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« Breaking News! Zhuangzi is right: there is no human nature | Main | Confucius is Politically Bolder than Wen Jiabao »

February 26, 2012


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Good post as always, Mr Crane.

I also think the 'Confucian' character of the American public is much deeper, in point of fact, than that of our formal legal institutions. We have neither the cherished memory of monarchy (the embodiment of the parent-child relation writ large in government, in the form of a person rather than in the form of an impersonal state mechanism) nor of 'religious' establishment to posit ourselves in any way as 'Confucian' on the national scale. Our formal institutions are predicated upon the haggling of various interest groups, and thus are far too vulnerable to the predations of the nexus of 力 power and 利 private interest to be considered so. This includes (sadly) our legal institutions.

That said, many of us still do feel a sense of filial responsibility. I am not sure exactly why or how it has lasted to this point, but it may have something to do with the fact that, as a massively immigrant-based culture, many families have retained (and in some cases Flanderised) the folk traditions of the 'old country' from whence they came, or have tried (as many African-Americans have) to recover and reinvent those traditions where they had been lost in the Middle Passage.

It would be interesting to see...

Surely filial piety (or at least respect and gratitude and a desire to see your parents live long happy lives, and to provide care for them in their old age, as they provided to you when you were a baby) is a (nearly?) universal value of human societies worldwide and not something the Chinese invented on their own - it certainly is in my family and my friends and neighbors who have never had any Confucian education.

The real story of Confucianism that the world should know about concerns the limits of Confucianism in China. As my Chinese friend once said "He's not in my family, I don't have to care about him" and you will see that attitude everywhere in China, with horrifying consequences (truck drivers running over babies and driving away, etc.). Whats truly amazing is that China ever adopted socialism, because there is not a grain of genuine social concern in Chinese culture - there is an immense void between my family and my nation that is filled with selfishness and greed.

Not at all Confucian! You’re forgetting the key values of Confucianism lie not only with family responsibility, but government and example. An elected and democratic government is about as anti-Confucian as you can get (since government is ruled by majority, rather than nobility and meritocracy as Confucius wished), couple that with a legalist attitude and you have a very un-Confucian society. The issue with this as far as Confucius (and indeed Mencius) is concerned is that passing laws to make children respect their parents is less Confucianist that not having such laws. After all, the key belief in Confucianism is that one should voluntarily observe proper rites. If one has to have a law to tell you to care for your parents, then you only care for them out of fear of punishment. A truly Confucian society would have morals enough to not need a law to tell them what to do.

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