Confucian Humanism

Tu Weiming, professor of Chinese history and philosophy and of Confucian studies at Harvard University speaks in a radio interview about the revival of Confucius humanism in China. The Communisit authorities are apparently encouraging a return to this traditional form of nontheism now that Communist beliefs are fading.


6 Responses to “Confucian Humanism”

  1. January 31, 2010 at 11:44 am

    Yes. I heard this show. I’ve read translations of Confucius over the years. It makes sense to me that it would fit current globalizing regime’s purposes in China. While it reads like an ethical guidebook, I see it as a primer in political strategy within an enlightened imperial or monarchic government in a Buddhist-educated society. Quotations such as “Have no friends not equal to yourself.” and “What the superior man seeks is in himself; what the small man seeks is in others.” show an enlightened-yet-pragmatic departure from the Buddhist foundation of his ethics. I speculate that his attempt to combine politics and Buddhist ethics so assertively may have been outstanding in his time. And, all in all, I would be pleased to see The People’s Republic looking to Confucian ethics as a step away from purely utilitarian, totalitarian Communism.

  2. 2 Jim Farmelant
    June 7, 2010 at 1:55 pm

    Confucianism has experienced greatly fluctuating fortunes under the Communist regime. The start of the Cultural Revolution in China was signaled by the appearance of press articles and wall posters in 1966 which denounced Confucius as a slaveholder and a reactionary. During the years of the Cultural Revolution, Confucian temples, along with those of other religions, were often trashed by Red Guards. Years later, the appearance of articles in the press, praising Confucius as a progressive, signaled the end of the Cultural Revolution. Since that time, debates over Confucius have continued in China, but generally the regime has been much hospitable to the country’s ancient Confucian heritage.

  3. June 16, 2010 at 7:13 am

    The resurgence of Confucianism as a cynical ideological deflection of corruption and social inequality is nauseating in itself, but it also raises the question of the vague deployment of the term “humanism”. Confucius has often been mislabeled a humanist because this philosophy is this-worldly, rather than other-worldly, but in this one instance the Maoists were right. Confucianism and secular humanism are completely incompatible. “Humanism”, while anathema to the Christian right, sounds warm and cuddly to others, hence the promulgation of obscurantist humanisms among intellectuals from various cultures, e.g. “African humanism”, also a spurious ideological construct.

  4. 4 Jim Farmelant
    June 16, 2010 at 8:55 am

    In response to Ralph Dumain, from what I have of Professor Tu Weiming, his interpretation of Confucius seems downright Deweyite (as in John Dewey). But from what I know of modern Chinese intellectual history, such interpretations of the Confucian tradition gained currency in China after John Dewey spent time teaching in Beijing in the 1920s (BTW Bertrand Russell also taught in China during that time period as well). So, it’s perhaps not so surprising that we might see interpretations of Confucianism that make it look like Western secular humanism.

    From the end of the nineteenth century, a number of Chinese intellectuals began to to update certain Confuciuanism in light of modern Western thought. There were, from the beginning, debates within the Chinese Communist Party over what their relationship should be with Confucianism. Since some of the Party’s founders were intellectuals who had been originally trained as Confucian scholars, there has always existed a current within the Party that sought to reconcile Confucianism with Marxism. On the other hand, there were many people in the Party, including most notably, Mao, who violently rejected that approach. The relative strengths of these two currents have greatly waxed and waned over the years.

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