The Universal Ambitions of China’s Illiberal Confucian Scholars

"This revival of Confucianism has become part of the Zeitgeist of contemporary China. What lies at the core of this project is to redefine the relationship between the Communist Party, the Confucian tradition, and Chinese history, as Gan has done in his syncretism. Liu Xiaofeng, a professor of classics at Renmin University, promotes the idea that the CCP, as an elite group, is the modern incarnation of premodern Confucian literati-bureaucrats, whose superior intellectual and moral virtues entitle them to function as the grand tutor of the people. In contemporary China, argues Liu, the task of the CCP is to uphold lofty moral ideals (moral politics or “the Kingly Way”) in order to resist the nihilism and relativism of liberal modernity, exemplified by the way of life and normative political ideals of the United States.

Many Confucians openly express their excitement when the Party speeches and documents employ quasi-Confucian terms. Chen Ming, an advocate of Confucian civil religion, regards Xi Jinping’s slogan of “the China Dream” as an ideological innovation very friendly toward the basic tenets of Confucianism, and defines his academic task as reinterpreting the China Dream through the Confucian lens. Zeng Yi, a professor of philosophy at Tongji University in Shanghai who praises monarchy and traditional gender hierarchy, explicitly claims that Confucians must actively search for political and ideological supports from the extant regime because Confucianism is by nature a doctrine for the ruling authority. A revival of Confucianism is not complete, according to Zeng, without Confucianism restoring its overarching role of organizing the Chinese way of life on the political level."