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Ian M. Miller

The New Neo-Confucianism

A hundred years since his words carried currency in China, Confucius—the 2500-year dead sage—is seeing an apparent resurgence of popularity. Scholars at flagship universities like Tsing-hua and Peking University write editorials based on the works of the sage. More than 300 state-sponsored Confucius Institutes have opened in 94 countries since 2004. A statue of Confucius was even unveiled in Tiananmen Square last January, only to be removed three months later. Throughout the Chinese academy, a New Confucianism is on the rise. All of which begs the question—why has this school of thought regained currency in China after a century of dormancy and defeat?Since before the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1911, China’s leading intellectuals have been searching for an intellectual tradition to replace Confucian thought. Liberal democracy had its moment in the 1910s and ‘20s, and again in the brief window between Mao Zedong’s death in 1976 and the crackdowns at Tiananmen Square in 1989. Between these flirtations with Western ideals, the mid-century featured a war between Nationalist militarism and Communist class struggle. When the Communists won, all of China participated in the spectacular failure of Mao’s experiments with mass movements—the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. Muscular socialism died with Mao and democracy was crushed beneath tank treads at Tiananmen. For a time, all that was left was Deng Xiaoping’s proclamation that “to be rich is glorious;” for a time, nothing else was needed. For 20 years, China’s economy expanded at an unprecedented rate. Deng’s wealth doctrine looked like a good investment, and the educated elite bought in.More recently, doubts have emerged about the ability of the market to float all boats. The growing gap between rich and poor now extends into the educated class. In the cities, there is an expanding group of university graduates with… Read More