Science and the Confucian Religion of Kang Youwei (1858–1927)

China Before the Conflict Thesis


Author: Zhaoyuan WAN
WAN Zhaoyuan analyses how Chinese intellectuals conceived of the relationship between ‘science’ and ‘religion’ through in-depth examination of the writings of Kang Youwei, a prominent political reformer and radical Confucian thinker, often referred to by his disciples as the ‘Martin Luther of Confucianism’.
Confronted with the rise of scientism and challenged by the Conflict Thesis during his life among adversarial Chinese New Culture intellectuals, Kang maintains a holistic yet evolving conception of a compatible and complementary relationship between scientific knowledge and ‘true religion’ exemplified by his Confucian religion (kongjiao). This close analysis of Kang’s ideas contributes to a richer understanding of the history of science and religion in China and in a more global context.

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WAN Zhaoyuan, D.Phil. (2019), Oxford University, is Associate Professor of the History of Science at Beijing Normal University. He has published translations and articles in the fields of religion, science and religion, Newton studies, and modern Chinese intellectual history.
Notes and Abbreviations

 1 Definition of Terms
 2 Science and Religion
 3 ‘Studies of Half Kang’
 4 Implications
 5 Chapter Organization

1 A New Sage
 1 Religious Leanings
  1.1 Classical and Folk Beliefs
  1.2 Buddhist Inspiration
  1.3 Knowledge of Christianity
 2 Scientific Pursuits
  2.1 The Window of Geography
  2.2 Book Purchase at Shanghai
  2.3 Gleaning from Translations
 3 Enlightenment
  3.1 Universal Laws
  3.2 Unity of Shangdi (God)

2 The Confucian Luther
 1 A Memorial to the Throne
  1.1 Countering Christian Threats
 2 An Unconventional Teacher
  2.1 Western Sciences
  2.2 Chinese Origins
  2.3 Cosmic Evolution
 3 Recasting Confucianism
  3.1 Restoring the Religion of Confucius
  3.2 Reform and a Confucian Church
 4 Knowledge Is One
  4.1 A Three-Tiered System
  4.2 Harmonizing the Three Religions
  4.3 A Monistic Philosophy

3 The Great Unity
 1 Confucian Reinterpretation Completed
  1.1 Confucius as a Divine Teacher
  1.2 Scientific Notions Appropriated
  1.3 In the Future World of Datong
 2 Liang’s ‘Change of Heart’
  2.1 Confucianism Not a Religion
  2.2 Buddhism a Better Choice
 3 Observations during World Travels
  3.1 Reflections on Religions
  3.2 Shendao and Rendao
  3.3 On Material Reconstruction

4 A State Religion
 1 A ‘Titular Monarchical Republic’
 2 The Confucian Movement
  2.1 Chen’s Presentation
  2.2 The Confucian Religion Association
  2.3 The State Religion Campaign
 3 In the Name of Science
  3.1 Religion and Superstition
  3.2 Scientism versus Religion
  3.3 Looking for Substitutes

5 A Celestial Wanderer
 1 Science versus Metaphysics
 2 A Lecture Tour to the North
  2.1 The Confucian Way
  2.2 The Power of Science
 3 Celestial Peregrination
  3.1 Lectures on the Heavens
  3.2 A Treatise on God
 4 The Fate of Kang’s Skull


All interested in a widening reconsideration of the relationship between science and religion, in China, Asia and the world, as well as anyone concerned with the thought of Kang Youwei.