Confucius and the Nationalists

January 27 2015

The posthumous ascendancy of Confucius survived the interregnum (circa A.D. 175-475) which followed the break-up of the Empire of the Han; it survived the influx of the barbarians, and the far more revolutionary influx of the Mahayana, into the new Far Eastern World; and it survived the latter-day barbarian invasions of Khitan [medieval Liao dynasty] and Kin [medieval Jin] and Mongol and Manchu [descendants of Jin]. The one power that has ever seriously disputed the hold of Confucius over Chinese minds since the sage’s ethereal reign began is the Civilization of the West, which is making its forcible impact upon the traditional life of China in the present generation. For the moment, maybe, the Western impact has driven Confucius from his millennial throne; yet, even if he has been officially deposed, the unconquerable sage is still contriving to govern where he no longer reigns by ruling incognito. For the essence of the Confucian social system, as it was instituted two thousand years ago, is government by students under the auspices of a sage whose personality and precepts are regarded with all the more veneration since the man of flesh and blood has departed this life and has received his apotheosis; and the lineaments of this system can still be detected in the life of a revolutionary China beneath all the scum and froth that have gathered on its agitated surface. In this twenty-eighth year after the abolition of the Confucian examinations [in 1905], China is still being governed by students in a dead philosopher’s name. The veneration long paid to Confucius has been transferred provisionally to Sun Yat-sen; and the borrowed prestige of the founder of the Kuomintang has secured the long-suffering acquiescence of the Chinese People in the conduct of public affairs by Dr. Sun’s political legatees, who (to China’s undoing) have received their education abroad in the social and physical sciences of the West, instead of being educated in the Confucian Classics like their predecessors for sixty generations. The moral and political bankruptcy of these Western-educated student-politicians of the Kuomintang may conceivably bring King Confucius back into his own again; and thus, even now, we cannot foresee the end of the mighty kingdom which this Sinic sage unwittingly acquired when he lost his official post in the petty principality of Lu.

The official ideology of the Kuomintang, whatever the educational background of its leaders, favoured Confucianism. Was it ambiguous in 1933? Did this aspect of it only become clear with the establishment of the New Life Movement in February 1934?

There had been waves of anti-Confucianism: the Taiping Rebellion (1850-64), New Culture Movement (c 1915-21) and May the Fourth Movement (from 1919). During the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), the Communists opposed Confucius.

A Study of History, Vol III, OUP, 1934

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