Deciphering James Legge's 'Confucianism'

Liu, Shiyin (2020) Deciphering James Legge's 'Confucianism'. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This thesis argues that Legge’s ‘Confucianism’ represents his reformation on the teaching of Confucius by making the ancient religion in the Chinese classics Confucius’ principal instruction. Legge’s reformation has its hermeneutical and contextual legitimacy, it nonetheless embeds Legge’s missiological attempt at a constructive Christian encounter with the Chinese Ruism (儒家思想, the Doctrine of Literati School). Through his reformation, Legge anticipates a missiological approach in China that can draw on what is good in the Chinese classics, supplement what is wanting or deficient in the teaching of Confucius, and unravel to Chinese people “what truth there is in Confucianism about God and His moral government.” Legge’s reformed ‘Confucianism’ also implies his solution to the Term Question of rendering Elohim/God in translating the Bible into Chinese. Legge’s nuanced ‘Confucianism’ was not understood by the missionaries of his time, nevertheless it is conflated with Max Müller’s the Sacred Books of the East (50 volumes, 1879 –1910) and develops into a major aspect of the Sinological notion of Confucianism.

Legge’s idea to “reform” and “revolutionize” Confucianism is conceived in his controversial 1877 paper delivered to the Missionary Conference in Shanghai. Legge’s “Texts of Confucianism” (1879 -1885) as his contribution to the Sacred Books of the East marks his textual reformation of the Chinese classics into religious scriptures of ‘Confucianism’. His 1880 Lectures on Confucianism showcases his theological construction of ‘Confucianism’ that connects the Chinese ritual practices and moral teaching of Confucius back to their originator and creator – Shang Di (Supreme Ruler, God).

Legge’s Chinese Classics project (1861 -1872) is more than translation. Legge creates a new set of Chinese Classical commentaries by participating in the Chinese classical commentary tradition and introducing biblical exegetical tradition, literary criticism and Continental hermeneutics into his works. Legge’s Chinese Classics project results from the aftermath of his Shang Di (Supreme Ruler) advocacy in the Term-Question debate of the 1850s on translating God into Chinese. It is Legge’s continued effort to prove his argument and to fulfill his duty to God that “You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses him name” (Exodus 20:7).

Legge’s scholarship on Chinese Classics and Chinese religion is still meaningful today. Legge’s biblical criticism methods and hermeneutical principles provide new perspectives on interpreting Chinese classical texts. More importantly, Legge’s scholarship is related to three term questions concerning China-western encounters that have been essential to the mutual understanding. Apart from the Term Question on the proper Chinese term of translating God, there is also the term question of rendering the Chinese term Ru Jiao (the Teaching of Literati School) into English. The third debate concerns whether or not Confucianism/Ru Jiao is religion/zong jiao (Chinese expression for “religion”). The last debate is controversial as it is built on two equally controversial term issues: the Sinological Confucianism vs. Chinese Ru Jiao and religion in its western sense vs. zong jiao as the Chinese characterization of religion. These three controversies constitute the fundamental barriers in the western-China communication.

Confucianism is not Ruism ( the Doctrine of Literati School). Confucianism as an English coinage represents western efforts at studying, interpreting and characterizing the Chinese Ruist classical texts within western disciplines and academic principles. In its Chinese context, the Ruist School consists of an unbroken tradition of pedagogically transmitting, scholarly interpreting the truths contained in the classics, and making practical use of lessons taught by ancient sages for present time. In a sense, they are as different as that between the religious studies on Christianity and the Christian theological studies.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: James Legge, Confucianism, reformation, Chinese Classics, Confucius, Chinese Ruism, the Term Question, Sinology, Translation, Biblical Commentary, literary criticism, Hermeneutics, God, Shang Di, shen, Ru Jiao, religion, Chinese zong jiao, communication,
Subjects: A General Works > AZ History of Scholarship The Humanities
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BL Religion
P Language and Literature > PI Oriental languages and literatures
P Language and Literature > PL Languages and literatures of Eastern Asia, Africa, Oceania
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Critical Studies > Theology and Religious Studies
Supervisor's Name: Jasper, Professor David and Orzech, Researcher Charles
Date of Award: 2020
Depositing User: Mr. Shiyin Liu
Unique ID: glathesis:2020-79032
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 17 Feb 2020 13:29
Last Modified: 27 Feb 2023 08:26
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.79032

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