Kang Youwei (K’ang Yu-wei) by Lauren PFISTER
Kang Youwei (K’ang Yu-wei, 1858-1927), a critical thinker and controversial Confucian philosopher of the “new text” school, is unusual among modern Chinese philosophers because of his rise to political prominence in 1898 as the reformist adviser to the Guangxu emperor. Kang wrote under the literary title “gentleman” or “sage from Nanhai,” referring to the place of his birth in Guangdong Province, and in his position as the leading figure among Confucianist reformers, his charisma was enhanced by his stylish calligraphy and fluent poetry as well as his adventurous political reformism and utopian teachings. His prolific output over nearly five decades includes significant developments in his multidimensional philosophical outlook and reveals some major changes in his political and intellectual positions. After the Chinese revolution of 1911 Kang seemed to be an anachronism, as he continued to advocate government by constitutional monarchy and the legalization of a Confucian state religion. Continual failures in these political areas disrupted his philosophical strategies, and so led him late in life into eclectic metaphysical musings.