Manyul Im’s Chinese Philosophy Blog

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Berthrong’s Question

One of the things I just read (on my list of “things I should read before I run into this person at a conference”) is John Berthrong‘s “Boston Confucianism: The Third Wave of Global Confucianism” (Journal of Ecumenical Studies 40, nos. 1-2 (Winter-Spring 2003): 26-47). In it, Berthrong discusses at length questions about “the contested definition of Confucianism” (26) and the extent to which Confucianism can be “a portable intellectual tradition in Boston as well as Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Taipei, Seoul, Kyoto, and Tokyo” (ibid). At the end of the piece, he asks an intriguing question:

…wherever the Confucian Dao was seriously entertained as a philosophical and religious teaching, it was studied assiduously in the classical Chinese written language. The great Ruist scholars of Korea, Japan, and Vietnam all wrote in classical Chinese. The question before the modern Confucian community is whether there can be a Ruist movement without a mastery of the communication medium of classical Chinese. …Can a person who does not read classical Chinese be said to be a part of the Confucian Way? If not, why not? Or, if so, why so? This is an important question that should engage anyone interested in the revival of Confucianism in the twenty-first century. …[It] will be up to the Confucian community of scholars to give a reasoned answer to the question of the necessity of linguistic competence for membership as a real twenty-first-century Ruist scholar. (46-7)

Well, I’m not sure I’m a Confucian or a Ruist scholar — though I write about Confucianism/Ruism — but this seems like an interesting question to try to answer. By the way, this is tangentially relevant to Fingarette-palooza, since Fingarette is one of Berthrong’s examples, along with Robert Neville, of contemporary philosophers who “have written important works about Confucian thought” (38) but who were not “trained formally as a Sinologist although each relied on the best scholarship about Chinese thought available in their times” (ibid). Not only that — Berthrong adds more strongly that they “wrote works that often illuminated Confucianism more insightfully than did professional students of the history of Chinese thought” (39).

What say ye?


April 3, 2009 Posted by | Chinese philosophy, Confucianism | 12 Comments