The Changing Fortunes of Confucius, 1918-2018

Jeffrey Wasserstrom
April 5, 2018

A hundred years ago, Lu Xun’s famous short story “Diary of a Madman” regarded China’s classical tradition as stultifying and a hindrance to modernization.  In recent speeches by Xi Jinping, Confucius is presented as a sage whose ideas have great value in the modern country that China has become.  In between, there were the contrasting views on Confucius of earlier Chinese political leaders, such as Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Zedong who battled for control of China in the middle of the 1900s. The irony is that Xi leads the Communist Party that Mao once headed, but when he speaks about Confucius, he sounds more like the anti-Communist Chiang.
JEFFREY WASSERSTROM is Chancellor’s Professor of History at UC Irvine and editor the Journal of Asian Studies.  His most recent books include China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know, updated third edition (co-authored with Maura Elizabeth Cunningham, March 2018), and The Oxford Illustrated History of Modern China (editor, 2016).  He has regularly contributed reviews and commentaries to publications such as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Los Angeles Review of Books.