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Reviewed by:
  • Konfuzianische Ethik und Legitimation der Herrschaft im alten China: Eine Auseinandersetzung mit der vergleichenden Soziologie Max Webers
  • Helwig Schmidt-Glintzer (bio)
Duan Lin . Konfuzianische Ethik und Legitimation der Herrschaft im alten China: Eine Auseinandersetzung mit der vergleichenden Soziologie Max Webers. Soziologische Schriften, Band 64. Berlin: Duncker und Humblot, 1997. ISBN 3-428-09158-2.

Since Max Weber published his treatise Konfuzianismus und Taoismus in 1920, as part of his series The Economic Ethics of World Religions, his study on China has been discussed by many scholars, sinologists and sociologists alike. In recent years the reception and discussion of Weber's writing on China has reached a new stage. This is due in part to a critical edition issued by Weber's publisher, J. C. B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), and in part to the intensive research done by, among others, Wolfgang Schluchter, who analyzed Weber's studies on the economic ethics of world religions as part of a research program put forward by Weber himself. Weber was unable to pursue this research further because of his timely death in 1920.

Max Weber's reception in East Asia has been diverse. The interest in his research in Japan has a history of its own that has recently been studied by Wolfgang Schwentker (Max Weber in Japan: Eine Untersuchung zur Wirkungsgeschichte 1905-1995 [Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), 1998]), whereas his reception in China has yet to be studied.

The book under review, however, does not deal with Weber's reception but is concerned rather with the "historical reality of Confucianism" and the corresponding principle of legitimation of power in traditional China. It thus probes the adequacy of Weber's concepts for describing China. In discussing Weber's method of comparative sociology in the introductory chapter, Duan Lin points out that Weber confused two different perspectives, intracultural comparison and intercultural comparison (p. 3). This discussion is followed in the introduction by an exposition of the whole monograph.

Concentrating his study on Han Confucianism and the so-called axial age, Lin finds a peculiar Chinese Confucian universal ethic ("chinesisch eigentümlicher Universalismus der konfuzianischen Ethik") (p. 7) by differentiating between the two perspectives of inter- and intracultural comparison. Lin regards this universalism as a "contextualized universalism," in contrast to the "decontextualized universalism" of the Puritan Protestants.

In a chapter titled "Characteristics of Confucian Ethics and the Fundamental Virtue of Jen" ("humaneness"), Lin deals at length with the contrasting notions of universalism and particularism. He comes to the conclusion that in China there was no pure universalism but rather an amalgamation or synthesis of universalism and particularism (p. 18). Since the full consequences of this were not realized [End Page 471] by Max Weber and since Weber was more interested in an intercultural rather than an intracultural analysis, Lin claims to pursue a study of China "as such" that deals mainly with the development of Confucianism and focuses on the concept of jen, which he regards as integrating universalism and particularism. He not only deals with this concept at length but reflects as well on its interrelationship with other concepts such as li (rites). Here he relies very much on classical texts like the Lun-yü and the Meng-tzu, but also on recent research by Hsü Fukuan, Peter Weber-Schäfer, Heiner Roetz, Tu Wei-ming, and others.

After dealing with Weber's analysis of Confucianism in the next chapter (pp. 59-88), Lin comes to the conclusion that Weber misunderstood the character of the contextualized universalistic ethic. Confucian ethics required a systematic approach to the way a life is lived and the observance of certain duties. Here one wonders why Lin does not refer to the controversy over Neo-Confucianism, which has been in the forefront of discussion recently.

Concerning the Confucian concept of legitimation of authority, Lin comes to the conclusion that it is not hsiao (filial piety) but shu (reciprocity) and jen (humaneness) that are the principles of legitimation. Thus the author rejects the notion of patria potestas and of patrimonialism for China.

All studies on the relationship between the literati and the emperor point to fundamental changes taking place throughout China's history...


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