(Department of philosophy, Beijing University)
Religion, Nation-state and Civil religion. The assumption and practice of Confucianism in the process of national construction
According to Liang Qichao’s viewpoint in the Biography of Kang Youwei, Kang Youwei should be remembered as an excellent religionist. Indeed, Kang Youwei, calling himself Martin Luther of Confucianism, tried to find a properly existing way for Confucianism in the new political and social structure through imitating church religion in western society, because he firmly believed that the modern democratic politics and constitutional government system must be established on the base of immanent culture and morality. Furthermore, Confucianism, epitomizing Chinese traditional thought, should take this responsibility. Reforming Confucianism into a religion of western style, Kang faced many challenges. Firstly, Confucianism is a kind of religion or not? Secondly, if Confucianism is a kind of religion, what is the difference between Confucianism and western religion?
To solve this problem, Kang firstly has analysed and contrasted the sameness and difference between the Jiao in Chinese traditional thought and the religion in western culture. Jiao in Chinese with extended meaning ‘moralizing’, largely means knowledge learning or moral education, with the aim to improve the moral accomplishment of human beings. Kang said , all the religions has the function of exhorting to be good and guarding against the evil, all the theories with this function can be also called religion. However, in the way of exhorting to be good and guarding against the evil, different religions take different ways. Western religion made believing in god as the starting point, so it is a kind of Shintoism, namely stimulating a sense of doing good through the cult of God. However, Chinese religion is a kind of Hito-no-michi, which operates a moral education in people’s everyday life. So Kang supposed that Confucianism is a religion of higher level.
After the failure of Wu Hsu Reform, Kang started to exile and travel. In this period, kang, making a systematic reflecting on Chinese traditional classics and inspecting the religion type and immanent spirit of western countries, proposed an assumption of constructing Confucianism as state religion. Although Liang qichao objected to it, Kang , with another student Chen Huanzhang’ s support, decided to take advantage of revising constitution to establish Confucianism as state religion in the form of law. The efforts by Kang Youwei and Chen Huanzhang are both confronted with failures.
However, making a general survey of state religion movement conducted by Kang youwei, we can find that there is a great difference between state religion promoted by Kang and religion in a general sense. Firstly, he focused on establishing Confucianism as state religion, which does not mean to suppress other religions. He more emphasize the importance of state religion from perspective of national identity, what’s more, he thought that Confucianism didn’t contradict modern political and social system, in contrast, it can provide value support for modern social system. Thirdly, establishing Confucianism as state religion can provide etiquette resource for constructing state-nation. From these perspectives, Confucianism promoted by Kang is extremely close to the idea of civil religion. But there is also an important difference that in the opinion of Beira, civil religion is non-nationalization and non-churchly, however, Kang emphasized on national legislation and transforming original Confucian temple and some other folk religion places into churches of Confucianism.
Although State-religion movement by Kang ended in failure, it teaches us a lot. In other words, if we, thinking Confucianism from perspective of civil religion, focus Confucianism on etiquette, morality and enforcing national cohesion, and abandon the pursuit of power support and establishing church, Confucianism can have a place in modern society. That is to say, if we construct Confucianism’s future from perspective of civil religion, it is possible to provide a feasible way for Confucianism’s religionization.