The Future of China's Past

Reflections on the Meaning of China’s Rise

By Albert Welter

Subjects: Chinese Religion And Philosophy, Confucianism, Taoism, History, Chinese Studies
Series: SUNY series in Chinese Philosophy and Culture
Hardcover : 9781438491677, 174 pages, January 2023
Paperback : 9781438491660, 174 pages, July 2023

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Table of contents

List of Illustrations

Introduction: China and the East Asian Renaissance, Toward a New World Order

1. The Return of the Native: The Fall and Rise of Confucius in Modern China

2. Chinese Authoritarianism: The Role of Legalism and Militarism in the Making of Modern China

3. The Daoist Cycle of Life and the Way of Returning to the Fundamental: Millenarian Prophecy and the Environmental Movement in Contemporary China

4. The Return of the Nonnative: The Buddhist Revival in Contemporary China

5. Back to the Future? Prospects for Confucianism and Chinese Traditions in Contemporary China

Concluding Reflections

Further Reading

Addresses the question of China's rise and what it portends for the future.


The Future of China's Past examines how China's traditional culture is being reinvented and manipulated for political purposes. Like no time before in its recent history, and certainly at no time in the history of the People's Republic, China is being shaped in terms of its past, but which past—Confucianism, Legalism, Daoism, Buddhism—or combination of pasts is being held up as the model? Given its growing economic, political, and cultural significance, it is incumbent upon us to take China's rise seriously, yet perspectives involving modern and contemporary geopolitical and intrastate dynamics are insufficient, on their own, for understanding China's rise, and the same holds true for economic analyses, however pertinent. Instead, this book looks at current engagements with models of China's past, introducing the four traditional lenses of Chinese thought and reflecting on their potential relevance for China's—and the world's—future.

Albert Welter is Professor and Head of the Department of East Asian Studies at the University of Arizona. His previous books include Religion, Culture, and the Public Sphere in China and Japan, co-edited with Jeffrey Newmark, and A Tale of Two Stūpas: Diverging Paths in the Revival of Buddhism in Hangzhou China.


"Anyone interested in the future of the planet should read this book. Welter dives deeply into four Chinese religio-political traditions: Confucianism, Legalism, Daoism, and Buddhism. Informed by the longue durée view, he invites readers to think beyond the Orientalist fantasy of a Confucian (peaceful) China or the dramatic illusion of a 'clash of cultures.' Taking a less-traveled path, Welter leads readers to explore two central inquiries: (1) which of China's pasts could play a key role in China's rise; and (2) how and why the dominance of each tradition could shape the future of the planet." — Jessica Xiaomin Zu, University of Southern California