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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rosita dellios image

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
Image Credit: Hanban.org

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

Confucianism, Harmony and Humanity

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Panel 3

The 2015 International Symposium: Confucianism and Modern Society provided us with thought provoking discussion to last a lifetime. Over the following weeks we would like to introduce the presentations of each Panel Discussion which took place during the symposium. This week we start with discussing the panel on Confucianism, Harmony and Humanity. We invite you to review each presentation and provide your own opinion and thought by participating in our new Online Discussion Forum! This discussion forum serves as an online continuation of the symposium and a place where ideas and new thought can be expressed. After reviewing each presentation you are encouraged to provide your feedback. So, sit back with your favourite cuppa and enjoy some food for thought! We look forward to continuing our discussion!

Browse the Panel Discussion presentations on Confucianism, Harmony and Humanity:

Wu Xiaoming Opening Presentation

There is no One Confucianism
by Wu Xiaoming

James Ferguson Opening Presentation

Confucian Harmony: From Social Inclusion to Cosmopolitanism
by Dr James Ferguson

Haiming Wen Opening Presentation

The Significance of Chinese Thought in the Contemporary World
by Professor Haiming Wen