T. H. Jiang & Shuan O’Dwyer, “The Universal Ambitions Of China’s Illiberal Confucian Scholars,” has been published in the on-line journal Palladium. It begins:
Amid today’s talk of a coming civilizational clash between China and the West, it is easy to find philosophical experts on China holding forth on the cultural contours of Sino-Western civilizational difference. “China has always been and always will continue to be a communitarian society,” some have insisted; and its Confucian ethos is not a doctrine like America’s liberal individualism, but is instead the “ongoing narrative of a specific community of a people, the center of an ongoing ‘way’ or Dao.”
Such explanations amount to orientalist fantasies. How an industrialized society like modern China, transformed by both Communism and market reforms could still be defined by primordial cultural characteristics is not explained. Moreover, far from being a continuous, deeply organic narrative of the Chinese people, Confucianism is a diverse set of doctrines that have been ideologically contested, marginalized, reinvented and imposed as state dogmas at different times in Chinese history. This point holds for a brand of illiberal, statist Confucianism being promoted today in some of China’s leading universities, a brand whose future is still uncertain, but whose proponents hold out great hopes for its adoption into Chinese Communist Party orthodoxy. Moreover, this reinvented nationalist Confucianism is not without precedent in the modern history of East Asia; over a century ago, Japanese scholars educated in Europe were the pioneers of such a reinvention. This precedent, its cross-cultural inspirations, and its present day historical parallels in contemporary Chinese intellectual life merit examination, in view of the claims made by scholars for the cultural centrality of Confucianism in a morally renewed, globally rising China….