The Place of Confucius in Communist China_Levenson

The Place of Confucius in Communist China_Levenson
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  The Place of Confucius in Communist ChinaAuthor(s): Joseph R. LevensonSource: The China Quarterly, No. 12 (Oct. - Dec., 1962), pp. 1-18Published by: Cambridge University Press on behalf of the School of Oriental and AfricanStudiesStable URL: Accessed: 28/02/2010 13:27 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unlessyou have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and youmay use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use.Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printedpage of such transmission.JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact Cambridge University Press  and School of Oriental and African Studies  are collaborating with JSTOR todigitize, preserve and extend access to The China Quarterly.  The Place of Confucius in Communist China By JOSEPH R. LEVENSON The entire area has, in fact, shared in this attention to the relics of the Sage since the creation of a special commission for the preservation f monuments and relics in Kufow.... The Times (July 31, 1961) IN Chinese Communist fashions, Confucius seems to be in this year. Earlier, certainly in the nineteen-twenties, revolutionaries were quite ready to see him out, and even now, in the first decade or so of the People's Republic, there are plenty of people with little patience for the sage of the old intelligence. Indeed, despise the old and preserve the national heritage have been chasing each other down the nineteen- fifties and incipient sixties, and contemporary historians, in this area, should perhaps not dwell too seriously on trends pro and anti, so fore- shortened, if discernible at all, in the foreground of our age. What seems historically significant is the range, not the petty successions, of recent Communist options in evaluating Confucius. For all the possibilities are equally modem, all plausible and consistent within a new Chinese view -an essentially anti-Confucian view informing even the pro-Confucius minds. In the early years of the 1911 Republic, embattled radical iconoclasts, out to destroy Confucius, and romantic conservatives, bent on preserving him, had been equally untraditional.1 Now, in the People's Republic of 1949, successor-radicals, with that battle behind them and those foes crushed, may bring the romantic note into their own strain and celebrate Confucian anniversaries in the name of the national heritage. But the Communists who wish Confucius happy birthday only swell the chorus that sounds him down to burial in history. IMPERISHABILITY OF THE CONFUCIAN SPIRIT? A grand old question: is Confucianism a religion? Certainly the problem of Confucianism is rather different from the problem of Buddhism in the 1 For this bond of anti-traditional and traditionalistic as both non-traditional, see Joseph R. Levenson, The Suggestiveness of Vestiges: Confucianism and Monarchy at the Last, in David S. Nivison and Arthur F. Wright, ed., Confucianism in Action (Stanford Un. Press, 1959), pp. 244-267. 1  THE CHINA QUARTERLY Communist ra; there is no organised Confucian body whose state can be statistically assessed.2 Actually, when there had been some sort of effort, before the First World War, to conceive of it as a church, Confucianism was at its nadir, and no Communist policy about that Confucianism eed or can be scrutinised. Other questions laim attention. First, is there Confucianism in Communism? Second (and more important here), what of Confucius himself, his current reputation and its meaning? There are those, with a taste for paradox, who feel that the new regime is in spirit, n real content, whatever the surface forms of revolution, Confucian forever. This implies an interpretation f con- tinuity n terms not of process but reality; past is related o present not by sequence but by the persistence f essentials. From this point of view it is enough to remark hat (give or take a few degrees) both Communist and Confucian China have been institutionally ureaucratic nd despotic, intellectually dogmatic and canonical, psychologically restrictive and demanding. And for those who balk at forcing Confucianism nd Com- munism to match, there is still the Legalist label for Mao's China. The principle of sinological determinism might thereby still be defended, a Chinese deal type still preserved gainst corrosive historical thinking; and, with Mao a Ch'in Shih Huang-ti, Confucianism would still be implicitly here, an alternative r a partner, s in the days of that Legalist First Emperor or of later dynastic autocrats. If, in such a timeless, noumenal version of continuity, China were always China, he place of Confucius n Communist China would be pre-ordained, nd empirical nquiry gratuitous r fussily misleading. Yet, if only out of piety to history (or, less grandly, n defence of his occupa- tion), a historian has to assume the authenticity f phenomenal hange, and, in this instance, contemplate not the ideal of a ghostly Confucius in the mere flesh of a modem Communist, ut the idea of Confucius n the minds of men who publish under Communist egis. One of them, Lo Ken-tse (editor of Volumes IV, 1933, and VI, 1938, of Ku Shih Pien, (Symposium on Ancient History), the famous collection of modem critiques of Classical historical orthodoxy), makes a point in discussing Confucius hat could seem to assimilate Confucianism o Marxism. What lies behind the appearance? In some observations about Confucius on poetry, Lo remarks hat Confucius had basically philosophical, not literary, interests. Knowing that poetry had a lyrical, expressive character, he wanted to impose on it standards f moral orthodoxy, because he valued poetry from a utili- tarian not an aesthetic point of view. Lo speaks of Confucius' practice 2 Cf. Holmes Welch, Buddhism under the Communists, The China Quarterly, No. 6 (April-June 1961), pp. 1-14. 2  THE PLACE OF CONFUCIUS IN COMMUNIST CHINA of tuan chang ch'ii i ( cutting off the stanza and selecting the prin- ciple ), a proceeding traditionally related to the way the Chung-yung (Doctrine of the Mean), for example, cites the Shih-ching (Book of Poetry): to extract moral dicta. Literature was a tool for him, and rhetorical considerations per se played no part. That is why, though his doctrine of seizing the word had a great influence on the development of literary criticism, its purport was not revise words but rectify names. 3 Now, surely not only Lo's ancient subject but his contemporary patrons have a utilitarian not an aesthetic conception of literature. Mao as well as Confucius has viewed literature as the carrier of an ethos. Long ago, in the nineteen-twenties, it could seem like a throwback to the Confucian doctrine of literature to convey the tao, when the Creation Society, a body of writers imbued at first with a Western-tinged aestheticism, turned toward Marxist commitment.4 Yet, in the Creation affair, the later commitment was quite as remote from Confucian premises as the earlier; indeed, it was the exhaustion of Con- fucianism, premises and all, which had rendered art for art's sake - though a radical slogan against a vital Confucianism-seemingly super- fluous, and exposed it, in Communist eyes, as counter-revolutionary for a post-Confucian age.5 Lo Ken-tse, some thirty years later, is just as far from simply engrossing a Confucian motif in a Marxist one. Rather, when he speaks of Confucius imposing standards on the Shih-ching, Lo (rather late in the critical day) means to release the poems from their Confucian blanket and to reveal them, by restoring their natural, poetic quality, as truly popular. He wants to save a Classic by redeeming it from Confucian associations, thus permitting it to qualify for a Com- munist accolade. THE DWINDLING SHARE OF CONFUCIAN MATTER IN INTELLECTUAL LIFE But why should Communists care about such a salvage job? Would not revolutionaries (once we take them seriously as such) be expected to cancel the old intellectual currency, instead of converting it? At least from a quantitative standpoint, certainly, the old concerns of Confucian scholarship get relatively meagre attention. In 1958 Kuo Mo-jo, in a 3 Lo Ken-tse, Chung-kuo Wen-hsiieh P'i-p'ing Shih (History of Chinese Literary Criticism) (Shanghai: Ku-tien Wen-hsiieh Ch'u-pan-she, 1957), pp. 39, 48-49. 4 Chow Tse-tsung, The May Fourth Movement: Intellectual Revolution in Modern China (Harvard Un. Press., 1960), pp. 284-287, 309-310. 5 Cf. Joseph R. Levenson, The Day Confucius Died (review article), The Journal of Asian Studies, XX, No. 2 (February 1961), p. 225. 3


Jul 24, 2017
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