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

A conference organized by the Max Weber Foundation (China Branch Office) and the Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences at Peking University.

20th – 21st March 2018

Venue: Peking University, Jingyuan Building 2 / 北京大学静园二院

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?