Ya-pei Kuo: "The Emperor and the People in One Body": The Worship of Confucius and Ritual Planning in the Xinzheng Reforms, 1902-1911
This article covers the political issues surrounding the 1900s cultural reform and the return to Confucianism. Even though controversial, the Qing government decided to elevate Confucianism from its original purpose of teaching morality and closely associated it with China's cultural identity. By combining elements of Confucianism to the government, the emperor and his people were reunified, hence the notion of "the emperor and the people in one body (军民一体junmin yiti)". This meant that the emperor was no longer 'above' the citizenry, but was rather subjected to the same Confucian laws.
In the imperial state cult's rituals, Confucius' status was elevated to Grand Sacrifice, alongside heavenly deities, emperors of previous dynasties and objects of the natural world such as the sun and the moon. As time progressed during the Qing dynasty, Confucius' status found itself in decline in comparison to other noteworthy humans and deities. In contrast to other rituals, rites performed in Confucius' name and honour were made public for the whole nation to see and participate in.
The literati of imperial China (literary scholars) were fervent worshippers of Confucianism and believed that such practices had to be secluded from other schools of thought, which made way for the shuyuan academies to prosper. Eventually, shuyuan academies became affiliated with imperial order and worked hand in hand with the government to provide the best schooling.
At some point, the worship of Confucius was extended to the non-elite, which caused some considerable discrepancies between the different ways of worshipping. Each worshipper had his own day in the year to do so, according to his personal beliefs, as well as a specific way to worship. Therefore, people became confused as to how and when they should do their rituals. Worshipping Confucius quickly became entwined with schooling and education, where the children had to perform rituals every morning before class. This meant that the perception of Confucius and Confucianism differed from each person, based on the education level and social status. This lead to a disjunction between Confucius as a person and his philosophy. The educational reform that occurred in 1902 and again in 1904 promoted patriotism rather than Confucian classical learning. Even so, the worship of Confucius remained in schools as a form of moral teaching.
Conclusively, Confucianism was used as a political vehicle for the Qing dynasty as well as their successors. Although Confucius' teachings were used for a different reason than their original purpose, at least his tradition and philosophy was kept alive in contemporary China.