Monster or God? The Mao Zedong Legacy

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The sunlight of Mao Zedong Thought illuminates the road of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966). Shanghai People’s Fine Arts Publishing House Propaganda Group (上海人民美术出版社宣传画组)

Chairman Mao remains an elusive figure in the West. Described as a “tragedy of a vision and a symbol” (Gupta, 1974, p. 19), he is often known through Chinese propaganda posters. These artworks often feature Mao’s face as the sun, providing light and direction for the land and people under the leadership of the Communist Party. With the Army being responsible for propaganda art during Mao’s leadership, he was often made into a God-like, muscular figure engaging in heroic deeds from the stories of his victories, all the while being surrounded by happy faces. Mao’s wife, Jiang Qing, even created the ‘three prominences’ which were to be featured in all artworks depicting Mao and the revolution. They included stressing positive characters, which were smiling hyper-realistic, ageless and large soldiers, workers, and educated youths. These figures symbolized the desirability of strong and healthy bodies as both men and women were masculinized by being dressed in colours such as army green and worker blue, with short-cropped hairstyles and large feet. Heroic themes also needed to be stressed to demonstrate the importance of proletarian ideology and communist revolutionary spirit. The colour red is prominent in most propaganda visuals and symbolises fiery revolutionary thought and the winning of good over evil. The final prominence was the centrality of the main characters, Mao and the people of the revolution, who were usually positioned in such a way that viewers of revolutionary propaganda always seemed to be looking upwards as if the image was taken upon a stage (Landsberger, 2019).

While these depictions turned Mao Zedong into a personality cult, after his death he was increasingly portrayed as a monstrous figure. For instance, in Jung Chang and Jon Halliday’s 2005 biographical book, Mao: The Unknown Story, they describe Mao as one of the greatest monsters in the 20th century, and they compare him to Hitler and Stalin by claiming that he sacrificed thousands of innocent lives in his quest to become the leader of China. Further, Li Zhisui, Mao’s personal physician, wrote a book called The Private Life of Chairman Mao, which described Mao as a “monstrous lecher” who was indifferent to the suffering of his people. Despite these dualistic depictions of Mao as a hero-God and callous monster, he was the first leader of the People’s Republic to initiate what was known as “grassroots socialism,” which aimed to create a modern, industrialised Chinese state. The ideological basis of the state was based on Mao’s official writings and was known as Mao Zedong Thought (MZT, Mao Zedong sixiang, 毛泽东思想), which took many of Mao’s texts and turned them into select writings to make certain ideas fit convenient circumstances. Over time, MZT existed in various forms that responded to various political issues that were of concern to the Communist Party at particular times. Although many Third World postcolonial revolutionaries would consider MZT a viable political model, Maoism is often viewed by commentators outside of China as ‘militant fanaticism’ (Tang, 1973), while China itself continues to struggle to produce and promote a viable Chinese Marxism as it deals with increased income inequality due to its “Factory to the World” economic model.

Mao Thought developed in the context of civil war: the Kuomintang (KMT), led by Chang Kai-shek, represented the “revolutionary national bourgeoisie,” which aimed to create national liberation through a revolution led by the bourgeoisie in alliance with the workers and peasants (D’Mello, 2009). In an attempt to eradicate their primary opposition, the Chinese Communists, the KMT, who were supported by America, launched a civil war (1928-35) in which many Communists were murdered. Mao survived these attacks and with his adaptation of Marxism-Leninism to Chinese circumstances, a new “Maoist” ideology of the CCP was eventually formalized by 1945. After the Japanese were defeated, Mao Thought became the state policy of the Communist government on the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949. In the ‘Report on the Revision of the Party Constitution’, Mao Thought was described as ‘Chinese Communism’, ‘Chinese Marxism’ and the ‘Sinicization of Marxism,’ and it was believed to represent “the hopes and aspirations of the millions of oppressed and exploited throughout the world” (The U.S. Leninist Core, 1978). Although Maoist Thought was formulated in many ways, it was original for a Communist Party to strategically gain power through peasant support, which Mao initiated right before the civil war in 1927. The use of a peasant movement as a class basis for revolution differed from the previous communist takeover in Russia, which based their movement for liberation on the proletariat (Wittfogel, 1960). Thus, by basing Marxist theory on the material reality of China’s underdevelopment, Mao created a Communist vanguard led by poor peasants, who initiated a peasant-cum-guerrilla movement in the countryside. This approach was summed up by Mao with the phrase “from the masses, to the masses”, and came with the democratisation of the Leninist vanguard party. Just like Lenin, Mao’s vanguard had a revolutionary elite drawn from intellectuals, workers and peasants, at its core, but the difference was that the workers and peasants in Mao’s vanguard were promised greater representation over time. Mao also applied Marx’s “materialist dialectics” to help understand and resolve the multiple “contradictions” that the Communist Party would face, including internal conflicts and opposition that sometimes resulted in disunity. According to Mao, the one basic law that underlies all motion, change or development is the unity of opposites (or yin-yang in Chinese traditional philosophy). Therefore, the process to get to a higher stage of Communism will be long, complex and tortuous, where the formal aspects of the tradition, such as state ownership of the means of production, are not necessarily guarantees that the bourgeoisie will not make repeated attempts to restore and promote the inequalities of Capitalism (Mao, 1935).

In 1940, Mao declared that the aim of the Communist Party’s efforts is to build a new nation-state with a new political organisation, a new economy and a new culture for the Chinese people. Eighteen years later, the ‘Great Leap Forward’ social experiment took place where, in an attempt to quickly industrialise the country, communities in China were assigned production of a single commodity, steel. It led to economic failure since uneducated farmers produced low quality steel that was useless for industry. Since harvest sizes declined, a famine occurred and millions of people, particularly in the poorer inland regions, died. Criticised for his role in this entirely avoidable catastrophe, Mao initiated the 10-year ‘Great Cultural Revolution’, a policy meant to enforce Communism by removing any traces of the capitalist, traditional and cultural elements of Chinese society through violent class struggle. Young student revolutionaries formed the Red Guards, a stormtrooper group that used torture, humiliation and destruction of property and historical-religious artefacts to punish “capitalist roaders” and other class enemies (Ho, 1978; Landsberger, 2019). Anti-Confucianism peaked during this period to the point where the Red guards raided and desecrated Confucius’s birthplace and burial ground. Mao also launched the ‘Anti-Lin Bao and Anti-Confucius Campaign’ in his last years as leader of China, attacking both his designated successor and China’s ancient Sage (Hu, 2007). These painful experiences continue to stain China’s history. As Brown (2016) states, the Chinese Communist Party likes to promote a simple historical narrative, with clear cut messages about the winners and losers of past struggles. By contrast, policies like the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution are a mess of awkward contradictions that are seldom mentioned nowadays.

Despite the issues with Mao’s political rule, hardly any Chinese politicians have come out to denounce the former Chairman. Since the Cultural Revolution, the only ‘critique’ that the Communist Party have put forward about past policies and leaders was the famous ‘Resolution on Certain Historical Questions of the CCP since the Establishment of the People’s Republic’ in 1981 under the supervision of Deng Xiaoping. However, the Resolution only concluded that Mao’s “contributions to the Chinese revolution far outweighed his shortcomings” and that “his contributions were primary, his mistakes secondary.” The Resolution noted that there may have been errors of judgment during the Cultural Revolution, but there is seldom mentioned about the increasingly authoritarianism that came under Mao’s rule. Deng Xiaoping even noted that “We must affirm the historical position of comrade Mao Zedong and uphold and develop Mao Thought. We must hoist high the flag of Mao Thought not only today but in the future.” In late-2003, fourth-Generation leader President Hu Jintao also declared Mao to be a “great proletarian revolutionary strategist and theorist”, while in 2011, a 32-metre Mao statue was erected in the middle of Xiangjiang River in Changsha, Hunan Province (Moore, 2009). In 2019, the ‘Mao fever’ continued: President Xi paid his respects to Mao ahead of celebrations to mark 70 years of Communist rule, by visiting Mao’s mausoleum and bowing three times to his statue (Aljazeera, 2019).

Mao Zedong Thought was distinctly original in its application to China’s material reality of underdevelopment. Although it failed to successfully industrialise China, as a military strategy, it allowed the Communists to apply guerrilla warfare to drive out the KMT, defeat the Japanese and establish an independent republic. While the West (and some Chinese) authors have made Mao to be evil, monstrous and Hitler-like, his legacy and continued presence in Chinese society allows him to remain as a respected father in people’s memories.  

The Confucian Way 13: Doing Nothing and the Nature of Water

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Humans and nature can resemble and learn from each other. In Confucianism, the fluid and reflective nature of water provides a model for the various ways of being. The way that water nourishes everything which is in it, fearlessly seeks out the lowest spots to fill them, and has the capacity to level itself no matter where it is found, are all lessons for humans in their ability to imitate water. The appropriate phrase to describe this relationship is “as if”. Humans are not water, but they are akin to it, which is why meditating on it draws us closer to balance and harmony. To be “as if” water is to embody the principle of wu-wei or doing nothing, in an effort to participate in a kind of creative emptiness. This interpretation of wu-wei differs in the later forms of Daoism, where non-action was hardened into a strategic doctrine for effective rule. In this way, the agenda of wu-wei was no longer about finding stillness and peace and to “be like”, but about calculatingly managing others as a way of indirectly exerting one’s power and influence.

Quote of the week from the Zhuangzi

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There are a few points to consider here: Zhuang Zhou is not a butterfly, dreaming is not awakening, and knowledge is not ignorance. Yet, these distinct situations interdepend and interchange to the point of where Zhuang Zhou is uncertain of where he is. The two contrasting moments correspond to the Confucian concept of li, ‘ritual’ and yue, ‘music’. The essense of li is control, and that of yue is ‘harmony’. Control holds back, while harmony blends. They correspond to Zhuang Zhou’s two moments in the dream of distinction then interchange, which also pervades our everyday life.

Authenticity and the Jennifer Dilemma

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Paul Gauguin, Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going? (detail), 1897-98, oil on canvas, 139.1 x 374.6 cm. (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston).

The word authentic comes from the Medieval Latin authenticus and Greek authentikos, meaning “original, genuine, principal”, from authentes or “acting on one’s own authority”. It derives from the term autos or “self, of oneself (independently)” and hentes meaning “being”, and the modern use of authentic implies that to be authentic, the contents in question should correspond to facts. In other words, authenticity refers to trustworthiness, reliability and consistency. An authentic document, for example, is understood to be genuine and original, or not a fake or copy, while authentic words are understood to come from the heart. Feelings and words should be aligned if they are to be considered authentic. Thus, a thing is authentic if it is what it professes to be. However, the question of authenticity becomes more complicated when authenticity becomes a characteristic attributed to human beings. After all, what does it mean to be truly autos-hentes or one’s own being? And is it even possible to truly represent oneself genuinely?

According to Varga (2020), although being oneself is somewhat inescapable, since whenever you make a choice or act, it is you who is making that choice or act, many of our thoughts, decisions and actions are not really are own and so they cannot genuinely express who we are. The issue here is whether we can ever be authentic in our day-to-day life in spite of influences that come from our families, friends, government, education, ideological affiliations, and even the language that we speak, which can affect the way that we think. If we are simply made up of these amalgam of influences, it would mean that our sense of self could not have existed without society. This argument goes so far as to make the metaphysical claim that our expressive self is only real because we as a society have made it real. So once we imagine it and give it a name and role, we cause it to be real. Consider the following dilemma: as far as we know, ‘Jennifer’ is a daughter, student, and friend. She is a Christian, an Australian, and only speaks English. We know of Jennifer as a kind girl. She was taught to express herself politely and has never in our presence made a condescending mark towards anyone. Do all these things point to an authentic Jennifer (where an authentic Jennifer would be one who acts in a way that reinforces her status as a kind, Christian friend and daughter), or is an authentic Jennifer the Jennifer beyond the labels and concepts, that is, the human that people happen to refer to by ‘Jennifer’? We will return to the Jennifer dilemma later.

Studies of contemporary Western culture are informed by conceptions of human agency, which emphasize individuality as the principal theme of personhood. Although the prevailing myth of individualism is that in eighteenth-century Europe, a few courageous men of reason fought against religious repression to set the individual free to find and express his authentic self, the development of individualism was gradual and much more complex than this myth suggests. The Enlightenment movement’s demand for liberty re-defined human beings as individual entities rather than as role-bearers in the system of social relations. People slowly gained an increasing awareness of what Charles Taylor (1989) refers to as “inwardness” or “internal space”, where the authentic self can be separated from public performance and perception. Furthermore, the growth of commerce created an expanding middle class of merchants, well-off farmers and urban craftsmen who advocated for private property and individual wealth accumulation (Foley, 2017). Underlying these developments was Christianity’s revolutionary idea: “we are all equal because we are all brothers” (Puyol, 2019). Although this concept of fraternity promised that every individual human being (whether child, woman, foreigner, poor, disabled, non-Christian, etc.) was equal in the eyes of God, fraternity did not translate into political equality because Christian equality was about the equal worth of souls and not the equal rights of men on earth. By the nineteenth century, these commercial, intellectual and religious movements and ideas promoted individualism and led to the development of capitalist entrepreneurism and Romantic individualism, where in the latter, the quest to find an authentic self translated into rejecting materialism and society and living solitarily in nature. A similar albeit mass version of Romantic individualism occurred in the 1960s, which Taylor (1998) called “an individuating revolution”. 1960s global youth culture produced expressive individualism, which rejected conformity and authority in order to discover or find your ‘true self’. The revolution promoted self-expression, equality and sensuality, but rather than simply being an excuse for self-indulgent hippyism (which 1960s youth culture is usually accused of), it was a way of shifting from the systems and times that suppressed individuality and creativity, resulting in the emergence of the Age of Authenticity.

Critics argue that the pursuit of authenticity and individualism has resulted in cultural decline as the preoccupation on one’s own feelings and attitudes is anti-social and destroys altruism and compassion towards others and community. Christopher Lasch (1979) has claimed that there are similarities between authenticity and Narcissistic Personality Disorder, which are both characterized by self-indulgence and a lack of empathy. For Bloom (1987), the preoccupation with authenticity has made the minds of the youth “narrower and flatter” (p. 61), while Bell (1976) argues that the traditional economic processes, “based on a moral system of reward rooted in Protestant sanctification of work” (p. 38), have lost their legitimacy and are replaced by hedonism and the search for extreme experience or “kicks” and “highs”. The obsession with authenticity has also led to a time where we are losing our sense of truth and reality. Criticism of public institutions has gone so far as to legitimize alternative ways of knowing, where conspiracy theories and alternative medicine, schooling and journalism are all part of the larger conversation that characterizes the era of post-truth that we currently live in. On the other hand, as Watts (2019) states, there is a kind of nobility in the pursuit of authenticity. It is now common to tell children to follow their dreams and pursue their passions rather than stick to a dreary job all their lives that we believe would at odds with their true selves. There is also a kind of desperation to have authenticity around us, from our expectations of honesty and transparency in our closest relationships to how our leaders present themselves, for there is “nothing more despicable than a person who isn’t genuine…who betrays their feelings in order to save face.” There is also a tendency in Western society to avoid the monotonous nature of ritual, “which keeps us chained to the past.” (Watts, 2019). Meanwhile, the romanticisation of romantic love has stayed with us because it feels spontaneous and unmediated, which shows how authenticity has turned into the new cultural currency.

The emphasis on authenticity and transparency in Western culture sits well with the philosophical school of Existentialism. Existentialism arose with the collapse of the idea that philosophy itself can provide substantive norms and rules for existing by specifying particular ways of living, while authenticity was advocated as the approach where I can engage in my life as my own (Crowell, 2020). The need to live an authentic life to live meaningfully adds another important layer in moral evaluations. For instance, by keeping my promise, I act in accordance to a duty to others, and if I keep acting so because it is my duty, than according to Kant, I am acting morally because I act for the sake of duty. But, from the existentialist perspective, by simply keeping my promise out of duty’s sake makes the moral act of promise keeping inauthentic because I am only keeping the promise because I believe it is required and expected of moral people to do so. To keep my promise authentically, I need to take ownership of this choice and commit myself to the act of keeping my promise because it is my own decision and action, and not because it is socially or morally required of me. Only then can I succeed in being myself authentically. By choosing to do things on my own account, I recover myself from being alienated and absorbed into the anonymous self that uncritically engages in the world. Thus, there is a kind of integrity in acting authentically: I can either occupy a role and time that was given to me by others and drift in and out of these roles while feeling separated from myself, or I can autonomously commit myself and become whatever I choose.

In classical China, there was a similar prevailing interest in how to live an authentic life. The Daoist school, for example, actively rejected the Confucian idea that the good life comes from embodying traditional social norms and rites and instead focused on taking care of one’s own interest. Harisson (2013) refers to this as the ethical egoist argument, where the right thing to do is to pursue one’s own interests and maximize one’s own good. Because, it is argued, we are naturally inclined to prioritize our own interests, it follows that following societal ethical recommendations about doing the right thing distorts our selfish nature and therefore compromises our authentic selves. But, whereas the Confucian scholar Xunzi, who also recognized human selfish nature, argued that it is up to moral education and rigorous practice of rites to correct human behavior, the Daoist Yang Zhu claimed that to live an ethical life, we must maintain what is genuine in our lives by avoiding artificial moral and social obligations. So, rather than finding the good life in appropriate social relationships and roles, we should actively retreat from our social life and get rid of material goods and power. Thus, the best life can be can be lived away from society and in harmony with the natural flow of Dao (the Way). An authentic life can be found in the natural world, beside rivers and mountains, which is more conducive to living authentically, that is, as our true selves stripped from others’ expectations and from our artificial social roles.

So, there are various ways of answering the Jennifer dilemma. For the Confucians, Jennifer’s authentic self comes from how others see her and the roles she is expected to play in her social relationships. Jennifer is only Jennifer because she is a daughter to her mother, an Australian national, and a Christian follower. She becomes more herself the more she honorably practices these roles and carries out the appropriate rites and rituals associated with her identity. Existentialists would argue that she is only truly Jennifer if she autonomously adopts her role as daughter, Christian, etc. as her own. If she is simply following these roles mindlessly because others expect her to, then she is harming her authentic self and will never find the satisfaction of taking control over her own existence. Finally, the ethical egoist Daoists would claim that an authentic Jennifer can only be found if she rejects her social roles and obligations as daughter, Australian citizen, Christian. Only once she retreats from the socially constructed ‘Jennifer’ can the real, authentic Jennifer live in harmony and simplicity.

The Confucian Way 12: Wu-wei, the Art of Doing Nothing

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The Confucian texts show us that we can learn from water, especially still water because the stillness of water provides us with a mirror to reflect on the nature of reality, and in this reflection, we have the opportunity to embody stillness and calmness of mind. The importance of water and stillness highlights the importance of wu-wei, the art of doing nothing. Translated as effortless action, skilled inactivity, or action through non-action, wu-wei calls for passivity, quietude, and the absence of contentiousness in order to smoothly accommodate the other. Such action takes discipline and strength, much like how a professional swimmer effortlessly glides across the water. Thus, rather than interpreting wu-wei as a strategy to control and influence others indirectly, wu-wei can literally mean doing nothing, waiting, and reflecting as still water.

Quote of the week from the Book of Lord Shang

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The original phrasing in chapter 4, section 4.2 uses “to attack” rather than “to govern” to mean that only when the people are attacked and thereby weakened can strong governance be established. The Book of Lord Shang puts forward the argument that people will only follow state order out of fear and so to create a strong and functioning state, a strong army should be created to deter people from doing wrong by inflicting heavy punishment.

The Book of Lord Shang is one of the most important, yet least studied, texts in Chinese philosophy and political culture. Along with the Analects, it is one of the foundational texts of early Chinese political thought that provides lengthy chapters about land management, state-society relations, historical evolution, and human nature. The book is the earliest surviving text from the Legalist School and is largely attributed to the thoughts of Shang Yang (Gongsun Yang or Lord of Shang), the successful politician whose state reforms allowed the Qin Empire to prosper during the tumultuous Warring States period. The Qin vision for long lasting governance was to empower the state by establishing total control over its material and human resources, an idea that is repeatedly put forward in chapter 4.

Throughout the fourth chapter, the moral norms of Chinese traditional culture, including rites and music, goodness and self-cultivation, are ridiculed with calls for the creation of a regime in which “villains…rule [the] good” (4.3); and an army that wins by doing “whatever the enemy is ashamed of” (4.1). Moreover, the textual style of using short and energetic sentences creates a “take it or leave it” approach to the text, where policies are proclaimed, but the justification for such action is rarely ever elaborated on. Despite the provocative ideas and lack of explanation in some sections, the text gives much insight into the Warring States period and the formation of the Chinese empire.

‘Sons of Heaven’: The Patriarchal God-Family and Global Violence Against Women

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Nicolas Poussin, The Abduction of the Sabine Women. Creative Commons.

We live in a man’s world. From the great discoverers, philosophers, artists and scientists, to the law-makers, conquerors, and gods who were created in the image of man, our cultures and institutions were created by men, for men. The ideology of male intellectual, cultural and physical supremacy was easily demonstrated in earlier times when it was still publically acceptable when a man physically assaulted his wife if she questioned him. Both sexes were prescribed ‘genders’ or particular behaviors, appearances and roles that reinforced a power structure that portrayed men as naturally physical, more reasonable than women, more inventive, less affected by emotion, while simultaneously claiming that men were naturally aggressive and unable to cook or wash their own clothes. The patriarchal gender ideology was a system of convenience for men. As well as enforcing heterosexuality, it made marriage, one of the most intimate forms of human relationship, a relationship of master and slave. Keeping women controlled and out of the public domain, where men could attend to worldly affairs while women would stay home and do the undervalued work of raising children and doing housework (or running errands for her husband if she belonged to a higher class), was a means of creating and institutionalizing the rule of the father, allowing men as a group to dominate positions of power in culture, politics, law, business, military, and policing for thousands of years.

According to Figes (1986), the main motivation for male domination over the female is intimately related to paternity. Once a man knows for certain that there is a physical link between him and the child in his woman’s womb, the born child is believed to be a continuation of himself. In this sense, by controlling woman and her reproduction, man could become immortal. His name, power and property could be passed down through his sons, and onto their sons, allowing man to cheat death. By making women act as a vessel to mans’ seed, he gains a new sense of power and control over his environment. On a political level, passing territory and power through sons is expressed through the god-ruler relationship. For instance, in ancient China, the emperor was understood to be the “Son of Heaven”, who was responsible for maintaining harmony between the human-earthly sphere and the spiritual-heavenly world according to the Mandate of Heaven. In the neighboring territory of Japan, the supreme ruler was likewise divine. It was believed that incarnation occurred when the goddess Amaterasu gave birth to the founder of the dynasty that has been ruling Japan ever since in different bodily forms while maintaining the “Son of Heaven” status. In the Russian empire, the status of Tsar continued the Byzantine tradition of combining supreme secular and church authority into one monarch. Orthodox theologians argued that the Tsar acted as God’s emissary and was imbued with both absolute power and absolute responsibility to God. Consequently, although the Tsar was expected to obey God’s laws, he could write and decide earthly laws himself. Coronation or anointment to Tsardom was believed to be a sign from heaven, where the ruler, a Christ figure transfigured, embodied the Russian nation-state, Rossiia. Peter the Great, for example, tried to distinguish the state and its institutions from his personal authority, but failed to do so and his legitimacy as Tsar was based on his performance of heroic acts, which proved his transcendence by advancing the welfare of the earthly realm (Wortman, 2013). Peter’s successors too justified their authority not only by inherited rights, but by performance of the hero-ruler and his saving of the state and nation.

For Daly (2001), the god-ruler relationship in patriarchal societies is about men trying to rid themselves of their faults and impurities by subliming themselves into God, who is so sublime that he is both nowhere and everywhere at the same time. In this case, male rulers reified their self-images into the sublime symbol of god, and “use this condensed and purified product as a mask to engender awe” (p. 73). The mask of the heavenly father-son was used to justify particular dynastic rulers and ensure that powerful men were not limited by their physical bodies. They became immortal as heads of state through books written about them and through images, statues, masks, icons, and other idealized portrayals. These men of power were also believed to transcend the limitations of the human mind by their ability to communicate with a higher spirit, allowing them to be omnipotent or “almighty, possessing infinite power”. The heavenly father-son mask is not only limited to its abuse by political leaders. Religious representatives like priests, rabbis and ministers, as well as non-religious men of power, including psychiatrists, physicians, judges, scientists, and businessmen attempt to elicit awe from their patients, clients, subjects and other subordinates (Daly, 2001). They all presented a kind of omnipotent, omnipresent masculinity because if God is a father-son ruling his people, then it is in the nature of things that, according to the divine plan, the order of the universe and of our society is and remains male-centered, while women are converted into vessels chosen to be filled with divine male offspring. In this society, “woman exists only as an occasion for mediation, transaction, transition, transference, between man and his fellow man, indeed between man and himself” (Irigaray, 1985, p. 193). Works of art devoted to male sublimation portray, often in detail, female victimization and suffering. For instance, male rape fantasies are often reenacted and featured in works which depict religion, duty, patriotism and romantic love. Poussin’s Rape of the Sabines, Titian’s Rape of Europa and Botticelli’s Primavera, all depict “heroic” rape scenes that demonstrate the idealized traits of a new wife, including submissiveness to her husband and sacrifice for family and country. These scenes also show how sex can act as a weapon against women. As Andrea Dworkin (1987) stated, in intercourse women are “occupied−physically, internally, in her privacy” (p. 154). The material effects of the heavenly father-son masculinity can be seen in the different ways that violence is carried out against women in the home by domestic violence and marital rape; in the battlefield by military rape and prostitution; in religion by the exalted rape of Virgin Mary; and in pornography, where the rape of women is often depicted as ‘sexy’ and a ‘turn on’. In all of these depictions, the eroticization of rape, cruelty and other violence against women serves to ensure that men continue to gain access to women’s bodies to ensure male immortality and power.

In a world in which men hold most of the power, women’s status is argued to be in a state of dereliction, defined as a state of abandonment or “state of fusion which does not succeed in emerging as a subject” (Irigaray, 1991, p. 81). Women’s lack of a language in which they can recognize and love themselves and each other is reinforced by the systematic discrimination against women as a group in global political and economic institutions, in the continued practice of female genital mutilation, and in the religious and community wars against women and girls. Take the continued practice of female infanticide and femicide (the intentional killing of women because they are women) as just one example. Globally, the rate of femicide is significantly high. The Global Burden of Armed Violence 2015 database estimates that around 60,000 women are killed violently around the world each year. In El Salvador and Honduras, there are more than 10 female homicides per 100,000 women and the level of violence affecting women in these countries exceeds the combined rate of male and female homicides in the top 40 countries with the highest murder rates in the world, including Ecuador, Nicaragua and Tanzania (Global Americans Report, 2020). Between 2012 and 2015, there was an estimated 24,771 dowry deaths in India, while in Jordan, there are more than 20 reported “honor” killings each year (The Indian Express, 2015). Furthermore, at least 117 million girls around the world are estimated to demographically go “missing” due to sex-selective abortions, and in India alone, more than 10 million female births have been lost to sex selective abortion in the last 20 years (Asian Centre for Human Rights, 2016).

Thus, the heavenly father-son persona allows men to assume leadership positions and creates an environment conducive to male continuity and prosperity through male-centrered institutions, cultures and practices of violence against women. As a system of thought and being, the patriarchal god-family institutionalizes prideful masculinity and gives man and his sex the power of naming and of giving and taking, namely female, life. Women are placed on the other end of this system and are considered inferior and as financial liabilities to their families, while women themselves have, and in some cases continue to have, little or no say in the matter.

The Confucian Way 11: The Mirror of the Mind of the Sage

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In this episode, the role and function of the Confucian Sage is examined. Much like the psychotherapist in the West, the Sage purposely uses silence to allow individuals to reflect on their selves, their conceptions of personhood, and on their community of relationships. The mirror-like quality of the sage in this encounter provides an alternative to examining one’s life through self-perception or through the perception of others which can be biased and full of judgement. But while the psychotherapist tends to use silence strategically or as a tool that masks psychotherapeutic theories, definitions and diagnoses, the Confucian Sage continues to be passive and non-intrusive to send back an image of what is given. Thus, the emptiness and stillness of the Sage’s mind is a required part of providing people with self-insight and hopefully, moral betterment.

Quote of the Week from Zen Buddhist Stories

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Manjusri is symbolic of Buddha’s wisdom. He is usually depicted as riding a lion that can outrun all delusions, while his sharp sword is believed to cut through all attachments that prevent emancipation from the world of the senses. Zen stories such as that of Manjusri and the gate are stories about the problems of life. In this particular dialogue between Manjusri and Buddha, Manjusri cannot enter the gate because the gate represents the false concept of duality. Manjusri, who is wise and enlightened, realises that “in” and “out” are terms of comparison, and whatever objects of desire are inside or outside the gate are created by the mind’s egoistic standpoint. While Manjusri can still physically see the gate, he sees beyond it in terms of what it represents in the world of attachments and suffering.

The Mandate of Heaven and Revolution in Modern China

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The Strait Times, 2019.

The story goes that in early January, 1368, Zhu Yuanzhang, the future emperor of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), had eliminated his contending rivals, but when his followers urged him to take the throne, he hesitated. He said that he would not make such a decision on his own and that he would consult the high heavens for guidance. So he set up an alter to worship the supreme cosmic deity and prayed that if the heavens approved the new ruling house, January 23rd would be a bright day and he would mark it as the day of enthronement. On the scheduled day, the sky miraculously cleared up after several consecutive days of snow and interpreting this as an auspicious sign, Zhu claimed he attained the Mandate of Heaven (Tianming) and announced the founding of the Ming Dynasty. In an effort to rebuild the Chinese empire, Zhu initiated a series of social programs and legal documents that came to be known as the ‘Ming Constitution’, which covered all aspects of empire, including governmental institutions, cultural policies, and social customs. ‘The Great Ming Code’ set forth a value system and legal culture that not only had a profound impact on the subsequent Manchu-Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), but also affected the ruling establishments of neighboring countries, such as Japan, Korea and Vietnam (Jiang, 2011).

Both the Ming Constitution and the Ming Code worked to establish emperor Zhu as the ‘Son of Heaven’, where he was believed to act as a mediator between the spiritual-heaven realm and the earthly human realm with the purpose of establishing a harmonious cosmic-social order that would bring peace and prosperity to his subjects (Goldstein, 2017). Importantly, if the rulers would violate the cosmic order by abusing their power and acting immorally, heaven would send down a warning by bringing disaster on society and revoking the Mandate to rule. Thus, it was normal for dynasties to rise and fall according to a regular pattern of popular protest, rebellion and a new mandate to rule, which was often given by various divine omens. The system allowed political challengers, whether peasants or foreign invaders, to make bids for the kingship by rebellion and created checks and balances so if the imperial family grew increasingly corrupt, the dynasty would lose its Mandate. Although the Mandate was on some level an important tool used by the ruling elite to justify state power, it was not only used as a means of behavioral control. The Mandate attempted to embody an ideal cosmic order based on the Heavenly principle (tianli, the ultimate origin of the universe) and human sentiment (renqing, human compassion based on the Heavenly principle).

In key Confucian texts, it is written that the ruler in the Mandate of Heaven “is a boat and the people are water. Water can carry the boat and overturn it, too” (Xunzi, “Wangba” chapter), and “The people are the most crucial and important, the next is the state, and the least is the king” (Mencius, “Jinxinxia” chapter). These exerts highlight that there is some humility to the emperor’s authority. The emperor does not have a ‘right’ to rule, but a duty to fulfill according to heavenly destiny. In that case, the heavenly appointed role holds the ruler accountable to the people for if his duties are not performed well, then he risks losing the Mandate to rule (Zhao, 2009). To be a well-performing emperor, a Chinese ruler needs to receive many years of intensive education in Confucian classics, history, calligraphy, and statecraft from Confucian officials at an early age. This required training is meant to ensure that China’s politico-legal cosmology was modelled on a higher moral order that could create structure and peace in times of high instability brought about by, for example, foreign ‘barbarians’, greedy imperialists, natural disasters, epidemics or internal corruption. In fact, according to the Mandate, the emperor was to assume responsibility for any natural disasters and the common people viewed disasters and famines as a sign of unfit rule and possible dynastic change. The emperor’s performance legitimacy and duty to rule for his people inspired thousands of peasant (and sometimes foreign-led) rebellions throughout China’s history, and the country’s rebels and revolutionaries were often romanticized and glorified in literature.

The Mandate’s mythology was still an influential force in the 20th century. For instance, the father of the Chinese Revolution, Sun Yat-sen, who was a convert in Christianity and trained in Western medicine, visited the Ming tombs and proclaimed the downfall of the Manchus upon the founding of the 1912 Republic. The people-led revolution also inspired Mao Zedong’s doctrine of “People’s War”, which played an important role in the Communist victory in 1949. As Perry (2001) states, “Like Mencius’s Mandate of Heaven, Mao’s Mass Line insisted on the reciprocal linkage between leader and led in staking a claim to higher political morality” (p. x). Thus, whereas Stalin’s communist revolution looked to the secret police to enforce a top-down order, Mao made it clear that the masses were to engage in government-sponsored class struggle campaigns so that revolution could be achieved from below. While mass campaigns were thought to be over in the Deng Xiaoping era, popular protests have continued in the post-Mao era. From the Democracy Wall Movement (1978-79), the 1985 anti-Japanese demonstrations, the 1989 student uprisings to the 2019 anti-government protests in Hong Kong, protestors have remained active and unafraid of violent reprisal. With market-oriented reform widening the gap between rich and poor, and with the Chinese Communist Party increasingly centralizing state power, dissent has also spread on the Chinese internet. In 2016, a letter calling for President Xi Jinping’s resignation was signed by loyal members of the Communist Party and leaked on various websites before being pulled down by authorities (Rauhala & Xu, 2016). 20 people were detained over the incident (Sudworth, 2016). The anti-Xi Jinping movement also created the online nickname for the President, Da si bi (大撒币), which literally means to “giving big money”, but the sound of the three Chinese words can also sound like saying “stupid”. The nickname refers to how President Xi gives big money in exchange for global influence, but he is stupid for doing so because he is only representing the interests of the party and not the people (Zhou, 2019).

Challenging the Mandate was never easy. The necessity for political protest and revolution as a feature of China’s politico-legal cosmology and history was well suited to its 20th century communist takeover. Although stripped of its religious-cosmological aspects, Marxism put forward the necessity of revolution to abolish the bourgeois state. As Engels notes, “[force] is the midwife of every old society which is pregnant with a new one, that it is the instrument with which social movement forces its way through and shatters the dead, fossilized political forms” (cited in Lenin, 1918). In other words, it is revolution and human struggle that moves societies from one historical stage to the next and without properly serving the people by allowing for social inequality and economic hardship to become widespread, it is a given that rulers risk losing their ‘mandate’. In the Analects, Confucius also puts forward a theory on how good ruler conduct makes revolution unnecessary. He states that it is important to “Advance the upright and set aside the crooked, then the people will submit. Advance the crooked and set aside the upright, then the people will not submit” (2:14). Although revolution is seemingly necessary for just political change, Confucian texts do not outline what makes revolts successful. For Karl Marx, the one class capable of leading countries to political freedom was the proletariat since it is more realistic to expect a radical revolution to get rid of oppressive economic and political structures like capitalism than to expect the bourgeoisie to lead the way through political democracy (Fiddick, 1978). According to Tiruneh (2014), by examining the literature, two types of revolutions can be identified: spontaneous and planned. Without any significant organized effort, spontaneous revolutions occur when many factions of a society suddenly and without prior planning take part in protests and quickly seek to overthrow the current political-economic system. The purpose of spontaneous revolutionary action is that officials are unable to predict the onset of a popular uprising spreading rapidly across a country like that of the 1911 Chinese Revolution and 1917 Russian Revolution. Planned revolutions, on the other hand, are more guerilla-led or deliberately organized by revolutionaries. Revolutionary efforts can be anticipated and the fight for political-economic freedom will take a longer and harder road. What makes either revolution successful is strong leadership, where far-sighted individuals are able to unite normally opposed groups of people into large-scale political movements. As well as revolutionary ideology, popular support, access to resources and organizational strength, success in revolutionary efforts usually comes down to whether the military is either acquiescent or supportive of or otherwise defeated by popular uprisings and revolutionary fighters (Perry, 2001; Tiruneh, 2014).

In China’s current political situation, the government has tried to avoid any popular uprising or revolutionary efforts by replacing the radical, revolutionary communism as the ideological foundation of the political system to traditional, conservative Confucianism. For instance, in the 4th Plenary Session of the 16th Congress of the CCP Central Committee held in September 2004, former President Hu Jintao called for the creation of a “harmonious society” and new development policies were directed towards the underprivileged Chinese population (Jin & Nahm, 2019). To avoid a peasant rebellion, the government abolished all agricultural taxes, increased the provision of subsidies for farming, and removed the one-child policy, while also strengthening the Letters and Petitions Bureaus in the State Council and People’s Congress to avoid riots and protests. The government also launched its Western China development project that aimed to manage the widening regional inequalities. However, the Chinese state cannot sustain its role based only on performance legitimacy alone because it runs the risk of promising to deliver too much welfare to too many people. Without ideological and legal-electoral legitimacy, the Chinese government has had to resort to acting paternalistically and coercively, which has resulted in the high cost of surveillance technologies and locally spread and difficult to track resistance. Because there is limited opportunities for compromise between citizens and the state who are diametrically opposed in their understanding of state legitimacy, revolution or at least local (or even digital) rebellion seems inevitable.