Progressive Confucianism

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Excerpt from ch. 1 of Contemporary Confucian Political Philosophy (slightly modified for better reading experience) :

… I mean “progressive” to function in two different ways: to describe the core Confucian commitment to individual and collective moral progress, and to label the particular approach to Confucian political philosophy that I advocate, which bears certain similarities to other contemporary “progressive” social and political movements. Progressive Confucianism fits in between the Kantian New Confucianism of Mou Zongsan and the Critical New Confucianism of someone like Lin Anwu. It is like the former in endorsing the importance of Mou Zongsan’s “self-restriction” argument, though it is agnostic about the exact form that an account of Confucian ethics must take.54 It is like the latter in being much more social-critical than Mou ever was, though it parts company with at least some of Lin’s criticisms of Mou.
“Progressive” is often opposed to “conservative,” and yet there are senses in which the Confucian tradition – including my reading of it – is progressive and conservative at the same time. As Mou’s fellow New Confucian Tang Junyi (1909–78) put it, “conserving is based on one’s self-conscious a formation of the value of the existence of one’s life,” and this understanding of value ultimately leads to a realization of the values of all things, and this latter understanding is the ground for progress. Mou puts it this way: “If one is without a firm commitment to life, penetrating wisdom, and pervasive ethics, then one cannot speak of ‘conserving.’ True conserving is concretely embedded in the practice of creativity: the two are not opposed.” According to the New Confucians, in other words, insofar as we “conserve” the virtuous characteristics and a formation of life that the tradition (as they interpret it) has shown us to be vital, we are thereby progressing – both growing ethically and making things better in our world. Mou acknowledges that if “conserving” is understood as a fixed set of habits or attitudes, and creativity is glossed as unrestrained, radical novelty, then they are obviously opposed, but asserts that these descriptions fit with neither conservation nor creativity in their true and valuable forms.
The idea that ethical insight leads to progressive political change, which in turn leads to greater realization of our potential for virtue, lies at the heart of Progressive Confucianism. The institutions advocated by Progressive Confucians are valued not because of their ancient pedigree but because of their capacity to assist in the realization of the fundamental human virtues that Confucians have valued since ancient times. Social structures that set barriers to the realization of virtue, therefore, need to be critiqued and changed. Progressive Confucian criticism of social, economic, or political oppression will often resemble the criticisms raised by other sorts of progressivism, but Progressive Confucianism remains true to its founding insights in many ways. Versions of hierarchy, deference, ritual, and state-sponsored ethical education, among other things, are all endorsed in [Contemporary Confucian Political Philosophy]. …

Excerpt from the Preface to the Chinese Edition of Contemporary Confucian Political Philosophy:

In English, I use the term “Progressive Confucianism” to label the version of Confucianism that I am advocating. The obvious way to translate this into Chinese is as “进步儒学,” and 韩华 has used that translation here. I agree that it is probably the best translation, but I want to point out that “progressive” (in English) and “进步” (in Chinese) have somewhat different meanings. In particular, the English word has strong social, political, and moral connotations, whereas the Chinese word has a mainly economic meaning. In the early-twentieth-century United States, for example, the “Progressive Party” advocated more equitable laws, criticizing those who sought only economic development. Socialist movements are excellent examples of this kind of “progressivism,” since they seek broad and equitable development of society. So saying that Confucianism should be “progressive” fits well with the many Confucian thinkers in the twentieth century who also advocated varieties of socialism, such as Kang Youwei, Liang Shuming, Zhang Junmai, and others. As I use the term, 进步儒学 has many dimensions, including an emphasis on rule of law (because of the need for 自我坎陷), ritual minimalism, people’s authority and political participation, global human rights, and a critique of oppression.

Also See (some of the links may lead to content in Chinese):

 – An interview with Stephen C. Angle in which he discusses the meaning of “Progressive Confucianism” and other matters.
 – A Review of Contemporary Confucian Political Philosophy in which Bao Wenxin raises questions about Stephen Angle’s use of the term “Progressive.”