Innovation with and against the Tradition. Examples from Chinese, Japanese and Korean Confucianism

Marion Eggert, Gregor Paul, Heiner Roetz


Up until the present day, Confucianism has been a major factor in the normative discourses of East Asia. At first glance, it has sided with the preservation of the old and against innovation, according to Confucius’s self-declaration that he “only transmits and creates nothing new.” This also describes the historical role that Confucianism in distinction to other philosophies has actually played over long stretches of time. Nevertheless, Confucian ethics contains structural features, figures of thought and ideas which point beyond mere traditionalism. They reflect the deep crisis of tradition against the background of which Confucianism came into existence and which has left its mark on it. They could set free a dynamic that made it possible to distance oneself from the Confucian tradition within this tradition itself and open it up to something new, if not in terms of its creation then at least in terms of its acceptance and support. This potential also intrinsically relates to the possibility of a “modern” Confucianism.
The following three short essays do not claim to give a comprehensive account of the outlined problematique. It is only intended to throw a light upon some of the corresponding thought formations that developed in ancient China and explore by a few examples the extent to which the said potential has actually been realized in later Confucian discourse in Korea and Japan, assuming that border crossing might be among the factors to unleash it.



Tradition and Innovation; Confucianism; China; Korea; Japan

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