For those who missed the February 2016 Distinguished Lecture by Professor Qin Hui, Tsinghua University on Confucian Values and English Constitutional Monarchy: Historical Routes of China’s Modernization we are pleased to provide this podcast.
When “cultural differences” and “civilizational clashes” are popular discourses in our intellectual thinking today, it is hard to imagine Confucian values have any affinity with Western democratic values and institutions. When Chinese Confucian scholar/officials first encountered the West in the latter half of the 19th century, however, they identified Western institutions such as English Constitutional Monarchy as very much representing Confucian values—in its true and authentic sense.
This lecture will highlight the enthusiastic embrace of Western democratic institution by a host of late Qing Confucian scholar/officials, from the first Chinese ambassador to Britain Guo Songtao (1818-1891) to Zhang Shusheng (1824-1884), a powerful Qing official whose will was for China to adopt Western democratic policy as the “foundation” for a Confucian state. They saw, for instance, the “loyalty” the English people expressed towards their Queen/King was most sincere precisely because they were detached from power. Indeed, the decency of the English constitutional monarchy ignited the dormant “ancient Confucianism” in these late Qing Confucian scholar/officials who allied themselves with Western democratic institutionalism to fight against the age-old enemy of Confucianism: the notorious and cruel dictator the First Emperor of Qin (260-210 BC).
But there was also a strong force in modern Chinese history that yearned for the wealth and power of the nation through a modern-day First Emperor facilitated by an alliance of the traditional “Legalist” thought and radical authoritarian ideology from the West. Confucianism, in any case, had not been in that company.
Professor Qin Hui 秦晖 is Professor of History at Tsinghua University, China. His research has covered several fields in economic history, social history and history of ideas. He has published more than twenty books including Fields and Garden Poetry and Rhapsodies (田园诗与狂想曲), Ten Treatises on Tradition (传统十论), Out of the Imperial System (走出帝制), Common Baseline (共同的底线), Issues and Isms (问题与主义), Revelations from South Africa (南非的启示).