Max Weber's The Religion of China is a work of remarkable synthesis, effectively summarizing the broad findings of European scholarship on China up to the time it was written. While Weber drew on a large literature it is not always possible to know what his sources are because of frequent inaccurate attribution and inadequate referencing, repeated in the English translation (van der Sprenkel 1954, 275). This situation has been corrected with the modern German edition in which there is a rectified and complete bibliography (Schmidt- Glintzer and Kolonko 1991). Excluding his own texts Weber referred to 159 titles in The Religion of China. While not all of these are about China the vast majority of them are, so that the work represents an encyclopedic foray in earlier and contemporary sinology. A long footnote that constitutes a partial bibliographic essay, in which Weber displays an erudite grasp of scholarly commentary and analysis as well as documentary sources, concludes with the following disclaimer:
I did not have an expert sinologist to cooperate on the text or check it. For that reason the volume is published with misgivings and with the greatest reservation. (Weber 1964, 252)
Nevertheless, it is generally agreed, Weber's discussion remains more or less true to the state of knowledge and historical conventions that run through his sources including a characterization of Confucianism essential for his argument, which shall be addressed in the next section.
Weber's ability to assimilate a vast body of literature, his scrupulous attention to detail and his incessant quest to derive meaning from information leads him to pose important questions concerning Chinese history, society and thought, and the insights he provides in answering them continues to impress his readers, including experienced China scholars. At the same time such scholars cannot fail to notice not only limitations in Weber's sources but also in his own account that is based upon them. The character of Weber's sources and his acceptance of their rendition of Chinese culture are indicated in the following section, which outlines the sinological apprehension of Confucianism as orthodoxy, on which Weber bases the second half of The Religion of China. It must be remembered, however, that Weber is concerned not only with what he calls Chinese ‘mentality.’