Overview of Weber's "Religion of China"

Max Weber is best know for his book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism but this was only the first in series of books on the sociology of religion. The second book in the series was Religion of China (published in 1915) and I will try to present its highlights here that include certain scanned pages from the book.

Chapter I: City, Prince, and God

Chinese had a lot of problems with money including the fluctuation of exchange rates between silver, gold, and copper. The issue of paper money did not help. Chinese cities (in contrast to the west) lacked political autonomy. Pages 12, 13 and Pages 16, 17. In the west (Mesopotamia) canals were mainly for irrigation. In China they were for transportation and flood control (p. 20). Sea travel was avoided because of the fear of pirates and storms. The geography of China is such that sea travel is optional. This is not the case with West where the countries traded around the Mediterranean sea.

Chinese religion developed differently than Middle-Eastern. Pages 22, 23. Chinese emperor was also high priest - but emperors in the west were not (p. 26). Tranquility and internal order were paramount (p. 27)

Chapter II: Feudal and Prebendal State

China relied a lot more on corvee (citizen labor) than on taxes (pp. 52-53). The system of paying officials through prebends discouraged reform. Pages 60, 61. Also Page 62

Chapter III: Administration and Rural Structure

Page 63. Small holdings of peasants rather than large scale agricultural entrprises as in Germany. Few cattle and meat rarely eaten (p. 64).

Chapter IV: Self-Government, Law, and Capitalism

The local governing was carried through sibs, groups of relatives (clan?) (p. 95). The sibs protected their members so it was hard to have "work discipline." Weber calls them "Fetters (chains) of the Economy."

Chapter V: The Literati (107-141)

Chapter VI: The Confucian Life Orientation (142-170)

pp. 150-151 pp. 152-153

Chapter VII: Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy (173-225)

Chapter VII: Conclusions: Confucianism and Puritanism (226-249)

pp. 240-241


Back to the index