Appropriating Confucianism: Soft Power, Primordial Sentiment, and Authoritarianism

  • Kelvin C. K. Cheung


The centennial celebrations of the Republican Revolution led by Sun Yat-Sen in October 1911 provided a moment of reflection on modern China (China Information, 2011: 213–282). Over the last century, China transformed itself from a dynastic empire threatened by Western imperialism into a rising power. It recently overtook Japan to become the second largest economy in terms of gross domestic production (GDP) and it is believed that it will surpass the United States in a decade. Not all aspirations envisioned by Sun Yat-Sen, however, have been fulfilled. For instance, Mainland Chinese have yet to gain full citizenship rights under Communist rule. Far more concerned with stability and control, the Communist Party is reluctant to liberalize the political system. In addition, the complicated relationship between tradition and modernity is still an issue of discussion among policymakers and intellectuals. In the late nineteenth century, the ti-yong (essence-utilization) debate prompted government officials to embrace modernization by preserving Chinese learning as the essence (zhongxue weiti) and appropriating Western learning for application (xixue weiyong). This debate resurfaces in a paradigmatic shift from a strong belief in Westernization during the 1980s to the adherence to Confucianism in the early twenty-first century.


Chinese Culture Democratic Progressive Party Soft Power Confucian Ethic Authoritarian Rule 
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© Joseph Tse-Hei Lee, Lida V. Nedilsky, and Siu-Keung Cheung 2012

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  • Kelvin C. K. Cheung

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