Confucianism has often been envisioned as a sacred or at least authoritative tradition in China and, later, in the entire sinicized world (Japan, Korea, and Vietnam). The internationalization of Confucianism remained, however, attached to a transmission in classical Chinese. Yet, such a situation could not be maintained when Confucius arrived in Europe. The most eminent teacher of China had to be translated, first into Latin, then into different European vernacular languages. This latter part of the history of Confucianism’s globalization has, however, more often been attributed to the Jesuits, and to latter sinologists and scholars, than to Chinese or Asian literati - even though earlier translations produced by missionaries were often very much shaped by local Chinese interlocutors and exegetes.
There exists, however, what could be labeled a ‘Western languages-speaking Confucian corpus,’ composed of translations, annotations, and commentaries written by native Asian literati cum intellectuals, who operated within local political and scholarly institutions. Confucianism was indeed presented for the first time by officials from the Chinese delegation in Washington, D.C. during the 1893 Parliament of World Religions held in Chicago. Following this event, many scholars and civil servants coming from China, Japan, Vietnam and, to a lesser extent Korea, would present Confucianism to a Western audience. The multiple presentations of Confucianism that were given by these men were far from uniform. While early apologetic writings were often proposed by men who held political functions, later texts would be published in an academic context: scholarly studies, academic papers, etc. Discourses on Confucianism entered university departments. Hence, the topic did not remain the prerogative of Western orientalists and ‘world religions’ specialists. Last, but not least, enemies of Confucianism would also export the local East Asian debates over the value of Confucianism and the question of its being compatible with modernity in Western languages.
Considering this vast and largely unexplored corpus, this panel seeks to question how an apologetic discourse in favor of Confucianism in the West was developed by Asian people. Keeping in mind that Confucianism is a shared tradition by China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam, it hopes, furthermore, to question what may have been the similarities and differences between the discourses elaborated by literati cum intellectuals from those four countries before World War II. This panel configuration will enable us to highlight both the constitutive role of national contexts, and the changing importance of Western Confucian apologetics through history and geography.