China’s Confucian Revival
Orville Schell is at it again! In “China’s Quest for Moral Authority” [Oct. 20] he claims that China needs to heal itself from centuries of foreign “humiliation.” The anodyne is a revival of Confucian tradition: “China’s current attention to Confucianism suggests that the Chinese…have begun to feel the moral void from which their government operates.”
There are two problems with this:
1. It is not the Chinese people who are urging the revival of Confucianism. The Confucian institutes spreading throughout the world are under the auspices of the Foreign Ministry–not the initiative of private, locally based educational institutions.
Throughout Chinese history, the government has tried to enforce its legitimacy by making Confucius into an imperial icon. Beginning in the nineteenth century Confucian temples were erected. Confucius’ birthday was celebrated in September. In a recent upgrade, the birthday party included a dance once reserved for the emperor.
2. Confucianism has joined the revival of Islam, Christianity, Judaism and Hinduism. By being used to serve the state’s policy of transforming past resentments into an ideology of moral equivalency with the West, Confucianism has lost its dynamism. The government has enforced guidelines on the limits of the interpretation of Confucian tradition. Beijing has replaced the Maoist dictum “The East is Red” with the exaltation that Confucian “harmony” (ho) will lead China and the world to a purer community. In sum, China’s Confucianism for export is just tradition redux and is inimical to the creation of a moral authority.
RICHARD C. KAGAN
Orville Schell’s article is very inspiring. However, he misplaced a couple of Confucius’ sayings. It was in Book VII of his Analects, not in the Works of Mencius, that the Master said, “Riches and honors without justice are to me as fleeting clouds.” And it was in Book III of Mencius, not the Analects, that we find “The moral power of a Junzi is like the wind, while the moral power of the common people is like the grass. When blown, the grass cannot but bend before the wind.”
If “Schell is at it again,” one is left to wonder what Schell’s former violations of Richard Kagan’s delicate sensitivities may have been. Because one points out China’s new yearning for a more ethical basis for living, this hardly makes that person a raging neo-Confucian evangelist. (Although I can think of worse things for which to be denounced, and I do find the Sage’s teachings a step up from Marxist-Leninist-Mao Zedong Thought.)