Gregg Ten Elshofs’ new book release “Confucius for Christians” is a great opportunity for discussion into how the Confucian philosophy can be adopted by those with religious faith, in this instance Christians. Jackson Wu provides an insightful review of the book, summarising how Ten Elshof “explores how interacting with Confucianism can help us regain many important biblical insights, which are often overlooked in Western traditions.”
Jackson Wu continues to write… So what is Confucian Christianity?
Ten Elshof begins by observing how “most Christians in the West – insofar as their thinking is informed by the Western philosophical tradition – are Platonic Christians whether they’ve heard of Plato or not”. In order words, how might understanding Confucianism expose blind spots and so help us become better Disciples of Christ? The book focuses on 4 main areas: Family, learning, ethics and ritual.
Ten Elshof indicates the tendency among Christians to extract ethical principles from Scripture that might then be applied to everyone in any circumstance. Yet, with Confucian thinking there are some problems that can arise in approaching ethics in such a way. For instance, Ten Elshof summarizes, “The response of the good person, then, will depend both upon the well-formed character of her heart and upon the relational specifics of her particular situation”.
Jesus’ teaching itself must be understood in its own context as addressing the people and circumstances around him. One’s ultimate obligation is always to God but that allegiance will be expressed differently in different relational contexts.
Ten Elshof, in essence, reminds readers that Christian discipleship is about following the example or pattern of Christ rather than “[extracting] a collection of principles from the scriptures [which does] not guarantee that one will actually love one’s enemies”.
Ten Elshof says that Confucian thinking challenges the basic penchant many people have towards individualism. How might a more collectivistic orientation shape us as disciples? Ten Elshof says, “for the Confucian, the better you love your family, the more capable and effective will be your love for those beyond your family”.
This insight no doubt reflects a basic assumption of Scripture. The family is a fundamental paradigm for explaining how God’s people relate to one another throughout the world. Yet, Ten Elshof notes,
“We’re tempted to think that we can somehow manage to love the world without having learned to love well those whom have been given to us as family”.
“To be learning is to be in process”.
This thought catalyzes his discussion about what it means existentially to be human. He does not develop a “doctrine of humanity.” Ten Elshof challenges the habit of mind that sees knowledge itself as power. This mindset regards the mastering of information as the key to autonomy and achieving our ambitions.
He laments the fact that people do not value learning as they should. Confucius saw learning as an essential aspect of character development. What happens is we treat learning as a mere tool for social power and status (after which one can stop learning)? We forsake a basic component of what it means to be human. In particular, Ten Elshof says, we cease living as followers like God designed.
In short, maturity, following and learning stand in contrast to closed-minded orthodoxy that posits theological algorithms for Christian living.
Finally, Ten Elshof should be applauded for addressing the topic of ritual, a term instinctively frowned upon in some circles of the church. However, rituals are simply (or at least) those routine practices or habits that shape our moral thinking. We all have rituals, whether or not we use the word “ritual.”
Drawing on Confucius, Ten Elshof writes, “…because of his insistence on both spontaneity and the need for training, ethical theory in the wake of Confucius occupied itself largely with the discovery of practices that would shape a person in such a way that goodness would be their natural disposition.
Is this not what we see throughout the Bible? Israel’s celebrations and customs served as reminders of the holiness of God, whom their lives were to reflect. Consistent prayer and regular meetings of the church are similarly used rituals in the New Testament.
The original book review of Gregg Ten Elshofs’ “Confucius for Christians” written by Jackson Wu can be found here.
As China continues to play a key role in the world economy, the need to understand and adapt to Chinese business practices and culture is vital. In response to the sharp increase in the world’s demand for Chinese learning, the PRC government has established Confucius Institutes around the world in order to promote the country’s language, culture and intercultural exchange.
The first Confucius Institute was established in 2004 in Seoul, South Korea. According to the Confucius Institute Headquarters in Hanban, in September 2015 there were 495 institutes and 1000 smaller classrooms – affiliated to primary and secondary schools – in more than 130 counties. The latest available figures for Australia show there are 14 Confucius Institutes and 5 Confucius classrooms.
Countries are announcing plans to increase these numbers. Last week in Belarus, Deputy Head of the Belarus President Administration Nikolai Snopkov proclaimed: “The Belarusian side is ready to further expand the network of Confucius Institutes and Classrooms at the regional level to promote understanding and knowledge of China in the regions.” Read full text here.
Not only does this education facilitate peace and reconciliation between countries, one can adapt these shared ideas and values to strengthen business relationships in China.
According to Alan Chan, guest blogger and honorary fellow of our Centre for East-West Cultural and Economic Studies, the Confucian spirit can be condensed into 7 Chinese Characters – 推己及人宽远深. It has been previously discussed how applying Confucian values in corporate culture and practising the 5 virtues within the 5 cardinal relationships can lead to desirable business outcomes. Would applying these 7 characters also be able to achieve business success?
The first 4 characters ‘Tuī jǐ jí rén 推己及人’means ‘put yourself in the place of others.’ This saying, derived from Confucius, forms a primary concept of his philosophy. This concept can be summarised as Shù 恕meaning reciprocity and extends to the golden rule ‘Do not unto others as you would have them unto you’ Shù ensures harmonious relationships within business environments and consequently steers away from conflicts.
The other 3 characters ‘宽远深’ contribute to the Confucian Spirit within the business environment in the following ways:
Kuān 宽 meaning ‘breadth or broad’. Alan believes practising Kuān encourages success through entrepreneurship. In order to create success one must have a broad mindset as well as be accommodating to other views, opinions and other external events that cannot be controlled. The decisions made in a business environment may have a ripple effect all over the world, and these ripples may subsequently affect a company’s situation. A narrow view will not allow one to understand the possible outcomes of a ripple effect.
Yuǎn 远 is described as ‘afar or the future’. One of the most important business rules is forecasting, whereby companies anticipate future trends within the Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Environmental and Legal Environment. ‘Yuǎn’ also encourages patience as it believes that consequences from future business events must run its natural course. When you allow that natural course, a more stronger and accurate conclusion can be made.
Shēn 深 is described within this concept as’ a great depth of insight or knowledge’. When a business undertakes a feasibility study, due diligence would require substantial depth, taking into account all possible factors.
Overall, application of these 7 characters can be useful to achieving success in today’s business environment.
South China Sea: why aid will trump islands – The hidden good fortune for China in the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s decision
As per the famous Confucian quote, ‘The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones’, the South China Sea ruling may not have gone China’s way, but it opens up a range of opportunities in the region the country can capitalize on, Dr. Rosita Dellios writes.
The Hague ruling against China’s claims in the South China Sea reminds me of the Daoist story of the farmer who lost his horse. The horse had run away, but when the farmer’s neighbours sought to commiserate over his misfortune, the farmer simply said ‘maybe’. He said the same thing the next day when the horse returned in the company of six wild horses and the neighbours congratulated him on his good fortune. He was right to remain circumspect. The next day his son went to ride one of the wild horses, was thrown, and broke a leg. ‘What a misfortune’, the ever-solicitous neighbours said, to which the farmer answered ‘maybe’. Not long after, the village was visited by conscription officers who were rounding up able-bodied young men for the army. The farmer’s son was seen to be unfit. When the neighbours remarked how well the story ended, the farmer said ‘maybe’.
So, too, the ruling against China might seem like a misfortune for the PRC but it is not necessarily so. When the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague ruled in favour of the Philippines on 12 July, China naturally protested. But in reality plans were underway to negotiate with the ‘winner’ who, in turn, was keeping a low profile. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte refrained from triumphant rhetoric, seeking instead the path of diplomacy.
The dispute which triggered Manila’s international legal action against China in 2013 was over Scarborough Shoal, 124 nautical miles (229.7km) northwest of the Philippines. Despite the legal win, Filipino fishermen remain the losers as the China Coast Guard continues to deny them entry into the area. Here lies a human security issue that goes to the heart of China’s wider regional strategy: the importance of development via the One Belt, One Road Initiative. Little wonder then that smaller countries like the Philippines and Vietnam that have competing South China Sea claims are not crowing about the ruling. They need Chinese investment and inclusion in the Belt and Road transformation which will lift living standards and will have a far greater impact than reef-consolidation exercises. Vietnam has already been promised investment in education and health, “with an additional half billion [dollars] for infrastructure”.
China might have lost to the Philippines but it has had the good fortune of finding Taiwan on the same side of the argument. Beijing and Taipei share a view on South China Sea sovereignty. Indeed, it was the Republic of China which first drew the infamous map with the U-shaped line. The Republic of China (rather than the “Taiwan Authority of China”, as referred to in the ruling) still flies its flag on Taiping Island (Itu Aba), the biggest of the Spratly group in the South China Sea. That this was demoted to a non-island in the ruling, which designated land features to be mere rocks and reefs, further outraged Taiwan. It meant that it was not entitled to a 200 nautical mile (370.4km) exclusive economic zone.
Image credit: Flickr
Taiwan’s new president, Tsai Ing-wen, with whom Beijing was having difficulties, is now closer to China in her stance against the arbitral award, a fortunate turn of events for China. She is even sending a warship to Taiping Island to conduct its patrols sooner than had been planned.
This article was originally written by the author for The Asia & the Pacific Policy Society (APPS) Policy Forum. The original article can be found here.