An Anthropological Inquiry into Confucianism provides a chronological, historicized reappraisal of Confucianism as a belief system and a way of life that revolves around three key concepts: ritual (Li), emotion (qing), and rational principle (li). Instead of examining all pertinent concepts of Confucianism, the book focuses on how Confucian thinkers grappled with these three words and tried to balance them throughout multiple dynasties and by polemics an practice performing rites in daily life. Informed by the theory and perspectives of anthropology, Guo Wu revisits the origin of Confucianism and treats it as part of the legacy of pre-textual worshipping and funerary rites which are incorporated, recorded, and interpreted by Confucians. An anthropological angle continues to flesh out the extant Confucian classics by reinterpreting the parts concerning the human-human, human-animal, and human-sacred objects relations. Modern anthropological studies are referenced to showed how Confucian ritualism permeated to the lifeworld of Chinese villages since the Song dynasty and revived in Ming-Qing dynasties along with a resurgent interest in the expression of human emotions, which had an inherent tension with (Heavenly) rational principle. The book concludes that the Confucian balancing of the triad continues into the 21st century along with its revival in China.
Guo Wu is associate professor of history at Allegheny College.
Introduction: Confucianism through Anthropological Lenses
Chapter 1: Li and Qing: Sacrifice, Ritual, and Emotion Before Confucius
Chapter 2: Ritualism and Emotion in Pre-Qin Confucianism and the Zhuangzi
Chapter 3: The Rise of Rational Principle and Diffusion of Rites in the Tang and Song Dynasties
Chapter 4: Rediscovering Qing and Li in the Ming and Qing
Conclusion: Reinventing Confucian Ritualism and the Modern Fate of the Triad
This informative, erudite, and thought-provoking account of Confucianism accomplishes the rare feat of intriguing both beginners and experts alike. Readers new to the subject will find its historical survey of this quintessential element of Chinese and East Asian culture relatable and fascinating. Students of Chinese thought and of comparative philosophy and religion will find its conceptual triad of Li, qing, and li innovatively capacious and solidly grounded, uniquely suitable for capturing the multi-dimensional reality of Confucianism as a historical and living tradition. The substantial integration of the pre-Confucian archeological record and of anthropological fieldwork showing how Confucianism is practiced in rural and urban settings today offers a timely corrective to the predominant Euro-American narrative of this tradition that has tended to reduce it to little more than the teachings of the Confucian classics and their Neo-Confucian orthodox commentaries.
In this cogently argued, conscientiously researched, and concisely written book, Guo Wu offers us an anthropological interpretation of an ideal-type, Confucian ritualism. Highlighting its multidimensionality and multivalence within a historical framework, Wu astutely reveals how philosophical rationalization (li), emotional investment (qing), and ritualistic performance (Li), from the ancient through preset times, have formed and informed a cultural complex that at once prescribes and describes normative values, appropriate sentiments, and proper behaviors. As such, this entwined ritualism is a marker of identities, adjudicator of right and wrong, and transmitter of collective memories. Wu asks us to see Confucian ritualism as a thronging cultural effusion which, insofar as it is not simply conceived by the thinking intelligentsia and enacted by the reigning authority, is diurnally lived and felt by the people. We should heed his plea.
With fine expertise on both classical Chinese texts and modern Western theories, Prof. Wu provides an insightful analysis of the interplay of ritual, emotion, and principle throughout the classical Chinese tradition and demonstrates nicely the transformative role of Confucian ritual as a viable means of moral education, disciplining, and aesthetic experience. This book will be useful for both undergraduate and graduate classrooms and will have valuable contributions to the Anglophone world’s understanding of Confucianism.
This is a remarkable work by Guo Wu that draws on a deep understanding of the Confucian classics along with his wide-ranging fluency in history, philosophy, and anthropology. Aside from his comprehensive examination of the Confucian tradition and its various interpretations through the different dynasties in China, he produces a self-reflexive and ‘insider’s perspective’ with his descriptions of his participation in the Confucian-Daoist ritual at his father’s funeral in the beginning of the book and a discussion of his childhood experiences with Maoist nationalistic rituals near the end of the work. Guo Wu highlights the important role of the emotion (Qing) as it was inextricably associated with family, lineage, and ancestral clans as understood by Confucians and neo-Confucians during various periods of Chinese history. To explore this topic, he draws on the Western literature regarding the anthropology, sociology, and philosophy of emotions ranging from Spinoza, Kant, Wittgenstein, Durkheim, Weber, Frazer, Malinowski, Radcliffe-Brown, Benedict, Lutz, Geertz, Damasio, along with various Chinese sources on the subject. Guo Wu provides an illuminating exegesis of the concepts of Li, Qing, and li as they relate to aspects of family, ritual, and rationality in the Confucian tradition. In his conclusion, he offers an excellent discussion of the contemporary revitalization of Confucianism in China that is integrated with cultural nationalism. This state-of-the-art work should be placed on the book shelves of all China specialists and everyone else interested in ritual.