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Are Confucian Values Biblical?


In a recent interview in the ChinaSource Quarterly, Purdue professor Yang Fenggang is quoted as saying that "the Chinese Christian church has become an institutional base for passing on transformed Confucian values to younger generations." Dr. Yang, a sociologist and Director of the Center on Religion and Society at Purdue University, does not necessarily see Confucianism and Christianity as being in competition with one another. Rather, he encourages Christians to seek common ground where possible.

An example of this approach may be seen in a recent Gospel Times article which appeared in English on ChinaSource's Chinese Church Voices site. Entitled "The Christian View of Filial Piety," the article explores both the similarities and differences in the concept of honoring one's parents as seen in the Bible and in Confucian tradition.

The author points out that both place a high value on parents as the ones responsible for inculcating moral values in the succeeding generation. Both stress respect, care for parents' needs, and submission. However, the Confucian notion of filial piety, rooted in the idea that people are inherently good, assumes the innate benevolence of parents. By extension, parents must always be correct and are thus always to be obeyed. The Christian view acknowledges the fallen nature of all individuals and places obedience to God above obedience to parents.

Secondly, since Christian filial piety originates with the love of God, not the love that comes from one's parents, it does not lead to worship of the individual (as manifested in the Chinese tradition of ancestor worship).

The author goes on to extol the virtues of filial piety while redefining key characteristics in biblical terms.

Yang's somewhat provocative position that Chinese Christians are able to "revitalize Confucianism" seems to be borne out by examples such as this one. While resonating with traditional Confucian virtues, Christians in China bring new meaning to them through a biblical understanding of the origin of these virtues and how one is able to live them out.

For more on Confucianism and Christianity in China today see Confucius and Christ: Conflict, Compromise or Communication? in the ChinaSource Quarterly.

Brent Fulton

Brent Fulton

Brent Fulton is the president of ChinaSource and the editor of the ChinaSource Quarterly. Prior to assuming his current position, he served from 1995 to 2000 as the managing director of the Institute for Chinese Studies at Wheaton College. From 1987 to 1995 he served as founding US director of... View Full Bio