The Confucian Mix: A supplement to Weber's The Religion of China

Jack Barbalet*

*Corresponding author for this work

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1 Citation (Scopus)


China has always served Western thinkers as a lens through which to project convenient contrasts and exemplars for their self-aggrandizement and self-realization. Weber’s treatment in The Religion of China is no exception. Weber’s purpose in this text is to demonstrate the exclusive provision in Europe of the conditions for the development of modern or industrial capitalism. To achieve this purpose Weber presents a distorted vision of both Confucianism and Daoism, even against the limited sinological material at his disposal. The discussion of Chinese ‘mentality’, as Weber calls it in The Religion of China, functions in terms of European categories drawn from his discussion of historical and classical cases that are alien to Chinese developments but which serve the purpose of his argument. Indeed, the details of his earlier work, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, are similarly distorted by Weber in The Religion of China to permit him to more forcefully demonstrate the unsuitability of Confucianism to inculcate a sense of calling parallel to the Protestant ideal of vocation discussed in the Protestant Ethic. The paper shall both discuss Weber’s sinological sources and his use of them. It shall also show that late-imperial Chinese entrepreneurial activity was capitalistic in its institutional form and that the absence of industrial capitalism in China during the Qing dynasty was a consequence of demographic and political factors rather than resulting from the absence of religious values.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)171-192
Number of pages22
JournalRevue Internationale de Philosophie
Issue number276
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jun 2016
Externally publishedYes


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