Several of us have written a bit on the blog about manifestations of the “Confucian revival” underway in China. I want to call readers’ attention to an excellent recent article by Sébastien Billioud of the University of Paris, published in Oriens Extremus 49 (2010), called “Carrying the Confucian Torch to the Masses: The Challenge of Structuring the Confucian Revival in the People’s Republic of China” Here is an except from the first paragraph:
…To a large extent, the “return” of Confucianism in Mainland China after the iconoclastic Maoist episode took primarily the form of intellectual enterprises, and particularly of philosophical projects often of the most speculative kind. At the same time, however, the progressive broadening of the population’s “space of experience” translated into a related enlargement of its “horizon of expectation” and in so doing facilitated the return of a reference to Confucianism within the “space of the people.” After a quick introduction about the so-called popular “Confucian revival” that took place in Chinese society in the 2000s and that was characterized by the high fragmentation of a patchwork of extremely different activities, the article discusses the possibility of structuring a religious Confucianism. For that purpose, two cases are explored: Firstly, the reactivated dream of establishing a Confucian church; secondly, the possible return in Mainland China of Confucianism-inspired “redemptive societies” and jiaohua organizations….
Billioud goes on to discuss, first, several “ideal types” describing different motivations for popular participation in the “patchwork” of scattered activities associated with popular Confucianism in the 2000s; second, the idea of a unified Confucian church, focusing on the Confucian Academy (some information in English here) in Hong Kong and related activities on the mainland; and third, on “redemptive societies” and their possible future in China, focusing on Yiguandao and Yidan Xuetang. Billioud concludes, in part:
…The attitude of the authorities will of course be a crucial factor in the possible emergence of larger-scale organizations and in the definition of the type of “Confucian NGOs” authorized. Negotiating properly their role with the Party-State (both at the local and central levels) will be of utmost importance for these organizations. Moreover, if Confucian societies manage to develop in the years ahead, we will also probably observe some profound differences between them. The frequently encountered expression of a “Confucian revival” is indeed very problematic: not only does it point today to very different social phenomena, but it also artificially gives the impression of a community of worldviews among Confucian activists and sympathizers….
It is a rich and fascinating article, strongly recommended!