Fisherman in a Boat

Christianity in China

Confucius and Christ: Conflict, Compromise, or Communication?

Review by Martha Stockment
Journal review of ChinaSource Quarterly. Vol. 16, No. 1, Spring 2014.

T
he spring issue of ChinaSource Quarterly focuses on the role of Confucianism among Chinese today. Recognizing that as the influence of Confucianism in China continually grows, conflict could arise between Christianity and Confucianism, the authors in this issue give background information about Confucianism and provide a Christian understanding of its teachings. They help the reader see how Confucianism is influencing Chinese society and what impact that has on Christianity in China.

As guest editor, G. Wright Doyle offers an editorial, “Perspectives on Confucianism,” which gives a general overview of Confucianism and its presence in the Chinese church today. He briefly outlines the different types of Confucianism (from the more traditional to “New Confucianism”) and the variety of ways Christians approach Confucianism (to what extent should Christians accommodate the traditions of Confucianism?). He also points out the ways in which Confucian modes of thinking show up in Chinese Christianity and how deeply Confucian ideas have penetrated the lives of almost all Chinese.

Kevin Yao examines how the massive revival of religion and the growth of both Confucianism and Christianity in China are leading to increased tension and rivalry between these two major belief systems. He discusses how two recent symposiums on Christianity in China brought Confucian and Christian scholars face to face for a dialogue, attracting international attention for this issue. He also addresses how the Communist Party in China has manipulated Confucianism to its own benefit in the face of their perception of Christianity as a threat and a Western scheme to take over Chinese cultural identity. Interactions between Confucianists and Christians are dominated by distrust and hostility. Yao posits that one of the major challenges for the Chinese church in coming years is going to be how to witness effectively in such a pluralistic society.

In an interview, Fenggang Yang explains how Confucianism is a major presence in China today. He summarizes the signs that show that Confucianism is growing in China, from Confucian schools to prominent symbols. When asked about whether Confucianism is a religion, Yang responds that although it has religious elements, “Confucianism offers little articulation about supernatural beings and life beyond death, lacks a clearly defined doctrine of beliefs and lacks an organization of clergy and believers.” He suggests that Christians should be aware of the different types of Confucianism and be open-minded about integrating Confucianism and Christianity to benefit Chinese society.

Lit-sen Chang (summarized by G. Wright Doyle) offers a “Chinese Christian Critique of Confucianism.” He begins by giving a Christian understanding of Confucianism, outlining the nature of Confucianism, its canonical classics, and its basic teachings. He follows this with a Christian criticism of Confucianism from the standpoint of the Bible, pointing out how Confucianism disregards a personal God, ignores the question of creation, teaches that man is originally good and is able to stamp out sin, and emphasizes ancestor worship. In Confucianism, Chang notes, “there is no hope beyond the grave.” Confucius offered no teachings on resurrection or eternal life; he was only concerned about man’s life on earth. Chang concludes that “in the end, Confucianism is a form of humanism.”

To help the reader see how Confucianism is influencing modern Chinese society, Peregrine de Vigo takes us on a walk through a Chinese megacity in his article “Confucianism in Modern Chinese Society.” He points out the significance of Confucianism (or “Ruism”) in academics, in social behavior, and in politics. Peregrine de Vigo goes on to contend that the increased interest in Confucianism is an effort to find a Chinese identity and combat “Westernization.” He concludes with the assertion that although Confucianism will remain a viable force in China for years to come, it will never regain the place it once held in Chinese society.

He Tianyi introduces us to some of the major players in Confucianism in “The New Confucianists: Contemporary Confucian Scholars.” From those residing in China to scholars living overseas, He Tianyi summarizes their major contributions and beliefs. This is an important article for anyone wishing to understand those who are advancing Confucianism today.

This issue also contains two book reviews written by G. Wright Doyle: one on Confucius, the Buddha, and Christ by Ralph Covell and one on Confronting Confucian Understandings of the Christian Doctrine of Salvation – A Systematic Theological Analysis of the Basic Problems in the Confucian-Christian Dialogue by Paulos Huang.

A Resource Corner contains an extensive list of further reading for learning more about Confucianism and Christianity. Included here are translations of Confucian classics, books on the life and teachings of Confucius, and material on the interactions between Christianity and Confucianism.

Lastly, a list of several intercessory notes asks for prayer for the Chinese to discern truth as they struggle to deal with a religiously pluralistic society.

Anyone interested in China, Confucianism, or Christianity should give careful study to this journal. It addresses major questions and issues related to the rise of Confucianism in China, including the response of Christianity to this revival and the influence it has on the people of China. This edition of ChinaSource Quarterly can be found online, free of charge, at: http://www.chsource.org/en/current-issue-pdf.