Confucian principles help drug rehabilitation in China’s Shandong province

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cbw1.pngTemple of Confucius in Qufu, Shandong, China – Retrieved from

In Confucius’ very own native province, Shandong, in eastern China, centres for the treatment of drug addicts are taking inspiration from Confucian teachings to re-educate patients.

The Chinese news agency, Xinhua, reported that on the 15th of March a new Confucius Institute was opened in Jinan city.  The inauguration ceremony was held at the Jidong Compulsory Detoxification Center where over 300 patients participated by reciting passages from ‘The Analects’ and other Confucian texts.

In the vision of the China Confucius Foundation and the Jidong rehabilitation centre, the values of filial piety, respect and family ties entrenched in Confucian teachings can help “reshape their spiritual world” said Wang Daqian, Secretary-General of China Confucius Foundation.[1]

Sui Shanjian, head of the rehabilitation center, said that it’s easy for the drug addicts to “get rid of drugs physically” but “hard for them to quit psychologically. It’s common to see many addicts get back to taking drugs again after leaving rehab”.

Responsibility and self-judgement, taught by Confucius, effectively “build up an impulse mechanism” that helps the addicts avoid drugs proactively, added Sui.[2]

“As a Chinese saying goes, ‘it is easy to catch the thieves in the mountains, but it is hard to catch the thieves in the heart.’ I hope that the addicts in the rehab centers can learn traditional culture attentively, so that they cultivate proper values and be a good person to their families and our society in the future,” said Wang.

Respect for one’s own self is a teaching present in many Confucian texts. As the famous Confucian scholar, Mencius, said: “To preserve one’s mind and to nourish one’s spirit is the way to serve nature (heaven).” – Mencius, 7A.1

To see more about Confucius and his teachings for a healthy lifestyle read our previous article: Confucius, Mencius and Zisi can still teach us about a healthy lifestyle



Featured article: “The Forgotten Ingredient in Classical Chinese Governance: The Art of Persuasion”

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By: Dr R. James Ferguson

james ferguson

Persuasion and ‘loyal criticism’ remain important aspects of Confucian governance, past and present. Dr R. James Ferguson, Director of the Centre for East-West Cultural and Economic Studies at Bond University, provides a short outline of these important ideas.

The general features of ideal Confucian patterns of governance are well known: the central role of sage-kings and cultivated persons (the junzi) in governing the state in a humane way, based on the principles of benevolence (ren) and proper ritual and social conduct (li). Thus governments would be aligned to heaven and provide for the well-being of the people, the touch stones of good government. This came to involve the rectification of social roles, responsibilities and titles, as well as the central idea of the harmonization of persons to ensure a balanced but diverse society. Mencius, the second most influential ‘Confucian’ writer, would argue that the three crucial factors for a state included natural resources and good climate, but most importantly the need for human harmony (ren-he).[1] These values, activated through the cultivated and committed person, could become the basis of a pragmatic and humanitarian system of government (renzheng).[2]

In this view of government, correction of erroneous conduct, exemplary action by officials, and progressive education were all linked. When asked about government, as stated in Analects 12.17, Confucius answered, “To govern (cheng) is to correct (cheng). If you set an example by being correct, who would dare to remain incorrect?”[1] Humane government (renzheng) therefore equates with good government. However, this would also require government to achieve harmony through balancing lenience and harshness when dealing with the people, thereby creating a system of both incentives and disincentives in a “co-operative human harmony”.[2] Generally, Confucianism placed the arts of government within the wider context of the way of humanity and benevolence (rendao).

The downside of this approach is well known; a corrupt ruler can lead to the downfall of an entire dynasty (losing the Mandate of Heaven), as occurred repeatedly in Chinese history, and venial officials can undermine an otherwise benevolent system. The choice of proper officials becomes crucial for all patterns of Chinese thought that emphasise the role of government, whether Confucian, Legalist or those following the thought of Mo Zi (who flourished in the late fifth century BCE, his followers being called Mohists).[3] In the end, however, such systems remained highly hierarchical with a tendency towards authoritarianism.

However, what is underestimated in these standard accounts is the role of persuasion (jian, offering opinions to rulers, or jianjie as persuasion), remonstrance and loyal criticism in the Chinese political tradition, though some good recent work has been done on ancient Chinese political ‘rhetoric’, showing its metaphorical and narrative methods.[4]

The historical and philosophical record pays considerable attention to persuasion, though usually positioned in debates on giving advice to rulers and the limits of loyalty. Mo Zi, for example, states quite directly that when ‘the superior is at fault there shall be good counsel’.[5] Officials felt that they had the right to criticize each other, as can be seen in the following… READ FULL ARTICLE HERE.

Confucius, Mencius and Zisi can still teach us about a healthy lifestyle

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By Alessandro Benedetti

The great philosopher Confucius is taught to have lived until the late age of 70, an outstanding long life for a man living in China over 2500 years ago. His perspective and advices on health and longevity and the ones of later Confucian scholars have inspired a vast amount of medical literature and practical knowledge in the field. Confucianism shifted the paradigms of traditional medicine by introducing the importance of balance and morality, the cultivation of spiritual qualities as well as the exercise of the mind and the body within the framework of a healthy life.

A Chinese Doctor – Confucian teachings have heavily affected Chinese medical practices from 2500 years ago up to this day. Retrieved from:

Confucius taught first by example. In numerous passages of the “Analects” it is possible to witness his attention and care for healthy habits, showing his advanced understanding compared to the men of that time.

10.6 In fasting, he always alters his diet and alters from his usual seat when at home.

 10.7 If rice had turned sour, he did not eat it. If fish or meat had spoiled, he did not eat it. He did not eat food of bad colour or of bad odour. He did not eat food that was undercooked. He did not eat except at the proper times. If food had not been correctly cut, he did not eat it. […] Though there might be much meat, he did not allow the amount of meat to exceed the amount of rice. He had no set limit for wine, he simply never reached a state of confusion.

10.8 He did not speak while eating, nor when lying down to sleep.

10.10 He did not sit upon a mat that was not in proper position. When villagers gathered to drink wine, he left as soon as those bearing walking staffs departed.

Characteristic to all these passages is the balance with which Confucius conducted himself in all of life’s daily task. He taught that the same equilibrium that we exercise in our diet should be exercised in our emotions. Extremes of pleasure, ager, sorrow or even joy undermine the equilibrium of the mind and should therefore be avoided.

This concept can be summarized with his conception of “the golden mean”, the perfect balance between extremes. The Golden Mean can be further explained with the Confucian concept of “chung” and “yung.”

“Chung” can be defined as “equilibrium” or “balance”. Confucius did not refrain from the pleasures of life, such as eating and sex. However, he sought to achieve balance between extremes, and to avoid excess. A similar concept can also be found in the Daoist belief of the Dao (the way) and the balance of the Ying and the Yang.[1]

“Yung” is “persistence” or “continuing without change.” As explained in “The Doctrine of the Mean” one of the four main texts in Confucian culture, written by Zisi 子思 (also known as Kong Ji, taught to have lived  from 481 to 402 BCE), the only grandson of Confucius:

“The path may not be left for an instant. If it could be left, it would not be the path. On this account, the superior man does not wait until he sees things, to be cautious, nor till he hears things, to be apprehensive.” – The Doctrine of the Mean 1.2

This passage suggests that whatever healthy practice we become acquainted with, it must be earnestly and constantly pursued if we are to have it affecting our lifestyle. The appearance of signs of degenerating health should not be the moment in which we start taking care of ourselves for the first time. The fuller benefit of healthy habits is always derived from prevention and long term commitment to their implementation within our daily life.

Meng Zi (Mencius, thought to have lived 372—289 BCE) one of the most highly regarded early Confucian scholars expanded on Confucius’ teachings for a healthy lifestyle by introducing the importance of spiritual wellbeing. Mencius, who also lived till a very old age, saw spiritual wellbeing traveling alongside with physical wellbeing.

“To preserve one’s mind and to nourish one’s spirit is the way to serve nature (heaven). When a man realizes that there is no real difference between a short lifespan and a long one, and does not worry, but wait, cultivating his own personal character, for whatever may come to pass – this is the way he carries out his fate-ordained being.” –Mencius, 7A.1

In essence health is, in the Confucian view, the pursue of the spiritual as well as the physical in a balanced and persistent way. In a world so chaotic, confused and, at times, so distant and forgetful of spiritual values we can still take great advice from the teachings of Zisi, Meng Zi and Confucius and their exemplar health.

To read more on the topic read the following journal articles:

Bao, X. (2003). The conception of healthcare in Confucianism. Zhonghua Yi Shi Za Zhi, 33(1), 24-26.

Ruiping, F. (2002). Reconstructionist Confucianism and Health Care: An Asian Moral Account of Health Care Resource Allocation. Journal of Medicine and Philosophy, 675-682.


An Act of Filial Piety at Zibo Railway Station

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Much debate about the meaning of filial piety sparked by hashtag  #StationManKneelstoParents

A picture published earlier this month by a local paper, the Qilu Evening Post, in Shandong province, showed a 40-year-old son kneeling at the feet of his aged parents in a railway station. This has moved many people to discuss online the relevance and place of the Confucian value of ‘filial piety’ in modern China.

Filial piety or Xiao is a core teaching of Confucianism; a virtue from which all other virtues emanate.  As David Yau-Fai Ho defines it, Filial Piety “goes far beyond the demand of simply obeying and honouring one’s parents. It makes other demands that are no less stringent: providing for the material and mental well-being of one’s aged parents, performing ceremonial duties of ancestral worship, taking care to avoid harm to one’s own body, ensuring the continuity of the family line, and in general to conduct oneself so as to bring honour and not disgrace to the family name”.[1]

The newspaper People’s Daily Online reported that Zhang Jinli, a Beijing worker that visited his parents in Zibo, east China, after a four year absence, kowtowed (bowing down until the forefront touches the ground) in front of his parents as he was saying once again goodbye, asking for forgiveness for not taking enough care of them. [2]

Station man
Picture published by the People’s Daily Online. Retrieved here. 

The image and its interesting story started bouncing almost immediately on many Chinese social networks, particularly, ‘Sina Weibo’ that launched the hashtag  #StationManKneelstoParents.

While the action of Mr Zhang touched many, some others have questioned whether his behaviour was exaggerated or even performed insincerely, only for the purpose of getting public praise.

“Filial piety can be expressed, but doing this in a large area with a crowd, I inevitably suspect him of grandstanding,” commented one of the users on Sina Weibo.[3]

“A kowtow is a symbolic act, you need to do something real for them,” agreed another Weibo user.[4]

This curious episode reflects a deeper struggle that many young Chinese are facing in fulfilling both the duty of care towards parents and the pressure of moving to larger cities, leaving the countryside and family, to find better job opportunities.

Accentuating this struggle is a law that makes filial piety a real legal issue: the Chinese Elderly Protection Law of 2013. The Hong Kong news agency HKFP reported that the law declares that “Family members who live apart from their parents should often visit or send regards to their parents.” By this definition,  Mr Zhang would be viewed as unfilial and could be prosecuted by the state, although the way such a law could be enforced remains vague. [5]

See also our earlier post: Fulfilling Filial Piety: Is there “Room” for Improvement?

[1] David Yau-Fai Ho (1994), Filial Piety, Authoritarian Moralism, and Cognitive Conservatism in Chinese Societies. Genetic, Social and General Psychology Monographs, 120 (3), Hong Kong.

Single’s day – A day to conquer oneself?

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While around the world thousands of people have celebrated St. Valentine’s Day on Sunday by spending time with their partners,  in China over the last two decades, an alternative trend has emerged: ‘Single’s Day’.

Far from being a day of sorrow, the Chinese young generation’s celebrate the beauty of being single every November, on the 11th day of the 11th month. The date of course, is not a coincidence. It is made up of four ‘1’’s and it also reminds the Chinese of ‘bare branches’, the Chinese word for singles. It is also known as the Chinese anti-Valentine’s Day.’[1]

Singles Day

The celebration of the day started from an idea of university students in Nanjing, China. Initially the day was an occasion to enjoy the company of friends with parties, celebrations and the buying of presents to gift to other singles. Sometimes “blind dates” were organised to make sure that the singles were not such for too long.[2]

Since the nineties, Singles Day has seen a rapid growth in collective participation and has become very popular.  Special festivals, online sales and celebrations are organised for the occasion thanks also to the rise of Internet as a channel of communication.

While this day is seen by many as a way to simply oppose Valentine’s Day and others claim it to be another chance for businesses to make profit, single’s day can have a more profound meaning even from a Confucian perspective.

Confucius said in the Analects (XII.1):

“Conquer yourself and return to li [virtue]: that is ren [benevolence]. If a person could conquer himself and return to li for a single day, the world would respond to him with ren. Being ren proceeds from oneself, how could it come from others?”

In a Confucian sense the 11th of November could be a day to conquer oneself and affect the world around. Although being single is often ridiculed or seen as an aberration, this day can be an opportunity for reflection and personal growth until a special one will come into your life.

This Valentine’s day many might have not conquered a valentine, but they might have come closer to conquering themselves by the virtue of Ren and Li.

Read more about Single’s day here.

Quote of the week:

“A man who daily assesses

what he has yet to understand and who,

month by month, does not forget what he has

mastered may be said to love learning”. – The Analects, XIX.5

Happy Year of the Monkey!

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Year of the Monkey.png

The editors of the Confucian Weekly Bulletin would like to wish all our readers a Happy Lunar New Year of joyous celebration and we would like to thank you for your continuous support.

As we enter in the Year of the Monkey, let’s remember that Monkey is an intelligent and confident animal while at the same time it is playful, friendly, and sociable. Hopefully we will all be able to use these wonderful qualities in the year ahead and inspire others around us!

Quote of the week:

“The Master said, To fail to speak with someone whom it is worthwhile to speak with is to waste that person. To speak with someone whom it is not worthwhile to speak with is to waste words. The wise man wastes neither people nor words.” – Analects, XV, 15.8

The Environment, Confucianism, and the Chinese Road to Development

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By Alessandro Benedetti 

Throughout 2015 the record levels of air pollution in Beijing, the busy capital of the People’s Republic of China, made news many times. Pollution has been on average very high – some days up to 25 times the approved limit – to the point of becoming hazardous for people. [1]

Although air pollution is increasingly a problem for Beijing’s inhabitants and other major cities in the country, Chinese environmental problems do not stop here. Deforestation, loss of natural resources and water pollution are part of a larger picture of the price paid for rapid economic growth

What are the Confucian teachings on the issue of the environment? Further to our earlier post, ‘Can Confucian Thought Help Us Rise above the Dome’, here are some ideas.

Although Confucian teaching is characterised as primarily humanistic, this does not cancel out environmental ethics. If anything, it adds to it. This may be seen in the idea of ‘ecological civilisation’ which combines human development with environmental protection. This is a policy which the Chinese government has endorsed and now seeks to implement, with pilot projects already underway. [2]

To think of environmental ethics as part of society is a very Confucian consideration. Confucius often referred to the connection between humanity and heaven (tianrenheyi) suggesting that all aspects of human activity should be ethically based for the creation of a harmonious society.[3] Wang Yangming (1472-1529), a Neo-Confucian scholar, wrote in his “Inquiry on the Great Learning”:

“The great man [junzi = morally noble person] regards Heaven and Earth and the myriad things as one body. He regards the world as one family and the country as one person. As to those who make a cleavage between objects and distinguish between self and others, they are small men [xiaoren = uncultivated person]. That the great man [junzi] can regard Heaven, Earth and the myriad things as one body is not because he deliberately wants to do so, but because it is natural to the humane nature of his mind that he do so.”

Although Confucius did not talk specifically in regards to the environment many later Confucian scholars elaborated on this topic.

One of the most famous early Confucian scholars, Meng Zi (Mencius, thought to have lived 372—289 BCE), was the author of what is considered to be among the earliest recorded ecological commentaries:

“The woods on Ox Mountain were once beautiful. Because they were on the edge of a large country, they have been attacked with axes and hatchets, so how could they remain beautiful? …People seeing its denuded state assume that it never had been otherwise, endowed with rich resources. Yet how can this state be the true nature of this mountain?”[4]
water album.png
From Ma Yuan’s Water Album – The Yellow River Breaches its Course (Retrieved here)
How is Confucianism helping China combat pollution?

In its quest to rise peacefully, China has always taken his own path of development. While learning from western countries, particularly the United States, China has added ‘Chinese characteristics’ to borrowed concepts, thus trying to remain faithful to its own values.

The United States although representing only 5% of the world’s total population has been responsible for the production of 22% of greenhouse gases. Far from taking the American model as a reference for its modernisation, China and its political class has had to gradually find a point of reference indigenous to its own culture.[5] This is where the blueprint of ‘ecological civilisation’ carries the Chinese cultural characteristic of humans being part of, and not separate from, Heaven and Earth.

Pres Obama.png
President Obama shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping during their meeting at the start of the climate summit in Paris. November 30, 2015 (Retrieved here)

While much is yet to be done, the increasing adoption of references by Chinese politicians, educational institutions and scholars to Confucian writings and ideals demonstrates a commitment to a more Confucian turn in development discourse. This includes the ‘Chinese dream’ of an ‘ecological civilisation’ and a real contribution to the creation of a ‘harmonious world’ in which filial piety extends to Mother Earth.





[5] Martin Lu, Rosita Dellios, R. James Ferguson (eds), Toward a Global Community: New Perspectives on Confucian Humanism (Centre for East-West Cultural and Economic Studies, Bond University, and International Confucian Association, Gold Coast, Australia, 2004).