Friday, August 19, 2005

Confucian Puritans

By the way, don't get the idea from the post below that the Confucians (as exemplified by Zhu Xi - - old spelling Chu Hsi) are strongly sacramentalist. In fact they rather resemble Anglican evangelicals, in having strong ritual forms yet insisting that the value of the forms lies solely in stimulating proper thoughts within the participants and audience.

As the preface to the section on sacrifice in Chu Hsi's Family Rituals says:

The essential part of sacrifices is to fulfill sincere feelings of love and respect. Therefore, before performing the rites the poor should evaluate their resources and the ill their energy. Naturally, those with the wealth and strength to conform to the rites should do so (p. 153).

As Confucius said, the gentleman sacrifices to the ancestral spirits as if they were present. Whether spirits are real, or only projections necessary to externalize for the simple certain ritual principles, is a question on which Confucians vacillated endlessly.

This Confucian opposition to ritual activity is seen in a wonderful way in the biography of part Uighur-part Kitan Confucian scholar Lian Xixian, whose life mission was to make his sovereign Qubilai Khan a true Confucian monarch. When Qubilai Khan at the behest of the Tibetan monk 'Phags-pa (pronounced Pagba) Lama,

His Majesty ordered Xixian to fast for the State Preceptor ['Phags-pa] but Xixian replied, "Your servant has already vowed Confucius’s fast." His Majesty said, "Does Confucius have a fast too?" He replied, "He who is a minister must be loyal, and he who is a son must be filial—this is the fasting of the Confucian sect. That is all there is."

Rituals must give way to morals, as Matthew Henry said -- and no Puritan exemplified that principle better than Lian Xixian who risked his career and even at times his life to make Mongol rule in China fit the highest standards of ethical behavior.

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