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The Transformation of Neo-Confucianism As Transformative Leverage

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 March 2011

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As Harry Harootunian has noted, Metzger's Escape from Predicament represents an attempt to transpose the Weberian project onto the Chinese scene, even though its announced aim is to challenge and provide an alternative to Weber's interpretation of Chinese religion. This project may be viewed as uniquely Weberian in terms of its specific formulation of the problematik of modernity and modernization, but it is not exclusively Weberian in terms of its belief in the centrality of a divided consciousness as the agent of change. Long before Weber postulated the thesis that Confucian China was stagnant because Confucianism was characterized by a complete absence of “tension … between ethical demand and human shortcoming” (The Religion of China, H. H. Gerth, trans. [New York: Macmillan, 1964], p. 235), Hegel had already concluded that China lay “still outside the World's History”; for, Hegel stated, “as the contrast between objective existence and subjective freedom of movement in it is still wanting, every change is excluded and the fixedness of a character which recurs perpetually takes the place of what we should call the truly historical” (The Philosophy of History, J. Sibree, trans. [New York: Dover, 1965], p. 116) In a sense, therefore, Metzger's work on “Neo-Confucianism and China's Evolving Political Culture” marks the latest phase in a continuing discourse on social evolution, which presupposes “uniformity” in the “fundamental causes” of change (Robert A. Nisbet, Social Change and History [New York: Oxford University Press, 1969], p. 182), and of which Hegel is a spokesman.

Review Symposium: Thomas A. Metzger's Escape from Predicament
Copyright © The Association for Asian Studies, Inc. 1980

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