Happy Year of the Monkey!

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The editors of the Confucian Weekly Bulletin would like to wish all our readers a Happy Lunar New Year of joyous celebration and we would like to thank you for your continuous support.

As we enter in the Year of the Monkey, let’s remember that Monkey is an intelligent and confident animal while at the same time it is playful, friendly, and sociable. Hopefully we will all be able to use these wonderful qualities in the year ahead and inspire others around us!

Quote of the week:

“The Master said, To fail to speak with someone whom it is worthwhile to speak with is to waste that person. To speak with someone whom it is not worthwhile to speak with is to waste words. The wise man wastes neither people nor words.” – Analects, XV, 15.8

The Environment, Confucianism, and the Chinese Road to Development

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By Alessandro Benedetti 

Throughout 2015 the record levels of air pollution in Beijing, the busy capital of the People’s Republic of China, made news many times. Pollution has been on average very high – some days up to 25 times the approved limit – to the point of becoming hazardous for people. [1]

Although air pollution is increasingly a problem for Beijing’s inhabitants and other major cities in the country, Chinese environmental problems do not stop here. Deforestation, loss of natural resources and water pollution are part of a larger picture of the price paid for rapid economic growth

What are the Confucian teachings on the issue of the environment? Further to our earlier post, ‘Can Confucian Thought Help Us Rise above the Dome’, here are some ideas.

Although Confucian teaching is characterised as primarily humanistic, this does not cancel out environmental ethics. If anything, it adds to it. This may be seen in the idea of ‘ecological civilisation’ which combines human development with environmental protection. This is a policy which the Chinese government has endorsed and now seeks to implement, with pilot projects already underway. [2]

To think of environmental ethics as part of society is a very Confucian consideration. Confucius often referred to the connection between humanity and heaven (tianrenheyi) suggesting that all aspects of human activity should be ethically based for the creation of a harmonious society.[3] Wang Yangming (1472-1529), a Neo-Confucian scholar, wrote in his “Inquiry on the Great Learning”:

“The great man [junzi = morally noble person] regards Heaven and Earth and the myriad things as one body. He regards the world as one family and the country as one person. As to those who make a cleavage between objects and distinguish between self and others, they are small men [xiaoren = uncultivated person]. That the great man [junzi] can regard Heaven, Earth and the myriad things as one body is not because he deliberately wants to do so, but because it is natural to the humane nature of his mind that he do so.”

Although Confucius did not talk specifically in regards to the environment many later Confucian scholars elaborated on this topic.

One of the most famous early Confucian scholars, Meng Zi (Mencius, thought to have lived 372—289 BCE), was the author of what is considered to be among the earliest recorded ecological commentaries:

“The woods on Ox Mountain were once beautiful. Because they were on the edge of a large country, they have been attacked with axes and hatchets, so how could they remain beautiful? …People seeing its denuded state assume that it never had been otherwise, endowed with rich resources. Yet how can this state be the true nature of this mountain?”[4]
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From Ma Yuan’s Water Album – The Yellow River Breaches its Course (Retrieved here)
How is Confucianism helping China combat pollution?

In its quest to rise peacefully, China has always taken his own path of development. While learning from western countries, particularly the United States, China has added ‘Chinese characteristics’ to borrowed concepts, thus trying to remain faithful to its own values.

The United States although representing only 5% of the world’s total population has been responsible for the production of 22% of greenhouse gases. Far from taking the American model as a reference for its modernisation, China and its political class has had to gradually find a point of reference indigenous to its own culture.[5] This is where the blueprint of ‘ecological civilisation’ carries the Chinese cultural characteristic of humans being part of, and not separate from, Heaven and Earth.

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President Obama shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping during their meeting at the start of the climate summit in Paris. November 30, 2015 (Retrieved here)

While much is yet to be done, the increasing adoption of references by Chinese politicians, educational institutions and scholars to Confucian writings and ideals demonstrates a commitment to a more Confucian turn in development discourse. This includes the ‘Chinese dream’ of an ‘ecological civilisation’ and a real contribution to the creation of a ‘harmonious world’ in which filial piety extends to Mother Earth.

[1] http://www.theguardian.com/cities/2014/dec/16/beijing-airpocalypse-city-almost-uninhabitable-pollution-china

[2] http://thediplomat.com/2015/09/chinas-new-blueprint-for-an-ecological-civilization/

[3] http://www.international-relations.com/wbcm6-1/WbLi.htm

[4] http://www.arcworld.org/downloads/Confucian-Statement-on-Ecology.pdf

[5] Martin Lu, Rosita Dellios, R. James Ferguson (eds), Toward a Global Community: New Perspectives on Confucian Humanism (Centre for East-West Cultural and Economic Studies, Bond University, and International Confucian Association, Gold Coast, Australia, 2004).

International Symposium: Confucianism, Governance and the Emerging Economic Order

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Center for East-West Relations, Beijing Foreign Studies University

The Center for East-West Relations from Beijing Foreign Studies University invites proposals for presentations from scholars, writers and members of the business community addressing relevant issues in this area, particularly concerning:

  • Confucian business ethics
  • Anti-corruption strategies
  • ‘Win-win’ dynamics and infinite game assumptions in Chinese policies such as the new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the ‘One Road One Belt’ initiative
  • Historical Confucian attitudes towards merchants and profit
  • Confucian concepts of business management
  • New Confucian law and governance models

Proposals should be brief (approx. 200 words), including a working title and content summary, and should be emailed to cewrbeiwai@bfsu.edu.cn by September 7 2016, with full papers to be submitted by September 20 2016.

More information on writing and submitting the proposals can be found here.

Sponsored by:

A Confucian Pilgimage for Communist Party Cadres

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The great philosopher Confucius spoke over 2500 years ago about the importance of a just government. In the Analects Confucius refers to the Mandate of Heaven (Tianming), a philosophical idea that emerged during the early Zhou dynasty to describe the origin of the fairness and divine ability with which the emperor was to govern. According to this, Heaven bestowed its mandate to a just and fair ruler, the Son of Heaven (Tianzi). The mandate was to remain with a virtuousemperorbut would be withdrawn by Heaven and given to another if the prevailing emperor proved unworthy.

In this light, the Confucian teachings suggest that a troubled society requires a transformation and return to the virtues, a transformation that has to be led first by the rulers and top ranks of society in accordance with the Mandate of Heaven. [1]

This lesson is not lost on contemporary China. Earlier this month, according to Xinhua News Agency, officials of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) visited a monument dedicated to one of the most famous Confucian scholars, Mencius, in Zoucheng City in eastern China. This was part of a program of field trips to sites related to Confucius and Mencius started in 2014 by the Communist Party School of Jining.

“Confucian teachings spanning personal growth and management to economics and team leadership are invaluable tools for officials. Jining is using its history to establish itself as a center for the education of cadres,” said Ma Pingchang, secretary of the CCP-Jining committee. [2]

The CCP’s embrace of Confucianism after vilifying the philosophy as backward during the 1960s is not new. Chinese President Xi Jinping has referred to Confucian passages from the Analects in numerous speeches and addresses, as did the previous Chinese President Hu Jintao who advocate a harmonious society within China and a harmonious world internationally.

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Confucius statue at Beijing temple. Picture retrieved here. 

 G. Klosko (2011), The Oxford handbook of the History of Political Philosophy, Oxford University Press.

[2] http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2016-01/05/c_134980261.htm

The Educational Value of Confucian Art

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Religions and philosophies have always had a great impact on architecture and art throughout history. Take for instance the impact that Christianity had on centuries of European religious architecture or the outpouring of of humanistic art in the Renaissance that followed the Middle Ages.

Chinese art is no exception, with Chinese philosophy having had a great impact on the creation of art works in several East Asian cultures. The works range from paintings to calligraphy passing through music, figurative art and even architecture (Check out a previous article of the Confucian Weekly Bulletin about Confucian architecture.)

The three main spiritual traditions or philosophies of China are traditionally regarded as harmonious but distinctive. Wild and evocative landscapes are typically Taoist in inspiration, depicting the individual as only a small part of the natural world. Buddhist teachings are expressed in artwork that can also serve as a meditation aid, for example, Tibetan mandalas.

Confucian art, by comparison, has been viewed as providing an ethical and educational function for society. “The earliest wall paintings referred to in ancient texts depicted benevolent emperors, sages, virtuous ministers, loyal generals, and their evil opposites as examples and warnings to the living”; while plant or animal forms were often employed as symbols – the orchid, for instance, represents “purity and loyalty”. [1]

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Close up of the “Three Laughers at Tiger Ravine”, Kano Toshn Yoshinobu, late 18th Century. This Japanese artwork figures Confucius, Lao Tzu and Buddha meeting, symbolizing the harmony between the three philosophers and their teachings. Click here to read more about the Tiger Ravine allegory and the story behind the painting. Photo retrieved here.

Indeed, analogy is a potent educational tool often used in Confucian art. The aim of Confucian art is to embed in the artistic works the central Confucian principles of benevolent governance and moral codes. [2]

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Ink painting Six Gentlemen by Ni Zan (1301-1374), Yuan Dynasty (1206-1370). The six trees in this picture are the pine, cypress, camphor tree, Chinese scholar tree, phoebe and elm. This painting is a great example of analogy in Confucian art, the trees mentioned are in fact all Confucian symbols of moral integrity. Picture and description retrieved here. 




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Badge with Bear for 5th Rank Military Official, China, Qing Dynasty, late 19th century. This military badge with a plant and animal motif reflects Confucianism and Taoism’s ties to the natural world order. Also, these colors are very desaturated, most likely to show that the individual should be of secondary importance to the great good, an important quality for a man of the army. This badge’s flowers are in a branching pattern, to show a path of least resistance toward natural harmony. Picture and description retrieved here. 
Calligraphy In Memory of My Nephew (partial) by Yan Zhenging (709-784), Tang Dynasty (618-907). Zhenging created this piece of work to commemorate his nephew who sacrificed his life for the country. It expresses strong patriotic feelings. Although only a sketch, the swiftness of the pen’s strokes is apparent, and the gradual deepening of the shade of ink complements the white spaces on the scroll in a way that expresses grief and sadness. Picture and description retrieved here. 

[1] http://www.britannica.com/art/Chinese-art

[2] Eva Kit Wah Man, 2015. Issues of Contemporary Art and Aesthetics in Chinese Context, Springer.

“Happiness will not just fall from heaven” – Xi Jinping’s New Year Message

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In his New Year’s Eve address welcoming 2016, China’s president said great achievements were reached in 2015 but there was still much to do.

“Happiness will not just fall from heaven,” said President Xi Jinping. “We must empower ourselves with strong faith and confidence, continue to work hard, to seek innovative, coordinated and green development that is also open and shared by all”.

Central to the speech of the president has been the goal of improving the “health” of the earth, “our home” as President Xi called it. He also spoke of the poor and people at the margins of society, inviting everyone to act towards them with “warmth of heart”,  saying that it remains his priority and moral obligation to help the “tens of millions of rural populations out of poverty and to lead them to a decent life”.

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Xi Jinping delivering his New Year’s Speech on December 31st 2015. Retrieved here

Has Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party taken inspiration once again from these words of Confucius?

 “The determined scholar and the man of virtue will not seek to live at the expense of humanity. They will even sacrifice their lives to preserve their humanity.” Analects – XV.8

Read the full transcript of the speech.

Alternatively, watch the video with English subtitles.


A Confucian perspective into daily life in Taiwan

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The YouTube channel Trending Taiwan has published a short documentary that explores the impact that Confucian values have on the life of the people living on the Chinese island. The documentary shares insights on how the teachings of Confucius still affect the daily actions of Taiwanese people. The video examines innovations in the Confucian value system, as well as the inherent beauty of traditional Chinese characters.

Check out the video by clicking the image below.

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