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This seminar examines the formation, development, and role of Neo-Confucian thought in China, Japan, and Korea. The relationship between Neo-Confucianism and other aspects of the history of East Asia is considered, and on occasion, intellectual responses to Neo-Confucianism are also examined. The seminar circulates copies of papers to its members prior to meetings.

Ari Borrell

Tao Jiang

On-cho Ng

Weiling Kong

Meeting Schedule

10/06/2023 Heyman Center, Columbia University
3:30 PM
Hagop Sarkissian, CUNY Baruch College/Graduate Center

12/01/2023 Heyman Center, Columbia University
3:30 PM
Political Thinking in a Classless Society
Dongxian Jiang, Fordham University


Abstract: What makes China unique in the world? In political theory, most scholars treat Confucianism as the intellectual and cultural legacy that makes China different from other societies. This article aims to answer this question differently. It argues that since the late nineteenth century when comparative historical sociology was systematically introduced to China, important political thinkers attributed China’s uniqueness to the fact that it had been a “classless society” under a despotism for two millennia. The lack of hereditary aristocracy and the reverence for social mobility under a despotism, in the eyes of Chinese thinkers, were both a curse and a blessing: A curse, because societies with a long history of feudalism and aristocracy tend to build a representative democracy more easily; a blessing, either because China would directly evolve into a more radical form of democracy once despotism is deposed, or because China can show the world a unique form of government: a meritocratic democracy. This paper focuses on Liang Qichao’s early political thought to exemplify how Chinese political thinkers reflect on representative democracy in a “classless society.”

02/02/2024 Heyman Center, Columbia University
3:30 PM
Baldwin Wong, Hong Kong Baptist University

04/05/2024 Heyman Center, Columbia University
3:30 PM
Wenqing Zhao, CUNY Baruch College