Over at A Ku Indeed people, including myself, have been discussing Daniel Bell’s East Meets West which looks at the importation of foreign concepts of human rights into East Asia. So far I have not been that impressed with the book and one of the reasons became clearer to me when I found a review of Bell’s more recent book “China’s New Confucianism: Politics and Everyday Life in a Changing Society.” via CDT
One thing that bothered me is that he seems to be using the word “Confucianism” to mean “traditional Chinese culture”, which I find to be sloppy. More importantly, I find his reading of Confucianism to be…odd. Apparently part of the book is about Karaoke bars as part of the modern Confucian culture, since Confucians saw music as having a vital role in creating a proper society. From the review.
It is within the karaoke bar that the bonding properties of music – so beloved of Confucians – become manifest. If the hostesses offer sex as well as harmonious conversation, that too is as the Sage Master might wish. “I never met anyone,” he told his 5th-century BC students approvingly, “who values virtue more than physical beauty.”
Wow. Chinese Text Project translates it (9.18) differently 子曰：“吾未見好德如好色者也. The Master said, “I have not seen one who loves virtue as he loves beauty.” Almost all the translators I have looked at either read this as Confucius criticizing people for liking sex over virtue, or as recomending you to pursue virtue with the same eagerness you pursue sex (Brooks). Where is Bell’s reading coming from? I suppose if you totally ignored the Confucian dislike of sexual licentiousness you might be able to come up with this. You would also have to ignore all the Confucian stuff about how music is not -good- but –powerful– and that music can both inspire virute and inspire bad behavior. (Such as sex and excessive drinking). There are lots of ways of explaining the sex culture of China, but I would not think of Confucius as being one of them. Has anyone read this book? Is it really as bad as the review makes it look?