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One of the fascinating theoretical questions posed by the spread of industrialization and today's nation-state-building process is how these originally Western and quintessentially modern institutions come to take root in other civilizations. The question becomes even more intriguing when the process of adaptation is unusually swift and successful as in East Asia. In Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore, the states and peoples had scant time to learn and absorb modern practices, norms, and concepts before undertaking, or being subjected to, countless reforms and revolutions in the name of “modernization.” How, or in what terms, did the people in this “great transformation” understand and interpret what they were doing? If the as-yet imperfectly understood concepts and values could not be appealed to, what resources—intellectual and ethico-moral—were at their disposal to use to motivate themselves and persuade others to undertake or endure such massive changes?
Confucians have long been preoccupied with social and political change. According to the standard account, Master Kong (Latinized name: Confucius; c. 551—479 B.C.) left his native state of Lu, hoping to find a ruler more receptive to his ideas about good government. Unfortunately, Confucius did not have any luck, and he was forced to settle for a life of teaching. Several generations later, a student in the academic lineage of Confucius's grandson named Master Meng (Latinized name: Mencius: c. 390—305 B.C.) committed himself to spreading Confucius's social and political ideas. Like the old master, Mencius moved from state to state, looking for opportunities to put his political ideals into practice. Mencius had slightly more success — he served briefly as Minister of the State of Qi — but he became disenchanted with political life and reluctantly settled for a teaching career.
Several hundred years later, however, the social and political ideas of Confucius and Mencius — as recorded in The Analects of Confucius and The Works of Mencius — proved to be literally world transforming. Following a shortlived experience with Legalism, the newly founded Chinese state of Han adopted Confucianism as its official ideology. For the next two thousand years, the country's best minds sought to interpret and modify Confucianism to make it more relevant in particular situations with novel features.
In this volume all Chinese, Japanese, and Korean names appear with family name preceding given name, except for a few Chinese and Korean authors who use the Western style of family name last. The conventional transliterations for Japanese and Korean are used. Chinese characters are used for relevant Chinese concepts, accompanied by the Pinyin system of romanization.
On July 16, 1997, the Constitutional Court of Korea ruled article 809 of the Civil Code unconstitutional. The article contained the centuries old prohibition of marriages between men and women who have the same surnames and “ancestral seats” (dongsung-dongbon Conservatives and “fundamentalists” were immediately in an uproar. Progressives and liberals rejoiced in the decision. For defenders of Confucian tradition, the marriage prohibition is the backbone of their conception of a well-ordered society. They claim that the court's decision violated the cardinal human principles, that it threatened to destroy the moral and ethical foundation of society. For its detractors, the marriage prohibition was an outdated, anachronistic practice that enforced patriarchalism and male-domination in society, while causing unnecessary pain and suffering for those who dared to flout it. The National Assembly, which has to amend the Civil Code in accordance with the court's decision, has yet to act, suspecting and fearing that public opinion is still deeply divided over the issue. Why did this decision over a seemingly obscure marriage law cause such a furor? What exactly was the prohibition all about?
The issues and debates surrounding this case offer a fascinating example of the ways in which traditional Confucian institutions are being challenged by modern liberal ones. It shows a traditional society in the process of adopting new institutions and adapting to more recently introduced norms and values.
While Confucian ideals continue to inspire thinkers and political actors, discussions of concrete Confucian practices and institutions appropriate for the modern era have been conspicuously absent from the literature thus far. This volume represents the most cutting edge effort to spell out in meticulous detail the relevance of Confucianism for the contemporary world. The contributors to this book - internationally renowned philosophers, lawyers, historians, and social scientists - argue for feasible and desirable Confucian policies and institutions as they attempt to draw out the political, economic, and legal implications of Confucianism for the modern world. The book is divided in three parts that correspond to the basic hallmarks of modernity as a social and political system - democracy, capitalism, and the rule of law.