Soong Ch'ing-ling


Confucianism and Modern China



Source: Soong Ching Ling, "Confucianism and Modern China", in China Reconstructs magazine, vol. XXIV, no. 4 (April 1975); pages 2-3.
Transcription & HTML Markup for Juan Fajardo, January 2022.




MANY discussions are now going on in China regarding the practicability of applying Confucian teachings to modern life. In the past twenty years, many scholars, politicians and persons in power have been trying to revive Confucian teachings to make people believe that in these years of disorders, calamities and foreign invasions, Confucianism would be able to consolidate, strengthen and unify the Chinese nation, as it had done many times in early Chinese history. But there are other scholars and educationalists who are equally convinced that Confucianism must be banished from every schoolbook if modern China (in 1937) is to survive.

There began three years ago a movement entitled “The New Life",* which is politically reactionary and flavored with Confucianism. This makes it of great practical importance to find the right approach to Confucianism.

In the 5th century B.C. when Confucius was living, there were great disorders everywhere in ancient China. States ruled by slaveowning aristocrats constantly contended with one another, fighting for supremacy. Many slave-owning groups succumbed in war. The fate of other such states continuously hung in the balance. Not only was there warfare between these aristocrats, but there were also uprisings of the slaves, together with the suppression of these uprisings by the lords. Thus, we see that in this era, 5th century B.C., the class struggle existed. At that time came Confucius, a Chinese philosopher representing the slaveowning class, whose influence upon Chinese life and thought are felt even today.

Confucius preached moral codes that upheld slave society. In attempting to strengthen slaveowners’ rule, he based his teachings on historical traditions. The stories about the semi-mythical model kings, Yao and Shun, were perhaps manufactured by Confucius himself, or his disciples. No one can prove whether Yao and Shun really lived. But based on the myths about them, Confucius and his disciples evolved conceptions of the rule of the slaveowning aristocrats. People cannot govern themselves, they declared. People must be governed by wise and judicious officials. They preached that obedience must be the general principle of every human society. Wives must submit to husbands, children to parents, and every man to his ruler and king. Later the feudal ruling class and its scholars took over Confucius’ teachings to make people submissive and maintain a whole structure of ceremonies to consolidate the position of the feudal order. They set forth vindications for patriarchal authority. Sovereignty in the Confucian state is built upon the authority of the father in the home; the patriarchal family is the cell, the sub-structure of feudalism.

Confucian teachings are autocratic from beginning to end. Society was divided into two classes: the ruling class — first the slaveowners, later the landlords, and the subjugated class — first the slaves,

later the peasantry, and between these were the scholar-officials. In the Book of Rites, we find such a characteristic saying: “Courtesy is not extended to commoners, and punishment is not applied to lords."

There were many speculations around Confucianism during more than two millenia, as well as different interpretations of his teachings. There were periods in Chinese history when Confucianism was banned and his books burnt. But notwithstanding, Confucianism survived and dominated Chinese thought. And there is little wonder, Confucianism is the philosophy serving the system of exploitation of man by man, and so long as this system existed, it needed Confucian teachings. But Confucius’ ethical system was nothing but mere rituals and ceremonials, while his precepts enslaved the intellects of the scholars, limited the scope of learning and kept the masses of the people in ignorance.

Confucius was conservative. He based his teachings, as we have seen, solely on tradition. It is natural that Confucian conservatism has hindered the development of science and of society in China. Confucius was for turning back history. He was against all revolution. His teachings are hostile to every change of social order. It is strange indeed that in our modern times there are still Chinese intellectuals zealously advocating the revival of Confucianism. Efforts to turn back the clock of history are not only fruitless and futile, but they obstruct human progress and advancement. Instead of reviving anachronistic Confucianism, it is of utmost importance for us to eradicate all remnants of feudalism in rural economy as well as in urban life. We must cleanse the Chinese mentality and free it from the cobwebs of Confucian ideology which block our cultural development. Revival of Confucianism is pure reaction disguised as concern for social order.


THE structure of our present society is radically changing, transforming and remodelling. Naturally the new social order demands new ideology, new moral codes and new relationships. There is confusion in many minds and it is difficult to solve the problems that arise from the great changes that are taking place in China. Confucianism cannot help to solve them; it has lost every practical value. Only the reactionary-minded seek its restoration.

But Confucian ideology has permeated the brain of Chinese intellectuals during a longer period than any other philosophical system. We must realize how deeply Confucian influences have been imbedded in our art, literature, social sciences and morals. We must exert great efforts to uproot Confucian ideas out of every nook and corner of our life and thoughts.



* In 1934, in coordination with his counter-revolutionary war of “encirclement and suppression" against the Workers’ and Peasants’ red Army led by the Chinese Communist Party and the people of the revolutionary bases, Chiang Kai-shek launched the fascist “New Life Movement" in politics and ideology. It sought to impose the old Confucian cant about “propriety, righteousness, honesty and sense of shame" and “reverence for Confucious and study of his classics" in order to counteract Marxism with these bankrupt shibboleths and prevent China’s youth from taking the path of progress and revolution. Its vain purpose was to preserve the old order and defeat the Communist Party and the people. [Note from China Reconstructs, 4/1975, page 2 —]