East Asian philosophy

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-G218-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved June 24, 2024, from

5. Philosophical syncreticism

As one might expect in a cultural narrative which privileges interdependence and the pursuit of radial harmony, orthodoxy is neither exclusive nor systematic. Rather, traditions are porous and syncretic. In the Han dynasty, for example, Confucianism is first fortified by elements appropriated from the competing schools of pre-Qin China such as Daoism and Legalism (see Legalist philosophy, Chinese). Later it absorbs into itself an increasingly Sinicized Buddhist tradition, evolving over time into a neo-Confucianism (see Neo-Confucian philosophy). At the same time, the shuyuan acadamies established by the great neo-Confucian syncretist Zhu Xi are modelled on Buddhist monastic schools. In more recent years the Western heresy, Marxism, and other elements of Western learning such as the philosophy of Kant and Hegel, are being appropriated by China and digested to produce what today is being called the ‘New Confucianism’ (see Marxism, Western; Marxism, Chinese).

The indigenous shamanistic tradition of Korean popular religion absorbed first Buddhism and then Confucianism from China, reshaping these traditions fundamentally to suit the uniqueness of the Korean social and political conditions (see Buddhist philosophy, Korean; Confucian philosophy, Korean). Native Japanese Shintoism emerges as a distinction made necessary by the introduction of first Buddhism and then Confucianism, where each tradition assumes a complementary function within the culture (see Shintō; Confucian philosophy, Japanese; Buddhist philosophy, Japanese). More recently, in the work of Kyoto School thinkers such as Nishida, Tanabe and Nishitani, German idealism is mined and alloyed with the Japanese Buddhist tradition to produce new directions.

Although Confucianism, Buddhism and Daoism – the dominant traditions of East Asia – have certainly been rivals at one level, it has been characteristic of the living philosophical traditions defining of East Asian culture to pursue mutual accommodation through an ongoing process of encounter and appropriation; hence the familiar expression sanjiao weiyi, ‘the three teachings (Confucianism, Buddhism and Daoism) are as one’. A continuation of this process is presently underway with the ongoing East Asian appropriation of Western philosophy.

Citing this article:
Ames, Roger T.. Philosophical syncreticism. East Asian philosophy, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-G218-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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