Book review

Religious Studies Review, vol. 30 (2005), no. 4, pp. 267-268

RoutledgeCurzon Encyclopedia of Confucianism. Edited by Xinzhong Yao. 2 vols.  London and New York: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003.  Pp. 932+xx. $375.00.

Joseph A. Adler
Kenyon College

This two-volume reference work, despite its high price tag, is a welcome addition to the rapidly growing literature in English on Confucianism.  The editor, Xinzhong Yao, was educated in China, has lived in the United Kingdom since 1990, and is now Professor of Religion and Ethics at the University of Wales, Lampeter.  He has previously written an excellent survey of the Confucian tradition in China (An Introduction to Confucianism, published by Cambridge University Press in 2000). For the Encyclopedia of Confucianism he has enlisted the services of fifty-eight other contributors from the United States, Canada, England, Australia, France, The Netherlands, Germany, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Korea (none from Japan, although there are a number of  Japan specialists). With “over 950 entries, ranging in length from 200 to 5000 words” (from the back cover), the encyclopedia covers a quite respectable range of topics, from the obvious general ones to the surprisingly particular (e.g. on specific phrases in Confucian texts). Cross-references are indicated by bold facing in the text, and Chinese characters are liberally provided within the entries, which are arranged alphabetically.  Each article is followed by the full name of its author and a list of references.  The references are keyed to a 45-page bibliography, which includes mostly English and Chinese sources but also a few Japanese, Korean, German, and French. There is a name index, a subject index, a text index, and a timeline of Chinese, Korean, and Japanese history.  The list of contributors includes each scholar=s academic affiliations and selected publications.  So in terms of its production values, scope, and editorial paraphernalia, the Encyclopedia of Confucianism rates very high marks.

The editor acknowledges in his preface that considerations of space and difficulties in enlisting contributors forced him to omit almost 300 entries from his preliminary list of topics.  Among the more glaring omissions are survey articles on Confucianism in periods after the Han and Wei-Jin.  But some gaps are to be expected in a project of this sort, and one hopes that a second edition will fill them. 

The quality of the contributions is uniformly high, which is not surprising, as the contributors include many of the leading scholars in the field today and represent a broad cross-section of contemporary scholarship on Confucianism in a variety of disciplines.  Preceding the alphabetical entries, a twelve-page introductory essay on Confucianism, written by the editor, covers the ru (scholar, classicist, Confucian) tradition, Confucian ideas and ideals, and Confucianism in history.  The section on the ru tradition is especially useful, as it summarizes the controversies concerning the original meanings of the term and covers in some detail its various usages: rujia (Confucian school), rujiao (Confucian teaching), ruxue (Confucian learning), and rushu (Confucian arts, a subset of daoshu, the arts of the Way). The section on Confucian thought covers natural philosophy, ethics, political philosophy, religious beliefs, and educational principles.  Yao rightly places “the interactive relationship between Tian (Heaven) … and ren [humans]” at the center of Confucian philosophy and identifies “the cultivation of humane persons as the foundation of all theories and practices” (p. 5).  This connection between transcendence and moral cultivation suggests the uniquely Confucian form of religiosity that is inherent in the tradition, which Yao characterizes as a “religious humanism” (p. 7).  The last part of this introductory article, summarizing the historical development of the tradition, is rather brief (three pages), especially considering the aforementioned absence of historical overview entries covering the periods after the Wei-Jin.  And along with the preface, it could have benefited from the eye of a native English-speaking copy editor: there are quite a few minor errors in usage, especially misplaced articles (probably the most difficult aspect of English to master).

To convey a sense of the scope of this encyclopedia I will list all the entries beginning with the letters A (one of the shortest sections, seven pages) and G (one of middle length, eighteen pages).  Note that the Chinese characters are given in the text for all of these entries, and the names also include the style, honorific, and posthumous names when known: 

Ai (To cherish), Altar of Earth (Di tan), Altar of Heaven (Tian tan), Altar to the Moon (Yue tan), Altar of Soil and Grain (Sheji tan), Altar to the Sun (Ri tan), Arai Hakuseki (1675-1725), Asaku Tanpaku (1656-1737). 

Ganquan xuepai (The School of Zhan Roushui), Gao Panlong (1562-1626), Ge Hong (283-343), Gewu zhizhi (Putting all things into the correct conceptual grid, extending to the utmost one=s range of comprehension), Gomô jigi (Philosophical Lexicography of the Analects and the Mencius), Gong (Acting for public interests), Gong (Respect), Gong Zizhen (1792-1841), Gongsun Hong (c. 200-121 BCE), Gu Xiancheng (1550-1612), Gu Yanwu (1613-1682), Guan li (Rites of adulthood), Guan wu (Observation of things), Guangping xuepai (The Guangping School), Gui shen (Ghosts and spirits), Guo cui (Essence of the nation), Guo jiao (The State Religion), Guo Xiang (c. 252-312), Guo xue (National Learning), Guo Yong (1091-1187), Guo yu (The Discourses of the States), Guo Zhongxiao (?-1127), Guozi jian (Directorate of Education; Directorate of National Youth), Guwen jingxue (Archaic Script Classics, Old Text School), Guwen Shang shu (Old Text of the Book of Documents).

I would be hard-pressed to add anything to this list: perhaps gan-ying (stimulus-response),  although there is an entry for tianren ganying (Resonance between Heaven and human beings). And the entry for gong (public) makes no mention of the Neo-Confucian antinomy of gong/si (public/private), although the entry for si (written by someone else) does so.  Occasionally one finds terms or phrases whose presence, while appreciated, is surprising; e.g. tianjue renjue (the dignities of Heaven and the dignities of man), which is a phrase used by Mencius (6A:16) to express the relationship between social rank and moral nobility and to suggest that the former derives from the latter.  As this is a rather obvious implication of basic Confucian principles, one wonders why this phrase merits space in the book when others had to be omitted.  Another is yitai, which is Tan Sitong’s transliteration of the 19th century physical concept of “ether.” Such, I suppose, are the vicissitudes of a project encompassing such a large number of contributors.

In terms of the organization of entries and ease of use of the encyclopedia, in general it is quite user-friendly.  But a large number of terms are somewhat concealed in entries of the form “Confucian …” and “Confucianism and ….” These include Confucian education, Confucian iconography, Confucian politics; Confucianism and the arts, and Buddhism, and capitalism, and Christianity, and Daoism, and government, in the Han dynasty, and Islam, in Japan, in Korea, and Legalism, and literature (and in Japan and Korea), in Vietnam, and Marxism, and Moism, and music, and religion, and religious cults of state in Han times, in the Ryukyu kingdom, and Shinto, in Southeast Asia, in Vietnam, and virtue ethics, in the Wei-Jin period, in the West, and women.  I present this list not only to suggest that they might better have been listed by their key terms, but also to illustrate the breadth of this encyclopedia. The entries named here cover 73 pages. 

While I have not gone over the two volumes with a fine-tooth comb, I did run across the following errors and omissions. The preface mistakenly refers to the East-West Center at the University of Hawaii as the Center of Philosophy East and West (p. viii), and it locates Wm. Theodore de Bary at Princeton University instead of Columbia (p. xi).  The alphabetical list of contributors places Nguyen Thê Anh under the letter A. In the bibliography: Tian Hao is not identified as Hoyt C. Tillman; while the titles of almost all Chinese texts are translated into English, the Korean texts are not, and only a few Japanese, German, and French titles are translated; Charles Hucker’s and Chris Jochim’s last names are misspelled; and a T’oung Pao article by A.F.P. Hulsewé that is mentioned in the entries on Jing Fang (the Elder and the Younger) is missing.  Throughout the text the circumflex is used instead of the macron for Japanese words, even though the latest word-processing programs can handle macrons.

The Encyclopedia of Confucianism represents some of the latest and best research on this often-misunderstood tradition. The contributors and the editor, Xinzhong Yao, have made an outstanding contribution to the study of East Asian religion, philosophy, and intellectual history.  This book will serve as a standard reference work on Confucianism for many years to come.


Yao, Xinzhong.  An Introduction to Confucianism.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.