Peoples of China

The New Confucianists

Contemporary Confucian Scholars

As the other articles in this issue show, the revival of Confucianism in China comes from a variety of sources including scholars resident in mainland China, Taiwan and overseas. Here is a brief introduction to some of the major players.

Jiang Qing

Jiang Qing was born in October 1953, in Jiangsu Province and grew up in Guiyang, Guizhou Province. His career was relatively straightforward. From 1978 through 1982, he studied law at Southwest University of Political Science and Law. From 1982 to 1988, he taught at the same university and in 1988 transferred to the Shenzhen Administration Institute where he worked until he took early retirement in 2001.

Returning to his childhood home, he established a Confucian academy (shuyuan) in remote Guiyang following the model of similar academies in the Song and Ming dynasties. As Daniel Bell writes, “The aim is to educate a community of friends and scholars in the Confucian classics and to plant the seeds of political Confucianism.”* At the academy, Confucian classics are read in the morning, discussions of them follow in the afternoon, and in the evening the residents sing together. Jiang is a leader in the movement to have children read the Confucian classics aloud in school.

Jiang wears traditional Ming style clothing and greets visitors with clasped hands rather than a handshake. His published works are many and quite influential. They include An Introduction to the Gongyang School of Political Confucianism, in which he calls for balancing the tradition that merely emphasizes self-cultivation. He believes that the current political system is unstable since it does not rest upon the will of the people and, heavily influenced by the late-Qing scholar Kang Youwei, advocates a mildly authoritative government based on three equal houses of parliament. Among those who call for the establishment of Confucianism as the state religion, he is very prominent. Perhaps surprisingly, he has written a life of Christ. In his view, Christianity and other religions would have a role to play in a society in which Confucianism was recognized as paramount, as in dynastic times.

Gan Yang

Born in 1952 in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, Gan Yang was sent to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution. In 1982, he earned a bachelor’s degree from Heilongjiang University; in 1985 he graduated from the Institute of Foreign Philosophy of Peking University with a master of philosophy degree in Western philosophy. He is concurrently the Dean of Liberal Arts College, Director of General Education, Department of Philosophy of Zhongshan University and is a doctoral tutor in foreign philosophy. He also adjunct professor at Chongqing University. His major works include books on both Chinese and Western political philosophy, and he advocates a “rereading of the West” along with “a new understanding of China.” He has guided a group of young scholars of Chinese to commit to a new understanding of the works of the West, including an in-depth study of Western thought and history and the history of the United States Constitution. Gan has become the author of some of China’s most influential academic books today. A proponent also of a new understanding of China, he calls for a review of Chinese history and culture from the context of the history of Chinese civilization and not simply according to Western concepts.

Chen Lai

Born in Beijing in 1952, Chen Lai is dean of Tsinghua University Studies Institute, professor of Philosophy at Tsinghua University, a doctoral tutor, deputy director of the academic committee and a famous historian of philosophy. He holds master’s and doctoral degrees in philosophy from Peking University. In 2012, he was appointed librarian of the Central Research Institute of Culture. Chen Lai has been a visiting professor at Harvard University and various universities in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan. His field of academic research includes the history of Chinese philosophy, the main research directions in Confucian philosophy, and modern Confucian philosophy. Chen and Tu Weiming, of Harvard University, talk about how Chinese culture can bring benefits to the whole world.

Yu Dan

Yu Dan, the now-famous woman who has shared her understandings of Confucius and Zhuangzi (or Master Zhuang) on television, is a member of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Beijing. She was a delegate to the 18th CCP Congress and is a noted contemporary cultural scholar. A professor at Beijing Normal University, she also serves as associate dean of arts and media as well as dean of the Institute for Cultural Innovation and Communication. Her lectures spread traditional culture widely into the popular mainstream and her books are runaway bestsellers both in China and elsewhere. She hopes to activate the classical perception of life in the spirit of the fundamental characteristics of the Chinese nation. She believes China’s cultural heritage has broad implications for the cultural and educational life of the entire world.

Fang Dongmei

Fang Dongmei (1899-1977) sought to promote the spiritual values of Chinese culture as an academic subject. Coming from a Confucian family, Fang said that he is a Daoist by temperament with Buddhism as his religious faith. Educated in the West, he posits original Confucianism, original Daoism, Mahayana Buddhism and Confucianism as the four traditional Chinese philosophies. After serving in various universities in China before and during World War II, Fang joined the faculty of Nanjing University’s Philosophy department. His thought passed through various stages, the last of which was a focus on the implementation of the Confucian view of life in the presence of modern materialism.

Du Weiming (Tu Weiming)

Du Weiming was born in 1940 in Kunming, China and grew up in Taiwan where he studied at Tunghai University. He is a major representative of the modern New Confucian school of thought. A senior research fellow at Harvard University’s Asia Center, Du also serves as dean of the Peking University Institute of Advanced Studies in Humanities. He is vice president of the International Confucian Association and an honorary fellow of the International Institute of Philosophy (on behalf of China). In 1968 he earned a doctorate in history from Harvard University in East Asian linguistics. He taught at Princeton University and the University of California, Berkeley before becoming a professor of Chinese history and philosophy and religious studies at Harvard.

In his earlier years, Du Weiming focused on the interpretation of the Confucian tradition. From 1978 to the 1980s, the emphasis of his concern was the elucidation of the Confucian tradition of inner experience and the modern vitality of Confucianism. Since 1990, he has endeavored to expand the field of “cultural China,” and to promote a “dialogue of civilizations,” of “world ethics” and of related topics.

Cheng Zhongying

Professor Cheng Zhongying graduated from National Taiwan University in 1955, received a master’s degree in philosophy in 1958 from the University of Washington and a PhD in philosophy from Harvard University in 1963. Dr. Cheng is a Chinese-American scholar who is considered to be one of the representatives of “the third generation of New Confucianism.” Both a world renowned philosopher and management philosopher, Cheng is a professor of philosophy at the University of Hawaii.

Liu Shuxian: Pseudonym: Yin [Yan]

Liu was born in Shanghai in 1934. He received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in philosophy from National Taiwan University and a PhD in philosophy from Southern Illinois University. He specializes in the history of Western philosophy, cultural philosophy and Neo-Confucianism.

Liu Shuxian was influenced by Tang Chun Mou, Xu Fuguan and other contemporary New Confucianists; however, he did not consider himself a Neo-Confucianist. He said: “The important thing is not a noun but the essence of traditional Confucianism, which is Confucius and Mencius.” He advocates maintaining the ideals of Confucius while trying to expound them in a modern sense, believing that Chinese traditional culture does not apply to many aspects of today’s reality and is hindered by trying to hold onto its weak points, thus impeding progress.

He believes that the central essence of Confucianism is “inherent benevolence, cordial evidence.” He interprets Confucius’ “benevolence” as universal compassion. Benevolence is a creative, energetic and constantly pioneering spirit of power. Mr. Liu believes that the Confucian philosophy of life and mood is open, differing from a closed mind. It has been the core of Chinese culture for millennia. In order to illustrate the value of using modern ways of enriching Confucianism, Liu borrowed Western philosophy’s categories of “transcendence” and “immanence” to analyze the Confucian category of “heaven.”

Yu Yingshi

Born in 1930 in Tianjin, Yu first studied under the famous Confucianist, Qian Mu, in Hong Kong, then at Harvard where he received his PhD. Formerly at the University of Michigan, then Harvard, Yale and New Asia College, he is currently a professor at Princeton, as well as a member of the Academica Sinica in Taiwan. The author of dozens of books in Chinese and English, Yu believes that Confucianism is a living tradition with great potential as a critique of modern politics and society. He has received numerous distinguished awards for his scholarship and contributions to the study of the humanities.

Thomas In-sing Leung

Thomas Leung, born in Hong Kong in 1951, holds a master’s degree in philosophy from the Chinese University of Hong Kong and a PhD from the University of Hawaii. He served as senior lecturer at the Hong Kong Baptist University before moving to Canada where he now lives. He is a commentator and talk show host for Chinese programming over Canadian radio station AM 1470. The author of more than twenty books in Chinese and English in which he explores Chinese philosophy and Christianity, he lectures worldwide and is an adjunct professor at a number of universities in China. He is the founder and president of Culture Regeneration Research Society (CRRS) and editor-in-chief of Cultural China (an academic quarterly). He seeks to promote greater mutual understanding between intellectuals in China and the West, a clearer understanding of Christianity among Chinese intellectuals, leadership development, and caring for the poor.


* Daniel Bell, China’s New Confucianism: Politics and Everyday Life in a Changing Society, Princeton University Press, 2008, pp. 188-89.

Image Credit: Peregrine de Vigo

He Tianyi

He Tianyi is a research assistant for Global China Center.View Full Bio