New Confucianism

New Confucianism
Not to be confused with Neo-Confucianism, an earlier movement in Imperial China.

New Confucianism (Chinese: 新儒家; pinyin: xīn rú jiā; literally "New Confucianism") is an intellectual movement of Confucianism that began in the early 20th century in Republican China, and revived in post-Mao era contemporary China. It is deeply influenced by, but not identical with, the Neo-Confucianism of the Song and Ming dynasties. It is a neo-conservative movement of various Chinese traditions and has been regarded to contain religious overtones; it advocates for certain Confucianist elements of society - such social, ecological, and political harmony - to be applied in a contemporary context in synthesis with Western philosophies such as rationalism and humanism.[1] Its philosophies have emerged as a focal point of discussion between Confucian scholars in mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the United States.



The first generation of New Confucians (1921–1949) came about as a response to the May Fourth movement and its iconoclastic stance against Confucianism. Confucianism was attacked as unscientific and contrary to the progress of a modern China. One notable figure during this time was Xiong Shili, who studied Buddhism in depth in his youth but later sought for a reformation of the Confucian philosophical framework. Borrowing from the school of Wang Yangming, Xiong developed a metaphysical system for the New Confucian movement and believed Chinese learning was superior to Western learning. Another figure, Feng Youlan, following the Neo-Confucian school of Zhu Xi, sought a revival of Chinese philosophy based on modern Western philosophy.

With the start of the communist regime in China in 1949, many of the leading intellectuals left the mainland to Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the United States. Notable figures of this second generation (1950–1979) include individuals like Tang Junyi, Mou Zongsan, and Xu Fuguan, all three students of Xiong Shili. Mou Zongsan, in particular, was well-versed in the ancient Chinese philosophical traditions and argued that Kant was, in many ways, a Western Confucius. These three, together with Zhang Junmai, issued in 1958 the New Confucian Manifesto consolidating their beliefs and drawing attention to their philosophical movement.

In the last few decades, the most vocal representatives of the New Confucian movement have been the students of Mou Zongsan. Perhaps one of the most prominent, Tu Wei-ming, has promoted the idea that Confucianism saw three epochs: the classical Han Confucianism, Song-Ming Neo-Confucianism, and New Confucianism. This third generation has been instrumental in grounding Confucianism in non-Asian contexts, as can be seen through Boston Confucianism and other Western Confucians like Wm. Theodore de Bary.[2]


Whereas the English rendering of the movement is generally New Confucianism, there is a variety of translations in the Chinese. Many Taiwan-based writers will tend to use the term Contemporary New Confucianism (simplified Chinese: 当代新儒家; traditional Chinese: 當代新儒家; pinyin: dāng dài xīn rú jiā or simplified Chinese: 当代新儒学; traditional Chinese: 當代新儒學; pinyin: dāng dài xīn rú xué) to emphasize the movement's continuity with the Song-Ming Neo-Confucianism. However, many within Mainland China prefer the term Modern New Confucianism (simplified Chinese: 现代新儒家; traditional Chinese: 現代新儒家; pinyin: xiàn dài xīn rú jiā or simplified Chinese: 现代新儒学; traditional Chinese: 現代新儒學; pinyin: xiàn dài xīn rú xué) with an emphasis on the period of modernization after May Fourth.[3] Whereas the misnomer "Neo-Confucianism" in English referring to the Song Dynasty Confucian school ought to be termed "meso-Confucianism", the contemporary New Confucianism in Chinese is synonymous with "Neo-Confucianism", therefore the English term "Neo-Confucianism" has already found its identification in some "New Confucians" today.

New Confucian Manifesto

The term itself was first used as early as 1963 (in two articles in the Hong Kong journal Rensheng). However, it did not come into common use until the late 1970s. New Confucianism is often associated with the essay, "A Manifesto on Chinese Culture to the World," which was published in 1958 by Tang Junyi, Mou Zongsan, Xu Fuguan and Zhang Junmai. This work is often referred to as the "New Confucian Manifesto," although that phrase never occurs in it. The Manifesto presents a vision of Chinese culture as having a fundamental unity throughout history, of which Confucianism is the highest expression. The particular interpretation of Confucianism given by the Manifesto is deeply influenced by Neo-Confucianism, and in particular the version of Neo-Confucianism most associated with Lu Xiangshan and Wang Yangming (as opposed to that associated with Zhu Xi). In addition, the Manifesto argues that while China must learn from the West modern science and democracy, the West must learn from China (and the Confucian tradition in particular) "a more all-encompassing wisdom."[4]


  1. ^ John Makeham: New Confucianism: A Critical Examination (Introduction)]
  2. ^ Bresciani, 11-31
  3. ^ Makeham, 18
  4. ^ Bresciani, 37-56


  • Bresciani, Umberto (2001). Reinventing Confucianism: The New Confucian Movement. Taipei: Taipei Ricci Institute. ISBN 978-9579390071. 
  • Cheng, Chung-Ying; Bunnin, Nicholas, eds (2002). Contemporary Chinese Philosophy. Malden, MA: Blackwell. ISBN 978-0631217251. 
  • Makeham, John, ed (2003). New Confucianism: A Critical Examination. New York: Palgrave. ISBN 978-1403961402. 

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.