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  • Lei Sun (a1)


This article analyzes the relation between Confucianism and Chinese politics in the history, actuality, and future. The focus is on the special relationship between Confucianism and Chinese politics. First, the author provides a brief historical reflection on the relationship between Confucianism and Chinese traditional politics and develops three dimensions for such an interpretation. Second, the author explains the need for a Confucian renaissance in contemporary Chinese politics. The article then turns to the contemporary controversy about Confucianism and Chinese politics in mainland China. Jiang Qing's conception of Confucianism as state religion is then juxtaposed with Chen Ming's articulation of Confucianism as civil religion. In conclusion, the author argues that Confucianism should serve as an ethical resource for the state constitution, as well as a resource for social governance and cultivation.



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1 For example, modern New Confucian Mou Zongsan claims that traditional China had no political rule, only governance, because it was monarchy; thus the politics of Confucianism would be fruitless to current politics. See Zongsan, Mou, Zhengdao yu Zhidao [Political rule and governance], (Guilin: Guangxi Normal Teacher's University Press, 2006), 125.

2 There have been written criticisms and responses between Confucians in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and mainland China since 2015. In 2016, there was the first dialogue between them in Chendu city of Sichuan Province. The main contents were published in Tianfu Xinlun, no. 2 (2016): 1–82.

3 For a concrete description, see Zhigang, Zhang, “Rujiao zhi Zheng Fansi” [Reflection on the controversy about Confucianism], Wen Shi Zhe, no. 3 (2015): 98168. Regarding the comprehensive controversy in mainland China, see Zhong, Ren and Ming, Liu, eds. Rujiao Chongjian: Zhuzhang yu Huiying [Rebuilding Confucianism: claims and responses] (Beijing: Chinese Political and Law University Press, 2012).

4 See Xinzhong, Yao, “Religion and Zongjiao: Zhongguo yu Youtai-jidujiao Youguan Zongjiao Gainian Lijie de Bijiao Yanjiu” [A comparative study of the understanding of religion between China and Christian], Xuehai, no. 1 (2004): 8795.

5 Jian, Zhang, Zhongguo Gudai Zhengjiao Guanxishi [History of state-religion relations in ancient China] (Beijing: Chinese Social Science Press, 2012), 2349.

6 Lai, Pan-Chiu, “Subordination, Separation, and Autonomy: Chinese Protestant Approaches to the Relationship between Religion and State,” Journal of Law and Religion 35, no. 1 (2020) (this issue).

7 There are a great many forms of Confucianism found in history. The famous scholar Li Shen has argued that Confucianism has been understood as a distinct religion since Dong Zhongshu, while before that it was understood to be but one part of traditional religion. See Shen, Li, Rujiao Jianshi [A simple history of Confucianism] (Guilin: Guangxi Normal Teacher's University Press, 2013), 1–2, 3758.

8 See Zehou, Li, Lishi Bentilun [A theory of historical ontology] (Beijing: Life, Reading and Knowledge Bookstore, 2002), 5156.

9 Qing, Jiang, A Confucian Constitutional Order: How China's Ancient Past Can Shape Its Political Future, trans. Ryden, Edmund, ed. Bell, Daniel A. and Fan, Ruiping (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013), 134–37; 230–233.

10 Jiang, A Confucian Constitutional Order, 161–65.

11 See Møllgaard, Eske, “Political Confucianism and the Politics of Confucian Studies,” Dao, no. 14 (2015): 391402.

12 The other important culture nationalist is Kang Xiaoguang, who has established a consensus with Jiang Qing. Both are influenced by Samuel Huntington's theory of the clash of civilizations. Kang has claimed that Huntington was the only man with a great vision of history and globalization. See Xiaoguang, Kang and Huiqing, Liu, “Confucianization: A Future in the Tradition,” in “China in Transition,” special issue, Social Research 73, no. 1 (2006): 77120, at 117.

13 Sun, Anna, Confucianism as a World Religion (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013), 173–74.

14 Ming, Chen, ed., Rujiao yu Gongmin Shehui [Confucianism and civil society] (Beijing: Orient Press, 2013), 2945.

15 See Sun, Confucianism as a World Religion, 179–80.

16 See Zhou Lian, “Nazhong Gongmin? Shui de Zongjiao: Jianping Chenming Rujiao Zhiwei Gongmin Zongjiao” [Which citizen, whose religion? A remark on Chen Ming's Confucianism as civil religion], in Ming, Confucianism and Civil Society, 315–27, at 322–25.

17 Wenli, Ren, “Rujiao Zuowei Guomin Zongjiao de Xiangdu Kaocha” [A review of the dimension of Confucianism as a civil religion], Yuan Dao, no. 23 (2014): 319.

18 Zhongqi, Yao, “Yige Wenjiao, Duozhong Zongjiao” [“One cultural religion, some religions], Tianfu Xinlun, no. 1 (2014): 3441.

19 Xianfa preamble (1982), (official English translation).

20 Zhongqiu, Yao, “Cong Geming dao Wenming: Baer Xianfa Xuyan Diyiduan Dayi Shujie” [From revolution to civilization: An interpretation of the first paragraph of the Constitution of 1982], Faxue Pinglun, no. 2 (2015): 4656.

21 See Billioud, Sébastien, “Confucian Revival and the Emergence of ‘Jiaohua Organizations’: A Case Study of the Yidan Xuetang,” Modern China 37, no. 3 (2011): 286314.

22 See Shaohua, Hu, “Confucianism and Contemporary Chinese Politics,” Politics and Policy 35, no. 1 (2007): 136–53.



  • Lei Sun (a1)


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