Erudite Confusion

Scholarly debate continues over the meaning and significance of the words of , China’s most influential moral and political philosopher.  ’s newest book, from the Heart, is drawing criticism from other intellectuals.  Chitralekha Basu writes for the China Daily:

Several academics from Peking and Tsinghua universities are highly critical of Yu’s work, seeing it as no more than a watered-down, feel-good, apolitical version of The Analects. Professor Daniel Bell of Tsinghua University has dedicated an entire chapter of his book, China’s New Confucianism, (Princeton University Press), to Yu’s work.

His charges are quite damning. Yu is accessible but problematic, says Bell. “She doesn’t just dumb down but also depoliticizes, making use of Confucian language to promote Taoism.” He also alleges that Yu’s depoliticized version of Confucius falls in line with the government’s policies. “At the end of the day, Yu’s interpretation supports the status quo, which may not be the Confucian view,” says Bell. “If Yu downplays social responsibility and political commitment she might not be committed to Confucian thought.”

“But the depoliticizing was deliberate,” protests Yu. “If we try to understand Confucius in terms of politics, we cannot learn much, because back in Confucius’s time the foundations of society lay in feudal ethics whereas contemporary society is built on modern rules. There’s no comparison between the two. I feel only the part of Confucius that allows us to talk to different cultures in a harmonious way is relevant to contemporary society.”

June 9, 2009, 10:20 AM
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