confucian beliefs

Chinese Military Ethics from a Confucian Perspective 儒家与战争

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Military

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With the rapid development of China’s military forces throughout the 1990s and 2010s, academia has paid increasing attention to Chinese military ethics and international politics (Di Cosmo, 2009; Stalnaker, 2012; Zhang, 2012; Lo & Twiss, 2015). From a Confucian perspective, the emphasis on humanity and ethical behaviour has often meant that war has been viewed as an abnormal social phenomenon that is caused by blinded human nature: “war disappears with the guidance of humanness, love, and good deeds” (Yu, 2016, p. 265). Thus, despite the focus on just war theory in classical Chinese war strategy, many scholars have argued that Confucianism does not have much to say about war other than that war should be abolished, and the Great Unity of the world developed (Pecorino, 2001).

However, according to Yi-Ming Yu from the National Defence University in Taiwan, rereading classic Confucian texts reveals that Confucianism does discuss ethics in warfare, and has played a significant role in wars that impacted China’s development. Indeed, as Fuchuan Yao states in his article War and Confucianism, while humanism may be true in theory there were more wars and chaos when Confucianism became the recognised political thought in China. It should therefore “bear some, if not prime, responsibility for the vicious circles of war and chaos” (p. 214). On the other hand, Yao’s comments- that Chinese people suffered from the Confucian political context where a history of war, famine, and revolution killed millions of people- may not be enough to conclude that there is a direct correlation between war and Confucianism. For example, Liu (2001) states that it was corruption and despotism that led to the stagnation of Chinese society and the vicious circles of order and disorder, while Ruiping Fan (1997) highlights that Confucianism was misinterpreted and propagated to serve totalitarian rulers.

Despite this, rereading classic Confucian texts does show that Confucianism can be used as a way of understanding Chinese military strategy and ethics in warfare. As Rigel (2014) notes, examining selected Chinese resources that discuss war and ethics has a very long tradition (see, for example, Master Sun’s The Art of War).

From a top-down point of view, the Confucian text The Great Learning states that the ultimate goal of all individuals is to accomplish world order and peace. Based on different translations, this may mean that individuals should either achieve world peace or pacify the world (Cheng, 1991; Jiang & Jiang, 2012). In that case, for the ruler to be a ruler (“The Analects”, 12:11), the Son of Heaven would have a moral duty to pacify the world for the sake of world peace even if war became an imperative means to obtain or maintain that goal (Chen, 2007). So, even though violence and war would not be considered as the primary means of establishing peace, in cases where force is required to maintain stability or pacify a threat, warfare would be permissible.

Furthermore, the Confucian scholar Mencius is recorded to have said:

“Chieh and Chou lost their empires because they lost the people and they lost the people because they lost the hearts of the people. There is a way to win the empire … It is to collect for them what they like and do not do to them what they do not like, that is all” (Mencius 4A: 9).

For “if the king makes a grave mistake, an advice should be given. If the king does not listen repeatedly, he should be removed.” (Mencius 5B: 9).

Both of these passages reveal that to maintain long-term harmony, citizens should overthrow rulers who do not govern with Heaven’s Mandate. That is, rulers who do not express virtue through the humane care of their people. In that case, because “there is no ethical warrant prohibiting the overthrow of such a ruler” (Ivanhoe, 2004, p. 272), if necessary the non-ren ruler (that is, one who lacks humaneness or benevolence) should be ousted by means of force. According to Kung and Ma (2013), it is this Confucian doctrine that has always been used to justify the removal of cruel despots throughout China’s history, leading to a tradition of peasant rebellions in the last 260 years of China’s dynastic rule.

This line of thought is considered to deviate from traditional Confucianism where war only results in further violence and social turmoil (see The Analects 12:19), as even if the state wins land by war it loses the support of the people considering that people face the most harm from war when ongoing death and destruction results in trauma, hopelessness, and the loss of livelihoods (Murthy & Lakshminarayana, 2006).

However, for Xunzi, when war becomes a necessary means to restore social order, standards for military actions should be followed to ensure that war ultimately achieves good ends. These include putting people as the primary concern, monitoring the enemy secretly and in depth so that doubtful military plans are never implemented, and promoting military leaders who displays moral qualities and various skills, such as correct rewarding, punishment, and combat (Xunzi, “Man’s Nature is Evil”, p. 219-234).

In that case, war loses legitimacy if certain rules are not followed so that military action endangers social order or people’s lives. For example, Yu (2016) states that as well as avoiding seizing cities to preclude unnecessary causalities, “when executing military missions…the safety of soldiers should be the first priority” (p. 269). The idea is that by seeking support from the people of the state, war should only ever be used to punish enemies that violate justice and humaneness. Common people, property, and crops even if belonging to the enemy state, should always be protected.

While in theory, Confucian military ethics follows traditional just war ideas where battles should be fought effectively and rightly so as to maintain the trust of the people (Snider et al., 2009), the practice of following these rules in live combat may not be so clear. For example, even though warfare that is necessary to establish peace and stability may be justified under certain conditions in Confucian thought, does the ruler have the right to wage war against rebels who use force to overthrow non-ren rulers?

Further, what does the army do if the ‘enemy’ uses cover and hides amongst the population so that it becomes difficult to distinguish between the enemy and the common people?

Even though early Confucian teachings allow for various reasons for entering wars, it should be noted that these reasons must be specific and people-centered. Soldiers and generals alike are expected to cultivate virtues, and avoid practicing immoral tricks, such as deception (gui, 詭) and deceit (zha, 詐). As Confucius said, ideally people should be lead through moral force (de, 德) where order is kept through rites (li, 礼) – it is only under these conditions that “they will have a sense of shame and will also correct themselves” (2:3).

 

 

Lessons in respect at China’s Confucius kindergartens

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The central government of China is slowly reintroducing Confucianism into China’s education system, particularly through supporting hundreds of private schools dedicated to Confucian teachings.

The teachings of Confucius demand respect for tradition and elders to ensure harmony in a rigidly hierarchical society. Parents are responding optimistically to the traditional education as the children of today’s society are considered too individualistic and selfish.

A new institution in Wuhan especially has been praised for offering young students a program that “counters the downsides of modern life”. The class of 30 students aged two to six chants “Our respect to you, Master Confucius. Thank you for the kindness of your teaching and your compassion”.

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Not only do the students learn to recite the great Confucian classics, recreational activities such as Chinese chess for boys and tea ceremonies for girls are conducted.

From January 2016, The China Confucius Foundation had established around 300 institutions in China, compared with 223,700 ordinary kindergartens. A growth of 700 more institutes is anticipated.

Another Confucian organisation, Tongxueguan, opened its first weekend school in 2006 and now has more than 120 such establishments across the country.

According to the founder of Tongxueguan, Li Guangbin, “After economic prosperity, Chinese feel the need for a return to their roots. They also need spiritual elevation.”

Li continues, “The government needs the Confucian traditions to maintain stability, increase the happiness of people, so that they accept their lot without complaint.”

The complete article can be found here.

Chinese soft power set to overtake the world

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Soft power is a highly influential tool used by countries to persuade others that their culture and values are desirable. The concept is practiced by all countries in some approach, for example America with Hollywood films and South Korea with K-pop. Despite the success soft power can create, it is not coercive and is determined by its ability to appeal and attract others.

China’s Confucius Institutes worldwide are an increasing attempt to spread the cultural values and language among outsiders. However, the tight control of what can be said about human rights or the independence of Taiwan clash, particularly in Australia, with the ideal of freedom of speech and inquiry.

As most of the Western world sees China as somewhat “unfriendly”, China is devoting billions to try and refashion its image.

Chinese President Xi Jinping shares a specific strategy: “To give a good Chinese narrative and better communicate China’s messages to the world. To be portrayed as a civilised place featuring a rich history, with good government and developed economy, cultural prosperity and diversity and beautiful mountains and rivers.”

And by what means? Hollywood.

It is anticipated that by 2018 China will become the world’s biggest box office, overtaking America and doubling before its peak.

Wang Jianlin, the Rupert Murdoch of China, is somewhat responsible as he continues to acquire Hollywood, one piece at a time. So far he has bought Legendary Entertainment, Dick Clark Studios and AMC entertainment from the US, Odeon from Europe and Hoyts in Australia.

With the Oriental Movie Metropolis in Qingdao set to be operational next year and thirty big-budget films in the making, Hollywood producers are now considering the “China Factor” in any future profitability.

Harvard professor Joseph Nye and inventor of the term ‘soft power’ says “China’s soft power has fundamental flaws. ..soft power is usually more successful if it comes from the grass roots and is not a dictated program.”

Professor Nye also believes it will be some time yet before China overtakes America as the dominant global power, so in the meantime, get ready for more Chinese heroes at the movies.

The original article can be found here.

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Confucianism and Domestic Violence

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Domestic violence against women remains a major societal issue in the modern day, as witnessed by the latest media reports about celebrities and the Australian Government’s active media campaign on television and online.

In China, landmark domestic violence legislation was introduced in March this year, reflecting the need to address the problem in their society. Europe has created the ‘Council of European Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence’ with a total of 42 countries signing the treaty as of last month.

So what would Confucius say about domestic violence, and in particular, violence against women?

The Confucian philosophy teaches its followers that the maintenance of social order, harmony and peace derives from respect and strong emphasis on the following five relationships:

-Ruler to subject
-Father to son
-Husband and wife
-Elder brother to younger brother
-Friend to friend

It dictates that people should act towards each other within these relationships in harmony and peace at all times, thus in an environment where any act of violence would not be accepted. Respect and harmony is achieved through adopting the five virtues namely:

Ren 仁– Benevolence and humaneness, defined by the philosopher himself as “one should see nothing improper, hear nothing improper, say nothing improper, do nothing improper” and “not to do to others as you would not wish done to yourself”

Li 禮 –  Rites, which has undergone extensive interpretation throughout history but can be translated as following “customs” and “rules”. Following the “rules” in our society would include adhering to the common law such as the laws that protect women from violence.

Yi – Moral disposition to do good, and also to recognise what is right and good and using moral intuition to do the correct thing in all circumstances.

Chi 智 – Moral wisdom, by sourcing knowledge of right and wrong via the famous Confucian quote, “By three methods: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.”

Xìn 信 – Integrity, by displaying honesty and faithfulness.

It can be easily understood that anyone who practices all of these virtues would be unlikely to engage in any form of domestic violence, and particularly in this context, within the relationship between husband and wife.

However, consider the latest one minute Australian Government television advertisement below.

Under closer examination, it can be seen that this advertisement supports how disrespect and not adhering to the virtues in all of Confucius’ valued relationships can contribute to domestic violence tendencies. For example:

– A young boy disrespects a young girl by pushing her over, thus not practicing
‘Ren 仁’ in a friend – friend relationship.

-A father making a disrespectful comment about women to his son, thus not ‘saying nothing improper’ as per Confucius’ teachings.

-A young man not practicing “Yi 義” when he fails to use his moral intuition to correct his “brother’s” disrespectful actions against a woman in a group situation.

The advertisement further conveys that society needs to break the cycle of domestic violence by discouraging disrespectful behaviours from a young age. This can be aligned to the virtue of Chi 智, whereby humans need to reflect on their past actions and apply their knowledge gained to improve their moral wisdom.

This is one of many examples how Confucianism is still relevant to modern society behavior today.

Confucius on Masterchef?

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It is said that Confucius held very strong views on food and eating, and that his teachings are deeply reflected in the Chinese food culture today. You could even say that Confucius was a ‘foodie’ himself.

If Confucius were alive today, could he have possibly been invited as a guest judge or mentor on ‘Masterchef Australia’, similar to the Dalai Lama a few years ago?

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‘Masterchef Australia’ is a very popular TV competition whereby contestants compete by cooking delicious and beautifully presented meals.

If contestants were to adopt some Confucian philosophy into their strategy, here is some possible valuable advice Confucius would give:

  • Food should be served in small or chopped pieces
  • The taste of any dish depends on the proper mixing of all of its ingredients and condiments
  • The fine blending of ingredients results in great taste
  • When serving multiple dishes, they must be compatible with each other
  • Do not present a dish that smells bad
  • Do not prepare food that is not well cooked
  • Cook with fresh and local ingredients
  • Correctly prepare your sauces and seasonings
  • Use moderate amounts of meat in your meals
  • Be hygienic in your food preparation

 

 

 

 

 

The Re-emergence of Confucianism

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The Confucian philosophy has always significantly impacted Eastern Asia’s business practices, family relationships, educational standards and government policies and served as a foundation of its culture.

Beijing-based journalist Michael Schuman, author of Confucius: And the World He Created’ examines the unexpected re-emergence of Confucianism influence on Chinese politics and culture in the below video.

Video credit: University of Southern California

What do you think of Michael’s views? Let us know in the comment box below.

Michael’s recently released book Confucius: And the World He Created’ also serves as an interesting read on Confucian philosophy and its impact on current affairs.

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We invite you to share your thoughts and opinions about this book. If you would like to submit a book review, please contact alo@bond.edu.au.

Confucian Virtues in Modern Politics and Society

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hong kong academic video

Chinese scholar and Professor Joseph Chan from the University of Hong Kong explores the philosophical insights of Confucius – including harmony, civility and respect – and discusses how they can still be relevant for modern politics and society. His research explains why Confucian virtues are not irrelevant, but instead useful, because they can assist in making modern liberal democratic institutions function better.

Useful Links

  • Joseph Chan further explains his interpretation of Confucianism in his book, Confucian Perfectionism: A Political Philosophy for Modern Times.
  • To view a public lecture titled, “Can Confucianism Save the World? Reflections by Three Contemporary Political Thinkers,” click here. The three political philosophers on this panel are Joseph Chan, Tongdong Ba and Daniel Bell.