An Interview with International Relations Expert and Confucian Scholar, Dr Rosita Dellios

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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.”

1. What are your professional and personal ties to Confucianism?

My discipline area is International relations and within that I specialise on China’s international relations. I believe this requires at least a basic understanding China’s long history as a civilization and its philosophical grounding. Here is where Confucianism comes in, shedding light on such contemporary themes as President Xi Jinping’s ‘Chinese Dream’ of national rejuvenation with its cultural dimensions. Apart from introducing the spiritual philosophies of China in the curriculum of subjects I teach concerning China, I have actively published and attended conferences concerning Confucianism. My most recent publication is: Rosita Dellios & R. James Ferguson, China’s Quest for Global Order: From Peaceful Rise to Harmonious World (Lanham Md: Lexington Books, 2013) . I am currently working on another book with my co-author, this time on the history and philosophy of Chinese power.

I have also served as correspondent of the periodical Newsletter of International Confucian Studies, co-edited by the International Confucian Association and the Beijing Foreign Studies University. In October 2014 I sent a report on Chinese and Confucian studies in Australia. The English version is available online  in the Culture Mandala, an electronic bulletin of the Centre for East-West Cultural and Economic Studies (CEWCES), of which I am a founding member and International Relations Analyst. CEWCES, which is within Bond University’s Faculty of Society and Design, hosted – together with Beijing Foreign Studies University – the symposium this blog has been featuring.

My personal ties to Confucianism flow from my professional ones, as I feel I have added to my own education while teaching and researching Confucianism. This is an education that concerns not only knowledge but how to be a better person – something to which we could all aspire.

2. Your presentation was titled, “Confucius and Women.” How does this relate to your main interests of International Relations and Chinese studies? You noted that language itself, in both the East and West, reveals bias against women. In what ways can we become more aware of practicing general-neutral language? What tips would you provide for eliminating (or neutralising) reference to gender in our everyday vocabulary?

My presentation may not appear to be directly relevant to my discipline of International Relations but gender is also highly important in the way in which we think about global politics and especially when introducing Chinese Confucian thought to International Relations. This is because Confucianism is often misperceived as a philosophy that privileges the patriarchy and unequal relations. As I mention in my presentation this is not necessarily so. In fact Confucianism can be reformulated in 21st century terms so as to reflect the present age and a more feminist rendering of International Relations by emphasising soft power (like ‘win-win’ diplomacy and economic relations) over hard power (like competitive arms races and security alliances).

With regard to language usage, I think we can stop and consider the way in which we often adopt, often unthinkingly and be default, the masculine noun or pronoun. Instead of saying ‘man’ as a generic term for men and women or ‘he’ as shorthand for both he and she, we need to consciously replace these with gender neutral or gender inclusive terms, so that these become the ‘new normal’.

Some tips for doing this include using the plural or using both pronouns. Examples from a good website on this, ‘Guidelines for gender-neutral language’, ) are:

Example: Each participant must present his ID badge at the door.
Revised: All participants must present their ID badges at the door.

Use both pronouns without parentheses (e.g. she or he, her/him, his/hers, herself or himself).
Example: The client should receive his invoice in two weeks.
Revised: The client should receive his or her invoice in two weeks.

Another tip is using a neutral word like ‘humankind’ instead of ‘mankind’; or ‘human’, ‘person’, ‘individual’, and ‘one’ instead of ‘man’ or ‘he’.

3. What new insights did you take with you from the presentations at the symposium?

I gained new insights about the many ways that Confucianism can be understood – notably ‘There is no One Confucianism’ by Wu Xiaoming – and also about the fresh meanings for filial piety, especially coming from a Buddhist perspective. Moreover, the value of having a Buddhist speaker, the Rev. Heng Sure, at a Confucian conference is that it reminds us of the mutuality of China’s spiritual traditions. There were many insights that I took from the symposium presentations but these were the ones that stood out for me.

4. You made the conclusion in your presentation that Confucius’ ideas were not gender-specific, as the key virtue “Ren” and other virtues are gender neutral in meaning. Do you think it would be helpful for more scholars to modernise Confucius texts to adhere to gender neutrality? In what way can this be done? Where can we begin with modernising the text, but keeping the ideas consistent with the Analects?
Yes, I think it is time to replace translations of key concepts to gender neutral terms. Some scholars are doing this already, but the mainstream seems suck on the old usage. Thus we should not be saying ‘gentleman’ for junzi but another term like ‘exemplary person’, ‘morally noble person’ or ‘morally cultivated person’. The relationship of ‘older brother and younger brother’ can be called ‘siblings’ and that of ‘father and son’ can be ‘parent and child’. There are many areas that deserve this type of attention.


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