It was from the Jesuits that the intelligentsia of Europe learned of the philosophy of Confucius. Many years before their sinophile propaganda had begun to affect the thinking of European scholars the members of the Society of Jesus had determined their attitude towards Chinese thought. It was, in fact, the simplification, to suit their own needs, of an ancient, complex and effective system of religion, ethics, and social philosophy. Faced with the coalescence of religious and moral teachings represented by the son chiao or three cults (of Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism) the Jesuit missionaries found it expedient to oppose the social philosophy of Confucianism to the esoteric teachings of Buddhism and the mystico-magical thought of Taoism—creating a purely imaginary dualism in which the two latter were labelled heathen cults and the former was exalted to the position of a noble philosophic system, rivalling, if not surpassing, that of Greece and Rome.

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