The Confucian Academy, Soft Power and Patriotism

Antony Ou*

Since the beginning of the 20th century, Confucianism has been fundamentally challenged. The crucial concepts like filial piety, imperial loyalty, and social harmony were viewed as conservative and authoritarian by westernized scholars. According to these scholars, Chinese people should abandon it and welcome new sets of imported value systems such as Liberalism and Marxism. However, certain Confucian apologists argued that Confucianism should be maintained and revitalized. For instance, Kang Youwei (1858-1927) reinvented Confucianism by incorporating western values such as Democracy and Communism. In his work Datongshu (The Book of Great Unity), the future Utopia will be realized by a single central democratic government under a communist system. He insisted that all these values could be found in Confucian texts. From the above description, one can equate him to any Universalist or Socialist of today. However, one of the interesting things about him was that he proposed that Confucianism was a religion, (again, an imported value to China) and we should treat Confucius as the Grand Master. We should worship him and abide by the codes and norms of Confucianism undoubtedly. This set off the beginning of the establishment of the Confucian Academy ( ).

The Confucian Academy is a misleading term and is lost in English translation. The second Chinese character actually means religion, and the English term does not reflect such an orientation. Chen Huanzhang ( ) (1881–1933) founded the Confucian Society ( ) with his teacher Kang Youwei in Shanghai. Subsequently, the Hong Kong Confucian Academy was established in 1930. That same year, the Confucian Secondary School was built. From 1942, Zhu Yuzhen, Lu Xiangfu, and Huang Yuntian were the chairmen of the Academy. Tang Enjia then has become the Dean of the Academy since 1992. Nowadays, the Academy aimed at following Confucius’s teaching and promoting the essence of rites and benevolence. Its objectives are:

• Promoting Confucianism as the nation’s major religion in order to enhance the cohesion of the Chinese nation.          • Advocating Confucius’s birthday as a public holiday in Hong Kong,
• Establishing Confucian temples in various cities and towns around the world,
• Including Confucian teachings in primary schools, secondary colleges, and universities,
• Constructing the Confucius Memorial Hall in Hong Kong and make it as the world’s centre of the Confucianism.

On the one hand, the Confucian Academy thinks that it bears the responsibility to export Confucius’s teaching to the world. The Dean, Tang Enjia is a preacher of Confucianism. He insists that Confucianism is the essence of Chinese culture, and is desirable to export it all over the world. To him, the key teachings of Confucius include Confucian “business ethics”, filial piety, Confucian “environmentalism” and so on. Firstly, businessmen should always keep their promises and should prioritize “rightness” over what they can gain. In other words, businessmen are moral agents who do business with moral conscious, and ethical means. Secondly, everyone should love and take care of their parents, and by doing so societies can be peaceful and harmonious. Thirdly, according to Tang, Confucius is an “environmentalist”, who studied the relationship between human beings and nature. He proposed that we should not be in conflict with nature, instead, we should respect it and cherish it. Eventually, we could possibly realize that human beings and nature are inseparable and even compatible with each other. Hence, for Tang and his Academy, in facing the challenges of moral decay and environmental degradation, Confucian teachings are essential prescriptions to the modern world. Confucianists do have the duty to uphold these principles and warn the others. In this sense, The Confucian Academy is a centre for breeding “soft power”.

By definition, soft power refers to the state capacities of culture, values, and ideologies. In the international arena, these capacities can make states gain through “co-option and attraction”, according to Joseph Nye. In recent years, “soft power” is a trendy term in China. Hu Jintao, the Head of State of China, argues that it is time for China to develop its “soft power”. Chinese international relation theorists second it. Daniel A. Bell, the first-ever foreign full-time professor in Chinese modern history, elaborates it in the vocabularies of Confucianism. He argues that Confucianism has plenty of cultural resources, such as meritocracy and family values that can be useful for western countries. Moreover, these cultural resources can particularly be suitable in East Asia.

On the other hand, Confucianism is increasingly becoming a cultural reference point for Chinese patriotism. In other words, the inclusiveness of the Han ethnicity (which consists of 92% of Chinese population) relies on the future development of Modern Confucianism. This notion is strongly maintained by the Confucian Academy. Tang Enjia advocates,

Throughout history, Confucianism (as a religion) has never been in conflict with China. Hong Kong has six recognized religions and Confucianism is one of them. The Confucian School has participated in the establishment of the Basic Law (the mini-constitution of Hong Kong)… Confucianism is widely regarded as the thirteen religions of the world. Confucianism also recognizes them all. However, China is the only country that has yet to recognize the status of Confucianism as a religion, which is an ironic issue. The Confucian Academy of Hong Kong has established two secondary schools and two primary schools. This is the clear evidence that the Confucian Academy loves its country and Hong Kong. This position has never been shaken. Please check the history of the Academy and you will find out that the Academy never creates troubles to the Chinese Communist Party and never seek benefit from the motherland. (Translation from “On the Religiousness of Confucianism”)

Needless to say, Tang Enjia is a militant patriot who thinks Confucianism should be the core value and cultural heritage of modern China. More importantly, the Confucian Academy, is a patriotic organization that help shape China’s prosperous future. The Confucian Academy never creates trouble to the Communist Party and never asks for money from its beloved state. To me, this is a very peculiar understanding of the Confucian tradition, which I am sure Confucius himself would turn in his grave.

In the Analects 4:18, Confucius says,
In serving his parents, a son may remonstrate with them, but gently; when he sees that they do not incline to follow his advice, he shows an increased degree of reverence, but does not abandon his purpose; and should they punish him, he does not allow himself to murmur. (Translation: Chinese Text Project)

In Xiao Jing, Master Zang says,
Anciently, if the Son of Heaven had seven ministers who would remonstrate with him, although he had no right methods of government, he would not lose his possession of the kingdom. If the prince of a state had five such ministers, though his measures might be equally wrong, he would not lose his state. If a great officer had three, he would not, in a similar case, lose (the headship of) his clan. If an inferior officer had a friend who would remonstrate with him, a good name would not cease to be connected with his character. 

(Translation: Chinese Text Project)

The Emblem of Confucian Academy: The symbol represents the element of fire in I- Ching, one of the Five Confucian Classics. According to the Confucian Academy, this ancient occult symbol implies brightness, rightness, and solidarity. 

Dr. Tang Enjia, the chairman of the Confucian Academy. Is he a Confucianist or a Chinese Communist?

One could find many other Confucian quotes on the imperial concept of “remonstrance” and anyone who claimed to be a Confucianist in the past upheld this moral principle. Confucianists of remonstrance are the brave ones who pointed out the mistakes of their authorities and for most of the cases; they were jailed, tortured, and executed. According to Edward Said, these people were “court intellectuals”, the only alternative voice in imperial court. The notion is problematic itself in face of liberal and democratic values. The latter two concepts are actually better alternatives. But for now, remonstrance seems to be a “losing tradition” in Modern China. Patriot organizations and intellectuals, such as the Confucian Academy and Tang, become the philosophical hack for the dominant power— the essential part of the establishment. One should be noted that Tang Enjia is a brave person too, since he needs to defend the Communist Party’s positions on the June Fourth Incident and the Charter 08. PR


* Antony Ou is a PhD Researcher of University of Sheffield, the China Review editor of Political Reflection Magazine, and the China Representative of CESRAN.
His monograph, Just War and the Confucian Classics: A Gongyangzhuan Analysis, has been published and is available at


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