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  You are in: Home > Theology and Religion > Father and Son in Confucianism and Christianity  

Father and Son in Confucianism and Christianity
A Comparative Study of Xunzi and Paul

Yanxia Zhao

Yanxia Zhao (PhD) is a Teaching Fellow in Chinese Studies at the University of Wales, Lampeter. Her teaching areas include Chinese culture, philosophy and religion. She has published a number of books in Chinese and is working on the philosophical implications of traditional Chinese ethics.

The first book in English that tackles the issues of father’son relationship through comparing Xunzi and Paul, two representatives of Confucian and Christian thought.
Addresses the thorny issue of whether Confucian values can provide answers to the social upheavals of 21st century China

Confucianism and Christianity are the foundation of Chinese and Western culture. The father–son relation is at the centre of Confucian thinking and the ethical natural relationship is the model for other familial, social and political relationships. The divine father–son relationship between God and Jesus is also at the centre of Christian consideration and likewise is the model of Christian familial, social and political relationships. The particular appeal of this book is to offer a religious and cultural comparative study from this most cardinal and crucial relationship.

To date, scholarship has opined that the Confucian secular father–son relationship established on a consanguineous basis has no comparable aspects with the spiritual based Christian divine father–son relationship. The author provides a compelling argument, backed up by close scriptural and religious readings, to overturn this longstanding perception. In the process, she addresses cultural issues relating to hierarchy, patriarchy, and common values that might bridge the East–West gap in understanding their widely differing political–religious value systems.

List of Abbreviations

Introduction: The Relationship at the Centre of Confucian Thinking and Christian Ethics

1. The Origin of Xunzi’s Secular Father–Son Relationship
2. Sources and Background of the Pauline Divine Father–Son Relationship
3. Classification of the Father–Son Relationship
4. The Pauline Ethical Divine Father–Son Relationship
5. Xunzi’s Ethical Father–Son Relationship
6. Ethical Issues Concerning the Father–Son Relationship


Appendix: Research Scholarship in Christian and Confucian Studies


“Zhao gives a very good reading of Xunzi’s main concepts, peppered with short textual references that illuminate a thinker who is too often overlooked or dismissed in favour of others in the Confucian pantheon. Though the focus of the study is on a comparison of Xunzi and Paul, Zhao also brings in Confucius and other key Chinese figures, so the reader gets a clearer understanding of Xunzi within that philosophical tradition. The Pauline material is also by and large well done, though with a bit less familiarity, breadth, and confidence than the author brings to the Chinese thinkers. Particularly insightful is the distinction Zhao draws between Paul’s goal of inner peace and Xunzi’s goal of harmony, and how this affects their respective understandings of ethical development and proper Father-Son relationship (pp. 175–78).

Another important difference that merits closer attention is that the “divine” for Paul is a monotheistic personal God, and not the somewhat ambiguous “Heaven” of the Chinese tradition. This theology brings up a number of other concepts such as grace and eschatology which in the Christian tradition holds that human destiny can never find final fulfilment in this world, but rather that the ethical ideal finds completion in union with God in Jesus Christ in the world to come. Another area that Zhao probably conflated a bit too simplistically was Xunzi’s and Paul’s use of ‘law.’ For Paul ‘law’ is not the same as for Xunzi or the philosophical concept of law. For example, Zhao uses the expression ‘external law’ as a constant between Xunzi and Paul, but both have very different concepts and uses of ‘law’ in their respective systems.

In addition to the overall treatment of Xunzi and Paul, the last chapter is particularly helpful for its nuance in human rights discourse and feminist theory, especially Zhao’s insightful distinctions about key differences among hierarchy, in particular, patriarchy as opposed to genuine oppression and discrimination.

While ultimately Paul and Xunzi may be a bit farther apart than Zhao concludes, her close analysis of each is well done and will do much to advance both the project of comparative theology and Chinese philosophy in dialogue with Christianity.” Journal of Chinese Religions

“Dr. Zhao’s innovative study seeks to promote intercultural understanding by focusing on the Father–Son relationship central in both Confucianism and Christianity. By means of a comparative study of Xunzi and the Pauline tradition, she highlights the significance of the ethical dimensions of this relationship in the two traditions, drawing attention to points of similarity and difference. This pioneering study is an excellent contribution between apparently divergent cultural traditions which will stimulate both intercultural dialogue and future research so essential in the contemporary global encounter.” William S. Campbell, Reader in Biblical Studies, University of Wales Lampeter


Publication Details

Harback ISBN:
Page Extent / Format:
272 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Release Date:
February 2007
  Illustrated:   No
Hardback Price:
£49.50 / $67.50

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