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“Confucian Cultural Fallacy” in the 20th Century Chinese Enlightenment Movement

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image of Frontiers of Philosophy in China

The 20th century witnessed a strong cultural enlightenment movement in China, starting with the industrialization movement in the late 19th century Qing dynasty (1616–1912) and continuing in the May Fourth movement in 1919. The cultural enlightenment movement was strongly influenced by Western ideas such as democracy and the primacy of science. The Chinese modern cultural enlightenment can be compared with the European enlightenment that began with the Renaissance. One typical characteristic of this Chinese enlightenment that I wish to emphasize is the determining function of ideas and cultures, especially in light of the many criticisms of traditional Confucianism by intellectuals who blamed it for all the failures of Westernization in the 20th century. This is what I call the “Confucian Cultural Fallacy.” This fallacy has influenced many famous intellectuals, such as Tu Wei-ming. In this paper, I set out to analyze how this fallacy influenced Tu in two of his major arguments: the third stage of the Confucian revival movement, and the idea of “cultural China.” Throughout my analysis of different versions of the Confucian cultural fallacy in modern China, I also discuss how best to understand the Chinese cultural enlightenment movement in relation to Western Enlightenment movements.


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