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An Introduction to Confucianism (Introduction to Religion) Paperback – February 13, 2000
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"...solid and well-organized book..." Religious Studies Review
Taking into account the history and range of Confucian Studies, this book introduces Confucianism - initiated in China by Confucius (551 BC-479 BC) - primarily as a philosophical and religious tradition. It draws together the many strands of Confucianism in a style accessible to students, teachers, and general readers.
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The first two chapters--"Confucianism, Confucius and Confucian classics" and "Evolution and transformation - a historical perspective"--introduce the history of Confucianism about as well as could be done in ~130 pages. Good background is given on the Confucian tradition as it is viewed in the West and in Asia. The history is told with full awareness and acknowledgment of modern academic criticism, but without devaluing the texts. (If it were to be longer, I'd want better introduction to the Classic of Changes and the Analects, but Yao chose to keep the book short.) The second chapter includes Mengzi, Xunzi, Dong Zhongshu, Mysterious Learning, Neo-Confucianism and brief introductions to Korean and Japanese Confucianism.
The third chapter presents Confucianism kind of ahistorically, generalizing on the traditional worldview of Confucianism. Honestly, I prefer to approach things historically, and parts of this chapter were hard for me to read; parts even seemed more like preaching than scholarship. However, its explication of the concept of Heaven is very, very informative. It also covers harmony and the nature of conflict resolution very well.
The fouth chapter is about ritual, with a few details as to the actual practice but focusing on the theory of ritual. The history of the basic sacrifices and cults is very nice. But the meat of this chapter may be the information on Confucianism's interaction with Daoism, Buddhism and Christianity. The author does a very good job of presenting both the influence that Confucianism has had on Daoism and Chinese Buddhism, and the influence they've had on Confucianism. As is necessary in such a brief book, the information is brief, and I think it might be disappointingly brief for Western readers who aren't familiar with the history of Christianity in China. Or, it may whet one's appetite. An interesting book on this topic is "The Jesus Sutras," which I strongly recommend to anyone with a Christian background becoming interested in Chinese religion.
The fifth chapter is about Confucianism in the twentieth century, and in the future. Lurking in the background of parts of this chapter is the "Asian Values" debate inspired by Lee Kuan Yew, but that is not directly addressed. Yao treats the plight of Confucianism in Communist China even more delicately. He is rather candid about the criticisms that Confucianism has faced (or, faces) about its past, but optimistic about its ability to transform itself to the modern world--or, to stay true to the very best of its tradition, and help transform the modern world.
Certainly, the influence of China and Chinese culture is going to grow in the near future; it might not be too much to say that the future is Chinese. And, it is certainly not too much to say that Chinese culture is still, whatever people may call it, basically Confucian, even in the widespread Chinese diaspora. Confucianism faces a lot of challenges, especially in China, from modernization and Western influence, but if anything (as the example of Singapore shows) its relevance is likely to increase in the future.
So, whether you are interested in international politics, Asian history or culture or East Asian religion, or comparative religion: Confucianism is relevant and I recommend this book.
One more reason I recommend this book is that Confucianism is an example of a deeply meaningful religious tradition without a lot of supernatural baggage; it is often (and I think fairly) compared to secular humanism (which is, like Confucianism, much more reasonable and meaningful than its critics make out). If you find yourself inclined toward skepticism or secularism, Confucianism is an ancient tradition which in many ways you can be sympathetic too, and probably learn from. I know that is true in my case.
Definitely a 5 star book. The one thing I would say is check out books by Tu Weiming and Julia Ching as well, just to make sure this is really the best book for you.
(The binding of this book is awesome. I tend to beat my books up, and this one held up like a tree. There is also an appendix of transliteration from Pinyin, Chinese characters and other spellings such as Korean, which I really appreciated since I'm a beginner studying Chinese characters and these were some very enjoyable examples. Finally, the bibliography and index are beyond criticism. In all the details, this is a very well-done book: kudos to Yao and also to Cambridge UP.)
philosophy. Heaven is the ultimate authority. It determines the course
of the human world. Transcendental power guarantees harmony between
the metaphysics of the physical, spiritual, secular humanism, nature
and destiny. Heaven represents the Supreme Being and the embodiment
of moral virtue. The ideal is to lead a virtuous life. Heavenly
traits are sincerity & the humane; wherein, human norms are position,
rank etc. Heaven is the epitome of the natural law. Harmony seeks
to compromise opposition in order to emulate natural order and resolve
conflict constructively. The principles are timeless. They apply today
and probably far into the future.