Seeking Convergence: Richard Wilhelm, Wu Leichuan, and their Quest for a Shared Confucian-Christian Vision

In: The Church as Safe Haven
Author: Lydia Gerber

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This chapter draws on the writings of two intellectuals, who were grounded in both Christianity and Confucianism, to evaluate their separate visions for China’s youth in a time of rapid change. Richard Wilhelm (1873–1930) received theological training in his native Germany, yet as a missionary he became a strong advocate for Confucianism at his mission schools in Qingdao. Wu Leichuan (1869–1944) was the only jinshi and member of the Hanlin academy ever to convert to (Episcopalian) Protestantism. As the first Chinese chancellor of Yanjing University in the 1930s, Wu sought to reconcile Confucian teachings with Christian ethics, in order to benefit China’s youth. Focusing on essays written by Wilhelm and Wu between 1910 and 1934, this chapter explores how these two thinkers appropriated Christian and Confucian resources to guide young Chinese citizens, and which aspects of Christianity and Confucianism they considered to be capable of strengthening China in times of crisis. Their intellectual endeavors were complicated by the fact that Confucianism had lost its influence as an anchor of Chinese culture by the early twentieth century, and that both traditions faced intense criticism during the New Culture Movement of the late 1910s and early 1920s. Nonetheless, Wilhelm and Wu showed great flexibility in synthesizing Christianity and Confucianism as a possible blueprint for China’s self-governance.

The Church as Safe Haven

Christian Governance in China