Review of Xinzhong Yao’s Book Introduction to Confucianism

Table of Content

In his book Introduction to Confucianism, Xinzhong Yao aims to offer a comprehensive and balanced understanding of Confucianism, the Chinese/East Asian tradition that has undergone transformation over the past 2500 years. Yao covers the evolution of Confucianism from its ancient origins to its relevance in the present day, including its practical application and incorporation of classical teachings. Unlike other introductions that mainly focus on its historical development, Yao provides a unique perspective.

The author’s intended readership consists of western audience and students who have little familiarity with Confucianism. However, it seems that he also wants to engage his peers and potential critics. The author relies on his teaching experience of Confucianism in a university and incorporates sections from his previously published scholarly articles. The organization of the text is mainly based on themes, with discussions of the religious and philosophical aspects of Confucianism as well as the intellectual ingenuity of prominent scholars in the field scattered throughout.

This essay could be plagiarized. Get your custom essay
“Dirty Pretty Things” Acts of Desperation: The State of Being Desperate
128 writers

ready to help you now

Get original paper

Without paying upfront

Yao employs a ‘double investigation’ approach in his methodology, simultaneously embodying the values he examines and scrutinizing the presented doctrine. His intention is to guide the reader towards a deeper comprehension and appreciation of Confucianism by exploring it from various perspectives. While Yao’s dedication is commendable, he endeavors to achieve too much within the confines of one book. Nonetheless, he largely succeeds in offering a well-rounded and scholarly understanding of Confucianism through his five stages or dimensions.

Despite my effort to understand and appreciate the spiritual and religious aspect of Confucianism, Yao’s organization and methodology hindered this goal. In the introduction, Yao outlines the five stages or dimensions of the subject matter, which I perceived throughout the book. However, Yao does not formally revisit these dimensions later on.

The author introduces the beginnings of Confucianism and its main ideas in Chapter 1. Confucius and the factors that influenced him during a tumultuous time in China are discussed. Yao explores diverse themes to expand the boundaries of what can be considered Confucianism, rather than providing a specific definition. Before discussing the importance of the Confucian classics, various individuals, schools, and ongoing debates that shaped and advanced Confucianism are briefly mentioned.

Instead of switching between different interpretations, I believe it would have been better for Yao to introduce the numerous new names and titles in order and in context. As I progressed to the second chapter, which outlines the historical progression of Confucianism, I was determined to grasp this new terminology. By providing glimpses of important names, concepts, and titles, and organizing them in the chronological order of events, Yao effectively constructs a framework for understanding the development of Confucianism throughout time.

When I read about names, dates, or titles later in the book, I found it helpful to refer back to this skeletal formation of parts. This helped me understand how things fit together and their relationship within the continuous interpretation and application of Confucianism. In the third chapter, Yao discusses three main elements: Heaven, humans, and the harmony of the Confucian Way. The Way of Heaven focuses on explaining abstract concepts related to different interpretations of the meaning and function of Heaven.

I found the section on humans in Confucian views of human nature particularly helpful in addressing unanswered questions. Some Confucians believe that humans are inherently good, while others argue the opposite. There is no agreement among Confucians about the significance and purpose of Heaven. Clarifying concepts such as religion, immortality, and evil requires Yao to serve as a bridge between the east and west, and he successfully explains these definitions. Yao highlights how these ideas resist western categorization.

When viewed from the inside within the Confucian Way, the ‘contradictions’ that the western eye may observe do not present a problem. Yao’s detailed explanation of Harmony as the most important virtue added to my understanding but also presented me with some challenges. Confucianism has no clear distinction between Heaven and humanity and the relationship between Heaven and humans is perceived through The Way of Harmony. Harmony is indeed a central theme within Confucianism and on all levels of relationships and society (individual, familial, governmental, and spiritual).

The traditional ideas about the roles of women and children and the obligations of individuals in the pursuit of ‘harmony’ were disturbing to me. Yao attempts to navigate this complicated issue by conducting a ‘double investigation’. Sometimes, he appears to defend or explain how Confucianism has been wrongly interpreted. However, he does recognize the role of Confucianism in enabling these interpretations, though only to some extent and indirectly.

Yao’s failure to fully address these concerns undermines his position as a representative of Confucian values. This detracts from the positive aspects of Confucian harmony, leaving me feeling less harmonious after discussing it. However, according to Confucian belief, it is my responsibility to achieve harmony. Despite this, I was anticipating the fourth chapter on the ritual and practice of Confucianism, considering Yao’s emphasis on its significance and meaning as a religion.

Surprisingly, Yao echoes similar sentiments about the religious elements and significance of Yao. In my attempt to deepen my understanding of ritual and its practices, I meticulously analyzed the text for any additional insights. However, Yao fails to seize this opportunity as the discussion revolves around ritual without truly immersing me. Although relieved to find a comprehensive and balanced analysis of how Confucianism has interacted with other traditions early in the last chapter, this much-needed explanation comes too late. Throughout the book, there are numerous biased statements about Buddhism contaminating or Daoism failing, as well as discussions about the principle of righteousness and the Confucian Ultimate. It would have been beneficial to have Yao’s fair-minded perspective on the relationship between these three religions right from the beginning in order to prevent any misunderstandings. The last chapter provides an intriguing glimpse into ongoing efforts to revive Confucianism, with some critics claiming it is a dead tradition.

Yao argues that Confucianism remains relevant in modern times by emphasizing its highlighted characteristics and introducing further debates. He makes generalizations about the beliefs of Confucians, claiming that a gradual revival of its relevance is undeniable, but provides no evidence to support this. After learning about the true diversity of Confucianism, these claims are not very convincing. However, by examining the dedication of those who deeply value Confucianism, it becomes apparent that it is a thriving tradition. This marks an appropriate endpoint in the extensive journey of Confucianism.

In his book, Yao explores Confucianism and offers multiple perspectives on various levels. However, these perspectives sometimes overshadow his call for my empathy. His approach stimulated my critical thinking, making it difficult to separate this external viewpoint and genuinely encounter and value the spiritual aspect of Confucianism from an internal standpoint. On page 213, Yao discusses the primary objective of Confucian Learning in understanding Heaven within the context of ritual and religious practice, emphasizing ren as the most important virtue.

Upon revisiting page 172, I observed that harmony is depicted as “the most important of all virtues”, which initially appeared contradictory. However, upon deeper contemplation, I discerned this to be erroneous. I grew skeptical of Yao’s stance and desired clarification on whether he spoke from an insider’s or outsider’s viewpoint. The absence of clarity left me cautious and uncertain in interpreting these discrepancies.

Yao effortlessly transitions between inside and outside presentations, creating an illusion of contradiction in his statements. While he provides a warning about potential pitfalls and explains his methodology beforehand, more clarification is required to determine his stance at any given moment. Personally, I found myself often trapped in a western analytical mindset of criticism, keeping a distance from the material. In my opinion, it is through demonstration rather than explanation that a reader is more likely to comprehend something unfamiliar, particularly with empathy and from an internal perspective.

Discussing something solely based on the emotions conveyed by words alone can create the perception of observing that thing from an external standpoint. I ponder whether it would have been beneficial if Yao had opted for descriptive language and veered away from an analytical tone when discussing from a personal perspective (with openness). In doing so, he might have succeeded in immersing me into experiencing Confucianism firsthand. However, as Yao presented the information, I found myself constantly grappling with my inclination to critique.

I have read other eastern explanations of cultural differences where this was not the case. Yao’s ‘double investigation’ as it stands may have backfired with its emphasis on the debates. In the realm where I believe Yao to have harbored his utmost personal ambition in penning this book, he has encountered the least triumph. Ultimately, this could be attributed to Yao undertaking an excessive load for a single book. By attempting to encompass the material as he did, Yao showcases his adeptness in comprehending two realms and the gaps that exist within them.

However, I didn’t experience a profound and meaningful connection with Confucianism. In fact, I ended up having more criticism than empathy and engaging in more debates than harmonious agreements. It’s possible that Yao did his best considering the circumstances and the high expectations he had set for himself. On the other hand, it might be my responsibility to find harmony… The passing of time and self-reflection will undoubtedly lead to a transformation of the emotions left by Yao’s book into something new.

Cite this page

Review of Xinzhong Yao’s Book Introduction to Confucianism. (2018, May 03). Retrieved from

Remember! This essay was written by a student

You can get a custom paper by one of our expert writers

Order custom paper Without paying upfront