Confucian society in East Asia, which the West came to perceive for the first time in the 17th century, was presented by its Western interpreters as a counter-model to Europe – as “Anti-Europe”. Since then, the European/Western perception of the East Asian world oscillated between admiration and contempt, sympathy and even fear.
During early enlightenment the reception of Confucianism in Germany was very positive. Philosophers like Leibniz, Wolff and Justi saw in the Chinese state, which was based on the principles of Confucian philosophy, the realization of an ideal state. At the same time for them this Chinese state was the empirical proof that human beings were able to get reason and to act with reason without resorting to God and his revelation. In this way China and Confucianism became the preferred model for political enlightenment in Germany.
Thus the generation of G.W. Leibniz and Christian Wolff took a positive and open attitude towards the Chinese Confucian state, about which they read and heard so much from the Jesuit missionaries in China. The generation of Hegel and his successors took a completely antagonistic and even denigrating position towards China and Confucian philosophy. Again, towards the end of the 20th century we observe a positive revival of Confucianism in the West.
In my presentation I will focus on these paradigm changes in the reception of Confucianism over the past 350 years.