- The Rebirth of the Moral Self: The Second Generation of Modern Confucians and Their Modernization Discourses by Jana S. Rošker
In The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, Samuel P. Huntington observes: "In the early twentieth century Chinese intellectuals, independently paralleling Weber, identified Confucianism as the source of Chinese backwardness. In the late twentieth century, Chinese political leaders, paralleling Western social scientists, celebrate Confucianism as the source of Chinese progress" (1996, p. 106). In the early 21st century, Confucianism is being elevated to a status never before assigned to it, as politicians under the aegis of President Xi work relentlessly to refashion Confucianism as a guiding political philosophy. The change in attitudes may appear radical, it is, however, the result of an incremental effort invested in the revival of the Confucian culture over the past few decades, albeit not entirely on similar lines in mainland China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. Although Huntington spoke rather warily of Confucianism and did not seem to have a basic historical grasp of Modern Confucianism in China, his prophecy regarding the clash of civilizations and the "Confucian-Islamic connection" have nonetheless assumed renewed relevance in an era when the West is perceived as being in decline. As one of the three most important intellectual trends in contemporary China (the other two being the New Left and the Liberal), Modern Confucianism, also translated sometimes as Neo-Confucianism or New Confucianism, has evolved over time to encompass the work of three generations of scholars whose efforts are directed toward renewing traditional Confucianism and synthesizing the best of Confucian and Western cultural resources as a way to confront the crisis in both. Jana S. Rošker's The Rebirth of the Moral Self focuses mainly on the second generation of Modern Confucians from Taiwan and Hong Kong and their modernization discourses.
Rošker's book will prove useful to those entry-level scholars interested in Modern Confucianism in general. To situate her discussion in the larger historical and intellectual background, the author tries to present a holistic picture of Modern Confucianism in the first three chapters. In the Introduction part, Rošker, as a European scholar studying Chinese philosophy, shows a clear and much-appreciated understanding of the nature of intercultural research, proposing to take into account the [End Page 243] incommensurability between Chinese and European epistemologies and philosophical paradigms. She briefly revisits the historical conditions and debates surrounding the question of modernization in China in Chapter 2 before introducing the various modernization efforts from the late 19th century onwards. Chapter 3 does an admirable job of briefing readers about the emergence and the basic tenets of Modern Confucianism, the "Three Generations," the multilayered criticisms against Modern Confucianism, and the vexed question of "Asian values." In her categorizations of the "Three Generations," however, the author seems to have slighted Ma Yifu who is often honored side by side with Xiong Shili and Liang Shuming as one of the "Three Saints" of Modern Confucianism. His contributions to Modern Confucianism are not mentioned when the work of the first generation scholars is introduced. Further, probably due to the overall structure of the book, the intriguingly complex ideas advanced by Xiong Shili, arguably the most important representative of the first generation scholars whose ideas have produced a profound influence on the subsequent generations, are only treated in a rather cursory manner. Should the space allow, the introduction to Xiong's work would surely have benefited from more concrete elucidations.
To those looking to deepen their understanding about the second generation Modern Confucians in particular, The Rebirth of the Moral Self also has something to offer. The detailed analyses of the work of these scholars, however, do not come up until the fourth chapter where Mou Zongsan's moral metaphysics, Fang Dongmei's philosophy of creative creativity, Xu Fuguan's philosophy of culture and politics, and Tang Junyi's theories of the heart-mind and ethics are...