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Can Confucianism Survive in an Age of Universalism and Globalization? Author(s): Gilbert Rozman Source: Pacific

Can Confucianism Survive in an Age of Universalism and Globalization? Author(s): Gilbert Rozman Source: Pacific Affairs, Vol. 75, No. 1 (Spring, 2002), pp. 11-37 Published by: Pacific Affairs, University of British Columbia Stable URL: Accessed: 30-09-2016 10:31 UTC

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Can Confucianism Survive

in an Age of Universalism

and Globalization?

Gilbert Rozman

Conventional wisdom sees the last quarter of the twentieth century as

the death knell of Confucianism.' What had been the dominant way

of thinking and social behaviour in China, Japan, and Korea for

centuries found new expression, but no lasting foundation, in each country,

as in Taiwan and Singapore.2 Each nation had championed its Confucian

identity, whether it was called that or not,3 but later drew back. While global

fascination rose over a cultural disposition seen as positive for meeting the

challenges of one era, it fell with doubts about any utility in the next. Now

globalization via WTO and democratization in South Korea and Taiwan are

eroding lingering ideals. It is tempting to simply forget about Confucianism and fix our gaze on the requirements of a different era. Recent discourse supports such an outlook. After the Asian financial crisis,

defenders of Confucianism are barely visible. In China the state has turned

to great power nationalism rather than Eastern values.4 The interlopers in

Southeast Asia who pretended that "Asian values" are synonymous with

1 I am grateful to the Department of Sociology ofYonsei University, chaired by Lew Seok-choon,

for giving me an opportunity to present a draft of this paper while I was a visiting professor in the fall

of 2000, and to Hahm Chaibong for stimulating my interest in Korean Confucianism and serving as discussant for the paper. I also want to thank the Yonsei graduate students who assisted as language


2 Countries have taken their turn as the favourite example for advocates of Confucian continuities.

First, Japan's distinct social relations took centre stage; Ronald Dore, ed., Aspects of Social Change in

Modern Japan (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1967). Next Taiwan was cited as the only "country

where Confucianism is officially worshipped;" Hung-chao Tai, ed., Confucianism and Economic Development:

An Oriental Alternative (Washington, DC: The Washington Institute Press, 1989), p. 4. Singapore then

claimed the mantle of most Confucian. Kishore Mahbubani, Can Asians Think? (Singapore: Times

Editions, 1998). Finally, after growing infatuation with the idea that Eastern civilization is on the rise,

Chinese cultural nationalism claimed to be its new standard-bearer. Yongnian Zheng, Discovering Chinese

Nationalism in China: Modernization, Identity, and International Relations (Cambridge: Cambridge University

Press, 1999). South Korea may have the best case of all, as discussed in this paper.

3 In Japan the term nihonjinron the "theory of being Japanese" combines elements of

Confucianism with nativist beliefs. In China the term dongfang wenming"Eastern civilization" embraces

Confucian traditions; even "socialism with Chinese characteristics" is used to convey these traditions. Yet, in every corner of the region there is agreement on the term for Confucianism with the same

characters - rujiao, jukyo, yugyo.

4 Gilbert Rozman, "China's Quest for a Great Power Identity," Orbis, vol. 3, no. 3, (Summer

1999), pp. 383-402.


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Pacific Affairs: Spring 2002

Confucianism have been exposed. Japanese have quieted about nihonjinron (discussions about what is distinctive about being Japanese) which at root

was largely a variant of Confucianism.5 The battle against terrorism launched

by the U.S. in 2001 calls for a unified civilization, casting doubt on divisive

thinking. Critics are emboldened.' The Left, never comfortable with

explanations based on traditional values rather than class struggle and

opposition to neo-imperialism, discovered that Confucian values are just a

new form of "orientalism," seeing the "other" as different through

ethnocentric eyes.' Other academics jumped at the chance to discredit

Confucianism as the basis of political authoritarianism and the model of

crony capitalism in development; economists and political economists

welcomed this as confirmation that "fuzzy" cultural explanations lack any scientific basis. Sociologists added that Confucianism is a system of belief

and social practices that sustains particularism or choosing people on the

basis of who they are rather than what they can do, making it incompatible

with the competitive pressures of our times when democratic, modernized

countries require universalism to compete. Is there more to be said about

what is seen as just another variety of nationalist bravado - one more fad of

recent intellectual discourse?

This paper argues that the battle is not over. Before we read its obituary, le

pause to consider one more time from a comparative perspective what

Confucianism was, why it declined, the reasons for its recent rise and fall, a

possibilities for its eventual resurgence. We should do this not in the manner of boosters who champion the civilizing, moral qualities of Confucianism as a

reproof to modern excesses, but from a long-term perspective of t

compatibility of its practices with modernization and globalization and the valu

of its legacy for nations in a time of rising regionalism and changing global environment. Whether confident from success in a new round of competitio or frustrated from failure, East Asian states singly and as a group are likely

take a fresh look at their traditions. Highlighting the case of South Korea mak

sense: It is the most Confucian country,s and it has seen the most intense deba

over the prospects for Confucianism.'

5 Harumi Befu, "Nationalism and Nihonjinron," in Harumi Befu, ed., Cultural Nationalism i

East Asia: Representation and Identity (Berkeley: Inst. of East Asian Studies, University of Californi

1993), pp. 107-35.

6 Jun Sang-in, "No (Logical) Place for Asian Values in East Asia's Economic Developmen

Development and Society, vol. 28, no. 2, (December 1999), pp. 191-204.

7 Chaibong Hahm, "How the East Was Won: Orientalism and the New Confucian Discourse

East Asia," (Seoul: unpublished ms., 2000).

8 Koh Byong-ik, "Confucianism in Contemporary Korea," in Tu Wei-Ming, ed., Confuci

Traditions in East Asian Modernity: Moral Education and Economic Culture in Japan and the Four Mi

Dragons (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996), p. 191.

9 The question of Confucianism's viability is being taken most seriously in Korea. While t

literature on Confucianism has faded elsewhere, Korean academics continue to give the subject clos

attention. See for example Hahm Chaibong, Yugyo chabonjuwi minjujuwi (Seoul: Chontong kwa hyond 2000), and the 1998-99 issues of thejournals of Chontong kwa hyondae and Tongasia munhwa wa sasa


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Can Confucianism Survive?

What is Confucianism and Why Does It Matter?

Many have tried to answer the question of what we mean by this concept that seems to be a cross between religion, way of life, system of belief about society, and state ideology. In order to analyze its survival we must side with

those who find it embedded in social structure and individual attitudes as

well as in an embracing state-backed intellectual edifice. Confucianism

Qing dynasty China, Tokugawa Japan and Choson Korea served until

arrival of Western powers as the dominant way of interpreting the world performing rituals related to state and society. After the loss of hegemon a national orthodoxy, it did notjust disappear; remnants remain at the mic

level of family and community, the intermediate tier of the educational sys

and business enterprises, and the macro-level of the state and its guid thought. Local elites had a vested stake in reinforcing Confucianism.'o

trace the presence of its elements we must be alert to its mul

manifestations, whether called Confucianism or obscured with other labels

Often mentioned in a synopsis of core elements are: familyism focuse

solidarity and social mobility, thirst for education centred on mastery of de

and social mobility, support of paternalism in return for benevolence

community, competition where the state (despite a guiding spirit) limits it

intervention in markets, a high moral cause aided by rituals and claim

serving society, and the hierarchy seen in bureaucratic authority and senior

To trace change from era to era it is best to treat specific manifestations

one time in history as if they are not indispensable for survival of the tradit

Confucianism in some sense collapsed throughout the region with

fall of the premodern order, but in other ways it survived to today. Its coll

is easily understood by social scientists. While it had, over a long hist

promoted elements of universalism rare in premodern times, the forc

particularism had become so deeply entrenched that little structural refor

was occurring." With the failure of each national system under the

circumstances after 1840, a natural reaction was to blame Confucianism.

Koreans blamed it for national weakness and intellectual blindness, allowing

Korea to fall under Japanese colonialism. Elsewhere it had also failed to

promote changes that had come only in the West, and then it had delayed

the necessary response to the increasingly assertive, but also appealingly

modem, Western states. Its visible symbols under strong attack, Confucianism

seemed to be disappearing. Everywhere newly risen elites looked elsewhere

10 Kim Kwang-ok, "The Reproduction of Confucian Culture in Contemporary Korea: An

Anthropological Study," in Tu Wei-Ming, ed., Confucian Traditions in East Asian Modernity, pp. 202-27.

11 T. R. Reid, Confucius Lives Next Door: What Living in the East Teaches Us about Living in the West

(New York: Random House, 1999).

12 Some changes continued. For instance, instead of seeing China as stagnant in the sixteenth to

eighteenth centuries, we would highlight the rise of both sub-elites imitating and competing with the

local gentry and merchant groups embracing Confucian ideals. They broadened the base of Confucian

social behaviour.


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Pacific Affairs: Spring 2002

for a national identity befitting a world order of "modernize and militarize"

or perish. Capitalism, communism, and a variant of militarism promised

national strength and prosperity; Confucianism was rooted in bygone days

with no vision of the modern world. On the surface, formal institutions were fading fast; beneath the surface a way of life, a system of beliefs, and a core

for national resurgence could not be easily dislodged. In hindsight we observe that forces steeped in Confucianism survived,

acquiring new vitality. Civil codes recognized increased equality in the family,

but drew the line well short of what is commonplace in the West, making

renewed family solidarity a means to household entrepreneurship and long-

term planning to counter anomie and disruptive mobility. Families led the

way in the prosperity of small-scale enterprises and, despite rapid changes,

preservation of social order. Even when large enterprises set the pace for devel-

opment, family farming or shops became a bulwark of society. Especially South

Koreans retain confidence in the micro-level traditions shaping their lives.

After Confucian examination systems were cancelled in China and Korea,

these nations as well as Japan became obsessed with nation-wide exams

leading to higher education and prestigious careers. If the content of learning

largely duplicated that taught in the West, youngsters impressed the world

with mastery of the facts. Although self-criticism mounted about insufficient

creativity and discouraged dropouts, pride continues in the studious habits

and fundamental skills of the majority. However intense the debates on

reform, few expect to lose the benefits of the educational drive nurtured by


New enterprises found ways of expressing paternalism - through extended

family ties or corporate loyalty training - aimed at creating a community

willing to sacrifice for business success. If the framework of modern business

organizations largely seems familiar, nowhere else have such diligent labour patterns emerged and worked. Each East Asian state has sought to keep this

foundation even after recognizing that industriousness is not enough for

global competition and the satisfaction of younger generations.

As the successor states in the East Asian region gained confidence from economic success, they articulated a national identity drawing heavily on

Confucian characteristics, even at times crediting this tradition. The resulting

national loyalties are deep and clearly focused on catching up, that is, more

accepting of sacrifice and state leadership than in the West. Elites do not

seem to be in a rush to forego these emotional ties to the state.

Critics deserve credit for not losing sight of the changes required in

advanced stages of modernization and newfound globalization, warning that

particularism could derail these same countries or lead to misleading ideals

of a different route to a world order."3 After all, defenders of the tradition

13 Akira Iriye, Cultural Internationalism and World Order (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University

Press, 1997), pp. 46-47.


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Can Confucianism Survive?

have fiercely resisted such obvious forces of modernity as: equal

encouragement of education and careers for women; suitable rewards and

advancement for young workers and professionals based on their talent; or

openness to international firms or schools that challenge vested interests

and cater to individualism.

The term "Confucianization" helps us to trace changes for the three

countries of East Asia over one to two thousand years,14 while "d

Confucianization" was a process over the past century. Since the Confuci

tradition became a way of life, analyzing it does not take the form of asking

how many believers there are, but determining how widespread a

embedded its practices are. The degree of its presence can be visualized along a rising and later a descending curve. Comparisons are easier if

divide practices into: imperial or state, reform, elite, mass, and merchant or

enterprise Confucianism.'5

History reveals a continuous process of social integration, widening circles

of exchange and cooperation, and a deepening in the degree of interacti

over wider areas. This was true over several millennia prior to the start

modernization in East Asia in the second half of the nineteenth century

and it has accelerated in each subsequent stage of history.16 Social integratio takes many forms, three of which are marketing, migration and mobility." Rules for coping with integration can be particularistic, favouring those wit

desired background traits or ascriptive qualifications not germane to th

task at hand, or they can be universalistic. Competition is the means t

universalism through markets where goods are bought and sold, throug

exams and freedom to buy and sell property that favour mobility, and throug

freedom of movement across ever larger territories. But plans for insta

removal of boundaries may cause disruptions that could be avoided by

gradual changes. They may actually lower levels of social integration or creat

a narrow type of administrative mobilization with reduced levels of trus

De-Confucianization must be seen through the lens of growing soc

integration, not campaigns from above.

In our new age the pressures for globalization and universalism a

mounting and becoming closely intertwined. Some come from the "glob

14 Patricia Ebrey, JaHyun Kim Haboush, and Martin Collcutt took parallel approaches to th

history of Confucianization in Gilbert Rozman, ed., The East Asian Region: Confucian Heritage and I

Modern Adaptation (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991). See "The Chinese Family and Spr

of Confucian Values," pp. 45-83, "The Confucianization of Korean Society," pp. 84-110; and "T

Legacy of Confucianism in Japan," pp. 111-54.

15 Gilbert Rozman, "Comparisons of Modern Confucian Values in China andJapan," in Gilbe

Rozman, ed., The East Asian Region, pp. 157-203.

16 I proposed a framework for comparing premodern social integration in Gilbert Rozman, Urba

Networks in Ch 'ing China and TokugawaJapan (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974) and Urb

Networks in Russia, 1750-1800, and Premodern Periodization (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1976

17 For comparisons of these three types of social integration at different stages of modernizatio

see Cyril E. Black, et al., The Modernization of Japan and Russia (New York: The Free Press, 19

andGilbert Rozman, ed., The Modernization of China (NewYork: The Free Press, 1980).


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Pacific Affairs: Spring 2002

community" centred in the West; domestic forces are playing a growing role

too.'s The most modernized sectors and those whose talents have not been

well utilized or rewarded because of discrimination lead the way. The

challenge for the Confucian backers is to accept enough of the currents of

globalization and universalism to enable essential practices to survive. The

primary force in their way may not be the advocates of Western-style

universalism, but the vested interests who cling to incompatible forms of

tradition and insist that they are defending the heritage. Below these groups

are labelled, respectively, globalizers and Confucianists. The discussion also includes regionalizers, who press for more cooperation in East Asia.

Confucianization and De-Confucianization

On the basis of the writings of Confucius and his disciples, C

institutionalized for 2,000 years a system of particularistic social relat

punctuated by major elements of universalism. Premodern societies

overwhelmingly on particularism; the dearth of universalism did not

East Asia at a disadvantage nor was competition with states in the We

issue. Societies faced new challenges as the scale of administrative con

grew, marketing expanded, and greater social complexity required

ways of dealing with people from afar with diverse backgrounds. In

process of parallel evolution, Confucianism proved its advantage

facilitated the strengthening of family and lineage solidarity, an ess

foundation that, by entrusting families to control deviance and save face

following ideal ethical standards, reduced much of the arbitrariness of

life."9 Its precepts aided in the growth of a national bureaucracy needed f the administration of a large-scale territory, carrying important element

universalism in the recruitment and deployment of officials. Stress

education for large numbers of males, linked to an examination system, w

perhaps the supreme premodern universalistic achievement.

It is no wonder that East Asian societies maintained unprecedented l

of social integration over many centuries. Nowhere else did administr

stability over large-scale states or reliance on a dispersed educated e

compare to the records of China, Korea andJapan. EvenJapanese samu

initially steeped in military prowess, under the influence of "

Confucianism" became a well-educated class with a strong sense of ho

that served to maintain social order.20 Unusual in assuming the goodn

18 Advocates of modernization theory long pressed the significance of increasing univer

from both international and domestic sources. See MarionJ. Levy, Jr., Modernization and the Struct

Societies (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1966). 19 Marion J. Levy, The Family Revolution in Modern China (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ

Press, 1947).

20 Eiko Ikegami, The Taming of the Samurai: Honorific Individualism and the Making of Modern Japan

(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995).


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Can Confucianism Survive?

human nature and extending the attitudes and rituals of civilization to the population as a whole, all three had Confucianized to the extent that "mass

Confucianism" was deeply rooted by 1800. And, despite bias against

merchants shared by most premodern societies, China was the first country

to see periodic markets spread across the countryside, while Japan exceeded

China by 1800 in the intensity of its "merchant Confucianism" centred on

applying the principles of this worldview to commercial houses. Measures of

social integration such as urbanization indicate a long history of East Asian


What works for one stage of history may not be an advantage at another. East Asian universalistic elements rested on a solid platform of particularism.

No new pattern of cross-national integration or social class opposition had shaken this foundation. Except for Japan's impersonal forces overcoming

the formal rigidity of "centralized feudalism," internal forces of competition

brought few institutional adjustments. Reaching a peak, Confucianization

endured with no intellectual challenger: imperial Confucianism became

more rigid, reform lost its vigour, and merchant Confucianism remained narrowly confined. Mass Confucianism's late diffusion in societies already

quite commercialized, urbanized and literate narrowed the options for

change. Tightened restrictions on youth and women, symbolized by foot- binding in China and harsher patriarchy in Korea, slowed the shift from

familial to intermediate organizations. Universalism stalled in the region.22

One reason that Confucianization failed to give way to de-Confucianization was the weakness of regional networks across East Asia that could have forced competition.23 Integration limited to a national context allowed various types

of particularism to go unchallenged. Although the tradition had nurtured

important elements of universalism, they needed outside competition to

transform their scope of operation. Failing to achieve this gradually, East

Asian countries faced severe disruption when it was forced on them. Lacking the competitive forces of China due in part to its great size and ofJapan due

to its feudal roots, Korea may have faced the hardest transition. Choson Korea was the most thoroughly Confucianized.24 Despite the absence of

dogmatic moral certitude,25 full-scale Confucianization brought growing

21 Gilbert Rozman, "Urban Networks and Historical Stages," in Theodore K. Rabb and Robert I. Rotberg, eds., Industrialization and Urbanization (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981), pp.


22 John W. Hall's work on the Tokugawa era analyzes the spread of impersonal arrangements, on

which I elaborated in "Social Change," Marius B.Jansen, ed., The Cambridge History ofJapan, Vol. 5: The

Nineteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), pp. 499-568.

23 Gilbert Rozman, "East Asian Urbanization in the Nineteenth Century: Comparisons with

Europe," A. Van der Woude,, eds., Urbanization in History (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990), pp.


24 Tu Wei-Ming, "Confucius and Confucianism," in Walter H. Slote and George A. DeVos, eds.,

Confucianism and the Family (Albany: SUNY, Albany, 1998), p. 30.

25 F. W. Mote, Imperial China 900-1800 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999), p. 959.


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Pacific Affairs: Spring 2002

rigidity, especially in Korea, due to ritual formality or new methods of local

social control."26 Greater social engineering from the top and tighter elite

order than in China left less flexibility,2" and Korea was less commercialized

than China and Japan.28 From historical comparisons we may rank Japan,

China and Korea in that order as prepared for the challenges of de-


From their forced opening until World War I, East Asian states scrambled

to save their sovereignty, adopting elements of universalism to survi

Imperial Confucianism ended with the fall of dynasties in China and Kor

and its weaker form in Japan gave way quickly to a modern, centralized sta

After the abolition of the examination system, elite Confucianism fade

but aging degree holders retained prestige. Mass Confucianism fared bett

courtesy of the family system and the slow changes in rural society. Even i

modern ministries and commercial enterprises elements of the elite a

mass traditions survived. Societies steeped in Confucianism took a short

to modernization by drawing on familiar particularistic patterns, aft

essential breakthroughs in de-Confucianization.

Led by Japan, countries launched vast reforms. As latecomers t modernization, this meant top-down, state-initiated change. Lack

democratic traditions or a balancing role for civil society, officials exercised great power. To ensure trustworthy colleagues and subordinates they invoke

particularistic associations. Thus, centralization drew on nepotism, regio

ties and school ties. For decades the greatest dangers were political disor

or weak state capacity in pursuit of rapid reform.Japan's mix of particulari

and universalism worked fastest. China had trouble forging new means

universalism, having depended on those that did not survive and

particularistic local connections. Korea had little time to reform before

faced Japan's mix of colonial particularism with elements of universalism. A

path of dismantling Confucianism with only slow advances in universali

was a formula for social disorder in China and social discontent in Korea.

The primary goal was to remove unequal treaties and be treated as f

members of the world community. The particularistic ways of Confucianis

embraced by forces resistant to these changes and weakening the mod

state, stood in the way. Ironically, nationalist successes in restoring the sta

wound up invoking a Confucian universalistic call for a benevolent stat

look after all the people as well as deep-seated particularistic method

prop up authority. Imperial and mass Confucianism found new expres

26 Haejoang Cho, "Male Dominance and Mother Power: The Two Sides of Confucian Patriarc

in Slote and DeVos, eds., Confucianism and the Family, pp. 195-96.

27 Martina Deuchler, The Confucian Transformation of Korea: A Study of Society and Ide

(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992), pp. 290-92.

28 James B. Palais, ed., Confucian Statecraft and Korean Institutions (Seattle: University of Washin

Press, 1996), pp. 966-84.


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Can Confucianism Survive?

after egregious symbols - the ritual role of the emperor, blind marriages,

etc. - were gone. It proved easier to build a strong state than a vibrant society. New regimes

looked for allies in centralization, more concerned about increased

integration within their own national boundaries than opening borders to

the outside world. This led to a more benevolent attitude toward Confucian

traditions. First, the sort of particularistic ties that Confucianism encouraged

could serve an authoritarian leadership able to reward local elites with jobs,

government contracts and recognition of their autonomous control. Second,

at this stage the masses were quite removed from initial modernization in

the cities and could be better quieted by reaffirming their traditions than

reversing them. Third, traditional elements supportive of centralization came in handy. Leaders reasserted links between filial piety and loyalty, emphasized the responsibility of the state to put the society in order, and capitalized on

suspicions toward intermediate organizations between the state and kinship

groups to question the legitimacy of potential rivals for power. By the 1930s Soviet Russia, Nazi Germany and militaristJapan all combined

modernization of their economies with state mobilization and expansionism.

As a colony of Japan, Korea had no choice but to be part of this strategy.

Nationalist China emulated the organizational forms of administrative

centralization and state-led capitalism. In each case, nationalistic

emotionalism operated against international integration with the West. At

the same time, a favoured ideology glorified newfound programs for social integration at the national level. Stalin's five-year plans showed the way to

expand mobility and migration, while diminishing local restraints to central

power. Japan relied more on the ie, the corporate household, as a strong

unit of solidarity as well as community integration through the village and

the neighbourhood association. In practice, a form of imperial Confucianism

was given new life, while mass Confucianism found the environment quite

unthreatening. Modernization proceeded without removing as much

particularism as in the West. Japan mixed attacks on Korea's Confucian

traditions with reliance on its legacy.29 Confucianists resisted forced Shintoism

or depravations against Korean culture, helping to retain the tradition's

prestige, while cooperating with authority more than Christians and

The interwar era with its world depression brought little globalization. Strong states extending nationalism beyond their borders forced regional

integration on other peoples, but with high degrees of particularism,

rewarding loyalty and punishing resistance. Confucianism failed to acquire

29 NormanJacobs, The Korean Road to Modernization andDevelopment (Urbana: University of Illinois

Press, 1985), p. 242.

30 Kim Kwang-ok, "The Reproduction of Confucian Culture in Contemporary Korea: An

Anthropological Study," pp. 214-16. 221-22.


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Pacific Affairs: Spring 2002

an internationalist dimension. Educational expansion with a growing role

for stiff exam competition, bureaucratization and enterprise paternalism did not become integral to global networks. State dominance left reform

Confucianism dormant and reduced elite Confucianism to the extent that

those who did not embrace nationalism turned primarily to foreign ideologies

such as socialism or liberalism. Modernization through mobilization before

1945 was working against globalization. This was fertile soil for the legacy of

imperial Confucianism to reassert itself and for the state to use mass

Confucianism against an individualism blamed on the West.

Japan set the pace for unbalanced modernization relying on state

benevolence, family solidarity and company paternalism. A new wave of

reforms would be needed to allow more scope to the individual and bottom-

up forces that were emerging, but they would not eliminate the hold of Confucian forms of particularism. Korea and Taiwan experienced early modernization as Japanese colonies, imbibing a mix of particularism and newfound universalism. China's modernization had barely begun in most areas; so communists could use Confucian ways even as they denounced

everything Confucian.

From the end of the 1940s East Asia divided into two. In China and North

Korea the mobilization of the previous era persisted. Given low levels of

development, there was ample room for extending this model, even if its

application invoked extreme levels of mobilization that left no room for

Confucian particularism. At times of radicalism, as in the Great Leap Forward

and the Cultural Revolution, attacks against Confucianism grew intense, bu

communist control failed to produce stable universalism, degenerating int

political particularism, patron-client relations or "neo-traditionalism."3'

When radicalism subsided, Confucian elements had room for development

in the vacuum left by the state's overreaching power. At Mao Zedong's death,

China's patriarchal rural family was largely intact, although the extended

family system had been lost; the rural community was mostly self-reliant

despite losing mobility as state policies operated against the market; and n

civil society limited the state, with its enduring moral superiority and top

down assertiveness. Denouncing Confucian particularism without replacin

it, socialism achieved very unbalanced modernization and created strong

barriers to globalization.

InJapan and Korea and, differently, Taiwan and Singapore, Confucianism

found new life in the economic and political model chosen for integration

into the Western bloc. This may be surprising because these four areas

experienced the fastest modernization in world history during the decades of the 1950s to the 1980s. Indeed, it may be in part because of the speed o

the transition that particularistic elements played a large role even as

31 Andrew G. Walder, Communist Neo-Traditionalism: Work and Authority in Chinese Industry (Berkeley:

University of California Press, 1986).


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Can Confucianism Survive?

universalistic ones expanded rapidly. Also important was a decision in each

country to counteract Westernization and bolster authority by a new stress

on moral education. In Korea the 1968 presidential Charter of National

Education calling for diligence, thrift, loyalty and cooperation epitomized

this approach.32 Lacking the sweeping challenge to tradition and family

solidarity of Chinese communism or Japanese liberalism, Korea retained

more Confucian elements.33 South Koreans see their country not only as

closer to China than Japan, but in administrative culture and familyism more Confucian than China.34 They overlook similarities in state-business relations

to Japan's zaibatsu (business conglomerates) rooted in the colonial era and

continuities in the modernization model chosen in the 1960s."5

Japan, of course, led the way, inheriting a prewar foundation for

modernization. Its state had been transformed by the American occupation

and a popular fascination with democracy, releasing new energies. A new

civil code guaranteed equality at variance with the hierarchical principles in

Confucian familyism. Zaibatsuwere split up. Yet, top-down occupation reforms reinforced the role of the economic ministries and other state organs.Japan

steeped its new model of modernization in Confucianism: administrative

guidance from the state, enterprise paternalism with lifetime employment

and seniority wages, and family solidarity behind salarymen. Drawing on a

disciplined and increasingly educated workforce, this system generated

exports for the vast U.S. market and eventually other markets. It utilized

world economic integration, while restraining outside penetration. This

worked in an age of modernization through trade and national units,

although it was not well suited for the next stage of globalization or for a higher level of modernization.

The Japanese postwar model embraced elements of particularism with

limiting effects on development. State-centred particularism meant selective

application of rules, transfer of retired personnel to key positions in non-

government organizations and the private sector, a lack of checks and

balances and transparency, and dependency of local governments on

conditional largesse from the centre. As Japan grew richer, resources were

diverted to corruption, protection of weak sectors in the economy, and pork- barrel projects for favoured interest groups in return for campaign support.

32 Koh Byong-ik, "Confucianism in Contemporary Korea," p. 195.

33 Hahm Pyong Choon, Korean Jurisprudence Politics and Culture (Seoul: Yonsei Univeristy Press,


34 Gerald E. Caiden, "Introduction: Drawing Lessons from Korea's Experience," and Mahn Kee

Kim, "The Administrative Culture of Korea: A Comparison with China andJapan," in Gerald E. Caiden

and Bun Woong Kim, A Dragon's Progress: Developmental Administration in Korea (West Hartford, CN:

Kumarian Press, 1991), pp. xiv-xxii and 26-38.

35 Dennis L. McNamara, The Colonial Origins of Korean Enterprise, 1910-1945 (Cambridge:

Cambridge University Press, 1990), pp. 55-56; CarterJ. Eckert, Offspring ofEmpire: The Koch'angKims and the Colonial Origins of Korean Capitalism, 1876-1945 (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1991), p. 5.


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Pacific Affairs: Spring 2002

Misinformation on economic efficiency led to huge waste in speculative

ventures and arrogant disregard for reform during the bubble economy.

South Korea repeated this pattern. Under a military government until 1987,

it tolerated more particularism than Japan. Regional favouritism,36 chaebol

(business conglomerates) personal authority, more centralization of power with fewer checks, and broad acceptance of Confucian familial and lineage

ties in social networks left Korea behind in universalism. It also trailed in

globalization; foreign pressure to open up came late. Korean postwar modernization started with a Confucian base rooted in

filial piety as well as loyalty and was affected by Japan's reinforcement of th

state. Modernization brought increasing individualist values, including

respect for human rights, equality and social welfare, as well as a growin

interest in enjoying one's life. Yet, even college students retained a stron

nucleus of traditional values in the midst of rapid change.37

East Asian nations took pride in the traditional roots of their economi

success, yet each had misgivings about its own brand of particularism. Reason

for doubt largely came from within. The Japanese public chafed under

growing awareness that inequalities were widening, quality of life trailed far

behind the West, and initiative was stifled. They sensed that things wer

unfair as corruption scandals exploded. With high modernization levels,

they wanted more universalism. Koreans had similar complaints, plus the

had a pent-up demand for democratization, unleashed but not satisfied wit

the end of military rule. Chinese associated particularism with Communis

party rule and its high level of corruption. The Taiwanese began to searc

for a national identity to justify continued separation from China, and

distanced themselves from the Confucianism that was now more accepte

in China but twisted for nationalist ends and missing core public ethics

Even without a single crisis resulting from short-term factors, there wer

inborn limitations to a model for catching up, borrowing, and export-le

growth as the world kept moving ahead.

In 1997 the IMF became the scapegoat, especially in South Korea, for

resentment against globalization. The habit of severely limiting bot

universalism and globalization was unfair to domestic consumers and di not meet international standards; wrenching adjustments are needed to world order in which the WTO operates and the U.S. spurs technologica

innovation led by the information sector. Essential changes to the societ

and its relationship to the state place Confucian claims at risk, but traditions

should not be dismissed as irrelevant to a new era after contributing muc

to recent success.

36 Choong Soon Kim, The Culture ofKorean Industry: An Ethnography ofPoongsan

University of Arizona Press, 1992), pp. 41-53.

37 Yang Jonghoe, "Confucian Institutional Change and Value Conflict in

Science Journal, no. 1 (1999), pp. 209-34.


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Can Confucianism Survive?

What Is Left of Confucianism?

Four forces coalesced to bring about a comeback for Confucianism in

the 1980s-90s across East Asia: 1) newfound confidence in success combine

with a belief in its social roots; 2) a quest to reconsider and rename old

models of development - in Korea after sacrifices imposed from above in

quarter century of high-speed development; and in China after rejection

the traditional socialist model; 3) the spread of democracy, leading to ne

attention to national identity; and 4) a desire, especially in Taiwan throug

the early 1990s, to further China's reform and show it the way to leav socialism. In Japan the heyday of nihonjinron came in the 1980s when

confidence was at its peak, so the other factors were secondary. In Kore

pride in Confucianism soared in 1994-97, when democracy arrived, fatigu

with the old model of development was most visible, and confidence w

high.38 In China the principal factors may have been the vacuum caused b

the failure of the old model and the intention of reformers to heighten the

appeal power from successful neighbours. While the balance of these fou

forces varied, their impact occurred almost simultaneously. They added a

intellectual veneer to the structural reality of Confucian practices, whil

obscuring the forces against traditions.

What is left of Confucian ways after successive periods of de-Confucianization

In economics, we find meritorious elites, chosen largely through exams, servin

as officials guiding the business sector, but the developmental state is on the retreat. Instead of turning into a regulatory state in which the brightest and

least corrupt individuals rose to high office, as envisioned as far back

Confucius's time, it grew into an albatross interfering with universalism and

globalization. We observe entrepreneurial households toiling hard in sma

family enterprises; yet even in China a larger scale of operations is becoming

essential. Instead of family firms drawing on a new wave of venture capit

and sparking the rise of new multi-national corporations, we see a barri

that keeps small firms inefficiently relying on household labour under elderl authority. Finally, Japan and Korea retain the paternalistic firm, despite an

end to lifetime employment and company loyalty as ideals.39 Globalizatio

threatens to send all of these forces further into retreat.

Merchant Confucianism has proven to be a strange mix of contradictory

elements. Korea is patrimonial, relying on the personal authority of the

chairman of the chaebol and pervasive state intervention. Japan is

communitarian, wanting cooperative group relations with some

administrative guidance but less state intervention. And Taiwan depends

more on kinship networks operating through smaller scale enterprises with

38 Cho Hae-Joang, "Constructing and Deconstructing 'Koreanness,'" in Dru Gladney, ed., Making Majorities (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998), pp. 73-91. 39 Gilbert Rozman, "The Confucian Faces of Capitalism," in Mark Borthwick, ed., Pacific Century

(Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1992), pp. 310-18.


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Pacific Affairs: Spring 2002

a diminished role for the state. Clearly China's recent dynamism draws on

the same sort of social relations as Taiwan and Hong Kong, although local and central governments politicize relations and leave little room for the

moral force of personal cultivation. In each case Confucian capitalism is

seen in the importance of reputation in network formation and the

elaboration of mechanisms for creating harmony. Social relations have been

harmonized with capitalism, keeping a common core despite varied


The company as community worked well in an age of catch-up

industrialization by holding down wages and national consumption,

maintaining labour harmony and sacrifice, and concentrating on quality

and cost control. This model is not suited to a time when national growth is

much slower, global innovation far quicker, national markets much less

protected, and workers newly emboldened by higher levels of modernization.

China's claims to paternalism often mask horrible sweatshop conditions.

Korean labour feels exploited because, just when firms were beginning to compensate for decades of suppression of their demands and unions, they

were told that it is time to sacrifice again in order to switch to a new

development model.Japanese talk of dying from overwork and the younger

generation is losing trust in the corporate community. Nowhere do we see a

vision of the Confucian enterprise capable of inspiring responses to the challenges ahead.

In politics and social relations, Confucianism is represented by

connections, gift giving, and a model of social exchange focused on favours,

not contractual principles.4 These practices protect vested interests even in

democratic settings. In the 1990s there has been much talk of political

changes in Japan, Korea and Taiwan. Clearly, new forces are at work, but it is

too soon to say that the Confucian elements are markedly decreasing. It

may be that political Confucianism associated with the imperial Confucianism

of old will survive longer than economic practices linked to merchant Confucianism. That may be the main problem. Two centuries ago it was

imperial Confucianism that left little room for reform Confucianism and

kept the commercial sector under tight restraint. Bolstered by modernization, political systems of today give excessive power to the state, leaving the society reliant on personal relations in order to win the right to operate, as it must.

Remnants of imperial Confucianism continue to be the principal problem

in the region.

40 Seok-choon Lew, "An Institutionalist Reinterpretation of 'Confucian Capitalism' in East Asia,"

Korean Social Science Journal, no. 2 (1999), pp. 117-34.

41 Mayfair Mei-hui Yang, Gifts, Favors & Banquets: The Art of Social Relationships in China (Ithaca:

Cornell University Press, 1994); Yasusuke Murakami and Thomas P. Rohlen, "Social Exchange Aspects of theJapanese Political Economy: Culture, Efficiency, and Change," in Shumpei Kumon and Henry

Rosovsky, eds., The Political Economy of Japan, Vol. 3: Cultural and Social Dynamics (Stanford: Stanford

University Press, 1989), pp. 63-105; Kim Byung Kook, "The Politics of Reform in Confucian Korea:

Dilemma, Choice, & Crisis," Segye chiyok yongu nonsol, no. 11 (1997), pp. 87-122.


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Can Confucianism Survive?

The revival of pride in Confucianism has concentrated on aspects of it

that retard globalization and universalism. Many still believe that the East

Asian state can lead the way to faster economic development than in the West and societies can achieve a more harmonious model of capitalism.

Instead of promoting reforms that expand social networks suitable for an

open and inclusive society, recent periods of modernization have invigorated social networks of a different sort.Just as China's reforms from 1978 boosted

guanxi (connections) and particularism centred on local governments, while

contributing to nationwide networks of corruption linked to a lack of political

modernization, Japanese politics also are at fault, as elections increasingly

lead to hereditary office-holding and networks of favouritism. While Korean democratization seems to have made regionalism even more deeply embedded,

Japan's new electoral districts and claims of increased democratization since

1993 have not reduced the excess power of politicians representing

prefectures fearful of globalization. The greater the pride, the less openness. So far, there is no sign of a strong moral force within the political system or even among those who regard themselves as the intellectual elite of society

that could revive reform or elite Confucianism. In the early postwar years

when graduates of Tokyo University, Seoul National University, Taiwan

University and Beijing University were entering state service in droves and

finding great opportunities for upward mobility, there seemed to be a chance that their idealism would transform official service. There might have been

a new elitism reminiscent of the ideals of Confucian scholar-officials. But at

least in ministries in charge of the redistribution of resources the

marginalizing effects of seniority rule and the corrupting effects of state authorit

became pronounced. There is no moral rebirth of the elite as part of a ne

civil service regime. Instead, the cultural and academic elite has produce

large numbers of righteous accusers on the left. Confucian elitism has be

a mirage, failing to capture the moral high ground.

To many in the region the most negative side of Confucianism is th

residue of mass Confucianism seen in the treatment of women either in law

or through local traditions. One target has been marriage laws that restrict

individual choice. Until it was declared void by the Constitutional Court in

1997 Article 809 of the Civil Code of South Korea prohibited marriages

between people with the same surname and ancestral seat. Since some lineage

groups from one area comprise as many as 2 or 3 million people, estimates

range as high as 200,000 of couples that have defied this ban and suffered

discrimination in national health insurance, inheritance and even recognized

legitimacy of their offspring. Three years after the court action, the National

Assembly still had not amended the code due to the opposition of defenders

of Confucian values.42 In Japan and China, the local elite, especially from

42 Hahm Chaibong, "The Family v. the Individual: The Politics of Marriage Law in Korea," (Seoul:

unpublished manuscript, 2000).


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Pacific Affairs: Spring 2002

less urbanized areas, also clings to family traditions due to their beliefs and

their desire to retain power. No less at fault in China is the cynical use of

nationalism by leaders, who first pervert cultural awareness of their own

traditions and those in the West and then bemoan the deterioration of social


Of course, the structural impact of modernization and the spread of

foreign popular culture, especially among the youth, are undermining mass

Confucianism. It is their decisions that pose the most direct threat to existing

Confucian practices. Daughters raised in small nuclear families are delaying

marriage, going to college, choosing careers, seeking leisure and avoiding marriage to sons of households that remain traditional by virtue of their

preference or profession (artisans, farmers, etc.). Entering the workforce,

men seek more leisure and are more prone to switch jobs than their fathers. Popular culture has spread new values rapidly; traditional culture has lost its

appeal for young people. De-Confucianization at the mass level has accelerated, as modernization theory predicted. In 1950 rural areas

dominated. Now urban residents prevail except in China. The masses of East Asia are largely ignorant of the Confucian nature of

their behaviour. They see Confucianism is essentially gone. Aware of some

of its notorious associations, such as foot-binding and blind marriages, they

are glad to have it in the past. Given the huge generation gap in each country

of the region, some older people may be attached to practices steeped in

Confucianism, but younger people are apathetic at best.

People not only reject its presence at the mass level, they object to its use by the state. Koreans, who accept Confucianism in daily life, interacting with older relatives without rebelling, balk at it in national discourse, viewing the political order suspiciously. They retain an image of Confucianism as a symbol

of national weakness held responsible for failing to resist Japanese

colonialism. Young people now gravitate to symbols of modernity, to which

Confucianism has failed to become attached.

Confucianism has lost its lustre for much the same reasons across East

Asia. The most powerful are: 1) a rise in nationalism that makes the areas

the region more competitive with each other rather than seeking a common

heritage; 2) a growing appeal of globalization among young people

influenced by information technology (IT), popular culture and economic

integration; 3) increasing individualism due to the effects of modernization,

global ideology, and rapidly declining birth rates coupled with changin childrearing practices and the rising status of women; and 4) the Asian

financial crisis and declining non-competitiveness. Of course, the relativ

weight of these factors differs by country. Pride has diminished; the reality of public opinion with little faith in traditions remains.

There remains a tendency to confuse what narrowly serves the interest

of political beneficiaries of the existing order with the essence of nationa

traditions. Chinese communists have draped themselves in the cloth of


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Can Confucianism Survive?

defenders of Chinese civilization, while doing little to combat corruption

linked to particularism. Japanese politicians have lost most of the trust of

the Japanese people, but still have some success in keeping alive the idea

that they are defending Japanese tradition in their resistance to reforms

identified with the West. Korean democratization has disappointed the people

because of its failure to address the most blatant forms of unfairness. The

big challenges of reform to meet new needs of globalization lie ahead. N

having prepared nationally distinct approaches to reform, leaders are m

likely to turn to time-tested Western models of the rule of law, the separati

of powers, and the impersonal handling of personnel. It is not clear h

Confucian principles will enter into their calculations. Confucian claims moral integrity emanating from the top weaken pressure for institutio

checks through the separation of power. Filling the vacuum are mone politics, regional voting blocs and other irregular mechanisms. Althou the ideal is to prevent cleavages, they inevitably occur. Thus Confucia crusades by a new leader eager to prove his moral credentials soon fad before a loss of credibility and a new cycle of rising opposition and th appearance of another professed saviour. In Korea this pattern has bee

enshrined in electoral politics of the 1990s without suggesting real hope for

a moral crusade that can restore credibility to Confucianism.43

Whereas Confucian values could have been used for many purposes,

priority was usually given to strengthening respect for authority. This serv

the growing dominance of imperial Confucianism in China. It was the

primary usage of the tradition in Tokugawa Japan.44And it lent itself t

view of politics as ethics that turned discussions away from policy alternativ

to overarchingjudgments on moral rectitude. Comparisons of the traditio

hold in contemporary times suggest its link to hierarchy rather than balanc of power, to authoritarian tendencies rather than civil society, and to keepin

foreign societies at arm's length rather than openness.45

At opposite poles at the peak of the discussion in Japan were books titled

Thinking about a Confucian Renaissance and The Poison of Confucianism.

Throughout East Asia there was a love-hate relationship with Confucianis

especially when basic questions of democracy and human rights sharpl

divided the society. To reach beyond this conflict requires a breakthrou on these issues, which some optimists argue is compatible with Confucia

43 Kim Byung Kook, "The Politics of Reform in Confucian Korea: Dilemma, Choice and Crisi

pp. 87-122.

44 Marius B. Jansen, China in the Tokugawa World (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press,

1992), p. 68.

45 Lucian W. Pye, Asian Power and Politics: The Cultural Dimensions of Authority (Cambridge, MA:

Harvard University Press, 1985), pp. 55-89.

46 MizoguchiYuzo and Nakajima Mineo, eds.,Jukyo renessansu o kangaeru (Tokyo: Daisukan shoten,

1991); Muramatsu, Ei,Jukyo no doku (Tokyo: PHP kenkyujo, 1992).


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Pacific Affairs: Spring 2002

thought,47 amidst doubts that the political system is able to overcome groups

favouring protectionism and nationalism over global integration.

What is clear is that change builds on what is left from the previous era of

development.Japanese export-oriented industrial firms, through production

chains at home and across Asia, continue to make large profits. Despite excessive debts, some chaebol have boosted their exports, enabling South

Korea to bounce back from the severe economic downturn of 1997-98. China

has yet to reach a watershed, when its rate of growth drops to the world

average. Across a region that mastered the art of latecomer modernization,

social forces are in place to sustain past successes and the potential to facilitate

new ones if ways are found to accelerate integration across national


Our New Era of Globalization and Korea's Special Role

According to Francis Fukuyama's analysis, low-trust societies such as Chi

and Korea are limited in their development because individuals canno

open to the outside and are likely not only to choose people on the basi

who they are but also to be corrupt, whereas high-trust societies suc Japan have accepted more impersonal mechanisms of trust.48 In reali

Japanese also have trouble forging relations of trust, and China and K are having some success in moving beyond earlier particularism. All th

societies must overcome limitations on trust associated with their reliance

on Confucianism. Lucian Pye carries the argument further in analyzing th

dearth of social integration beyond the personal level or what he calls a lack

of generalized bonding. He shows that convergence has been delayed,

limiting the degree of social capital at large due to state interference in the

development of institutions of civil society. Assertion of Asian values only

reinforced these barriers to impersonal civility, he concludes.49 It is this advice

in favour of openness and trust that should guide reforms in our new era.

One of the common refrains in each East Asian country is that because

traditions are different, the next stage of reforms must not listen much to

the advice of the West. In Korea in 1998, for instance, there was much tal

about using the tradition of a strong state to guide reforms toward

synthesis."5 Usually the foundation for such defensiveness is more nationalist pride than trust in one's own society's competitive potential.Japan's reforms

47 Daniel A. Bell, David Brown, Kanishka Jayasuriya and David Martin Jones, Towards Illiberal

Democracy in Pacific Asia (Oxford: St. Martin's Press, 1995);Joanne R. Bauer and Daniel A. Bell, eds.,

The East Asian Challenge for Human Rights (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999).

48 Francis Fukuyama, Trust: The Social Virtues & The Creation of Prosperity (New York: The Free Press, 1995), pp. 69-82, 127-45, 161-93.

49 Lucian W. Pye, "Civility, Social Capital, and Civil Society: Three Powerful Concepts for

Explaining Asia," Journal of Interdisciplinary History (Spring 1999), pp. 763-82.

50 Lew Seok-choon, "Yugyo chabonjuwi kwa IMF kaeip," Chontong kwa hyondae (Fall 1998), pp.



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Can Confucianism Survive?

have moved forward at a glacial pace. It is not clear which country will step

up and lead the way or how a shared vision may evolve. Eventually, a shared

Chinese identity is likely to draw parts of the region together and become

the driving force. It would be more authentic if it came gradually through the popular will in defence of personal interests rather than being imposed

by the state in defence of vested interests. Taking at face value statements by national leaders, we would be tempted

to say that Korea leads Taiwan followed byJapan, then Singapore and China, and finally North Korea in readiness for the trust required by globalization.

It appears that the shock of the IMF has propelled Korea into the most

radical reforms and rhetoric, while the need to distant itself from China is

driving Taiwan. In both countries new leaders have come from the democratic

opposition to authoritarian rule. They may, however, not be representative

of their societies. President Kim Dae Jung was long obsessed with

transforming Korea into a more democratic society. His rejection of Asian

values may be but one of many factors that diminishes his support, worrying

those who have more vested interests in retaining much of the existing

economic model. Even among the many who associate excessive state

centralization and chaebol mismanagement with Confucian traditions, there

are quite a few who differ with Kim on the pace of change, believing that Korea is not ready for the Anglo-American model even if it is desirable in

the long run. Lacking a firm political base, Kim has compromised with vested

interests in ways that cost him support also from those who favour more

rapid reform.

Likewise in Japan, despite the clamour for far-reaching changes since

1993 and the promise of a series of "big bang" reforms, powerful opponents make fundamental change unlikely for the present. Restarting the economy

is the first priority, and pump-priming measures keep channelling huge

amounts of government funds into the hands of the beneficiaries of the old economic order. As in Korea, there is a fear that universalism opens the way

to globalization, which damages national interests and even sovereignty. After

a century of associating modernization reforms with a strong state and

reinforced sovereignty, the preparation for global integration is inadequate.

While politicians hesitate, change is being driven by technology.

Traditional corporate culture places a high value on precedent, promotes

by seniority as the norm, and is very hierarchical in internal communications

as well as the distribution of power. For a long time the image of Western

organizations has contrasted with these traditions. It is one of performance-

based pay, innovative top management and lively communications both

horizontally and vertically. Across East Asia there is a move toward a new

organizational culture much closer to the Western ideal. In China it is linked to the switch from the socialist mode of management in a planned economy. In South Korea it was stimulated by democratization of society. And in Japan

the high level of modernization and diffusion of Western norms provided


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Pacific Affairs: Spring 2002

an impetus that was accelerated with the economic stagnation from the early

1990s. Yet, perhaps most important is the introduction of information

technology. One study finds a remarkable shift from traditional management

in Japan in a mere three years from 1996 to 1999 through web-page access,

e-mail communications, and a host of other information changes that create

an open environment where the ideas of young employees and specialists

are highly valued.51 Simply introducing technology plays a dramatic role in

changing corporate culture and the larger Confucian social setting.

Korea is widely considered to be the most Confucian society. The reasons

for this are many. 1) There were stronger roots of particularism in relations

reaching beyond the community in late premodern times. In Japan

centralized feudalism placed a higher priority on impersonal competition between local areas. In China the vast scale of the country and absence of

closed classes gave more scope to universalistic examinations and other ways

to counteract ascriptive ties. 2) The impact of Japanese colonialism may have raised the role of political connections and state domination in an

atmosphere of nationalist resistance. 3) The more rapid pace of

modernization in Korea and greater reliance on top-down methods through

military authoritarianism created fertile ground for particularism. China

probably has more particularism than Korea, but much of it is linked to

communist control rather than Confucian traditions. 4) Even in the short

span of democracy, the nature of the political system combined with a large

amount of bureaucratic discretion reinforces some forms of particularism.

5) The Korean model of development has kept out foreign investment and

other forms of foreign penetration more than in any other East Asian country

or comparably modernized country. Whatever the explanation, Korean

particularism has distinctive features that deserve attention.

One question is whether the Korean people are abandoning their trust

in the state and reliance on a virtuous ruler in favour of insistence on checks

and balances and accountability. While such thinking rooted in Confucianism

is considered to be omnipresent in the region, Koreans are judged to be the

most influenced by it. Yet, each leader in the democratic era has lost the

confidence of the people, suggesting that people are raising their standards

for legitimate authority. Because of the system of presidential elections, the

will of the people can be more clearly reflected in Korea than in Japan and,

of course, China. Hahm Chaibong finds hope in this transition, suggesting

that traditional expectations for rectitude in government may even revive

Confucian ideals through democracy.52 His analysis combines a realistic

appraisal of de-Confucianization as a positive process, with optimism that

51 Akio Kunii, "Corporate Culture and the Introduction of Information Technology," Institutefor

International Policy Studies Policy Paper 257E (December 2000).

52 Hahm Chaibong, "The Confucian Tradition and Economic Reform," inJongryn Mo and Chong-

in Moon, Democracy and the Korean Economy (Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 1999), pp. 35-54.


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Can Confucianism Survive?

moral aspects of the tradition can endure. But before that can happen the

universalism of elections must be supplemented by a host of other reforms

to achieve fairer government representing all of the people. One test will be

whether, in coming elections, extreme differences in voting by region will

be narrowed.53

A related test is whether Korea's corruption level will be lowered. Among developed countries it may be the worst in the world; the latest ratings put

Korea in the bottom half with no sign of improvement.54 This is associated

with the difficulty of reducing the effects of regionalism, well documented

by Jon Byong-je.55 Even in the reforms of President Kim Young Sam the embeddedness of practices associated with Confucianism proved very hard

to overcome, as explained by Kim Byong Kook.56

Along with the state, the chaebol are the primary barrier to universalism in

Korea. Chaebol heads were known for strict Confucian values: generational

order, hierarchy, patriarchy, subordination of women and stress on loyalty.57

Methods of labour recruitment and organizational control claimed to build

on traditionalism. Emphasis on chaebolin development thus helped to sustain

a feeling of tradition in the face of global industrial practices, but ruthless

exploitation of workers and arbitrary personal authority left an organizational

form much resented. When rampant financial mismanagement brought the

chaebol into disrepute, a wave of negativity helped turn the tide against Confucianism too. Initial hopes in 1998 that financial pressure will force

them to change many of their practices proved overly optimistic. The first

generation of owner-managers relied heavily on trusted family members and associates chosen through ascriptive ties. Newfound state resistance to chaebol

power and inefficiency offers hope for accelerated reform, particularly if

chaebol no longer have to cope with an arbitrary state and strategies of tax

evasion. Yet, recent economic troubles raise the profile of the chaebol as the leading exporters and largest employers that keep the country from another

financial crisis.

Of course, Confucian traditions survive in the family, the community and

personal social relations, apart from the largest organizations in Korea. The

relentless pace of modernization and new forces of globalization such as

53 Chachi haengfong, no. 1 (1998). The results for the presidential election show 97.3 percent of

the people in Kwangju voted for Kim DaeJung, while only 1.7 percent supported his main opponent,

who nationwide received 41 percent of the vote. By contrast, in Taegu 12.5 percent favoured Kim,

72.7 percent his opponent. 54 "Mountains and Molehills: Korea's Corruption Index 2000," The Korea Herald, 23 September


55 Byong-je Jon, "Regionalism and Regional Conflict in Korea," in Kim Kyong-Dong and Su-

Hoon Lee, eds., Asia in the 21st Century: Challenges and Prospects (Seoul: Pannum Book Co., 1990), pp.


56 Kim Byong Kook, "The Politics of Reform in Confucian Korea: Dilemmas, Choice, and Crisis,"

pp. 87-122.

57 Eun Mee Kim, BigBusiness, Strong State: Collusion and Conflict in South Korean Development, 1960-

1990 (Albany: SUNY Press, 1997), pp. 62-65.


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Pacific Affairs: Spring 2002

popular culture threaten them. If Korea is about twenty years behindJapan

in social change, as one sometimes hears, then it can look forward to further erosion in its traditions, but also resistance that seems to increase social

dissatisfaction more than smooth the way to more harmony. The attitudes

revealed in surveys suggest that Confucian thinking remains widely

accepted." Clearly, family practices keep it alive. Debates proceed over the adequacy of institutional mechanisms for sustaining Confucian ideals and practices in the midst of structural changes.59 Some thoughtful analysts

recognize the possibility of trust based on particularism still playing a positive

role in EastAsia."' After all, not only in domestic networks but also in networks

that are leading the way in the rise of East Asian regionalism, informal ties

are clearly prominent.6'

Perhaps the greatest role for Confucianism is as part of national identity.

With new tensions ahead between globalization and nationalism, we must

expect a strong reaction rhetorically regardless of the structural reality. If

some have viewed the revival of Confucianism as the construction of national

identity,62 we may overlook the growing gap between national identity and a

society's actual value system. No modernized society has a well-integrated value system of the sort seen in premodern Confucianism. Public anxiety

over the diffusion of youth culture embraced by the entertainment industry

and the championing of what are perceived as American values naturally

leads to efforts to preserve values under threat. In Korea even those who are

strongly critical of the way Confucianism has been invoked to date predict that it has some survival value in the preservation of individual and family

values different from those in the West.6" It remains to be specified what the

survival mechanisms are and how they can operate in a society that accepts

increased universalism and opens itself to increased globalization. Problems

of integration between South and North Korea and uncertainty about

regional cooperation in East Asia will complicate South Korea's struggle

over Confucianism. In the fight for democracy and workers' rights, Korean

students and younger intellectuals often turned to leftist theories of national

dependency.64 They made Confucianism a target of blame for blinding

58 Byong-ik Koh, "Confucianism in Contemporary Korea."

59 Kim Kwang-ok, "The Reproduction of Confucian Culture in Contemporary Korea: An

Anthropological Study," in Wei-ming Tu, ed., Confucian Traditions in East Asian Modernity, pp. 202-27;

Seok-choon Lew, "An Institutional Reinterpretation of 'Confucian Capitalism' in East Asia," pp. 117-34.

60 Won Bae Kim, "Family, Social Relations, and Asian Capitalism," Journal of International and

Area Studies, vol. 5, no. 1 (December 1998), pp. 65-79.

61 Dajin Peng, "The Changing Nature of East Asia as an Economic Region," Pacific Affairs, vol.

73, no. 2 (Summer 2000), pp. 178-80. 62 Cho Hae-Joang, "Constructing and Deconstructing 'Koreanness.

63 YangJong Hoe, "Asian Values in Capitalist Development: A Critique," (Seoul: unpublished

ms., 2000).

64 Park Myoung-Kyu and Chang Kyung-Sup, "Sociology between Western Theory and Korean

Reality: Accommodation, Tension and a Search for Alternatives," International Sociology (June 1999),

pp. 148-51.


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Can Confucianism Survive?

people to both domestic and international forces of oppression. Although

the coming of democracy and the Asian financial crisis dulled their message

for domestic struggle, a lingering sense of national weakness makes them a

force in debates. South Koreans could oppose the U.S. and Japan without

turning to Confucianism.

Our focus should not be limited to the psychology and rhetoric of nations

in competition but should also include the social institutions, domestic and

international, through which people interact. It is there that the real, rather

than reconstructed, future of Confucianism can be understood. There we

see at work the irrepressible forces of social integration. In the time of

Confucius, establishment of a national bureaucracy to lead in administrative

centralization over large populations advanced social integration. So too did strengthened family solidarity, offering the individual household

opportunity and security in return for greater control over its members. The bar for social integration has been raised many times. It now demands

a global approach to the movement of capital, goods and people. After 1950,

East Asian societies met the challenge of social integration at a time of lower

levels of modernization and globalization by incorporating particularistic

elements into their strategies of development in ways very different from

Western states. Now they must catch up again by boosting universalism. Confucianism in Korea, socialism mixed with Eastern civilization in China,

and nihonjinron in Japan became linked to nationalist causes that divide the countries of East Asia. In the mid-1990s, as South Korea became a more

democratic state and grew more confident of its relations with China and

Russia, writings on Japan became more assertive, adding to anxieties about

both the past and the future of that country. At about the same time, China's

leaders unleashed a nationalist campaign to bolster the legitimacy of the Communist party, highlighting its role in the liberation of China from

Japanese occupation and the image ofJapanese conduct as evil. There were

signs of nationalism inJapan too, which reached a new height in 2001 when

textbooks appeared that claimed Japan legally annexed Korea, fought in

China and elsewhere to liberate Asian nations from Western imperialism,

and behaved normally during the war with no mention of "comfort women"

or the "rape of Nanjing." As long as the region's atmosphere fans nationalism,

we cannot expect serious interest in Confucianism as a unifying heritage.

South Korea can be expected to play a leading role in elevating

Confucianism into a force for regionalism. To the extent it focuses on

reunification with the North and seeks a supportive regional environment,

it will have a strong stake in bringing China and Japan together. As it seeks

funding for projects that can smooth the way to unification and a soft landing for the North, the South will try to draw China and Japan into joint action.

While Chinese perceive Japan as imperialist aggressors whose people do not

reflect on the past and Japanese see China as communist brainwashers whose

people do not know the truth, Koreans respect Chinese Confucian history


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Pacific Affairs: Spring 2002

and, more than Chinese, are indebted to Japanese modernization in ways

that may lead to forging ajoint image. Some critics of Confucian explanations of Asian patterns of development

suggest that the differences across the region are too great to find a common

denominator and that it suffices to find historical paths of institutional change

to explain the outcomes.65 They underestimate the commonalities across the region and allow details of recent history to obscure deeper features

evolving from earlier history. Some who respect Confucian traditions and

object to their misuse against human liberties and openness to the world see

human rights deeply embedded in the traditional thought of the region.66

Hesitant to blame the tradition and those who lately have distorted it, they

tend to miss the linkages between Confucian social traditions and structural

barriers to civil society. Advocates often take a nationalist position against

democratic and other ideals found in the West, not suggesting ways to

accelerate universalism or human rights.67

The U.S. has an advantage in globalization because of its wider application

of universalist practices in migration, marketing and mobility. It developed

as a melting pot society and increasingly, through its universities and high-

tech businesses, attracts the most talented young minds of our times. One

challenge of universalism in East Asian societies is to open their universities and enterprises to the best talent in the world, an impossibility if recruitment and promotion are narrowly defined in a national context emphasizing group relations. Today financial and capital markets have become the liveliest arena

for advancing economic development. Again, the U.S., with its financial openness and transparency, leads the way. In the 1990s Japan and Korea

have made major strides in selling shares in companies to foreigners and

this is becoming a force for their accelerated globalization, but the region

has a long way to go. American society has a much higher degree of

universalism in the recruitment and promotion of individuals according to

performance. Women have more opportunities. Fitting into the group is

less important. Young people can rise quickly or start their own companies

easily. As barriers fall in the new era, East Asian particularism that narrows

the range of migration, marketing and mobility can be expected to decline

from what remain rather high levels.

Will Confucianism Revive through Regionalism?

Is there life for Confucianism once universalism accelerates? Most social

scientists are likely to answer "no," since they are preoccupied with the

65 Marco Orru, Nicole Woolsey Biggart, and Gary G. Hamilton, The Economic Organization ofEast

Asian Capitalism (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1997).

66 Wm. Theodore de Bary and Tu Weiming, eds., Confucianism and Human Rights (New York:

Columbia University Press, 1998).

67 Fang Litian and BiJundu, eds., Ruxue yu Zhongguo wenhua xiandaihua ((Beijing: Zhongguo

renmin daxue chubanshe, 1998).


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Can Confucianism Survive?

narrowness of the tradition and today, as in the heyday of modernization theory, seldom recognize the value of non-Western traditions for modern

development. Most defenders of Confucianism and Asian values would

answer "yes" on the assumption, which they hesitate to put to serious scrutiny,

that much of the particularism that they welcome will persist. There may be

only a few who would answer "yes" on the basis of a vision of a Confucian

legacy after much additional de-Confucianization and universalism. They

should be taken seriously for four reasons. 1) East Asian societies have the

foundation to be competitive if they grasp the trend of the times, since their

Confucian heritage leaves them with impressive advantages in education,

labour diligence, etc. 2) Intense global competition lies ahead with continued

efforts to build national and regional identities, giving East Asian states strong

reasons to reconstruct their separate and shared Confucian identities. 3) We ought not to take for granted U.S. globalization and leadership in a

complex world or of the capacity to hold back great power rivalries in the short term, causing a breakdown in international integration and a return

to more particularistic ways for a time and for some regions. 4) Individuals

of East Asian descent are proving very successful around the world in the most competitive conditions, suggesting that the countries of the region

can tap a wealth of talent. The next decade or two will be crucial in the transition, requiring intensified de-Confucianization but not necessarily

abandoning pride in the tradition.

We would be making a mistake to overlook the potential for the Confucian

legacy to give a boost to East Asian societies in the new era. The region's

educational drive can be harnessed to the IT revolution if state reforms are

not blocked. In an era when youth materialism and deviancy pose b

challenges to national development, family solidarity has further promise if

nations change to embrace new family forms rather than standing in the

way. Idealists who speak of borderlessness are underestimating th

importance of the state. If East Asian states can expand democracy whi

focusing on overcoming vested interests and corruption, they may play

more positive role.68 In short, we must test American assumptions about the

superiority of creativity without rote learning, individualism without sustaine

family pressure, and civic society without an active state. Now globalizati

favours the Anglo-American model, but competition among nations as we

as firms and individuals is bound to continue, with East Asian actors fully in

the fray.

The struggle over Confucianism is at heart a battle over national identity. In Japan, where nationalism was increasingly targeted at China in the 1990s,

Confucianism as a label serves no nationalist purpose. Instead, the right

wing looks to historical symbols that frighten Chinese and Koreans, such as

68 Hahm Chaibong, "The Confucian Political Discourse and the Politics of Reform in Korea,"

Korea Journal (Winter 1997), pp. 65-77.


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Pacific Affairs: Spring 2002

that Japan was a normal country in the first half of the twentieth century

driven to war by the U.S. and intent on liberating Asia from Western

imperialism. If, in their rediscovery of the past,Japanese appeal to traditional

morality with streaks of Confucianism, they are unlikely to associate

nihonjinron with any regional significance.69 In China a sharp downswing in

feelings toward Japan in the mid-1990s accompanied a rise in great power identity. Although Confucian discourse overlaps more with nationalism in China as the home for the tradition, the nationalist tone of recent years

leaves it on the sidelines. South Korea's attachment to Confucianism is most

open, but the collapse of its development model has left little energy for

claims of superior values. Struggling to advance unification without it

occurring precipitously, the South seeks balance among the powers, not a

cultural label to widen the divide among them. The search for nationalist

identities is not likely to lead soon to Confucianism.

In the next decades Confucianism may again find broad acceptance in

the region if: 1) globalization is halting, provoking fear of global culture

and a new surge of nationalism; 2) regionalism makes progress, leading to a

search for commonalities to boost its prospects; 3) business organizations

and officials concerned with family stability decide to bolster new

organizational types with claims of superior social relations in dealing with

such problems as keeping welfare costs down in the face of an exploding aging population and retaining the most talented labour through means

other than higher wages. These are just some of the many ways the tradition

can be sustained.

One scenario involves premature efforts to bolster Confucianism by th

intent on protecting their own authority and reversing the tide of

change. Any effort to revive Confucianism soon is likely to come fro

forces against globalization to reduce integration with the outside. If Chi

leaders continue to promote regionalism, as they did in 2000 for the time, we can expect an ideological tinge hostile to much of the cultu globalization. If South Korea made a deal with the Kim Jung-il regim gradual reunification without much outside pressure on the North,

could also be a delay in globalization. IfJapan decided this was a good to seek equidistance between staying in the West and re-entering As

could join to slow globalization. Rumblings of regionalism in 2000 hin

a premature agreement with vested political interests ready to slow the p

of reform. The kind of Confucianism that they might embrace mi

stimulate some regional integration, but probably not a lot. Wh

determine who the regionalizers are and the timetable, we will kno

globalizers will be in the ascendancy.

69 Moon Chung-in and Park Han-kyu, "Globalization and Regionalization," in Inoguchi

and PurnendraJain, eds., Japanese Foreign Policy Today (New York: Palgrave, 2000), pp. 65-82.


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Can Confucianism Survive?

Another scenario sees Confucianism returning more slowly and with less

rejection of globalization. In a decade or two after each country has adapted

more to the WTO and made more domestic political reform, we may see a

different kind of Confucianism rise to the fore, one more accepting of

international integration, yet still supportive of distinct regional traditions

and approaches. A revival may hearken back to reform Confucianism, the

oft-forgotten force in the tradition. The combined force of various countries

searching for regionalism could counterbalance each country's nationalist


Confucianism as it is expressed today in East Asia is largely a defence

particularism not suited for the new era of globalization, but it is still

embedded in social practices and attitudes in ways that can enhanc

universalism. It not only defends those who cling to national protectionism,

male chauvinism, seniority over merit, and official fears of civil society.

also supports family mobility strategies, educational ambitions, sacrifice for

economic goals, and some limits on individualism seen as anarchy.70 Th

battle for reform in East Asian countries will be long and difficult, requirin

more interest groups to stand up to the vested interests with a narrow notio

of the tradition.

The struggle ahead is not new, although the pressure from globalization far exceeds any previous outside forces. Confucianism in premodern times

played a constructive role in expanding universalism and incorporating elements of particularism. In the modern era its legacy contributed to a

boost in universalism while sustaining an unusual degree of particularism. It can still contribute positively, if protectionist forces do not treat universalism as if it is Americanization, fearing competition.

The next decade is likely to be dominated by pressure from the U.S.: 1) the impact of financial globalization under the rules of the WTO, eroding particularism from the outside; and 2) the war against terrorism, placing more demands for joint action. If tendencies toward U.S. unilateralism are

kept in check, convergence will be hastened. Patterns of universalism will be

spreading from within, too, as young people bring new attitudes and pressure builds for reform. A premature Confucian revival might occur as a nationalist

reaction to world tensions and a counterattack by vested political interests.

If this were prevented, we may expect, after much particularism is eliminated and prospects for regionalism are enhanced, another revival of Confucianism.

Modest in its appeals to tradition and nationalism, it would hold the best

chance of becoming a long-term force for local competitiveness and regional vitality able to find new wind with globalization. Moderated by pressures for

regional consensus and global compliance, Confucianism has room for

survival as a synthesis of distinctive social practices and a competitive identity.

Princeton University, New Jersey, September 2001

70 Hahm Chaibong, "The Cultural Challenge to Individualism," Journal of Democracy, vol. 11, no. 1 (January 2000), pp. 127-34.


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