Conference: “Between Appropriation and Refutation – On the Significance and Reception of Max Weber in China”

Beijing, PRC

20–21st Mar 2018

Organizers: Max Weber Foundation / China Branch Office and the Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences at Peking University

Max Weber himself has dealt with China in his study on “Confucianism and Taoism” (1915/1920). However, more important for the reception in China is his famous book “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism”, which alone has been translated into Chinese twenty times. This raises the question of what Weber’s reception in the People’s Republic of China (which began in the 1980s) was really all about. The many translations point to a debate which goes beyond purely academic discourse. It is without question that Weber’s reception must be understood in the context of the tremendous social change and rapid economic development in China during recent decades. Already the rise of other East Asian countries, among them Taiwan and Hong Kong but also Singapore, brought about the thesis of a “Confucian capitalism”. This has been deliberately pitted against Weber’s notions of capitalism rooted in the protestant ethic, refuting his thesis that Confucianism inhibited the development of a capitalist system. Outside of China perspective has been maintained at least since 1968 by the American sociologist Robert N. Bellah. Others, such as the Dutch anthropologist Geert Hofstede, have gone even further in understanding Confucianism as an independent category of modernization. How was and is this issue debated in China? On the other hand, Max Weber should not be reduced to his theses on Confucianism and capitalism. We should therefore ask, how is and was Weber received in China beyond these issues?

This conference seeks to explore the various phases of Weber’s translation and reception in the People’s Republic of China, Taiwan and Hong Kong in both the academic and public spheres, put in historical context and understood in comparison against Weber’s reception in Germany. Since Chinese translations are mostly based on English or Japanese versions and only rarely on the German original, the participants of this conference seek to better understand the image(s) of Weber created through often indirect transmissions. What motivates Chinese publishers and scholars to create new translations? Do they also aim at disseminating a new image of Weber? Apart from translations, what can be said about the interpretation and adoption of Weber’s positions and methods in Chinese academia? These are questions that this conference would like to address in the form of a dialogue between internationally acknowledged scholars of Max Weber.

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