confucian values

‘The Confucian Puzzle’ Part Two: Remonstration and Obedience ‘儒家难题’ 第二部分: 规劝和服从

Posted on


The ‘son-covering-father’ story in The Analects (13.18) has caused a lot of controversy. When the Duke of Sheh says that ‘Among us here there are those who may be styled upright in their conduct. If their father have stolen a sheep, they will bear witness to the fact’, Confucius replies that ‘Among us, in our part of the country, those who are upright are different from this. The father conceals the misconduct of the son, and the son conceals the misconduct of the father. Uprightness is to be found in this [italics added].” The implication is that not disclosing a crime is morally acceptable if the criminal is a family member, raising the question as to whether filial obligation should override civil obligations or social justice. The passage mirrors a section of Plato’s Euthyphro, which examines whether prosecuting one’s father is a pious thing to do. Sophocles’s Antigone explores a similar theme by showing the struggles of Antigone and the dispute between obeying the laws of the gods, familial loyalty, and social decency.

In the last article on the Confucian Puzzle, valuing family as much as moral integrity and human worth failed to justify why the son should cover for his father’s theft. For example, if Xiao (love for the family) is understood as a convenient setting to develop love towards others (Ren), then the son is morally obliged to report the father since he would be in a position of extending family love towards others and sacrificing the means of family love towards the more important principle of loving others. On the other hand, if Xiao is of equal importance or at least as important as Ren, it is unclear how one should decide which principle to compromise. To assume that turning the father in to authorities would do more harm for the father than the sheep owner is only speculative. Imagine that the stolen sheep was the sheep owner’s only income, the last sheep in his stock, or the only meal left for his family. In such a case, surely covering for the father would do the sheep owner more harm since he would have no means of claiming compensation or recovering his stolen stock. Finally, the claim that Xiao should simply never be compromised also does not answer the puzzle. In a life-threatening situation, there is no moral reason why the son should not report the father as valuing Xiao as tradition does not adequately justify why valuing family love is more important than all other virtues.

Another approach to solving the puzzle is mentioned in Li’s (2012) article. The solution involves understanding different value systems. If family as a whole is more important than each individual and is prioritised in society, then the son should preserve his family’s flourishing by covering his father’s crime. But there are two problems with this conclusion. On the one hand, the meaning of ‘family flourishing’ is unclear. Does family flourishing refer to an increase of wealth, the closeness of the whole family, or the well-being of each family member? Likewise, individual flourishing can also mean wealth, psychological and social well-being, or even the capacity to face adversity (Faulk et al., 2012). To sacrifice individual flourishing for family flourishing is a tricky argument as there are no guidelines as to how one determines that the quality and quantity of the family’s flourishing should outweigh the quantity and quality of the individual’s or the sheep-owner’s flourishing. Such an argument essentially involves the utilitarian approach of satisfying the preferences of the majority over the minority.

When applied at large, ordering society based on familial flourishing could lead to discrimination and prejudice. Suppose that a society made of family units valued harmony within and between families. Reporting abuse in a family would risk disgracing the family, upsetting other family members, and exposing the culprit, resulting in strained family relations. So, it could be argued that keeping quiet about family abuse would be justified as it would avoid risking any damage to familial flourishing. Structuring the economy around familial wealth, where businesses and companies were all run by families, would also create an unfair advantage to in-group members (those in the families) while discriminating against qualified non-familial members. This produces a counter-intuitive moral system and goes against the Confucian ideal where humaneness is developed by setting others up and achieving access for others (The Analects, 6.30). The emphasis on Xiao, while relevant to understanding ideas of learning and devotion during the Zhou era in China, need to be taken in context. As Eno (2015) highlights, “References to filiality concern sons… it seems to tacitly assume that its readers, and the only people who matter in public society, are men. In this sense, it fails to escape the social norms of its time” (p. 6). A fundamentalist position of structuring society around familial flourishing over individual flourishing fails to take Confucian teachings and apply them to the real world.

Huang (2017) provides an alternative understanding to the case. He starts his discussion by explaining Xiao more broadly. When describing filial piety or family love, it is often assumed that to be filial involves being obedient. For instance, Confucius says that “the young should shoulder the hardest chores or that the eldest are served food and wine first at meals” (The Analects, 2.8), and that only by following and observing the father’s conduct three years after his death can the son be called filial (1.11). The act of complying with the father’s authority and dutifully carrying out his conduct shows that filiality is associated with obedience. However, as The School Sayings of Confucius (Kongzi Jiayu) states,

If a father has a remonstrating child, he will not fall into doing things without propriety; and if a scholar has a remonstrating friend, he will not do immoral things. So how can a son who merely obeys the parents be regarded as filial, and a minister who merely obeys the ruler be regarded as loyal? To be filial and loyal is to examine what to follow. (bk 9, p. 57)

Rather than understanding filial piety as blind obedience, the passage emphasises the importance of ‘remonstration’ or arguing in protest. As a result, it is only right to obey one’s parents if they ask about right things. If they ask for obedience for morally corrupt things, such as murder, then the filial child should protest against the parents’ actions. In the Xunzi, this idea is reinforced,

There are three scenarios in which filial children ought not to obey their parents: (1) if their obedience will endanger their parents, while their disobedience will make their parents safe…(2) if obedience will bring disgrace to their parents, while disobedience will bring [sic] honor to their parents…(3) if obedience will lead to the life of a beast, while disobedience will lead to a civilised life (29.2)

The passage concludes by stating that only by understanding when to obey and when not to obey can one practice reverence, respect, loyalty, and act with sincerity. Although obedience is important, since acting correctly and obediently is what creates harmony and respect, obedience without thought and reflection amounts to empty ritual.

The way in which remonstration is carried out is also important. Referencing the Book of Rites, Huang (2012) shows that filial children should not shout or assault their parents. Instead, one ought to “remonstrate with low tone, nice facial expression, and soft voice” (Liji 12.15). The important point is that the manner in which remonstration is carried out needs to be gentle and considerate so as to continue being respectful and righteous. Shouting or assaulting, even with good intention, could make the situation worse by upsetting one’s parents and resulting in disharmony. So, while it is wrong to stop remonstrating, it is also wrong to remonstrate incorrectly, that is, in a way that makes the situation worse and one’s parents even more angry. The extent to which remonstration should be carried out is also highlighted in the Book of Rites. As passage 12.15 points out, one ought to remain filial,

If they [one’s parents] are happy, you ought to resume gentle remonstration; if they are not happy, however, instead of letting your parents cause harm to your neighbors, you ought to use an extreme form of remonstration. If at this extreme form of remonstration your parents get angry and unhappy, hitting you with hard whips, you still ought not to complain about them; instead you ought to remain reverent and filial to them.

Rather than letting one’s parents commit a bad deed, efforts at remonstration should not be given up. Even when physically and mentally exhausted, the child has a duty to remonstrate repeatedly until the parents stop committing their wrongdoings.

When applying the understanding of Xiao as obedience and remonstration to the son-covering-father story, then it is clear that the actions of the child must be conducive to ensuring the parents’ well-being. That is the first concern for the child. The reason why Confucius emphasised non-disclosure or concealing the father’s wrongdoings relates to remonstration. Remonstrating works best if protesting against the parents’ actions is conducted in an intimate setting and carried out in a gentle manner, creating “an atmosphere favourable to such remedies” (Huang, 2012, p. 32). While there is no guarantee that giving parents space will create a favourable situation for correcting their wrongdoings, the son’s non-disclosure becomes a morally correct action as it aims to rectify not only the wrong carried out by the father but also giving the son a chance to confront and rectify the wrong-doer.

It should be noted that Confucius does not say that a filial child obstructs justice when authorities are investigating or that authorities should not investigate the case. Concealing, in this sense, does not refer to active concealment or taking part in the father’s crime. Rather, Confucius emphasises the importance of passive concealment (not reporting the father) as the correct action to remonstrate until the father corrects his actions. The passage in which the ‘son-covering-father’ story takes place does not state what correcting the father’s actions looks like. The idea of justice in Confucianism needs to be further explored.

Individuality and Authenticity in Confucianism 儒家思想中的个性与真实性

Posted on Updated on


Authenticity can mean many different things. According to Ballentine (2011), authentic is that which is genuine or real. An item from the store can be considered authentic if that item is made from the material the seller claims it is. So, a real watch or a genuine purse contrasts with a watch or purse made from less valuable material. While the less-valuable watch would still be a ‘watch’ that measures time, the fact that it is made from material other than what the seller claims it was made from makes the watch cheap, worthless, and in-authentic.

Rodriguez (2015) extends the definition of authenticity to people when he claims that authenticity means trustworthy and reliable. In other words, a person is considered authentic if they are what they claim to be. If person A states that she is honest and tells the truth to her friend, it follows that person A is an authentic person. She has proven to be reliable by doing what she said she would do, i.e: tell the truth. While person A would still be a physical person whether or not she told the truth, following through with being honest is what gives her the attribute of authenticity. Thus, authenticity is a social value that does not exist in the natural world: “what is taken as authentic is a social construction rather than an objective fact” (Carroll, 2009, p. 4).

Understanding authentic personhood (what it means to be a ‘real’ person) goes beyond being honest when one claims to be honest, and raises questions about how to live in the world and what it means to genuinely experience life. In Western philosophy, this question has been extensively explored where ‘being in the world’ means to think (Descartes), to be conscious (Kant), or to imagine (Hume). For Descartes, for example, to be an authentic being with an identity means to doubt and inquire. “I know that I exist and that nothing else belongs to my nature or essence except that I am a thinking thing” (Meditations VI, p. 29). In Confucianism however, the idea of individuality or self is not adequately explored. As Chen (2015) states, the idea that Confucian ethics is antipathy to individuality is a mistake as there are plenty of references to the self in both The Great Learning and The Analects. While emphasised by most Confucian texts, the value of authenticity is also often ignored and dismissed by scholars in the West. To address this gap, this article discusses both authenticity and the self in Confucian philosophy.

While there is no direct reference to what the self is in Confucian teachings, the doctrine highlights that humans are different from other beings. The Analects states, “an authentic person is not a vessel” (2.12). Personhood consists in zhixiang or having a sense of meaning in life. This means that experiencing the self and the world is about committing to some purpose: “the way of humanity consists in learning broadly, acting firmly on one’s zhixiang, inquiring seriously, and reflecting critically” (The Analects, 9.6). To have purpose and to act on that purpose is therefore what distinguishes humans from other beings. Since Confucianism is concerned with establishing harmony with others, the idea of purpose or zhixiang usually refers to ethical aspirations and concern for the common good (Chen, 2004). This relates to Heidegger’s (1962) definition of authenticity. According to Heidegger, to be oneself in the world (what he calls Dasdein or ‘being-there’) is to be in relation. Relation here refers to what one is at any moment and what one can be as life unfolds in endless possibilities. Over the course of one’s life, identity and being are always in question: “we are always projections into the future, incessantly taking a stand on who we are” (Varga, 2014). Being authentic or representing one’s self truly comes down to ownership or ‘being one’s own’, implying that to exist fully in the world means to own up to what one is and what one does. Zhixiang in Confucianism says the same thing. With a purpose, a person is able to own up to their existence by having a firm vision of how their existence should be. Without it, people “are like ships without helms…wandering around and losing in direction” (Wang, 1986, p. 26). Consistent thoughts, actions, beliefs, and choices in accordance with zhixiang allows one to focus on existence and become an authentic being.

In addition to purpose, creativity also develops the individual. Whereas zhixiang provides the self with a vision and meaning, creativity is what drives or energizes the self. In The Great Learning, it is written that “If you can renovate yourself one day, then you can do so every day, and keep doing so day after day” (Tu, 1978, p. 37). Renovating, constructing, and producing are all ways of accessing the authentic self. Creativity, in this sense, is related to ownership and originality. To be creative is to truly exist on one’s own terms as creatively gives the self energy to construct and pursue zhixiang. The Doctrine of the Mean states, “only those with the greatest sincerity under heaven can fulfil their nature” (ch. 22). Making use of one’s potentials enables the self to strive for an ethical life in which ritual, kindness, and justice can be established wherever one is.

The third attribute that makes up personhood and authentic existence is critical thinking. Like the Socratic dictum, the unexamined life is not worth living, Confucianism emphasises self-examination as a way of establishing truth, value, and meaning to existence. For instance, in The Analects Master Zeng is recorded to have said, “each day I examine myself upon three points. In planning for others, have I been loyal? In company with friends, have I been trustworthy? And have I practiced what has been passed on to me?” (1.4). Critical thinking means reflecting upon one’s action and inquiring about what one is learning in addition to reflecting and inquiring about other people’s actions and learning. As Chen (2004) notes, “without thinking things over, we cannot understand the truth of Being and be free of self-deception” (p. 19). Critical inquiry provides the setting or means to which one can be creative and pursue a sense of purpose. With it, authentic life can be experienced to a greater degree.

Finally, the most important aspect to living an authentic life is sincerity. Sincerity resembles loyalty and trustworthiness in that it means to ‘be true to oneself’. To be sincere is to not veer from the position one holds or strive to appear otherwise than one ought to (Varga, 2014). It is, as Trilling (1972) states, “the sense of being sound, or pure, or whole; or consistent in its virtuousness” (p. 12-13). In Islam, sincerity is one of the most important aspects of religious duty. For instance, Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq notes that “sincerity of action lies in this that you should not desire anyone to praise you for it except God Almighty, and intention supersedes action. Lo, verily, intention is action itself.” Al-Sadiq’s statement highlights that sincerity involves having the right intentions as whether or not one carries out a religious duty correctly, the merit of that action will be based on the truthful feelings, beliefs, and thoughts of the believer. Or as the Qur’an (17:84) states, “in accordance with his character (shakilatihi)”, which refers to the believer’s way or manner. One of the oldest elaborations of sincerity is found in chapter 20 of The Doctrine of the Mean: “To be sincere is the way of heaven. To become sincere is the way of mankind. If you are sincere you will reach the center without force”. Thus, developing sincerity is the way to establishing personhood. Since sincerity is an essential component to practicing the moral way, being sincere relates to sincerity to self and others. Only by cultivating ‘right’ emotions can a person genuinely be benevolent, righteous, and wise. Without it, ritual would be empty, kindness would be false, and practice would have no meaning. Insincerity would not only involve deceiving and diminishing others, but putting on a mask and becoming disconnected from the world.

Although individualism does not exist in Confucian thought – all individuals are relational beings that exist through and are defined by other people – it is incorrect to state that “we ought to make it a point to avoid speaking of ‘the self’ in Confucius” (Fingarette, 1991, p. 199, cited in Ames, 2011, p. 125). There is no denying that the self exists. Being an ethical person is predicated on the assumption that a subjective, metaphysical self is required to carry out one’s ethical duties and develop harmonious relationships with others. Building authentic personhood by finding purpose, being creative, inquiring critically, and carrying out sincerely is what gives one the means of relating to and being with others. It is what gives one humanity.

Beyond the Headlines: Chinese Cultural Values and Tourism Behaviour 中国文化价值观与旅游行为

Posted on

In the past decade, Chinese tourists have made international headlines for all the wrong reasons. From setting fire to curtains inside aeroplane cabins to hurdling noodles over flight attendants, news publications have repeatedly asked ‘Why are Chinese tourists so badly behaved?’. Following a quick online search, it is not uncommon to come across articles that list the top 10 most embarrassing Chinese tourists moments or personal recounts of bad Chinese tourist experiences. As one restaurant owner stated in an Aljazeera news report: “They don’t say hello, they don’t speak French, they don’t speak English…One woman came in here and spat on the floor.”

Chinese Tourism

Image: Maxxelli Consulting (2014). Understanding China’s Outbound Tourism. Retrieved June 4th, 2017 from here.

With one in ten travellers worldwide coming from China, however, these reports ignore the significant impact that Chinese tourists have on businesses worldwide. As the World Tourism Organisation reported in 2013, with an increase of 70 million tourists travelling beyond China since 2000, Chinese tourists spent US$102 billion overseas in 2012 alone, making China the world’s biggest spender on foreign travel. Despite these figures, opinion articles that make general assumptions about Chinese tourists as rude, uncultured and ill-mannered reveal that the majority of Chinese tourists are misrepresented and unknown to foreign publics. As academics in hospitality and tourism management Fu, Cai and Lehto (2017) note, there is even a lack of understanding in the literature on what drives the Chinese to travel, and how culture can influence the behaviour of tourists abroad.

The main problem is that while Chinese tourist motivations have been frequently explored, most research has relied on Western paradigms and frameworks that use existing dimensions and terms, such as prestige, romance, and autonomy (Fu et al., 2017), to frame what Chinese tourists desired most or expected to gain from their travel experience. Without completely contrasting Chinese tourist behaviour with their Western equivalents, Fu et al. (2012) state that it needs to be recognised that many Chinese travellers display characteristics driven by their cultural roots. As theorists such as Max Webber (1951) and Geert Hofstede (1980) argued decades before, this means that Chinese people are strongly influenced by the teachings of Confucius (551-479 BC).

Whether this refers to valuing concepts such as ren 仁, which can be understood as “tolerance, forgiveness, deference, filial obedience (to parents), faithfulness (to master), wisdom…” (Lu, 1983, p. 29); the moral force of li 礼, which governs correct and appropriate behaviours in relationships; or xin 信 as representative of sincerity and trustworthiness, the individual in Chinese culture is never an individual in the Western sense. Each self in Confucianism is part of a human relationship where individuals are obligated to act and treat others according to Confucian virtues. Fulfilling these obligations adds to the growth and structure of the self, which ultimately builds a stable social and political structure of the state (Kwek & Lee, 2010).

As “one of the most prominent and enduring cultural influences within the East Asian region” (Ng & Lee, 2014, p. 150), Confucianism may provide a cultural backdrop to explain motivational drivers for tourists. In recent years, two main studies were conducted to test whether Confucianism did play a role in influencing the behaviour and motivation of Chinese tourists. The first was a qualitative report where Kwek and Lee (2010) from Griffith University interviewed and observed Mainland Chinese nationals visiting Australia on a corporate/leisure trip. The total participants in the study consisted of 10 guided tours of 64 people, of whom 55 were male and nine were females. For Fu, Cai and Lehto’s (2017) quantitative report, a scale was developed that applied Confucian life domains of self, family, social life, society, and nature to a survey questionnaire that was tested on 507 Chinese residents in Hangzhou who had taken leisure trips prior to the sampling period.

Both studies had similar results: the primary motivation for tourists was to achieve harmony, whether with nature or in existing relationships. While harmony is identified in other motivational frameworks (Pearce & Lee, 2005), maintaining harmony for these tourists has to be understood within a Chinese context. For example, ancient Chinese philosophies like Daoism and Confucianism have long held the view that humans and nature are a unified entity, which diverges from the subject-object relationship between culture and nature in the West (Tang, 2015). As a result, seeking harmony with nature is not a surprising theme in China’s tourism tradition and goes beyond aesthetic appreciation to a means of pursuing wisdom by enjoying simplicity. On harmony within relationships, the majority of Kwek and Lee’s participants noted the importance of avoiding conflict and seeking harmony within group settings (p. 137). As one Chinese tourist from Beijing commented:

“The Chinese people have, for centuries, cultivated the habit to strive for harmony in every situation and as long as everyone is happy, we are also happy to oblige” (Male, early-50s, businessman).

Harmony here refers to peace, acting in an appropriate manner, and having good relationships with others. Given the hierarchical and collectivist aspect of Chinese social settings, harmonious relationships function as a way of promoting personal connections and social norms, such as loyalty and obligation (Chen & Chen, 2004).

Other themes that emerged when observing how Chinese tourists behaved included respect for authority and conformity. In every corporate/leisure tour group for instance, a leader who held the highest social status would take charge in making decisions for the group. To show respect, Kwek and Lee write that members would always look towards the leader for directions and decisions as a way of protecting his or her social face. Whether this involved choosing a restaurant or what activities to do next, members would suppress their personal preferences to conform to the interests of the leader so as not to appear ‘deviant’ (p. 134). Although there are some setbacks to Chinese vertical relationships, including overconcentrating power at the top and leaving little or no room for group initiatives, the underlying idea of respecting authority is to maintain harmony and avoid conflict at all costs.

Finally, in terms of motivations or what Chinese tourists sought to get out of their trip, family togetherness was rated as the second-highest motivation factor (Fu et al., 2017). In that sense, whether touring as a group or in a family setting, maintaining integrity in relationships and developing bonds with others is what influenced why Chinese tourists travelled and how they were expected to behave abroad.

While limited to only two studies, these findings show more to the behaviour and action of Chinese tourists than what reaches the headlines, and provide valuable information for industry practitioners interested in developing desirable vacation experiences to Chinese tourists, particularly when translated into marketing and promotional guidelines. Promoting the potential of a destination should emphasise personal and relationship goals of Chinese tourists and how places can fulfil motivational needs. In the regional context as well, Confucianism as a cultural tradition goes beyond mainland China and includes locations such as Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and Singapore. Developing a deeper understanding of what drives Confucian-heritage societies could become a lucrative market base as most of these growing middle-class markets have a propensity to spend on travel (Fu et al., 2017).

For academia, these studies also show the importance of trying to understand phenomena from a non-Western perspective, especially when Western theories and frameworks are not suitable to discuss non-Western settings. As one of the major philosophies of Chinese culture that influences the social and political dynamics of Chinese society as well as the personal and social dynamics of everyday life, understanding Chinese tourist behaviour and motivations from a Confucian background provides a greater understanding of the relationship between culture and tourism.

Five Recent News Reports on Confucianism 关于儒家的消息

Posted on Updated on

Increasingly, news agencies are operating in an environment where they are competing to be first with the news as the 24 hour news cycle continues to redefine the work of international reporters. Despite this obsession with the news and daily events, only a few news broadcasts have reported on Confucianism in the past three months. Here are five recent news articles that discuss issues relating to Confucian thought.

  1. The Buddhist roots of Confucianism (La Trobe University News, 01/03/2017)


Image: See here.

In China and throughout the world, Confucianism is presented as a native system of ideas that developed independent of external cultural influence for over two thousand years. Indeed, despite being vilified for much of the twentieth century, Confucianism is thought to represent true and ideal Chinese cultural values that are an integral part of China’s social and cultural identity.

However, in this article, Professor John Makeham from the Chinese Studies Research Centre at La Trobe University argues that despite being thought of as a set of traditions that can only be understood by its internal norms and premises, Confucianism was in fact shaped and influenced by Indian Buddhist philosophy.

While the short article only references the Treatise on the Awakening of Mahayana Faith, a key Buddhist text, as “pivotal…in the construction of modern forms of Confucian philosophy” without providing further information about which passages directly link to Confucian thought, the idea that Confucianism was influenced by Buddhist traditions runs counter to many interpretations of Chinese history that see Buddhism as an “anomaly that led China astray from her ‘predestined’ humanism” (Hu Shi, 1937 in Lai, 1975, p. ii).

In that sense, without dismissing Makeham’s claims, further research should be focused on finding how different legacies of thought have made up China’s rich and complex philosophical traditions.

   2.  Confucius blocks change in South Korea (The Japan Times, 02/03/2017)Korea

Image: See here.

The 2006 corruption scandal around Chung Mong-koo, the chairman of the Hyundai Motor Co. Ltd., is now an old example of the ongoing bribery and corruption scandals in many of South Korea’s “chaebols” or family-run business groups. However, as the author of the article Michael Schuman states, even with the many recent reports on chaebol-related crimes including tax evasion for Korean companies, chaebols are expected to stay.

“The much-maligned conglomerates that dominate South Korea’s economy may be facing investigations…and unprecedented public anger [but] unless the culture that binds management, investors and other stakeholders changes dramatically, the chaebol will almost certainly survive.”

For Schuman, the main cultural influence that has informed chaebol structure and performance is Confucianism, which stresses loyalty to authority. In other words, reverence for the emperor and obedience to one’s superiors (see The Analects 1:2, 1:7 and 1:13), has for many South Korean workers directly translated into obedience to company founders and their families, who Schuman argues, “are treated like royalty”.

While this opinion-piece does not offer many sources or examples of how Confucianism directly leads to corrupt business practice, similar arguments have been presented by Chinese writers like Jin (2011), who link guanxi connections or informal networks that are “deeply rooted in Confucianism” (p. 2), as inherent to economic corruption.

However, to go beyond the simple binary of ‘Confucianism as corrupt’ versus ‘Confucianism as not corrupt’, these writers should examine the many different interpretations of Confucianism and how the importance of relationships (renqing) can be used, but is not in itself necessary, for corrupt business practices.

3.  Hard times for feminists in China (Sup China, 08/03/2017)Chinese feminists

Image: See here.

In January this year, more than half a million people showed up for the Women’s March in Washington D.C. to protest against American President Donald Trump’s remarks about women and abortion rights. While similar protests were seen around the world, women’s voices in China were notably silent.

With nearly one-sixth of the world’s female population, women in China struggle to have their voices heard as mass rallies and street protests are rarely allowed in public spaces. Online, Chinese feminists also note that one needs to be careful about writing certain words or phrases. As Asian Studies Ph.D. student Cecilia Xu states in Feng’s article, “we couldn’t even include words like march (游行 yóuxíng) or protest (抗议 kàngyì) in our group’s name.”

Indeed, any discussion on women’s rights is at the risk of being blocked by censors. Despite this, public attention through online discussion boards has remained the main tool that women use to talk about women’s issues at a time when the ‘one child’ policy has been abandoned in an effort by government to boost birth rates and curb the demographic decline.

According to Feng, it is clear that much of the government’s rhetoric about women’s roles finds its roots in Confucian ideology, which enhances its legitimacy. For example, “the Confucian family value that the government aims to instil in women’s minds is nothing other than stay-at-home motherhood”. Obedient wives and the ‘right’ way of conduct for women is thought to be not only at the core of a stable family, but a building block of a harmonious society.

While some academics (see Li, 1994 as an example) do state that the Confucian ethics of ren (benevolence, humaneness) directly relates to the feminist ethics of care, Feng highlights that there is little hope on the horizon for Chinese women. With increasing counter rhetoric against women online, the ongoing arrest and detention of women’s groups like the Feminist Five, and a general decrease in women’s rights even in liberal societies such as the United States, suggests that the future for Chinese women remains stuck in a period of uncertainty.

  4.  Foot-binding and Ruism (Confucianism) (The Huffington Post, 17/03/2017)Foot-Binding

Image: See here.

Even though it is difficult to find statements in classic Confucian texts that promote the practice of foot-binding, Confucian philosopher and practitioner Bin Song argues that “the sociological and philosophical foundation of Ruism (Confucianism) did provide a rich soil that allowed foot-binding to flourish.”

In particular, the aim of creating harmony and stability in society meant that Confucianism was used to justify a hierarchy of social class and familial relations, which included relations between husband and wife. As a result, the basic form of Confucian ethics allowed the increasing popular practice of foot-binding as it was seen as a means of cultivating womanly virtues such as chastity and female propriety.

Despite this, Bin also notes that opposition from Confucian scholars did exist through the development of the foot-binding custom. Most notably, the well-known Ruist Che Ruoshui (1210-1275 C.E) is known for his comment on Mencius’ thought about accumulating rightful deeds when he argues:

“If people cannot help having a feeling of alarm and commiseration when they see a baby falling into a well, can we not help having exactly the same feeling when we see our young daughters have to bind their feet?”

In other words, as well as going against the practice of humaneness, which is about the flourishing of human life in dynamic and harmonious relationships, as well as filiality, which includes “not injuring one’s body”, the article concludes that contemporary Confucian scholars have a responsibility to be aware of harmful social norms that can be justified through particular interpretations of Confucian texts.

5.  The Indian Communist (Millennium Post, 24/03/2017)Vietnamese

Image: See here.

In this article, Dr. Arniban Ganguly, director of the Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation which focuses on issues that are of importance to India’s national interest, argues that unlike Indian communists who call to break up the motherland and overthrow the very idea of India, Vietnam has a “unique capacity of blending Marxism with Confucianism and Nationalism…[striking] deeper roots in their civilizational identity and wisdom, while also working to evolve themselves in a modern nation state”.

In that sense, what can be learned from Vietnam’s and possibly China’s ability to retain their civilizational rootedness while driving their countries forward is the ability to use past knowledge and tradition to adapt to evolving times and “be remarkably open to the wider world”.

For India, Prime Minister Modi’s new foreign policy that is inspired by India’s “civilizational ethos” has sought to blend ideas like realism, co-existence, cooperation, and partnership, which have developed from classical Hindu texts and writers including Kautilya and Gandhiji.

However, as the author notes, India’s ability to move ahead is restrained by many groups such as the communists who reject Bharat (India) and refuse “to acknowledge her civilisational dimension”. While the author’s conclusion that the promotion of India’s many nationalities may be its undoing, the article does provide an interesting discussion point on the use of tradition in modern politics, and whether in the long-run arguing for a particular interpretation of the classics may do more harm than good.

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

Posted on Updated on

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.



Confucianism and Domestic Violence

Posted on

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.

Education, Family Harmony and Individual Recognition celebrated through Confucian Architecture

Posted on Updated on

Img Cred: Rosita Dellios
Img Cred: Rosita Dellios

Multi-tiered roofs, beautifully designed archways and magnificent temples and residences; these are prominent characteristics of traditional Confucian architecture. These elements were carefully depicted through the application of Confucian values. Confucian values and their architectural representations can help strengthen the correlation between Confucianism and architecture.

The Confucian Temple as an Educational Institution 

In order to commemorate Confucius, Chinese people built Confucian temples to honour his contribution to Chinese culture. (4) Confucian temples were built in county schools throughout the empire, either to the front of or on one side of the school. Still to this day, Confucian temples represent knowledge and education, rather than worship alone. Confucian temples are often referred to without “Confucius” in the title. For example, the Confucian temple located in Beijing is named the Ancient University and the Confucian temple in Hanoi, Vietnam, is known as the Temple of Literature. These alternative names of Confucian temples represent the educational values that Confucius stood for. Furthermore, these temples would contain stone inscriptions on carved turtles displaying the names of successful students from the days of imperial China.

Img Credit: Rosita Dellios
Img Credit: Rosita Dellios

Unlike Daoist or Buddhist temples, Confucian temples do not normally contain images. (5) This absence emphasised the teaching of Confucius and not the worshiping of the teacher himself. Statues have appeared because it satisfies people’s needs to identify with Confucius. Often times, people will pay respect to Confucius by leaving items such as a basket of flowers, as seen in the photo below.

Img Cred: Rosita Dellios
Img Cred: Rosita Dellios

Harmonious Social System Maintained through Architectural Design

Confucian thought was the core of China’s hierarchical social system. (1)  The hierarchical Confucian code of conduct influenced the residential design of courtyards.  The sections and walls within courtyards were distinctly separated in order to represent the hierarchical social system as well as the Confucian influenced value of superior/subordinate relationships, for example the relationship of parent/child.

In courtyard residences, the centre of the courtyard was thought to be superior and most significant while the sides were less so. The north end of the courtyard was highly desirable as it faced south and received the most sunlight. This choice location was therefore used by the head of the household, or by family elders. (2)  Additionally, the emperor of China sat on his throne and faced south. This was a traditional form of conduct and these values were reflected in the placing of important figures within residential courtyards and palaces.

According to Confucian family order, the east and west ends were occupied by the younger generation. The courtyard was a self-enclosed world that represented safety and harmony. Within it, relationships were defined by Confucian values and space was allocated accordingly (1)

Today, a sense of the courtyard has been preserved through the use of hutongs, not only for family, but community usage as well.

Img Credit:
Img Credit:

Individuals Commemorated through Memorial Arches 

memorial arch
Img Credit:

Highly honourable individuals exhibiting a certain Confucian virtue were often commemorated through memorial arches. These arches served as a way to honour the deeds of people and offered insight into the social values of the time. The names of those who were honourable were scripted on the arch and a formal application process was in place if the public deemed the person no longer worthy of commendation. (3)


5. Sommer, Deborah (2002). “Destroying Confucius: Iconoclasm in the Confucian Temple”. On Sacred Grounds: Culture, Society, Politics and the Formation of the Cult of Confucius: 95–133.