A couple of years ago, we had some discussion on this blog of the idea of Confucian “fundamentalism,” sparked by comments of Peng Guoxiang, in response to criticism from some Confucians of plans for a large church in Qufu, near the ancestral home of the Kong family (Confucius’s family). (See also the discussion of Ralph Weber’s later post, as well.) At that time, some commentators on the blog said that they felt “fundamentalism” was inapt. Prompted by having to write a review of Jiang Qing’s A Confucian Constitutional Order: How China’s Ancient Past Can Shape Its Political Future (Princeton, 2013), I would like to revisit this general question, being more specific both about what “fundamentalism” means and about the target of my analysis: not the broad group of signers of earlier petitions, but specifically Jiang Qing as he represents himself in this new book.
First, “fundamentalism.” One important source is The Fundamentalism Project, a large comparative study (see Almond et al 1995). According to Mårtensson et al (2011, 8), the main conclusion of this research is “that there is a ‘family resemblance’ between certain religious movements, which share most of the following nine characteristics:
- a response to religion’s social marginalisation;
- the selective use of tradition and modernity;
- moral dualism;
- absolutism and inerrancy of essential texts;
- elect membership;
- sharp boundaries;
- authoritarian organisation;
- and strict behavioural requirements.”
Although it is often observed that fundamentalism is a reaction against one or more features of modernity, Mårtensson et al (2011, 10) observe that “is not specifically linked to modernity, but to ideologically-grounded strategies and methodologies related to community, state and nation formation; hence, we see the impetus of ‘formation’ and ‘re-formation’ as the force that explains the traits observed by the Fundamentalism Project, all of which are related to the drawing of boundaries.” This idea is related to Malise Ruthven’s observation that “fundamentalism may be defined as tradition made self-aware and consequently defensive” (2007, 11), although Ruthven’s phrasing is too loose to be used as a strict definition.
Turn now to Jiang Qing. The term “fundamentalist” (yuanzhijiaozhe) is regularly attached to his name in current Chinese-language debates about his proposals. Is it appropriate? I begin by noting that readers of Jiang’s work cannot help being struck by his authorial voice. Jiang is confident that he has grasped the way forward for Confucianism, and claims to speak for “China’s Confucianism” as a whole (2013, 47-8; 161). His new book contains critical essays by several other contemporary scholars; despite several of these critics’ deep sympathy for Confucianism, Jiang announces that their ideas “largely reflect the position of liberalism” (161). The key reason for this, I submit, is the critics’ general acceptance of what Rawls dubs “the fact of pluralism.” Acceptance of pluralism does not make one a Rawlsian, since that acceptance can take many forms, but Jiang insists that in order to avoid moral anarchy, “any human society must establish one comprehensive, systematic, leading, orthodox set of values for human and social betterment” (164). This central assumption helps to explain why both Bai Tongdong and Li Chenyang refer to Jiang as a “radical”; Bai perceptively suggests that Jiang’s radicalism has remained consistent throughout his life, even though his commitment has shifted from Marxism to Confucianism (115).
Jiang’s insistence that societies require a single, comprehensive set of values does not yet make him a fundamentalist; indeed, it does not distinguish him from most Chinese political thinkers, traditional or modern.  Jiang is a paradigmatic example of someone deeply immersed in what Thomas Metzger calls “Discourse #1,” according to which “knowledge is available with which to arrive at a rational solution for all major political problems, and the moral-intellectual virtuosi sincerely trying to obtain this knowledge can be publically identified.” Note that Metzger uses “rational” very broadly, consciously intending it to encompass Confucian epistemologies, though Jiang might still object. Metzger argues that Chinese political thinking of all political camps over the last century has exhibited striking continuity with basic orientations of earlier Chinese thinking, and that all join in rejecting what he calls the “Great Modern Western Epistemological Revolution,” according to which there are deep limits to the kinds of knowledge available to us.
If Jiang’s rejection of genuine pluralism does not make him a fundamentalist, it is time to turn to the various criteria outlined above and see whether they apply. After all, despite Jiang’s claim to be developing a “traditionalism,” his is a form of thought rendered intelligible only as the conscious response of a tradition deeply threatened by modernity (206-7). In other words, Jiang’s Confucianism is a double-negative: a negation of modernity’s negation (as he sees it) of Confucian tradition. Only in this way do terms critical to Jiang’s project, such as “religion,” “legitimacy,” and “constitution” make their way into his language. In addition, both the explicit content of his writings and their tone tend to resist open engagement with other positions. In the volume’s forty-seven page “Reply to Critics,” Jiang makes no concessions and suggests no middleground. He argues that only “scholars” are able to access the true meaning of the Confucian textual canon; for others, the proper attitude to the tradition’s teachings is “faith” (175-6; 190). This special (“mystical”) access justifies confident, even dogmatic assertions. Although there is surely room for debate and further nuance, I tentatively conclude that Jiang is indeed a fundamentalist.
 Jiang says that Confucianism does embrace a healthy kind of pluralism (or at least tolerance), so long as the non-leading values each acknowledge their subsidiary and private role, vis-à-vis the leading, official role of Confucianism. He finds evidence for this in the general acceptance in contemporary China of the erection of statues of Confucius on university campuses: “the reason is because in China the non-Confucians are very clear in their minds that Confucianism is a public value with political significance” (170).
Almond, Gabriel A., Emmanuel Sivan and R. Scott Appleby (1995). “Fundamentalism: genus and species.” In Marty, Martin E. and R. Scott Appleby (eds.). Fundamentalisms Comprehended. Vol. 5 of The Fundamentalism Project. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, pp. 399– 424.
Jiang Qing (2013). A Confucian Constitutional Order: How China’s Ancient Past Can Shape Its Political Future. Translated by Edmund Ryden. Edited by Daniel A. Bell and Ruiping Fan. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Mårtensson, Ulrika; Bailey, Jennifer; Ringrose, Priscilla; and Dyrendal, Asbørn (2011). “Introduction: Fundamentalism, Politics and History: The State, Globalistion, and Political Ideologies.” In Mårtensson, Ulrika; Bailey, Jennifer; and Ringrose, Priscilla (eds.). International Library of Political Studies : Fundamentalism in the Modern World, Volume 1 : Fundamentalism, Politics and History : The State, Globalisation and Political Ideologies. London: I.B. Tauris, 2011, p 8.
Thomas Metzger (2005). A Cloud Across the Pacific. Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press.
Ruthven, Malise (2007). Fundamentalism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.