- Confucianism With German Characteristics
Ming-huei Lee's Confucianism: Its Roots and Global Significance is the inaugural volume in the University of Hawai'i Press's new series, "Confucian Cultures." It is a very apt way to begin the series. Roger Ames and Peter Hershock, the series editors, explain that the series is committed to exploring ways in which contemporary Confucianism can challenge and change the international order, as well as looking at past shortcomings and areas of future growth for Confucianism, seen simultaneously as various distinctive local traditions and as pan-Asian and potentially global. Lee is a long-time Research Fellow at the Institute of Literature and Philosophy in Taiwan's Academia Sinica and a leading proponent of what is often called "contemporary new Confucianism." Lee's Confucianism builds on the creative foundation laid by Mou Zongsan (1909–1995) and other twentieth-century thinkers, with Lee particularly emphasizing the fruitful results of ongoing dialogue between Confucianism and Kant and other German philosophers (Lee received his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Bonn). The essays in the volume have all previously been published in English, but by collecting them together and revising them for this book, Lee and editor David Jones adeptly display the range, coherence, and methodology of Lee's version of a contemporary, globally significant Confucianism.
I begin by summarizing each of the essays before moving on to comment on a few important themes. The Introduction, "Destinies and Prospects of the Confucian Tradition in Modern East Asia," takes its point of departure from Yu Ying-shih's well-known observation that modern Confucianism is like a "wandering soul" devoid of an institutional base. Lee basically agrees with Yu's analysis of the causes of Confucianism's contemporary predicament, but gently parts company with Yu over the proper future direction of the tradition. Rather than "retreat into the realm of 'inner sagehood'" (p. 1), Lee advocates for the development of a modern system of ethics going hand-in-hand with modern theories of cultural, political, and social criticism. This is neither ideology nor state religion, but "a main resource for cultural bildung, that is, for education, formation, and cultivation of self and society" (p. 1). The next two chapters then examine two related aspects of the project of renovating modern Confucianism. Chapter 1 is titled "Mou Zongsan's Interpretation of Confucianism: Some Hermeneutical Reflections." Here Lee focuses on the cross-cultural dimension of modern Confucianism, responding to critics of [End Page 218] Mou who allege that he either distorts Kant or else reads too much Kant into Confucianism. After one of the clearest explanations of Mou's relation to Kant that I have seen, Lee then argues for a hermeneutic based on philosophical "creativity" rather than historical or philological considerations. I will return to some issues raised by Lee's (and Mou's) cross-cultural methodology below. Chapter 3, "Modern New Confucianism on the Religiousness of Confucianism," is an important supplement to the Introduction's rejection of a state religion model for modern Confucianism. Lee surveys early twentieth-century views of Confucianism and religion and then turns to a more detailed exploration of the differences over religiosity between Tang Junyi (1909–1978) and Mou Zongsan, on the one hand, and Xu Fuguan (1903–1982) on the other hand. Lee supports Mou and Tang's view that Confucianism is best seen as a kind of "humanistic religion," as opposed to Xu's more purely humanistic view.
The next two chapters are detailed studies of two debates within Neo-Confucianism: "The Debate on Ren between Zhu Xi and the Huxiang Scholars" and "The Four-Seven Debate between Yi Toegye and Gi Gobong and its Philosophical Point." These chapters will be relatively hard going for readers without a solid background in Neo-Confucianism, but they make strong and precise arguments and are also methodologically interesting for two reasons. First, both arguments turn on the relations between the Neo-Confucian protagonists on the one hand...