Imperialism, Reform, and the End of Institutional Confucianism in the Late Qing

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The final decades of the Qing Dynasty saw profound transformations in ideologies and socio-political structures, of which a most momentous trend was the progressive decline of institutional Confucianism. Imperialist encroachment, rivalry between different hermeneutical traditions of Confucian Classics, and ongoing crises of internal decline and external challenges culminated in the demolition of Confucianism’s thousand-year-old institutional anchors—the civil service examination and the imperial monarchy. The successive disintegration of these institutions and the decline of Confucianism was facilitated by new print media, modern technologies of communication, and foreign producers of knowledge—missionaries—which changed the hierarchy of literary authority. Confucians gradually lost their authority in the field of cultural production and their institutional link to political power as missionaries became speakers for and bearers of Western knowledge of power. The intellectual endeavors of Wei Yuan, Yan Fu, Kang Youwei, and Zhang Binglin were emblematic of the Confucians’ attempts to wrestle with a wide array of issues concerning politics, religion, race, and nation amid the imminent but inexorable demise of institutional Confucianism.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Oxford Handbook of Confucianism
EditorsJennifer Oldstone-Moore
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic) 9780190906214
ISBN (Print)9780190906184
StatePublished - Jan 1 2023

Publication series

NameOxford Handbooks


  • Confucianism
  • missionaries
  • Zhang Binglin
  • Kang Youwei
  • Yan Fu

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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