“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.
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, 2011; Chang & 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’
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 East–West 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 East–West Relations (Beijing Foreign Studies University).
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.
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 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
For further details about the Conference and Submission details, contact one of the following:
Dr.R. James Ferguson (email@example.com); Dr. Yi Chen (firstname.lastname@example.org); Professor Roger T. Ames (email@example.com); or Cindy Minarova-Banjac, the Research and Communications Coordinator for the Centre for East-West Cultural and Economic Studies at Bond University (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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.
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.
A common misconception in mainstream texts and media is the idea that Confucianism has always been a doctrine for the ruling class whereas Buddhism and Daoism appeal to the “ignorant masses” (Welch & Seidel, 1979, p. 1). However, all three indigenous philosophies have contributed to shaping Chinese culture which views the universe as a harmonious and inter-related whole. While Confucianism puts emphasis on morality and how people should maintain proper relationships to achieve an ideal state of harmony (or ‘harmonisation’ depending on the translation of he, 和), Daoism is more individualistic and mystical, relying on instinct and consciousness rather than rules to govern social conduct (Jing, 2008).
The name daojia, 道家 or “school of the dao” was created by the historian Sima Tan in the text, Shi ji (“Records of the Historian”), which was written in the 2nd century BCE and later completed by his son, Sima Qian. According to Sima Qian’s classification (liujia zhi yaozhi, 六家之要指), the Daoists are one of the Six Schools in Ancient China, which also include the Confucians, the Mohists, the Legalists, the Logicians and the Yin-Yang school (or school of Naturalists). The classification of Daoism as a single school meant that historians compiled a list of texts such as the Laozi, 老子 and Zhuangzi, 莊子 of the pre-Han period that shared similar views on themes related to cosmology and ontology. Some of these themes include discussing ‘the Way’ (dao, 道, lit. “path”) as the ultimate metaphysical force in the cosmos, and ‘wu’ (無, “nothingness” or “nonbeing”), as a state that is complementary to being rather than meaning non-existence. Through the idea of wu, Daoists went one step further than the Greeks by expanding the traditional definition of ontology as examining the ‘being’ or existence of a human being by dealing with the concept of nothingness. This resulted in heated debates during the 3rdand 4thcenturies over whether things in the world were born from nonbeing or being (Chai, 2012). The eventual consensus in the Daoist school was that dao gives birth to both nonbeing and being and so, dao itself must be beyond the sphere of existence and non-existence.
Once institutionalised, the experts and practitioners of Daoism began to promote self-cultivation practices or “techniques of the Way” (dao shu, 道術), which would help individuals realise the daoand live a more harmonious life. While some of these techniques included adopting a sceptical mind and finding meaning in indirect, non-argumentative writing, often in the form of poetry and parable (Hansen, 2007), the political implication of Daoist thought was its opposition to authority, government, and coercion. As Loy (1985)noted, the Daoist concept of “spontaneity” (or wu-wei, 无为, lit. “without exertion”) was contrasted to the Confucian practice of obediently following teachers and traditions. For the Daoists, rules and social conventions restrained individuals from expressing their true nature, while natural movement was a way of promoting freedom and egalitarianism. Hansen (2007) argues that from a Confucian perspective, the rejection of order through authority and rulers was anarchist since the role of government was to promote moral character, whether by education, attraction or force.
However, whether this is a correct understanding of Daoism is debatable. For instance, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy John Clarke (1983) points out that it has become commonplace to identify Daoism and anarchism in political discussions, and Andrew Vincent (1992) adds that “it is also asserted that anarchist themes are to be found within ancient Chinese texts like the Tao te Ching [Daodejing]” (p. 116). But for Feldt (2010), these claims have often been made in passing or without critical engagement. The Zhuangzi also tends to be overcited when linking Daoism to anarchism because it is one of the only pre-Qin philosophical classics that does not make normative political claims. Whereas other Daoist texts like the Daodejing (also called the Laozi) provide theories for rulership and legitimate political power, where the ideal government would exert a minimum amount of interference over individuals (Ames, 1983), the Zhuangzi is silent on political issues and suggests that people should stay away from politics and any external, dominating powers (D’Ambrosio, 2018). Since the creation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, which was dominated by a Bolshevik-style state-party system, anarchist activity and Daoist thought have been isolated and marginalised in the Chinese radicalism movement. Anarchism in China was also more associated with Buddhism because of the large number of Buddhist monks joining the Guangdong anarchist movement in the early 1920s (Dirlik, 2012).
Chinese anarchist visions were largely influenced by the writings of Russian activist and revolutionary Peter Kropotkin (1901), who put forward a version of ‘socialist anarchy’ that called for the abolition of individual property and the emancipation of the individual from the State, which was thought to maintain and reproduce conditions of economic slavery. Although some Maoist policies that integrated agriculture and industry were in line with the anarchist movement’s goals of setting up a more equal society, the emergence of state-based and armed groups such as the Communist Party and the Kuomintang meant that the Chinese anarchist community quickly lost its influence amongst the political elite (Dirlik, 2012). In its historical context, Anarchia, meaning the absence of government in Ancient Greek (coming from the word an-arkhíaor “not authority”), is about organizing society without government or coercion. Mainstream anarchist movements are opposed to states, armies, slavery, the wages system, prisons, all forms of capitalism, bureaucracy, patriarchy, matriarchy, monarchy, oligarchy, and intimidation by gangsters (Rooum, 1995). Anarchism is not perfect freedom in that people are not universally assumed to be altruistic or good. Rather, the movement is based on the belief that although humans are imperfect and can be unpredictable, a non-coercing and non-authoritarian way of organizing society is ethically worth striving for. In other words, anarchism seeks to offer a plausible alternative to current systems of governance where, it is argued, modern-day forms of slavery and brutality increase inequalities and reduce individual opportunity. It should be noted that when anarchism was applied to China, the anarchists did not insist on an anarchism with Chinese characteristics, but tried to apply universal anarchist principles to China’s political situation.
While there are some similarities between anarchist beliefs and Daoist principles, there are also fundamental differences. For example, although both Daoism and anarchism see freedom of the individual as a crucial aspect to human relations and existence, the meaning of freedom in anarchism is socio-political, where an ideal society would be free from oppression and authority, whereas the Daoist freedom is based on metaphysics. In the Daodejing (道德經), it is written that humans should have the freedom to cultivate their natural and simple character that originally comes from the dao. For instance, in chapters 8 and 9 the ideal human condition is described as natural governing “without desire which is like the softness of water that penetrates through hard rocks. His work is of talent like the free flow of water. His movement is of right timing like water that flows smoothly. A virtuous person never forces his way and hence will not make faults.” In that case, the cultivation of the self involves action without force. An individual is free in their creativity and accessing this freedom means not holding on to things such as desire and success. While some writers appeal to the noncoercive and nonauthoritarian conception of wu-weias one of the key links between Daoism and anarchism, there are various ways of translating wu-wei. Roger Ames and David Hall (1983) use the term “noncoercion”, but Ames (1994) also generalised the meaning through the terms “noncoercive activity”, “nonaction”, “doing nothing”, and “acting naturally”. D.C. Lau (1963) uses “nonaction”, while Edward Slingerland (2003) refers to wu-wei as “effortless action”. The different translations can have different meanings when discussing political authority. For example, a government that “does nothing” or is non-active seems like an appeal to anarchism, whereas governing through “noncoercive activity” or natural action is to voluntarily govern without relying on force. But the authority would still remain. Thus, Wu-wei is not simply the lack of authority or action. In chapter 43 of the Daodejing, the Sage is advised to do nothing (with a purpose), and in chapter 48 it is stated that a person should arrive at the point of non-action where “there is nothing which he does not do.” Thus, there is still activity, intention, and spontaneity in the meaning of wu-wei as the dao can only be expressed and realised beyond actions and words.
Finally, at no point does Daoism outright reject a ruling authority or the state. This is because, as Xiao Gongquan (1979) states, “what Lao Tzu attacked was not government in and of itself, but was any kind of government which did not conform to “Taoistic” standards” (p. 299). In other words, it is believed that society should be governed by a sage-ruler that follows the standards and spontaneous workings of the dao, which involves allowing citizens to realise their individual freedoms by not applying an excess of laws. In chapter 57 of the Daodejing, Lao Tzu says “Govern the state by being straightforward; wage war by being crafty; but win the empire by not being meddlesome…Hence the sage says, I take no action and the people are transformed of themselves”. Here Lao Tzu puts forward the idea that the state should be non-intrusive with minimal or no taxation and laws so that people can live without unnecessary competition or strife. For Robert Eno (1990), Confucius himself adopted such as Daoist attitude as his political theory was a justification for staying away from government at least until a sage would become a proper ruler. The development of a rule-based, authoritarian Confucianism would later contrast Daoism’s natural spontaneity and scepticism to social control, but to equate Daoism with Western anarchism is to ignore the cultural and historical differences in how both schools of thought developed and influenced Chinese society.
It should be noted that while traditional Confucianism spoke more of virtuous rulers teaching their citizens about correct conduct and moral behaviour, by the early Ming dynasty emperors began adopting an official neo-Confucian theory of foreign policy that allowed for the legitimate use of force (see Feng Zhang, “Confucian Foreign Policy Traditions in Chinese History,” The Chinese Journal of International Politics8 (2): 2015, p. 197-218. https://doi.org/10.1093/cjip/pov004).