The Global Studies Seminar welcomes Shao-yun Yang, Assistant Professor of East Asian History at Denison University, presenting “Was Confucius a Bigot? Ethnic Prejudice as a Philosophical Problem in Medieval China.” Yang’s research interests revolve around ethnocultural identity, frontiers, and cross-cultural interactions in medieval Chinese history.
The Analects, the classic collection of Confucius’s teachings, contains a short statement that seems to assert the Chinese people’s absolute superiority over other ethnic groups (“the barbarians”). This statement was frequently quoted to justify ethnocentric attitudes under the Chinese empires, but during the Song dynasty period (ca. 979-1279), several Chinese thinkers became uneasy with the implications of interpreting a “sage” like Confucius as a proponent of ethnic prejudice. Rather than reject ethnocentrism altogether, however, they devised strategies for making Confucius’s belief in ethnic discrimination morally legitimate by rooting it in “objective” cosmological principles or analyses of history. This presentation will discuss some of these strategies and the intellectual and geopolitical tensions that lay behind them. It will also consider the question of whether nearly a century of Mongol rule after the Song left any lasting impact on the myth of Chinese superiority.