It’s nice to see a historian of China honored with a Kluge Prize: Yu Ying-shih’s prize acceptance speech gives you some idea of his breadth and depth. It’s particularly interesting, in this absurd age of cultural essentialism, to see him integrating the indigenous tradition of Tao with democracy promotion.
Like “democracy,” “human rights” as a term is linguistically specific to the West and nonexistent in traditional Confucian discourse. However, if we agree that the concept of “human rights” as defined in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of 1948 is predicated on the double recognition of a common humanity and human dignity, then we are also justified to speak of a Confucian idea of “human rights” without the Western terminology. Recognition of a common humanity and respect for human dignity are both clearly articulated in the Analects, Mencius and other early texts. It is remarkable that by the first century C.E. at the latest, the Confucian notion of human dignity was openly referred to in imperial decrees as sufficient grounds for the prohibition of the sale or killing of slaves. Both imperial decrees, dated 9 and 35 C.E., respectively, cited the same famous Confucian dictum: “Of all living things produced by Heaven and Earth, the human person is the noblest.” Slavery as an institution was never accepted by Confucianism as legitimate. It was this Confucian humanism that predisposed late Ch’ing Confucians to be so readily appreciative of the Western theory and practice of human rights.
I still have some trouble reconciling Humanism with the hierarchical monarchism of Confucius, myself. Andrew Meyer notes the growth of indigenous Christian sects in China, especially their syncretic and rather traditional nature, but concludes that their Christianity is a meaningful measure of something interesting going on in rural society.
China’s interest in it’s own history remains a subject of great debate. Chinese Wikipedia will naturally be a site of contention, and the history of great powers is a natural sell. Rising prosperity in Asia may not have directly contributed to the almost US$20M price tag for a porcelain bowl, but it’s certainly going to play a role in the future.
Chang/Halliday’s Mao biography is spawning zombie errors.
Finally, some historical testimony: if you succeeded in bribing officials to overlook your crimes, would you commemorate the event in bronze? And some oral history testimonies, from an American who experienced Maoism and elderly Chinese women.