Visiting Scholar Fu Youde, Shandong University
“I hope the audience…will learn how a Chinese scholar looks at Judaism,” he says of his visit to Brandeis, in his serious but unassuming way. He said he hopes to establish an academic relationship between the two universities. (read more of Miranda's interview with Fu Youde)
Global News - Chinese scholar of Judaism enlightens Brandeis
Oct 8, 2008
“It’s the time to construct a new type of Chinese culture,” visiting scholar Fu Youde of Shandong University said during a two-week visit to Brandeis in September. The history of Judaism, Fu believes, can serve as a model as modern China faces that challenge.
by Miranda Neubauer '10
Global Brandeis correspondent
WALTHAM-- In the years since the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976, China has successfully transformed itself in to the world’s second largest economy through economic reform.
But at the same time, China is in a religious vacuum, not having recovered from the suppression of Confucianism and other religions by the Chinese communist elites during that decade of authoritarian rule.
For Professor Fu Youde from Shandong University, that history has left many Chinese feeling religiously disoriented in China today. Historically, he points out, Confucianism was the state religion in China, beginning in second century BCE, until the revolution, but now “the young generation of Chinese people know little of Confucianism.”
In China today, Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism and Western Religions are conflated together, he says, with some Chinese people subscribing to one and some to the other. “It’s the time for us to construct a new type of Chinese culture,” he says. The history of Judaism, Fu believes, can serve as a model as China faces that challenge.
“Judaism is of significance to China, to the reconstruction of Chinese culture,” he said, because Confucianism could learn from Judaism’s success in reshaping itself to adapt to modern times. “The Jewish people first of all modernized themselves, entered the mainstream of Western, ” he says. “At the same time they maintained their cultural ritual identity by practicing Judaism, although they belong to different denominations.”
In September, Fu, the director of The Center for Judaic and Inter-Religious Studies at Shandong, came on a ten day visit to Brandeis for a series of talks looking at Judaism from the Chinese perspective. The visit here came about after Fu invited two Brandeis Professors, Prof. Sylvia Fishman and Prof. Marc Brettler from the Near Eastern and Judaic Studies department to teach at the center last summer.
In a series of lectures and teach-ins, Fu noted several core differences and similarities between Judaism and Confucianism.
While monotheism defines Judaism, he pointed out, Confucianism has polytheistic tendencies. "The existence of a single deity is the most fundamental concept in Judaism," he said. "He is creator of the world with some supernatural characteristics such as omnipotence and omniscience." In Confucianism, he explained, Heaven corresponds to God in Judaism, although it possesses no human characteristics.
In addition to Heaven, Confucianism also sees a role for nature gods, ghosts and spirits, he said. Fu described how every year he returns at least once to his hometown, 100 milles from Jinan, where the university is located. "We come to the graveyard to pay respects to the deceased," he said. "The visits to the graves of the deceased are more than respect, it’s some kind of worship.”
The two faiths differ in that Confucian ethics are self-disciplined while Jewish ethics are other disciplined. In Judaism, he said, “Man’s moral motive…comes not from within but from fear of an external power,” he said. In Confucianism, man behaves correctly “because he wants to.”
”God functions as both the basis and the goal of Jewish ethics,” Fu said. “In Confucianism the ultimate goal is to be a good man.”
“In Judaism, God is the creator of the world, he supervise and guides human behavior and is the goal of individual pursuit,” he concluded. “God is the beginning and end of morality.” In Confucianism however, he said, “heaven and the spirits are subordinated to man.”
Both faiths place a lot of importance on the "Golden Rule," that "what is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow men,” he pointed out. "Confucius pronounced the rule 500 years before [Jewish Scholar] Hillel did."
While love and justice play an important role in both, Fu, noting the title of Brandeis’ student newspaper, explained that justice had historically played a more important role for the Jewish prophets.
In the biblical period the governments were mainly theocracies, in which “God ruled society through a secular king.” But he, pointed out, sometimes there were disagreements between the divine government and the secular government. “Because the tension was there…the prophets are the representatives of divine governance who stood out against the King.”
There were no theocracies in China, he said. Most of the Chinese sages were themselves rulers in the cities. “We can’t imagine that the Chines sages could stand against their own policies,” he said. Today, he went on to say “Chinese intellectuals are realizing the importance of criticism of government.”
Brettler said that “what really stands behind Fu’s talk is a real interest in religion in contemporary China and it will be very interesting to see what happens in the next decade or so in terms of religion within mainstream Chinese society." He noted that “there is to some extent a return to Confucianism, the numbers of Christians in China is growing very substantially so I’m very curious to see how his interest feeds into major demographic changes in the country as a whole.”
“It was great to have someone from China,” Alissa Thomas ’11, who attended one of the classes where Fu gave a guest lecture. She added that it was particularly interesting how the Chinese sages were kings and rulers while the Jewish prophets criticized those in power. “I actually didn’t know that much about Confucianism [before],” she said. “It’s really interesting to bring in someone from the other side of the world…and compare those two cultures because they actually do have a lot in common.”
Next: Fu Youde's Journey