Inner Worlds in Writing: Confucian Autobiography in Modern China

Vol. 23 No. 1   6/1993   


Inner Worlds in Writing: Confucian Autobiography in Modern China


Chen-Kuo Lin









Key words



   Among many insightful discussions on modern Confucianism, most of them are done either in the interest of history or of philosophy. Both approaches give us every knowledge about modern Confucian thinkers except their inner worlds. Without exploring into the complexity of self-images, our picture of their philosophy or history will be oversimplified or even bloodless. Analysis of autobiography, as this paper attempts to do, can thus be taken as a supplement to the current historical and philosophical approaches.

    This paper analyses the autobiographies by Fung Yu-lan, T’ang Chün-I and MouTzung-san. The case of Fung is well known and controversial, while those of T’ang Mou are rather rarely known yet fascinating. The fundamental questions are: what are their self-definitions? How do they tell the story about their own lives? How do they view or even construct their Confucian identity? A central clue to our analysis is directed toward the relation between language and self-knowledge. 

    This paper concludes that the modern Confucian inner worlds are heterogeneous. They are not merely copies of traditional model. This is seen in their self-narratives in which non-Confucian languages, particularly those from Western philosophy and religion, are largely appropriated. We also notice that their self-images are also marked by different language resources: Fung’s by Marxism, T’ang’s and Mou’s by German Idealism, Christianity and Buddhism. However, we also found that they share the similar narrative structure: Fung’s is from “non-revolution”, T’ang’s from “suffering” to “awakening”, and Mou’s from “fall” to “home-coming”. This can be compared to the traditional model of Confucian self-narrative. 



Author: Chen-Kuo Lin
Genre: Article