureaucracy was remarkably tolerant of foreign
creeds. Foreign visitors brought with them all the variety of medi-
eval religions: Judaism, the fth century Christian heresy known as
Nestorian Christianity, and Manichaeism and Zoroastrianism from
The main content of Confucian classics centered on social
philosophy and addressed the question of how to be a good person
in a secular societyas a son or a father in a family, or as a king or
a gentleman in a society, and so forth. These works said little about
John K. Fairbank, The United States and China, 4th ed. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press, 1979), 64.
202 jian zhixiang and ma rong
the sacred world of gods, demons, and ghosts. Beginning with the Qin
Dynasty, many emperors and commoners practiced Daoism in order
to achieve longevity. But this did not threaten the dominant position of
Confucianism. The emperors might search for the elixir of immortal-
ity themselves, but they needed soldiers, workers, and farmers to ght
and work hard to maintain the empire. Therefore they paid respect
to Taoists while continually supporting Confucianism as the source of
moral principles in secular societal life. After Buddhism came to China
around the time of the Han Dynasty, both Daoism and Confucian-
ism borrowed some ritual forms from Buddhism.
Those rituals made
Confucianism appeared to be a religion, but the basic spirit and
principles of Confucianism were not altered: they concerned only the
affairs of secular society. Because Confucianism maintained a tolerant
attitude toward other schools or religions in general, the latter man-
aged to develop in Chinese society.
Because Confucianism always occupied the central, leading posi-
tion in Chinese cultural and social tradition, the attitude of this school
toward other schools of thought and religions, whether they were
native-born or adopted from other cultural traditions, might explain
how the distinctive Chinese cultural tradition of religious coexistence
originated, and why this pattern endured for about twenty centuries
from the Han to the Qing dynasties. One example of the treatment
of imported religions was the encounter with Buddhism. The Chinese
sect of Buddhism (Chan) was regarded as Confucianized Buddhism.

Many of the ideas and ethical tenets of Confucianism and Buddhism
were blended together, with the result that Confucianism, Daoism,
and Buddhism became three coexisting and interacting faith systems
in China. Visitors can see these three systems practiced in the same
temples in central and coastal China. To a certain extent, Buddhism
was indigenized and integrated into the Chinese cultural system. While
religious competition has been one of the major causes of strife in
Europe and the Middle East throughout history, wars of religion are
rarely mentioned in the Chinese historical record.
The Taoist church as an organization in China was inuenced profoundly by
Buddhism. Fairbank, The United States and China, 125.
The process of indigenization of Buddhism in the Tang dynasty took two steps.
The rst one is xuan xue hua (metaphysicization), the second step is ru xue hua (Con-
fucianization). Fan Wenlan , Zhongguo tongshi jianbian [Short Course of Chinese
History] , vol. 2, rev. ed. (Beijing: Remin chubanshe, 1964), 614.
indigenization of imported religions in china 203
Islam and Christianity are two more religions that came from the
West to China, but they were not integrated into the mainstream of
Chinese cultural tradition. Islam is an important religion in todays
China. According to the 2000 census, the ten ethnic groups (Hui,
Uyghur, Kazak, Dongxiang, Khalkhas, Sala, Tajik, Uzbek, Bao-an,
Tatar) that traditionally practice Islam had a total population of 20.34
The Hui are the largest group, with a population of 9.83
million in 2000. A large proportion of the Hui population is spread
throughout China and lives together with other groups. Hui people
commonly speak Mandarin (Putonghua) as their mother tongue, which
helps them to communicate with the majority people, the Han. Study
of the Hui group provides a very important example of the relation-
ship between Muslim groups and the Han Chinese. In general, China
presents itself as an interesting case for research on cultural dialogue
and religious coexistence.
This chapter focuses on the Hui community of Muslims in China.
After describing the dissemination and development of Islam in China
in general, the chapter will focus on the development of the Hui group
in northwestern China. Two dimensions will be discussed: one is the
groups transition from the Islamic tradition of combining religion
and civil administration (or integration of church and state) to the
traditional Chinese system of separating the two; another dimension is
the transition from traditional Islamic tribal identity to the modern
civil identity of a nation-state. Based on the study of the Hui com-
munity, this chapter explores the history of dialogue between imported
religions and local traditional cultures in China.
The Evolution of Islam in China: Localization, Secularization, and
Muslims Who Came to China in the Tang and Song Dynasties
Shortly after Islam was founded in the Middle East, its leaders started
to establish relations with the Tang Empire. According to the records
of the Chinese imperial court, the rst Arab delegation arrived in
In the 1950s, the Chinese government organized a nationality identication
campaign and fty-six ethnic groups (nationalities) were ofcially recognized.
204 jian zhixiang and ma rong
China in 651 AD.
Afterward, some Muslims came from the Middle
East and Persia to China by sea to conduct business or for other rea-
sons. When these businessmen settled down and married local people,
the rst Islamic community was formed in coastal China.
The harbor
city of Qianzhou, in todays Fujian Province, became an important
Muslim settlement at that time.
Mohammed, the founder of Islam, started his missionary work
in 610 AD. The Arabian Peninsula at that time was populated by
independent tribes. The Arab world, which knew a variety of beliefs,
was not united. The new religion founded by Mohammed stressed
the cohesion and unity of Muslims, becoming very effective in social
regulation. That is why Islam featured the integration of church and
state from the very beginning, a trait that has remained ever since no
matter where the religion spread.
When Islam came to China, however, the Tang Dynasty had
already formed a large and well-organized empire. The social condi-
tions Muslims faced in Tang China had the following features: (1) The
scope and depth of social differentiation and political integration was
much greater in China than in the Arab world: the empire boasted
a sound regulatory system and Confucianism played the key role in
maintaining social order, thus China had no need for a regime that
would integrate state and church. When the Muslims came to China,
they were immediately incorporated into the existing rule and placed
under the management of local government. Though the Muslim
population contributed to social and economic life, their religion had
no inuence on those outside of their own community. (2) Chinese
society had already developed a rather sophisticated cultural and value
system; the dominant Confucian culture, centered on the teachings of
Confucius and Mencius and traditional Chinese philosophy, was char-
Bai Shouyi , Minzu zongjiao lunji [A Collection on Ethnicity and Religion],
(Shijiazhuang: Hebei jiaoyu chubanshe, 2001), 204.
Yang Huaizhong , Huizushi lungao [History of the Hui Group]
(Ningxia renmin chubanshe, 1982), 5081. Ma Mingliang , Jianming yisilan shi
[Brief History of Islam] (Beijing: Jingji ribao chubanshe, 2001), 495.
Until today, integration of church and state remains one of the most important
features of Islam. Under the inuence of this idea, most Chinese Muslims see virtu-
ally no difference between Islam and Islamic states, a reection of which can
be found, though perhaps unconsciously, in some scholarly works in China. See Ma
Mingliang, Brief History of Islam, and Nan Wenyuan , Yisilanjiao yu xibei muslim
shehui shenghuo [Islam and the Social Life of Muslims in the Northwest] (Xining: Qing-
hai renmin chubanshe, 1994).
indigenization of imported religions in china 205
acterized by openness and a lack of orthodoxy. This made it possible
for external beliefs to be introduced and disseminated and to evolve
in Chinese society. There was much room for the competition and
coexistence of various religions. (3) Islam was introduced into China
mainly by immigrating Muslims. After they entered into China either
due to political reasons (making alliances to ght nomadic tribes)
economic reasons (trade and commerce), many Muslims married local
people where they had settled down and their population gradually
grew through intermarriage and childbearing.
Living in such an open social system and cultural environment,
the immigrant Muslims, on the one hand, formed their own com-
munity and built mosques. They enjoyed religious freedom and were
quite independent of the Chinese communities, dealing with their
own affairs according to Islamic Sharia. On the other hand, they also
actively embraced mainstream society, learning the Chinese language,
acquiring Chinese names for themselves, sitting for imperial exami-
nations, and receiving government appointments.
The four earliest
famous mosques (Huaisheng, built in the Tang Dynasty; and Feng-
huang, Qilin, and Xianhe, built in the Song and Yuan dynasties) fol-
lowed the traditional Chinese architectural style used in Confucian
and Buddhism temples.
This period of immigration to China and
integration into Chinese society lasted for nearly six hundred years,
throughout the Tang and Song Dynasties.
Islam managed to survive and endure within the communities of
Muslim immigrants in China during the Tang and Song Dynasties,
which can be attributed to the Confucian cultural tradition of tol-
erance and the relatively open and tolerant polices adopted by the
imperial government. However, because only a limited portion of the
The Tang army that put down rebellions between 756 and 763 CE included
Muslim troops from Central Asia; the emperor Su Zong permitted them to settle
down in China and marry Chinese women. One record in Zi-zhi-tong-jian ()
shows that over four thousand Hu-ke (, used of people from the Middle East,
Persia, and Central Asia) settled down and purchased land and houses in Chang-an,
the capital of the Tang Dynasty. See Jin Yijiu , ed., Yisilanjiao shi
[History of Islam] (Nanjing: Jiangsu renmin chubanshe, 2006), 380.
For example, Li Yansheng , an Arab by ancestry, successfully passed the
imperial exam in 848 AD and became a distinguished ofcial. Some poems written
by Persian descendants (e.g., Li Shunxian ) were included among the classics
of Tang Poems. See Jin Yijiu , History of Islam, 380.
Li Rongzhen , Yongyuan de puhading [Immortal Puhadin],
Huizu wenxue [Hui Literature] (2006), 3:3436, at 35.
206 jian zhixiang and ma rong
Koran was translated into Chinese,
the majority population had no
way to really understand the basic beliefs and teachings of this reli-
gion. For nearly six hundred years Islam existed in Chinese society
as an immigrant culture.
The Islamic inuence stayed within the
Muslim communities and had little impact on the culture and politics
of Chinese society.
Muslim Immigration in the Yuan Dynasty and the Formation of
the Large Hui Community
The Yuan Dynasty was founded by Mongolian groups in northern
China. After their expedition into the Western world, on their way
back they took by force many Central Asians who had converted to
Islam. When the Mongolian rulers were classifying the society, they
put these Muslims into the second-highest class, Semu,
just below the
rank of the Mongolians themselves, hoping that they would play an
important bridging role in politics, economy, and culture.
During the Yuan Dynasty, Muslims in China not only experienced
a big increase in population but also spread throughout the country
through military service and doing business. It was said that in the
Yuan Dynasty, the Muslims can be found everywhere in China. In
fact, this was the golden age for Muslims in China: because of their
Only short pieces of the Koran had been translated into Chinese by the end of
the Ming Dynasty, and the full version was not translated until 1927. See Ma Jian
, Preface of the Translator, The Koran (Beijing: Zhongguo shehui kexue
chubanshe, 1981), 2.There are at least seven places in the Koran that emphasize that
the Koran was written in the Arabic language, e.g.: This classic is in clear Arabic
(16.103); This is a Koran in the Arabic language without evil tune (39.28); This is
a Heaven Classic with a clear structure, it is the Koran in Arabic for the intelligent
people (41.3); If I provided a Koran in a foreign language, people would ask why
the content is not explained, and why there is a classic in foreign language although
from an Arab prophet? (41.44); This is a classic in the Arabic language to prove the
previous Heaven Classics, to warn the persons in injustice and those of good behav-
ior (46.12). Ma Jian, The Koran, 209, 355, 366, 369, 389. It is still common in todays
China that many people believe Arabic to be the only language in which Islam and
the Koran can be explained.
Ma Mingliang, Brief History of Islam, 500.
The four classes were Mongolians, Semu (various Muslims from central Asia,
Persia, and Arab), Han (the residents of northern China, including the Han, the Khi-
tan who formed Liao Dynasty, the Nuchen who formed the Jin Dynasty,
and the Dangxiang who formed the Xixia Dynasty), and Southerners (the
residents of southern China, including the Han of the Southern Song Dynasty and
various minority groups).
indigenization of imported religions in china 207
business sense and management and technical skills, they enjoyed a
highly favored political and cultural status and were embedded in
the social and economic structures of Chinese society. Many Mus-
lim ofcials, magnates, and talented gures are recorded in Chinese
By the end of the Yuan Dynasty, immigrant Muslims in China had
already adopted the Chinese language; some of them even became
famous singers or composers of Yuan verses. It was at that stage that
Muslims became real citizens of the empire and were no longer per-
ceived as aliens. China was still dominated by traditional culture,
with Confucianism at its core. The religious inuence of Islam still
remained within Muslim communities. Yet one thing worth men-
tioning is that under the religious policy of Mongolian rulers, main-
stream society started to regard Islam as a religion alongside other
accepted systems of belief, including Confucianism, Daoism, Christi-
anity, and Judaism. Although the Muslim population was on the rise
and mosques could be found everywhere, most Chinese had only an
outsiders knowledge of Islam.
Meanwhile, some Muslims accepted
the mainstream cultural values of China and started to adjust their
behavior accordingly.
Most Chinese historians agree that the Hui people as a group or
community did not become solidly formed until the Yuan Dynasty.

This group was different from other groups in China in the following
three aspects: they were immigrants who still had a fresh memory of
their places of origin; as members of the second-highest class, Semu,
they enjoyed privileges in the social hierarchical system; and they
believed in Islam. As history advanced into the Ming Dynasty, the
rst two features slowly became lost and religion became the main
difference between the Hui people and the Han Chinese. However,
as their connection with Central and Western Asia was broken, Islam
Bai Shouyi , Huizu renwuzhi ( yuandai) [Figure Annals of the Hui (Yuan
dynasty)] ( (), Ningxia Peoples Press, 1985).
Yang Yongchang , Zaoqi yisilanjiao xueshu zai zhongguo chuanbo qingkuang de
tantao [Study on the Dissemination of
Early Islamic Academic Results in China], in Yisilanjiao zai zhongguo
[Islam in China], ed. Ethnic Research Institute of Gansu Province (Yinchuan: Ningxia
renmin chubanshe, 1982), 4296.
Weng Dujian , ed., Zhongguo minzuguanxi shi gangyao
[Sketch History of Ethnic Relations in China] (Beijing: zhongguo shehui kexue chu-
banshe, 2001).
208 jian zhixiang and ma rong
lost its external resources for further development. With the weaken-
ing of the religion, many Hui people who were not very rm believers
became fully integrated into the Chinese people and were no longer
distinguishable as Muslims.
Evolution of the Hui Community after the Ming Dynasty
During the Ming Dynasty, there were two changes in Chinas Hui
community, changes that seemed to point in opposite directions.
On the one hand, the large and concentrated Muslim communities
in northwestern China saw their population growing, either through
marriages inside the group or intermarriage with people outside the
community. As they still retained their own sense of common descent,
lifestyle, and way of conduct, they were easily distinguished from non-
Muslims. On the other hand, through further integration into Chinese
society by intermarriage and migration, the smaller Muslim communi-
ties in the eastern coastal areas slowly lost their physical characteristics
and cultural heritage (language, architectural styles, etc.). The only
characteristic that distinguished them from other groups was their
preservation of Islamic beliefs and customs,
which, however, were
not strictly followed any more. Thus, they did not have the resources
to fully maintain their own religious beliefs, nor did they fully accept
mainstream values. This is a unique feature of the development of
Islam in China.
The rst change was the indigenization and secularization of Islam
in northwestern China. At that time there were many Muslims living
in the border areas of the empire, where the tusi (hereditary tribal
chief ) system was the major form of local governance. These Muslims
mainly included those who migrated from Central Asia in the early
Yuan Dynasty, the Mongolian tribes who converted to Islam in the
Yao Dali , Beifang minzushi shilun [Ten Essays on the
History of Northern Ethnic Groups] (Guilin: Guangxi shifan daxue chubanshe, 2007),
One of the most signicant customs of Chinese Muslims, including the Hui and
other groups, is the taboo against eating pork. In the Koran, drinking alcohol is con-
sidered a more serious sin than eating pork, yet many Chinese Muslim drink alcohol
while remaining very sensitive about pork.
indigenization of imported religions in china 209
late Yuan Dynasty,
and the Uygurs of Xinjiang.
All of them kept
their original social systems and were directly ruled by their tribal
chiefs. These Muslims lived side by side with other ethnic groups in
the border areas; some of them still spoke Mongolian or other mother
tongues and had the same lifestyle and occupations as local people.
The central government, however, made no differentiation between
them and other ethnic groups, nor did they treat them any differ-
ently according to the religions they were following. In fact, an Islamic
master imam or a-hong was regarded by the imperial government as a
living Buddha or an accomplished monk (in Tibetan Buddhism) and
received a title similar to that of an imperial priest.
Thus the inte-
gration of church and state was maintained within Muslim communi-
ties, with Islamic Sharia ruling their life in the same way as domestic
disciplines governed other ethnic groups.
Of course, it was inevitable that Islamic beliefs and practices would
gradually merge with the language and customs of local believers;
examples can easily be found in traditional Muslim communities in
northwestern China. In the Central Plains, however, Muslims were
hardly different from their Chinese neighbors except for their belief in
Islam. Some Islamic elites who were integrated into mainstream soci-
ety slowly lost their religious identity as their social mobility increased.
For those who managed to retain their identity, social mobility usually
meant a lowering of their status in local society. Two factors put pres-
sure on Chinese Muslims: the absence of external supports and the
dominant rule of secularized Confucianism in China. As a result, the
sacred symbolic system of Islam slowly lost the distinctive traits of a
foreign culture and adopted a great many local cultural elements.
As time went by, this tendency toward indigenization and secu-
larization became evident in the understanding and interpretation
of Isalamic teachings and Sharia law. In the late Ming and early
Duosang , Duosang menggoshi [History of Mongolia by Duosang (I)]
, trans. Feng Chengjun (Shanghai: Shanghai shudian chubanshe,
He Yan , Mingdai xiyu huihui rufu zhongyuan kao
[Study on the Integration of the Huis from Western Regions into the Central Plains
in the Ming Dynasty], in Lin Song and He Yan eds., huihui lishi yu yisilan
wenhua [The History of Hui and Islamic Culture] (Beijing:
jinri zhongguo chubanshe, 1992), 2238.
Linxia huizu zizhizhou zhi [Annals of Linxia Hui Autonomous Prefecture]
(Lanzhou: Gansu renmin chubanshe, 1993).
210 jian zhixiang and ma rong
Qing Dynasty, some books appeared that based their interpretation
of Islamic classics on Confucian terms or borrowed Confucian ideas.
Such interpretation announced the Confucianization of the beliefs and
practices of Chinas Muslims.
This, however, was not a passive adap-
tation. To some extent, it could be regarded as an initiative taken
by Muslims who had been integrated into Chinese society.
In this period, the masters of the interpretation of Islamic classics
reached a consensus that Islam had to take the road that Buddhism
had taken in order to eliminate cultural misunderstanding, halt the
decline, and obtain the same standing as Buddhism. Though it was
also a foreign religion introduced into China, Buddhism managed to
settle down and get established among the Chinese because in its early
days the accomplished monks started to make use of local thoughts
and culture to interpret Buddhism. As a result of this effort, Bud-
dhism became integrated into and thus an important supplement to
the worldview and moral value systems that had already been in place.
This is how Buddhism became part of the mainstream culture of China
The most inuential advocate for using Chinese to interpret Islam was Wang
Daiyu , whose works include Zhengjiaozhenquanand Qing-
zhendaxue. When his students were collecting his thoughts and
remarks, they called him Wangzi (Master Wang), following the traditional Chinese
practice of hailing Confucius as Kongzi (Master Kong) and Mencius as Mengzi
(Master Meng). It is in one of these works compiled by his students, Xizhenzhengda
, that his attempt to use Confucianism to interpret Islamic classics
is most noticeable (see Yu Zhengui , Yibu dui yisilan zheli juewei xiao de daibiao-
zuo: wang daiyu xizhen zhengda chutan
[A Classic on Islamic Philosophy That Explores Its Mystery
from Small AspectsPreliminary Study on Wang Daiyus Xizhenzhengda], Zhong-
guo yisilanjiao yanjiu wenji bianxiezu, ed. [Editorial
group of Collected Essays from the Qing Dynasty on Islam in China], Zhongguo yisilanjiao yanjiu
wenji [Collected Essays from the Qing Dynasty on Islam in
China] (Yinchuan: Ningxia renmin chubanshe, 1981), 7588. Another example of
the Confucianization of Islam is that the father of the famous expert on Islamic clas-
sics from Yunnan, Ma Zhu, named himself learning from Confucius and sent Ma
Zhu and his elder brother Ma Wo to study with a renowned local Confucius expert,
Zhang Xubai. For more on the inuence of Confucianism on Islam in China, see
Feng Jinyuan , Cong yisilanjiao hanwen yizhu kan rujia sixiang dui zhongguo
yisilanjiao de yingxiang he shentou
[The Inuence and Penetration of Confucianism on Islam
in ChinaFrom the Perspective of Chinese Translations of Islamic Works], in
, Yisilanjiao zai zhongguo [Islam in China], ed.
Ethnic Research Institute of Gansu Province (Yinchuan: Ningxia renmin chubanshe,
1982), 257281. For an introduction to historical gures in China who interpreted
Islamic classics and sciences using the Chinese language, see Bai Shouyi, A Collection
on Ethnicity and Religion, 209212.
indigenization of imported religions in china 211
and managed to be disseminated among ofcials and the masses. Of
course, the Muslims did not start this journey until their religious clas-
sics had been translated into Chinese and a group of Hui intellectuals
had received a systematic education in Confucianism.
National Strategies of the Qing Dynasty and External Inuences on
the Islamic Movement
Muslims rst came to live in China in the seventh century but did
not start using the Chinese language and concepts to interpret Islam
until the seventeenth century. When they nally decided to do so after
nearly one thousand years, however, great changes were taking place
in the political and social environment of China. The Qing Dynasty,
like the Yuan Dynasty, was also founded by an ethnic minority group.
To contain the Han majority who lived in the plains of Eastern Asia,
the Manchus formed an alliance with Mongolia in the north, and with
Tibet and the Hui people in the western regions. Using this strategy,
the Qing Dynasty managed to expand Chinese territory to its maxi-
mum extent. This strategy, however, had two main inuences on the
development of Islam in China in the eighteenth century.
Development of Transportation and Cultural Exchange between
the Chinese Empire and the Western Regions
In the early Qing Dynasty, the Silk Road along the Gansu Corri-
dor, which connects China with Central Asia and the Middle East,
was reopened. As a result, the once-isolated Muslims in China recon-
nected with the outside Muslim world and initiated religious and aca-
demic exchanges. Developments in the international Islamic world
thus started inuencing Muslims in China. In addition, as Susm was
introduced into China along with different interpretations of Islamic
classics, the menhuan , religious sectsystem became popular in
the Muslim societies of northwestern China.
The menhuan system was established rst in the late Ming Dynasty, then devel-
oped in the Qing Dynasty. Bai Shouyi , Minzu zongjiao lunji [A Collection on
Ethnicity and Religion], 198.
212 jian zhixiang and ma rong
In general, there have been three major sects of Islam in China. The
Gedimu sect was the rst Islamic group to arrive in China,
in 651 AD, and it remained stable for about eleven hundred years.
After Susm came to China in the eighteenth century, the Gedimu sect
(old sect) divided into several groups. A second sect, Ikhwan (new
sect), appeared. There have been debates for a long time among Chi-
nese Muslims about whether Ikhwan was related to the Wahabi sect in
Arabia. The third sect of Islam, Xidaotang, was established
around 1891. A distinctive feature of Xidaotang was its use of Chinese
translations of Islamic classics in disseminating Islam.
there were four other major menhuan among Hui Muslims in China:
Hufuyya, Gadilinyya, Jahriyya, and Kuburiyya.
The menhuan system of Hui Muslims was closely related to Susm,
with master chiefs serving as menhuan leaders and presiding in Su
lecture places and mosques. This system advocated reviving Islam and
at the same time demanded more secular rights,
marking the rst
time in Chinas Muslim society that religion and the arrangement of
the social system were combined, resulting in a stronger desire and
mobilization for greater autonomy among Muslim communities.
At the same time, however, the Qing government, in order to
strengthen its administrative authority in border areas, adopted the
policy of gaituguiliu (changing the traditional hereditary
tribal chief system into the ofcial system appointed by the emperor),
gradually weakening the autonomous power of local rulers. In the pro-
cess, the imperial government integrated the minority ethnic groups in
the northwest into the Han people, or as they are called in historical
records, Shufan, under the direct administration of Qing of-
cials. This pushed Muslims in northwestern China, who were regarded
as Shufan or simply Han Hui (Muslims who had already adopted Han
culture), to the margins of politics.
As their autonomous rights were
Ma Tong , Zhongguo yisilanjiaopai yu menhuanzhidu shilue [A Brief History of
Islamic Sects and the menhuan System in China]
(Yinchuan: Ningxia remin chubanshe, 1983), 164.
There were nineteen sub-menhuan under Hufuye and six sub-menhuan under
Gadilinye. Ibid., 35.
Ibid., 119451.
The term Han Hui was used to distinguish those among the Hui population
who spoke Chinese and adopted Chinese culture from the Chan Hui, the term for
the Muslims in Xinjiang who spoke different languages and had different physical
characteristics, such as the Uygur and Kazak.
indigenization of imported religions in china 213
weakened or even taken away, they directed their hopes and efforts
toward confronting and challenging the central government.
The Special Place of the Northwestern Hui Area in the Strategic Plan of
the Qing Dynasty
The alliance established in the early Qing Dynasty among the Manchu,
Mongolian, Tibetan, and Hui peoples was of strategic importance for
imperial control of the huge Han territory. The Gansu Corridor was
the key region connecting the Central Plains to Xinjiang, the north-
western frontier. The Hui area in Gansu, Qinghai, and Ningxia is
centrally located and communicates with several strategic areas: Han
areas to the east, Mongolia in the north, Uygur areas to the north-
west, and the Tibetan Plateau to the west. The Hui Muslims were
different from the Han majority and shared similar religious beliefs
with Muslims in Xinjiang. These characteristics made the Hui area
an important yet weak section of the dominating chain of the Qing
Dynasty. The situation became more serious when there were internal
conicts among various sects of Uygurs in the western areas. They
had extensive connections with the governments in Central Asia and
the Mongolian tribes ( Junkar) who always wanted to rule Xinjiang
and Tibet. Therefore, the Hui area of northwestern China became
the place where Manchus had the weakest rule, and the region whose
instability would denitely pose a threat to imperial strategy.
Russia became a new factor during the middle period of the Qing
Dynasty, as it expanded into Central Asia and Siberia. Its inuence
and ambition could be observed in ghts between sects of Muslims in
the western regions of China. Under such circumstances, the alliance
the Manchus built with Mongolia, Tibet, and the Hui people had a
second functionto defend the Qing Empire against external aggres-
sion from Russia. The Muslims among the Hui, who were trying to
revive their religion with the help of the Holy City and beginning to
interpret the Koran in Confucian terms, soon fell into a disadvanta-
geous situation.
The instability of Hui society in northwestern China started with
military encounters between different Muslim sects, which then turned
into a widespread riot. This lasted for as long as a century, involving
almost all Hui communities throughout China. The government of
course tried to quell the uprising. The process of suppression fostered
hatred between the Hui people and the Han and other ethnic groups.
214 jian zhixiang and ma rong
In many areas, Islam was forbidden by the government, Muslim beliefs
and lifestyles were derided, and the Confucianization of Islam, which
had just started in China, was forced to stop. On the other hand, the
Hui people also started to harbor dislike and repulsion toward Han
culture: some of them would even treat learning Chinese as something
that went against their Islamic beliefs.
When looking at this century-long period of wars and turbulence,
scholars from China and abroad tend to take very different perspec-
tives. Chinese scholars, for example, always construct their analyses
from the perspective of class struggle within Chinese society, conicts
between sects, or conicts between various ethnic groups.
Some for-
eign researchers, however, try to understand this period by consider-
ing the social conicts in China against the larger picture of the Susm
movement, which had effects throughout the Eastern Muslim world.

They hold that the backbone of the conicts in Chinathe Jahriyya
sectwas in fact under the inuence of Arab extremist sects that were
responding to attacks on the Arab world from Western societies.

There are also others who try to understand Hui society using the
theory of ethnic group-nationalism transformation.
When we combine these perspectives in studying the situation of
Chinas Hui Muslim society in the mid- and late-Qing Dynasty, we
nd that when China was rst attacked by the Western world, the
government and mainstream society were under the immediate pres-
sure of economic, technological, and military forces while daily life
and social ideas were largely untouched by Western modernization.
However, Muslim elites in Hui society were under the direct political
inuence of the Islamic world through religious channels. When they
acted in China, they were following the extremist thoughts generated
Zhang Chengzhi , Xinliushi [History of the Soul] (Guangzhou:
Huacheng chubanshe, 1991).
Qiu Shusen , ed., Zhongguo huizu shi [History of the Hui Eth-
nic Group in China] (Yinchuan: Ningxia renmin chubanshe, 1996); Li Xinghua, Qin
Huibin, et al., , Zhongguo yisilanjiao shi [History of
Islam in China] (Beijing: China shehui kexue chubanshe, 1998); Gu Bao , ed.,
Xibei tongshi [History of the Northwest], vol. 4 (Lanzhou: Lanzhou daxue
chubanshe, 2005).
Joseph F. Fletcher, Studies on Chinese and Islamic Inner Asia (London: Valorium,
Raphael Israeli, Muslims in China (London: Curzon, 1978).
Dru C. Gladney, Muslim Chinese (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press,
indigenization of imported religions in china 215
by conicts between the Islamic world (the East) and colonialism and
imperialism (the West). The Hui society thus became opposed to both
Western culture and the fundamentalism of successive traditions
the Islamic traditions that came into being after the period of the Four
Caliphs. The various revivalist sects of Islam born in modern times
had a tendency toward fundamentalism, and they opposed successive
traditions and held the ideal of restoring the pure Islamic traditions
of Mohammeds time.
However, the Islamic world, situated between China and Europe,
had already faced the difcult choice of accepting or rejecting West-
ern thought, technology, culture, and social systems. Thus the various
revivalist thoughts that inuenced the Hui people in China were in
fact drawn from the response of Muslim elites to social transforma-
tion they were experiencing back in their own Islamic societies, with
their own specic social goals and political ideals. Yet neither the Hui
community nor Chinese society was undergoing the transformation of
modernization at that time. In other words, there were no social goals
that corresponded to the religious orthodoxy and way of action of the
imported ideas, nor did social and political conditions encourage the
Chinese Hui group to accept modernization.
Under such circumstances, the majority of Chinas Hui Muslim
community underwent a change that did not correspond to their
conditions of life: (1) In their religious belief they were opposed to
both other cultures and successive traditions. When opposition
to foreign culture emerged in China after the Opium War, in Hui
communities this idea was reformulated as a rejection of Han culture
or Confucian culture. The rejection of successive traditions became
an attack on the indigenization and secularization of Islam in China,
as well as on efforts to interpret Islamic classics from a Confucian per-
spective. (2) In politics, the Hui society denied the existing Qing author-
ity by maintaining their religious identity, but they had no compelling
and legitimate reasons to engage in an all-out war against the Qing.
As a result, though the Hui people were opposed to the government,
they were far from being able to overthrow it. There were many cases
of rebels seeking amnesty from the government.
Though small-scale
Wu Zhongli and Liu Qinbin , eds., Xibei wu ma [The
Five Ma Warlords in the Northwest] (Zhengzhou: Henan renmin chubanshe, 1993),
216 jian zhixiang and ma rong
riots were scattered, they were all regarded as serious crimes during
the Taiping Rebellion and were quelled in all ways by the imperial
government. The opportunity for the development of Islam in Hui
communities in China thus came to a dead end. An extreme example
of the Confucianization development was the menhuan of Jahriyya.
Religious Strategies Adopted by Hui Elites in the Northwest in
the Modern Period (18401949)
The armed riots of the Hui people in northwestern China ended with
Ma Zhanao () leading his troops to surrender to Qing General
Zuo Zongtangand assisting the imperial government in
quelling other Hui riots across the country. The end of the distur-
bances and the restoration of peace was dependent on the Hui people
themselves. They had to compromise with mainstream Chinese soci-
ety: they gave up any ambition to establish an autonomous region
under the ag of Islam, and they identied themselves as loyal subjects
of the Chinese empire.
This part of history shows that Hui society in China could not nd
a way to survive and develop until it acceded to the ofcial ruling
order. Zuo Zongtang trusted Ma Zhanao and put him in an impor-
tant position in the Qing Army and government. By this move, the
Hui community was recruited into the imperial system, and hence-
forth it contributed to mainstream society through its highly organized
system and potential production power. Ma Zhanao and his troops
were turned from enemy to loyal power and became an important
force under Zuo Zongtangs command. The benets of this change
were fully realized when the Eight Power Allied Forces occupied Bei-
jing after the Boxer riots occurred and Empress Dowager Tzu-hsi
ed to Xian. Ma and his troops protected the empress dowager well.
Their loyalty was greatly appreciated and rewarded. Though the
Qing Dynasty was in its last days, the trust and rewards with which it
favored these Hui generals made them into inuential local warlords
in northwestern China in the rst half of the twentieth century.
Intense competition among local powers started in the late Qing
Dynasty. Hui local powers were at rst loyal to the imperial govern-
ment, but when the anti-Qing and pro-Republic revolution started,
they quickly shifted their allegiance to the other side. By this time they
had already obtained legitimacy during the days of being loyal to the
indigenization of imported religions in china 217
central government. Now, with the Hui community as their social
basis of power and military forces under their command, they man-
aged to secure power in the local administration and to balance the
power of Han communities. They controlled four of the eight military
bases in Gansu Province.
After a hundred years of war with the government, the newly united
Hui elites showed some new features: (1) Most of them knew that
if they wanted to survive and develop in China they would have to
be ofcially recognized by the central government and be incorpo-
rated into it. Those Hui warlords who managed to maintain their
own separate regimes by using armed forces were very clear and rm
on this. (2) They also knew that in the erce competition for power,
it was crucial to retain the social basis of their power and to use a
designated region as their base. Therefore they would try their best
to maintain and strengthen their social and religious ties with local
Hui communities, satisfying to some extent the expectations of both
Hui communities and non-Muslim communities in practical interests
while keeping a certain degree of religious identity as a religious tie to
connect to the Hui communities who were their basic supporters. Any-
one who managed to survive the erce ghts among local powers had
proven his ability to keep a good balance between them. Tilting too
much toward the Hui people would undoubtedly bring about discon-
tent among non-Hui people, thus weakening their power and author-
ity. And working too hard to win the religious identication of Islam
would result in ghts between religious and secular powers and cul-
tural isolation from local non-Islamic people and other parts of China.
(3) All of the Hui elites could understand and make use of all kinds
of political rules, obvious or hidden, and participated and excelled in
various complicated political game-playing, which was another sign
that the Hui elites had been fully integrated into Chinese society and
culture, including orthodox Confucianism, political culture, and rules
and norms.
In the Qing system, a base () was an administrative-military unit within a
province. One province might have ve or ten bases, each of which had their own
administrative area where they could collect taxes, levy troops, and exercise power
in local jurisdiction, education, and religious management. In the late Qing Dynasty,
Gansu Province had eight bases, covering todays Gansu, Ningxia, and Qinghai.
Ningxia and Qinghai became separate provinces from Gansu in 1929.
218 jian zhixiang and ma rong
These Hui warlords in northwestern China were closely related to
Islamic powers from the day they started; in fact some of them were
imams. Therefore, from where they stood and how they acted, we
may, from a fresh perspective, examine the trend of changes in Islam
since the mid-Qing Dynasty. The following analysis examines several
representative Hui warlords in northwestern China.
Ma Zhanao () and His Posterity
Ma Zhanao, whose Islamic name was Abuduliazezi ,
was a famous Imam in Hezhou (modern Linxia City in Gansu). He
was procient in both the Islamic classics and the Chinese language
and taught students in local schools. This man, who was outstanding
in both civil and military affairs, was trusted and admired by his fol-
lowers because he was articulate and brave. On the basis of his local
reputation, he was asked by all Hui people to take a position of leader-
ship and to unify all sects and menhuans at key moments in the ghting
between the rebellious Hui people and government troops. However,
when the crisis was over, the power structure would once again return
to the hands of different menhuans, the organizational bases of local Hui
communities. Ma Zhanao, who served as military commander during
the ghting, would then have to give up his authority and return to
his home.
In 1869, the Qing general Zuo Zongtang attacked the
political center of the Hui rebellion, Hezhou. When things became
urgent, the various menhuans once again asked Ma Zhanao to lead
them, promising with the Koran on their heads that they would all
obey his orders. The troops led by Ma won the battle in Taizisi in
1872. The Hui army was in high spirits after this victory, but Ma
pointed out that there would be no way out for them if they continued
to ght against the much stronger Qing Empire. He suggested that this
victory offered the best opportunity for them to surrender to the Qing
troops, and he himself would shoulder all the responsibilities incurred
and would try his best to negotiate with the royal court for a reduced
punishment. This plan was supported by some prominent gures in
the Hui community, and thus the Hui troops in Hezhou surrendered
to Zuo Zongtang, who was in a very difcult position at that time.
After his defeat by the Hui troops, Zuo Zongtang did not know what
to say to the royal court, nor could he nd anyone to help him out of
his trouble. After coming to Gansu, Zuo Zongtang realized that local
indigenization of imported religions in china 219
governments were highly corrupt and ofcials from other provinces
would not stay here long. Therefore, the solution would be ruling
the Hui people with Hui ofcialsappointing men of high reputa-
tion in the Hui communities to local government positions. When the
defeated Zuo was attempting to select a proper Hui candidate, Ma
Zhanao led his troops to surrender, an act that changed the course
of the ght.
Before Ma could surrender, the greatest opposition came from vari-
ous menhuans. As the power of the menhuans in the Hui community
was based on religious authority, they would strictly defend their own
areas and ght with each other for power. In fact, the menhuan system
had been one of the most important internal causes of instability and
disturbance in the Hui community since the mid-Qing Dynasty. Ma
Zhanao, however, belonged to the old sect (Gedimu, ), and
was relatively unconcerned with sectarian differences. On the contrary,
his war experience taught him the great danger of separate rules and
inconsistency among various sects and menhuans. Therefore when he
was once again invited to lead the rebellious Hui troops, he conrmed
his power of command and decision-making by having sect leaders
promise, with the Koran on their heads, that they would obey his
orders. In this way, he secured their authorization of his leadership.
After surrendering, Ma Zhanao submitted himself to Zuo Zong-
tang to assist him in quelling Hui uprisings in other parts of north-
western China. When Ma and other Hui elites like him sought to
reincorporate Hui communities into the imperial system, the rst to
oppose them were menhuans who all wanted to expand their own pow-
ers and maintain control of their Hui communities. However, because
Ma and other elites recognized that the division of power between
menhuans was the root cause of chaos, they advocated weakening, and
even suppressing, menhuan powers.
Mas surrender had a direct inuence on the Hui community in
at least the following ways: (1) Leaders of other Hui uprisings started
following him and begged to submit themselves to the Qing troops. In
this way, the Hui troops, as well as their elite leaders, were reincorpo-
rated into the military and political systems of the Qing empire. (2) As
instructed by Zuo Zongtang, Ma Zhanao took charge of post-war
affairs in Gansu and Qinghai. He followed the rules ordered by Zuo
Wu Zhongli and Liu Qinbin, The Five Ma Warlords in the Northwest.
220 jian zhixiang and ma rong
Zongtang and put half of the military-civil bases under the control of
Hui troops. The administrative structure of power distribution among
ethnic groups in the whole area was thereafter ofcially accepted by
the royal court, which was highly benecial to the prosperity of the
four Hui troops. (3) After surrendering to the Qing troops, Ma recom-
mended some religious gures for military posts, like the religious lead-
ers of Huasi menhuan Ma Yongrui and the leader of Dongxiang menhuan
Ma Wuzhen. These Hui elites then remained loyal to the Qing gov-
ernment. Gradually, this softened the oppositional attitude of the Hui
communities towards the Qing court and changed their relations with
the central government of China, which further inserted local Hui
powers into the framework of imperial power. (4) Ma Zhanao paid
special attention to mediating the conicts between sects and menhuans
in Hui society. When he was keeping order for the central govern-
ment, he would repress the sects that started ghting each other so as
to maintain cohesion and stability in the Hui community.
Under the combination of these four inuences, Hui communities
throughout China slowly realized how relations between the powers of
religion, the military, and the emperor should be arranged. During the
process, there emerged in Hui society a group of powerful gures who
acted in their own ways and thus created a context for future changes
in the religious structure.
Ma Zhanao was both a powerful political gure and a senior imam,
and his ofces had a restraining inuence on his posterity. His son Ma
Anliang and grandson Ma Tingrang, who inherited both his military
and political positions and religious inuence, were content to stay
in Hezhou. When Chinese society was undergoing tremendous social
changes, they failed to adapt to the times and because of their misjudg-
ments were nally defeated by other powers. What restricted them
most, perhaps, was religion, which stopped them from transforming
Ma Zhanaos troops into modern military forces and accepting other
steps that were necessary for competition against other local powers.
Ma Qi () and Ma Bufang ()
Qinghai had been under the rule of Ma Bufangs family from the late
Qing Dynasty until 1949, when it was liberated by the Peoples Lib-
eration Army under the Communist Party. This rule started when Ma
Zhanao surrendered to the Qing troops: Ma Bufangs grandfather Ma
Haiyan was Ma Zhanaos assistant ofcer, who took part in the battle
indigenization of imported religions in china 221
in 1900 against the foreign army. After Ma Haiyan died on the way
from Beijing to Xian when he was protecting the empress dowager,
his son Ma Lin inherited his position. Because he spared no effort in
guarding the empress dowager, his service was highly appreciated and
Ma Lin was born in 1869. He was
tall, elegant, quiet, but trustworthy. When he started working as an of-
cial, he was always quick to adapt to any change in events and was a
skilled communicator. As for his lifestyle, he was considered to be a
person with limited knowledge but he thought about everything very
carefully. In an urgent situation, he would carefully weigh the pros and
cons and would not rush into action. For him, the result was the most
important. He knew the features of ethnically and religiously distinctive
areas well, and he made the best use of his knowledge to achieve what
he wanted. Though he was not well educated, he greatly respected intel-
lectuals. When he appointed subordinates, he would trust them with all
his heart and follow their advice, which in turn attracted talented local
people to work for him. Therefore, by the time he died, he was highly
praised and had earned his reputation among the eight Bases.
After he was appointed Xining Guarding Commander during
19121928, Ma Lin, with his outstanding political talents, managed
to control the whole Qinghai area. His strong leadership during the
period paved the way for him to become the rst governor when the
province of Qinghai was established in 1929. There are three points
worth mentioning about Ma Lins rule: (1) In all important affairs,
Ma Lin would always consult with his assistants and advisors and fol-
low their advice, which in turn made the people who assisted him
loyal and hardworking. These assistants and advisors were either well
acquainted with both Chinese and foreign knowledge, or they were
experts in Han, Hui, and Tibetan affairs, most of whom were know-
ledgeable people who had extensive social networks. Mas strategy for
lling government positions was to appoint Han people instead of Hui
people, and people from Gansu, Qinghai, or other provinces instead
of those who came from his hometown, Hezhou. (2) Ma made skillful
use of his knowledge of ethnic relations to win trust from all ethnic
groups (Han, Tibetan, Mongol, etc.) instead of focusing on the Hui
Chen Bingyuan , Mabufang jiaozu tongzhi Qinghai sishi nian [The Forty Years
Rule of Ma Bufangs Family in Qinghai], ( Xining:
Qinghai remin chubanshe, 2007 [1986]), 278.
222 jian zhixiang and ma rong
community alone. (3) Compared with other Hui warlords, Ma Lin
paid special attention to the legitimacy of his acts in state politics.
When conducting important affairs or making important decisions, he
would always try to obtain approval or authorization from the central
government. From the three points above, we may see the political
and cultural tendencies adopted by this warlord from the very begin-
ning, which were further strengthened in the way he arranged for the
education of his sons.
Ma Lin was very careful with the education of his son Ma Bufang.
At rst, Ma Lin made separate plans for his two sons, one to work
in the military and the other in politics. But when he saw that in the
Hui society of Gansu and Qinghai, the one who controlled religion
would win the recognition and dependence of the Hui people, he sent
his second son Ma Bufang to a mosque to receive a traditional Mus-
lim education. When he went to Qinghai, he invited local Confucian
experts to teach Ma Bufang calligraphy, the classics, and books about
the art of war, thus equipping him with education from both the Mus-
lim mosque and the Confucian school.
In addition to educating his sons, Ma Lin donated funds in support
of the education of the Hui people. To promote modern education
based on the language of the Han Chinese, he followed the practice
of the Hui people in the coastal regions, setting up a Hui Education
Promotion Association and starting to build schools in most county
towns in Qinghai.
Hui warlords in northwestern China all had to win support from
local Hui communities or else they would not be able to hold on to
their power in the erce competition. And to win local support, they
had to establish close relations with those who wielded religious power.
The posterity of Ma Zhanao held religious power, so they used to be
the most powerful among northwestern warlords. Ma Lins family was
in fact a newly independent branch and was also thinking of securing
religious power. However, most of the religious resources of the Hui
communities in northwestern China were already dominated by Ma
Zhanao and his direct posterity, so Ma Lin and Ma Bufang chose
to support a new sect, Ikhwan, which was not introduced into China
until the early twentieth century. This strategy worked very well for
them, as a new and less conservative sect would be a perfect match for
a warlord with an Islamic background who wanted to have his own
loyal modern troops. The teachings of Ikhwan were in line with Ma
Lin and Ma Bufangs plans for local society: erasing sectarian division,
indigenization of imported religions in china 223
eliminating customs that were too complicated and undesirable, pro-
moting modern education, establishing modern social systems, and
using armed forces to establish a political regime and revive religion.
With the full support of Ma Lin and Ma Bufang, Ikhwan quickly dis-
seminated in Hui society and dominated all the sects in Qinghai and
Ma Lin and Ma Bufang realized not only the importance of religion,
but also the potential threat religious power might pose to them. Thus
when they won support from religious sects, they carefully controlled
these religious powers. Ma Bufang knew the Muslim classics very well
and was very pious. But from his instructions for the reformation of
Islamic education in 1946, we can see that he strictly limited religion
to the areas of promoting education, promoting intellectualism, dis-
seminating orthodox religion, maintaining morals, and lifting peoples
spirits. Imams were forbidden to interfere with civil or criminal suits or
to take part in business or administration. Ma Bufangs reform also set
moral standards and rules of conduct for religious personnel, as well as
their level of remuneration. This was a very modern attitude toward
religion for a governor with an Islamic background.
Ma Fuxiangand Ma Hongkui
Ma Fuxiangs father, Ma Qianling, was one of the Hui ofcers who
followed Ma Zhanao and surrendered to Qing troops. He was not an
important gure back then, so he was appointed as a Lanling (blue-
collar) ofcer, an unimportant post. However, he managed to keep his
family and assets intact during conicts with Hui rebels. He paid spe-
cial attention to the education of his sons. His second son Ma Fulu was
good at both civil and military affairs and was very loyal to friends.
After he passed the preliminary imperial military exams, he managed
to get the best results in the empire-level exam. However, because he
misbehaved when meeting the emperor, he was demoted and became
a guard at the royal palace, where he would learn royal etiquette. His
fourth son Ma Fuxiang was born in 1876. It was said that his mother
was a Han who, although not educated herself, rested all her hopes
on her son.
In fact, from the stories of Ma Qianlings sons, we can get a glimpse
of the cultural and political values adopted by the Hui elites in Gansu
and Qinghai. From the very beginning, Ma Fuxiang and Ma Fulu
were loyal to the Qing Empire and were known as devoted and brave
224 jian zhixiang and ma rong
ofcials. Ma Fulu died in a ght against the Eight Power Allied Forces
in 1900. Ma Fuxiang succeeded and did his best to defend the royal
family in the west. Though Ma Fuxiang was only twenty-ve years old
then, he exhibited great interpersonal skills and became close friends
with important gures in the royal court, which paved the way for his
future political career. In addition, Ma Fuxiang was good at poetry
and calligraphy. He befriended many Confucian masters throughout
the country and was praised as a general who was equally accom-
plished as a man of Confucian knowledge.
Ma Fuxiang upheld the tradition of the Chinese scholar-bureaucrat:
he believed in respecting education and classics while my religion
believed in only one God. In his military and political careers, Ma
Fuxiang stressed maintaining good relations between Hui and Han
people and worked hard to safeguard the state and protect ordinary
people. This was perhaps due to his attitude toward religion. Ma Fuxi-
ang thought that the chaos in northwestern China was closely related
to incitement by sects. He was opposed to expanding sectarian power
through menhuan, partisanship, and the new sect established by Ma
Lin and Ma Bufang. He did not place any emphasis on worship and
gave no preferential treatment to imams. Instead, he put much of his
effort into Hui education, new schools of thought, and publication.
For example, he built many schools in places where he held posts and
funded the teachers school and overseas education. He also attached
great importance to the Chinese (Han) translation of Islamic books,
funding the publication of over thirty books written in Chinese by
Wang Daiyu, Liu Jielian, Ma Zhu, Ma Fuchu, and others to introduce
the Islamic classics.
The closest contact between Ma Fuxiang and the Islamic sects in
northwestern China was perhaps in 1920 when he allied with Jahriyya
to compete with Lu Hongtao for the post of governor of Gansu. To
strengthen his power, he asked Ma Yuanzhang, the religious leader
of Jahriyya, to recommend him to the president. Though Ma Yuan-
zhang promised to do so, it turned out that he recommended that the
central government not appoint local people, lest the practice lead to
domination by powerful individuals.
At that time, however, all the
Shi Lun , Xibei majia junfa shi [History of the Ma Warlords
in the Northwest] (Lanzhou: Gansu renmin chubanshe, 2006), 3948.
Ding Mingjun , Mafuxiang zhuan [Bibliography of Ma Fuxiang]
(Yinchuan: Ningxia Renmin chubanshe, 2001), 83.
indigenization of imported religions in china 225
other local warlords in the northwest were supporting Ma Fuxiang
for this post, so Ma Yuanzhangs gesture may be interpreted as a sign
that religious power and political-military power in Hui society were
not that close, as the growing strength of the latter had in fact posed
a threat to religious menhuan. Ma Yuanzhang, who advocated ghts
between sects, died in an earthquake at Haiyuan in December 1920.
It was said that his death shocked Ma Fuxiang, who interpreted it as a
warning from Allah. To avoid conicts that would bring more death,
he withdrew from the competition for the Gansu governorship.
We can determine Ma Fuxiangs religious attitude from his acts.
When he died, Hui communities throughout the country gave him
very high praise. Following the teachings of Islam, he tried to maintain
peace to fulll his desire for a quiet life; he was against partisanship
and promoted the integration of Hui people; he did not repress religion
and promoted the Hui education; and he advocated the publication
of Islamic books to disseminate the real essence of Islam. Commemo-
rative events were held around the country, a very rare occurrence
in Hui history.
From this we may conclude that Ma Fuxiang had
won recognition and support from the majority of Hui communities
in China at that time.
His son Ma Hongkui, however, took a different road in terms of
religion, a road that was more in line with the position of Ma Lin
and Ma Bufang. In some cases, he was even more open. Ma Hong-
kui highly respected and depended on the famous classics scholar of
Ikhwan, Hu Songshan, and from the acts of Hu Songshan we may
discover his religious values.
Unlike his father, who was renowned
beyond local areas and traveled to many places, Ma Hongkuis orbit
was largely restricted to Ningxia and saw the religion of the local Hui
community as an important issue he must deal with. In this aspect he
had the same needs as Ma Lin and Ma Bufang, which explained his
support of Ikhwan.
Ma Hongkui had a very different life background from Ma Bufang;
the situations in Ningxia and Qinghai also varied. However, in both
Ibid., 173180.
Ye Zhenggang , Ningxia yihewani zhuming jingxuejia husongshan
[The Famous Master of Ikhwan in Ningxia], Qingdai zhongguo
yisilanjiao lunji [Collected Essays from the Qing Dynasty on
Islam in China], ed. Ningxia zhexue shehuikexue yanjiusuo
[Institute of Philosophy and Social Sciences of Ningxia] (Yinchuan: Ningxia
renmin chubanshe, 1981), 308325.
226 jian zhixiang and ma rong
provinces the Ma warlords took the same approach to religion, which
suggests that in the Hui communities of Gansu, Ningxia, and Qinghai
during the rst half of the twentieth century, a modern system was
needed to develop modern education and technology, and Ikhwan was
the sect that could satisfy this need and maintain the integrity of the
Hui community. What should be noted is that the warlords in Ningxia
and Qinghai made the best use of the modern and tolerant side of
Ikhwan, introducing it into the Islamic teachings of local communities.
Yet at the same time they put the sect itself under strict political and
military control and disregarded the Ikhwan principle of using armed
forces to strengthen the army and establish a political regime.
This chapter briey described the introduction and development of
Islam in China. Because traditional cultures and religions in China
were diversied and largely tolerant, Muslims and Islam managed to
survive here, as did another imported religion, Buddhism. To secure
the acceptance of mainstream society and expand their inuence,
Muslims carried out localization, secularization, and Confucianization
in the organization and dissemination of Islam. For example, mosques
were remodeled into Han-style temples, and many Confucian terms
were used to interpret the teachings of the Koran. Because of these
efforts, Islamic communities survived and developed throughout China
and nally became integrated within the diversied Chinese religious
system and coexisted peacefully with each other.
In an evolution that lasted for several centuries, the Hui commu-
nity had their own unique experience as one of the important Muslim
groups in northwestern China. The mentality and tactics of some Hui
elites during the Hui uprisings at the end of the Qing Dynasty were
analyzed here. Pursuing a strategy of balance between religious and
political powers, Hui elites managed to become local warlords. Their
existence and development was supported by the Qing Dynasty and
by the central government of the Republic of China, to which they
had always been loyal. The local warlords of Mas Troops in Qing-
hai and Ningxia shared some basic features or goals: (1) They diverged
from the Islamic ideas of integration of church and state and of gov-
ernance based on power and military force; instead they were submis-
sive and obedient to the secular central government. (2) They made
indigenization of imported religions in china 227
use of Islamic sects for restructuring and integrating local powers and
at the same time strictly controlled the development of religious power.
(3) They tried to improve relations between the Hui, Han, and other
ethnic groups so as to win respect and submission from all. (4) They
made efforts to promote the development of modern education and
industry. These features show clearly the indigenization of Muslims in
the late Qing and early Republic Period. This helps us to understand
the evolution of Islam in modern China.
All the lessons we can learn from the experiences of Hui Muslims
only became possible because of the cultural tolerance of mainstream
Chinese tradition, with Confucianism as its core. Confucianism as a
theoretical system and a set of moral principles has always had a secu-
lar orientation. It is not an exclusive monotheism, not even a religion.
To understand Confucianism is the key to understanding the religious
atmosphere in China. In comparison with major cultural systems in
other continents, coexistence has been a distinctive and fundamental
feature of religious interaction in China for over two thousand years.
This may explain many aspects of the Chinese religious situation at
the present time.
Daniel H. BAYS
Calvin College
The era of Western Christianity has passed within
our lifetimes, and the day of Southern Christianity is
dawning. The fact of change itself is undeniable.
Philip Jenkins*
The missionary movement is in some respects the
last ourish of the Christendom idea, and, in its
early days at least, it was borne forward by the hope
of adding to Christendom.
Andrew Walls
At the same time in the 1960s and 1970s that the
academy . . . was revalorizing the nontheological
study of religions as a legitimate humanistic disci-
pline, sinologists, with the important interdisciplin-
ary and comparative assistance of religionists and
social scientists, were rediscovering the crucial role
of religion throughout all periods and social divi-
sions of Chinese history.
Norman J. Girardot
The Long Life of the Christendom Idea and its Relevance to China
For several years I have been studying the history of Christianity in
modern China. That story begins, of course, with the arrival of for-
eign missionaries carrying a message about new ways to look at the
* Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 2002), 3; Andrew Walls, The Old Age of the Missionary
Movement, in The Missionary Movement in Christian History: Studies in the Transmission of
Faith (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1996), 258; Norman J. Girardot, The Victorian Translation
of China: James Legges Oriental Pilgrimage (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 2002), 533.
230 daniel h. bays
world and humankind. That is, they brought ideas and practices of
Christianity, a religion. I have also been dealing directly or indi-
rectly with the phenomenon of Chinese religion(s). But despite my
appreciation of the academic rediscovery of religions important role
across the gamut of Chinese history, as described above in the quota-
tion from Norman Girardots ne book on James Legge, it had never
occurred to me to ask the very basic question of exactly what reli-
gion is, or was, either in China or the West. If asked, I suppose my
answer for both China and the West would have stressed a combina-
tion of doctrine and ritual.
My understanding of the functions of religion in China was greatly
enriched by a workshop at Harvard in 2005. Ideas from this workshop
were a breakthrough for me, rather like the way in which the rst
books of Dan Overmyer and Susan Naquin in 1976 occasioned my
rst realization of the possible points of contact between Christianity
and Chinese society and religion.
Likewise in the 1980s when I rst
heard K. C. Liu expound on the role of orthodoxy and heterodoxy in
imperial China, especially the idea of religious pluralism and moral
orthodoxy (or, as he put it slightly differently at times, socioethics as
orthodoxy), it seemed to sum up nicely several important insights into
traditional society and culture.
It helped, at least for me, to explain
why there was so much overlap in China between ideas and behav-
iors variously called religion, culture, ethics, ritual, propriety, and so
forth. Professor Lius formulation also helped to explain the inten-
sity with which the imperial state at times monitored all these aspects
of society: they all had links to questions of orthodoxy, potentially
including political orthodoxy. This helped me better to conceptualize
how an originally Western religion could eventually at least partially
compensate for its doctrinal foreignness (and worse, its heterodoxy)
by orthopraxy in socioethics (following lijiao, doctrines and behaviors
of propriety). An observation from the recent past may be relevant
here: It has been claimed by several observers that one reason for the
rapid recent growth of Christianity in China has been the practice of
Daniel Overmyer, Folk Buddhist Religion (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Press, 1976); Susan Naquin, Millenarian Rebellion in China (New Haven: Yale Univer-
sity Press, 1976).
Kwang-Ching Liu, ed., Orthodoxy in Late Imperial China (Berkeley and Los Angeles:
University of California Press, 1990); Kwang-Ching Liu and Richard Shek, eds., Het-
erodoxy in Late Imperial China (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2004).
protestantism in modern china 231
traditional ethical behavior by Christian individuals and communities.
For example, I have heard several reported cases of Christians during
the Cultural Revolution performing acts of kindness towards neighbors
who were under political attack and were shunned by others. Since the
1980s Christians have sometimes been applauded by ofcials for their
behavior. In some minority areas, local communities that are largely
Christian and expend a lower proportion of family resources on ciga-
rettes, liquor, gambling, and lavish weddings and funerals, all of which
results in higher disposable income, are sometimes even held up as
models by local cadres. Some local governments are actually promot-
ing Christianity and encouraging the development of new Christian
communities because of this association with ethical behavior.
As a result of this more conscious realization on my part of the
complexities and multiple meanings of the term religion, I will try
to be more careful in what I label as religion or religious, and I
will also endeavor to be more aware of its many components or associ-
ated behaviors. Although I am ultimately interested in the functioning
of Christianity as a religion in China, for the moment I actually nd
it most useful in helping me to gain some leverage on issues in the
history of Christianity in the West. I believe we need to gain a better
understanding of the mental world of nineteenth-century missionaries
as they tried to understand Chinese religion (or Chinese society, cul-
ture, valueshowever they conceived of it). Of course not all mission-
aries made the intellectual effort to understand these aspects of China,
but many of them did. It is important to remember that the mission-
ary movement was the rst major cross-cultural learning experience
of the West.
For me, the point of access to the historical problem of
understanding Christianity both in the West and in China lies partly
in the Walls quotation on the Christendom idea at the beginning of
this essay. Let me try to explain.
My own experience in travels in Shandong province in 1986 and after. See also
Tetsunao Yamamori and Kim-kwong Chan, Witnesses to Power (Cumbria, UK: Pater-
noster Press, 2000), especially chap. 5.
That idea is yet another insight of Andrew Walls expressed in several of his
writings, including The Cross-Cultural Process in Christian History (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis,
2002), 254258, 271272, for example. Walls is in many ways the John K. Fairbank
of new approaches to missions history and world Christianity. Another recent work
making this point, i.e., that missionary ethnography became one of the foundations
of Western Sinology, Religious Studies, and Anthropology, is Eric Reinders, Borrowed
Gods and Foreign Bodies: Christian Missionaries Imagine Chinese Religion (Berkeley and Los
Angeles: University of California Press, 2004); quotation p. 7.
232 daniel h. bays
In the sixteenth century, at the beginning of the modern mission-
ary movement from the West, the word Christendom denoted a
very real and totalistic entity. Christian identity was the same as ter-
ritorial identity, and in the political unit from the local community
up to the level of the state, all members were expected to partici-
pate in the common rituals, observances, and ethical practices of the
whole society, whatever ones economic station or social class. In other
words there was an expectation of orthodox belief and behavior or
customs incumbent upon all members of the group, tribe, or (later)
This historical pattern, which had gradually come to charac-
terize basically all of Europe during the period from the dissolution
of the Roman Empire to the late Middle Ages, and which involved
entire tribes and peoples converting to Christian identity en masse,
directed by their leaders, explains a good deal of history.
It explains,
for example, much of the Crusaders obsession with gaining physical
control of Jerusalem and the Holy Land. And it explains the fervent
hope of the rst modern missionaries to Asia, the Jesuits, of converting
all of China, Japan, Vietnam, and India by strategically converting the
ruler and/or the ruling class; this strategy had worked for the tribes
of northern Europe.
The European context of the early Catholic missions to China in
the 1500s was the crucial fact that, in the aftermath of the last defeat
of the Moors in Spain and the forced conversion or expulsion of the
Jews (in Wallss words):
By around 1500, the time when a long-isolated Europe at last found
itself in contact with the non-Western world, circumstances dictated that
Christianity became more European than it had ever been before, and
did so just at the point when Europe became more Christian than it had
ever been before. Events so welded Christianity and the West together,
and the domestication of Christianity in the West was so complete, the
process of acculturation there so successful, that the faith seemed insepa-
rable from the categories of European life and thought.
I am reminded of Charles Litzingers essay in a book I edited, on the holistic
nature of local village religion and culture and society, all rolled up together: Rural
Religion and Village Organization in North China: The Catholic Challenge in the
Late Nineteenth Century, in Christianity in China: From the Eighteenth Century to the Present,
ed. Daniel H. Bays (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996), 4152.
It did, however, take Europe a fairly long time to become Christianseveral
From Christendom to World Christianity, in The Cross-Cultural Process in Christian
History, 49.
protestantism in modern china 233
The territorial aspects of this merging of the West and Christianity
seem key to me. There was no room for religious plurality in Chris-
tendom. This, then, was the mindset, or package of cultural assump-
tions, of the early modern Catholic mission to China. I would submit
that it still substantially shaped the assumptions and perceptions of the
Protestant missionaries of the nineteenth century. Between 1500 and
1800, despite the Protestant Reformation and the Enlightenment, little
had yet changed in Europe that would render the idea of Christendom
The long-established, deeply held assumptions and mental con-
structs of Christendom encountered in China the even longer-estab-
lished, also deeply held features of Chinese civilization, including
those which were religious. On both sides it was more or less an
all-encompassing packagereligion and culture and civilization all
rolled up together. And for both sides, the West and China, it seemed
that their package, Christendom or Tianxia, respectively, represented
the divinely ordained system, whether of the Christian God or Chinese
Tian, for humankind.
In fact, however, much had changed between the sixteenth and
nineteenth centuries, mainly the practical power balance between
Europe and China. The Catholic missionaries of the sixteenth and
seventeenth centuries had no gunboats, and they remained in China
at the sufferance of the imperial state; no European state yet had a
signicant presence in East Asia. By the early nineteenth century the
great age of European imperialism was well underway. This meant
the projection of Western trade, technology, at times military power,
and usually some missionaries as well, all over the globe. And I think
it safe to say that most of the missionaries coming to China were full
of assumptions about the seamlessness of Christendom, or as some
called it, Christian civilization. With these assumptions in the minds
of the Westerners, a logical corollary would be that in order for a
non-Western society to convert properly to Christianity, a cultural
conversion was necessary as well as a change of religious afliation
or belief. As late as 1910 at the great World Missionary Conference in
Edinburgh, the discourse of the delegates and the published proceed-
ings utilized the categories of (1) the West, which was considered fully
I realize that tianxia, all under heaven, is not an exact analogue to Christen-
dom. But it connotes something of the same aspiration to universality.
234 daniel h. bays
missionized, that is, all Christian; and (2) the other, considered to be
not yet fully missionized.
The images projected by the elaborate
exhibit on China by the Church Missionary Society for the Great
Missionary Exhibition of 1909 in London also showed the tenacity of
the view of Chinese religion and civilization as heathen, and Chi-
nese customs and language as absurd and irrational.
And of course
the model for conversion was to the West, or Christendom. There was
no serious thought yet entertained here of Chinese adopting faith in
Christ and tting that faith into their already existing culture, reori-
enting that culture but not displacing it (although at times missionary
rhetoric seemed to endorse the possibility of salvaging the culture).

Thus in the 1890s appeared Arthur Smiths famous Chinese Character-
istics, which criticized not only Chinese religion as in need of replace-
ment by Christianity, but Chinese culture and society across the board
as in need of Christianization and wholesale revamping. Smiths book
must have hit a responsive chord; it apparently remained the most
popular English-language book on China until the 1920s.
I come back to the main point here, which is that if these assump-
tions were still rife at the turn of and into the twentieth century, they
must have been still stronger earlier in the nineteenth century, when
the international system of Western hegemony, i.e., imperialism, into
which China had been coerced between 1842 and 1860, made it
impossible for China to prevent the missionaries from pressing their
case, albeit to a largely unresponsive Chinese society. The one creative
adaptation of Christianity to China by Chinese in these decades was
From Christendom to World Christianity, in The Cross-Cultural Process in Chris-
tian History, p. 60.
Reinders very effectively begins his study Borrowed Gods with this huge exposition
of 1909.
Such a generalized statement must be qualied, of course. By the late nineteenth
century certainly there were many individual missionaries who were conscious of the
differences between Christian faith and Western civilization. Already in mid-century
the issue had arisen in the strategic thinking of mission society executives (e.g., Rufus
Anderson of the ABCFM). But the view that the focus should be all on Christ, little
or none on changing culture, was a minority one.
Lydia Liu has extended comments on Arthur Smiths work in Translingual Practice
(Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995), chap. 2. She also has a brief but stimulat-
ing introduction to the recent reprint of Smiths book: Chinese Characteristics (Norwalk,
CT: Eastbridge, 2002). Reinderss Borrowed Gods is a creative treatment of percep-
tions of Chinese religions by missionaries of the Church Missionary Society (Church
of England) during the Victorian era, circa 18501910, although it has limitations
because of its sole reliance on CMS records.
protestantism in modern china 235
the Taiping movement, which turned into a disaster for the public-
relations image of Christianity as well as for the lives and property of
the residents of the lower Yangzi valley. Post-Taiping Qing fears of
Chinese adopting sedition along with Christianity, and the anger of
local elites at the privileged power position in local society that foreign
missionaries enjoyed through extraterritoriality under the unequal
treaties, made it difcult for missionaries to point to much success
though by the early 1900s much had been contributed by missions to
education, medicine, and early forms of community building. Yet with
few exceptions (such as Timothy Richard, Gilbert Reid, and Young
J. Allen), it was not until the twentieth century that the handicap to
Christian growth of the fact of foreign hegemony inherent in the treaty
system became apparent, both to a relatively small number of mission-
aries but especially to a great many Chinese.
In the rst two decades of the twentieth century, some Chinese
Christians cobbled Christianity together with many diverse elements
of the traditional Chinese cultural mix, converting the culture, not
replacing it by forcing it to join Christendom. Besides, there was no
more Christendom by now. What was beginning to happen around
the world, even as the 1910 Edinburgh Conference intoned the old
assumptions, was the local appropriation of Christianity, from South
Africa to India, in Japan, and steadily in China.
Christendom as
we have used it here was gone (though one can still hear echoes of it,
not in Europe, where Christianity itself has nearly disappeared,
in the United States). And it crumbled very quickly, looked at from the
long term; the rst epigraph above, from Philip Jenkins, whose engag-
ingly written and popular book states this point succinctly.
Christendom as coidentity of Christianity and the West is gone forever,
and although the center of gravity of Christianity has indeed shifted
decisively from the West to the South and East, it is impossible to
This characterization of the shortcomings of the Edinburgh conference is unfair
to many of the delegates, to be sure. In several ways Edinburgh pointed the way to
important developments later in the century in the world Christian movement.
Another essay by Andrew Walls, developing the theme of a Post-Christian West
and a Post-Western Christianity. Christianity in the Non-Western World, in The
Cross-cultural Process in Christian History, pp. 2747.
Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002).
A recent short, creatively written essay on the theme of Christianity having already
become a majority non-Western religion in its worldwide presence, and the implica-
tions of that, is Lamin Sanneh, Whose Religion is Christianity? The Gospel beyond the West
(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003).
236 daniel h. bays
imagine that the next Christendom arising in our world of religious
pluralities will characterize practically all societies around the globe.
Applications to the Study of Religion in China in the Nineteenth
and Twentieth Centuries
Prevalence and long life of the Christendom-derived Christian civilization idea
Arthur Smiths Chinese Characteristics of the turn of the century was
the latest of a well-established series of even larger and more detailed
books, some in two volumes, written by China missionaries on Chi-
nese society and culture. Walter Henry Medhurst was the rst, pub-
lishing his China: Its State and Prospects in 1838.
S. Wells Williams,
missionary-diplomat-professor, published his The Middle Kingdom in two
volumes in 1847 (and a revised edition in 1883in the eld of China
punditry, Williams was to the nineteenth century what Smith was to
the early twentieth century).
Justus Doolittle, who also wrote useful
language textbooks, came out with his two-volume Social Life of the Chi-
nese, highlighting the city of Fuzhou but covering all of China as well,
in 1865.
These books, presenting broad portraits of Chinese history
and culture, included many discussions of Chinese religion; we could
benet from a close scholarly comparison of how these works describe
Chinese religions. But Smiths Chinese Characteristics, rst published in
book form in 1894, edged all of them aside after its appearance. Smith
is clear about his view that China could not graft Christianity onto a
continuing Chinese culture. After more than twenty chapters describ-
ing the deciencies (and, it must be said, some positive features as well )
of Chinese culture and national character, Smith concludes:
In order to reform China the springs of character must be reached and
puried, conscience must be practically enthroned. . . . What China needs
is righteousness, and in order to obtain it, it is absolutely necessary that
she have a knowledge of God and a new conception of man, as well as of
The rest of the title was . . . with Especial Reference to the Spread of the Gospel, Containing
Allusions to the Antiquity, Extent, Population, Civilization, Literature, and Religion of the Chinese
(Boston: Crocker and Brewster, 1838).
New York: John Wiley, 1847. Like Medhursts, the title goes on and on; Doolit-
tles book (next citation) is the same.
New York: Harper, 1865. One wonders what sales were in the last year of the
American civil war.
protestantism in modern china 237
the relation of man to God. She needs a new life in every individual soul,
in the family, and in society. The manifold needs of China we nd, then,
to be a single imperative need. It will be met permanently, completely,
only by Christian civilization.
I think it is safe to conclude that there was not a strong movement for
adapting Christianity to Chinese society and culture emanating from
the missionary sector.
The crucial nature of the translation process and product
For Protestants, access to the Scriptures in ones own language is
essential. The nineteenth-century Protestant Bible translation projects
in China may reveal a great deal not just about religious terms but
also about concepts and perceptions of Chinese religions. There have
been a few very good studies of Bible translation, including analysis of
the disputes among missionaries over the term question, referring
mainly to whether the Hebrew and Greek terms for God should be
rendered as Shangdi or Shen (or yet something else).
Ironically, the
overwhelmingly popular Chinese Bible, the Mandarin (baihua) Union
version of 1919, the product of almost thirty years of arduous work
by several missionaries and their unheralded Chinese assistants, which
still remains today the standard biblical text for most Chinese Chris-
tians around the world, is available in both a Shen and a Shangdi version.
This general topic of translation appears to be extremely important in
the transmission of Christianity worldwide, and it probably deserves
more attention from China scholars. A closer look at it in China might
reveal much in the patterns of equivalence or divergence in religious
terms or in concepts of religion.
Arthur H. Smith, Chinese Characteristics (Norwalk, CT: Eastbridge, 2002), 330.
Jost Zetzsche, The Bible in China: The History of the Union Version (Sankt Augustin:
Monumenta Serica Institut, 1999); Irene Eber, The Jewish Bishop and the Chinese Bible
(Leiden: Brill, 1999); and Irene Eber, Sze-kar Wan, and Knut Walf, eds., Bible in Mod-
ern China (Sankt Augustin: Monumenta Serica Institut, 1999). As portrayed by Nor-
man Girardot in The Victorian Translation of China (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University
of California Press, 2002), James Legge was at the center of the erce and traumatic
battles fought among missionaries over these terms, and imputations of heresy by
opponents of Legges strong pro-Shangdi stance probably hastened his abandonment
of the mission eld and ight to Oxford.
A stimulating study is Lamin Sanneh, Translating the Message: The Missionary Impact
on Culture (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1989). An early related study is Suzanne W. Barnett
238 daniel h. bays
Popular religion, superstition, autonomy, independence, and the constraints
of Western hegemony
Relationships between Christianity and Chinese popular religion in
the nineteenth century (and the twentieth as well ) are varied and inter-
esting. There is the whole issue of the missionaries views of popular
religion, that is, their views of the varied ritual observances and local-
ized cults all over China. On the whole they viewed these as supersti-
tion, not really religion, at least not at all in the same category as
Buddhism, Daoism, or Confucianism (if they considered Confucianism
a religion). Of course the local elite had its own reservations about
popular cults, and governments in the twentieth century, Communist
and non-Communist alike, have tended to see them as superstition as
well. Thus Chinese ofcials, local elites, and the missionaries were not
far apart in their views of popular religion.
However, there is also a clear pattern of appropriation by indig-
enous popular religious elements of parts of the Christian menu that
the missionaries had on offer. Of course there are the Taipings, who
were nothing if not creative in their theology. And later in the cen-
tury there was a pattern of sectarian groups, some of them in the
White Lotus category and many from other categories of sectarians
as well, joining Christian churches and sometimes bringing with them
their established sectarian behaviors, such as vegetarianism or spirit
possession. Sometimes such elements would be disruptive, challenging
or evading the missionarys authority. Then in the twentieth century
some entrepreneurial and energetic Chinese Christians rejected some
aspects of the Christian presence in China (e.g., its foreign domina-
tion and its divisive denominationalism). Yet at the same time they
were attracted by other features of that same foreign Christian pres-
ence (e.g., some took to new post-1900 ideas of Pentecostalism, or
the doctrine of gifts of the spirit). They left their old missionary-
run churches and in the late 1910s and 1920s founded new Chris-
tian movements, eliminating what they did not like and retaining and
adapting what they did. These movements included, among others,
the True Jesus Church, the Jesus Family, and the group headed by
Watchman Nee (Ni Tuosheng), which is referred to by outsiders as
and John K. Fairbank, eds., Christianity in China: Early Protestant Missionary Writings
(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985).
protestantism in modern china 239
the Little Flock. The rst two of these were (are) Pentecostal. There
are other cases and examples, individuals as well as groups.
By 1949,
these totally independent Protestants probably constituted about one
quarter of all Protestants. The Catholic case is different, of course,
having little leeway for the growth of an overtly independent offshoot
from the main trunk.
Thus gradually occurred, quite unsurprisingly in retrospect, the
twentieth-century development of local appropriation of the imported
goods, local agency if you will, resulting in the creation of indigenous
products. Yet the whole process was compromised, or skewed. The
presence of the semicolonial framework within which this religious
transmission took place meant that the largest (though probably not the
most important) part of the Christian movement remained associated
with foreigners, extraterritoriality, the treaty system in general, and
all in all was embedded in the overall system of foreign hegemony.

After 1949, given the Marxist-Leninist/atheist religious zeal of the new
regime, combined with its claim to be the apotheosis of Chinese nation-
alism, it is not surprising that foreign missionaries were expelled, and
that Chinese Christians were put through a harsh (harsher than for the
followers of the other major religions) purge of alleged foreign inu-
ences and of leaders deemed too close to foreigners. This campaign
also conveniently lent itself to tightening up controls on completely
indigenous Christian groups that had no connections whatsoever with
foreigners. Thus both as a causal factor and as an excuse for general
extension of control, the legacy of the system of which the missionaries
had been a part helped bring on a very difcult three decades for Chi-
nese Christians. Their situation did not improve until the changes and
reforms begun in 19781979.
Daniel Bays, The Growth of Independent Christianity in China, 19001937,
in Bays, ed., Christianity in China, 307316, has a brief summary description of the most
important groups and individuals.
I have described elsewhere the combined Chinese and foreign leadership of the
major institutions of the Protestant presence in China during the period of the Repub-
lic (19121949) as the Sino-Foreign Protestant Establishment. This was supposed
to be a partnership, with the Chinese gradually assuming full control, but most of the
resources continued to be controlled by the foreign missions organizations, even as
late as 1949.
240 daniel h. bays
The Way Forward: Case Studies
For the remainder of this chapter, I will identify and discuss briey a
few aspects of Chinese religion from the late Ming to the present
which seem to have receptors open to a link or bridge to Christi-
anity. The rst permanent congregations of Chinese Christians date
from the late Ming. What aspects of Chinese religion at that time
might account for this? One of the interesting issues here is the attrac-
tion of some members of the elite to Christianity in the late Ming.

The concept of Confucian monotheism, or orthodoxy (zheng), that
is, morally orthodox in a Confucian sense, has been used to describe
the beliefs of late Ming elite Christians such as Xu Guangqi.
K. C.
Lius concept of religious pluralism and moral orthodoxy, referred
to above, is also useful on this point. Likewise there seems to have
been from the start of Chinese Catholicism a resonance between the
Chinese practice of meditation and self-examination, found in differ-
ent forms in both Confucianism and Buddhism, and Catholic recogni-
tion of sins and confession. The concept of merit (gong) also appears
in both Catholicism and Chinese religions, especially in Buddhism.
Despite the prominence of some of the late Ming converts among
the elite, they constituted only a small proportion of Chinese Catho-
lics. Many more converted from the lower social classes, that is, the
seemingly rather un-Confucian realm of popular religion, or even
that of heterodox or sectarian religious elements. This sort of popular
Christianity, in addition to placing high value on baptism and confes-
sion, had much of the mysterious and the irrationalhealings, exor-
cisms, miracles, the supernatural in many forms.
In fact, however, as
An early effort to analyze this question objectively was Willard J. Peterson, Why
Did They Become Christians?, in Charles E. Ronan, S. J., and Bonnie B. C. Oh,
eds., The Jesuits in China, 15821773: East Meets West (Chicago: Loyola University
Press, 1988), 129152.
This is well stated by Erik Zurcher, Confucian and Christian Religiosity in Late
Ming China, The Catholic Historical Review 83 (1997): 614653.
Ibid. Zurchers discussion here is very insightful. These factors were not limited
to the elite, of course.
Jacques Gernets classic China and the Christian Impact, trans. Janet Lloyd (Cam-
bridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985) has several examples of popular Christi-
anity, which ourished exuberantly in some less urbanized and less elite-dominated
areas. A very successful recent effort to get beyond the Jesuits at the Ming court and
consider the remarkably effective work they did in small towns and rural areas, where
sometimes high levels of religiosity were cultivated in nonelite Chinese believers,
protestantism in modern china 241
Eugenio Menegon points out, we should not draw articial distinctions
between elite and popular versions of Christianity. Many members
of the elite also believed in the supernatural, and on the whole, sub-
stantially the same doctrinal beliefs and ritual behaviors character-
ized both elite and commoner Christians.
The tenacious manner in
which many Catholic families held on to their identity from the nal
proscription of Christianity in 1724 to its legalization in the mid-1800s
is testimony to the achievement of a stable mixture of foreign and
domestic elements in their construction of a Sino-foreign faith.
Another promising area for future research and rethinking is Taip-
ing religiosity. The apparently bizarre nature of Taiping ideology,
seemingly so patently heterodox in terms of classical Christianity, may
have led us to forego the insights that might be derived from close
description and comparative analysis of Taiping ideas and praxis.
Jonathan Spence has done some of this in his ne study of Hong, but
the most ambitious rethinking of Taiping Christianity has been carried
out by Thomas H. Reilly, who in his recent book views the Taipings
as a form of Chinese Christianity that deserves to be taken seriously as
I am interested in what appear to me to be some contemporary
analogues of the Taipings. I am struck by similarities between, in the
nineteenth century, Hong Xiuquan and what his originally Christian
movement became, and, in the twentieth and twenty-rst centuries, a
whole host of self-appointed, charismatic, originally Christian lead-
ers who behave not unlike Hongoften, like him, leading their ock
into confrontation with a wary and suspicious state and, nally, disas-
ter. These groups, for example one of the most troublesome to the
authorities, Eastern Lightning (Dongfang Shandian), are remarkably
dynamic and seemingly solidly based in a stratum of popular culture
that serves as a referent for some Christian concepts.
Clearly, indig-
enous popular culture shapes religious identity.
is Liam Matthew Brockey, Journey to the East (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Press, 2007).
Eugenio Menegon, Ancestors, Virgins, and Friars: Christianity as a Local Reli-
gion in Late Imperial China (PhD diss., University of California at Berkeley, 2002).
Jonathan Spence, Gods Chinese Son: The Heavenly Kingdom of Hong Xiuquan (New
York: W.W. Norton, 1996); Thomas H. Reilly, The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom: Rebellion
and the Blasphemy of Empire (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2004). An older
source here is Vincent Y. C. Shih, The Taiping Ideology: Its Sources, Interpretations, and
Inuences (Seattle: University of Washington Press).
A ne study of Eastern Lightning is Emily C. Dunn, Cult, Church, and the
CCP: Introducing Eastern Lightning, Modern China 35, no. 1 (2009): 96119.
242 daniel h. bays
There is an interesting case of this phenomenon in mid-nineteenth
century Catholicism. Our impression of the Catholic Church in China
from the 1840s to the 1950s is that it was thoroughly dominated by
foreign priests and bishops, and that Chinese Catholics were basically
quite docile under this foreign (Europeanno American Catholics
were on the scene until almost 1920) leadership. But recently pub-
lished documents of the 1840s and 1850s from the Vatican archives
in Rome show that when, after an absence from the 1720s to the
1840s the Jesuits returned to their old stronghold of Jiangnan (espe-
cially Jiangsu province), they found that Jiangnan Christians had, dur-
ing the decades-long absence of the missionaries, developed their own
leadership and practices, including more responsible roles for women,
extensive lay leadership, altered ritual and devotional customs, and so
forth. These were seemingly viable religious communities, built on a
combination of Catholicism and traditional Chinese social patterns.
When the returning foreign priests used strong-arm tactics to wrest
power back from the locals, some local Chinese Catholic spokesmen
wrote directly to the Holy See in protest. It is their sometimes poignant
letters, among other things, that document this story.
It is an open
question whether, if these congregations had been able to continue
their own way, they would have developed extreme heterodox prac-
tices and become syncretic sects.
Just as I can see in the Taipings portents of potentially heterodox
currents today among Protestants, it appears to me that sectarian
tendencies among Chinese Catholics are likewise inherent in the last
half-century split between the politically docile Catholic Patriotic Asso-
ciation and the self-styled Vatican loyalist priests and bishops (and lay
believers as well ) of the underground church.
The secretive, even
conspiratorial, atmosphere of the Vatican loyalists reminds one of the
strong sectarian traditions near the surface of popular culture, even
today. Might the popular cultural matrix surrounding the dissident
Catholic groups eventually encroach sufciently on the dogma and
Sources here are David E. Mungello, The Return of the Jesuits to China in
1841 and the Chinese Christian Backlash, Sino-Western Cultural Relations Journal 27
(2005): 946. Also Xiaojuan Huang, Christian Communities and Alternative Devo-
tions in China 17801860 (PhD diss., Princeton University, 2006).
The term underground church is also often used to designate Protestant con-
gregations that are not registered with the local governments Religious Affairs Bureau
(although its name was changed not long ago to the State Administration for Religious
Affairs [SARA], it is still usually called the RAB).
protestantism in modern china 243
ritual of the church that it calls into question the identity and legiti-
macy of part of the entire Roman Church in China?
I will conclude with a brief discussion of one of the independent
churches of the Republican period of Chinese history, the Jesus Fam-
ily (Yesu Jiating). The Jesus Family was founded in the 1920s and
disbanded by the Peoples Government in 1953. It is, I would argue,
an excellent example of popular culture shaping both ritual behav-
ior and understanding of that ritual behavior, with the result being
that a cultural practice originating in the surrounding pagan culture
is adapted to Christianity as the latter takes root in Chinese society.
What is especially interesting is that the same feature of popular cul-
ture seems to have impacted the Boxer Movement in Shandong three
decades earlier.
Let me rst give a brief overview, then focus on the
particular ritual we will discuss.
The Boxer Uprising culminating in 1900 has been the subject of
several studies. One of the most stimulating is that of Joseph Esherick.

One of Eshericks major contributions is discussion of the religious
rituals of the developing Boxer groups, in particular the spirit-posses-
sion ritual ( jiangshen futi) of the key Boxer group. This involved going
into a trance and being possessed by a god, thus taking on aspects of
the gods identity. The possession ritual was in many ways the high-
est ritual experience for the Boxers, an act of empowerment bringing
them closer than any other experience to the divine. This seems to
have been the case even though the gods that possessed the Boxers
were often gures from operas, much more representative of popular
culture than of a religion.
I presented the essentials of this analysis at the 1990 symposium on the ninetieth
anniversary of the Boxer movement, but it has never been published in English. Pei
Shidan (D. Bays), Ihotuan de zongjiao tiyan yu 20 shiji 20 niandai Shandong Jidu-
jiao Yesu jiating de bijiao [Comparison of the religious experiences of the Boxers
compared with the Christian Jesus Family in Shandong in the 1920s], Ihotuan yundong
yu jindai Zhongguo shehui guoji xueshu taolunhui lunwenji [Proceedings of the international
symposium on the Boxer movement and modern Chinese society] ( Jinan: Qilu Pub-
lishers, 1992), 521525.
General sources on the Jesus Family are Wang Xipeng, Ji Yesu jiating [Recalling
the Jesus Family] (Shanghai, 1950); and Tao Feiya, Zhongguo de Jidujiao wutobang: Yesu
Jiating (19211952) [Chinas Christian Utopia: The Jesus Family 19211952] (Hong
Kong: Chinese University Press, 2004). The latter won the prize for the best doctoral
dissertation at Chinese University of Hong Kong in 2002.
The Origins of the Boxer Uprising (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California
Press, 1987).
244 daniel h. bays
The Jesus Family was also a product of the north China plain. It
began in Mazhuang village, Taian county (not far south of Jinan),
and by 1949 there were over one hundred families with several
thousand members. Each settlement was a community in which the
believers worked and lived together and held all property in common,
under the rm direction of the family head. Religious ritual was an
important part of the daily life of the Jesus Family. Some of those ritu-
als were also often seen in other churches of the spiritual gifts (lingen)
category. The following rituals occurred regularly:
Receiving the Gift (mengen)
Being lled with the Holy Spirit (Shengling chongman)
Speaking in tongues (shuo fangyan)
being born again (chongsheng)
giving testimony ( jianzheng)
The most important religious ritual experience was having a divine
trance or being raptured (beiti ), where the believer went into an
apparently unconscious state, but his or her soul was elevated to see
and hear God or Jesus, and thus to receive direct divine revelation
and power. It appears that this beiti experience was the most highly
valued in the community. It occurred less frequently than did the oth-
ers, perhaps twenty or thirty times per year in a single community.
All members, adults and children alike, could experience this; in it
believers received their most intense form of empowerment, by com-
ing close to God.
While apparently not entirely the same, the Boxer experience of
spirit possession (being possessed by one or more of a variety of
gods embedded in local culture) and the Jesus Familys divine trance
(being transported to the presence of the one God) seem to me to be
quite similar, in that both involve a seemingly unconscious state, both
take place in one person, and both result in signicant empowerment.
There is another written source that may link the two phenomena.
Wang Shipeng, who was afliated with the National Christian Council
in Shanghai, studied the Jesus Family very closely in the 1940s. He has
a very interesting short section in his 1950 book on the Jesus Family
which is actually a report by an old eyewitness of the Boxer events
concerning a Boxer ritual called Shangti. This seems to be an initiation
ritual of some kind. Is it the same as jiangshen futi? I do not know. I am
also not sure how to translate Shangti in this context. The character ti
is different in the two phrases, but the ti in Shangti is the same as that
protestantism in modern china 245
in the Family ritual beiti. So while the latter probably means to be
elevated or lifted up [to see or be in the presence of God], (passive;
initiative is Gods), perhaps the former means entering upon elevation
[to the god] (active; believer takes initiative to approach god[s]).
Jing Dianying (18901957), the founder and leader of the Jesus Fam-
ily, was inuenced by a myriad of elements swirling around him in the
early twentieth century. Jing entered an American Methodist middle
school in Taian in 1912 at the age of twenty-two and converted to
Christianity around 1914, but he retained an interest in Buddhism and
had contact of some kind with a White Lotus sect which in turn may
have had links to a sect of the Boxer era. Later in the 1920s he was
inuenced by American missionaries from whom he learned the basics
of Pentecostalism and spiritual gifts. And he could have hardly been
ignorant of the wave of ecstatic revivals sweeping across Shandong
in the late 1920s: among the Chinese, the Spiritual Gifts Movement
(Lingen Hui), and among the missionaries the Shandong Revival.

All these elements Jing put together in his own very creative way,
producing a movement that was undeniably Christian, yet thoroughly
Chinese as well. Moreover, this Christian sectarian movement may
have been signicantly shaped by totally non-Christian cultural ele-
ments of the region that had also inuenced the Boxers.
Some Conclusions
This chapter has ranged broadly over Christianity in both the West
and in China. I have tried to further the goal of the larger project by
identifying where we stand in the study of the history of Christianity in
China, and indicating in which directions we might go in the future.
I think that the key thing to keep in view is the principle that Christi-
anity is exible and adaptive, variable in its surface appearance, and
quite experienced in crossing cultural divides. It has done this in many
places around the world in the last century, rendering obsolete the old
Western idea of Christendom and creating new Christianities by
interacting with different cultures. Those of us studying the Christian
movement in China should remember the very common phrase often
These are described briey in Bays, The Growth of Independent Christianity,
246 daniel h. bays
heard in the rst part of the twentieth century: One more Christian,
one fewer Chinese. That was the perception, and there may have
been some truth in it during the period of the association of Christian-
ity with the system of foreign Western hegemony that constrained Chi-
nas development in many areas. But in the big picture that phrase has
not been true; many Chinese have exercised freedom and creativity in
turning elements of culture towards Christianity, not trying to replace
their culture by Christianity. So I think that the most interesting and
signicant projects in the history of Christianity in China in the next
few decades will be those that focus on this intersection of culture and
religion, perhaps especially in the realm of ritual.
Finally, Christianity has been a dynamic factor in the culture of
many societies during the past century, not in China alone. I think we
can heighten our understanding of the case of China if we make some
comparisons and conduct some cross-studies to track the pattern of
Christian expansion (or contraction) in other areas of the world. At the
end of the day, we may conclude that Christianity is neither a Western
religion nor a Chinese religion, but a world religion.
I will give just three examples of what I have in mind. One is a very recent
book by Nicolas Standaert, The Interweaving of Rituals: Funerals in the Cultural Exchange
between China and Europe (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2008). Another is
Nicolas Standaert and Ad Dudink, eds., Forgive Us Our Sins: Confession in Late Ming and
Early Qing China, Monumenta Serica Monograph Series 55 (Nettetal, Germany: Stey-
ler Verlag, 2006). On the Protestant side, there is forthcoming (from Yale University
Press) a stimulating analysis by Xi Lian of how twentieth-century Chinese indepen-
dent churches were signicantly shaped in their formation and development by the
popular religious culture of the traditional society in which they were incubated.
OF MODERN CHINA (19001920s)*
Liu Yi
Shanghai University
In the context of modernization and globalization, traditional culture
paradoxically becomes a hot topic once again. This has been true
especially in China, with Sino-Western cultural exchange as a main
theme in modern times. The discussion beginning in the 1980s about
whether Confucianism is a religion
echoes in many ways a historical
development: the movement of the Confucian Society (Kongjiao hui )
and their effort to make Confucianism the state religion in the early
Republic of China.
In the new social and cultural contexts of the 1980s and 1990s,
however, researchers paid much attention to the ideas and the move-
ment of the Confucian Society itself but ignored major components
of the event,
especially the Christians role as the main opposition
* This research was supported by the Shanghai Municipal Education Commission
Key Discipline: The Social and Cultural History of Modern China ( J50106).
Ren Jiyu, ed., Rujiao wenti zhenglun ji [The Debate on Confucianism] (Beijing:
Religious Cultural Press, 2000).
Fang Deling, Kang Youwei yu kongjiao yundong [Kang Youwei and the Con-
fucian Movement], Journal of Beijing Normal University, 1988, no. 6: 2431; Liu Ping,
Lun minguo chunian de guojiao yundong [On the Campaign for State Religion
in the Early Republic of China], Journal of Sichuan Normal University (Chengdu), 1995,
no. 1: 133140; Ma Yong, Xinhai hou zunkong sichao pingyi [A Review of the
Ideas on Worshiping Confucius after the 1911 Revolution], Historical Research in Anhui
(Hefei), 1992, no. 2: 3136; Qiu Wei, Minchu kongjiaohui ji kongjiao yundong [The
Confucian Society and the Confucian Movement in the Early Republic of China],
Journal of Zhejiang Provincial Party School, 2001, no. 2: 5359; Hou Jie and Cai Weihong,
Chen Huanzhang yu kongjiaohui zazhi pingxi [A Review of Chen Huanzhang and
the Magazine of Confucian Society], paper presented at the Symposium on the 90th
Anniversary of the 1911 Revolution, Taibei, 2001; Huang Lingjun, Lun qingmo
minchu de ding kongjiao wei guojiao yundong [On the Campaign to Make Con-
fucianism the State Religion in Later Qing and Early Republican China], Journal of
Huazhong University of Science and Techonology (Wuhan), 2001, no. 3: 112119; Gan Chun-
song, Kang Youwei he kongjiaohui: minguo chunian rujia fuxing nuli jiqi cuozhe
[Kang Youwei and the Confucian Society: The Confucian Revival and Its Failure
in the Early Republic of China], Seeking Truth (Haerbin), 2002, no. 4: 110114; Han
248 liu yi
party in that movement. In the history of Christianity in China, com-
pared to the Boxer Movement and the Anti-Christian Movement, the
Golden Age of Christianity in China (19011920) has been relatively
neglected. The conicts between Christians and Confucianists regard-
ing state religion and religious freedom have often been perceived
merely as a prelude to the Anti-Christian Movement in the 1920s.

This perception prevents us from exploring other historical sources.
For example, Shengjiao zazhi,
the Catholic magazine published in
Shanghai, has received little attention from scholars, even though it
can be a major resource for studying church-state relations in Repub-
lican China.
This chapter is rst of all a historical study that aims to construct
a comprehensive picture by exploring historical materials from the
Christian side. Second, it is a case study of church-state relations in the
Xing, Qingmo minchu kongjiao huodong jiqi zhenglun [The Confucian Move-
ment and the Debate on Confucianism in Later Qing and Early Republican China],
Journal of Religious Studies (Chengdu), 2003, no. 2: 91103; Fan Yuqiu, Qingmo minchu
kongjiao yundong yanjiu [A Study of the Confucian Movement in Later Qing and Early
Republican China] (Qingdao: Ocean University of China Press, 2006); Zhang Weibo,
Minguo chuqi de zunkong sichao yanjiu [A Study of Ideas on Worshiping Confucius in the
Early Republic of China] (Beijing: Peoples Press, 2006); Han Hua, Minchu kongjiaohui
yu guojiao yundong yanjiu [A Study of the Confucian Society and the Campaign for State
Religion in the Early Republic of China] (Beijing: National Library of China Publish-
ing House, 2007).
Paul A. Cohen, China and Christianity: The Missionary Movement and the Growth of
Chinese Antiforeignism, 18601870 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1963);
Jessie G. Lutz, Chinese Politics and Christian Missions: The Anti-Christian Movement of
19201928 (Notre Dame: Cross Cultural Publications, 1988); Arne Sovik, Church and
State in Republican China: A Survey History of the Relations between Christian Churches and the
Chinese Government, 19111945 (Ph.D. dissertation, Yale University, 1952), chap. 3,
The Struggle for Religious Liberty; Huang Kewu, Minguo chunian kongjiao wenti
zhi zhenglun, 19121917 [The Debate on Confucianism in the Early Republic of
China, 19121917], Bulletin of Taiwan Normal University 12 (1984): 197221; Cha Shi-
jie, Minchu de zhengjiao guanxi: jianlun jindai zhongguo zhengjiao guanxi de san
moshi [The Church-State Relationship in the Early Republic of China: With a
Review of Three Models of the Church-State Relationship in Modern China], in Li
Qifang, ed., Zhongguo jindai zhengjiao guanxi guoji xueshu yantaohui lunwenji [Proceedings of
the First International Symposium on Church and State in Modern China: Past and
Present] (Taibei: Tamkang University, 1987), 243265; Charles A. Keller, National-
ism and Christians: The Religious Freedom Campaign and Movement for Indepen-
dent Chinese Churches, 19111917, Republican China 17, no. 2 (1992): 3051.
Shengjiao zazhi was published in Shanghai from 1912 to 1938. In addition to
church matters and theology, it published a lot of essays on political and social affairs
in Republican China. It is of special importance to this study because it reported in
detail the process of making Confucianism the state religion as well as the debates
between Confucians and Christians. Also, it reported not only the activities of Catho-
lics, but also of Protestants and other religious people.
confucianism, christianity, and religious freedom 249
early Republic that seeks to understand the movement in the context
of both constitutional history and religious history. The paradoxical
relations between politics and ideas, culture and religion, and religion
and politics will be discussed in the end. The article is divided into
four sections: Confucianism as a constitutional problem, the protests
from Christians, the Society for Religious Freedom (Xinjiao ziyou hui ),
and the nal inclusion of the guarantee of religious freedom in the
Confucianism and the State Religion: A Constitutional Problem
This chapter mainly concentrates on the early Republican era
(19121917), with a brief historical retrospect of the last decade of
the Qing dynasty. In 1913, according to the Provisional Constitution
of 1912, the Congress was established in April, and the Constitution
Drafting Committee was organized in July with thirty elected mem-
bers from both the Senate and the House. All articles were passed
after three readings. However, the nal document could not be issued
due to the dissolution of the Congress by Yuan Shikai. A review of the
constitution, based on the 1913 draft, was initiated in 1916 but broke
down in 1917 because of the second dissolution of the Congress; the
whole draft did not pass the second reading. The rst constitution was
not enacted till 1923 and it remained in effect for only one year.
The question of whether Confucianism is a religion was raised in
the political reform movement in 1898. According to Kang Youwei
the leading intellectual of the reform, under the imperi-
alists threats to the Qing government, Confucianism as the dominant
ideology of the empire was likewise threatened by Christianity. So
For a study of the early constitutional history of Republican China, see Yan
Quan, Shibai de yichan: zhonghua shoujie guohui zhixian (19131923) [The Legacy of Fail-
ure: The First Chinese Constitution (19131923)] (Guilin: Guangxi Normal Univer-
sity Press, 2007).
Kang Youwei (18581927) was well known as a scholar, political thinker, and
reformer. He proposed a new interpretation of the Confucian classics in order to
prepare for political reform. He also put forward an amazing social vision in Datongshu
(The Great Harmony). As an intellectual leader of the political reform movement in
1898, he had to ee to Japan after its failure. Kang was a cultural nationalist and an
advocate of constitutional monarchy. An excellent study of Kangs life, thought, and
activity is Kung-chuan Hsiao, A Modern China and a New World: Kang Yu-wei, Reformer
and Utopian, 18581927 (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1975).
250 liu yi
he wanted to reform Confucianism in a Christian way, then to save
the empire through this cultural renewal. This can be seen as a kind
of cultural nationalism, reecting the ambivalent, love-hate mood of
Chinese intellectuals toward the West. Their effort to change Confu-
cianism from culture to religion was a Chinese response to Western
Owing to the Boxer Movements disastrous effects, the issue of reli-
gious freedom drew the attention of Chinese Christians.
In 1901, in a
translation series on freedom in Wanguo gongbao (Review of the Times),

there was an essay on state religion, with an argument that it is
not appropriate for the state to support any religion nancially.
might be the rst document in modern China to discuss the problem of
a state religion. In 1905 and in the same magazine, a Chinese author
compared the religious wars in Europe and the missionary incidents in
modern China and opined that religious freedom was the key to pre-
venting such problems.
In 1906, there were many reports published
in Wanguo gongbao about the separation of church and state in Britain,
France, Spain, and Japan. Confucian worship in imperial China was
especially criticized, in contrast to the development in Western powers
such as Britain and France.
In 1901, the Qing government prepared to implement the New
Policy (xinzheng), and in 1905 ve senior statesmen were sent to
On the inuence of the Boxer Movement, see Paul A. Cohen, History in Three
Keys: The Boxers as Event, Experience, and Myth (New York: Columbia University Press,
Wanguo gongbao (originally the Church News), also Wan Kuo Kung Pao, was estab-
lished by the American missionary Young J. Allen (18361907). As the organ of the
Literature Society since 1889, it became a main source of Western knowledge in the
late Qing period, with a great inuence on the political reform movement in 1898.
Wanguo gongbao took the lead in introducing modern ideas during this period, which is
why I trace the idea of religious freedom through this magazine. On Young J. Allen
and Wanguo gongbao, see Leung Yuen Sang, Lin Lezhi zaihua shiye yu wanguo gongbao
[Young J. Allen in China: His Careers and Wan-kuo kung-pao] (Hong Kong: The
Chinese University Press, 1978); Adrian A. Bennett, Missionary Journalist in China: Young
J. Allen and His Magazines, 18601883 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1983).
W. E. Macklin (trans.), Ziyou pian, di shiba pian: lun guojiao [On Freedom,
No. 18: On State Religion], Wanguo gongbao [Review of the Times], vol. 150 ( July,
1901): 7.
Huang Zicai, Zhengjiao fenquan lun [On the Separation of Church and
State], Wanguo gongbao, vol. 196 (May, 1905): 1415.
Faguo zhengjiao fenli zhi yuanyin [On Reasons for the Separation of Church
and State in France], Wanguo gongbao, vol. 206 (March, 1906), p. 68. Shijie guojiao zhi
weixiang [The Dangerous Situation of State religion in the World], Wanguo gongbao,
vol. 216 ( January, 1907), p. 64.
confucianism, christianity, and religious freedom 251
survey political institutions in the West. In 1906, the United Society
of Chinese Protestants in America (Lmei huamin yesujiao lianhui ) sent a
petition to these visiting Qing ofcials: In order to avoid the occur-
rence of anti-missionary incidents and then to remove the imperial-
ists, religious freedom should be written into the constitution, so that
political authority will be respected and the peoples livelihood will be
This can be regarded as the rst petition for religious
freedom in Chinese history.
With the Qing governments decision to formulate a constitu-
tion, a constitutional campaign began in 1910 and became the rst
opportunity for Chinese Christians to struggle for religious freedom
in practice. In the winter of 1910, Cheng Jingyi (18811939)
Yu Guozhen (18521932)
along with others founded the Association
for Religious Freedom (Zongjiao ziyou qingyuanhui ). They noted that all
kinds of issues such as politics, law, academics, and technology were
being discussed, with the exception of religious freedom. They argued
that religious freedom is a very important issue that is related to both
the state and the people, and that it is the duty of Christians to pro-
mote such freedom.
Responses came from many places. One point
raised in this early stage of the debate was that Chinese Christians
were still dependent on missionaries and foreign forces. They needed
to consult with missionaries and request consent from foreign consuls
in order to participate in the movement for religious freedom. The
campaign ended suddenly and unexpectedly due to the collapse of the
Manchu reign.
Lmei huamin yesujiao lianhehui shang kaocha zhengzhi duan zai er dachen
bin [The Paper of the United Society of Chinese Protestants in America Submitting
to Minister Duan and Zai], Wanguo gongbao, vol. 208 (May, 1906): 8789.
Cheng Jingyi (Cheng Ching-yi) was born into a Christian family of Manchu
descent. His father was a pastor of the London Missionary Society. Cheng studied
at the Angelo-Chinese Institute in Beijing, the Theological Institute in Tianjin, and
Glasgow Bible College in Britain. He was one of the three Chinese representatives to
the 1910 World Missionary Conference at Edinburgh. During the 1920s and 1930s,
Cheng became a prominent leader of Chinese churches, attaining high positions in
both the National Christian Council and the Church of Christ in China. He was an
active promoter of the indigenous movement.
Yu Guozhen (Yu Zongzhou), a Presbyterian pastor, was a leader of the indepen-
dence movement among Chinese churches in the early twentieth century. He was one
of the founders of the China Christian Union (1902) and the founder of the China
Christian Independent Church (1906).
Faqi zongjiao ziyou hui yuanqi [The Founding of the Association for Religious
Freedom], Sheng jiaohui bao [ Journal of the Sacred Church] 4, no. 4 (1911): 38.
252 liu yi
In 1912, with the founding of the Republic of China, the Provisional
Constitution contained clear declarations: All people of the Republic
are equal regardless of race, class and religion. . . . All people have reli-
gious freedom.
Sun Yat-sen (18661925), the leader of the Republi-
can revolution and the rst president of the Republic, also afrmed the
right of religious freedom on many occasions. Of course, it was a wel-
come message for Chinese Christians.
However, for others, especially
traditional intellectuals, it was just the opposite. Because they viewed
this article in the Provisional Constitution as a threat to the status of
Confucianism as the dominant ideology, they suggested adding a new
article that would make Confucianism the state religion.
On October 7, 1912, Chen Huanzhang (18801933)
along with
others founded the Confucian Society in Shanghai. Their aim was
to promote Confucianism and save society.
In November, they
announced it to the new president, Yuan Shikai (18591916), and to
the Department of Education and Department of Internal Affairs.

Following the founding of the Confucian Society, many similar orga-
nizations emerged, such as Zongsheng Hui (Society for Worshiping
Confucius), Kongdao Hui (Society of Confucian Teachings), and Kongshe
(Society of Confucius). In August 1913, the representatives of the Con-
fucian Society, including Chen Huanzhang and the two leading schol-
ars, Yan Fu (18541921) and Liang Qichao (18731929), submitted
to the Congress a proposal to make Confucianism the state religion. It
stated that morality is the foundation of the Republic and Confucian-
Zhonghua minguo linshi yuefa [The Provisional Constitution of the Republic
of China], in Chinas Second Archives, ed., Zhonghua minguo shi dangan ziliao huibian
[Historical Archives of the Republic of China], vol. 2 (Nanjing: Jiangsu Guji Press,
1981), 106107.
For the relation between Christianity and the Republic of China, see Leung Sau
Wah, Geming xianqu: jidutu yu wanqing zhongguo geming de qiyuan [Pioneers of the Chinese
Revolution: Christians and the Origins of the Late Ching Revolution] (Hong Kong:
China Alliance Press, 2007).
Chen Huanzhang obtained a Ph.D. in philosophy from Columbia Univer-
sity, writing a dissertation on The Economic Principles of Confucius. In 1912, he
founded the Confucian Society under the direction of his teacher, Kang Youwei. In
1930, he moved to Hong Kong and established the Confucian Academy, which is
now an important organization promoting Confucian teachings.
Han Da, ed., Pingkong jinian, 19111949 [Chronology of Confucian Review,
19111949] ( Jinan: Shandong Educational Press, 1985), 5.
Ibid., 7.
confucianism, christianity, and religious freedom 253
ism is the source of Chinese morality . . . therefore Confucianism should
be the state religion of the Republic.
In the view of Chen Huanzhang, the type of religion is one of the
features that distinguish barbarian tribes from civilized nations. Con-
fucianism is the religion of the Chinese people, and Confucius was its
founder. There are religions centered on gods and ghosts, and there
are religions centered on humans; the latter are of a higher order, and
they include Confucianism. In China, the word jiao has three differ-
ent meanings: religion, education, and enlightenment. Confucianism
consists of all three, with religion as the most fundamental.
Confucianism is the state religion of China is an unwritten consti-
tutional article. Confucianism is to the people what water is to sh.

Confucianism represents the national character of China.
Today, to
promote Confucianism is simply to save the country.
State religion
and religious freedom are both Chinese customs. If there is not an arti-
cle guaranteeing religious freedom in the constitution, there will be no
need for one on a state religion. If one is present, the other should be
too. It would be overindulgent to include only an article on religious
freedom, but to prescribe a state religion would constitute too much
Religious freedom does not mean the elimination of
the state religion, but permitting one to practice other religions freely
in addition to the national one. People will not be killed and their
ofcial recognition will not be denied just because of their religion.
Without violating the law, they can build their temples, worship their
gods, read their classics, practice their rituals, and teach their doctrines
Kongjiao hui qingyuan shu [Petition of the Confucian Society], in Shen Yun-
long ed., Jindai zhongguo shi ziliao congkan zhengbian [Collections of Historical Resources
of Modern China], vol. 50, no. 498 (Taibei: Wenhai Press, 1966), 51205127.
Chen Huanzhang, Kongjiao lun [On Confucianism], in Minguo congshu [Col-
lected Books of Republican China], vol. 4, no. 2 (Shanghai: Shanghai Bookstore,
1992), 9193.
Chen Huanzhang, Kongjiao lun, 50.
Ibid., 5455.
Chen Huanzhang, Lun feiqi kongjiao yu zhengju zhi guanxi [On the Relation
between the Abolishment of Confucianism and the Political Situation], in Shen Yun-
long ed., Jindai zhongguo shi ziliao congkan zhengbian, vol. 50, no. 498, 50985108.
Chen Huanzhang, Mingding yuanyou zhi guojiao wei guojiao bingbu aiyu xin-
jiao ziyou zhi xin mingci [The Establishment of the Original State Religion Is Not
Contrary to the New Conception of Religious Freedom], in Shen Yunlong ed., Jindai
zhongguo shi ziliao congkan zhengbian, vol. 50, no. 498, 50585059.
254 liu yi
In addition, Chen Huanzhang also cited the constitutions of
Belgium, Italy, Denmark, and Turkey to support his idea.
On June 22, 1913, President Yuan Shikai issued a decree establish-
ing the worship of Confucius. It stated that Confucius had been the
model of Chinese teachers for generations, as a founder of the imperial
system and ofcial institutions. The rituals would be regulated accord-
ing to the traditional custom and communicated to the whole nation.

On September 9, 1913, the vice president, Li Yuanhong (18641928),
by telegram directed the State Council, the Congress, and the local
governors and congressmen to support Chen Huanzhangs proposal
to make Confucianism the state religion. The governors of Henan,
Yunnan, Guangdong, and Jiangxi approved.
In the middle of September 1913, Chen Mingshu (18891965), one
of the early revolutionaries of the Republic and later a senior gen-
eral in the Nationalist army, formally proposed to the Constitution
Drafting Committee that Confucianism be declared the state religion.
Observing that Confucianism had been the national heritage of China
for more than four thousand years, he said, To make Confucianism
the state religion is just to make the unwritten article a written one.
This proposal did become one of the discussion topics of the Constitu-
tion Drafting Committee.
On September 27, 1913, the Constitution Drafting Committee
discussed the topic of making Confucianism the state religion. Chen
Mingshu started by saying that Confucianism is the religion of the
civilized period and is different from the religions of barbarians, so
it should be made the state religion. A committee member protested,
citing four reasons: (1) China is not a religious country; (2) Confucius
Chen Huanzhang, Mingding yuanyou zhi guojiao wei guojiao bingbu aiyu xin-
jiao ziyou zhi xin mingci, 5056.
Kongjiao hui qingyuan shu, 51205127.
Da zongtong fabu zunchong kongsheng mingling [Answer to the Presidents
Decree on Worshiping Confucius], in Chinas Second Archives, ed., Zhonghua minguo
shi dangan ziliao huibian [Historical Archives of Republican China], vol. 3 (Nanjing:
Jiangsu Guji Press, 1991), 12.
Division of Republican China, Institute of Chinese Modern History, Chinas
Academy of Sciences, ed., Zhonghua minguo shi ziliao conggao [Collections of Historical
Resources of Republican China], special issue, no. 1 (Beijing: Zhonghua Book Com-
pany, 1974), 32.
Xianfa zhong guiding kongjiao zhi tiyi zhe [The Proposal of Writing Con-
fucianism into the Constitution], Shenbao [Newspaper of Shanghai], September 16,
1913, p. 6.
confucianism, christianity, and religious freedom 255
is not a religious leader; (3) religious freedom is the general rule of
constitutions, and thus to make Confucianism the state religion is con-
trary to the constitution; and (4) the Republic consists of ve races.
To make Confucianism the state religion will lead to the disloyalty of
Mongolians and Tibetans. Wang Rongbao (18781933), another early
revolutionary and congressman, responded that the Confucian ideas
of afuent society (xiaokang) and great harmony (datong) are so distinc-
tive that even Jean-Jacques Rousseau had never thought about them.
Therefore it is misleading to say that Confucius supports a totalitarian
system. Confucianism is not hostile to other religions. The problem of
Mongolia and Tibet depends on political power, which has no rela-
tionship to the state religion. Two other committee members protested
again, arguing that Confucius is the heir of the ancient emperors Yao
and Shun, and of Wen and Wu in the Zhou dynasty. To establish a
state religion, they argued, we have to nd the real origin of Chinese
culture. Due to the opposition of the majority of the committee, the
proposal did not pass.
The second reading of the proposal regarding state religion came on
October 13, 1913. The members were divided into two parties. Sup-
porters argued that Confucianism is a religion centered on humans,
and this is the model that would replace religions of gods and ghosts;
indeed, it would be popular all over the world. Thus, it was necessary
to make it the state religion in China. Additionally, national character
is vital to a nation, and Confucianism is the core of Chinese national
character; thus it should be embodied in the constitution. The opposi-
tion made two objections. First, Confucius was the heir of the ancient
emperors Yao and Shun, as well as of Wen and Wu in the Zhou
dynasty. They, rather than Confucius, should be the lords of a state
religion, if having one is really necessary. Second, loyalty (zhong) and
forgiveness (shu) are the fundamentals of Confucianism. If they are
written into the constitution, anyone disobeying them must be pun-
ished, or the constitution will be invalid. In the nal vote, the support-
ers were again in the minority and the proposal was rejected.
Xianfa guiding guojiao wenti zhi shezhan [The Debate on Establishing a State
Religion in the Constitution], Zhonghua shenggonghui bao [Bulletin of Chinas Anglican
Church] 6, no. 11 (1913): 32.
Jinshi: benguo zhi bu [News: Domestic Part], Shenjiao zazhi, 1913, no. 11:
256 liu yi
On October 28, 1913, when the second reading was over, Wang
Rongbao proposed to add a second clause to the nineteenth article:
Confucian teachings should be the basis of public education. Lan
Gongwu (18871957), a philosopher and politician who studied law
in Japan and Germany, said it would be better to say that Confucian
teachings that are not incompatible with the Republic should be the
basis of public education. Chen Mingshu proposed that Confucian
teachings should be the ethical basis of public education. Another
committee member said that the ethical basis should be replaced by
the basis of self-cultivation. Wu Zongci (18791951)
together with
a few other members opposed the addition of a second clause. After
several votes, the committee approved a compromise version of the
clause: Confucian teachings should be the basis of self-cultivation in
public education. This was only the beginning of the constitutional
debates about religion in the Republic of China.
On October 25, 1913, Yuan Shikai instructed the provincial gover-
nors by telegram to oppose the constitutional draft. On November 4,
he declared the dissolution of the Nationalist Party (KMT, Guomindang)
and revoked their membership in the Congress. On November 5, he
ordered the troops to check the assemblymens identity. For lack of a
quorum, the Congress was closed. Then Yuan convened the Admin-
istrative Meeting (Xingzheng huiyi ) to discuss national affairs; this later
became the Political Meeting (Zhengzhi huiyi ). On January 10, 1914,
according to the resolution of the Political Meeting, all members of
the Congress were dismissed. The Congress was thus declared to be
formally dissolved.
On November 26, 1913, Yuan Shikai issued a decree on worship-
ing Confucius (zunkong ling) to the whole nation and submitted it to
the Political Meeting as a resolution. It stated that the Confucian
teachings are eternal and enlightening, just like the sun and the rivers.
They are comprehensive, delicate, and distinctive, and should be even
Wu Zongci was a historian who had experience in politics, business, and educa-
tion. He was the author of three local chronicles and the well-known constitutional
history of Republican China, which was the rst in Chinese history.
Wu Zongci, Zhonghua minguo xianfa shi [The Constitutional History of Republican
China], vol. 1 (Beijing: Oriental Times Bureau; Shanghai: Dadong Book Company,
1924), 38.
Li Jiannong, Zhongguo jin bainian zhengzhi shi [The Political History of China in
the Last One Hundred Years] (Shanghai: Commercial Press, 1948; repr., Shanghai:
Fudan University Press, 2002), 359363.
confucianism, christianity, and religious freedom 257
more respected at the founding of the new nation. All the descendants
of Confucius should receive special benets, just as in the imperial
On January 14, 1914, the Political Meeting discussed the issue of
offering sacrices to Confucius and Heaven ( jitian sikong); most people
agreed. Only a few details were discussed, such as the date of worship
and the costumes. On the question of offering sacrices to Confucius,
the speaker insisted that this was different from establishing a state
religion and cited a few examples to support his position. Ma Xiangbo
and another Christian at the meeting were intensely
opposed to the sacrices. However, with a majority approval, the pro-
posal was passed.
Religious Freedom: Voices of Christians
Christians, especially Protestants, played a prominent role in the cam-
paign for religious freedom, both as the initiator and the majority,
and both intellectually and organizationally. From the perspective of
Confucians, Christianity was also the main opposition party. There-
fore, the present author prefers to interpret the movement for freedom
of religion generally as a struggle between Confucians and Christians,
though other religious groups also participated.
Efforts to make Confucianism the state religion aroused protests
from Christians. The rst question was whether Confucianism was
really a religion, and Confucius a religious founder. A journalist of
Shengjiao zazhi commented that there were still some semi-religions
Zhengfu gongbao [Government Bulletin], November 27, 1913, no. 563.
Ma Xiangbo (Ma Liang) is well known as the founder of three institutions of
higher education: Aurora Academy, Fudan Public School (later Fudan University in
Shanghai), and Catholic University of Peking (later Fu Jen Catholic University). He
was born into a prominent Catholic family in 1840. At the age of 11, he enrolled in a
French Jesuit School in Shanghai and remained there till 1870 as a student and later
a teacher. His idea of establishing an institution of higher learning was nally realized
in 1928 by his close friend, Cai Yuanpei, who founded the Academia Sinica. On Ma
Xiangbo and his contributions, see Ruth Hayhoe and Yongling Lu, eds., Ma Xiangbo
and the Mind of Modern China, 18401939 (Armonk, NY: M. Sharpe, 1996).
Zhengzhi huiyi taolun jitian zunkong liangan jiwen [Record of the Discussion
of the Sacrice to Confucius and the Heaven in the Political Meeting], Shenbao, Janu-
ary 19, 1914, p. 2. Jitian sikong liangan chengli shimo ji [Record of the Establish-
ment of the Two Proposals on the Sacrice to Confucius and the Heaven], Shengjiao
zazhi, 1914, no. 3: 105.
258 liu yi
in China before Confucius; religion just disappeared with his birth.

Another journalist listed the general characteristics of religions, such
as belief in gods, prayer, and punishment in afterlife, and concluded
that Confucianism has none of these three.
The more important reason for opposition to the establishment of
Confucianism was that it was contrary to the article on religious freedom
in the constitution, and harmful to the identity and welfare of citizens.
For example, Cheng Jingyi said, If any one religion should be made
to interfere with the liberty of our citizens, although based on the pre-
text of preventing them from evading responsibility, the despotic poison
will have entered into the very bones and marrow of our national life,
whereas the old despotism in comparison did little more than scratch
the skin. Chen Huanzhang and his associates wanted to make Confu-
cianism the state religion in order to unite the thoughts of the people
and to maintain the national character. Their intention is doubtless
excellent, but their method cannot avoid the charge of bias.
Moreover, we should pay attention to the collective nature of
Christian protest. It was the Protestants in Beijing who rst gathered
together to found the Beijing Association for Religious Freedom and
against State Religion (Beijing xinjiao ziyou buding guojiao qingyuantuan). In
their declaration, they criticized the Confucian Society on ve counts:
(1) Confucianism is not a religion; (2) there is no religion in Chinese
history; (3) state religion is outdated, and most countries have discarded
it; (4) state religion is incompatible with religious freedom; and (5) to
make Confucianism the state religion is harmful to customs, peoples
minds, and freedom of thought. For the benet of the churches and
the nation, they decided to call the different religious groups together,
to petition the president and Congress, and to issue a statement to
believers all over the country.
Bing Zhi, Kongjiao shi yi zongjiao [Confucianism Is a Religion], Shengjiao
zazhi, 1913, no. 1: 13.
Zhang Bailu, Kongzi fei zongjiao jia [Confucius Is Not a Religious Founder],
Shengjiao zazhi, 1913, no. 12: 441447.
Cheng Ching Yi, Translation of Protest against the Movement in Favor of Mak-
ing Confucianism a State Religion, The Chinese Recorder 44, no. 11 (1913): 687688;
idem, Zhonghua minguo ding guojiao yijian shu [Opinions on Establishing the
State Religion in Republican China], Dagong bao [Ta Kung Pao], November 7, 8, 9,
1913, p. 1.
Faqi qingyuan xinjiao ziyou buding guojiao tonggao shu [Declaration of Peti-
tion for Religious Freedom and against State religion], Dagong bao, September 5, 1913,
p. 1.
confucianism, christianity, and religious freedom 259
They submitted their statement to the Congress and argued that it
was really unnecessary to make Confucianism the state religion. They
gave a few reasons: First, from the perspective of legislation, a state
religion is incompatible with religious freedom in the Constitution.
Second, from the perspective of politics, it would destroy the harmony
among the ve races, do harm to the sovereignty of the Republic,
and lead to religious conicts. Third, from the perspective of reality,
there is no strong country with a state religion in the world, and it is
wrong to say that Confucianism as the state religion is an unwritten
constitutional article.
The Protestants activities in Beijing won support from leaders of
other faiths. The Catholic representatives said, All religions should
be equally treated in one nation.
The representatives of Chinas
Buddhist Society (Zhonghua fojiao zonghui ) argued that Confucianism is
purely a law of the world (shijian fa) and that the legislation should
be appropriate to the society and benecial to the stabilization of the
The representatives of Chinas Daoist Society (Zhonghua
daojiao zonghui ) thought that religious freedom was already guaranteed
in the Provisional Constitution, which the government should not
The different religious groups united together under common
aims. On October 20, 1913, the Protestant representatives of differ-
ent denominations had a meeting in Beijing.
On October 31, the
Christians called the other religious groups to hold a united meet-
ing of ve religions in Beijing.
On November 27, the representatives
of Buddhism, Daoism, and Islam, with the Catholic and Protestant
representatives in Beijing, held the second united meeting. As a result
Jidujiao qingyuan daibiao Zhang Shouchun Liang Jiangyi Cheng Jingyi deng
shang canzhong liangyuan shu [Petition of the Protestant Representatives Including
Zhang Shouchun, Liang Jiangyi, Cheng Jingyi and Others to the Congress], Dagong
bao, November 27, 28, 1913, p. 1.
Ni tianzhujiao quanti gongmin qingyuan xinjiao ziyou buding guojiao shang
canzhong liangyuan shu [Petition of All Catholic Citizens to the Congress for Reli-
gious Freedom and against State Religion], Dagong bao, September 24, 25, 26, 27,
p. 1.
Zhonghua fojiao zonghui qingyuan guiding xinjiao ziyou shu [Petition of Chi-
nas Buddhist Society for Religious Freedom], Dagong bao, November 2, 1913, p. 1.
Beijing baiyunguan daojiao zonghui shangshu canzhong liangyuan qingyuan
xinjiao ziyou shu [Petition of the General Society of Beijing Baiyun Temple to the
Congress for Religious Freedom], Dagong bao, November 10, 1913, p. 1.
Jinshi: benguo zhi bu [News: Domestic Part], Shengjiao zazhi, 1913, no. 11: 423.
Jinshi: benguo zhi bu [News: Domestic Part], Shengjiao zazhi, 1914, no. 1: 37.
260 liu yi
the United Petition League of All Religions (Zongjiao lianhe qingyuantuan)
was nally established.
The aim of this league was to ask for religious freedom and protest
against the state religion, as well as to prevent any law that would
lead to religious inequality. People from all religions could become
members. There was no president and vice president, only a united
council that would coordinate all kinds of things. Each religious group
should have its own council of communication, to maintain connec-
tions within and without their group. All religious groups should unite
together to present petitions to the Congress and the government.
The foundation of this league strongly stimulated the activities of dif-
ferent religious groups. They sent telegrams to the president, the vice
president, the premier, and the congressmen, and even presented their
ideas in personal visits. Their efforts won some replies. For example,
in November 1913 the Protestant representatives went to visit the vice
president, Li Yuanhong; the latter replied that Confucianism or any
other religion should not be made the state religion of the Republic.

On December 1, the Protestants went to visit the president, and the
president replied through his secretary, saying that he looked upon
Confucianism as a source of learning and virtues, not as a religion,
let alone the state religion.
Additionally, the premier Xiong Xiling
(18701937) also proclaimed that it would be better to keep the reli-
gious situation as before: no state religion and no religious conict.
The presidents proposal to offer sacrice to Confucius and Heaven
aroused fresh protests. Ma Xiangbo commented that the separation
of church and state was based on scientic rules. Religion and poli-
tics each have their own spheres. The presidents role as a priest
belonged neither to the political sphere nor the religious one. No par-
ticular religion could be imposed on the people, let alone the presi-
dent. Everyone should insist on his own belief, without intervention
from the government.
Ibid., 35.
Gejiao lianhe qingyuantuan jianzhang [General Regulations of the United
Petition League of All Religions], Shengjiao zazhi, 1914, no. 1: 22.
Jinshi: benguo zhi bu [News: Domestic Part], Shengjiao zazhi, 1914, no. 1: 34.
Ibid., 3334.
Ibid., 34.
Ma Xiangbo, Yiguo yuanshou ying jian zhuji shi fou [Should the President
be in Charge of Sacricial Matters], in Zhu Weizheng, ed., Ma Xiangbo ji [Collected
Works of Ma Xiangbo] (Shanghai: Fudan University Press, 1996), 144145.
confucianism, christianity, and religious freedom 261
The united league submitted a letter to the president, the Political
Meeting, and the State Council, listing the disadvantages of offering
sacrice to Confucius and asking for religious freedom. It stated that
to declare that the fundamental principles and policies of the state be
based on Confucian customs, is just to tell the people of all religions
that the government has determined to make Confucianism the state
They questioned the government on six issues: (1) Do the sacrice to
Confucius and the sacrice to Heaven mean the fusion of religion and
politics, or the separation of church and state? (2) Will it be illegal for
believers of other religions not to sacrice to Confucius and Heaven,
and contrary to their beliefs to do it? If so, how can this dilemma
be resolved? (3) The expenditure for the sacrice to Confucius and
Heaven comes from the national treasurer. Should people from other
religions contribute to this expense? (4) Is the president the leader of
the whole nation, or just of a particular religion and race? (5) If the
next president does not insist on this sacrice, will he be dismissed, or
will the regulation be abolished? (6) Are ofcials and students from
other religions who do not obey this rule because of their religious
belief still citizens of the Republic?
Given the intense opposition from other religions, Yuan Shikai and
the government had to change their minds. On February 7, 1914,
Yuan Shikai issued a new decree. In the third part of the decree he
said, Religious freedom is the general principle of the contemporary
world. The Republic consists of ve races, and each of them has dif-
ferent customs and religions; thus it is contrary to the peoples ideas
to establish a state religion. However, sacrices to Confucius and
other great ancestors are not religious rites but traditional customs that
people with a religious belief can just practice freely.
The establishment of a state religion was denied, and religious free-
dom was secure. But the proposal for sacricing to Confucius and
Heaven was passed, as well as the second clause of article 19. Thus
the Christians had not fully accomplished their aims. However, partly
because of the partial success of their efforts, and more importantly
Gejiao lianhe qingyuantuan shang da zongtong shu [Petition of the United
League of All Religions to the President], Shengjiao zazhi, 1914, no. 3: 116.
Jiaotuan zhi zhiyi [Questions of the United League of All Religions], Zhonghua
shenggonghui bao 7, no. 3 (1917): 4243.
Mingling [Decree], Shenbao, February 9, 1914, p. 2.
262 liu yi
because of the Congresss inability to continue the discussion, the
Christians concluded that although the Constitution had not yet been
established, the national issues had been decided. It is reasonable
that Confucianism will not be made the state religion, and people will
have religious freedom in the future Congress.
They thought their
objective was realized for the time being, and the Beijing Association
for Religious Freedom and against State Religion was then dismissed.

The decision marked the end of the rst half of the campaign.
The Society for Religious Freedom: Organization and Ideas
In June 1916, after Yuan Shikai died and Li Yuanhong became the
new president, the Provisional Constitution and the Congress were
both restored. The constitutional draft was reviewed again, and of
course, the problems of state religion and religious freedom were once
more raised. It meant the start of a new stage of the campaign for
religious freedom. The founding of the Society for Religious Freedom
was an example.
In November 1916, the Society for Religious Freedom was formally
founded, with its general ofce located in the Central Park of Bei-
jing. Xu Qian (George Hsu, 18711940)
was elected president.
societys aim was to ensure that all people of the Republic have the
constitutional right of complete religious freedom. The general body
was in Beijing, and local ofces were built all over the country. Every-
one who agreed with the platform of this society could be a member,
Chen Chunsheng, Jidujiao duiyu zuijin shiju zhi gailun [General Views of
Christians on the Recent Situation], in China Continuation Committee, ed., Zhonghua
jidu jiaohui nianjian [Annals of the Chinese Christian Churches], vol. 1 (Shanghai: Com-
mercial Press, 1914), 12.
Zhang Shuxian, Jielu beijing xinjiao ziyou buding guojiao qingyuantuan
baogaoshu [A Brief Record of the Beijing Association for Religious Freedom and
against State Religion], in China Continuation Committee, ed., Zhonghua jidu jiaohui
nianjian [Annals of the Chinese Christian Churches], vol. 2 (Shanghai: Commercial
Press, 1915), 258.
Xu Qian was an imperial scholar of the late Qing and became a prominent g-
ure in the Republic of China. He contributed to the judicial system of modern China,
writing a few books and holding special positions in the government.
Chen Tiesheng, Xinjiao ziyou hui shule [A Brief Introduction of the Soci-
ety for Religious Freedom], China Continuation Committee, ed., Zhonghua jidu jiaohui
nianjian [Annals of the Chinese Christian Churches], vol. 4 (Shanghai: The Christian
Literature Society, 1918), 204.
confucianism, christianity, and religious freedom 263
whether he had a religious belief or not. There were four departments:
the Department of General Affairs, the Department of Communica-
tion, the Department of Documents, and the Department of Accoun-
tancy. In each department there was one executive secretary, who
was responsible to the general secretary. Xu Qian was appointed as
the general secretary and executive secretary of the Communication
Department. Local members were in charge of the local ofces. Gen-
eral meetings were called by the general ofce or the local branches,
and the meeting of secretaries was held by all the departments together.
Membership dues as well as donations were collected and contributed
by the secretaries. The money was to be deposited in a reliable bank,
and the General Secretary was in charge of the account.
The Society for Religious Freedom had similar aims, forms, and
membership as the United Petition League. In other words, it suc-
ceeded and developed the former organization. However, the Society
for Religious Freedom had more members, a more rigid organiza-
tional structure, more avenues of protest, and more activities. Com-
pared with the United Petition League, it became a more experienced
organization and was suited to the later stage of the campaign.
The society held meetings and speeches, sent letters and telegrams,
propagated its ideas, and established local ofces. As the organization
grew, issues and opinions multiplied and the ideas of different religious
groups could not be unied. The Protestant representatives proposed
that every religious group should act on its own, with a general meet-
ing held weekly. The society was divided into three parts: Catholics,
Protestants, and other religions.
The activities of the general body included the following: (1) Gen-
eral meetings: There was a general meeting of the leaders from dif-
ferent religions every week. Each division reported its activities. Issues
were discussed and decisions made in the general meetings. (2) Visiting
the president: There were two visits. In the rst visit, the organizations
representatives were limited to two Catholics and two Protestants,
including Cheng Jingyi. At the second visit, each religious group had
its own representative. During both visits, the president replied that
the proposal of the society was reasonable, and suggested that they
Xinjiao ziyou hui xuanyanshu: yueyan [Declaration of the Society for Reli-
gious Freedom: A Brief Introduction], Shengjiao zazhi, 1917, no. 2: 8081.
Chen Tiesheng, Xinjiao ziyou hui shule, 204.
264 liu yi
submit their plan to Congress. (3) Communicating with congressmen:
Beginning with the foundation of the society, religious leaders visited
the congressmen both personally and collectively and presented the
societys ideas. Many congressmen agreed with the proposal of the
society and some of them even became members.
The Protestant division was especially active. Cheng Jingyi was
elected as the general secretary of this division. The general ofce was
set up in the Beijing headquarters of the Church of Christ in China
(Zhonghua jidu jiaohui ). Many local ofces were founded as well, in prov-
inces including Zhili, Shandong, Fengtian, Shanxi, Henan, Hubei,
Shannxi, and Sichuan. Their activities were as follows: (1) Sending
representatives to the local provinces: Many church leaders were sent
from Beijing to Shanxi, Fengtian, Shandong, Tongzhou, and Henan
to propagate the societys ideas, collect the ideas of the people, and
ask the local churches to work together. (2) Sending representatives to
work in Beijing: As a response, the Petition League for the Separa-
tion of Church and State (Zhengjiao fenli qingyuantuan) was founded in
the South. Five members were sent to Beijing to work together with
the church leaders there. (3) Telegrams, publications, and donations:
Expressions of support for the society included more than forty tele-
grams, ninety letters, and thirty works by believers who agreed with
the society. In addition, some ten thousand pamphlets were printed
and distributed. Cheng Jingyi collected records of the proceedings and
other materials, edited News for Religious Freedom (Qingyuan ziyou jinxun),
and sent it to the local churches. The Protestant division also sent
telegrams to both the houses and ofces of congressmen. In total, the
division received donations of about 1,300 yuan (nearly the current
value of US $13,000).
The societys ideas can be interpreted from two perspectives. Nega-
tively, the organization opposed making Confucianism the state reli-
gion; positively, it argued for religious freedom. Different points were
emphasized on different occasions, but these two ideas are just differ-
ent sides of the same issue. The society protested the establishment
of Confucianism as the state religion because it would harm religious
freedom; they argued for religious freedom as a means of protesting
against a state religion. In a word, a state religion is incompatible
Ibid., 204.
Ibid., 204205.
confucianism, christianity, and religious freedom 265
with religious freedom; one cannot get along with the other. In gen-
eral, there are four main points of incompatibility between the two
(1) Religious conicts and religious freedom: According to the dec-
laration of the Society for Religious Freedom, religious freedom is the
outcome of reection on religious conicts. The religious conicts in
medieval and early modern Europe led to wars among nations and
the sufferings of the people. The survivors of wars began to reect that
only religious freedom could end the conicts and ensure peoples hap-
piness. Therefore, religious freedom was written into European consti-
tutions as a fundamental principle. The United States and Japan are
also religiously pluralistic societies. They adopted religious freedom
to prevent religious wars. The Qing governments hostile attitudes
toward other countries led to a lot of missionary incidents followed by
imperialist intervention. In particular, during the Boxer Movement of
1900 the whole nation was nearly destroyed. With the founding of the
Republic, religious freedom was written into the Provisional Constitu-
tion. It would not only protect the rights of religious people but also
prevent religious conicts. Therefore, religious freedom is just one of
the reasons why the Qing government collapsed and the Republic was
established. It would be shortsighted to repeat the mistakes of Europe
and the Qing government by denying people the right of religious
freedom. It would also be harmful to the new Republic.
(2) The state religion and the republic of ve races: In the view
of the society, a state religion should be the religion of the whole
nation. All citizens of the Republic must embrace this state religion,
whether they are Manchurians, Chinese (han), Mongolians, Muslims,
or Tibetans. Apart from the protests from other religious groups, a
state religion would still be incompatible with Republican principles.
The Republic consists of ve races; all people are equal regardless of
race, class and religion. However, the state religion would introduce
difference among the people. Some would even lose their citizenship
for not practicing the state religion.
No religion can be established
Xinjiao ziyou hui xuanyan shu [Declaration of the Society for Religious Free-
dom], Shengjiao zazhi, 1917, no. 2: 7779.
Beijing xinjiao ziyou zonghui wei guojiao wenti jinggao zhuda yiyuan [Pro-
posal of the General Ofce of the Society for Religious Freedom in Beijing to the
Congressmen about the Problem of State Religion], Shengjiao zazhi, 1917, no. 2: 75.
266 liu yi
as the state religion of the Republic, for it is really contrary to the
principles of the Republic. Again, the establishment of a state religion
would lead to differences among the people; difference would lead
to conicts, and then the collapse of the country.
As Senator Ma
Junwu (18811940) said,
the union of Tibet and Mongolia with the
central government depends not only on military power, but also on
religious toleration. The history of the Yuan and Qing Dynasties pro-
vides examples. To make Confucianism the state religion would soon
cause the Mongolians and Tibetans to separate from the Republic.
(3) Confucianism and public education: There are two points here:
rst, from the perspective of civil rights, whether the Confucian teach-
ings can be the basis of self-cultivation; second, from the perspective
of Confucianism itself, whether it can be the basis of self-cultivation.
Relatively, the former issue is more important, while the latter is col-
lateral to the former. According to the petition letter of the society,
there is no reason for the new Republic to impose a particular reli-
gion or doctrine on the people. Public education is necessary for the
citizens; without it, they would not be citizens of the Republic. Each
of the ve races in China has its own characters and languages. Some
people do not even use the Chinese language, let alone Confucian
teachings. It is impracticable to permit only Confucianism, while all
other religions are prohibited.
Also, the role of Confucianism itself is
questionable. The Confucian teachings led to the totalitarian political
system, the anti-foreignism seen during the Boxer Movement, impe-
rialist interventions, and national tragedies. How could they be the
basis of public education? Additionally, there are superstitious ideas
in Confucianism, which are contrary to science in modern times. In a
word, Confucianism is inappropriate to the contemporary situation.
Gesheng jidu jiaohui qingyuan shu [Petition of Christian Churches from the
Local Provinces], Shengjiao zazhi, 1917, no. 2: 6869.
Ma Junwu was one of the rst members of Tung Meng Hui and a prominent
politician in early Republican China. He received a doctorate of technology from the
University of Berlin. He was the founding president of Guangxi University and a pro-
fessor in a few other institutions, having a reputation similar to that of Cai Yuanpei,
the famous president of Peking University.
Ma Junwu, Fandui xianfa caoan di shijiu tiao dier xiang zhi yijian shu [Pro-
posal of Protesting against the Second Clause of Article 19 of the Constitutional
Draft], Zhonghua shenggonghui bao 10, no. 3 (1917): 31.
Xinjiao ziyou hui qingyuan shu [Petition of the Society for Religious Free-
dom], Shengjiao zazhi, 1917, no. 4: 158159.
Ibid., 160.
confucianism, christianity, and religious freedom 267
(4) Religious freedom and civil rights: This is the last and most
important reason. According to the society, religious freedom can be
understood in two ways. Literally, religious freedom means that all
people should choose their own religion freely; even those who hold
no religious belief also have this right.
Implicitly, religious freedom
means freedom of conscience, which the government should not inter-
fere with.
Ma Xiangbo explained this in detail on behalf of the Soci-
ety for Religious Freedom:
Belief depends on conscience. No political law or custom can force peo-
ple to believe in any religious doctrine, or to practice any religious ritual.
Belief follows understanding. No political law or custom can prohibit
people from believing in any religious doctrine, or practicing any reli-
gious ritual. In brief, where religious matters are concerned, belief will
not be prohibited, and disbelief will not be punished. It is not unconstitu-
tional to believe in no religion, or to convert from one to another. That
is what constitutional religious freedom means. Conscience is a personal
matter, which has no relation to the constitution. For example, one may
help the poor just to seduce the latter. It is unethical, but not forbidden
by the constitution. Therefore, whether it is a religion or not, or whether
it is the only one true religion, constitutionally one is free to believe it or
not. No political law or custom can interfere with it.
To draw a distinction between the sacred and the secular and between
the private and the public, as well as between conscience and law,
reects the core meaning of the church-state relationship in modern
times. The ideas of the Society for Religious Freedom accord with the
general principles of the contemporary world.
Two more points need our attention here: one is the relation
between the separation of church and state and religious freedom; the
other is the difference between religious freedom as it is conceived in
Chinese traditional thought and as it is conceived in modern political
In one letter of petition, Christians listed three reasons why there
should be a separation between church and state in order to guaran-
tee religious freedom: (1) From the perspective of the state rituals of
the Republic, Yuan Shikai and others efforts to promote sacrices
Ibid., 76.
Ibid., 79.
Xinjiao ziyou hui yuefa shang zhi xinjiao ziyou jie [Interpretation of the Con-
stitutional Religious Freedom from the Society for Religious Freedom], Shengjiao zazhi,
1917, no. 3: 106.
268 liu yi
to Confucius and Heaven are harmful to religious freedom. (2) From
the perspective of public education, it is unreasonable that Christians
should contribute to the country even though they are unable to enjoy
public education because of their religion. (3) From the perspective
of national nance, public properties are handed over to a particular
religious group, which is harmful to religion and to the whole nation.

The authors of the letter did not articulate the theoretical relations
between these two items, but their position marks an advance in think-
ing about the issue, especially when compared to the stance of Chen
Huanzhang and others who promoted the state religion.
Ma Xiangbos view on another question is also worth noting. In
Chinese history, Confucianism, Buddhism, and Daoism got along with
each other, and the Chinese always chose their religions freely. Thus
Ma Xiangbo argued as follows: Religious freedom means that one
can believe anything or nothing, believe or not believe, and change
his belief freely.
It does not, however, mean that one can believe in
Confucianism, Buddhism, and Christianity at the same time.
a person has chosen a religion, he cannot give it up or simply choose
another. Religious freedom and belief in a particular religion are not
Ma Xiangbos view partly reects his personal under-
standing of religion and his own Catholic belief. However, more
importantly, it distinguishes the constitutional idea of religious free-
dom from the understanding common in Chinese traditional thought.
This is a great contribution to the understanding of the church-state
relationship in the transformative period of modern China.
The Establishment of Religious Freedom in the Constitution
Christians struggled hard to win religious freedom, and their oppo-
nents responded in equal measure. As Cheng Jingyi wrote at the time,
When the tentative Constitution came up last fall for reconsidera-
tion and was adopted as the permanent Constitution of the Chinese
Republic, there was an opportunity to continue the old ght. Those
who believe strongly in the principle of religious liberty had an oppor-
Gesheng jidu jiaohui qingyuan shu, 7071.
Ma Xiangbo, Xinjiao ziyou [Religious Freedom], Ma Xiangbo ji, 283.
Ibid., 161.
Ibid., 164.
confucianism, christianity, and religious freedom 269
tunity to ght for the removal of this objectionable clause. Those
who wished to see Confucianism as the state religion of China had
also the opportunity to ght for the insertion of a new article in the
On September 17, 1916, Kang Youwei submitted a letter to the
new premier, Duan Qirui (18651936), and proposed that Confu-
cianism be made the dominant religion, the sacrice to Confucius
restored, and special ofcials appointed for local schools and sacri-
cial elds. He added that it should be written into the constitution
and that the Congress should not discuss it again.
On October 4, the
Qing-loyalist general Zhang Xun (18541923), together with thirteen
local governors, sent telegrams to President Li Yuanhong, arguing that
Confucianism should be made the state religion, all schools as well as
the provisions for education and sacrice should be kept as they were
in the imperial period, and special ofcers should be appointed for the
On November 12, one hundred congressmen gathered to
found the Society for Retaining the State Religion (Guojiao weichi hui )
and asked for the local governors support.
The combat between
Christianity and Confucianism, as well as between religious freedom
and the state religion, went on intensely; the debate in Congress was
just a case in point.
The constitutional meeting opened again on September 5, 1916.
On September 8, the sponsor explained the second clause of article 19:
Confucian teachings should be the basis of self-cultivation in public
education. Later, someone brought up the issue of making Confu-
cianism the state religion once more. The examination of the second
clause of article 19 turned to the issue of the state religion. During
the rst reading, two separate meetings were held on December 27,
1916, and January 8, 1917. At the rst, the sponsor explained the
proposal for a state religion. He said that it was owing to the effect of
Confucianism that the country was able to develop as it had. Though
The Struggle for Constitutional Religious Liberty, The Chinese Recorder 48, no. 4
(April, 1917): 266.
Kang Youwei qing zun kongjiao wei guojiao zhi Duan Qirui han [Kang You-
weis Letter to Duan Qirui for Making Confucianism the State Religion], Chinas
Second Archives, ed., Zhonghua minguo shi dangan ziliao huibian [Collection of Historical
Resources of Republican China], 3:56.
Ke Huang, ed., Kongjiao shinian dashi [Ten Years Events of Confucianism] (Tai-
yuan: Zongsheng Hui, 1924), 103104.
Wu Zongci, Zhonghua minguo xianfa shi, 1:137139.
270 liu yi
there is no state religion, Confucianism is really the core of Chinese
culture and rituals. Therefore, Confucianism should be made the state
religion. A few people agreed with him. In their view, there were no
religious conicts in Chinese history; therefore there was no need to
worry about repeating the European experience of religious wars.
Some others opposed him. According to them, the Republic consisted
of ve races, and all people were equal under the law; thus there
should be religious freedom. During the second reading, a member
stated that it is really unnecessary to make a state religion; it would be
very harmful if it were to become a special article in the constitution.
Another member replied that Chinas situation is different from that of
other countries. The former countered with the example of Germany.
He said that Confucian teachings are unsuitable to the present polity.
If Confucianism were made the state religion, someone might use it
as an excuse to protest against the Republic. At last, the proposal was
put to a vote: That Confucianism be made the state religion, and
that there be religious freedom. Out of 519 votes, 255 supported the
proposal, and 264 opposed it. Neither party held a two-thirds major-
ity, so there was no agreement.
On January 26, 1917, the constitutional delegation assembled for
the second reading. The problem of Confucianism was discussed on
February 2, 5, 7, and 9. During the meeting, a member suggested that
because article 11 (All people of the Republic have the right of reli-
gious freedom) and the second clause of article 19 were closely related,
these two should be discussed together. The motion was approved. On
February 9, nine amendments were put forward:
1. According to historical custom, Confucianism should be made the
state religion of the Republic.
2. Confucianism is the state religion of the Republic, and other reli-
gions are free to develop themselves. Both are protected by law.
3. Both article 11 and the second clause of article 19 are to be
Xianfa shenyi hui taolun zengjia guojiao jishi [Record of the Constitution
Examination Committee about Adding the Proposal of the State Religion], Shengjiao
zazhi, 1917, no. 2: 7274.
confucianism, christianity, and religious freedom 271
4. Confucianism is the state religion of the Republic. People in
Manchuria, Mongolia, and Tibet may practice their religions as
5. People of the Republic have the right to believe in Confucian
teachings and other religions freely. There are no restrictions if no
laws are broken. The ritual of Confucius worship should be regu-
lated by additional legislation.
6. People of the Republic have the right to believe freely in Confucius
and other religions. The ritual of worshiping Confucius should be
regulated by additional legislation.
7. Confucianism should be made the state religion.
8. Confucianism should be made the state religion of the Republic
among Chinese traditional religions. People can profess other reli-
gions freely.
9. People of the Republic have the right to believe in Confucian-
ism and other religions. There are no restrictions if no laws are
The two proposals and the nine amendments were discussed succes-
sively. None of them won a two-thirds majority. Even the propos-
als were nearly dismissed. Later two other members put forward two
new amendments, which were not passed either. At last, the speaker
declared that these two items would be discussed further, and the
meeting was adjourned.
The third reading of article 11 and the second clause of article 19
took place on April 30, 1917. A member proposed adding a new
clause to article 11: People of the Republic should believe in Con-
fucian teachings. This did not become a discussion topic for there
was not enough agreement. Another member proposed that People
of the Republic have the right to believe in Confucianism and other
religions. There are no restrictions if no laws are broken. The ritual of
worshiping Confucius should be regulated by additional legislation.
During the discussion, some opposed article 11 and insisted on mak-
ing Confucianism the state religion; Wu Zongci and others approved
article 11 and opposed the second clause of article 19. In the voting, no
Xianfa erdu huiyi jishi [Record of the Second Reading of Constitution],
Shengjiao zazhi, 1917, no. 3: 126130.
272 liu yi
amendment was passed. At last, Liu Enge (18881949)
put forward
a new amendment: People of the Republic have the right to respect
Confucius and to believe in religion freely. There are no restrictions
if no laws are broken. 293 people agreed with this amendment by
votestill less than two-thirds of the members. Later, someone pro-
posed voting for the contrary position; 113 people opposed. Because
the opposition was less than one third, the amendment was considered
passed. Someone called to reject the outcome and the meeting became
chaotic. The speaker declared that the outcome should be reported
to the General Assembly. On May 14, there was another meeting. A
few members put forward new amendments, but none of them were
passed. At last, the amendment of Liu Enge was passed with 483 votes.
The speaker declared the passage of this article, and the second clause
of article 19 was deleted.
It marked the end of the debates on reli-
gious freedom and state religion in the constitution.
The passage of Liu Enges amendment was the outcome of both
compromise and luck. Also, it was partly due to the amendment itself.
In the view of Liu Enge, Confucianism could not be made the state
religion. First, Confucianism is not a religion. There is no god in Con-
fucianism; Confucianism is mainly about ethics and politics instead
of religious matters. More importantly, a state religion is contrary to
religious freedom. The Republic was comprised of ve races with dif-
ferent religious beliefs; all races and classes were equal in the Republic.
If Confucianism were made the state religion, it would create inequal-
ity among religions and races. In the modern period, religious free-
dom and the separation of church and state have become general
principles of the powerful countries. It is really unnecessary to adopt
a state religion as the Europeans did in the past.
At the same time,
Liu Enge opposed the second clause of article 19. According to him,
Confucianism is not only about cultivation, and neither is education.
Education does not have a xed object; it should not be regulated
in the constitution. More importantly, it should not be susceptible to
Liu Enge studied law in both China and Japan, and later became a teacher who
published a few translations. He was a congressman and a member of the constitution
drafting committee in early Republican China. As a native of northeast China, he also
served in the warlord government of Zhang Zuolin (18751928) and the Japanese-
dominated Manchukuo.
Jinshi: benguo zhi bu [News: Domestic Part], Shengjiao zazhi, 1917, no. 6:
Wu Zongci, Zhonghua minguo xianfa shi, vol. 1: appendix, 2728.
confucianism, christianity, and religious freedom 273
control by someone with ulterior motives. Confucianism is concerned
with the difference between classes and roles; the most important is
the relation between the emperor and his subjects. The ideology of
a totalitarian political system would be harmful to the new republic.

However, Confucian teachings should still be respected. Ever since
the dynasties of Qin and Han, students began their studies with the
Confucian classics. Even the general public knew what Confucius
said and respected him as the Sage. Confucian teaching has been the
core of Chinese ethics and morality, and it is different from political
thought. As the Chinese traditional culture, Confucianism should be
respected and preserved.
Insisting on religious freedom while respect-
ing Confucianism as a cultural tradition, Liu Enge found the point of
compromise between the two parties. And with new turmoil on the
horizon, the congress members did not want to waste more time on
this marginal issue.
On May 15, 1917, the national representatives of the Society for
Religious Freedom held a meeting in Beijing to celebrate the estab-
lishment of religious freedom in the constitution. In addition to the
general report and conclusion, one important topic was whether the
Society for Religious Freedom should be perpetually established. Two
groups presented both sides of the question. For some members,
because religious freedom had been incorporated into the constitution
and factors harmful to it had been dismissed, the society had realized
its aim and there was no reason to maintain it. For others, although
religious freedom had been included in the constitution, it did not
mean that the advocates of Confucianism would desist: Our goal is
to protect religious freedom, they said, while the Confucianists aim
to restrict other peoples freedom. Additionally, Chinas political situ-
ation is not stable, and it could be used to destroy religious freedom;
the debates in the past are evidence of this. Thus the Society should
be maintained forever. Most people agreed with the second idea. On
May 17, 1917, the founding conference was held in Beijing, with more
than two thousand people attending. Xu Qian directed the meeting;
Ma Xiangbo and Cheng Jingyi, among others, gave speeches. The
meeting ended with the people shouting Religious freedom forever!
Ibid., 2829.
Ibid., 30.
274 liu yi
(xinjiao ziyou wansui ). The Society for Religious Freedom became a per-
manent association.
The establishment of the society marked the end of the debate
on religious freedom and state religion in the early Republic. Later,
Frank Joseph Rawlinson (18711937),
editor-in-chief of the mission-
ary journal, The Chinese Recorder, commented that it was the rst time
in Chinese history that religious freedom was denitely realized. To
some extent, the Chinese had always enjoyed religious freedom, but
they never had to ght for it. Now they had achieved it. It was a
new characteristic of the revolutionary period (19111927) that dem-
onstrated the new consciousness about religion. The struggle itself was
also a symbol of this new era.
However, it was not really the end of
this debate. As a marginal issue in the constitution, the continuance
of religious freedom depended on the political situation in the early
Republic of China.
Soon the Congress was dismissed again and the
constitution could not be enforced. It was not until 1923 that the rst
constitution was enacted, and it remained in effect for only one year.
The Anti-Christian Movement of the 1920s, supported by Chinese
nationalism, nearly destroyed the dim hope of religious freedom.
Chen Tiesheng, Xinjiao ziyou hui shule, 207208.
Frank Joseph Rawlinson was a missionary from the Southern Baptist Conven-
tion. He was born in Britain and migrated to the United States later. In 1912, he
became the editor-in-chief of the missionary journal The Chinese Recorder. Due to his
contribution, the journal became the organ of the missionaries in China. He died dur-
ing a Japanese bombing raid on Shanghai in 1937. A biography was written by his
son; see John L. Rawlinson, Rawlinson, the Recorder, and Chinas Revolution: A Tropical
Biography of Frank Joseph Rawlinson (Notre Dame: Cross Cultural Publications, 1990).
Frank Rawlinson, Revolution and Religion in Modern China: A Brief Study of the Effects
of Modern Revolutionary Movements in China on Its Religious Life (Shanghai: Presbyterian
Mission Press, 1929), 9.
On politics in the warlord era, see His-sheng Chi, Warlord Politics in China,
19161928 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1976); Jerome Chen, The Military-
Gentry Coalition: China under the Warlords (Toronto: University of TorontoYork Uni-
versity Joint Center on Modern East Asia, 1979).
On the anti-Christian movement in the 1920s, see Ka-che Yip, Religion, National-
ism, and Chinese Students: The Anti-Christian Movement of 19221927 (Bellingham, WA:
Center for East Asian Studies, Western Washington University, 1980); Jessie G. Lutz,
Chinese Politics and Christian Missions: The Anti-Christian Movement of 19201928 (Notre
Dame: Cross Cultural Publications, 1988); Michael Glen Murdock, The Politics of
Exclusion: Revolutionary Centralization, National Identity and Christianity in China
(PhD thesis, University of Michigan, 1999).
confucianism, christianity, and religious freedom 275
The debate on religious freedom between Confucians and Christians
in the early Republic must be put in the context of Chinas mod-
ernization during the period of 19001920. From the perspective of
intellectual history, key moments are the intellectuals petition (gongche
shangshu) of 1895, the abolition of the Imperial Examination in 1905,
and the New Culture Movement in 1915. From the perspective of
political history, highlights are the political reform movement led by
Kang Youwei and Liang Qichao, the New Policy in 1901, and the
Republican Revolution in 1911. There was also a general shift from
cultural nationalism to political nationalism.
However, during this
period of transformation, the old system collapsed and the new one
had not yet been built up. Therefore the old and the new remained
entangled with each other, which contributed to the complicated situ-
ation, both intellectually and politically.
In comparison to the Boxer Movement in 1900 and the Anti-Chris-
tian Movement in the 1920s, the period from 1901 to 1920 is called
a golden age of Christianity in China.
The increase in the num-
ber of Christians and Christian organizations was one factor. More
important was their identity change from Christian aliens ( jiaomin) to
Chinese citizens (guomin) along with the political revolution;
the indi-
genization movement is a symbol of their independence from foreign
missions and a synthesis of Christianity and Chinese culture. Also,
there were some paradoxes. On the one hand, the punishment of the
Boxer Movement gave Christianity a relatively stable environment in
which to develop in China. The suffering caused by that movement
urged Christians to reect on their identities. On the other hand,
Christianity was still perceived as a foreign religion by the common
people. Its relations with imperialism elicited further hostile treatment
from the nationalists.
This argument is taken from Joseph R. Levenson, Confucian China and Its Modern
Fate (London: Routledge and Paul, 19641965).
On the golden age, see Milton T. Stauffer, ed., The Christian Occupation of China:
A General Survey of the Numerical Strength and Geographical Distribution of the Christian Forces in
China (Shanghai: China Continuation Committee, 1922).
Liu Yi, From Christian Aliens to Chinese Citizens: The National Identity of
Chinese Christians in the Twentieth Century, Studies in World Christianity 16, no. 2
( July, 2010): 145168.
276 liu yi
In the debate on making Confucianism the state religion, we can
observe two main conicts: one between Christianity and Confucian-
ism, and one between state religion and religious freedom. There are
also some conicts that extended beyond the debate itself: the con-
ict between Christianity as a cultural factor and the state religion
as a political regulation; the conict between Confucianism as a cul-
tural factor and religious freedom as a political principle; the conict
between Confucianism as a traditional ideology and modern politics;
the conict between Christianity as a representative of imperialism and
Chinese nationalism, and so on. In more explicit terms, the collapse of
the Qing Dynasty also meant the end of Confucianism as a dominant
ideology, along with the challenge from Western imperialism. In this
context, Chinese intellectuals chose a paradoxical strategyto learn
from the West in order to counter the West. Culturally, they hoped to
reform Confucianism in a Christian way. That is why the problem of
Confucianism as a religion arose. Practicing a kind of cultural nation-
alism, traditional intellectuals hoped to save the nation in a cultural
way. However, with the political transformation from the traditional
to the modern period, there was also a transition from cultural nation-
alism to political nationalism. As the Chinese traditional cultural and
political systems collapsed, Western concepts became dominant. Reli-
gious freedom as a principle of modern politics was misinterpreted
by some Chinese intellectuals as a threat to Confucianism. The inter-
woven conicts of interests and ideas, as well as the transition from
tradition to modernity, led to turmoil over church-state relations in the
early Republic of China.
ZHUO Xinping
Institute of World Religions, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences
This chapter is a comparative study of the understanding of spirituality
in Confucianism and Christianity. There have been different opin-
ions on the religious aspects of Confucianism, as well as non-religious
interpretations or humanistic interpretations of Confucianism in
China today and in the past. Thus it is necessary to analyze the spiri-
tual heritage of Confucianism if it is to be described as a Confucian
religion. The key concept in the spiritual accomplishment of Con-
fucianism is benevolence and its relationship to rites or social order.
Beginning with this starting point, we can compare the Confucian
concept of benevolence with the Christian ideal of love, represented
by the Greek word agape. By focusing on the role of benevolence in
social life and the role of Gods love in human salvation, it is possible
to identify differences between Confucianism and Christianity in their
spiritual pursuits, which may be summed up as a contrast between
realist concerns and ultimate concerns, the social order and the holy
order, and inherent transcendence and external transcendence.
The Understanding of Confucianism in Chinese History
Whether or not Confucianism is a religion, its interpretation as such
is bound up with the relationship between politics and religion in
China. Unlike Western tradition, Chinese tradition holds that politics
and religion should be unequal. A principle of elevation of politics
and subordination of religion formed the foundation of tradition and
social structure in Chinese history. Historically, politics controlled the
role and position of religion in society. It delimited the space in which
religion could develop in China, and the same is true of contempo-
rary Chinese society as well. This hierarchical relationship between
politics and religion continues today. Politicians and scholars in China
have many different understandings of this relationship as it pertains to
278 zhuo xinping
Confucianism. As a result, there are two drastically different interpre-
tations of Confucianism, based on its roles in politics and in spiritual
life in China.
In the rst interpretation, Confucianism is considered to be a reli-
gion. Confucian religion
is understood as the religion that represents
the ethnic Han Chinese. Its dominant position as the ofcial ideology
and its close relationship with the feudal dynasty formed the founda-
tion of the intermingling of politics and religion. Ren Jiyu points out
that Confucian religion was born and raised in China and had been
the native religion for thousands of years. Before the Qin and the
Han dynasty, it proposed worshiping heaven and ancestors as its core
beliefs. After that, the imperial system of government was formed and
gradually completed. The image of Tian Di (highest deity) became a
reection of the emperor on earth. One of the main characteristics
of Chinese politics is the unied state system, and Chinese people
accept, support and endorse this system. . . . Confucian religion makes
its contribution by reinforcing feudal dynasties. . . . It stabilizes the cen-
tralization of power.
This supporting relationship formed the foundation of politics in
ancient Chinese society: The prevalence of a unied feudal system
proved that it was the best system to suit social conditions in ancient
China. We should acknowledge the positive contributions of Confu-
cianism to this system. This intermingling of politics and religion
explains why Confucian religion enjoys a higher status than other
Chinese religions and serves as the ofcial religion:
One of the major characteristics of Confucian religion was an extreme
intermingling of politics and religion. There was a lack of separation
between the two and they became a unied body. The emperor also
served as the religious leader and enjoyed the power of both religion and
politics. The doctrines of Confucian religion were imparted to the public
through proclamations issued by the emperor. The decrees released by
the imperial court had the same function as religious decrees. When the
kings in medieval Europe mounted their thrones, they were crowned by
the pope in order to gain their political legitimacy from God. However,
all a Chinese emperor needed was to issue the edict for his coronation.
The Chinese expression ru jiao is translated as Confucian religion to empha-
size the nature of Confucianism as a religion. For details, see Anna Sun, The Fate
of Confucianism as a Religion in Socialist China: Controversies and Paradoxes, in
State, Market, and Religions in Chinese Societies, ed. Fenggang Yang and Joseph B. Tamney
(Leiden: Brill, 2003), 229254.
spiritual accomplishment in confucianism 279
His self-proclaimed political and religious power could be illustrated
through the pattern of imperial edicts, which all began with the phrase
The Emperor, who governs with the Mandates of Heaven, declares
that . . . So, imperial edicts had the same authority as papal edicts.
Viewing Confucianism as a religion, scholars suggest three phases in its
development. The rst phase was before the Qin and the Han dynas-
ties, which is also referred to as the Kong Confucianism period. At
this time, Confucianism was not yet considered to be a religion. It
was still associated with Confucius, who was not considered a religious
leader. The second phase referred to the transformation of Han Con-
fucianism into a religion during the Western Han period. Emperor
Wu of Han decided to uphold Confucianism as the ofcial religion,
and this was the symbolic moment when Confucian religion was born.
Dong Zhongshus Three Ways to Harmonize Humans with Heaven (Tianren
Sance) was a reply to this policy, and it served as the rst outline of
Confucian religion.
Li Shen also argued that the upholding of Con-
fucianism as ofcial ideology was the beginning of Confucian religion.
Dong Zhongshu was the founder of Confucian religion, and Confucius
and Mencius were the harbingers before Dong.
Emperor Wu of Han
ended state support for the teaching of non-Confucian texts and estab-
lished a text-based ideology represented in the rst Confucian canon.
It was because of this national policy that once Confucianism became
a religion, it immediately acquired the status of ofcial religion. Based
on this point of view, scholars suggested that theocracy and the rule
of ofcial religion prevailed in Chinese history.
The third phase was called Song Confucianism, when Confu-
cian religion was nally established during the Song dynasty. Ren
Jiyu argued that Confucian religion was ofcially formed in the Song
Li Shen also argued that Zhu Xis Preface to the Great Learning
by Chapter and Phrase (Daxue Zhangju Xu) proposed a new doctrine for
the Confucian religion that replaced the old Confucian religious doc-
trine proposed by Dong Zhongshu. This also explained why later on,
Zhu Xis scholarship became the core part of Confucianism, and the
Jiyu Ren, Preface, in Shen Li, Zhongguo rujiao shi [History of Chinese Confucian-
ism], vol. 1 (Shanghai renmin chubanshe, 1999), 35.
Shen Li, Zhuxi de Rujiao Xinganglin, Rujiao wentie zhenglunji [Debates on the
Problems of Confucianism], ed. Jiyu Ren (Zhongjiao wenhua chubanshe, 2000), 430.
Shen Li, Zhongguo rujiao shi, 1:216, 214.
Jiyu Ren, Rujiao wentie zhenglunji, 71.
280 zhuo xinping
orthodox formulation of Confucian religion.
Scholars who under-
stood Confucianism as a religion argued that the role of ofcial religion
and the intermingling of religion and politics continued until the end
of the feudal system, when the 1911 revolution overthrew the Qing
dynasty. Confucian religion had the advantage of its close relationship
with politics and became the ofcial religion. The religious power of
Confucian religion and imperial political power were intertwined and
inseparable. Once the feudal system and the power of the emperor
were deposed, Confucian religion would also wither. Confucian reli-
gion and the power of the emperor coalesced into one, and that is
why it perished after the fall of the imperial system. The organization
of Confucian religion was eradicated. However, its religious inuence
persisted. The core belief in Confucianism of worshiping Heaven and
respecting ancestors still prevails among Chinese people.
In the second interpretation, Confucianism is not considered to be
a religion. Consequently, there was neither a Confucian religion, nor
any intermingling of politics and religion in ancient Chinese history.
Among the scholars who deny the existence of Confucian religion,
there are different perspectives for understanding religious culture in
ancient China. One perspective suggests that there was no Confu-
cian religion but an orthodox religion that was widely accepted by
all classes, and had been practiced for thousands of years in ancient
China. This is what Mou Zhongjian calls clan-based traditional
patriarchal religion.
Mou describes several characteristics of this Chinese religion: it was
patriarchal clan-based; it was subordinate to the government since
the emperor had the power to control the religion; it was diverse and
inclusive; and it had a humanistic spirit that emphasizes the social,
moral function of religion. This patriarchal clan-based religion is
closely related to politics. It refers to
the traditional religion that had been in place since the Xia, Shang, and
Zhou dynasties. It evolved from the worship of heaven and ancestors.
It had the basic components of a religion, including religious concepts,
emotions, and rituals. It had no independent organization. Instead, it
was the kinship structure that fullled the functions of religious organiza-
tion. The emperor, who was also the son of God, was the representative
of the people who worshiped Heaven. Elders of the clan and parents
Ibid., 437.
Jiyu Ren, Preface, in Zhongguo rujiao shi, 6.
spiritual accomplishment in confucianism 281
represented the family in the worship of ancestors. Respecting Heaven
and honoring ancestors ( jingtian fazu), taking good care in seeing off the
deceased, and maintaining sacrices to distant ancestors (shenzhong zhui-
yuan) were the basic religious concepts and emotional expressions in this
religion. This religion is closely entangled with the hierarchical struc-
ture of the feudal clan system and with patriarchal ideology, thus it is
also called traditional patriarchal religion. The practice of this religion
continued until the end of the Qing dynasty.
Based on the above analysis, I argue that traditional patriarchal reli-
gion is very similar to Confucian religion. If Confucian religion lacks
religious organization, and traditional patriarchal religion lacks an ide-
ology, we should integrate the two concepts together in research in
order to arrive at a better understanding of both.
Another view is that Confucian religion is mainly situated outside
the realm of politics, and that it functions as a semireligious social
institution for cultural integration. It is a social consequence of the
decline of li (traditional religious and moral practices), rather than a
product created by the emperor as an ofcial religion to reinforce his
Although Confucian religion is not a political product,
this does not reduce its signicant inuence and its orthodox standing
in Chinese culture. In this perspective, Confucianism is considered
as the unvarying way of the World but not a religion. One can
challenge the religious quality and ofcial position of Confucianism
without denying its cultural integrating power both inside and out of
the government, and its inuence on Chinese culture.
The last view completely rejects the idea that Confucianism is a
religion and sees the characteristics of ancient Chinese society as
(1) a lack of religiosity; (2) separation between politics and religion; and
(3) the absence of wars of religion.
The so-called Chinese ancient
religions referred to Buddhism and Daoism. . . . Ancient Chinese pol-
itics naturally rejected religion because, within the political sphere,
Zhongjian Mou, Zhongguo zongjiao yu wenhua [Chinese Religion and Culture] (Basu
chubanshe, 1989), 6, 7.
Guolong Lu, Lishi qui zhu ye yi shu, Zhongguo zongjiao baogao 2008 [Report
on Chinese Religions 2008], ed. Ze Jin and Yonghui Qiu (Shehui kexue wenxian
chubanshe, 2008), 86.
Weikang Gu, Zongjiao xietiao lunzhongguo zongjiao de guoqu, xianzai he weilai [On
Coordination of Religions, the Past, Present, and Future of Chinese Religions] (Xuelin
chubanshe, 1992), 88101.
282 zhuo xinping
Confucianism already had the power to satisfy the spiritual and moral
needs of the people.
The contradictory conclusions of these two interpretations of poli-
tics and religion in ancient China are interesting. Those who argue for
seeing Confucianism as a religion emphasize the intermingling of poli-
tics and religion as characteristic of ancient Chinese politics. Together
with the imperial system, Confucianisms function as the ofcial reli-
gion constructs a theocracy. However, for those who reject the idea
that Confucianism is a religion, separation of politics and religion is
characteristic of ancient Chinese politics. They recognize the role of
Confucianism as the ultimate ideology in the Chinese society, discard-
ing and condemning other religions and belief systems. In this case,
Buddhism and Daoism become the only religions that play an active
role in the relationship between politics and religion. In the process
of interacting with politics, these religions have adopted two different
approaches. The rst approach is to exist beyond the authority of the
state and to maintain a distance from politics. The Buddhist monk
Huiyuan (334416) composed a treaty titled A Monk Does Not Bow
Down before a King (Shamen bujing wangzhe). Other religious lead-
ers also emphasized that monks should be exempt from the outward
signs of obedience. They adopted the policy to live as a recluse in
a forest and avoid the material world ( yinju shanlin, buran hongchen),
suggesting that monks should focus on their religious cultivation and
keep their distance from politics. In contrast, other religious leaders
saw that interacting with political powers was the path to religious
development. The Buddhist monk Daoan (314385) realized that it
would be difcult to develop Buddhism if its practitioners did not have
support from the emperor. He decided to submit to the authority of
the imperial state. However, this adaptation was only marginally suc-
cessful under the powerful imperial system in China, in which every
single individual and all resources and properties were supposed to be
under the control of the imperial court. In the ancient Chinese politi-
cal sphere, religion had never achieved a dominating role. . . . Politics,
ethical relations, and political strategies were denitely nonreligious.
Even the concepts of heaven and deity in Chinese politics were
devoid of religious connotations.
Ibid., 91.
Ibid., 94.
spiritual accomplishment in confucianism 283
In his analysis of how Chinese ancient religion was politically mar-
ginalized because of the separation between politics and religion, Gu
Weikang argued that there were two different manifestations of Chi-
nese religion in different cultural settings. In the rened and cultivated
cultural setting, Chinese religion focused on theological development.
This inuenced how religion positioned itself against other value sys-
tems in this cultural setting, such as Confucianism as a philosophy
or academic theory. It explained why there were numerous monks,
experts, and scholars who were well immersed in both religious and
philosophical literature. Because there was a distance between politics
and religion, Chinese religious scholars were able to avoid govern-
ment intervention and focus on developing a comprehensive academic
system for Buddhism and Daoismincluding a religious philosophy,
religious ethics, religious culture and even scientic research within
In the secular cultural setting of social life, however,
religion did not achieve an independent position . . . and tended to be
absorbed or incorporated by politicized Confucianism. The folk prac-
tices of Buddhism and Daoism were corrupted through politicization
and materialization. Their religious nature changed and they corroded
into superstition. Materialism dominated in peoples religious attitudes
and behaviors, as they worshipped for their immediate benets. Many
Chinese people worshipped Confucius in their living room but Guanyin
in the back of their house. They also worshipped Tathagata, Laozi,
Emperor Guan, the God of Wealth, Dragon Kings, and local town
gods. . . . Bodhisattva and ancestors, ghosts and deities were all being
worshipped together.
Furthermore, this diverse and mixed folk religious practice had been
employed by peasants to resist the feudal authorities. On the one hand,
it had been used to counter Confucianism as the mainstream ideol-
ogy. On the other hand, it served as the motto in peasant revolts and
wars, and as the basis for spiritual support and interpersonal relation-
ships during these uprisings.
In ancient China, religion was always
associated with peasant insurgence. However, because Chinese folk
religious beliefs tended to be disorderly, inconsistent, and random,
religion that was associated with peasant insurgence tended to be
primitive, supercial, and lacking in doctrines, transcendental ideals,
Ibid., 96.
Ibid., 96, 98.
Ibid., 100.
284 zhuo xinping
theogony, and guidelines for practice.
Due to the disorder and lack
of organization, these insurgences tended to lack solidarity, and the
religiosity that was involved was usually impermanent. In this analysis
we can see that the identity of Confucianism as a religion is not clear
in the Chinese context. But the majority of Chinese scholars agree
that in the spiritual life of the Chinese in the past, Confucianism had
a function similar to that of Christianity. So, it is necessary to identify
the connection between spirituality and religiosity in Confucianism.
Spirituality in Confucianism
Spirituality deals with human spiritual nature, temperament, per-
sonal accomplishment, and pursuit of faith. The spiritual phenomena
of human beings include the human spiritual world and spiritual life.
The human spiritual desire reects the special demands of human exis-
tence beyond material needs. That is to say, human beings depend on
spiritual support and consolation in social life. In this understanding,
spirituality has a close connection both with individual existence and
with the collective coexistence of human society. Individual spirituality
represents the inner life or inner world of man, but it is not simply the
innate knowledge or instinct of man and should be the result of inte-
rior human training. In this way, Confucianism combined individual
spirituality with the establishment of an ideal social order.
As the rst step of human cultivation in spiritual life, Confucian-
ism put forward the idea of self-cultivation. This self-cultivation,
however, should not be just an inner spiritual accomplishment for
oneself, but should also include public responsibility for others. Self-
cultivation should be only a starting point for spiritual accomplish-
ment in Confucianism. Confucius said, He cultivates himself so as
to give rest to others. . . . He cultivates himself so as to give rest to
all the peopleeven Yao and Shun were still solicitous about this.

Self- cultivation in Confucianism was not just a way to preserve ones
purity, it reected instead the basic principle of internal holiness and
external sovereignty in Confucianism. To do something successfully
Ibid., 101.
Analects, Hsien Wan 45; James Legge, trans., The Chinese Classics (Taipei: Southern
Materials Center, 1985), 1:292.
spiritual accomplishment in confucianism 285
in society was self-cultivations ultimate aspiration and for this purpose
it was intended to combine spiritual accomplishment with social action.
Nevertheless, this social ideal was not the whole purpose of Confucian-
ism in its spiritual cultivation. There were obviously also religious ele-
ments in this cultivation. Namely, Confucian self-cultivation fostered a
spiritual process reaching from the individuals innermost world to
the ultimate reality in a religious sense. Aiming for merging with the
ultimate holiness or the attainment of holy transcendence through cul-
tivation, Mencius said condently, I am skillful in nourishing my vast,
owing passion-nature. He explained this passion-nature as follows:
It is exceedingly great, and exceedingly strong. Being nourished by
rectitude, and sustaining no injury, it lls up all between heaven and
earth. . . . It is the mate and assistant of righteousness and reason. With-
out it, man is in a state of starvation.
Self-cultivation was not an
isolated, closed spiritual training. This inner spirit by its very nature
should include a longing to embrace and grasp the whole cosmos. It
transcended the material body and revealed the standard of holi-
ness reached by the bottom of the heart, which meant that the
heart should be the master of all things between heaven and earth.
Mencius explained the signicance of this heart, namely the mental
constitution, thus: He who has exhausted all his mental constitution
knows his nature. Knowing his nature, he knows Heaven. . . . To pre-
serve ones mental constitution, and nourish ones nature, is the way
to serve Heaven.
Surely, this mental constitution came from the
individuals innermost world, but spiritual accomplishment served the
collective existence and the interests of human community.
Obviously, Confucian spirituality sought to create a cultural atmo-
sphere and to express the national soul of the Chinese. Here, the
national spirit was no longer construed as the inner soliloquy of indi-
viduals, but as a reection of the spiritual life and spiritual pursuit of
this collective, namely the collective self-consciousness. This national
spirit would conrm and even stress this collective self- identity.
Thus, for an ethnic group, this national spirituality had to be the work
of collective cultivation, and would form the public spirituality and
common spirit.
The Works of Mencius, Kung-sun Chau, part 1; Legge, The Chinese Classics,
The Works of Mencius, Tsin Sin, part 1; Legge, The Chinese Classics, 2:448449.
286 zhuo xinping
In the Chinese cultural tradition, the idea of spirituality concerned
mainly human spiritual practice and cultivation. However, to cultivate
ones mentality and nourish ones inborn nature, this internal holi-
ness should not be directed simply toward self-perfection; it should
also make efforts toward the perfection of the whole world. This was
then the task of the external sovereign in Confucian understanding.
But as a result of political participation and competition, there had
often been a strong internal holiness but a weak external sovereign
since Confucius. So, Confucianism had to give up its efforts toward
social action and return to the individual cultivation of interior per-
fection. That was why Mencius stated, When the men of antiquity
realized their wishes, benets were conferred by them on the people. If
they did not realize their wishes, they cultivated their personal charac-
ter, and became illustrious in the world. If poor, they attended to their
own virtue in solitude; if advanced to dignity, they made the whole
kingdom virtuous as well.
The Chinese spirit was mainly identied with the Confucian spirit
as it was traditionally understood. The Confucian system of thought
once determined the spiritual orientation of cultural development in
ancient China and became its soft power. In comparison, discus-
sions about spirituality in the Western tradition belong essentially
to the sphere of Christian theology and ethics. The Western discourse
on spirituality is indisputably a religious one. When we examine spiri-
tuality in Confucianism and Christianity, we nd that both systems
of thought posit an opposition between the inside world and outside
world, between heaven and human beings, between inherence and
transcendence, and between the secular and the holy. Today there is
a revival of Confucianism in Chinese society. Is this revival a religious
revival or not? Can we discern any religiosity in Confucian spiritual-
ity? Perhaps a comparative study of spirituality in Confucianism and
Christianity can give us an answer to these questions.
Confucianisms True Spirit and Its Standard of Benevolence
What is the true spirit of Confucianism? How does it compare to
Christian spirit with its religious characteristics? There is not yet a
Ibid., 2:453.
spiritual accomplishment in confucianism 287
consensus on the answers to these questions among Chinese schol-
ars. Today, the revival and further development of religions is clearly
taking place in Chinese society. But the old problem, whether Con-
fucianism is a religion or not, still remains. Traditionally Confucian-
ism, Buddhism, and Taoism were regarded as three religions for the
Chinese people. But now people accept the revival and development
of Buddhism and Taoism as religious revivals and developments, while
refusing to recognize Confucian revival as a religious revival. Many
scholars, especially some Neo-Confucian scholars, persist in the
opinion that the Confucian spirit should be a nonreligious, namely
humanistic spirit. So, in the spiritual sphere, they make a clear dis-
tinction between humanity and religiosity. When humanity is
opposed to religiosity, China seems to be the only nation without
religion among all humanity, which differs from Mircea Eliades claim
that religion is an anthropological constant, namely, that all human
beings have religious beliefs. For example, Mou Zhongjian empha-
sized again and again that in contrast with Christian theology,
Confucianism should be an ethical anthropology, which explains the
knowledge of how to be a good person and how to deal with per-
sonal relations. Taking human beings as the basic standardthis is
what differentiates Confucianism from all religions. And taking ethics
as the centerthis is what differentiates Confucianism from West-
ern humanism and the Chinese Taoist teachings.
The reason that
anthropology is not theology is based on the fact that anthro-
pology has its core in benevolence, namely, it is a knowledge of
personal relations. Confucian anthropology has two important pil-
lars: one is knowledge of benevolence, the other knowledge of rites.
The knowledge of benevolence should be the philosophy of Confucian
anthropology, its inner quintessence, and the knowledge of rites its
principles for behavior and conduct, namely its outside form. But in
his opinion, the union of benevolence and rites in Confucian anthro-
pology has obviously broken down: of all the teachings in Confucian-
ism, the teaching of benevolence represents the spiritual orientation
of Chinese national development, but maintenance of the rites was
criticized and strongly attacked by revolutionaries because of its close
combination with the medieval systems of patriarchal clan ranking
Mou Zhongjian, Zoujin Zhongguo Jingshen [Come Closer to Chinese Spirit] (Bei-
jing: Huawen chubanshe, 1999), 36.
288 zhuo xinping
and autocratic monarchy.
Consequently there is no revival of the
culture of rites, but the revival of the teaching of benevolence
should be encouraged and promoted.
The key concept of benevolence in the moral system of Confucian-
ism can be traced back to the Book of Historical Documents (The Shoo
King), where it originally meant a good moral character: I have been
lovingly obedient to my father; I am possessed of many abilities and
arts which t me to serve spiritual beings.
Benevolence as a spiritual
trait includes not only various moral principles, but also complicated
psychological elements. In the system of Confucian benevolence there
should be two particular emphases: one stresses that benevolence
means to love all men,
as emphasized by Confucius, and this spirit
of loving all men must become the doctrine of faithfulness and tol-
erance in an all-pervading unity; the other points out the impor-
tance of benevolence for maintaining social order, and benevolence is
namely to restrain oneself and restore the rites, and so if a man can
restrain himself and restore the rites, then all under heaven will ascribe
benevolence to him. Here, according to Confucius, benevolence
should be a spirit of self-restraint, which one cultivates consciously for
the public rites, and in its human sense bears a similarity to the idea
of kenosis in Christianity. By this understanding, benevolence and the
rites form an organic combination: keeping the rites should promote
benevolence, and such rites reected social order in the past. For Con-
fucianism, a harmonious social system should be the core of the rites
and the essence of benevolence.
How to maintain this true spirit is nevertheless not just a human
affair. For a harmonious social order, it is not enough to deal with
interpersonal relations; man must face the relation between Heaven
and human beings, which means that a transcendental dimension is
needed. When respecting and serving Heaven is added to the picture,
Confucianism is no longer a self-contained anthropology. In contrast
to philosophy, man gives up his skepticism; and in similarity to theol-
ogy, man turns to faith and to belief in the mandate of Heaven or
divine providence. The basic spirit in Confucian benevolence is to
love all men, and this benevolent love has no fundamental difference
Ibid., 3637.
The Shoo King; Legge, The Chinese Classics, 3:354.
Legge, The Chinese Classics, 1:260.
spiritual accomplishment in confucianism 289
from Christian agape (universal love). Agape is understood to have a
divine dimension, and this transcendental standard can also be found
in Confucian love. Christian belief in God has the same function as
Confucian respect for Heaven. Benevolence in Confucianism and love
in Christianity have the same ethical function in human society. If we
want to draw a distinction between them, we might say that Confu-
cianism is a philosophy of love, whereas Christianity is a religion
of love. Both systems teach a doctrine of the mean or golden
mean. In Confucianism, this golden mean is expressed in the prin-
ciple not to do to others as you would not wish done to yourself.

In other words, the man of benevolence, wishing to be established
himself, seeks also to establish others; wishing to be enlarged himself,
he seeks also to enlarge others.
In Christianity, the two great com-
mandments are, You shall love the Lord your God with all your
heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all
your strength, and You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
golden mean in Christianity is the essence of the teachings of the law
and the prophets: Whatever you wish that men would do to you,
do so to them.
Through this analysis we can see clearly that the Confucian spirit
of benevolence directed toward loving all men shows no contradiction
with the religious spirit of love, and an ethical anthropology alone
cannot replace the signicance and function of religion. Moral prin-
ciples are not characteristics of Confucianism that distinguish it from
religion. On the contrary, they are important elements in a religion.
Confucian spirituality as moral anthropology reects also the tran-
scendental dimensions of religion.
Mental Introspection in Confucianism and Spiritual Transcendence
in Christianity
In the doctrine of benevolence of unity for all between Heaven and
earth, we can identify the religious meanings and sentiments of
Confucianism. Through its concept of spiritual communication, the
Ibid., 1:251.
Ibid., 1:194.
Mark 12:2831.
Matthew 7:12.
290 zhuo xinping
unication of Heaven and men, including their coexistence and
common morality, is realized. Through this process of spiritual com-
munication, it is possible for Confucianism to include a religious
spirit as well as its humanistic spirit. Here, benevolence shows its
ability to link up Heaven and men, because the spirit of benevolence
would in fact make every possible effort to know nature and Heaven,
so as to relate the law of Heaven to the nature of life. If we under-
stand or explain benevolence as the reason for life in Heaven and
the virtue of love in human beings, it already has a religious conno-
tation. Since benevolence in Confucian understanding is not isolated,
but connected with the unication of Heaven and men, it appears as
the common morality of Heaven and men and expresses the unity of
Heaven and men as well. Benevolence reected in moral behavior and
personal praxis already bears religious signicance; a morality lacking
in religious resources or religious spirit would lose its transcendental
dimension and could not sustain itself. Thus the Confucian spiritual
accomplishment of benevolence should also be recognized as a unique
religious spirituality. The contemporary renaissance of benevolence in
Confucianism clearly reveals the religiosity in the Confucian spirit.
Nevertheless, there are various types of religions, and Confucian-
ism is different from Christianity in that it is a practical, ethical reli-
gion. It would represent public opinion in the public realm or public
forum. In a modern sense, Confucianism can be described as a pub-
lic religion, a civil religion, or a social religion. Since the transcen-
dental dimension in Confucianism is not so clear and obvious as in
Christianity, Confucianism puts more stress on activity or action in
this world. For this purpose, the spiritual discipline of Confucianism
should be practiced mainly through mental introspection and should
be inwardly directed. This inwardness, including self-training, self-
examination, mental introversion, and spiritual accomplishment, is the
rst step and necessary preparation for action and active participation
in this world. In this way, the political effectiveness of Confucianism
can be traced back to the preparation or training of the human heart
and human nature. The Great Learning describes this process as follows:
The ancients who wished to illustrate illustrious virtue throughout
the kingdom, rst ordered well their own States. Wishing to order
well their States, they rst regulated their families. Wishing to regulate
their families, they rst cultivated their persons. Wishing to cultivate
their persons, they rst rectied their hearts. Wishing to rectify their
hearts, they rst sought to be sincere in their thoughts. Or in other
spiritual accomplishment in confucianism 291
words, Their thoughts being sincere, their hearts were then recti-
ed. Their hearts being rectied, their persons were cultivated. Their
persons being cultivated, their families were regulated. Their families
being regulated, their States were rightly governed. Their States being
rightly governed, the whole kingdom was made tranquil and happy.

Because Confucianism recognized an economic purpose or eco-
nomic usage for spiritual accomplishment, Confucianism was quite
often not recognized as a religion by many Chinese. The concept of
God was obscure in Confucianism, and the system did not emphasize
honoring God through worship. Its concept of Heaven has been
interpreted differently, and people cannot reach a consensus on it. In
contrast, the concept of holiness was stressed by Confucianism, with
particular attention to inner holiness. In other words, man should not
search for divinity outside himself but should look within. The ideal
practitioners of Confucianism are sages and people of virtue, who are
the equivalent of saints in Christian religion.
But it is difcult to become a real saint if one only focuses on per-
sonal effort or individual self-training and self-restraint. To attain holi-
ness, spiritual transcendence is absolutely necessary. Thus the teaching
of internal transcendence in Confucianism is not enough, and Confu-
cianism should adopt the idea of external transcendence featured in
Christianity. In this dimension of Christianity, man expresses his con-
cern with ultimate things by believing in an ultimate reality or ultimate
divinity. Through this dimension, man can strive for self-transcendence
and overcome his own limitations both in nature and in spirit. In fact,
the contemporary revival movement of Neo- Confucianism is unfold-
ing in an era and a society without sages or saints. The revival
movement reveals that self-emancipation in a secular world has failed.
Confucianism had its limitations in the past and still has them at the
present moment. What China needs is an open spirit, a transcen-
dental spirit. Confucianism refused to answer the question about
ultimate reality clearly. Many Chinese deny the existence of such
an ultimate divinity. As a consequence, many Chinese pay little atten-
tion to ultimate concerns, and Chinese society has too many secular
concerns, this-worldly concerns, and utilitarian concerns. It is
not practical, nor is it necessary, to continue to deny ultimate divin-
ity. We are living in an era of dialogue, and an initial dialogue on
Legge, The Chinese Classics, 1:357359.
292 zhuo xinping
the various understandings and interpretations of this ultimate divinity
may have great rewards. In this process of dialogue, human love could
be enriched and strengthened by divine love (such as agape in Christi-
anity), social concerns could be enriched and elevated by ultimate con-
cerns, and immanence could be supplemented by and combined with
transcendence. The potential for Confucian revival or renaissance in
the contemporary world lies in this possibility for interchange among
traditions and indeed depends on the fruitful results of their spiritual
dialogue and mutual perfection.
Robert Cummings NEVILLE
Boston University
This chapter develops three points concerning Confucianism and
spiritual traditions. The rst concerns the classic Confucian notion of
love or humaneness with distinctions. The second concerns the role
of ritual in Confucianism to build bridges across cultural differences.
The third concerns understanding how Confucian humaneness, ren,
allows the acknowledgment of what some Western philosophers have
called otherness.
To preface the discussion it is important to acknowledge that Con-
fucianism, like most of the other spiritual traditions of China and
the world, has had a long and varied history. In this chapter Con-
fucianism shall be identied with some ancient themes elaborated in
pre-Han times. Those themes have been elaborated in many differ-
ent and sometimes contradictory ways. But the concern here is to
elaborate them in a contemporary way to show how a Confucian in
our time might contribute to extending humaneness across rugged
social barriers.
Love with Distinctions
The rst thing to note about Confucian humaneness (ren) is its asso-
ciation with the Axial Age revolution that extended from East Asia
through South Asia to the West Asian lands of the Mediterranean.
The phrase Axial Age was coined by Karl Jaspers and was used
to characterize the period roughly from 800200 BCE, during which
time philosophy was invented across the ecumene and there came
into being the religions or religious philosophies that we know now
as Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism, Greek philosophical paganism
(Plato, Aristotle, etc.), Hinduisms, Jainism, Prophetic Judaism from
which in combination with Greek philosophy Christianity arose, and
296 robert cummings neville
The elements of these religions or religio-philosophies
developed slowly and in many conicting ways within each general
tradition. Yet by the end of the Axial Age, that is, by about the second
century BCE, the following themes were universal to them all: some
conception or other of the world as a whole, conceptions of the ulti-
mate principle or principles upon which the world as a whole exists,
denitions of human identity as having more to do with the relations
of individuals to the ultimate principles (for instance, Dao, Heaven/
Earth, Brahman, Emptiness, God) than to local kinship settings, and
imperatives to love everyone and be just to everyone (not merely those
within ones in-group). The general reason for the universality of love
and justice is that all people are equally and most importantly related
to the ultimate principles, and only secondarily to special relations
with each other. All these themes were revolutionary relative to pre-
Axial Age religious cultures.
The Confucian theme of humaneness is a version of the Axial Age
theme of universal love. In contrast to pre-Axial Age cultures accord-
ing to which one should be humane to ones own people and rude
or hostile to others, particularly barbarians, the early Confucians said
that one should be humane to everyone, and that this trait itself is one
of the ways in which a human being can become humane.
But in ancient China it would seem that Mozis philosophy, roughly
contemporary with that of Confucius, was a more direct embodiment
of the Axial Age ideal regarding universal humanity. When asked
whence the harms of the world come, he said,
They arise out of want of mutual love. At present feudal lords know only
to love their own states and not those of others. Therefore they do not
hesitate to mobilize their states to attack others. Heads of families know
only to love their own families and not those of others. Therefore they
do not hesitate to mobilize their families to usurp others. And individuals
know only to love their own persons and not those of others. Therefore
they do not hesitate to mobilize their own persons to injure others.
Jasperss seminal discussion was in Vom Ursprung und Ziel der Geschichte (Zurich:
Artemis, 1949), published in English as The Origin and Goal of History, trans. Michael
Bullock (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1953). For a more recent comparative
historical discussion of the Axial Age, see Karen Armstrongs The Great Transformation:
The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions (New York: Knopf, 2006).
The Mo Tzu, part 2 (chap. 15), trans. Wing-Tsit Chan in his Source Book in Chinese
Philosophy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1963), 213.
confucian humaneness (REN) across social barriers 297
In the case of universal justice, Mozi was explicit in tying it to the
ultimate principle and asserting the common relation of all people to
that principle:
Heaven wants righteousness and dislikes unrighteousness. With right-
eousness the world lives and without righteousness the world dies, and
with it the world becomes rich and without it the world becomes poor,
with it the world becomes orderly and without it the world becomes
chaotic. Now Heaven wants to have the world live and dislikes to have
it die, wants to have it rich and dislikes to have it poor, and wants to
have it orderly and dislikes to have it chaotic.
Mozi advocated equality for all people, and cutting back on elaborate
funerals, expensive clothes, and good foods.
The Confucian objection to Mozi was complicated, involving a
rejection of what was perceived as hyper-utilitarianism and an over-
anthropomorphizing of Heaven.
But the deeper Confucian objection
was this: people are not equalthey are each unique and should
be respected as such. Therefore, it is not possible to love everyone by
treating them the same way, as Mozi taught. Rather, humane behav-
ior needs to make distinctions in order to treat people in the ways they
should be treated, given who they are and who the person treating
them is. The distinctions Confucius seemed to have in mind have to
do with social relationships:
The Duke of She told Confucius, In my country there is an upright
man named Kung. When his father stole a sheep, he bore witness
against him. Confucius said, The upright men in my community are
different from this. The father conceals the misconduct of the son and
the son conceals the misconduct of the father. Uprightness is to be found
in this.
In contrast to Mozis doctrine of universal egalitarian love, Confu-
cianism has long advocated love or humaneness with distinctions.
In ancient times, this meant loving ones own family more than
those in other families, ones own community more than other com-
munities, and ones own empire more than the barbarians. Love, or
The Mo Tzu, part 2 (chap. 26), in Chan, Source Book, 218.
Confucius said, Does Heaven (Tien, nature) say anything? The four seasons run
their course and all things are produced. Does Heaven say anything? Analects 17.19;
Chan, Source Book, 47.
Analects 13.18. Note the similarity of this argument to that of Socrates in Platos
298 robert cummings neville
humaneness, in this context means not only affectionate regard but
also taking responsibility for those loved and deferring to them as
worthy to be loved. The Confucian doctrine of love with distinc-
tions does not mean that there is anyone who should not be loved,
only that people are to be loved differently, or treated humanely in
different ways, with more attentive responsibility for those in relative
Other religions, such as Buddhism and Christianity, agree
that everyone should be loved, that compassion should be universal.
But because, in practice, love is mediated by the social structures of
the situation, universal love becomes an empty value unless it can be
shaped so as to recognize distinctions in relationships. Confucianism
thus has a head start among world cultures in recognizing the com-
plexity of treating everyone humanely when people are in such differ-
ent relations with one another. Many barriers exist across which the
expression of humaneness is difcult.
In our own time we understand the social barriers to be much more
complex than were expressed in the ancient texts. They cannot be
conceived simply in terms of distance from an intergenerational fam-
ily, although those barriers are surely important. We know now much
more of the structures of socioeconomic class stratication, of how
varied those are, of how upwardly and downwardly mobile people are
within social classes, of how these are affected not only by ownership
of the means of production but by technological advances, climate,
and shifting markets across the world. We know now about many
more of the complexities of different kinds of personality, with differ-
ent learning styles, and different psychopathologies, across which love
needs to be conveyed. We understand that contemporary social barri-
ers to the expression of humaneness include ethnic divisions, religious
divisions, and civilizational divisions. We recognize that groups have
different and conicting interests centered on economic matters, or
Tu Weiming is one of the most important Confucians writing in English on the
topic of ren as love or humaneness. His most important books on the topic are Central-
ity and Commonality: An Essay on Confucian Religiousness (revised and enlarged edition of
Centrality and Commonality: An Essay on Chung-yung; Albany: State University of New York
Press, 1989); Confucian Thought: Selfhood As Creative Transformation (Albany: State Uni-
versity of New York Press, 1985); and Humanity and Self-Cultivation: Essays in Confucian
Thought (Berkeley, CA: Lancaster-Miller, 1978; repr., Boston: Cheng & Tsui, 1998). I
had the privilege of providing forewords to the latter two books, and thus have been
engaged with him for over twenty years in a dialogue about the nuances and relative
positions of humaneness and ritual.
confucian humaneness (REN) across social barriers 299
claims to land, or appropriation of resources. All these social barri-
ers to the expression of humaneness are abundantly illustrated in the
conicts of world civilizations; but most of them are also illustrated in
the internal struggles of small towns.
Contemporary social sciences
are multiplying our appreciation of these alienating social structures
at an astonishing rate.
Something like the Confucian ideal of humaneness with distinc-
tions has become a social imperative for every contemporary society.
Reinforced in every major religious and cultural tradition, humane-
ness stands directly opposed to the dehumanizing effects of so much
of late modern economic and political interaction. How can humane-
ness acknowledge the differences among the people and groups to be
treated humanely and nd distinctive ways to address them across the
boundaries? This question is not to be answered only by examining
the particular kinds of boundaries on which the ancient Confucians
focused, namely those emanating from distance from family. It needs
to be asked in terms of our contemporary understanding of social
boundaries that make humane treatment difcult.
Ritual Theory
Nevertheless, the ancients were not concerned only with boundaries
set in familial terms. Xunzi, the ancient theoretician of Confucian
ritual, noticed that societies are stratied into social classes based on
economic, political, and birthright differences.
It did not occur to him
See Samuel P. Huntingtons The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order
(New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996).
For philosophical reections on alienating social structure, focusing on the Chinese
tradition, see Harmony and Strife: Contemporary Perspectives, East & West, ed. Shu-hsien Liu
and Robert E. Allinson (Shatin, Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, 1988).
Xunzis writings have recently been edited and translated into English by John
Knoblock, Xunzi: A Translation and Study of the Complete Works (Stanford, CA: Stanford
University Press); vol. 1 (1988) includes books 16, vol. 2 (1990), books 716, and vol.
3 (1994), books 1732. For the points discussed in this essay, see book 2, On Self-
Cultivation; book 10, On Enriching the State; book 17, Discourse on Nature;
book 19, Discourse on Ritual Principles; book 20, Discourse on Music; book 22,
On the Correct Use of Names; and book 23, Mans Nature is Evil. I have discussed
Xunzi and his theory of ritual in Normative Cultures (Albany: State University of New
York Press, 1995), Boston Confucianism (Albany: State University of New York Press,
2000), and Ritual and Deference (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2008). One
of the most interesting recent discussions of ritual is Ritual and Its Consequences: An Essay
300 robert cummings neville
that the vast differences between the rich and poor could be changed;
the idea of social engineering did not become generally plausible until
the eighteenth century in England with the work of John Wesley.
Now we understand social justice to demand that social inequities be
remedied where they can, and political philosophies from Marxism
to liberal progressivism have engaged in massive social experiments
in changing class structures. But some class differences endure, and
perhaps have gotten worse in certain economic situations. Xunzi even
believed that social class distinctions were a good thing because they
were necessary for organizing the economy efciently and preserving
social order. But he recognized that people in all social classes should
be treated humanely by each other, especially so that those in the low-
est classes would have enough to live full lives.
The problem with people, Xunzi thought, is that by nature we are
selsh, like infants, thinking only of ourselves; modern psychologists
call primary narcissism what Xunzi notoriously called the natural
evil of humanity. Moreover, although human beings have all sorts of
emotional and physical capacities given in their biology (by Heaven,
he said), biology does not teach them to attach the right emotions to
the right objects, or to rule themselves judiciously. Actually, accord-
ing to Xunzi, human nature by itself, that is, as given in biology, is
vastly underdetermined. Our physical capacities need to be trained,
as do our intellectual and emotional capacities. Whereas Mencius and
his tradition have said that human nature is essentially good and will
unfold properly if not distorted, Xunzi and his tradition have said
that human nature is not complete without culture to determine its
underdetermined capacities.
His answer to both natural narcissism and bio-psychic underde-
termination was ritual. Xunzis notion of ritual was extraordinarily
profound, referring not only to court (and religious) rituals but to all
behavior that is shaped by conventional signs. A culture has a reper-
toire of signs that might be very different from that of another culture,
but which accomplish the same thing, for instance standing, greeting,
and speaking. East Asians learn to stand with their feet parallel; West-
erns learn to stand with the toes out at an angle. East Asians greet one
another with a bow and with the hands together; Westerners with a
on the Limits of Sincerity, by Adam B. Seligman, Robert P. Weller, Michael J. Puett, and
Bennett Simon; part of its interest lies in the fact that it draws upon Confucian as well
as Western sociological and anthropological theories of ritual.
confucian humaneness (REN) across social barriers 301
handshake. Speaking in Chinese or English is a difference in ritual,
even when saying the same thing.
For Xunzi, a human being needs to be ritualized in order to make
high civilization possible. Men and women can copulate and produce
offspring, but cannot raise them to be humane without family rituals
that provide distinctions in roles and divisions of labor, especially in
ways that foster mutual respect. The Confucian tradition as a whole
has placed great importance on the family as the locus of learning
to be humane. One learns how to be humane, in general, by being
loved by parents. But it is more complicated than this. Parents nd it
easy to love an infantit is almost a biological instinct. Parents have
to grow in the subtlety of their love in order to love an active child,
teaching the child how to develop capacities and take on responsibili-
ties. Parents have to grow in their own love a very great deal to love
a rebellious adolescent. Then parental love has even more to learn
when children are grown and move away. The intent behind parental
love is to raise children to be virtuous. Filial piety is a kind of love
appropriate for children to have toward parents. In commonsense
terms, this has meant that children take care of parents in their old
age. But in the deep Confucian terms, lial piety is becoming virtu-
ous and demonstrating this virtue so as to free parents from the task
of making their children virtuous, to show them that they have suc-
ceeded and can retire with satisfaction. How can this be done? By the
children themselves marrying and having children and demonstrating
their own virtue by loving their children in the appropriate ways, stage
by stage. Thus parents cannot be satised that they have loved their
children into humaneness until they see their children do this with the
grandchildren. This accounts for the very great importance of multi-
generational families in traditional Confucian societies and points out
the great limitations that highly mobile societies place on the closely
monitored teaching of humaneness. All sorts of surrogates for children
and grandchildren are possible, of course, in education and appren-
ticeships. All of the acts of parenting and lial piety are given meaning
by the ritual conventions of culture. Without those ritual conventions,
the acts would not carry humaneness.
For this interpretation of the familial center of humaneness or love, see Tu
Weimings Centrality and Commonality. For my comments on Tus view, see Neville,
Boston Confucianism, 96101.
302 robert cummings neville
Just as families would not be possible without ritual, so friend-
ships, organized social life, economic activity, and all the other things
important to high civilization require ritual. Human biological nature,
according to Xunzi, cannot be fullled without the rituals of conven-
tional culture. Thus he gives very great importance to the ancient
trinity of Heaven, Earth, and the Human, where the Human means
ritualized culture bearing conventional meanings that can tie emotions
to their appropriate objects. Xunzis approach to ritual is extraordi-
narily complicated.
Of the many places where ritual is important, according to Xunzi,
one is in the interactions among different social classes. To oversim-
plify his position, in a well-ordered society, rituals exist by virtue of
which lower classes defer to higher classes and higher classes provide
for the needs of lower classes. In a poorly ordered society, those ritu-
als do not exist, with the consequences of class warfare and broken
economy; everyone suffers, especially the poor. More important for
Xunzis Confucian sensibilities, in a poorly ordered society people can-
not treat one another with humaneness because their classes are at
odds with one another. In a true Confucian sense, deference is not
only the attitude of lower classes toward higher classes, but the attitude
of anyone regarding anyone else with humaneness. The higher classes
in a well-ordered society defer to the lower classes and their needs, in
appropriate ways that both recognize their humanity and provide for
them. Xunzi sought for large-scale social rituals within which each
social class could function in a harmonious dance with the others,
paying deference to the others even when not sharing the values or
interests of the others. The sharp point of Xunzis conception of ritual
is that the individuals and groups participating in the rituals do not
need to share common interests and in fact can be in deep conict, so
long as they play the rituals together so as to keep an effective political
economy going.
Nowadays we strive to overcome economic class differences, not to
accept them, and believe in social engineering in ways of which the
ancients could not conceive. Very often we want rightly to break down
rituals that perpetuate injustice. Nevertheless, many kinds of differences
between people prevent them from dancing with one another in appro-
priate humane ways. One contribution to overcoming the barriers to
See Neville, Ritual and Deference, chap. 3.
confucian humaneness (REN) across social barriers 303
multiply focused humaneness among people and groups is the develop-
ment of rituals that allow them to interact with one another in harmony
even while competing and disagreeing over fundamental values.
Put in a preliminary way, I advocate a Confucian project of social
analysis that inquires into the existence of rituals that inhibit or pre-
vent the expression of humaneness across social barriers, and that goes
on to develop rituals for the interaction of contending groups that
allow for all participants to treat one another humanely even while in
conict. These are two distinct steps.
The rst is the development of a contemporary Confucian discipline
for discerning ritual behavior and analyzing what it allows and what
it prevents. This discipline should take advantage of all the social sci-
ence methodologies for understanding ritual. But it should be guided
by the Confucian theme of analyzing how specic rituals increase or
inhibit humaneness, how they treat some people humanely and objec-
tify others so as to dehumanize them. The Confucian sensibility about
humaneness in diverse contexts is far subtler than that in late modern
and postmodern social sciences that try to be value free.
The second step in a contemporary discipline of ritual analysis is the
invention of new rituals that would replace dysfunctional ones or that
would integrate people and social functions that ought to be integrated
but are not. Inventing rituals is a strange idea, because we usually
take rituals to emerge from below, as it were. But because all human
interactions, including those of social entities, are mediated by rituals,
to care for others means to care for the rituals needed for mediation.
Therefore, creativity in enhancing human relations includes creativity
in the invention of rituals that make them possible. Confucius thought
the problem with his time was that there were insufcient rituals for
civilized life. So he claimed to recover the rituals of the ancients and
taught them to his pupils. But in fact by and large he was inventing
the rituals that he taught.
Humaneness, Ritual, and Otherness
Before we can say much about rituals that foster the expression of
humaneness across barriers, however, a further word needs to be said
about humaneness itself. Some Western philosophers recently have
been concerned to understand human beings as others. This con-
cern arises out of two long-standing problems in Western thought.
304 robert cummings neville
One is that in many contexts we conceive world history and our
societies in the form of narratives. The vast complexities of nature
and human society are simplied and given meaning through stories.
A narrative gives meaning by connecting things in a comprehensible
story line; but it also gives meaning by excluding from that narrative
all the other things that happen that are not part of the narrative. A
narrative is a license to not pay attention to those things, including
people, who do not count for much in the story. In both The Philoso-
phy of Right and the Lesser Logic, Hegel argued that the actual is the
rational and the rational is the actual.
By rational he meant the
unfolding of the narrative logic of nature and history. He admitted
that there exist some groups of people who do not t into that narra-
tive but said they are not actual: because they do not contribute to
the story, it is as if they were only possible, not actual. In a narrative,
some people inevitably are marginalized or ignored completely. But
that is not humane: these neglected others need to be recognized.
Their experiences, perspectives, and social locations need to count if
they are to be treated humanely.
The other long-standing problem is the conviction that a human
being is a subject who looks out onto a world of objects. For any given
subject, according to this conviction, other people are not themselves
subjects, but rather objects, reduced to what they might be in the
mind of a subject to whom they appear. This point is associated in
Western philosophy with Descartes, who famously identied the self
with consciousness, for whom objects are things within conscious-
ness; he solidied the meaning of objectivity as reality-for-a-mind.

The focus on otherness is a correction that cultivates the experience of
other people as themselves being subjects, not merely objects.
With regard to the problem of humanely treating individuals and
groups that have been marginalized or entirely written out of the
story of a given society, rituals that exclude them can be identied
and deconstructed, and new rituals can be developed so that they are
engaged and their perspectives are made to count in the social whole.
See Hegels Philosophy of Right, trans. T. M. Knox (Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 1952), 10; The Logic of Hegel, trans. William Wallace, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1892), 10.
For an extraordinarily acute analysis of this point for Descartes and Western phi-
losophy, see the essays by Anderson Weekes in Michel Weber and Anderson Weekes,
eds., Process Approaches to Consciousness in Psychology, Neuroscience, and Philosophy of Mind
(Albany: State University of New York Press, 2009).
confucian humaneness (REN) across social barriers 305
Michel Foucault has inspired a strong strain of postmodern reection
on rituals of power that subtly marginalize various classes of people.
On the political side, the development of rituals to include the
marginalized and neglected is part of the project of democracy. The
required rituals comprise not only explicit forms of voting and decision
making, but also the rituals of education and community formation
that facilitate participation. On the economic side, rituals need to be
developed that bring all people into the economy, making sure that
basic needs are met for widows and orphans, ethnic minorities, the
disabled, and others who are likely to be neglected or marginalized.
On the personal side, rituals are required that educate all people in
all social locations about the nature of those in other social locations,
especially neglected or marginalized ones. Instead of thinking about
world history or our societies in terms of narratives, we should learn
to think of them in terms of vast, complicated dances of multiple,
interacting rituals.
With regard to the problem of humanely treating individuals as sub-
jects in their own right, and not only as functions of our own experi-
ence, we can appeal to the ancient Confucian discipline of learning to
play interactive rituals with others in such a way as to defer to others
as also being subjects playing within the rituals.
Humane deference is not achieved by a kind of universal acknowl-
edgement that every other person is also a subject, even though that
is true. Rather, one persons subjectivity is mediated through the par-
ticularities of body, family and friends, social structures, social location
and historical position, ethnic identity, personal history, age, and a
host of other elements. This rst of all applies to the particularities of
the life of the person who is deferring to another: I defer to another
through the particularities of my own life. Until I have a grasp of
what those particularities are, and the roles they give me in the many
rituals in which I take part, I cannot defer to another particularly.
But that deference is not actually achieved until I have some fairly
profound feeling for how the other is a subject through the particulari-
ties of the others own life. Just as my human deference to others is
See, for instance, Foucaults The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sci-
ences, trans. A. M. Sheridan Smith (New York: Random House, 1970), and The Use
of Pleasure, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Random House, 1985). One of his most
inuential followers is Judith Butler, author of Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion
of Identity (New York: Routledge, 1999).
306 robert cummings neville
expressed through the particularities of my own life, the others cannot
be identied as particular subjects until I grasp how they are subjects
in their own particularities. Of course this requires both an elimination
of bigotry that would blind me to the others and the achievement of
the erudition needed to understand what the others lives and circum-
stances are like.
Here is where love or humaneness with distinctions is so impor-
tant. The fundamental meaning of family rituals, for instance, is that
each person is allowed to be a particular subject while playing the
various roles that dene a complex familial social location. Because of
the intimacy of family culture, all the individuals within a family are
alike in many respects, and can learn to imagine what it is like to be
someone else in the family, although I do not want to minimize the
difculty of maturation in this sense. But think how difcult it is to
recognize the particular subjectivities of people vastly different from
oneself, people of other families, other cultures, other social locations.
The social barriers across which it is so hard to express humaneness
are precisely those things that make it difcult to perceive or imagine
how others inhabit their particular subjectivities.
Surely, an imperative deriving from humaneness is for all people
to become educated about what it is like to be persons on the other
side of social barriers. But education is not enough. We need the ritu-
als so that people across social barriers can engage one another. But
that also is not enough. We need to learn to play those rituals so that
in the very engagement with those others we can come to recognize
and defer to the others in their particular subjectivities. This includes
recognizing conicting interests and perhaps even deep hatred. To be
humane to others does not depend upon them being humane to us.
Humaneness or love with distinctions gets its character from the
specics of ritual engagement across barriers. We should not think to
love all people the way we should love our family members. Differ-
ent social locations present different problems for achieving recogni-
tion and deference to other peoples particular subjectivities, and in
contemporary society those social locations are often in ux. Differ-
ent forms of humaneness are appropriate for different kinds of social
relations, especially those across barriers that make recognition of
particular subjectivities of various others difcult. What an extraor-
dinary moral task for the social sciences informed by Confucianism
to investigate the ways rituals prevent the expression of humaneness
across social barriers, and to invent better rituals that facilitate genuine
humaneness with appropriate distinctions!
confucian humaneness (REN) across social barriers 307
The above remarks have been given in a hortatory tone. This is
a traditional Confucian posture. The argument has been that Con-
fucianism has two important contributions to make to the contem-
porary problem of exercising humaneness across social barriers. One
is its conviction that humaneness means different things in different
situations and for different people, and that to treat everyone equally
is not to be humane. The other is the Confucian sense of ritual as a
conventional form of social interaction that allows people who are in
deep conict still to act together to make possible what their common
ritual makes possible. These contributions are especially to be appreci-
ated in contexts in which being humane requires recognizing the mar-
ginalized and objectied as subjects in their own right. Contemporary
Confucians can enter the philosophical and spiritual conversation with
these contributions.
What has not been said here is that Confucianism has often failed
in these important tasks. For many people in traditionally Confucian
societies, there is a history of treating people only as objectied in ritu-
alized roles, eliminating their subjectivity. This has been true in assign-
ing women demeaning roles and in establishing social hierarchies in
which the people on top do not serve but take advantage of those lower
down. Anger against Confucianism is justied in these respects. And
yet these grave downsides of Confucian culture are perversions of the
Confucian ideals precisely because they distort humaneness and use
rituals to make impossible good things such as universal human our-
ishing. Precisely because Confucian rituals and practices of humane-
ness need to reach everyone in appropriate ways, the bad effects of
historical Confucian rituals prove that they are bad rituals. The con-
temporary need is for new rituals that do not marginalize anyone in
some social narrative and that do not objectify them. Contemporary
Confucian spirituality should nd this an exhilarating challenge.
Anna SUN
Kenyon College
There have been many valuable debates over the religious nature of
Confucianism among scholars over the years; the central issues have
included whether there exists a transcendental god in Confucian
thought, the role of the Jesuits in the making of Confucianism as a reli-
gion, and the conception and denition of what constitutes religion
and Confucianism.
After having performed both archival work on
the making of Confucianism as a religion in the West, and research
on the controversy over the religious nature of Confucianism in con-
temporary China,
I believe the next important step is to examine the
actual ritual practice related to Confucianism.
The focus of this study is the personal rites performed in Confucius
temples (kongmao or wenmiao ) in different regions of China.
Additionally, I also briey discuss the revival of graveside ancestral
worship and certain Confucian social rituals. No matter how we dene
the nature of Confucianismas a philosophy, as a way of life, or as a
religionthe very existence of personal rites conducted in Confucius
temples, such as incense burning, praying to Confucius for blessings,
and writing personal wishes on prayer cards, shows that there is a
For recent noteworthy studies, see Lionel M. Jensen, Manufacturing Confucianism:
Chinese Traditions and Universal Civilization (Durham, NC: Duke University Press,
1997; Mary Evelyn Tucker and Tu Weiming, eds., Confucian Spirituality (New York:
Crossroad, 20032004); Rodney Leon Taylor, The Religious Dimensions of Confucianism
(Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990); Thomas A. Wilson, On Sacred
Grounds: Culture, Society, Politics, and the Formation of the Cult of Confucius, Harvard East
Asian Monographs (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, distributed by
Harvard University Press, 2002).
See Anna Sun, Confusions over Confucianism: Controversies over the Religious Nature of Con-
fucianism, 18702007 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007); idem, The Fate
of Confucianism in Socialist China, in State, Market, and Religions in Chinese Societies, ed.
Fenggang Yang and Joseph B. Tamney (Leiden: Brill, 2005).
310 anna sun
noteworthy religious dimension to the Confucian tradition, for these
are religious rituals conducted in a sacred setting. Indeed, for a dis-
cussion of the religious nature of Confucianism, the empirical data
from the Confucius temples are arguably some of the most solid and
noncontroversial pieces of evidence.
My primary methods are ethnographical, involving interviews
and participant observations in Confucius temples. I have conducted
interviews with visitors in more than a dozen Confucius temples in
mainland China and Taiwan; I have also observed their actions and
collected material objects related to personal rites (such as prayer
cards). Based on my eldwork from 2000 to 2010, my conclusion is
that ritual worship of Confucius is indeed undergoing a signicant and
diverse revival in temple settings in contemporary mainland China.
There are differences as well as similarities among the temples I have
studied; this revival process is by no means uniform, but is shaped by
differences in local religious history, regional economic development,
and the historical status of the temples.
Summary of Empirical Fieldwork
This paper primarily draws on eldwork conducted in Confucius tem-
ples in mainland China between 2000 and 2010, as well as the latest
survey data on Chinese religious practice.
I have so far studied the
following Confucius temples between 2000 and 2011: Qufu Confucius
Temple , Beijing Confucius Temple ; Tianjin
Confucius Temple , the city of Tianjin; Deyang Confucius
Temple , Sichuan Province; Bishan Confucius Temple
, Sichuan Province; Zizhong Confucius Temple , Sichuan
Province; Suzhou Confucius Temple , Jiangsu Province;
Nanjing Confucius Temple , Jiangsu Province; Hangzhou
Confucius temple , Zhejiang Province; Wujiang Confucius
Temple , Zhejiang Province; Shanghai Confucius Temple
Horizon Survey, Spiritual Life of Chinese Residents, 2007. For further infor-
mation on this survey, see Spiritual Life Study of Chinese Residents, The Asso-
ciation of Religion Data Archives.
SPRTCHNA.asp (accessed May 4, 2011).
the revival of confucian rites 311
, the city of Shanghai; and Foshan Confucius Temple
, Guangdong Province. I have particularly followed changes
in Beijing Confucius Temple and Foshan Confucius Temple over the
past ten years.
In addition, I conducted eldwork in three Confucius temples in
Taiwan in 2008, which are Taipei Confucius Temple ,
Taipei; Tainan Confucius Temple , Tainan; and Zhang-
hua Confucius Temple , Zhanghua. The Confucius temple
life in Taiwan provides a good comparison, both echoing many of
the practices seen in mainland China and suggesting possible future
directions that Confucius temple life in mainland China might take.
Related eldwork includes visits to non-Confucius temples in which
Confucius is also venerated, both in mainland China and Taiwan.
These sites are White Cloud Temple , Beijing; Wumiao
Temple , Tainan; Baoan Gong , Taipei; and
Qingan Gong , Zhanghua.
Three Criteria of Confucian Identity
I have proposed elsewhere three criteria to dene whether someone
is a Confucian in terms of their participation in Confucian practice.

The rst one is what I term the Minimal Criterion: Confucius Wor-
ship, which refers to people who participate in Confucius worship in
Confucius temples. The Minimal Criterion centers on the unequivo-
cal religious dimension of Confucianism, for it emphasizes rituals per-
formed in a sacred space, that is, a space devoted to the veneration
and worship of Confucius.
The next criterion is what I call the Inclusive Criterion: Ancestral
Rites, which includes people who practice any rituals taking place in
an ancestral temple or shrine, or ritual practices at the grave of ones
deceased ancestors/family members. As the name suggests, this is a
more inclusive criterion than merely Confucius worship, for it includes
ancestral worship, arguable the most commonly practiced Confucian
ritual in China throughout history.
The last criterion is what I call
See Anna Sun, To Become a Confucian, in The Oxford Handbook of Religious
Conversion, forthcoming.
However, it can be controversial to consider ancestral worship a particularly Con-
fucian ritual, since it can be found in many different cultures globally, and it existed
in China long before the time of Confucius. For a more detailed discussion, see Anna
312 anna sun
the Extended Criterion: Cultural Confucian, which refers to people
who may or may not participate in Confucian rituals such as Confucius
worship or ancestral worship, but who are culturally Confucian because
of their practice of Confucian spiritual exercises that aim at cultivating
ones mind and body in order to live a life following Confucian ethical
teachings. This also includes people who take seriously in their everyday
life Confucian social rituals such as observing the proper ways of inter-
acting with ones family members, teachers, and friends.
In this study, the religious rituals related to Confucius worship are
the focus, although I shall address the other two forms of ritual prac-
tice (ancestral worship and Confucian social rituals) briey in the con-
cluding section as well.
The Revival of Confucian Rituals
In the following subsections, I shall rst give a short history of Con-
fucius temples in China, then a brief analysis of the general develop-
ment of the promotion and revival of Confucianism in China in the
past ten years. The last three subsections deal with the revival of rituals
in Confucius temples, the revival of ancestral worship, and the revival
of Confucian social rituals, respectively, with the main focus on ritual
practices in Confucius temple settings.
A Brief History of Confucius Temples in China
The rst Confucius temple came into being in 479 BCE, when the
Duke Ai of Lu, the ruler of the home state of Confucius, ordered Con-
fuciuss home in Qufu to be preserved and used as a temple for ven-
erating the spirit of Confucius. There were only three simple rooms,
tting for a teacher who taught his students the importance of living a
life of benevolence, justice, ritual, wisdom, and trust (renyi lizhixin
). Over the years, however, the temple became larger and more
ornate, for rulers were gradually adopting the so-called cult of Con-
fucius as a state cult, and the veneration and worship of Confucius
Sun, Counting Confucians: Who Are the Confucians in Contemporary East Asia?,
Newsletter of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Humanities and Social Sciences of National Tai-
wan University (Fall 2009, pp. 1523).
the revival of confucian rites 313
became imperial events, with rulers and later emperors leading the
ceremony. Several hundred years later, in 489 AD, the rst Confucius
temple outside of Qufu was built by King Xiaowen of Northern Wei,
marking the start of the practice of establishing temples for Confucius
beyond Confuciuss home state.
Throughout imperial China, especially after the incorporation of
the Confucian canon into the foundation of state cultural and political
ideology through the long-standing (6051905 CE) institution of civil
examinations (kejiu ) whereby state ofcials were selected through
a rigorous and rigid examination of their knowledge of Confucian
learning, Confucius temples became a key sacred site in imperial ritual
practice, for the worship of Confucius had become an indispensible
part of the legitimization of imperial rule.
Ceremonies honoring the
spirit of Confucius were conducted in the original Confucius temple
in Qufunow a magnicent and imposing temple complex, a far cry
from the original three simple roomsby the emperors. And because
of the close connections between Confucius worship and education,
very often Confucian temples were attached to Confucian academies,
following the tradition of zoumiao rouxue (Confucius temple
on the left, the academy on the right). The best-known example of this
structure is the Imperial Academy in Beijing (guozijian ), built
on the right side of the Confucius Temple in Beijing in 1306, a few
years after the temple was built.
There were at least fteen hundred Confucius temples spread
throughout China by the end of the Qing Dynasty (16441911). After
the Republican revolution in 1911, there was a failed attempt to make
Confucianism into a national religion, which faded away by the end
of the 1920s. Today there are only a few hundred Confucius temples
left, after the destruction of religious sites during the Cultural Revolu-
tion (19661976), during which many local Confucius temples were
either destroyed or fell into disrepair. Although the Chinese govern-
ment included the Qufu Confucius Temple on the First National
Cultural Heritage Sites List (guojiao zhongdian wenwu baohu danwei
) in 1961, it was not until 1988 that the
second most important Confucius temple in the country, the Beijing
For a history of the civil examinations, particularly from the twelfth century to the
nineteenth century, see Benjamin Elman, A Cultural History of the Civil Examinations in
Late Imperial China (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2000).
314 anna sun
Confucius Temple, was assigned a similar status. Today there are at
least thirty-nine Confucius temples that are protected as national cul-
tural heritage sites:
1961 First Cultural Heritage Sites List Qufu Confucius Temple
1982 Second Cultural Heritage Sites List no Confucius temples
1988 Third Cultural Heritage Sites List Beijing Confucius Temple
1995 Fourth Cultural Heritage Sites List ve Confucius temples
2001 Fifth Cultural Heritage Sites List twelve Confucius temples
2006 Sixth Cultural Heritage Sites List twenty Confucius temples
Once the temples are designated as national cultural heritage sites,
there are strict regulations on construction and renovation, which are
crucial in protecting the integrity of the original architecture. The des-
ignation also opens up more opportunities for the local governments
to promote tourism.
But even without the national cultural heritage designation, Con-
fucius temples today are already tourist attractions in many provinces.
The two most important ones, the Qufu and Beijing temples, are rou-
tinely on popular tourist schedules for both domestic tourists and visi-
tors from abroad, and in the past decade many provincial governments
have been renovating their local Confucius temples with the hope of
attracting tourists to their regions. Such efforts have been nancially
supported by the state, for they both serve the economic purpose of
generating new revenue for local governments through traditional cul-
tural sites, and the political goal of establishing Confucianism as the
most visible Chinese cultural and social heritage. This is part of the
larger endeavor undertaken by the state to promote Confucianism,
which arguably started in 2004.
The Recent Multifaceted Promotion of Confucianism by the Chinese State
One could argue that there have been at least ve steps in the endorse-
ment of Confucianism by the Chinese state so far, signied by ve
concrete and noteworthy events:
1. The Political Ideology Step
This critical step was signied by the use of the harmonious society
(hexie shehui ) slogan, explicitly borrowed from Confucian politi-
cal philosophy, by President Hu Jintao on September 19, 2004, at the
Sixteenth Chinese Communist Party Congress. It has become the cen-
the revival of confucian rites 315
tral political idea for the Hu JintaoWen Jiaobao administration; the
Party has been using the slogan consistently since then.
2. The State Ritual Step
The rst ofcial veneration of Confucius in the Qufu Confucius Temple
on September 28, 2004, marked the beginning of this development. The
annual formal ceremony has been broadcast on Chinese national television
since 2005. Since then numerous formal ceremonies honoring the birth-
day of Confucius have taken place in Qufu and Beijing, as well as many
provincial cities and towns with newly renovated Confucius temples.
3. The Culture Step
The culture step is at least twofold. The rst aspect is the overseas one,
represented by the founding of the rst Confucius Institute on Novem-
ber 21, 2004, in Seoul, South Korea, which launched a global project
supported by state funding in the amount of 2 billion yuan. By Novem-
ber 2009 there were already 282 Confucius Institutes in eighty-eight
countries (the last ofcial number given by the Confucius Institute to
date), promoting not only the name of Confucius as a Chinese cultural
brand, but also attempting to recast contemporary China as synonymous
with Confucianism.
The second aspect is domestic, represented by the
October 2006 broadcast of Yu Dans widely popular seven-part televi-
sion lecture series on the Analects of Confucius, aired on a state-owned,
prime Chinese television station. Her book on the Analects based on the
series has sold several million copies.
4. The Confucian Symbol Step
This refers to the emphasis of Chinas Confucian heritage through sym-
bolic means, such as images, texts, and artworks. The opening ceremony
of the Beijing Olympics on August 8, 2008, with its numerous references
to Confucius and Confucianism, was the rst major event that attempted
to link Chinas recent rapid economic growthdisplayed in the cut-
ting-edge stadiums and the high-tech capability of the Beijing Olympic
Gameswith its Confucian past. The latest example might be the erec-
tion of the statue of Confucius in Tiananmen Square in January 2011.
As of December 12, 2010, there were 133,647 mentions of harmonious society
on the website for Peoples Daily (, the ofcial Chinese government
newspaper. Interestingly, there are 2,506 mentions of Confucius temples (kongmiao
) in the same database, but only 1,191 mentions of Confucian religion (rujiao
). For detailed discussions of harmonious society and current schools of Confucian
political thought, see Stephen C. Angle, Contemporary Confucian Political Philoso-
phy: Toward Progressive Confucianism (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2012).
The number of Confucius Institutes is according to the Confucius Institute web-
site (
According to The Economist, A week before President Hu Jintaos visit to America
on January 18th [2011] the appearance of a giant bronze statue of Confucius on the
316 anna sun
5. The International Politics Step
This is a new development in the states promotion of Confucianism.
One might argue that the award of the rst Confucius Peace Prize on
December 8, 2010, possibly a response to the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize,
is one of the rst exercises in using Confucius as an explicit political tool
on the stage of international politics.
As we can see, the year 2004 marked the turning point of the ofcial
revival of Confucianism in ideological, ritualistic, and cultural terms.
Explicitly symbolic and political uses of Confucianism on the interna-
tional stage soon followed, and have increasingly intensied.
In my study, I focus on personal rituals performed in Confucius
temples rather than formal ceremonies, such as the annual veneration
and worship of Confucius taking place on his birthday on September
28, which so far have been mostly organized and conducted by cen-
tral or local government ofcials.
Although such ceremonies certainly
contain religious elements, they tell us more about the way in which
the state mobilizes symbolic resources for its own political purposes
than the less noticeable, yet arguably more resilient revival of Confu-
cian rituals practiced by ordinary people.
The Revival of Ritual Practices in Confucius Temples
In what follows, I shall rst give a concrete description of the rituals
performed in Confucius temples in todays mainland China, then offer
a typology of the rituals based on interviews and participant observa-
tions, with special attention to what I call reinvented rituals. I shall
end this section with a brief comparison with Confucius temples in
east side of Tiananmen Square caused a stir in the Chinese capital. He is the rst
non-revolutionary to be commemorated on the hallowed ground of Chinese com-
munism. The party, having once vilied the ancient sage, now depends on him in its
attempts at global rebranding. . . . During his trip to America, Mr. Hu hopes Confucius
will help him connect with ordinary Americans (Rectication of Statues, The Econo-
mist, January 20, 2011).
For an in-depth analysis of the revival of formal ceremonies taking place in Con-
fucius temples in China, see Sebastien Billioud and Joel Thoravals Lijiao, the Return
of Ceremonies Honouring Confucius in Mainland China, China Perspectives 2009, no.
4: 82100. One of their fascinating ndings is that there is now beginning to emerge
a new trend of what they call grassroots Confucianism and Confucian ceremonies,
which are ceremonies organized not by government ofcials, but local associations
promoting Confucianism and ancient ritualistic culture and music (91).
the revival of confucian rites 317
Taiwan and Japan, anticipating future developments of ritual practices
in Confucius temples in mainland China.
Among the eleven Confucius temples in mainland China I have
studied so far, all but two function as sacred space for the veneration
and worship of Confucius.
I have observed at least three main forms
of ritual practices performed in the temples:
(a) burning incense
(b) praying to the tablet, the statue, or the portrait of Confucius (bowing
or kneeling)
(c) writing prayers on prayer cards (xuyuan qian ) that hang on the
trees or special shelves within the temple.
The frequency of the performance of these rituals varies greatly from
temple to temple, mostly due to their location and visitor trafc.
Among the sites I have studied, the ones where the most rituals were
performed were those in the center of urban areas, such as the Bei-
jing, Nanjing, Foshan, and Shanghai temples; the ones with the least
ritual activity were located in remote regions, such as the Zizhong or
Deyang temples in Sichuan Province, which are in small cities a few
hours outside of cosmopolitan areas.
Administratively, Confucius temples are property of the state and
managed by the Bureau of Cultural Relics (wenwu ju ) through
its numerous local branches in most provinces and cities; thus the
temples are not ofcially classied as religious sites but cultural ones,
charging a modest entrance fee at the gate the way museums do. But
this status does not necessarily hinder either the ofcial ceremonies
and rituals or the personal ones taking place in Confucius temples. In
fact, since they are not managed by the Bureau of Religious Affairs
(zongjiao ju ), the temples are relatively free to develop new ways
There are only two exceptions. The rst is the Bishan Confucius Temple
in the small city of Bishan in Sichuan Province, which is now the location of
several local cultural institutions: the Bishan Bureau of Culture Relics, the Bishan
City Museum, and the Bishan Association of Literature and History. The Dacheng
Hall has been rented out as the site of a popular teahouse in the past few years, as
well as a space for public lectures on local culture and history, an innovative measure
of bringing in extra income according to Mr. He, the manager of the teahouse. It is
unclear when the temple will be renovated and restored to its proper status as a tem-
ple for Confucius. The second exception is the Wujiang Confucius Temple
in Zhejiang Province, which is used as a reading room and library by Wujiang High
School, an elite high school in the region. The small Confucius temple is enclosed by
the school complex, which was built around the temple.
318 anna sun
of increasing visitor trafc and income, and the revival and reinvention
of rituals are welcome signs of growth.
Where and how are the rituals performed? It is important to have
a sense of the spatial layout of the temples in order to comprehend
the ritual practices that take place. The general layout of Confucius
temples follows a template based on the original Confucius Temple
in Qufu. However, since the Qufu Temple is one of the three larg-
est existing historical architectural complexes in China today, having
been expanded and renovated numerous times throughout history (its
scale is second only to the Forbidden City in Beijing), it is impossible
for local temples to emulate its grandeur. Most surviving Confucius
temples today are not enormous complexes, and as such they are only
able to keep the key components as dictated by the Qufu Temple,
imitating its structure rather than scale. For instance, while the Qufu
Temple has nine courtyards following a central line, most Confucius
temples only have two or three courtyards, maintaining only the most
crucial elements.
When one enters a Confucius temple, one has to walk though the
main gate into the temple complex, named Lingxing Gate ,
which leads to the main courtyard, where Dacheng Hall , the
main ceremonial hall, is the architectural focal point of both the court-
yard and the entire temple. When one enters Dacheng Hall, which is a
traditional temple space with an elaborately carved high wooden altar
in the center, one usually sees inside the altar a wooden tablet that bears
the venerated formal title of Confucius, representing Confucius himself,
as in the Beijing Confucius Temple. However, there are variations on
this tradition; for instance, a large stone statue replaces the traditional
tablet and altar in the Zizhong Confucius Temple in Sichuan, which is
a very exceptional case; in the Foshan Confucius Temple, a dark stone
relief depicting the image of Confucius stands behind the tablet. Only
in the Qufu Confucius Temple do we nd both the tablet and a statue:
an ornate statue of Confucius is placed right behind the wooden tablet,
a conguration not seen in other Confucius temples.
The degree of promotion of old as well as new rituals by the temples has much
to do with the nancial structure of the individual temples; the temples with a more
exible nancial structure (i.e., with the freedom to keep extra temple income for the
temple employees instead of turning it all over to their government superior) have a
stronger incentive to sell incense and prayer cards, and as a result encourage more
ritual practices in the temples. I shall discuss such differences among temples in greater
detail elsewhere.
the revival of confucian rites 319
On each side of the Confucius tablet and/or statue, there are tablets
of Mencius (often referred to as the Second Sage of Confu-
cianism), Yan Hui and Zengzi (two of the most important
students of Confucius; Zengzi is also believed to have written the Clas-
sics of Filial Piety ), and Zishi (Confuciuss grandson, whose
importance lies in the fact that Mencius might have studied with his
The Dacheng Hall is generally where the worship of Confucius
takes place, along with the open space in the courtyard right in front
of the hall, where a large incense burner is always placed. The open
courtyard is often also the space in which the prayer cards are hung
on wooden shelves right outside of the Dacheng Hall.
There are usually two smaller halls anking Dacheng Hall that
serve as additional ceremonial spaces in the same rectangular court-
yard, often for the altars of the most important students of Confucius
and the most revered scholars of Confucianism from later dynasties.
There are usually another one or two courtyards surrounding the main
courtyard, frequently used for exhibition spaces, ofces, and the temple
shop; the temple shops have played an unexpected yet important role
in the revival and reinvention of rituals. Very often the temples also
have a man-made pond (banchi ), a high, grand outer brick wall
painted crimson (wanren gongqiang ), and other architectural
features that allude to Confuciuss life, as well as traditions from the
long history of Confucius temples in imperial China.
In the open spaces between these sets of buildings, one can often
see well-designed gardens with ancient trees growing by the ceremo-
nial halls. This is where one can usually nd a tall statue of Confucius
made of stone, in a standing pose known as Confucius Teaching
(kongzi xingjiao ). The statue is placed in different locations
in different temples (for example, in the center of the courtyard in
Shanghai Confucius Temple, and beside the temple in Foshan) and
generally has an incense burner right in front of it.
So how do people carry out rituals in these temples? In the interior
ceremonial space of Dacheng Hall, the following ritual apparatus can
be found in most Confucius temples, listed in decreasing order of their
distance from the entrance of the ceremonial hall, which correspond
to specic rituals performed:
(a) A narrow high table for offerings to Confucius, placed right in front
of the altar of Confucius, which is used for ofcial sacrices during
formal ceremonies, and personal offerings of owers, fruits, and other
items during private rituals, which today include prayer cards sold
320 anna sun
in temple shops. Such offerings are usually presented after a person
bows to the altar and says a silent prayer.
(b) An incense burner for the offering of incense (in almost all temples
the incense cannot be lighted due to re regulations). People usually
buy incense from the temple shop or from the ticket agent at the
temple gate.
(c) A few prayer mats for people who wish to kneel in prayer, and/or to
touch their forehead to the ground in prayer.
Outside of the interior spaces, there are other opportunities for ritual
practices in the temples:
(a) The incense burner in front of the standing statue of Confucius in
the courtyard.
(b) The wooden shelves right outside of Dacheng Hall, or the trees in the
courtyards (such as in Foshan), where people hang their prayer cards.
In other words, there are multiple religious spaces as well as apparatus
that make the ritual practices possible; these spaces and equipment are
an important aspect of the revival and reinvention of religious rituals,
which is true not only in Confucius temples but in other temples
as well.
For instance, the presence of similar prayer cards can be found in
many Buddhist and temples in mainland China, which in itself is a
very recent and fascinating phenomenon. I have been studying the ori-
gin of prayer cards in Confucius temples, which arguably originated in
Japan. The prayer cards seen in different Confucius temples in China
today (made of paper) seem to have been inuenced by the prayer
cards () found in most Japanese Shinto temples. According to
Ms. Ai-Zhen Wang, the director of the Shanghai Confucian Temple
Administration Ofce, whom I interviewed on December 24, 2010,
the prayer cards were in fact invented in 2002. After taking a trip
to Japan in early 2000, Ms. Wang was inspired by the prayer cards
she saw in Japanese Shinto temples and brought the idea back to the
Confucius Temple in Shanghai, where she had worked since 1999.
She believed that the Shanghai Confucius Temple was the rst of all
the Confucius temples in China to provide and sell such prayer cards,
for she was asked to give a presentation about the innovative ways the
Shanghai temple attracted visitors in 2002, at the annual conference
of the Chinese National Association for the Protection of Confucius
Temples .
What do people ask for in their prayers? Are they merely here to pay
respect to Confucius, the ancient sage of virtues and wisdom? Among
the revival of confucian rites 321
the visitors I have interviewed, many were indeed in the temples to
pay respect to the Master, and to admire the classical architecture that
the Confucius temples are justiably known for. For the most part
these are tourists, for whom the Confucius temple is a regular stop on
the itinerary in Beijing or Nanjing. However, the people who actually
perform ritualssuch as burning incense, bowing or kowtowing in
front of the tablet or statue of Confucius, and/or writing and hang-
ing prayer cardsare carrying out these acts with a different purpose
in mind: to ask for blessings from Confucius, the god of learning and
examinations, and, by extension, career advancement and general
good fortune.
Many tourists do in fact perform such rituals as well; there is a
long-standing tradition in China of carrying out ritual practices during
travels that bring people to religious sites in cities or mountainsof