A story in today's LA Times about the revival of Confucianism and the irrepressible Yu Dan (whom I have blogged before here and here). Yu has attracted a host of critics, and the Times story quotes my friend Daniel Bell:
"Chinese people live in a high-pressure society. Her message is, 'Don't worry what others think about you. It matters how you feel in your heart,' " said Daniel Bell, a professor of political philosophy at Qinghua University. "Not only is this simplifying Confucius, it is very misleading interpretation. Confucius is about social and political commitment. She provides a feel-good, apolitical version that goes against the main message of 'The Analects.' "
Daniel is developing an argument that Yu takes more of a Taoist perspective, which distorts her view of Confucius. That may be true. But I wonder if this kind of "distortion" isn't actually better than the more common distortion of Confucianism: its cooptation by Legalism.
When you say "Confucianism," the image that is conjured up (if, indeed, anyone really thinks about it) is one of patriarchal, conservative hierarchy, backed up by draconian laws. Fathers cannot be punished if they kill their sons, but sons can face the death penalty if they strick their fathers. That sort of thing. Confucius, of course, was deeply suspicious of overuse of law and punishment, which made him the laughing stock of the Legalists. But Legalism required a virtuous face, so the formula of the Chinese empire became "Legalism on the inside, Confucianism on the outside" (rubiao, fali).
That, to me, is a worse distortion than an inward-looking, Taoist inflected reading of Confucius. Indeed, with all due respect to Daniel, perhaps Yu is closer to Mencius, who tells us:
The ten thousand things are all there in me. And there's no greater joy that looking within and finding myself faithful to them. Treat others as you would be treated. Devote yourself to that, for there's no more direct approach to Humanity. (13.4)
And here's a nice photo of Yu Dan (from the Times piece):
UPDATE: Danwei has yet more on Yu Dan.