Warp, Weft, and Way

Chinese and Comparative Philosophy 中國哲學與比較哲學

Confucian Fundamentalism?


As a follow-up to my earlier post regarding the controversy that has arisen around the proposed Christian church in Qufu, the following remarks from Prof. Peng Guoxiang of the Tsinghua University Philosophy Department are quite interesting (I quote his remarks with his permission):

…Some self-proclaimed Confucians…are trying to stop [the church] by launching a social movement. This fundamentalist attitude, mingling with nationalism, is embraced not only by the young people, but also by some scholars in Confucian studies. A typical feature of Confucian tradition, religious tolerance and open-mindedness, which we have been proud of and exactly from which that multiple religious participation and multiple religious identity has been developed, is now severely damaged by this extremism. How to redevelop a healthy and profound Confucian vision as one of the great spiritual traditions and make its contributions to humankind in a global context is really a painstaking project.


…What I am worrying about is the rising fundamentalism, which has actually not been a main stream in Confucian tradition, although people could pick out Han Yu and feature him as an example of Confucian fundamentalism. We can virtually find this fundamentalist dimension in almost every great spiritual tradition in the world. Comparatively and historically, however, Confucianism might be of the most tolerance and open-mindedness. Once Confucianism reemerges with such an exclusive face to the world, it will be a disaster for the real revival of herself. If we are really nurtured by and immersed in Confucian values, just as those great minds in Chinese history, rather than today’s self-proclaimed believers, why, I am wondering, we cannnot appreciate the possible Gothic church simply from a perspective of aesthetics if it is properly located and built? “

Professor Peng’s remarks are particularly intriguing because he seeks to make a distinction between two different ways of thinking about Confucianism today as a spiritual tradition. That is, Peng clearly does not think of Confucianism simply as an academic philosophy; he hopes that a “healthy and profound Confucian vision” will make a contribution both in China and globally. In this, he shares ground both with 20th century New Confucians (like Mou Zongsan and other authors of the 1958 Manifesto), and with some of the loudest voices calling for resistance to the Qufu church. “Fundamentalism”–in the sense of a firm commitment to the perceived “original” teachings of a tradition–may be relevant to the differences between Professor Peng’s vision and that of the critics of the church, but it is certainly not the only difference. After all, the critics have not tended to cite original Confucian teachings to show why the church should not be built, and however exactly we understand Qufu’s status, it is something that has emerged over many centuries. What seems to be at stake, therefore, is an effort by the critics to claim the tradition, its interpretation, and value judgments, and in so doing to try to (re)make Confucianism in a particular way, e.g. with an emphasis on particular beliefs. I suspect that scholars of religious studies and history would tell us that many so-called “fundamentalist” movements, whether Protestant, Islamic, or other, also share this creative impulse (as well as sharing an opposition to at least some aspects of “Western modernity,” such as the commitment to democracy–that was characteristic of the 20th century New Confucians).


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