Early Kang Youwei and Protestant Missionaries’ Writings

Prof. Dr. Weichi Zhou

Kang Youwei (康有为, 1858‐1927) established his own “New Learning” (新学) when he published A Study of the 'New Text' Forgeries (新学伪经考) and A Study of the Reforms of Confucius (孔子改制考) in the 1890’s. Kang, with his disciples, proposed a “Confucian Revolution” in the late Qing Dynasty, just like the Protestant Reformers in 16th century Europe. Kang’s other and possibly best‐known work is The Book of Great Unity (大同书). It was conceived in the 1880’s when, under the influence of Western learning, Kang wrote the Summa of Real Principles and Common Laws (实理公法全书). In The Book of Great Unity, Kang designed a “perfect” future society that would not contain marriage, family, class, political boundaries or racial boundaries. Kang’s socialist and communist‐like thought influenced Mao Zedong and modern China history. Although scholars know that Kang was influenced at an early stage by the Chinese publications of missionaries in Hong Kong, Guangzhou and Shanghai, which books he read and how these influenced which aspects of his thought in concrete terms is not always clear. I wish to explore whether Kang’s self-expectation of being a “Confucian Martin Luther” is not merely a superficial appearance, but a deep structural likeness. After reading missionaries’ Chinese books and magazines on religion, especially Christianity, Kang sought to reform Confucianism similarly from within. The difficulty is to find textual proof of this. It is very difficult to restore Kang’s knowledge vista at that time. For example, it is difficult to access The Chinese Globe Magazine nowadays. I am more interested in establishing whether Kang knew the protestant missionaries’ millennialism and eschatology, their theological history theory, and evolutionary ideas, and whether theses propelled him to find parallel items in Confucian documents. For example, Kang highly-evaluated Dong Zhongshu (董仲舒) in the early days, and he himself emphasized some super‐natural elements and church organization form in the Confucian tradition, no doubt as a result of the missionaries’ influence. In the 1910s, Kang and Chen Huanzhang (陈焕章) proposed to establish Confucianism as the state religion, which demonstrates that, to Kang, religion is always the mainstream ideology in modern China, just as Christianity is in the West, so he imagined. So, my work will be to investigate Kang Youwei’s early relationship with Christianity; specifically, what the missionaries’ magazines and books taught him and how he combined “Western learning” with traditional learning to create a new learning. He was using all he could find from East and West to react to the real circumstances and so guess and design a future society for human beings.

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