Confucian-Christian dialogue points way in turbulent times

19:58, September 27, 2010      

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Samuel Huntington, author of The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, died almost two years ago, but his prophecy of conflict between Western Christianity and Islam and Confucianism in the East lives on in talks between Christians and Confucianists in China.

At an evening seminar Sunday during an international forum to ease cultural misunderstandings, the discussion revolved around why Christianity's global expansion had been linked with violence and war, in contrast to the teachings of Jesus Christ to love thy neighbor.

Yang Sung Moo, from Chung Ang University of the Republic of Korea, said Christianity had come to his country "very violently" in the 1880s when missionaries disregarded local Confucian rituals by forbidding believers to kowtow to their enshrined ancestors and destroying Buddhist statues.

The violent reputation remained until the democratic movement started in South Korea in the 1970s, when churches became a shelter for labor union activists and democrats seeking fairness and justice.

"If Christianity wants to spread across the world, its preaching must respect cultures and cater to the needs of local people," said Yang.

His opinion echoed that of Robert H. Schullar, a U.S. Christian minister famous for his TV program, Hour of Power, and funding the Crystal Cathedral ministries.

Asked if Christianity could save the world, the 84-year-old said: "My goodness, no. Because each person is an individual thinker, they react possibly negatively.

"Do you need help? Can I help you? That has to be the way, to give people encouragement," he said during a morning dialogue of the first Nishan Forum on World Civilizations in east China's Shandong Province.

The forum was initiated by Xu Jialu, a retired vice chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People' s Congress. Xu has spent nearly three years working to have this first forum in China as a dialogue between Confucianism and Christianity and watched it grow from a distant idea into a possibility.

The organizers chose Nishan Mountain, the birthplace of Confucius, as the venue to hold the epoch-making meeting.


In an interview with Xinhua, Wolfgang Kubin, a sinologist at Bonn University in Germany, saw a historical significance of the ongoing dialogue between Confucianists and Christians.

"This kind of dialogue was started some 400 years ago, but because of a lot of misunderstandings, it ended up with frustration on both sides. Now we come back again and try to continue what began between the Confucians and Catholics in the 16th or 17th Century," he said.

Historical records show the exchanges started with the arrival of the first two Jesuits, Michele Ruggeri and Matteo Ricci, who dedicated themselves to understanding Chinese culture by translating Confucian texts into Latin and other European languages, while Christian texts were published in Chinese.

But the so called "Controversy on the Rites," due to internal Christian divisions and misunderstandings of the true cultural values of Confucian rites and tradition, finally led to the Papal condemnation of the Jesuits' dialogue-based approach and expulsion of the missionaries by Qing Emperor Kangxi.

Missionaries returned during World War I, when China was mired in a crisis of identity as a feudal Confucian country that had prospered for more than 2,000 years and collapsed before Western powers dominated by Christian culture.

"As the Chinese people were in extremely feeble and destitute circumstances, Christian missionaries who prized open China's doors with opium profiteers under the shield of gunpowder were often associated with scars on the national pride," said Yan Binggang, director of the Advanced Institute for Confucian Studies of Shandong University.

In the 1800s, a massive anti-Christian campaign ran for more than half a century and climaxed with the Boxer Uprising, and Christianity was disparagingly dubbed "yang jiao" or "foreign religion."

That also explained why the New China had dedicating itself to building a new church structures on the basis of self-administration, self-support and self-propagation, Yan said.

"The world we face is closely connected by globalization, but cultural diversity is the direction we must strive to preserve," said Xu Jialu.

Citing interaction between the two civilized cultures in his own country, Yang Sung Moo said the Republic of Korea now had Confucianized Christianity and Christianized Confucianism.

"Although the past century has seen the world pursue Western-oriented modernization, no religions would be able to dominate people like imperialist Christianity of the old times, and like Confucianism under absolute feudal sovereign had by rampantly confronting existing moral values, rival religions or laws," he said.

"The alternative solution for a mature religion would be to serve the people, promote harmony through teaching reason and constant self-examination of past mishaps committed by religions," he said.

Austrian scholar Leo Leeb, with the School of Liberal Arts of Renmin University of China, studied German missionaries in Shandong and their contacts with Confucianism from 1880 to 1950, revealing dialogue as an insuppressible trend.

His studies found the Divine Word Missionaries who propagated Christianity in the homeland of Confucius had then already assumed a positive and respectful attitude to non-Christian traditions as required by the Nostra Aetate document of the Second Vatican Council in 1965.

"This positive attitude towards Confucianism was possible because Confucianism had already ceased to be the all-powerful mainstream thought of the Chinese. It was no longer a threat to Christianity," he said.

"Besides that, generations of Catholic missionaries had seen in the figure of Confucius a wise man, possibly comparable to somebody like Seneca, and it was easy to integrate such a sage into the Christian world view."


Jesus and Confucius both died more than 2,000 years ago, but, to their followers, their teachings always sound fresh and helpful. At the forum, Confucius's famous doctrine "Don't do to others what you don't want others to do to you" has been repeatedly cited by both Confucianists and Christians to encourage dialogue, as Jesus gives a similar instruction, "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you."

But the practice of these teachings is not easy, many scholars pointed out.

Yan Binggang thought Hungtington's predictions not completely unjustified. While events in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Chechnya, the Middle East, Afghanistan, India and Parkistan all seemed to verify his predictions, people were paying more attention to the assertion of Hans Kuhn, the German liberal theologist, that there was no peace among nations without peace among religions, and no peace among religions without dialogue between religions.

China's growing influence on the world made it imperative for the country to explain itself to the world, said Wu Jianmin, executive director of the presidium of the forum's organizing committee.

"Since the world has entered a historical period of drastic change, people have to choose to confront or to seek harmony with diversity.Western civilizations have dominated the world over past centuries and will continue to dominate in the future," he said.

"Because Chinese civilization is the only civilization that has sustained itself successfully over thousands of years, but remains foreign to the outside world, dialogue is the premise to clearing up misunderstandings and cementing healthy relationships," he said.

Professor Du Weiming, of Harvard University, summarized Chinese civilization as "a tolerant civilization constantly learning from others."

He hoped the world could establish a "dialogue civilization" though constant dialogue, and more dialogues could be held between Chinese civilization and Islamic, Indian, Latin American and African civilizations.

In his message to the opening ceremony of the forum, former French President Jacques Chirac said China, with rich cultural and philosophical diversity, had been very good at the art of dialogue since ancient times.

"As the current world is struggling amid turmoil, the wisdom of China in seeking harmony will be beneficial... and having dialogues among civilizations will display the capability of mankind in tackling global crises," said the message.

Source: Xinhua


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