Not much time to post just now, but here is a thought that has entered my mind these past two days of the conference: Confucianism is not longer Chinese. Or, to be more precise, if China wants to become a producer of cultural products in the global economy, it will have to let go of its proprietary claims on Confucianism and let it become truly global.
I am thinking along these lines - and I may be crazy to do so - because I have continued to sense a certain unease among Chinese intellectuals about being "takers" of global culture instead of "makers" of global culture (those are my terms). They worry that postmodernism is just another Western import, destined to shape Chinese intellectual life in terms of someone else's language and ideas. Of course, the source of this worry may well be the decline, nay disappearance, of Marxism from serious consideration. Marx was invoked exactly twice at the confernce, neither time to very much effect. Given the vacuum that has now opened up at the center of intellectual life, other Western ideas are flowing in. So, several Chinese commentators again today, just like yesterday, expressed a concern that China needs to produce its own ideas to put forth into the world.
They shouldn't really worry. As one of my American colleagues here poitned out today, Taoism has certainly travelled to the US and other places; it is a significant Chinese cultural contribution. So, I am imaging that Confucianism can and should make a similar transformation, from something uniquely identified with China to something widely dispersed around the world and integrated into cultural practices in a wide variety of settings.
But maybe Confucianism is different. Maybe it is too closely identified with China, and East Asia (of course, it has moved historically to Korea and Japan and Vietnam) to allow it to be merged into Western societies. Yet that is what has to happen if China really wants to expand its role as a cultural producer instead of just a cultural consumer.
So, give it up, China. Let go of Confucianism. Don't try to force it to remain narrowly Chinese, or East Asian. Let it go out into the world and settle and transform in unexpected places
If none of this makes sense, I will try to give it another shot when I have a bit more time and the jet lag isn't so acute.
Now it is off the the Lao She theater...
UPDATE: Maybe this thought is not so crazy after all. I just saw this piece at Danwei on basically the same issue.