Confucianism, the Literati, and Chinese Imperial Traditions

Membership, Community, Diversity

How would you sum up Confucianism’s historical relationships to other traditions?

Confucianism’s most important and enduring inter-religious relations have been with Buddhism and Daoism. There have been periods during which Confucians have had more or less cordial dealings with representatives of the other two “ways” of China. But since so much has often been at stake, especially in terms of imperial patronage, Confucian scholars have frequently leveled serious criticisms at Daoist and Buddhist views. For example, Confucians have sometimes faulted Buddhism for being too otherworldly, too disconnected from the ordinary problems and needs of regular people. Confucians generally interpreted the Buddhist ideal of celibate monastic life as an abdication of filial devotion and the responsibility to perpetuate the family lineage. Daoists, on the other hand, have characteristically struck Confucians as naive in their conviction that, if left to themselves, people will naturally follow an exemplary leader. Daoism’s emphasis on doing things nature’s way leaves society too vulnerable to simple lawlessness. In addition, the Confucian tradition’s strong emphasis on education seemed to many to be irreconcilable with Daoism’s more “organic” and seemingly anti-intellectual approach to learning. When Confucian tradition began to come into prominence during Japan’s Tokugawa era, it found an increasingly hostile official response from representatives of Shinto. Confucianism, Shinto authorities argued, was a non-Japanese influence and therefore undesirable. By that time, however, Confucius had already made an indelible impression on Japanese society.


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