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How Confucian are Contemporary Chinese? Construction of an Ideal Type and its Application to Three Chinese Communities

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As a major source of social values in East Asia, Confucianism assumes especial significance amidst the proliferation of instrumental rationality in modern societies. This study attempts to answer the question: how Confucian are contemporary Chinese? By way of constructing an ideal type of Confucian actors, which is then applied to a survey of three Chinese communities, this study tries to formulate a new perspective in depicting the character of modern Confucian actors, measured in terms of their dynamic proximity to the Confucian ideal type. Our approach marks a shift of emphasis, both empirically and methodologically, compared with previous work on this topic. On the empirical side, our study breaks with the long-standing, classical distinction between the 'gentleman' and the 'commoner' prevalent in Confucian discourse. Degrees of proximity to Confucian values are viewed in representational—i.e. non-evaluative—terms. In constructing the ideal type of Confucian actors, we distinguish between formal and substantive values in Confucianism. This analytical distinction allows our study to demonstrate the continued relevance of Confucianism. While substantive values change over time, the formal, analytical core that captures the essence of Confucianism continues to survive in the face of the vicissitudes of modernity and the spread of instrumental rationality.


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