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« 5000 Years of Olympics Civilization? | Main | Just to be clear about it: Neither China nor the US is a Confucian country »

April 11, 2008


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If I understand it correctly, during their times, Confucius and Mencius exhorted rulers not to think of profits – in terms of annexing land of weaker states, or raising taxes on the people for wars (to obtain gains) and to build palaces and grounds of splendor. Let us not forget, that the two sages happened to live during what is known as the Spring and Autumn period, and the Warring States where various rulers think of hegemony.

Instead, both Confucius and Mencius advised rulers to first enrich the people and then educate them. That would be benevolence and justice on the part of rulers if they did these, since they would not be thinking of their own profits, but loving and profiting the people.

If a state is poor, how can it be strong? When people prosper, there will be enough to eat, the old can eat meat and wear silk.

When people are educated, they can learn culture; improve their lives and that of their family manifold, if they wish. If they can read and write, they will know the laws and their rights, and will not be so easily fooled or bullied. (Think of the subprime mortgage mess in the States where certain borrowers were hoodwinked.)

If an economy is weak or goes into a recession, because rulers had been greedy or corrupt, how can the people really prosper? A change of Rule may well be necessary. In addition, Mencius and probably Laozi would call such rulers, thieves.

I've been running across a number of arguments, lately, that Confucianism could be a sound foundation for modern business ethics -- "Corporate Social Responsibility" and the Global Compact movement are big -- and I have the same mental block. Confucianism is not anti-prosperity, but neither is it a system in which competitive markets have a comfortable place. It's all very well to run one company in a Confucian manner (I suppose) but how should it handle competition, negotiation, advertising (there's a non-Confucian concept!)?

Be forewarned, though: it's gonna keep coming back up.

Successfully chinese dynasties had always been outwardly confucianist to win hearts and minds, but in actuality legalist, as innovated by Emperor Han Wu Di.

"Successfully chinese dynasties had always been outwardly confucianist to win hearts and minds, but in actuality legalist, as innovated by Emperor Han Wu Di."


Every ancient or modern civilization has their share of good and bad rulers. Only history will tell. If the curious want to know why harsh laws were implemented during the times of Emperor Wu, read up on the chapter on ‘The Harsh Officials’ in the Records of the Historian (Shiji). The better ones, similar to Lord Shang the ‘founder’ of Legalism, really thought the laws were good for the state and the people.

History told us that Lord Shang suffered from his own laws, was killed and his corpse torn limb from limb. His family was wiped out. And Sima Qian commented, ‘The bad end he finally came to in Chin was no more than he deserved’.

The only thing I disagree with your above quoted statement, is that like some historians of elite institutions in the UK, you have completely ignored the existence of Daoists - those who followed the teachings of the Yellow Emperor and Laozi - in the top echelons of the Han Court, who had also influenced the Han Emperors in their rule. (Think of Zhang Liang and Chi An among others)

If our teachers have been wrong or did not do proper homework, can earnest and sincere students wholly blame them on our own inadequate understanding of a subject? If teachers seemingly make the same ‘mistake’ over time, should students rather keep quiet or subtly try to point it out?

Together with the opening up of free market economies, advocates of globalization, academics and businessmen have clamored for the rule of law in China and other emerging markets. Can we then say that since the Hans ruled by laws, by default, they were two thousand of years ahead of their time!

Columbia University Press is selling Burton Watson's translation of the Analects for just $10 (half price). Was it terribly unpopular?

This is a little random, but the KMT seems to me to be a bit Confucian and the DPP more Daoist/ folk religionist. The KMT's monuments (Zhonglieci and other Martyr's Shrines, CKS Memorial Hall) strike me as unmistakably Confucian. KMT supporters in Taipei are not very interested in the Buddhist/ Daoist rituals that can be seen all over southern Taiwan, and even in Taipei's green-leaning Wanhua and Datong. Instead, they emphasize traditional culture and education (they draw a lot of support from teachers). Chen Shuibian went to Daoist temples to pray for election victory, while after winning Ma Yingjiu visited Chiang Kai-shek's masoleum.

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