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Confucianism for the Modern World

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The Chinese scholar, politician and philosopher Confucius spent his life trying to change politics and to improve people’s lives. His philosophy emphasised personal and governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, justice and sincerity.

Yet Confucian-influenced countries, including China, still struggle with many of the issues he challenged 2,500 years ago.

Since the death of Confucius in 479 BC, the adoption and use of Confucianism has ebbed and flowed, but is it still relevant in today’s world?

Professor Joseph Chan, from the Department of Politics and Public Administration at the University of Hong Kong, believes so, and that it contains ethical and political insights for the 21st Century.

“I find Confucianism a profound tradition of thought that has shaped China and other Asian countries for many, many centuries,” he said. “Personally as a Chinese scholar I want to see this tradition remain alive and vital, and develop and flourish into an attractive vision of modern politics and society.”

Professor Chan’s research is in Confucianism and its relevance for modern politics and society. As part of his studies he wants to explain why the virtues Confucius espoused—including harmony, civility and respect— are not irrelevant today and how they can help societies function better.

But the chasm between the ancient tradition of thought and the reality of modern society means that Confucianism itself “has to be saved” before it can be adopted into current political processes, and in turn “save the world”.

Professor Chan’s recent book, Confucian Perfectionism: A Political Philosophy for Modern Times, draws on ten years of research into contemporary Confucian political philosophy. But as Confucianism is evolving to find its place in the modern world Professor Chan believes his research in the field is far from over.