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578 China Review International: Vol. 4, No. 2, Fall 1997 Alan T. Wood. Limits to Autocracy: From Sung Neo-Confucianism to a Doctrine ofPolitical Rights. Honolulu: University ofHawai'i Press, 1995. xvi, 264 pp. Hardcover $30.00, isbn 0-8248-1703-6. The useful core of this book is an examination of salient periods in the history of scholarly commentary on the Ch'un-ch'iu (Spring and autumn annals) when this Confucian classic in particular inspired those who wished to strengthen the position of the emperor by linking it with an overarching, universal moral order. The earliest case is that of die great Former Han ideologue Tung Chung-shu (179-104 b.c.), and the latest cases are those of the Meiji Restoration in Japan and the lateCh 'ing political reform movement associated with the revival of New Text classicism in China. Greatest attention, however, is devoted to explicating the main concerns and historical significance of a burgeoning of Ch'un-ch'iu commentary in the Northern Sung period, the featured scholars ofwhich are Sun Fu (9921057 ), Ch'eng I (1033-1107), and Hu An-kuo (1074-1138). Specialists in the history of Confucian classicism will find little that is new or challenging here, but others who are generally interested in Chinese intellectual history will be grateful for the autiior's succinct exposition of this facet of Sung scholarship in relation to the strategic and political circumstances of the Northern Sung state. They will especially appreciate being shown the specific historical genesis of the Ch'un-ch'iu commentary of Hu An-kuo, which was the standard for civil service examinations throughout the Ming-Ch'ing era. Valuable on another level is chapter 2, "The Background of Neo-Confucianism," in which the author summarizes secondary scholarship on early-Sung politics, institutions, socioeconomic conditions, and intellectual thought with such clarity that this chapter could well serve as the basis of one or two undergraduate lectures on the subject. Beyond providing these services, that is, in the dimensions where the author attempts to make more original contributions, the book frustrates and disappoints. The autiior feels strongly that Confucianism—especially Neo-Confucianism —has received unfair blame in the twentieth century for instilling, maintaining , and reinforcing the principle of absolute loyalty to autocrats in Chinese political culture. Through the example of Northern Sung commentary on the Ch'un-ch'iu, which highlighted the phrase tsun-wangjang-i (respect the emperor, expel the barbarians), he aims to show that scholar-officials were intending to elevate the emperor's symbolic authority while circumscribing his actual power.© 1997 by University The most important element in this maneuver was subjection of the emperor to ofHawai'i Pressme universal moral dictates of t'ien-li, "Heavenly principle" (qualitatively distinguished from what the author regards as the autocracy-abetting ideology of t'ienming , "Heaven's command/mandate"). This Chinese concept of a universal moral Reviews 579 order is very positively compared to the European one ofnatural law, which is presented as the sine qua non ofWestern ideas ofpolitical/civil/human rights. The author feels that ifthis similarity (which he is not the first to point out) were better recognized, then the Chinese could view their Confucian heritage not as a handicap, but as an aid to incorporating Western values in the areas ofpolitical and human rights. I find problems in this. First, the author nowhere examines either the idea of right(s), or the purportedly necessary relation between that idea and a concept of natural law, or how the efforts ofministers to circumscribe the arbitrary powers ofthe emperorship (which institution is not clearly distinguished in this book from the persons ofsuccessive emperors) might bear on the fortunes ofideas of political or human rights among the populace. Laid to other factors, not to NeoConfucianism , is the undeniable fact that in the subsequent hundreds ofyears— nearly a millennium—during which Chinese scholar-officials' minds were imbued with the values espoused in the Northern Sung Ch'un-ch'iu commentaries, these men made no moves, even when conditions were ripe, in the direction of anything like constitutional or statutory limitations on the emperor's powers— much less any such limitations on the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9367
Print ISSN
1069-5834
Pages
pp. 578-580
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-30
Open Access
No
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