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Making China Modern Essay

In Chapter eight of “The Religion of China: Confucianism and Taoism,” Max Webber makes a comparison of the eastern philosophy of Confucianism with the western religion of Puritanism. He makes the connection between the how Confucianism has shaped China historically from an individuals personal goals to its economic and commercial conditions.

Webber first describes the rationalization of a religion using two different yard-sticks, “one is the degree to which the religion has divested itself of magic; the other is the degree to which it has systematically unified the relation between God and the world and therewith its own ethical relationship to the world.” Webber denotes that in western Protestant rationalism, magic has been eradicated entirely and was sometimes even viewed as “devilish”, cutting off all trust in magical superstitions and manipulations.

However, in the Confucian ethics, the significance of magic was left untouched. All natural scientific knowledge was lacking due to a cause and elemental forces. It also vested interest in the income opportunities of prebendal office. Webber states that Confucianism and Puritanism both take different stands against the world, Puritanism believed in a God where as Confucianism did not believe in a supra-mundane God, both in time met tensions with the world’s irrationalities. This all constituted in the development of China and its people.

The Confucian ethic is to reduce tensions in the world to an absolute minimum. All human nature was disposed to be ethically good and as such, was to be indifferent from one another, capable of unlimited perfection. There was a lack of “nerves” with unlimited patience and slowness to reacting especially in the intellectual sphere.

China taught as a form of philosophical-literary education, learning from old classics and hence it lacked insufficient educational such as economic provisions. It endeavored to remove all tensions from humanity and hence left no leverage for influencing conduct through inner forces freed of tradition and convention.

Wealth was the main success measurement in the Confucian mentality, as a means to keep “face”. It has been recorded in the oldest documents of Chinese political economy where “balance of trade” and the usefulness of wealth were emphasized. It came to a point where storeowners would haggle for every penny, however despite this lust for wealth, no economic mentality of capitalism was created. The Chinese lacked a system for commercial correspondence and the numerous technical inventions were little used for economic purposes.

It is Webbers intention that even though China was capable of assimilating capitalism, the varied conditions and circumstances, most notably the Confucian teachings, had hindered it. The difference between Puritan and Confucian rationalism was that Puritans had enthusiasm, which the Confucians lacked. It is this rationalism that allowed the typical Puritan to invest his income as capital in rational capitalist enterprise out of an asceticist compulsion to save. Webber believes that these attitudes have effected China’s capitalist development negatively.


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