- Confucianism and Social Issues in China—The Academician Kang Xiaoguang. Investigations into NGOs in China, the Falun Gong, Chinese Reportage, and the Confucian Tradition
It is not without reason that the attention of China scholars is increasingly being directed to the resurgence of Confucianism in the People’s Republic of China (PRC). High-level political figures such as Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao make more and more symbolic allusions to Confucian values, the Chinese Ministry of Education has established more than three hundred Confucius Institutes in almost one hundred countries throughout the world, a number of Confucian academies have been founded in many parts of China, and after-school courses teaching Chinese children the basic texts of the Confucian canon are proliferating. These are but a few conspicuous manifestations of the Confucian reemergence in contemporary China. Through the PRC’s speedy market reforms during the last few decades, the diminishing appeal of a Marxist-Maoist orientation, while certainly still upheld as an important strand of the officially embraced ideology, is inescapable. As a pillar of Chinese culture, Confucianism may seem a promising agent to take Marxism’s place, certainly considering the widespread Chinese resistance to excessive Westernization. However, Confucianism, with its long, syncretic, and complex history, is far from being an obvious philosophy or ideology to be applied to society without elaborate hermeneutic and practical considerations. It is far from being clear what kind (or kinds) of Confucianism is on the rise in China, and what its revival means. An investigation into a specific case of Confucianization is, therefore, most desirable, as it may provide a concrete example of what the revival may mean.
Monika Gaenssbauer’s introduction to a variety of social analyses and critiques by Kang Xiaoguang 康晓光 is one such investigation. An influential but controversial thinker aligning himself with New Confucianism in the spirit of Kang Youwei 康有为 (1858–1927), Kang Xiaoguang is currently a professor of regional economics and politics at Renmin University in Beijing. As Gaenssbauer shows in her overview, Kang has applied his thinking to a large variety of themes and topics facing contemporary Chinese society. However, as noted by the author (p. 13), not much about or by Kang is presently available in English; thus, an introduction to his work should be welcomed by those who seek to familiarize themselves with the themes and approaches presently preoccupying Chinese intellectuals.
Apart from the concluding chapter, the book summarizes four of Kang’s seminal writings published during the last decade. The author mentions that she arranges the chapters “according to a chronological principle” (p. 10), which probably prompts most readers to expect some kind of evolving red thread in [End Page 332]Kang’s thinking. The thread, however, is admittedly not easy to follow, as the topics presented in the volume are rather diverse. However, one can certainly detect a strong desire on Kang’s behalf to contribute to significant social reform in China.
The first chapter summarizes and discusses Kang’s views on the Falun Gong problem, which he associates with modernization in China. This is a highly interesting discussion, as one rarely sees a relatively sober intellectual account of Falun Gong by Chinese authors. Kang makes a number of challenging claims worthy of consideration. He contends, for example, that the movement can be understood “as a consequence of the process of modernization” (p. 21), that is, that it both assumed important social functions and filled a “vacuum of belief ” (p. 32) caused by China’s massive changes during the last few decades. This is probably correct, at least in considering the fact that “the movement consists, for the greater part, of socially marginalized and disadvantaged individuals” (p. 30). Kang’s other major claim, however, that the struggle of the Chinese authorities “against Falun Gong will come to an end only when China’s modernization has been completed” (p. 24), poses more questions than it...