Can Ren and Li help counter extremism?

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A Uygur dance, one of Xinjiang’s traditional dances in Western China
A Uygur dance, one of Xinjiang’s traditional dances in Western China.  Retrieved here 

Social order is a central premise in Confucian teachings. It is supported by the main pillars of Confucianism: Ren and Li, both of which help create a harmonious society that avoids the use of violence.

The principle of Ren has been translated in English with words such as benevolence, altruism and doing good. It refers to the inner capacity of all human beings to act with humanity and with the purpose of helping others. In Ren, humaneness is the key to prosperity and harmony, while aggression is its opposite.

Li is also similar to Ren and the two are often presented as connected values. Li refers to the right way of behaving. Every social interaction is dictated by proper behaviour and the respect for others. When we behave in this way, it is not necessary to use force in the pursuit of the common good and unity.

Not only Confucianism, but the other two main spiritual traditions of China, Daoism and Buddhism, also teach the importance of harmony and the need to avoid violence:

For example, in the main Daoist text the Daodejing, it is stated:

“Those who assist a leader by means of the Tao [Dao] do not use arms to coerce the world, for these things tend to reverse- brambles grow where an army has been, bad years follow a great war.

Weapons are inauspicious instruments, not the tools of the enlightened. When there is no choice but to use them, it is the best to be calm and free from greed, and not celebrate victory. Those who celebrate victory are bloodthirsty, and the bloodthirsty cannot have their way with the world.”

The strong rejection of violence is the foundation on which the Chinese Government has recently worked to ensure greater national unity and to counteract forms of terrorism and extremism within China.

The Chinese president, Xi Jinping, has described terrorism as a fight that Chinese must take on together, creating a narrative that invites the country to unify to combat any form of extremism.

In a speech given last year in Xinjiang Autonomous Region , addressing military forces after a series of terrorist attacks, Xi Jinping urged the soldiers to “care for each other, help each other, study together, maintain national unity and guard the borderland of China(1); he furthermore added that they should “sweat more in peacetime to bleed less in wartime”.

Xinjiang Autonomous Region in China (Retrieved from: )
Xinjiang Autonomous Region in China.  Retrieved here. 

Now after well over a year from that speech and the terrorist attacks, it seems as a new social balance is emerging within Xinjiang. In a press conference three weeks ago, Shohrat Zakir, the party chairman of the Autonomous Region, said that “Xinjiang now has an effective mechanism to prevent and deal with terrorist attacks. Battling terrorism in the region is everyday work”(2). A white paper presented at the conference also outlined how the different cultures within Xinjiang are now starting to create a stronger dialogue; people of different religions and those who have no religious beliefs in Xinjiang have learned to show respect and understand each other.

While the values of Ren and Li are bringing about the construction of a harmonious society within the borders of China and are helping Xinjiang in countering forms of extremism, the rest of the world is still dealing with various forms of terrorism, especially within the Middle East.

Can Li and Ren help the world to counter terrorism?

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