confucianism in modern society

Achieving Social Order, Harmony and Peace in the Workplace – The Confucian Way

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In today’s modern society, most people spend a significant portion of their day at their workplace. Companies invest millions of dollars into employee well-being programs and identifying ways to retain their most valuable assets.

Many studies have confirmed that a positive harmonious workplace directly correlates to productive work environment, increased revenue and the overall success of an organization.

According to the Confucian philosophy, the maintenance of social order, harmony and peace is created and maintained by adopting the five virtues  within the five cardinal relationships:

-Ruler to subject
-Father to son
-Husband and wife
-Elder brother to younger brother
-Friend to friend

If we viewed each company’s work environment as individual ‘societies’, would a modern Confucian approach be valuable by applying the 5 virtues to the ’employer to employee’ relationship – similar to the ‘ruler to subject’ relationship? How would one interpret the five virtues within this environment?

Employers can adopt Ren 仁 – ‘Benevolence and humaneness’ by upholding high standards of behavior through their everyday actions and treating their employees with respect by “not doing onto others as you would not wish done to yourself.” In return, employees would feel valued and empowered in their workplace.

It would be in an employer and employees’ best interests to adhere to Li 禮 – by following laws that have been created to govern workplaces such as workplace health and safety legislations and laws that protect employees from discrimination and sexual harassment. This will ensure that all employees can enjoy a safe and healthy work environment.

Yi can be upheld by employers identifying the need to (and also by encouraging all their employees to) always do good, and also to recognize what is right and wrong  and using moral intuition to make the right decisions and having the best moral interests of their company at heart. This is particularly relevant in situations where an employer or employee may be tempted engage in activities for their self interests such as receiving bribes.

Everyone makes mistakes, but it is only when employer reflects on them and correct themselves as part of adopting Chi 智 – moral wisdom that they and their employees can continue to build a stronger company in the future.

When all employers and employees in a ‘workplace society’ practice Xìn 信, by being integral, honest and faithful, this will ultimately contribute to a harmonious, productive peaceful work culture that leads to success.

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Confucianism and Domestic Violence

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Domestic violence against women remains a major societal issue in the modern day, as witnessed by the latest media reports about celebrities and the Australian Government’s active media campaign on television and online.

In China, landmark domestic violence legislation was introduced in March this year, reflecting the need to address the problem in their society. Europe has created the ‘Council of European Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence’ with a total of 42 countries signing the treaty as of last month.

So what would Confucius say about domestic violence, and in particular, violence against women?

The Confucian philosophy teaches its followers that the maintenance of social order, harmony and peace derives from respect and strong emphasis on the following five relationships:

-Ruler to subject
-Father to son
-Husband and wife
-Elder brother to younger brother
-Friend to friend

It dictates that people should act towards each other within these relationships in harmony and peace at all times, thus in an environment where any act of violence would not be accepted. Respect and harmony is achieved through adopting the five virtues namely:

Ren 仁– Benevolence and humaneness, defined by the philosopher himself as “one should see nothing improper, hear nothing improper, say nothing improper, do nothing improper” and “not to do to others as you would not wish done to yourself”

Li 禮 –  Rites, which has undergone extensive interpretation throughout history but can be translated as following “customs” and “rules”. Following the “rules” in our society would include adhering to the common law such as the laws that protect women from violence.

Yi – Moral disposition to do good, and also to recognise what is right and good and using moral intuition to do the correct thing in all circumstances.

Chi 智 – Moral wisdom, by sourcing knowledge of right and wrong via the famous Confucian quote, “By three methods: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.”

Xìn 信 – Integrity, by displaying honesty and faithfulness.

It can be easily understood that anyone who practices all of these virtues would be unlikely to engage in any form of domestic violence, and particularly in this context, within the relationship between husband and wife.

However, consider the latest one minute Australian Government television advertisement below.

Under closer examination, it can be seen that this advertisement supports how disrespect and not adhering to the virtues in all of Confucius’ valued relationships can contribute to domestic violence tendencies. For example:

– A young boy disrespects a young girl by pushing her over, thus not practicing
‘Ren 仁’ in a friend – friend relationship.

-A father making a disrespectful comment about women to his son, thus not ‘saying nothing improper’ as per Confucius’ teachings.

-A young man not practicing “Yi 義” when he fails to use his moral intuition to correct his “brother’s” disrespectful actions against a woman in a group situation.

The advertisement further conveys that society needs to break the cycle of domestic violence by discouraging disrespectful behaviours from a young age. This can be aligned to the virtue of Chi 智, whereby humans need to reflect on their past actions and apply their knowledge gained to improve their moral wisdom.

This is one of many examples how Confucianism is still relevant to modern society behavior today.

Confucius and the Cultural Revolution – 50 years on

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Monday marked the 50th Anniversary since the start of former Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution. During this devastating period in China, immense cruelty was demonstrated between the country’s citizens, resulting in over 1.5 million deaths across the nation and over 36 million people suffering some form of political violence.

In 1973, Mao launched a political propaganda campaign against Confucianism named ‘Criticize Lin (Biao), Criticize Confucius Campaign’, where he openly criticized Confucius and his teachings. Red Guards attacked the Temple of Confucius, Qufu and vandalized the Cemetery of Confucius as part of the campaign.

Anti Confucius

An anti-Confucius poster printed in 1974 by Shanghai Renmin Chubanshe (Shanghai People’s Press). Source: http://people.reed.edu/~brashiek/syllabi/Poster/

Traditional Confucian values of filial piety and existing in harmony were acted against to the extremes, with one lawyer admitting in 2013 that he had sent his mother to her execution in 1970 by writing a letter to the authorities informing them she had called Mao a ‘traitor’.  The strong Confucian values of the relationships between teacher – student, emperor – people, father – son, husband – wife and importance of family unity were deemed by Mao as inferior, and citizens were encouraged to turn against each other through betrayal and violence. Young people challenged authority and respect at home, school, university and in their workplaces.

This vitriolic denunciation of Confucius continued until the demise of Mao, ending the Cultural Revolution in 1976.

The views on Confucianism from the leaders of China has come a long way, as reflected with President Xi Jinping personally endorsing the philosophy in his keynote speech at the 2565th birthday anniversary commemoration in 2014. He stated that “Confucianism and other schools of thought in Chinese history all adhered to the principle that theories must serve the management of state affairs and benefit real life.”

president

President Xi Jinping, points at a bust of Confucius in the China pavilion of Frankfurt Book Fair he attended while still serving as Vice President in 2009. Source: time.com

Furthermore, in 2013, China introduced the “Elderly rights law” which attempts to enforce adult children to visit their elderly parents, which mirrors the strong Confucian emphasis on filial piety.  The government has even extended the use of Confucian philosophy to prisoner rehabilitation, unveiling the first Confucius classroom in a prison last week.

2015 Symposium Presentations Now Available

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We are pleased to announce the videos from last year’s inaugural symposium ‘Confucianism and Modern Society’ can now be viewed here.

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Stayed tuned for more information about the next International Symposium ‘Conference, Governance and the Emerging Economic Order’.

 

 

Confucian Virtues in Modern Politics and Society

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hong kong academic video

Chinese scholar and Professor Joseph Chan from the University of Hong Kong explores the philosophical insights of Confucius – including harmony, civility and respect – and discusses how they can still be relevant for modern politics and society. His research explains why Confucian virtues are not irrelevant, but instead useful, because they can assist in making modern liberal democratic institutions function better.

Useful Links

  • Joseph Chan further explains his interpretation of Confucianism in his book, Confucian Perfectionism: A Political Philosophy for Modern Times.
  • To view a public lecture titled, “Can Confucianism Save the World? Reflections by Three Contemporary Political Thinkers,” click here. The three political philosophers on this panel are Joseph Chan, Tongdong Ba and Daniel Bell.