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« The Dao of Hurricanes | Main | »

September 09, 2011

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I probably shouldn't comment since I haven't read the pay-walled article, but I wonder if the author is deliberately being easy on China's Confucian heritage. Other scholars, like Lin Yutang, seemed much harsher toward Confucianism regarding the apparent general lack of a Good Samaritan impulse in Chinese culture, marking it as a major contributor (among other factors). I've quoted him and others here: http://chinahopelive.net/2009/04/07/the-good-samaritan-with-chinese-characteristics-pt2-explanations-excuses-scapegoats

Re: Lei Feng -- does his ethic draw more from Confucianism or Communism? He looks like more of a Boy Scout than a Good Samaritan to me. I guess he's a Good Samaritan in the modern mainstream watered-down sense of 'someone who helps a stranger' (though, would Lei Feng help non-Communists or non-Chinese?). But the Good Samaritan, at least originally, was about going significantly out of your way to do good to (or be helped by) the very people you despise, not just neutral strangers. Recasting the story as a Japanese helping a stricken Chinese (or vice versa) would be a close dynamic equivalency.

Thanks for sharing some interesting sources on this interesting topic.

The English common law in fact makes similar assumptions. You're not required to help someone in trouble. If you do, however, you take on additional duties of care.

(I forgot much of my first year tort law. Don't take my word on this...)

The poster above mentioned Lin Yutang. As a Christian convert, Lin Yutang sought to justify his conversion. Therefore, we should not take his words at face value.

Charities flourished throughout traditional China. During the Republican Era, many Confucian organisations preached doing good and helping others. Many of these organisations still survive in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Overseas communities.

In fact, it is the lack of particularist bonds which causes fraud. When people aren't attached to specific communities, they become alienated. Then, they take advantage of strangers.

In a truly traditional society, people are proud of their hometowns, their professions, their clans, and even their streets. They are ever aware of their reputation which accrues from doing good in the community. In such a society, people would not take advantage of strangers. Instead, they will compete to be hospitable.

@JusticeandMercy,

As a Christian convert, Lin Yutang sought to justify his conversion. Therefore, we should not take his words at face value.
Regardless of whether or not it's legitimate to dismiss someone's opinions merely because they're a Christian, in the same work from which I pulled the Lin Yutang quotes, he talks about his disagreements with a missionary and why he (at the time of writing) *rejected* Christianity. And none of the other Confucianism-blaming scholars I quoted are Christians either, so far as I know. I think Lin Yutang's historical and literary context would shed much more light than his non-Christianity on why his opinion of Confucianism's influence was so negative.

In fact, it is the lack of particularist bonds which causes fraud. When people aren't attached to specific communities, they become alienated. Then, they take advantage of strangers.
I'm personally no expert on Confucianism so don't shoot the messenger, but the scholars I quoted find significant connections between the Confucian heritage and what you describe above. They say the result was that people only cared about their family relationships and relationships useful to their family, so there was zero obligation to people outside those circles.
In a truly traditional society, people are proud of their hometowns, their professions, their clans, and even their streets. They are ever aware of their reputation which accrues from doing good in the community. In such a society, people would not take advantage of strangers. Instead, they will compete to be hospitable.
I think you mean they will compete for face and strive to maintain face, and hospitality becomes an unavoidable means to this end, but only when an act of hospitality has the chance of being known by others of face consequence and face might therefore be accrued. Can actual concern for a stranger be a significant motivator in that situation? Hospitality motivated primarily by concern for reputation comes nowhere close to the "Good Samaritan."

Joel,

In current Confucian historiography, the Republican Era was a time when May Fourth activists held all the power. While Confucians kept up with the innumerable mutations of the May Fourth ideology and tried to make all appropriate and inappropriate concessions, May Fourth activists disdained to show even the slightest respect for Confucianism. (One day, all China will belong to us - cf. Qufu.)

Lin Yutang, as a man of his time, was affected by these trends. His father was in addition a Christian missionary. Therefore, it would not be strange for him to be affected, unwittingly perhaps, by Christian views.

I'm not aware that you quoted any scholar, unless you're referring to the webpage you linked. I did not visit the webpage, since it was Christian. However, if it indeed quoted some "scholars", I bet if anything they were May Fourth activists or their ideological descendants.

As for your particular "views" on "Good Samaritans", please read:

所以謂人皆有不忍人之心者,今人乍見孺子將入於井,皆有怵惕惻隱之心。非所以內交於孺子之父母也,非所以要譽於鄉黨朋友也,非惡其聲而然也。

Clearly, you have not read Mencius. As such, I don't see how you are qualified to comment on Confucianism.

As such, I don't see how you are qualified to comment on Confucianism.
Hey, easy there, tiger. As I mentioned: "I'm personally no expert on Confucianism so don't shoot the messenger, but the scholars I quoted..."

The blog post above and your comments have a much rosier view of Confucian heritage and its effect in Chinese society and culture than other scholars I've read. That's why I have questions. It has nothing to with whether or not I'm personally qualified to have an opinion.

All I wanted to say was: 'Hey, I've read some scholars who disagree with you. What's your response to them?' And in reply I get patronizing quotation marks and conspicuous anti-Christian prejudice?

I'm not aware that you quoted any scholar, unless you're referring to the webpage you linked.
There are several relevant quotes in the blog post at the link I provided -- that's what I was referring to.
However, if it indeed quoted some "scholars", I bet if anything they were May Fourth activists or their ideological descendants.
They're culture scholars, sociologists, etc. I don't know their political/ideological leanings re: Confucianism.
I did not visit the webpage, since it was Christian.
And one ought not to visit 'Christian' webpages? And what makes a webpage 'Christian' anyway? It's a blog post (a series, actually) about foreigners encountering the apparent lack of a "Good Samaritan impulse" in Chinese society and trying to understand that experience. Aside from the historical source of the phrase "Good Samaritan", you're the one who brought Christianity into this.
In current Confucian historiography... May Fourth activists disdained to show even the slightest respect for Confucianism. ... Lin Yutang, as a man of his time, was affected by these trends.
That's what I'm saying, that his political and literary context has more relevance to his view of Confucianism than his (at the time) non-belief in Christianity.

His father was in addition a Christian missionary. Therefore, it would not be strange for him to be affected, unwittingly perhaps, by Christian views.
You seem to be really set on somehow making Christianity to blame for a guy's negative views of Confucianism, which seem most obviously accounted for by the political and literary context in which he lived and of which he was a part, particularly since the guy wasn't a Christian at the time, with the apparent assumption that we can dismiss any opinion that is somehow tainted, even subconsciously, by Christianity.


Joel,

Mencius said:

楊墨之道不息,孔子之道不著,是邪說誣民,充塞仁義也。仁義充塞,則率獸食人,人將相食。吾為此懼,閑先聖之道,距楊墨,放淫辭,邪說者不得作。作於其心,害於其事;作於其事,害於其政。聖人復起,不易吾言矣。

In addition, he said:

我亦欲正人心,息邪說,距詖行,放淫辭,以承三聖者;豈好辯哉?予不得已也。能言距楊墨者,聖人之徒也。

Therefore, every Confucian has a duty to engage in apologetics and defend the true faith.

As Frank Chin has sufficiently demonstrated, some missionaries (not all) had an ulterior motive in "explaining" Chinese culture. They purposely misunderstood Chinese culture to assert a discourse wherein Western European civilisation is seen as superior. Moluo has also proven the same with respect to Lu Xun - Lu Xun and his cohorts, in their attacks upon traditional culture, were unwittingly influenced by Christian missionaries.

Now, there are two ways to look at this: Either (1) the authors of the blog in question are familiar with Confucianism, or (2) they aren't.

If they are, and if the views you reported here are indeed what they meant, then they have clearly misrepresented Confucianism to propagate their prejudices. If they aren't, then they have done harm to society by misleading the public with their speculations.

I'm not sure which is the case here. Perhaps you can inform us more about this.

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