Confucius


Confucius
(recent interpretations)
From 1949 to 1978, the new regime explicitly sought to replace traditional culture with a Communist one. As the most influential philosopher in pre-Communist China whose teachings represented the core of Chinese tradition, Confucius suffered a steady decline in stature. In the 1950s and early 1960s, attempts were made by neo-Confucians such as Feng Youlan to ‘inherit’ elements of his philosophy that were compatible with socialism. By the Cultural Revolution period, however, Confucius was denounced as an arch villain and paramount reactionary. When the Cultural Revolution ended, attempts were made to reinterpret both the man and his teachings as progressive and useful.
In post-1949 China, education was the one area where many intellectuals felt Confucius could still provide a model. This became patent as soon as the Cultural Revolution ended. As early as 1980, Confucian moral education was proposed as a means of filling the ‘moral vacuum’ left by the political chaos of the previous decade. Thus, Confucius was held up as a man upon whom young people could model themselves. By highlighting the perception that the moral and educational situation had reached a crisis point, Confucius was hailed as a sagely thinker and scholars and intellectuals were seen as indispensable elements of the social fabric.
The reinstatement of Confucius as the paragon of teachers was no surprise. This was done many times before. However, in the 1980s and 1990s a totally new interpretation of Confucius’ role in the modern world emerged. Given the fact that for centuries Confucius had been associated with the scholar class and seen to be hostile to commerce and monetary concerns, it seems inconceivable that he could be portrayed as a business guru. Yet this is precisely what happened. The new interpretations were partly initiated by ‘contemporary New Confucians’ (dangdai xinrujia), scholars such as Tang Junyi and Tu Wei-ming, who lived outside mainland China. They attempted to modernize and internationalize Confucianism by linking Confucian education with the economic prosperity in East Asia.
The economic growth of the Asia-Pacific region throughout most of the 1980s and 1990s generated increasing interest in the search for ‘Asian values’, of which Confucianism was an integral feature. Scholars and intellectuals who for many years had called for the ‘inheritance’ of Confucian philosophy were understandably very quick to cash in on the economic boom in East Asia. In the PRC, a similar shift in emphasis took place. In quick succession, a series of articles appeared showing how Confucianism had been essential for modernization in industrial countries in East Asia such as Japan and Korea. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, there was a concerted effort to show that Confucius’ ideas were beneficial to economic growth. Using the generally accepted view that the central core of Confucius’ teaching is ren, and that ren meant the discovery of humanity in human relationships, scholars tried to show that this emphasis on the centrality of man was the essential element that had been missing in modern management. Thus, it was argued, in a developing socialist market economy, Confucian ethics should be used to combat the corrupting influence of the lust for money. By such means, the traditional antipathy between Confucianism and capitalism was dissolved, and Confucius was said to have been a management and entrepreneurial guru, whose words set the benchmark for good business practice. This new assessment of Confucius continued to gain popularity in the beginning of the twenty-first century.
KAM LOUIE

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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