Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Popular Confucianism in China

The Economist (masthead slogan: "Oooh, look at me, I read The Economist") has a short article about the rise in popularity in China things like of books and T.V. shows that explain Confucianism. Yu Dan, for instance, seems to be a combination of Oprah Winfrey and Mencius, with more emphasis on the Oprah part. Yu Dan is presenting the public with a kinder, gentler Confucius, which I imagine is a lot like the Confucius I have been getting from the New Confucians coming to the institute at the East West Center.

The second article I linked, from Danwi, to is kind to Yu Dan. The Economist, that bastion of Western liberalism, is more careful to bring up the drawbacks to Confucianism, especially for the CCP, which has been attempting to use Confucian loyalty to shore up power.
But Stephen Angle, a Fulbright scholar at Peking University and a philosophy professor at Wesleyan University in America, argues that Confucianism may not be as useful to the party as it thinks. For a start it has little to say about one of the party's biggest worries, the tension in urban-rural relations. More important, a gap in Confucian political theory should alarm a government seeking to hold on to power in a fast-changing environment. “One big problem with Confucianism”, says Mr Angle, “is that it offers no good model for political transition, except revolution.”
Confucianism offers essentially three checks on the power of rulers. First there is the moral suasion of the texts themselves. Second, if the ru, the scholar-officials, sense that the Emperor is taking the wrong path they are obligated to remonstrate with him. After that there is not much you can do until the Emperor gets so bad, so heinous, that he no longer counts as the emperor, and a "rectification of names" can take place, where the title of emperor is violently removed from an impostor and put on a worthy. One of my co-participants in the seminar, a Chinese immigrant, summarized the problem with the propagandists for the kinder, gentler Confucius quite nicely: "The thing is, in the end, we know this system simply didn't work."

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