Can Confucius Help in the Job of Anti-Corruption?

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What makes you the best person for the job? A common interview question we can all relate to at one point or another. A job that entails leading an entire country would surely involve a similar question. Rather than pose the above question through an interview, Confucius created a system of selection that identified the most virtuous of people to serve as political leaders. Confucius based his system on the idea that everyone was educated; however his process involved discovering leaders who were morally cultivated and capable of gaining the trust of the people, an important element for a junzi person of power. Confucius believed that those who govern should do so based on merit, not on inherited status.

Political meritocracy, a key theme in the history of Chinese political culture, is making a comeback and President Xi Jinping is making it his job to deliver it. President Xi is reflecting the teachings of Confucius through his Anti-Corruption campaign. The campaign targets suspected corruption from all levels of the government and state-owned industry. The targets in this drive are high- and lower-level officials in the Communist Party, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the state enterprise system. In 2014 alone, 68 top officials and more than 70,000 lower level officers were investigated for violations of anti-graft rules. Around 36 high-level officials have been brought to trial (1).

Confucius was an advocate not of absolute power, but of the constraint of power. His political message was that virtue, not force, would bind the public to the state (1).  Can Xi’s strategy re-establish the CCP’s authority over its nearly 90 million members? State propaganda refers to the campaign as “killing tigers and swatting flies,” where the tigers are the powerful and the flies the petty officials (2). President Xi has utilised Chinese imperial rulers in public statements to make it clear that he is serious about embarking on a transformation that will benefit the future of China:

• “The people are the basis of a country” (民惟邦本), he said, quoting Confucian classic of “Shang Shu,” or “Book of Documents” (also known as the “Book of History”).
• “Politics is about gaining the people’s support” (政得其民), he said, a quote from the Confucian philosopher Mengzi (Mencius).
• “Combine ‘li’ ” — rituals that express ethics — “and the law in order to rule” (礼法合治), he said. More Confucius, but also shades of Xunzi, a later Confucian philosopher (3).

China’s former Politburo Standing Committee Member Zhou Yongkang attends the closing ceremony of the National People’s Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 14, 2012. Text Credit: WSJ ; Image Credit: Reuters
China’s former Politburo Standing Committee Member Zhou Yongkang attends the closing ceremony of the National People’s Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 14, 2012. Text Credit: WSJ ; Image Credit: Reuters

Xi also quoted Confucius saying, “Govern with virtue and keep order through punishments.” (2)  Studies show that ordinary Chinese expect their leaders to be virtuous, meaning that rulers are supposed to use power to serve the political community, not themselves. Xi Jinping is representing the central value of meritocracy (4). However, the higher the levels of political corruption in other areas of the government lead to a less meritocratic political system which in turn affects China’s future as a whole.One way of overcoming the problem of entrenched corruption is to realise that “Ultimately, the problem of corruption will only be solved if corruption is seen as a source of deep shame” and that this could be remedies by “the revival of Confucian education for public servants.”(4) For those who do not believe Xi Jinping is capable of doing the job, take a look at the recent case of Zhou Yongkang, China’s former domestic security chief who was found guilty of corruption charges and sentenced to life in prison (5).

“We acknowledge that Confucian culture has limits and some outdated concepts,” Mr. Yan said. “We need to keep the good things and discard the bad ones.” (6) This is the case with philosophies from all over the world including the West, and not only China’s. We move with the times, as shown in women’s rights, anti-discrimination and other social advances. But strong leadership that inspires the people because of its morality and not only competence in governance is perhaps the best blend.

“It is a basic Confucian view that the material and ethical welfare of the individual and the whole people is ultimately determined by the charismatic qualities of the ruler who is legitimated by Heaven and by the welfare policy of his officials”
– (Weber 1968, 212)

Any ruler who represents just that is surely the right candidate for the job. Would you agree? Let us know by leaving a comment!

What would Confucius say about America’s decision to legalise same-sex marriage?

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If Confucius were around today, would he be supportive of a modern idea of love? Confucius, as opposed to many thinkers in the West, didn’t see marriage as primarily a religious institution (1). In fact, last week Justice Anthony Kennedy implied that Confucius saw marriage as the foundation of government. He cited Confucius in the Marriage Equality Ruling where he wrote the majority opinion for the landmark Obergefell v. Hodges case.

“The centrality of marriage to the human condition makes it unsurprising that the institution has existed for millennia and across civilizations. Since the dawn of history, marriage has transformed strangers into relatives, binding families and societies together. Confucius taught that marriage lies at the foundation of government. 2 Li Chi: Book of Rites 266 (C. Chai & W. Chai eds., J. Legge transl. 1967).”

After the historical US ruling was made, several Chinese got online to voice their opinions.

Fang Zhouzi, a high-profile Chinese science writer, tweeted, “The Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage says, ‘Confucius said that marriage is the Foundation of Government.’ But the original Chinese version actually referred to etiquette instead of wedding, which can be translated into the ceremony (of marriage). Judges got it wrong.” (2) Others argued that the recognition that marriage is not static is central to Justice Kennedy’s ruling. One writes, “The history of marriage is one of both continuity and change. That institution—even as confined to opposite-sex relations—has evolved over time.” (3) On Weibo, a group that calls itself “Fans of Chinese President Xi Jinping” conducted an online poll to gauge whether users supported same-sex marriage legalisation in China. Nine out of 10 top commenters voted “Yes”, and it received thousands of “likes.” According to Weibo, about 50,000 people participated in the poll. Some Weibo users posted pictures of Chinese yuan bills folded into a rainbow pattern (2).

Credit: Buzzfeed
Credit: Buzzfeed

To answer the question posed in the title of this blog, we must first consider the core elements of Confucianism and also the implications that can be applied to represent the present day. One key aspect of Confucius’ teachings is his focus on family and filial relationships. Xiao, or filial piety, is an important component of Confucius’ overall vision of societal harmony (4)  Although Confucius recognised the importance of the relationship between “husband and wife”, the relationship between wife and husband is not necessarily about a female sex and a male sex. It is about the relationship that embodies this partnership. Similar roles of the partnership that Confucius taught can apply to same sex couples. Same gendered relationships are families that can be societally harmonious. If a person of virtue would like to produce offspring, he or she is able to adopt. When considering and applying Confucian values today, a modern Confucian perspective may very likely accept a same sex relationship, as long as the relationship itself was committed and constructive of lasting family bonds.

“What is important is that people perform humanity-creating social responsibilities. Genetics are less significant than caring social practices; so, adoption is fine – just as it was in ancient China. It would seem, then, that gay marriage and child-rearing could be consonant with a Confucian-inspired ethics.” (5)

Our question may go unanswered by Confucius himself, but Chinese philosopher at Williams College, Sam Crane, posed a similar question and here is what he had to say –

“Would Confucius be okay with gay marriage? It seems a wildly anachronistic query and, if situated in the historical context of ancient China, might be immediately rejected. But a modern Confucian perspective, one that seeks to distil the core elements of The Analects and apply them universally, could be affirmative.” (5)

What are your thoughts to our question? Tell us how you feel by leaving a comment!

To hear what Dr Rosita Dellios, International Relations expert and Confucian scholar has to say regarding this topic, please click here.

Confucian Morality in Modern Times

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International Relations Expert and Confucian Scholar, Dr Rosita Dellios shares her opinion on how Confucianism can be investigated in the realm of same-sex marriage .

“There is nothing in the Analects of Confucius that directly addresses the topic of same sex marriage; however it is definitely a subject worth investigating. Confucianism when adapted to modern society has the capacity to accept same sex marriage because it is a social construct and enhances social relationships in a harmonious way.

According to Confucian thought and traditional Chinese society, reciprocal social roles and obligations define the human, not their sex. A person’s reproductive body is not the primary basis of distinction. Marriage concerns two families joining and performing their roles in the continuity of Chinese lineage. A women’s primary function as wife is responsibility for ritual affairs – attending to the ceremonies for the ancestors. The wife was part of the patrolineage, but this did not necessary entail having children. If she was unable to have children, a concubine could be acquired for giving birth to a son in order to maintain the family line, and to help the wife in ceremonial responsibilities to the ancestors.

As to the husband-wife relationship of the five key relationships, it is better understood as a partnership for the family unit as the most important unit of society, one on which the government is dependent if it is to be a virtuous Confucian government which wants to enhance harmony of roles and responsibilities.”

In the News

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Confucius Institute conference

Honolulu Declares Confucius Institute Day

On June 21, nearly 300 North American and Oceanian Confucius Institutes gathered in Honolulu for a Joint Conference. Participants included 20 university presidents; approximately 240 Chinese and host-country directors of 107 U.S. Confucius Institutes, 12 Canadian Confucius Institutes, and 17 Oceanian Confucius Institutes; around 20 delegates from 15 U.S. and five Oceanian Confucius classrooms; and approximately 10 members of boards of the Asia Society and the College Board in the U.S. (1)

In a proclamation letter, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said the day is “in recognition of its commitment to education and friendship between the people of Hawaii and China.” (2) The primary discussion during the conference was the topic of sustainable development of the institutes and several other issues regarding Confucius Institutes.

“The 21st century which is the century of Asia Pacific Rim, nothing could be more important than the mission of the Confucius Institutes, as China is in the center of that proposition,” said Former Hawaii governor Neil Abercrombie. (3)

Confucius Institute in Benin
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An Educational Gift Delivered to an African Village 

“In Confucius’ mind, peace is achieved through harmony, and harmony is maintained by virtues, and virtues can be cultivated in every human being through education.” (1)

A Confucius Institute is helping to bring the teachings of Confucius to those who live far from the Confucian cultural area of East Asia. On June 3, the Confucius Institute in Benin, West Africa, brought sage’s teachings to deprived children at Abomey Calavi SOS Children’s Village. There are 11 classes and 105 children in the village, most of them were orphans. Besides these children, over 3,000 Beninese of diverse social backgrounds enrolled for Chinese language learning at the Confucius Institute as well as in public and private universities and secondary schools in Benin. (2)

Chinese Director of the Confucius Institute Liu Anping and Benin Director Julien gave learning materials like Chinese books and Chinese characters tracing books to the children as gifts on behalf of the Confucius Institute.

Julien said in the gift-giving ceremony that, “When we sent books and toys to children, we did not only intend to bring happiness to them, we also hoped to give them a chance to change their future by themselves.” (3)

To read more and view photos from the visit click here.

2015 Keynote Presentations

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Xiaohua Yang

Please click on the image or  title to view each keynote presentation. 

Xiaohua Yang Presentation

Keynote Address 1: Confucianism and Business
What Confucius can teach us as China goes global?
Dr Xiaohua Yang

Shan Chun Presentation
Keynote Address 2: Harmony, reciprocity and engagement: Confucian approaches to modern life

Confucian Humaneness in Modern Human Rights Politics?
Professor Shan Chun

Confucianism and Business Ethics

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Yilan Luan Panel 1

The extraordinary economic growth of China has revolutionized the way in which business is practiced and influenced globally. The Confucian roots within Chinese culture play a profound role in society and it is important to understand what affects this has on international business and business conduct.  Panel one of the International Symposium: Confucianism and Modern Society discussed topics ranging from Confucian entrepreneurship, ethics, democracy and global power hierarchy.

To view the panel slides from each presenter, click on the presentation title or image below. If you are interested in learning more about each presenter, please visit our 2015 Symposium Presenters page. Don’t forget to share your thoughts on the Online Discussion Forum!

Please also be sure to check out our interview with former Australian diplomat and author, Reg Little.

Confucian Entrepreneurship
Mr Alan Chan

Reflections on Confucianism and Western Business (Commentary)
Professor Raoul Mortley

Raoul Mortley Presentation
Confucian ethics and the 21st Century Global Business
Dr Reg Little

Reg Little 2

The Chinese Interpretive Context of Democracy
Miss Yilan Luan

Yilan Luan

A Theoretical Analysis on Global Power Hierarchy
Dr Lei Yu

Dr Lei Yu

Confucianism in Modern Chinese Society

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Panel 2

Our next set of panel discussions have arrived! Panel two of the International Symposium: Confucianism and Modern Society discussed topics ranging from Confucius and women to learning Buddha-Dharma through a Confucian lens. Each presenter spoke for 15 minutes on his/her topic, followed by an open discussion.

To view the panel slides from each presenter, click on the presentation title or image below. If you are interested in learning more about each presenter, please visit our 2015 Symposium Presenters page. Don’t forget to share your thoughts on the Online Discussion Forum!

You might also like to check out our interview with one of our presenters – American Buddhist monk and the director of the Berkeley Buddhist Monastery, Rev Heng Sure. Click here for the full interview.

Confucian Values in a Changing World Cultural Order
Dr Chenshan Tian
Dr Chenshan Tian Presentation

Confucius and Women
Dr Rosita Dellios

Rosita Dellios Presentation

The Chinese Universal Values and the Future Human Civilization
Professor Yi Guo
Professor Yi Guo Presentation

Learning BuddhaDharma in America Through a Confucian Lens
Rev Heng Sure

Rev Heng Sure Presentation