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« Friday Yi Jing Blogging: Predicting a Williams College Football Victory | Main | Mariano Rivera: Daoist Sage »

September 18, 2011


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soft power is an academic's term, and as such is divorced from reality, being only an exercise in concepts about concepts.

real soft power is a subtle-energy radiance, talked about in language as vibration or essence or other words usually sneered at by the left-hemisphere addicted.

it is how america's previous moral strength functioned, how india's reputation is what it is .. it's why there are shanghai school teachers and backpackers going to tibet every summer ... on and on

edging towards confucianism we find a spiritual essence in china that is, and has been for centuries, china's true soft power. all soft power of any type is essential mystical, qualitative, moral, vibrational.

best examples in english in distilled form are the translations at ...

if confucianism is used as a political strategy for gain it automatically loses its power ... if the mystical essence is imbibed on the basis of direct experience, then the power is immense. same with daoism or any practice that is based on the nature and functioning of consciousness.

Thank you for sharing your academic research with the world. I wish every scholar and student would do that, in order to not let their hard and good work go to waste.

I haven't read the whole paper - I leave that for anytime in the future for now - but my first superficial comment would be this.

I am surprised to learn confucianism is pretty much useless, based on the argument that there is a Communist Party in power, not a Confucianist Party. The Party may be communist in name, but its ideological discourse has shifted, I believe, towards a combination of nationalism and... confucianism.

What this means for China's soft power in the western world, is, of course another question.

Thanks for the comments...
I do not mean to suggest that Confucianism is "useless." It is true that the Party and others are asserting Confucian values in a variety of ways, and that might be useful to a certain degree, especially within China. I am arguing a narrower point: Confucianism will not become so "attractive" to people outside of China to rise to the level of a "soft power" resource. I am presuming (predicting?) that a main reason for the limitation of its soft power potential is the obvious disjunction between the assertion of Confucian values and the power of patently non-Confucian behavior within China. Of course, if actual behavior within China somehow becomes more consistent with the assertion of Confucian values, I could be proved wrong. But for now I stand by my argument...

After some contemplation, I concluded that the problem is that Confucianism is too easily co-opted by other ideologies. This is because many modern Confucians regard Confucianism more as a philosophy than a religion.

When Confucianism is seen as a philosophy, then one implies that it is man-made. If it is man-made, then there can be no objection to modifying it to suit one's goals. As a result, modern Confucians inevitably begin from a liberal, Marxist, nationalist, or even Legalist standpoint, discard all aspects of Confucianism which don't fit with their ideology, and then use the remaining aspects to clothe their rhetoric.

In Chinese, this is usually justified as 去其糟粕,取其精华. This implies that one believes that one is a better judge than 先王 and 圣人. When they agree with one, then they are 先民的智慧. When they disagree with one, then they are 过时 and 保守, or even 落后愚昧 and 封建遗毒.

The result is the "modern Chinese soft power" described in the article. This "modern Chinese soft power" uses Confucian rhetoric to legitimise itself, but ultimately its standpoint is non-Confucian.

The correct view is that the Five Classics were the products of 圣贤, who cannot be surpassed unless one is himself a 圣贤. Particular interpretations may be doubted, but not the Classics themselves.

Only when the correct view is restored can Confucianism function independently of modern ideologies. If one does not believe in the Classics to begin with, then one has nothing to stand on.

Interesting point, though I don't think I share that perspective. A question, however: this critique would then also apply to Song Neo-Confucianism I imagine. Or how about Xunzi? Was he a 圣贤 or should we see him, essentially, as an ideologist? What counts as the "Classics"? Mencius is in but Xunzi is out?

Some Confucians I know like to refer to Xunzi, generally in the context of his descriptions of 王制.

I'm not familiar with that aspect of Confucianism, e.g. 公羊学 and 政治儒学, and so I will refrain from commenting on that aspect.

Personally, however, I refuse to believe in any religion which accepts Xunzi. The Neo-Confucians made the right choice in expelling Xunzi. The selection of the Four Books results in a coherent system which makes sense. Xunzi's statements cannot be harmonised with either Mencius or the Five Classics.

The Classics, in my view, refer to the Four Books, the Five Classics, and the Book of Filial Piety.

The Four Books, because they form a direct line of descent from Confucius, e.g. 孔子、曾子、子思、孟子.

The Five Classics, because Confucius taught from them.

The Book of Filial Piety, because 志在春秋、行在孝经.


As for Neo-Confucianism, the important thing to understand is that Neo-Confucians were not pure "philosophers" as commonly understood. Their task is more like Aquinas than anything else.

Neo-Confucianism adds a layer of explanation to the Classics, rather than replace the Classics. This is quite clear from their writings.

The logic of Neo-Confucianism is the same as earlier Confucianism: If a text comes from a 圣贤, then it is authoritative. The only way to assail the authority of a text is to prove that it is a forgery.

The Neo-Confucians made many allegations of forgery. I personally disagree with this, but in general they did not depart from the framework of 四书五经.

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