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July 23, 2009 in The China Beat


Copyright July 23, 2009 Daniel A. Bell. Used by permission.


Over the last decade or so, there has been a revival of Confucianism. Popular books on Confucianism are best sellers, and official discourse from the government often expresses traditional Confucian values like harmony. What is less well known, however, is the resurgence in interest among academics in China.

Rigorous experiments by psychologists such as Peng Kaiping and Wu Shali show that there are striking cognitive differences between Chinese and Americans, with Chinese more likely to use contextual and dialectical approaches to solving problems. Psychologists Huang Guangguo and Yang Zhongfang from Taiwan and Hongkong advocate the use of traditional Chinese ideas like the “relationism” (guanxizhuyi) and “middle way” [zhongyong zhi dao] for psychological research. Economists such as Shen Hong take the family as the relevant unit of economic analysis and try to measure the economic effect of such values as filial piety. Feminists such as Chan Sin Yee and Li Chengyang compare care ethics and Confucian-style empathy, particularity, and the family as a school of moral education. Theorists of medical ethics such as Fan Ruiping discuss the importance of family-based decision making in medical settings. Those working in the field of business ethics like Huang Weidong research the influence of Confucian values on business practices in China.

Political surveys by political scientists like Shi Tianjian, Chu Yunhan and Zhang Youzong show that attachment to Confucian values has increased during the same period that China has modernized. Sociologists such as Kang Xiaoguang and Sebastien Billioud study the thousands of experiments in education and social living in China that are inspired by Confucian values.

Theorists of international relations such as Yan Xuetong and Xu Jin look to pre-Qin thinkers like Mengzi and Xunzi for foreign policy ideas. And philosophers such as Jiang Qing, Chen Lai, Bai Tongdong, and Chen Ming, draw upon the ideas of great Confucian thinkers of the past for thinking about social and political reform in China. Wang Richang discusses the Confucian foundations of government slogans like “yi ren wei ben” (“the people as the foundation”)