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"Modernizing" Confucianism in China: a repackaging of institutionalization to consolidate party leadership.

Along with the revival of Confucianism in the first decade of the twenty-first century in China, the Chinese government has emphasized its "modernization" (xiandaihua). Confucianism has become a hot topic of research and discussion among Chinese intellectuals. However, not much research has been conducted thus far to examine the content of this modernization and the intentions behind it. Questions regarding what the modernization of Confucianism means for Confucianism itself, as well as the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) attitude and motivation, remain unanswered. In this article, I argue that the modernization of Confucianism has the political purpose of institutionalizing Confucianism and integrating it into the party's political strategy as an ideological tool.


Marxism's Decline, Nationalism's Reemergence

The decline of Marxism and the surge of nationalism in China provide the background for the rise of Confucianism. The collapse of the Soviet Union as well as the demise of the other Soviet-type communist states in Eastern Europe initiated the worldwide decline of Marxism. The decline of Marxism in China, however, can be traced to the Deng Xiaoping era in the early 1980s. Deng launched a campaign to "reassess" Maoism with the original intention of eradicating all the ideological and psychological obstacles to economic reform. This campaign unexpectedly resulted in the demise of the official ideology, which was accompanied by the profound "three belief crises" (san xin weiji): crisis of faith in socialism, crisis of belief in Marxism, and crisis of trust in the party (Chen 1995; Zhao 1998). When the official ideology lost credibility, the regime faced a crisis of legitimacy and difficulties in enlisting mass support for its vision of the future (Zhao 1998).

Although China did not experience a radical political transformation, and the CCP government insisted that its ideology would still be rooted in Marxism, its struggle to find an alternative ideological tool, namely nationalism, reveals the declining influence of Marxism. An ideological vacuum and a crisis of legitimacy appeared, though these were concealed by the highspeed growth of China's economy. Meanwhile, rising nationalistic sentiment among the Chinese populace in the 1990s continued into the 2000s. (1) Nationalism to some extent acted as the party's alternative ideological tool, strengthening the CCP's claim to represent the Chinese nation. The successful employment of nationalism as an alternative ideological framework allowed the CCP to attract comprehensive social support and to consolidate its legitimacy and capacity to govern (Seo 2005).

Revitalizing Confucianism

I view the revival of Confucianism in contemporary China from two perspectives: improvement of the status of Confucianism since 2000 and the tendency toward its further promotion in the future. These two perspectives are largely embodied in four phenomena. First is the dramatic elevation of the political status of Confucianism in the 2000s. Confucian elements have appeared as an important component in the interpretation of the CCP's core political ideas, such as the "socialist advanced culture" and the "harmonious society." Second, numerous social events and activities with regard to Confucianism have been organized or financially supported by the government, and many research institutes focusing on Chinese traditional cultural studies have been officially established in universities. (2) Third, the rapid spread of Confucius Institutes and Confucius Classrooms all around the world has become a brand for propagating Chinese culture (Xue 2009). Although the Confucius Institutes are mainly committed to teaching Mandarin, Confucius is particularly singled out as a symbol representing Chinese culture, with the aim of enhancing the soft power of China. Fourth, during the first decade of the twenty-first century, Confucianism has become a hot subject in Chinese academia.

Since Deng Xiaoping's era, generations of China's leaders have been adjusting their political strategies and policies in accordance with the changing Chinese socioeconomic conditions in order to maintain the vitality of the party. In the 1990s, Confucianism was promoted as an important element in Chinese traditional culture, and was integrated into the campaign of state-led nationalism and patriotic education (Makeham 2008). However, Confucianism actually did not receive much attention and interest from the CCP leaders during Deng's era. The situation changed after Deng passed away and Jiang Zemin took on the role of core leader of the party. On February 25, 2000, Jiang openly introduced the concept of the "Three Represents," which he further elaborated on in 2001 and 2002. Jiang strongly asserted the strategic significance of philosophy and the social sciences in the process of China's socialist modernization and the "great revival" of the Chinese nation (CASS Party Group, the Central Team of Theoretical Studies, 2002). One of the main components of the Three Represents was the socialist "advanced culture," and Confucianism was ardently promoted as the core element of China's traditional culture.

Under Hu Jintao (2002-2012), Jiang Zemin's strategy was loyally followed, and the status of Confucianism received further promotion. Although there is no evidence that Hu's "harmonious society" originated in Confucianism, the interpretations of this concept published in numerous articles and in official media derived from it. Moreover, in the speeches of CCP leaders, Confucian elements such as "harmony is precious" (he wei gui) and "harmony without uniformity" (he er bu tong) often appear in efforts to improve the image and soft power of China.

In the research of some scholars, Confucianism is viewed instrumentally and reduced to the expression of the current policies of the Chinese Communist Party (Pye 1993; Zhao 1998; Wu 2014). The revival of Confucianism in China has been promoted by the state, and Confucianism has been adopted by the CCP government as a component of its political ideology to secure its cultural leadership (Wu 2014). However, in combination with other ideological components such as Marxism and the thought of party leaders, not much research has been conducted to identify what status has been assigned to Confucianism and how its adoption and adaption have been carried out in practice.

In this article, I identify the real meaning and motivation behind the so-called modernization of Confucianism officially supported by the CCP government and many Chinese intellectuals. I show how Confucianism was repackaged by the CCP to make Confucian morality and principles coexist "harmoniously" with the current ideologies, Marxism-Leninism, and the "thought" of the CCP leaders. I find that the modernization of Confucianism has become an important means by which the CCP government institutionalizes this philosophy with the purpose of consolidating its leadership and strengthening its legitimacy.

The discussion is divided into two parts. I first explore the meaning of this modernization as interpreted by official media, then I examine how Chinese intellectuals have supported Confucian modernization.

Institutionalization of Confucianism: A Review of Concepts

Before proceeding, I need to clarify the concepts of modernization, institution, and institutionalization. I use Cox and Sinclair's ideas about institution and institutionalization to provide a clearer picture of the role that Confucianism plays in Chinese politics.

Institutions and Institutionalization

According to Cox and Sinclair, "Institutions reflect the power relations prevailing at their point of origin and tend, at least initially, to encourage collective images consistent with these power relations" (1996, 99). Institutions are particular amalgams of ideas and material power that influence their development. Institutionalization, accordingly, is a means of stabilizing and perpetuating a particular order. Material capabilities are productive and destructive potentials that exist in their dynamic form as technological and organizational capabilities (Cox and Sinclair 1996). Only after an idea has been institutionalized and has gained material capability can it form a new hegemony.

Institutions are human artifacts. According to Sweet, Sandholtz, and Fligstein (2001), a dynamic co-constitutive relationship exists between individuals and institutions. Institutionalization, however, is a process that integrates the domains of social structure and agency in a system of tight interdependence. The object of institutionalization can be ideas, concepts, or spaces such as social or political spaces. Institutionalization is the process by which a social space emerges and evolves. A change of institution functionally impacts how organizations and individuals respond to exogenous changes or shocks. Institutionalization provides a useful way to analyze the role of Confucianism in the changing CCP, including how it affects the patterns of talk and behavior of its members.

Based on the definition of Cox and Sinclair and research by Sweet and others, I emphasize the following characteristics of institutionalization:

* It is the process by which a social or political space emerges and evolves and authoritative rules are created and enforced.

* It functions as a means of stabilizing and perpetuating a particular order and shows how the structure of this order is formalized.

* It represents the formation of power relations and therefore is never neutral. It is partly a process by which powerful actors seek to shape the rules of the game in their favor.

* It indicates a change in the function of institutions as well as the impacts of this change on how organizations and individuals respond to exogenous changes or shocks.

Institutionalization of Confucianism

Only through institutions can Confucianism function stably as part of an ideology and thus become part of the new hegemony in China. Confucianism, as a set of ideas and principles, possesses unique characteristics in the process of institutionalization. As Gan Chunsong, a professor of philosophy at Renmin University of China, points out, the real motivation of institutionalizing a theory and establishing it as the social ideology is to set up a convincing interpretative system that can prove the legitimacy of the current social order. Institutionalization of a theory can provide proof of the legitimacy of this order, so as to function powerfully in guiding people to obey it (Gan 2003).

In Gan's opinion, the institutionalization of Confucianism can also be understood at a second level: the Confucianization of institutions. Gan argues that the "institutionalization of Confucianism" aims to secure the dominating status of Confucianism and guarantee its connection with power via a set of institutional designs such as the worship of Confucius as a saint and the canonization of Confucianist literature as well as the imperial examination system (keju zhidu). The "Confucianization of institutions" is the embodiment and penetration of Confucian ideas into the social control system and the design of institutions. More precisely, it is the embodiment of Confucian ideas in the construction of a realistic system such as state ideology, the clan system (zongzu zhidu), and the political structure. These two levels exert a long-term influence over the lives of Chinese people by means of the integration of power, truth, and institution (Gan 2003).

Thus, the institutionalization of Confucianism is about the formation and spreading of a value system. Making an ideology of Confucianism aims to secure the power of the ruling group. At the same time, the promoter of such values can also materially or spiritually benefit from them and become the privileged authority (Gan 2003). Moreover, the institutionalization of Confucianism represents the connection between political power and thought, which accordingly loses its independence in such a transition. Hence, Confucianism becomes a source to secure the stability of the current institutional system by providing an authoritative and indubitable interpretation of this system and the resulting social order. Confucianism thus becomes a powerful way to provide an ideological solution to the crisis of the current political system.

My analysis begins by examining whether the modernization of Confucianism has been functioning with the political purpose of providing interpretation of governmental policies and maintaining the current power order. I then provide an overview of the response from Chinese intellectuals to identify how well established these functions are. My data consists of two types. One is the official discourse, which was collected from the authoritative official newspaper, Renmin Ribao (People's Daily). This newspaper is commonly regarded as the voice of the CCP government. I collected articles from 2000 to 2009 through the Wisesearch engine (see Ru (Confucian) was set as the search keyword for coding the data. I found 228 articles that contained the keyword and content relevant to Confucianism.

The second data set comes from the intellectual discourse. The sheer number of Chinese intellectuals and the complexity of this group make it impossible to gather all of their opinions. To make this aspect of the research representative, I conducted a keyword search within the China Academic Journal Network Publishing Database (CAJD), which is part of the Chinese National Knowledge Infrastructure (CNKI). Through October 2012, CAJD had gathered nearly 8,000 academic journals and collected the full text of more than 35 million papers. Although the data from CAJD cannot demonstrate the comprehensive opinions of the Chinese intelligentsia, the keyword search in this database indicates an undeniable trend among Chinese intellectuals.

Modernization or Institutionalization?

The term "institutionalization" (zhiduhua) was rarely used in governmental discourse and was not often heard among Chinese intellectuals either. "Modernization" (xiandaihua) has become an alternative term that has frequently appeared in the official media as well as academic journals.

I make the argument that the rhetoric of modernization constitutes an attempt to politically institutionalize Confucianism in three ways. First, the meaning of the modernization of Confucianism is very vague in the official discourse. But its target is clear: to stabilize and perpetuate a particular political order. Second, this modernization represents the formation of power relations and is, to some extent, a process by which the CCP seeks to shape the rules of the game in its favor. Third, modernization of Confucianism also indicates a change in the function of institutions, as well as the impact of this change on how organizations and individuals respond to exogenous changes or shocks.

The revival of Confucianism coincided with China's rapid development and dramatic ascent in international status. My data clearly show that the modernization of Confucianism bore the indelible stamp of the Chinese government's support. Between 2000 and 2009, both the government and many intellectuals agreed that Confucianism needed to be reformed and revived with the new content of modernity (xiandaixing).

Governmental Opinion on Confucianism and Its Modernization

As discussed, 228 articles on Confucianism from Renmin Ribao were examined, and eighty-eight instances of modernization appear in thirty-two articles. The distribution of instances of modernization among the thirty-two articles appears in Table 1.

The table contains three categories. The first shows the relationship between Confucianism and the progress of Chinese modernization, which can be seen in thirteen articles. The second mentions the issue of xiandaihua of Confucianism in ten articles. The third category, comprising fifty-two instances and nine articles, includes articles that present no direct link between Confucianism and xiandaihua but do demonstrate a contextual or implicit attitude toward Confucianism and modernization.

The first category in the table indicates the opinion of the CCP government on the role that Confucianism may have played or should play in the progress of China's modernization. The government declared that Confucianism, as a core symbol of Chinese traditional culture, is good for China's modernization and must not be isolated from the process of China's development. This central point was confirmed by Chinese leaders such as Premier Wen Jiabao. In a speech at Harvard University in December 2003, Wen said that many precious values derived from Chinese history--such as benevolence, collectivity, harmony in diversity (he er bu tong), and "the world is for all" (tian xia wei gong)--have remained a part of traditional culture. He emphasized that these values have performed an important role in maintaining and adjusting families, state, and society (Lu and He 2003). He predicted that in the new century the cultural element would function more magnificently, and the historical viewpoints of Chinese thinkers (Wen quoted the Confucianist text "he er bu tong" here) will not only enable China to foster and maintain good relationships with friendly countries, but will also be helpful in aiding international society to resolve conflicts.

Wen's positive assessment of the value of Confucianism indicated the state-led nature of Confucianism's revival. Xu Jialu, vice chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, also pointed out at an international conference that Chinese traditional culture should be promoted so as to construct a "harmonious society" (Xu 2007, 4). This further proves that the adoption and adaption of Confucianism was actually state-led, in order to "harmonize" it with the CCP's political strategies and help stabilize the political order.

As for the second category, the modernization of Confucianism in the examined official discourse reveals the relationship between Confucianism, Marxism, and the thoughts and theories proposed by Chinese leaders. To the CCP, the modernization of Confucianism is not just a task of historical succession but also a process of "creation" within the framework of socialist ideologies. For instance, Gan Feng declared in Renmin Ribao that, as the main stream of state studies (guoxue), Confucianism needs to be modernized and thoroughly remolded in both form and substance (Gan 2004, 13). That task must be carried out under the supervision of Marxism and the thought of party leaders. The CCP government advocated that the quintessence of state studies must be separated from the old cultural system and be annotated and elucidated according to contemporary needs and with modern language (Gan 2004, 13). Moreover, in this process of re-creation, the government's viewpoint is "to perceive international dimensions in the motherland of China, and provide intellectual, moral, and academic support to economic, political, and cultural construction, to social stability and development, and to the peace and development of all mankind" (Gan 2004, 13).

Based on articles in the second category, the attitude of the government toward the modernization of Confucianism can also be assessed by answering two questions. First, should Confucianism be modernized? There is no evidence in the examined governmental discourse of any argument against the opinion that Confucianism needs to be transformed to catch up with the progress of China's modernization. The unchallenged idea is that Confucianism must match current needs and that therefore some "unsuitable and unreasonable content" must be weeded out and abandoned. The combination of Confucian thought and the theory of constructing a "harmonious society," as proposed by Hu Jintao, has been regarded as a theoretical innovation (Xiao 2006, 15).

The second question is how can Confucianism be "transformed" to make it better serve the state and government? Based on the ten articles that touch on the issue of the modernization of Confucianism, the common principles of such transformation can be summarized in two points. First, as the official discourse has repeatedly stressed, the adoption and transformation of Confucianism must be done under the guidance of Marxism and the thoughts of CCP leaders such as Mao, Deng, Jiang Zemin's "Three Represents," and Hu Jintao's "harmonious society." Second, since the aim of the transformation of Confucianism is to make it meet better the needs of China's modernization, any elements or ideas in Confucianism that are not "harmonious" with that aim must be discarded.

Practical Questions and Political Purposes

However, exactly how this aim should be met, which standard should be chosen to measure the effects of such modernization, and what real status Confucianism should have after the transformation are far from clear in the official discourse. Very few articles have paid attention to or tried to answer these questions. According to Xiao Yunru, the rise of China has made Confucianism--or, to be more precise, Confucianism as the core component of Chinese traditional culture--more attractive and important in the contemporary world. It then becomes an urgent task to "modernize," "scientize" (kexuehua), and "systematize" (tixihua) Chinese culture (Xiao 2002). Although Xiao proposed some general principles, Xiao did not specify how to implement these transformations.

To the CCP, the acknowledgment that Confucianism should be and must be modernized seems to be much more important than how it can be modernized. Not much discussion has taken place about how to carry out the practicalities of conversion. This further convinces me that the real purpose of modernization is to maintain the cultural leadership of the Chinese Communist Party. Although the prospect of Confucianism in the future was officially declared to be glorious, the role of Confucianism in the Chinese political system remains uncertain.

In the third category, although the instances listed are not related directly to Confucianism itself, the contexts convey a clear attitude. First, no instance in this category stresses the existence of any conflict between Confucianism and China's modernization. Second, a person who has been honored with a "Confucian title" or more or less demonstrated some "Confucian elements" in his or her life can also be a strong supporter of China's modernization. Furthermore, such Confucian elements can even contribute to the construction of the Chinese "harmonious society" and the progress of China's modernization. For example, Zhang Aiping (19102003) was a prominent military leader of the CCP who devoted his life to the modernization of China's military; he was also regarded as a "Confucian general" (Rujiang) (People's Liberation Army General Armament Department, 2003). Zhao Xinxian was a successful businessman who made a great contribution to the modernization of China's medicine industry; he was also called a "Confucian businessman" (Rushang) (Li, Bai, and Zhao 2001). The old vision prevalent before the reform-and-opening era that Confucianism was an obstacle to revolution no longer appears.

Obviously, the modernization of Confucianism has received considerable attention and strong interest from the CCP government. The purposes of the government-proposed repackaging of Confucianism seem clear. First, it is a tool of "political and cultural construction," meaning the CCP's effort to consolidate the current political order, maintain social stability, and support economic development. Second, Confucianism is used to justify the CCP's ideological control and cultural leadership. Third, by supposedly modernizing Confucianism, the CCP government seeks to improve its influence in Chinese society, especially among intellectuals, and to increase its international soft power.

Intellectuals' Attitudes on Confucian Modernization

Five Opinions

Intellectuals' attitudes on the modernization of Confucianism reflect their relations with China's leadership. The opinions of some prominent members in recent years have several variations.

Some intellectuals try to downplay the political function of Confucianism and ignore the political ideas and principles advocated in Confucian classics. For example, Yu Dan, a professor at Beijing Normal University, in her book Yu Dan's Reflections on the Confucian Analects, almost totally ignores the political perspective of the Analects and sometimes even distorts interpretations of the text. In her work, Confucianism is limited to the guidelines for acquiring individual happiness. When talking about social problems and tragedies, she tries to lead people to accept them and pay attention to their inner reflection rather than the social and institutional reasons that may well have caused the problems (Yu 2007; Bell 2008).

Other intellectuals highly value the political function of Confucianism and see bright prospects for it in China. For example, Jiang Qing, a Confucian scholar, and Kang Xiaoguang, a professor at Renmin University, both advocate establishing Confucianism as the state religion and the foundation of state ideology. Jiang and Kang severely criticize Western democracy and believe that democratization would be a disaster for China and cause it to split-up, much like the Soviet Union after the Cold War (Jiang 1997; 2005; Kang 2003; 2005).

Still others, such as Fang Keli at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and Tang Yijie, a professor at Beijing University, are not only experts in Confucian studies but also Marxist scholars. They insist that Confucianism could still play a positive role in socialist construction and development but needs to be transformed under Marxist guidelines so as to match contemporary needs (Fang 1997; Tang 2009).

A fourth set of opinions comes from liberal intellectuals. For example, Qin Hui, a professor at Tsinghua University, argues that Confucianism should not be placed in a position opposite to liberalism and democracy. Qin believes that Confucianism can provide theoretical support for Chinese democratization, or at least presents no problem coexisting within a democratic polity (Qin 2002).

One very small group of intellectuals reflects on the political role of Confucianism in history and doubts its contemporary value and the necessity of its revival. For example, Liu Qiliang, a professor at Xiangtan University, argues that Confucianism is responsible for the periodic social unrest in Chinese history. Liu contends that Confucianism is therefore an obstacle to China becoming a modern state and should not be substantially revived (Liu 1995; 1996).

Analysis of Intellectuals' Opinions

The variety of intellectual opinions with regard to Confucianism demonstrates the complexity of this group. Such complexity, on the one hand, reflects the problem of the ideological vacuum encountered by the state and society. On the other hand, it also reveals the traditional way of thinking among many Chinese intellectuals, who have been nurtured by the far-reaching Confucian tradition and have always been committed to the future of the Chinese nation. Nevertheless, systematic data collection and content analysis may enable us to judge which voices and opinions among the intellectuals are representative and significant.

The findings show that many intellectuals support the modernization of Confucianism. A search of the CAJD from 2000 to 2009 with "Ru" as a keyword resulted in more than 10,700 publications. For further categorization, another search with "xiandaihua" as part of the title was conducted based on the previous result. Subsequently, seventy-seven papers were listed with Ru as a keyword and xiandaihua as part of the title. Among these seventy-seven journal articles, thirty were from the journals of Chinese universities and colleges, while the others were from the humanities and social sciences. These papers all addressed the issues of Confucianism and modernization. Of the seventy-seven articles, only forty touched on the issue of modernization of Confucianism. Among these, thirty-four discussed the modernization of Confucianism in China, while six papers dealt with the role of Confucianism in the modernization of other East Asian countries such as Japan and South Korea. These forty papers form the corpus of data in this section. Although they cannot be said to represent the opinion of all Chinese intellectuals, the findings show that the voices from this group are highly unified.

My analysis seeks to answer these questions: Do Chinese intellectuals think Confucianism needs to be modernized, and why do they think so? How do they think Confucianism should be modernized? How did Chinese intellectuals react to the CCP government's policy on the modernization of Confucianism? I begin by analyzing the thirty-four articles that focused on Confucianism in China.

As for whether Confucianism should be modernized, twenty-six of the thirty-four papers were very positive in arguing that Confucianism still has value in contemporary China but should be modernized. Eight papers discussed negative aspects of Confucianism; however, they did not completely deny its positive function and value in the progress of China's modernization as long as Confucianism were modernized. None of the authors declared that Confucianism was totally out of date and should be discarded, however, none argued that Confucianism did not need to be transformed. These intellectuals evidently believe that there is something useful in Confucianism for China's modernization, necessitating Confucianism's modernization.

For Confucianism to be modernized means it must be "creatively transformed" or reinterpreted to match contemporary needs. For example, Gong Ke (2006) believes that Confucianism can be very helpful to China's modernization and the construction of a harmonious society. Therefore, Confucianism must be re-created and promoted. Yang Junguang (2000) makes a list of the negative and positive effects of Confucian thought and morals, such as family-based ideas, benevolence, "harmony-is-precious," and the relationship between the ruler and subjects. Yang then emphasizes the importance of understanding both the negative and positive aspects of Confucianism in order to transform it. But, says Yang, this transformation has four prerequisites: adopting reasonable elements of Confucianism to support China's economic development; combining Confucianism with modern theories such as science, democracy, and the rule of law; transforming Confucian ethics under the guidance of Marxism; and, following its transformation, making Confucian ethics the principle of people's political, economic, and even spiritual life (Yang 2000).

A related opinion is that Chinese tradition, especially Confucian tradition, is not able to develop toward modernization by itself; modern society demands a "new culture." However, the value of the Confucian tradition cannot simply be measured by the standard of whether it can serve modernization in China. Some valuable parts of Confucianism should still be included in the "new culture" after being transformed and reconstructed (Chen 2005).

How, more precisely, should Confucianism be modernized? Proposals from the intellectuals can be summarized in three approaches. The first is by creative interpretation--namely understanding and illuminating Confucian classics and texts (wenben) with modern ideas, methods, and discourses to reconstruct its category fanchou), logic, and meaning without completely deviating from its original meaning (Jia 2007). Combining critique and inheritance is also suggested. For example, Mou Zongyan declares that if modern society requires the Chinese to provide Confucian tradition with new interpretation to serve modern society, people should do it (Mou 2001; Zhang 2009).

A second approach is "picking up the essence and discarding the dross." The standard for judging what is essence and what is dross lies within the framework of Marxism and the realistic needs of socialist modernization. For example, Yan Hongyan (2000) stresses that Chinese modernization still needs Confucianism because the "essence" of Confucianism can further promote modernization. However, Yan argues that Confucianism itself needs to be modernized. The feudal dross must be discarded through analysis, criticism, and transformation under the guidance of Marxism. Only after undergoing this process can Confucianism be "Marxified" to match the needs of contemporary China--even as Marxism is sinicized.

Confucianism must be "open," according to a third approach, which means it must be able to react to challenges from real problems and other cultures. For example, Zhou Guitian, a professor at Beijing Normal University, emphasizes that the modernization of Confucianism is a long-term and continuous process that requires intellectuals specializing in Confucian studies to pay attention to international problems such as peace and terrorism, and domestic problems such as social stability and the sharp differences between rich and poor. Zhou believes that the modernization of Confucianism requires its acceptance by the popular masses in everyday life (Zhou 2006). Jia Songqing also advocates a conversation between Confucianism and other cultures. Jia emphasizes that against the background of globalization, Confucianism needs to communicate more actively with cultures and civilizations from other parts of the world in order to update and modernize itself (Jia 2007).

Six articles focus on the role of Confucianism in the modernization of other East Asian countries. On the whole, the authors of these papers have tried to demonstrate the value of Confucianism in modernization and have tried to link China with other countries' experiences, including what China might borrow from them (Song 2001; Wang 2003; Xu 2006).

The Role and Aims of the State

One important theme in the articles I examined is that the opinions and discussions of intellectuals strongly coincided with Chinese government policies and strategies. For example, Liang Xiaojie declares that Confucianism can be taken as a source of support for the strategy of "ruling the state by virtues," which provides another option besides democracy because no political system is universally suitable (Liang 2002, 75). Wu Enpu declares that the fundamental task of Confucianism and its largest domestic challenge is to "enrich and strengthen socialist ideological and ethical progress, in other words, to construct the new socialist culture with Chinese characteristics" (Wu 2003, 12). "Chinese characteristics" here not only means Chinese socialist policies but also the persistence of socialist values such as independence (zizhu), justice (gongzheng), equality (pingdeng), and harmony (hexie). Only in this way can Confucianism "be integrated into the modern socialist ideology, become an organic component of modern socialist new culture, and serve the modern society" (Wu 2003, 13).

Wu declares that making Confucianism function more significantly in the construction of a new socialist culture is the correct and most effective way to transform Confucianism institutionally as well as functionally on the path toward modernizing Confucianism. Similarly, Jiang Yuanjie (2008) emphasizes that one way for Confucianism to be in accord with modem values is to transform the important concept of filial piety. The transformed concept of filial piety is very important to the construction of the "harmonious society" in China.

Many intellectuals insist that Marxism provide "guidance" for the modernization of Confucianism. For example, Li Xiaonan and Zheng Weidong maintain that without the guidance of Marxism, the creative transformation of Confucianism will never be fulfilled, nor will Confucian studies transcend the limits of previous scholars' work (Li and Zheng 2000). Gong Ke believes that, as a philosophy, Confucianism can be closely linked to Marxism. Gong declares that many common points link Confucianism, Marxism, and Mao Zedong Thought, and moreover that Confucianism is a source of Mao Zedong Thought (Gong 2006).

The modernization of Confucianism clearly reflects the close relationship between the CCP government and many Chinese intellectuals. To the government, modernization means the reinterpretation and new representation of Confucianism with a political purpose in order to make it directly and pragmatically support government strategies and policies that aim to stabilize the current political order and the CCP's leadership. This motivation has received strong theoretical and propagandist support from many Chinese intellectuals, particularly those who work in the universities and colleges. In the view of the government and many intellectuals, transforming Confucianism seems to amount to changing it from a traditional political tool into a new political tool.

This aim suggests a dynamic relationship among three elements, namely, intellectuals, the government, and the idea of Confucianism. Each element has a dual role. Intellectuals reinterpret Confucianism and act as promoters for repackaging it. The government, by adopting and adapting Confucianism, consolidates its leadership and strengthens its control over the intellectuals. And Confucianism, as an idea, provides intellectuals and the government with a theoretical source by virtue of its modernization. Such power relations demonstrate that the CCP government plays a powerful role in shaping Confucianism to suit its political interests. The intellectuals' attachment to the government is also tightened by the adoption of Confucianism. Therefore, institutionalizing Confucianism stabilizes the current order of power and helps formalize its structure.

The term "modernization" has provided the CCP government with a publicly acceptable cover to persuade the populace that the institutionalization of Confucianism is important and necessary. The real motivation is not to bring any change to the current political order based on the CCP's leadership, but rather to strengthen and perpetuate it. At the same time, because it is officially stressed that this modernization must be carried out under the firm control of the government as well as the guidance of Marxism and the thoughts of party leaders, Confucianism will not be adopted as the dominant political ideology and will not receive an exclusive place in official thinking. Moreover, although China's economic and technological modernization has provided an acceptable cover for the modernization of Confucianism, it is not likely that Confucian modernization will do much to help modernize the Chinese political system. Institutionalizing Confucianism will by no means make it the ideology of choice; rather, Confucianism will be an ideological tool with the pragmatic purpose of becoming theoretical support for the implementation of the party's political strategies.


The modernization of Confucianism reveals the determined effort of the CCP to overcome a crisis of legitimacy and ideological vacuum. It also adds some soft and persuasive elements to the regime's social appeal. The government's overall strategy is to repackage Confucianism, institutionalize it, and integrate it into the current ideology. The aim is to provide further justifications for the CCP's political strategies and policies, make them acceptable to society, legitimate the party's rule, and consolidate its leadership.

The supportive attitude of many Chinese intellectuals reflects the power relations between the government and them. Many intellectuals, who are attached firmly to the bureaucratic system, are trying to fuse Marxism and Confucianism. They are trying to create a localized Marxism that may absorb some moral values and political ideals of Confucianism in order to acquire a new vitality at China's new stage of rapid economic development. In official discourse, the combination of Marxism and Confucianism provides a foundation for maintaining the stability and continuity of the CCP's control; it helps in securing its cultural leadership and releasing the pressure created by the problem of legitimacy. However, it is not a combination that gives equal status to both sides. Confucianism is an auxiliary to Marxism.

The role of Confucianism in the official discourse lies mainly in moral construction. It has helped the CCP government to boost its soft power and build a worldwide image of China as a great power that is experiencing a peaceful and unthreatening growth. But the revival of Confucianism does not change the power relations between the government and the intellectuals; instead, government control over the intellectuals is likely to become firmer. Nor does the increase in status of Confucianism mean that it has obtained or will obtain a dominant position in Chinese political ideology. It will not become the leading or mainstream dogma of Chinese society. Thus, the modernization of Confucianism in the official propaganda has actually conveyed its real purpose: institutionalizing Confucianism to maintain the current power order. Thus, it will be difficult for Confucianism to avoid becoming "empty talk" when it faces challenges from real-world social problems.


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(1.) For example, the book Zhongguo keyi shuo bu (China can say no), published in 1996, which attained huge commercial success; the massive anti-US demonstration in front of the US embassy in Beijing after the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999; the Sino-US "hacker war" right after the spy plane crash in 2001; and the emergence of anti-Japanese hooligans during the China-Japan soccer match in August 2004. See also Seo (2005).

(2.) For example, in 2005, the School of Chinese Classics (Guoxue Yuan) was established in Renmin University in Beijing, and the first International Confucian School was established in the Chinese University of Political Science and Law on June 25, 2006 (Dong 2006). Moreover, as Renmin Ribao reported, the construction of Chinese Confucius University has been in preparation since 2000, and Xu Jialu, vice chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, will take the role of university president when it is completed (Lu 2000). However, so far, no further reports have appeared regarding whether this university has been formally established.

Shufang Wu's research interests include transformation of political ideology in modern and contemporary China, democracy, and democratization in contemporary China, Chinese intellectual history, and religious studies. She can be reached at
Table 1 Confucianism and Modernization (Xiandaihua) in Renmin

            Confucianism     Modernization       No Direct Link
             and China's    (Xiandaihua) of   Between Confucianism
            Modernization    Confucianism      and Modernization

Instances        18               18                   52
Articles         13               10                   9


Instances    88
Articles     32
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