Confucian in the modern world

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 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.

The Confucian Way 6: The Absence of the Ego

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In the sixth episode, titled ‘The Absence of the Ego’, Professor Mortley examines Max Weber’s writings on Confucianism as the original critique and comparison between Chinese tradition and Western philosophy. Whereas Weber emphasizes the importance of the individual− individual will, personal responsibility, and the individual’s quest for self-realisation− in the West, the Confucian person must be well practiced in restraint and self-discipline to be considered humane and honorable. Self-cultivation in the Confucian tradition is not about pursuing a selfish desire, but about responding to other people in the greater community, and ritual is crucial in this.

The Complexity of Face and Mass Surveillance in Confucian China

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The Chinese writer Lu Hsun wrote, “What is this thing called face? It is very well if you don’t stop to think, but the more you think the more confused you grow” (1934, p. 129). Lin Yu-tang went further and claimed that face was “impossible to define” (1935, p. 202) as it was simply too “abstract and intangible, it is yet the most delicate standard by which Chinese social intercourse is regulated” (p. 200). While the concept of face functions differently in different cultural contexts, it describes a phenomenon that exists in every human social structure: how you present yourself in public and how you perceive yourself. Someone with face usually has a positive social value that comes from society approving his or her social status or actions. For example, in nearly all societies doctors and those of the medical profession are respected for their work in curing patients and protecting the public’s health. On the other hand, someone who loses face suffers a loss in social value because of his or her status or behavior. The American film producer Harvey Weinstein suffered from a loss of face because he was accused and subsequently charged with multiple acts of rape, sexual abuse and sexual misconduct. The loss of face associated with these felonies led the Weinstein Company to file for bankruptcy in March 2018, and many of the company’s assets were sold to a private equity firm (Corkery, 2019). Face also has an effect on a person’s inner psychology as “it captures one’s self-image and evaluation of oneself in regard to shared ethical standards and social hierarchies, expectations and norms” (Ivanhoe, 2019). In other words, one would hope that as well as recognizing the harm he caused his victims, Weinstein’s loss of face should make him realize that his actions were wrong, and that social shame should prevent him from repeating his actions.

The idea that people acknowledge and respond to each other’s public images (external face) is a universal phenomenon that shows that people cannot completely disregard the opinions and appraisals of others. If someone was a hard-working and honorable doctor who had ‘positive’ face, that is, was renowned in the community and had many patients lining up to see them, the doctor would most likely be aware of their positive reputation and would work to keep this reputation intact. This is because not only does a positive face come with social benefits, including better business relations and an easier way to get what you want when you want, but a positive face can also validate oneself. I know that other people see me as a good doctor and therefore I will work harder to be a good doctor. According to Hwang et al. (2003), the fact that the nuances of social reputation and public and inner perception are common in all societies means that face can be regarded as a pan-cultural construct that explains the human need for social acceptance and belonging. Belongingness itself is recognized in academic literature as a key function of human survival since our ability to flourish as a species is dependent on how we interact and engage with those around us. In the past, this might have involved dividing hunting and foraging tasks. To be seen as an adept hunter, for example, may well have increased your chance of survival as your skills would be seen as essential to the group’s survival. Whereas someone with no hunting or foraging ability would be regarded as a burden to the group. Your good at hunting ‘face’ would also have other benefits, such as greater chance of attracting mates since stronger and skilled individuals are seen as healthier and more virile. As the skilled hunter, you might also enjoy increased decision-making power because your skill would come with a sort of expertise about knowing where, what and when to hunt. A similar principle can be applied to our global capitalist system: a good reputation, extended connections and an honorable face will help you to know where and when to make money. Because in most societies, the government does not provide basic living necessities to all, being able to afford accommodation, food and clothing is made easier with a positive face. These examples show that face can be regarded as a central concept in sociology because of its pervasiveness in nearly all social relations. As Ho (1976) notes, “it is virtually impossible to think of a facet of social life to which the question of face is irrelevant” (p. 883).

Although universal in applicability, the concept of ‘face’ first appeared in the English language during the 19th century by Western missionaries and diplomats who were stationed in China. They translated the concept from Chinese texts that talked about the Chinese national character. For instance, novelist Lu Xun wrote many articles and novels about what he considered to be the ‘ugly’ aspects of Chinese character. His books Instant diary (1926) and On ‘face’ (1934) focus on mianzi (‘face’) as the most complicated and important part of the Chinese national spirit, and in The true story of Ah Q (1922), he ridicules the Chinese people’s obsession with mianzi. Guangdan Pan’s text National characteristics and national hygiene (1937) uses expressions such as “the love of face”, “to have a lot of face”, “to have no face”, “to injure face”, “to lose face”, and “to save face”, which shows that face in the Confucian tradition refers to something much more complex than the Western translations of face as “social appearance” or “reputation” (as used in the ‘good hunter’ example beforehand). Although there is no general agreement on what mianzi means in Chinese, scholars use various definitions that range from “prestige” (Hu, 1944, p. 45), “respectability” (Ho, 1976, p. 883), “public self-image” (Brown & Levinson, 1987), and “self-evaluation and psychological position in other’s mind” (Zhai, 2004, p. 55). King and Myers (1977) and Ivanhoe (2019) go even further and identify two types of face: social face or mianzi, which is primarily associated with wealth, social status, and power, and moral face or lian, which is about moral character or behavior. This layered approach to face means that even if the good doctor had positive mianzi, a lack of lian means that she would be regarded as morally bad. A lack of lian undermines and can even erode mianzi, while someone with good lian will gain in mianzi. He and Zhang (2011) recognized that Chinese people were sensitive about their mianzi in different ways, ranging from how they identify themselves as individuals, to how people who they are relate to present themselves publically, and to the attributes shared by the social group which the individual is part of. In that case, there are different mianzi to be concerned about on an individual, relational, and group level. To understand how Chinese face and face behaviors work, Hwang (1987) proposed a similar model that showed two factors in role relationships that should be recognized in Confucian societies. The first is superiority of relative status in interactions, and degree of closeness. Because Confucianism emphasizes the importance of authority, right relationships, and closeness, people who grew up and live in such a culture naturally internalize social values such as respect and obedience, especially to authority figures (Yang, 1981). Mianzi is dependent on how individuals act and respond to different relationships, including expressive ties (permanent and stable social relationships, such as family members), mixed ties (relationship with acquaintances outside of immediate family), and instrumental ties (stranger relationships). Different rules apply to the different relationships. For example, if you interact with people from your expressive ties, you would behave according to the “need rule”, where every member should do what is best for their family, and if they can the family in turn responds by supplying the individual members with resources to live comfortably. The need rule allows resources to be fairly distributed in the family to satisfy each member’s legitimate needs. It does not distribute resources based on relative contributions. On the other hand, if you are interacting with strangers, you would most likely be following the “equity rule”, which is used in economic give-and-take situations, and encourages people to allocate resources in proportion to their contribution. If the social exchange seems inequitable, you could bargain or even completely break off the relationship without regret. But, if you interact with a mixed tie, which you expect to see again, you would most likely follow the “renqing rule”, which is the expectation that people should keep in contact with their acquaintances and offer sympathy, help, and favours (renqing) if the person gets into a difficult situation. Hwang’s model shows that following different rules according to the relationship you encounter and respecting guanxi (interdependent relations), renqing (reciprocal favours), and huibao (inderdependent obligation), are all part of the system of gaining and losing face (Qi, 2011).

But what happens to following the different rules of gaining and upholding mianzi and lian under China’s mass surveillance systems? This is a question asked by Philip Ivanhoe in the Aeon article ‘How Confucius loses face in China’s new surveillance regime’. Mass surveillance is not any type of surveillance. It is surveillance that is indiscriminate and collects data on a large amount of people without limiting the data set to defined target individuals (Bonello, 2016, p. 3). Observers like Human Rights Watch worry that mass surveillance can undermine democratic processes and impact basic human rights and freedoms, including the right to freedom of expression, association, assembly, and the right to privacy and a fair trial. In China, mass surveillance systems were designed without proper rights safeguards where national big data systems such as Police Cloud actively monitor and track different categories of people they call “focus personnel”. These include people with mental health issues, people who complain about the government, and minority groups like the Uighurs (Human Rights Watch, 2018). China has also employed the Social Credit System that gives ratings to citizen based on how they behave in public and online. People who jaywalk, buy ‘too much’ alcohol, or who criticize the government receive low scores which makes it harder to get government jobs, place children in desired schools, and even use public transport. The rapidly expanding network of surveillance increasingly uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) facial recognition software that continuously keeps track of and records citizen in order to change and control people’s behavior. For Ivanhoe, such a surveillance culture could eliminate the possibility of Confucian-based notions such as the external, socially constituted mianzi and internal, virtue-focused lian. In the Social Credit System, which focuses on people’s physical face and assesses citizens in terms of their perceived harm or benefit toward the state, social face no longer has anything to do with traditional conceptions of a person’s social or moral status where society’s gaze and self-reflection influences behavior. Instead, people’s face is now determined by the government’s mass surveillance system, the behavioral rules of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its intricate AI technology. These mass surveillance systems are justified by the Party on the principles that they uphold order in society by providing incentive for people to ‘act right’, and that they act to eliminate any potential terrorist threats. In that case, people will no longer enjoy the privilege of watching themselves when alone. The prevalent eye of the CCP through AI technology means that people need to be hyper-aware of their thoughts and feelings in order to cultivate themselves according to the proper way of acting. While Ivanhoe argues that such a system eliminates core Confucian ideals of being authentically sincere in one’s actions and adopting a proper sense of shame when it is appropriate, one could even argue that mass surveillance makes such ideals even more critical. Rather than leaving it up to the individual to decide what is right, the CCP overseer raises the stakes and makes acting right and proper even more important than ever before. So rather than eroding face, as Ivanhoe suggests, mass surveillance makes face− which effectively describes a person’s identity, social status, and relations− even more complex because in addition to Confucian ideals and what the traditional rules say about proper behavior and rites, CCP technology adds another dimension to what was an already intricate web of social expectations and enforced conduct, where even ‘false’ shame can be internalized to seem real and authentic.

The Confucian Way- Part Three

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In the third episode of the Confucian Way, Professor Mortley discusses the subversiveness of Confucianism, that is, the way Confucius directly critiques society and challenges the status quo. However, in light of the Chinese Communist Party’s endorsement of Confucianism in recent years, Professor Mortley asks whether Confucianism can maintain its critical thought while being embraced by the Chinese State and the Communist Party.

The Confucian Way- Part Two

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In this episode, Professor Raoul Mortley discusses the qualities of REN or humaneness in the Analects and finds that while there is no clear definition of what a humane person is, there are certain qualities or attitudes associated with humanness. When put into practice, these qualities or attitudes are what make a person humane.

Professor Mortley then finds that the Confucian way of describing goodness can be compared to the philosophical approach of via negativa or the “negative way”, where a thing is described by the things it is not. The lack of a clear definition of goodness is considered to be useful as it allows principles such as REN to be applied in varying contexts.

The Confucian Way- Part One

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The Centre for East-West Cultural and Economic Studies (CEWCES) is launching ‘The Confucian Way’, a Bond University broadcast series hosted by Emeritus Professor Raoul Mortley with Mr Alan Chan, which will outline an introduction to Confucian philosophy in East Asian traditions. The term “Confucianism” has meant many things in Western discourse and is often equated with being Chinese. However, Confucian culture is embedded and internalized in Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, Vietnam and South Korea, and is present in East Asian Diasporas around the world.

The Confucian Way series explores the many aspects and universal values of this philosophical tradition, even those which predate Confucius himself (述而不作, “I am a transmitter, not a creator”). Every Friday, a new episode of The Confucian Way will be posted, analyzing topics such as what is Ren, what is goodness, and what is the value of ritual in modern life.

To see the first episode of the series:



Confucianism, Belly Dancing, and the ‘Ideal Woman’ in Taiwan

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Source: “Dancer” by Chinese oil painter Tu Zhiwei.

As in most East Asian countries, Confucianism has had a considerable influence on the values and traditions of Taiwanese people. When it comes to sex and gender discrimination, male-centrality, dominance and superiority characterise the traditional ideals of Confucianism as well as the prevailing Han Chinese worldview and policies of Imperial and modern-day China (Du, 2011Chang & Bairnier, 2019). The subordination of Chinese women is maintained through the family system, which operates on the patrilineal principles where family lines, corporations and all other kinds of property, are passed patrilineally, from father to son (Harrell, 2002). An important part of sustaining the patrilineal system is patrilocal residence, which prescribes that wives should move in with their husband’s parents or extended family at the time of marriage. In their discussion paper series, Landmann et al. (2017) found that in patrilocal residence, women are usually expected to take over housekeeping tasks from their in-laws and the burden of child and elder care increases. 

         Domesticity and restrictions on women’s role in society was also reinforced through several ancient writings that discussed the ideal ‘good women’ model. These rules maintained that women were expected to stay home, serve their husbands and parent-in-laws, and adopt behavioural restrictions so that harmony would be maintained within the family (Tamney & Chiang 2002). Although Chinese and Taiwanese society has undergone rapid and radical changes since post-Mao economic reforms, Raymo et al. (2015) state that traditional Confucian family doctrines continue to be manifested in multiple aspects of society, including men’s and women’s work and family roles. 

         That being said, communist and capitalist ideologies created new opportunities for Taiwanese women to challenge the dominant discourse of domesticity, especially with the emergence of new media and commercial advertisements that promoted Western lifestyle and ‘sexy’ body images. As Shaw (2012) asserts, while the ‘ideal’ woman of the past had been the strong, thrifty, family-oriented woman, in contemporary Taiwan, a double-burden has been created because, in addition to these virtues, the ideal woman now must also be slender, beautiful and eternally youthful.

         As part of the emergence of the beauty industry and women’s leisure and exercise, the sport of belly dancing was introduced to Taiwan in 2002 and has been promoted as a beneficial exercise for toning muscles and enhancing women’s self-confidence (Chang & Bairner, 2019). Spreading all over the Taiwan, belly dancing is now popularly offered in dance classes and community universities, in which housewives, female office workers and retirees constitute the majority of the students. Chang and Bairner (2019) explain that a relatively low registration fee makes belly dance classes affordable and attractive to women of various social classes who use this sport as a means of women’s community, feminine solidarity, personal enjoyment, cultural exchange and artistry. 

         While consumerism, healthism, and globalisation have produced the rise of the new ideal Taiwanese woman, where sensuality in the feminine body is encouraged through community sports such as belly dancing, the constraints of traditional culture have not disappeared as the legacy of Confucian gender and sex discrimination remains. For instance, various studies (Hsieh 2003; Tsai 2006, 2008, 2009) show that marriage and family continue to be influential in women’s leisure participation. In Chang and Bairner’s (2019) participant observations and in-depth interviews, it was found that some people opposed their female family members from taking part in belly dance classes. As one participant noted:

“It’s actually not just opposition to belly dancing, they just don’t want you to go out. Our society still is kind of conservative…Usually the opposition of family comes from the husband or mother-in-law, the reason we usually hear from mother-in-law is something like ‘Others will gossip if my daughter in-law does this (belly dance).’ (p. 1335-1336). 

A dance instructor interviewed also shared that several mothers in his class told him not to let their husbands and family members know that they were belly dancing and those that were strongly constrained did not show up to class at all. While it is far less common to see family preventing women from belly dancing in the West, opposition from husbands and elder relatives, especially mothers-in-law, continues to constrain women in Taiwan.

         The reason why many women chose to hide their participation is because, for some, belly dancing continues to be associated with the image of the exotic, dancing woman in sexy shows. This ‘bad’ category of women, who make money by dancing, entertaining, and pleasing men are depicted as wearing sexy costumes, heavy perfume and makeup, and using their feminine charm to attract male customers. Therefore, to avoid being recognised as the ‘bad’ dancing woman, many belly dance interviewees emphasised the exercise component of belly dancing and avoided buying belly dance costumes.

In this case, even though foreign sports provided more opportunity for Taiwanese women to engage with their community and explore different ideals of womanhood, traditional Confucian practices and attitudes continue to restrict particularly married women’s expressions and movements even today.

Conference Announcement: Last Call for Papers, ‘Confucianism and World Disharmony: The Quest for Harmony in Difference’

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28-31st August, 2019

Bond University, Queensland, Australia


About the Conference:

The international conference ‘Confucianism and World Disharmony: The Quest for Harmony in Difference’ will be held from Wednesday 28th August to Saturday 31st August 2019 at Bond University on the Gold Coast, Australia. It is hosted by the Centre for EastWest Cultural and Economic Studies and the Faculty of Society and Design (Bond University), organised with support from the World Consortium for Research in Confucian Cultures and The Centre for EastWest Relations (Beijing Foreign Studies University).

Conference Theme:

For over three thousand years, Chinese philosophy and Confucian thought have built up sophisticated approaches exploring social, political and environmental harmony. One of the key understandings of these approaches is that a diversity of roles and relationships are required for the evolution of sophisticated states and adaptive cultures.

Confucianism became one of the main drivers of societal norms across much of East Asia, and has been going through a global academic revival over the last two decades. The Confucian tradition has insights that can help us reflect on the root causes of, and remedies for, disorder in the 21st century. An engaged Confucianism can be inclusive of diverse national identities and build bridges of dialogue to alternative philosophical and religious traditions. The conference has been designed to draw in a wide range of intercultural, interdisciplinary and critical viewpoints.

Keynote Speaker:

The keynote speaker will be Professor Chenyang Li (School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore) who specializes in Chinese and comparative philosophy, and has written widely on related political, cultural and educational issues.

Prominent Scholars:

Prominent Scholars making presentations at the conference include Professors Rogers Ames, Tian Chenshan, Chenyang Li, Raoul Mortley, Bee Chen Goh and others from East Asia, Australasia, the United States and Europe.

Panels and Themes:

Delegates can suggest or form their own panels, but the following issues are central to the overall Conference themes:

  • Harmony and Everyday Experience in Confucian Thought
  • The Language and Practice of Harmony: Comparative Perspectives
  • Confucianism in Expanding Asian and Global Contexts: North to South, East to West
  • The Confucian Approaches to Aesthetics
  • Confucius and Confucianism: Philosophy and Institution
  • Confucianism and Education
  • Avoiding Conflict and Moderating War: Transformative Relations in Confucianism
  • Chinese Diplomatic Dialogues: Past and Present
  • ‘Peace’ in Comparative Perspectives
  • Conceiving a Good Life: Confucian and non-Confucian Perspectives
  • Inter-Cultural and Inter-Civilizational Approaches to Global Harmony

Contact Details:

For further details about the Conference and Submission details, contact one of the following:

 Dr.R. James Ferguson (; Dr. Yi Chen (; Professor Roger T. Ames (; or Cindy Minarova-Banjac, the Research and Communications Coordinator for the Centre for East-West Cultural and Economic Studies at Bond University (

Final Submissions: If you have not already done so and want to present a paper, please send us the title, a brief biographical paragraph, and the abstract of your proposal by the 1st August 2019. There is no cost, but registration is necessary since places are limited.

Male Friendships from an Eastern and Western Perspective- 东西方视角下的男性友谊

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Image: ‘Soviet Friends’ Communist Propaganda. Retrieved from

Humans are fundamentally social creatures that, for the most part, are capable of love. In Ancient Greece, philosophers distinguished between three types of love: agape, eros and philia. Whereas erosis a “love of desire” (that is, desire for what one does not have) that was most commonly associated with male homosexual desire/love, agape became popular among Christian texts and refers to the redeeming love that God has for humans and that humans have for God (Lindberg, 2007, p. 14). Philia, on the other hand, means an affectionate regard that one might have for friends, colleagues, and even towards one’s country. It is also known as ‘platonic’ or ‘brotherly love’, which are all expressions of concern for the well-being of others, and are referred to in the Greek New Testament by the word ‘philander’. Based on these classifications, it is clear that philiais most relevant to our contemporary idea of friendship, a kind of relationship that is based on a special concern that two people have for one another. For Helm (2017), while we can conceptually understand the idea of ‘unrequited love’, since eros is primarily an acquisitive desire where the object of desire might not reciprocate the feelings that the desirer projects onto them, the idea of unrequited philia or friendship is senseless as there needs to be mutual acknowledgement of this love through significant interactions between two people for philiato exist. 

            According to the writings of Aristotle, ‘perfect friendship’ is a type of relationship between two social equals that were male. He believed that friendship was not only necessary for moral growth among citizens, but also a beautiful thing: for those who love their friends are praised, and an abundance of friends seems to be a beautiful thing (2002 translation of the Nicomachean Ethics, passage 1155a22-31). In book IX of the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle went further to describe friendship as a mutual perception of the good or sunaisthesis. Friendship is therefore a form of ethical responsibility through “sharing conversation and thinking” (2002, 1170b10–12) with a close and trusted person. Sunaisthesisgoes beyond living and eating together as common animals to exchanging and sharing goods of the soul or ideas, which is what makes us distinctly human. Thus, to have friends in Ancient Greece was to have a prohairetic(coming from the word prohairesisor ‘choice’) life, which would involve moral decision-making and understanding through reflection that one would get by conversing with a friend (Von Heyking, 2017, p. 60). While book VIII of the Nicomachean Ethicsfurther distinguishes between three types of friendships, including friendships of pleasure, utility, and virtue, where the reason for loving a friend may change at different stages of a relationship, Aristotle also wrote that at its core, it is friendship/philiathat holds states together and gives lawgivers a reason to care for the state more than just through the principle of justice (1155a22). The idea that in a just society, citizens should experience friendship between each other, where they wish well for each other and do things individually and as a collective to promote others’ well-being, is a central theme to Aristotle’s idea of a good life. In passage 1161a31, philia even becomes a central criterion for distinguishing between just regimes and tyrannical governments (Schwarzenbach, 1996, p. 97).

            In the modern era of political philosophy, there is a significant de-emphasis on the importance of friendship. For example, there is no room for friendship in a Hobbesian world, where fear and self-interest were the primary motivators for why people gathered in a political community. For John Locke, the primary motivators for joining the state was securing one’s freedom and private property, while Hume claimed that commerce could establish peace among men. While Hegel (1967 trans.of The Philosophy of the Right) acknowledged the importance of love and friendship in the ancient world, he wrote that love is a feeling and “In the state, feeling disappears; there we are conscious of unity as law, there the content must be rational and known to us” (section 158A). The idea here is that love and feelings are associated with irrationality, which contrast reason and law– two essential ingredients to establishing a strong political community. 

            Indeed, with the emergence of the modern state and the beginning of the scientific revolution, the emotional aspects of binding citizenry together were often rejected. Political theorist John Rawls (1971)follows Hegel in arguing that a shared idea of justice and fairness is the primary unifying factor in a well-ordered society, and John von Heyking and Richard Avramenko (2008)comment that not only has friendship almost disappeared from political writings, but the practice of forming and maintaining bonds between people has changed too. For instance, the liberal idea that society is based on social contracts has meant that people are encouraged to network and schmooze to get ahead in society and realise their ‘autonomous selves’. Putnam (2000)describes time spent visiting friends and socialising as building up social capital, where one must constantly be a social climber and self-promoter to be successful and happy in society. While there is such a thing as “authentic” relationships that are not driven by the economic contract, popular books like Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence Peoplepoint out that the moral and beautiful aspects of male friendship that Aristotle emphasised have largely been reduced to personal interest and benefit. Today, male friendships are often seen as instrumental and devoid of intimacy in accordance to masculine performances, which means that in many cases, men have to confront social barriers that make performing intimacy difficult or undesirable in male relationships (Migliaccio, 2014). Although women are just as likely to have instrumental relationships as men (Wright & Scanlon, 1993), the avoidance of femininity as the focal point of masculine performance in Western society has meant that men tend to idealize expressive intimacy, but fail to establish this in their friendships since being masculine is associated with suppressing emotional expressions and needs (Doyle, 1995Morman et al., 2013). 

            From a Confucian perspective, out of the five bonds that men were supposed to observe to maintain social harmony, it was the fifth bond of friendship that was the most distinctive. [Whereas the bonds between the husband and wife, father and son, older and younger male siblings, and ruler and minister, were concerned with maintaining China as a guojia国家(state organised as a family), based on a set of hierarchical, obligatory relations, the bond of friendship did not fall under these categories. Norman Kutcher (2000)explains that while every man was obliged to serve his family and a virtuous ruler, friendship was voluntary as there was no requirement that one had to make friends to be a good citizen. Furthermore, friendship is also the only bond that is non-hierarchical, which Kutcher considers as “potentially dangerous” (p. 1619) because a distracting friendship could possibly remove one from serving the family-state, which all men were supposed to follow. Kutcher argues this point by citing well-known Chinese expressions like “He who touches vermilion will be reddened, while he who touches ink will be blackened”, which represents a metaphor and message about choosing friends wisely. He also examines the Analects, where Confucius recognizes but also de-emphasises friendship. For example, when the ruler called for Confucius, he left immediately to answer his call even without waiting for his ox. But when a friend sent him a gift, he would not even bow to him in thanks (Analects, 10:14-10:16). Thus, it would seem that rulers, like fathers, deserve a particular form of respect that was essential to reproducing the hierarchy of the family-state. Friends, on the other hand, were only good if they helped the individual gain moral integrity and reflection. This mirrors the Aristotelean idea that friends were worthwhile if they helped further one’s capacity to morally reflect and understand the world.

            Kutcher’s interpretation is also seen in the writings of Hall and Ames (1998) who state that Confucian friendships are a “one-directional relationship in which one extends oneself by association with one who has attained a higher level of relation” (p. 268). Based on this explanation, it would seem that there is a type of hierarchy even in the friendship bond since a true friend is always someone better than oneself, that is, someone who is more morally cultivated and can be looked up to. Hall and Ames even describe Confucius as “peerless and, hence, friendless in this restricted Confucian sense of the term. To assert that Confucius had friends would diminish him” (p. 90). However, their take on Confucian friendship is unrealistic because if a friendship must always include one party who is morally superior, then two people could never be truly friends with each other since the morally superior person will only look for friends who are morally superior to himself. This morally instrumental view of friendship also omits the many examples in Confucian writings where friendship is celebrated and seen as joyous. In the Analects, the concept of xin 信(faithfulness and trustworthiness) is considered essential to friendship. When Yen Yüan and Tzu-lu visited Confucius, the Master asked them, “Why do you not each tell me what it is that you have set your hearts on?”. Tzu-lu responded, “I should like to share my carriage and horses, clothes and furs with my friends, and to have no regrets even if they become worn,” and Yen Yüan says, “I should like never to boast of my own goodness and never to impose onerous tasks upon others.” Tzu-lu said, “I should like to hear what you have set your heart on.” The Master’s reply was that, “To bring peace to the old, to have trust in my friends, and to cherish the young” (5:26). In another passage, Tzu-hsia also says that even the unschooled man should be considered schooled if he “exerts himself to the utmost in the service of his parents…and who, in his dealing with his friends, is trustworthy in what he says” (1:7). Friendship here does not seem to be undesirable, dangerous, or even strictly based on moral advancement. As Xiufen Lu (2010) explains, in the Confucian tradition, all relationships have a unique place in the structure of family and society. Individuals are expected to know how to conduct themselves in such relations, and what virtues to exercise in them, on the basis of differences in rank, age, or gender.

            Thus, while the concept of friendship contrasts family-based relations in that they are not based on hierarchy (although hierarchies of social status, age, and gender are recognised), and they are not based on defined duties, obligations, and ritual ceremonies, friendships should be characterised by trust and affection. They also give people joy and personal fulfilment in a variety of ways and can help individuals become more humane or ren­-likeby learning how to trust others and being trusted. This makes friendship a particularly important type of relation as it allows men to practice giving affection to other males and have le 乐 (joy, pleasure, delight) outside of their family-state relations. Like in the West, however, such relations can be interest-based in various ways, especially through the guanxi 關係 system, where one’s relationships and social connections are based on reciprocal interests and benefits (Ji, 2016). If used inappropriately, such a system can create ‘meat and wine friends’– a Chinese metaphor for mistrustful relations where one person uses another as a means to an end. In China, guanxiis pervasive in that it plays a central role in daily social and business interactions and is usually based on personal relationships that are cultivated for long periods of time (Huang & Wang, 2011). While such an instrumental use of people is socially acceptable and expected, the key aspect of maintaining good guanxi is respecting the humanity in other people by treating them as ends in themselves. Guanxi relations are also different from real friendships as guanxi connections can be temporary and based on an informal payment system, or else extended through ‘guanxi maintenance’ in a useful professional, political or business network. Indeed, this version is more potent as it means your own worth is judged by your constantly cultivated guanxi network. Theoretically, however, a joyous and trustworthy friendship should go beyond payment systems or useful connections and be about sharing intimacy. 

By Cindy Minarova-Banjac