In the fourth episode of the broadcast, Professor Mortley examines two moral dilemmas about sons betraying fathers in the interests of justice, one from Plato’s Euthyphro, and the other from Confucius’ Analects. Traditionally, Chinese culture emphasises filial piety or respect where there is an obligation to be reverent to one’s parents and ancestors.
Although ideally, a harmonisation of all principles should be achieved where justice, care for others, and filial respect are valued, in the Confucian dilemma, there a greater truth in obligation to family so it is preferred that the son remains loyal to his father than to his community.
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.
“In 2019, we sweated and we toiled as we pressed ahead with concrete efforts for achievements. Thanks to our steady pursuit of high-quality development, China’s GDP is expected to edge close to 100 trillion yuan with the per capita figure reaching the level of 10,000 U.S. dollars.” (Xi, 2019)
This was the beginning of China’s now President for life, Xi Jinping’s annual New Year’s Eve speech. In it, he went on to outline the significant breakthroughs the country achieved in the previous year, including lifting more than 10 million people out of poverty; landing the first lunar probe on the far side of the moon; commercializing 5G technology; and instituting mandatory waste classification across major cities. Xi stated, “Everything is flourishing across our motherland”, and he is not wrong. Even though the US-China trade war resulted in $35 billion Chinese export losses in the US market (UNCTAD, 2019), continuous economic and political reforms have maintained overall economic growth and the improvement of living standards across the country.
Becoming More Capitalist and Less Secure
The decrease in state-owned enterprises and government control of markets since 1979 was an important development that allowed sole proprietorships, town and village enterprises, and foreign enterprises to flourish in both rural and urban areas. These non-state sectors created significant outcomes in productivity, employment, and total export growth across China’s 40-year economic rise (Harvie, 1999). According to PwC’s senior economist G. Bin Zhao (2019), although Western media and academic communities portray China as a quasi-communist socialist economy, private companies now contribute to more than half of the national tax revenue, make up more than 60 percent of GDP, and create more than 80 percent of urban jobs.
Although some commentators stress that successful economic development can only be continued if the private sector expands in China (see for example Zitelmann, 2019), the problem with increased privatization is the lack of social security for workers. Before 1979, the state-run economy provided workers with an “iron rice bowl”, that is, secure employment, housing, healthcare, and pension. However, once the state stepped back on the economic front and opened the country to foreign investments, the structures that once supported workers during times of economic hardship gradually disappeared. China’s state-wide system of reproductive coercive control through the one-child policy also affected parents who could no longer rely on extended family to care for them in their old age (China Labour Bulletin, 2012). By not enforcing or legally requiring companies to give social insurance, the majority of China’s workers remain vulnerable to exploitation and discrimination. For example, in their recent investigations into toy companies, China Labour Watch (2019) found that workers were forced to work overtime on very low base wages, often in dangerous working conditions due to a lack of safety regulations, which left them exposed to toxic chemicals and unsanitary working conditions. The report notes, “Local governments, relying heavily on investment for economic development, turn a blind eye to rights abuses occurring in factories and fail to properly enforce labor laws.” In the case of supporting women in maternity, China Labour Bulletin noted that employers sometimes force female workers to sign illegal contracts that require them to take pregnancy tests or ensure that they will not get pregnant while working in the company. Not giving maternity leave and firing women on grounds of absenteeism was also a common practice. Inhumane living conditions was another reality for workers who lived on the premises of factories and shared a dormitory room with at least ten other workers. In the Everfront Plastic and Electronics Company, China Labour Watch states that workers would sleep in the dormitory hallways because of the extreme heat and lack of space in the living quarters, and the rooms would be so dirty on inspection that bed bugs were found to be present in the bunks. These cases show that although foreign multinationals are seen as job havens, particularly for low income workers, the Chinese economy is being built on the sweat and exploitation of locals who manufacture toys, electronics and other goods for the rest of the world.
Opening Internationally, Repressing Domestically
In the annual New Year’s Speech, President Xi also stated that China “continued to open its arms wide to embrace the world” in 2019, hosting a number of international conferences, including the second Belt and Road forum for International Cooperation, the Beijing International Horticultural Exhibition, the Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilizations, and the second China International Import Expo. However, although the country continued to open its arms to the outside world, 2019 was also the year when China’s paternalistic leadership was more repressive internally. Paternalism occurs when the state interferes with a person or group of people, against their will, often defended or motivated by the claim that the person or group will be better off or protected from harm (Dworkin, 2017). In China, such a style of governance is deeply rooted in the country’s patriarchal tradition, Confucianism and Legalism cultures, and often harshly directed towards the country’s minorities and autonomous regions (Farh & Cheng, 2000).
In their attempts to quash dissent, the Hong Kong and Chinese governments openly harassed people during the peaceful, pro-independence speeches. Radio Free Asia (2018) reports that the governments went after pro-democracy scholar Benny Tai by framing his discussions on an independent Hong Kong as a “threat to national sovereignty”. The pro-government news source, the People’s Daily even called for Tai to be punished by hinting that the University of Hong Kong should take appropriate steps to fire him. In August, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs requested that the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents Club cancel a talk by pro-independence activist, Andy Chan. When the club refused, authorities took matters into their own hands and rejected the club’s Vice-President’s application to renew his work visa. The indirect form of punishment against pro-independence bodies became outright and direct when the Hong Kong government banned the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party. President Xi even stated that any attempt (or perceived attempt) to divide China would result in “bodies smashed and bones ground to powder” (BBC, 2019).
Further, authorities in Tibet have continued to restrict and punish any expression of religious freedom, speech, movement, and assembly. Local Tibetans have expressed concern about mining allowances and land grabs by local officials both in the Tibet Autonomous Region and nearby areas, and the response to these concerns have mostly involved intimidation and violence by security forces (Human Rights Watch, 2019). For example, in the last two years, over 30 villagers from Driru county were arrested in detained for sharing information with international media about the arrest of a village leader who was opposed to a mining project located on a sacred mountain. In their attempts to promote ecological tourism in Tibet, authorities have also threatened to forcibly relocate more than 500 people from prime real estate areas for the construction of an ecological tourism centre. While the Chinese government calls these elaborate plans as steps towards protecting biodiversity, alleviating poverty, securing water supply, and mitigating climate change, the Australian Tibet Council (2019) states that these plans are an ‘iron fist in a green glove’ as they displace and exclude Tibetan nomad from their pastures.
Intensified political education in minority schools and religious places is another common practice in both Tibet and Xinjiang. The divide and rule tactic is being used in Tibet, where authorities encourage and reward local Tibetans to denounce and report members of their communities if they suspect support or sympathy towards the exiled Dalai Lama (Human Rights Watch, 2019). In Xinjiang, attempts to stop government opposition has resulted in mass arbitrary detention, mass surveillance, and the rise of “political education” camps, where over one million Turkic Muslims are being forced to praise the government, learn Mandarin Chinese, and denounce their traditional identities (Raza, 2019). A 2019 New York Times investigation that accessed over 400 pages of internal documents found that if asked where these individuals were, authorities were directed to tell relatives that they should support these camps “because this is for their own good and also for your own good”. Framing these camps as ‘good’ and necessary steps allows the government to continue illegally detaining potential dissenters, and show other ethnic minorities what could happen to them if they opposed the ruling ideology.
2020: Year of the Rat
As the Spring Festival kicks off in 2020, celebration for the Year of Rat has begun in China and around the world. Celebrants wearing lucky red will be able to watch dragon and lion dances, and imperial performances like the emperor’s wedding. As red lanterns hang in streets and around China Towns, banks and official buildings are decorated with images symbolizing prosperity. “2020”, according to President Xi, “will be a year of milestone significance. We will finish building a moderately prosperous society in all respects and realize the first centenary goals. 2020 will also be a year of decisive victory for the elimination of poverty”.
However, it should not be forgotten that fast economic growth and plans to lift the country out of poverty often has serious implications for the seemingly bottomless well of labour that has made China the world’s workshop. Plans for development have also resulted in the displacement and punishment of minorities and dissenters. In that case, whatever plans for prosperity do occur in 2020, it is important to remember China’s most vulnerable.
In recent news, the ‘Nine Seowon’ Confucian academies from the Joseon era have been officially put on the UNESCO World Heritage list, according to Korea’s Cultural Heritage Administration (CHA).
The Seowon were active spaces designed as libraries, publishing houses and venues for discussing social and political matters and honouring renowned Confucian scholars.
Today, the academies located in various provinces around the country are preserved as state-designated cultural properties of Korea. The UNESCO committee recognized the “outstanding universal value” of the Seowon and commented on its individual characteristics that “maximize the link to the surrounding environment and [promote] Confucian ideals,” during a live-streamed UNESCO meeting.
For the head of the CHA, Chung Jae-Suk, the nomination of Seowan was both a challenge and opportunity for the Republic of Korea. After facing rejection in the 2016 evaluation, the CHA received advice in preparing the second nomination and finally succeeded. Chung Jae-Suk stated that “through dialogues with the advisory body, the local experts could more clearly understand the crucial concept of World Heritage and the nomination process”.
The World Heritage Committee recommended that the South Korean government should create a preservation plan for the nine academies, to which the CHA and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said they plan to work towards with the country’s regional governments.
The Nordic Association for China Studies will hold their 14th Biennial Conference on the 13-14th of June 2019, at the University of Bergen. The Conference theme is When China Faces the World: Engagement or Disengagement?
The Nordic Association for China Studies (NACS, 北歐中華研究會) was established in 1991. NACS is an academic network for Nordic scholars, teachers and students specialising in Chinese Studies with a focus on humanities and social sciences. The Conference will be held in Bergen, the scenic ‘Norwegian Capital of Fjords’ (see https://www.uib.no/fremmedsprak/118656/nordic-association-china-studies-conference-2019 and https://nacsorg.wordpress.com/).
At the beginning of March, a historic meeting between Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and Indonesian President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo took place where the monarch’s visit was viewed as an opportunity to present Indonesia as a forward-looking and religiously tolerant nation.
President Jokowi invited leaders of the country’s major religious organizations to meet King Salman. In the 30-minute gathering, Jokowi stated that “in this meeting are representatives of Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism…This is very important for inter-religion relationships in Indonesia and is a very valuable asset for the Indonesian nation and state in contributing to peace.”
These visits are part of Indonesia’s public diplomacy efforts to promote the country as democratic, multicultural and multi-religious, despite problems of freedom of religion and belief following reports of discriminatory state legislation, physical violence, and stigmatisation of minorities.
For many ethnic Chinese, in addition to terrorism and the status of minorities, another issue that has received less attention internationally has been the recognition of “Confucian religion” (Kongjiao, 孔教) as an official religion in Indonesia.
According to Yang (2005), Chinese traders were active in the lands that now constitute Indonesia as early as the third century BC. As with most migration movements, the introduction of foreign cultures, beliefs, and values was adopted differently throughout the archipelago. In this regard, rather than becoming a well-organised community religion or social movement, anti-Chinese attitudes in some regions meant that Confucianism remained a loose individual belief and practice until the mid-1900s.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons. Confucian Temple in Surabaya, Indonesia.
While formally recognised as one of Indonesia’s six official religions by the 1960s, inconsistency in applying religious law has resulted in many Confucians self-identifying as Buddhists. For example, the de-recognition of Confucianism in 1979 meant that Confucians became part of the ‘others’ category on official reports or had to register as Buddhists or Christians. In the 2000s, the national census also did not permit respondents to choose Confucianism as their religion, making the status of Confucianism in Indonesia unclear.
By 2006, Confucianism was again officially recognised as a religion by the Ministry of Religion, when it was announced that discrimination on matters of citizenship, nationality, religious rituals and marriage would cease. Even though many under-50 Indonesian Chinese were unable to speak Chinese, Confucianism retained a strong presence in communities by being passed down through clan structures and family ethics.
Increasing bilateral ties with China also improved the status of Confucianism. Politically, Chinese Indonesians have gained greater representation and participation in Indonesian institutions as Chinese Indonesians are seen as playing a potential cultural and commercial ‘bridging’ role in the relationship (Setijadi, 2016). The introduction of the Confucius Institute in Indonesia was understood as a landmark in the Sino-Indonesian educational cooperation, promoting the exchange in education and culture between the two countries.
As well as reinforcing China’s cultural influence and Indonesia’s role as an open and inclusive state, Confucianism in Indonesia demonstrates the challenges of spreading and adapting Confucian thought to different legal, social, and cultural contexts.
In that case, while King Salman’s visit was focused on Islamic terrorism, the inclusion of Confucianism in meetings and events highlights that times are slowly changing as Confucian thought becomes more accepted internationally.
Photo: Caravan Daily, 2013. Interfaith Meeting in Jakarta.
As a distinct and important philosophical thought in Chinese culture, Confucianism remains at the core of China’s traditions and beliefs. From a mental health perspective, traditional thought provides a unique understanding on the nature of human beings, allowing psychotherapists and mental health practitioners to utilize cultural traditions in developing a person’s sense of Self, and healing emotional problems.
Previous studies in Confucian culture have mainly focused on Confucianism in organisational harmony and job performance. For instance, Prof. Patrick Low and Sik-Liong Ang (2013) highlighted how a Confucian emphasis on loyalty, responsibility, and individual moral cultivation could lead to harmonious relationships and successful business management. Hu, Liao, and Xu (2012) also investigated 426 company employees and found that Confucian thinking positively correlated with organizational harmony and employee performance. However, far less attention has been paid to Confucianism and cultural psychology, and in particular mental health.
As a result, a recent study in cross-cultural psychology provides an interesting perspective on the way that Confucianism can be used to improve the practice of psychotherapy. Following previous work by Yan (2008), who stated that Confucian concepts such as Ren-ai (仁爱) or ‘kindheartedness’ is an essential component in developing therapist-patient relationships based on cooperation and care, Yang et al. (2016) argue that Zhong-Yong thinking (中庸) can encourage people to regulate mental distress and maintain subjective well-being.
In the Doctrine of the Mean, which is the title of one of the four books of Confucian philosophy, as well as being a doctrine, it is stated that life should be about experiencing emotion without extremity, “when (emotions) are expressed, manifested in the middle with regulation, they are harmonious”. In that case, regulating emotions and processing information holistically represents the Confucian ideal of perfecting relationships and activities in human life.
Yang et al.’s (2016) study claims that therapists who think holistically and consider the interconnectedness of the mind, body, and spirit could help patients restructure their cognition and behaviour, without ignoring their physical well-being and emotional distress. Accepting the coexistence of positive and negative emotions could also help find flexible behavioural responses to distressing situations, giving patients more self-control to cope with real-life challenges.
While the study was only conducted on a Chinese undergraduate students’ sample and did not investigate the potential negative impact of Zhong-Yong thinking, the findings show that cultural heritage has the potential to play an important role in psychotherapy and mental health, encouraging people to maintain harmony and connection in their day to day lives.