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This chapter provides some hint of the richness and variety of the world's artistic traditions. Though art made in Europe since the Renaissance has had some distinctive features to make such recent and local developments an essential part of the definition would be ethnocentric and parochial. Royal art often functions as propaganda aimed at the people who pose the greatest threat to the king, those nearest him; it is his relatives and high nobles who must be made to feel the sanctity of his person. In Islamic art, writing occurs on all surfaces, from bowls to buildings, in a multiplicity of script variants, sometimes boldly legible, sometimes impenetrably patterned. Setting and audience matter because they are clues to the purposes that shaped a work, clues to the effect it was meant to have. The works of Buddhist art illustrates most of the functions on Seckel's list, and readers will probably have no difficulty supplying Christian counterparts for all of them.
Confucianism has been in a continuous state of development, from the past to the present and onward into the future. To introduce Confucianism as a tradition we need a historic perspective. In this perspective, Confucianism consists of several main ‘stages’, which together forge the links of a long chain; each link of the chain shares common features with, yet differs from, others, which enables us to appreciate the continuous evolution and development of the whole tradition.
CONFUCIANISM AND THREE OPTIONS
The Spring and Autumn period and the Warring States period were times when the old order was breaking up and the new one was not yet established. Many thinkers ‘pondered’ about just how to save the world from collapse and about how to lead a meaningful life in such a chaotic environment. Various proposals and opinions were thus put forward. These proposals and theories can be conveniently classified into three central groups, each pointing in a different direction.
The first group proposed that all social conventions and institutions must be abolished in order to have a peaceful and harmonious life: ‘Abandon sageliness and discard wisdom; then the people will benefit a hundredfold. Abandon humaneness (ren) and discard righteousness (yi), then the people will return to filial piety (xiao) and fraternal love (ti)’ (Dao De Jing, 19).
The modern era of Confucianism began with its responses to the challenges of Western powers. Emotionally being engaged in and holding to tradition, Chinese and Korean Confucians did not initially respond to modernity as quickly and rationally as their counterparts in Japan, and fatally slowed down the process of Chinese and Korean modernisation during the second half of the nineteenth century. Confucianism came into the twentieth century burdened with scholasticism, accompanied by extreme moralism and blamed for intellectual, political and social failures of East Asia in the modern time.
The vulnerable situation of Confucianism in East Asia in general did not change until rapid industrialisation brought about cultural confidence and the need for traditional values in the 1970s. Since then, more and more people, academics and politicians alike, have come to rethink the tradition more positively and to reclaim their lost identity by asserting that cultural idiosyncrasy lies in the very heart of modernity. In examining the cultural elements in economic and political courses, they find that East Asia, though divergent economically and politically, is an area that shares a common cultural background provided by Confucian values. They have also come to realise that Confucianism as the shared culture in the ‘Confucian world’ CAN be a positive, progressive and valuable factor in promoting economic and cultural development. In the enthusiastic search for the ‘cultural root’, Confucianism is brought into focus, and becomes relevant to people's lives again.
If we were to characterize in one word the Chinese way of life for the last two thousand years, the word could be ‘Confucian’. No other individual in Chinese history has so deeply influenced the life and thought of his people, as a transmitter, teacher and creative interpreter of the ancient culture and literature and as a moulder of the Chinese mind and character.
(de Bary, et al., 1960, vol. I: 15)
At the end of the sixteenth century, an Italian Jesuit Matteo Ricci (1552–1610) arrived in China. Ricci soon realised that the first task for him should not be to win over a great number of people to conversion and baptism, but instead to try to secure a stable and respectable position for himself within Chinese society. So Ricci and his fellow missionaries strenuously attempted to integrate themselves into the community. The Jesuits saw a similarity between Christianity and Buddhism – both were religions from the West – and therefore they presented themselves as ‘Monks from the West’, shaving their heads and changing their clothes to Buddhist robes in order to win the support from the Chinese, just as they thought the Buddhists had done a thousand years before. However, it was not too long before the missionaries realised that the Buddhists were not so highly regarded as they had at first imagined. They discovered that in fact it was Confucian scholars who were the true social elite of Chinese society.
As a schoolboy I read an Indian story about four blind men and an elephant: each of these men gave a different and highly amusing account of the elephant after touching only a specific part of the animal, and, of course, not one of them was able to describe the animal correctly. To my young mind, they couldn't do so because they weren't able to touch the whole of the elephant in one go. In other words, I believed that if any of them had had an opportunity to do this, then he would certainly have been able to generate a correct image of it. As I grew up, and had an opportunity to read more on philosophy and religion, I realised that it was perhaps not as simple as this. Could a blind man, who had never seen or heard about such an animal as an elephant, tell us what it is, even if we suppose that he could have physical contact with ALL the parts of the animal? Besides the limitation of sense experience, there are many other factors that would hinder us from acquiring full knowledge of such an object, and in addition to intellectual inability, there are many other elements that would distort our image.
The Confucian understanding of ritual and the Confucian practice of spiritual cultivation reveal the distinctiveness of Confucian religiosity. The co-existence of Confucianism with other religious traditions has enabled Confucians to engage in dynamic dialogue with many different doctrines. This enriches Confucian religio-ethics on the one hand and cultivates a syncretic culture on the other hand. To examine the spiritual dimension of the Confucian tradition, therefore, we shall look into three areas of Confucian practice. Firstly, we shall explore how Confucianism was involved in grand religious sacrifice and its contribution to the formation and transformation of the state religion. Collective and official ritual is but one aspect of Confucian religiosity, and individual Confucians also actively engage themselves in a range of spiritual practices, in which a sense of eternity and transcendence is sought through the pursuit of secular learning and personal discipline. In the second section of this chapter, therefore, we shall come to examine how individual Confucians endeavour to bridge the temporal and the eternal through learning and spiritual cultivation. Confucianism has existed and functioned in the context of a multireligious society and its intercourse with other religious traditions, such as Daoism, Buddhism and more recently Christianity, not only has an impact on its own doctrines and practices but also exerts a great deal of influence over these traditions.
About 2,500 years ago, a man was born to a once aristocratic family in a small state called Lu in East China. During his lifetime, the man endeavoured to work ‘towards a goal the realisation of which he knows to be hopeless’ (Lunyu, 14: 38), carrying forward the old tradition in a chaotic environment and opening up a new horizon in a dark age. By the time he died at the age of seventy-three, his teachings had spread throughout the state and beyond. His disciples and students compared him to the sun and moon, while his rivals considered him a man ‘who does not work with his arms and legs and who does not know how to distinguish between different kinds of grain’ (Lunyu, 18: 7). But there was one thing that neither side knew: that Chinese culture, and to some extent, East Asian culture, would be forever linked with his name, and that the tradition he loved and transmitted would rank with the greatest in the world. This tradition is known in the West as ‘Confucianism’.
‘Confucianism’ and ru
The origin of the English word ‘Confucianism’ may be traced back to the Jesuits of the sixteenth century:
Until Nicholas Trigault published his version of Ricci's journals in 1615, there was hardly any knowledge of, not to say debate about, Confucianism … […]
Taking into account the long history and wide range of Confucian Studies, this book introduces Confucianism - initiated in China by Confucius (551 BC–479 BC) - primarily as a philosophical and religious tradition. It pays attention to Confucianism in both the West and the East, focussing on the tradition's doctrines, schools, rituals, sacred places and terminology, but also stressing the adaptations, transformations and new thinking taking place in modern times. Xinzhong Yao presents Confucianism as a tradition with many dimensions and as an ancient tradition with contemporary appeal. This gives the reader a richer and clearer view of how Confucianism functioned in the past and of what it means in the present. A Chinese scholar based in the West, he draws together the many strands of Confucianism in a style accessible to students, teachers, and general readers interested in one of the world's major religious traditions.