Understanding Taiwanese Confucianism 台湾的儒家

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Taiwanese Confu
Image: China Daily (2011). Confucius’ birthday celebrated in Taiwan. Retrieved June 12, 2017 from

Over the past decade, academic circles have been increasingly interested in exploring the relationship between Confucianism and modernization in East Asia. The term “East Asian Confucianism” means Confucian traditions in East Asian countries that have had cultural and economic links with China, including Korea, Japan, Vietnam as well as other political units that developed later, such as Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong (Little & Reed, 1989).

Although Confucian traditions have varied across the region according to the ideological positions of different governments, most East Asian countries have faced common problems in the pursuit of modernization where traditional systems have either collapsed or weakened. The most significant example of this was the decline of Confucian ideology where East Asian scholars condemned Confucianism to the “dustbin” of history as it was thought to oppose progress and modernity in both Capitalist and Communist economies.

But with the restoration of Confucian traditions in the 1980s, Confucianism again reappeared as an influential philosophy. As David L. Hall and Roger T. Ames note in Thinking Through Confucius (1987), the renewed interest in Confucianism has been so profound that many scholars identified the revival as a ‘Confucian renaissance’ in mainland China, Japan, and South Korea. However, what was commonly ignored in most of these studies was the various versions of Confucianism across East Asia, with “relatively little written about Confucianism in Taiwan” (Huang, 2009, p. 71).

Before explaining why this gap in the literature exists, some context should be given. Taiwan has had an independent identity apart from mainland China for more than a century. To quote Professor June Teufel Dreyer (2003) from the University of Miami, “the Polynesian cultures of the aboriginal tribes, occupations of varying lengths and degrees of intensity by the Spanish, Portuguese, and Dutch, 50 years of colonization by an assimilationist Japan, and a period of strong American influence after World War II” (p. 1) have all shaped the development of a distinct Taiwanese culture.

Despite this, Taiwan became increasingly sinicized under Chiang Kai-shek and the Chinese Nationalist Party during the founding years of the People’s Republic. For example, streets were re-named with place-names from the Mainland, while Mandarin was learnt as the official language in Taiwan. Those who disobeyed and spoke Taiwanese, Hakka or aboriginal dialects were “fined, slapped, or subjected to other disciplinary actions” (Dreyer, 2003, p. 2). As history textbooks were rewritten and memorials re-created to fit into a national Chinese past, popular culture was also influenced by China. As well as restricting non-Mandarin shows and films, performers who spoke non-Mandarin parts tended to be portrayed as criminals or those with low-status jobs, giving the impression that not speaking Mandarin was associated with being from the lower class (Schmitt, 2011).

Because of this process, Confucianism in Taiwan was commonly understood in one of two ways. The first was where Confucianism as a tradition originating in China was merely planted in Taiwan with its universal elements not being localised. In that sense, “Taiwanese Confucianism” could be understood as just another representation of ‘cultural China’, relating to Tu’s (1991) idea of China as existing in three symbolic universes. The first consists of China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore, whose members are predominantly ethnic Chinese; the second of Chinese communities in predominantly non-Chinese societies; and the third of non-Chinese individuals who study and bring Chinese culture into their own communities. Confucianism in Taiwan belongs to the first universe of cultural China.

The other characterisation of Confucianism in Taiwan is that of a localised version of Confucianism without universal significance. As Chen (2009) notes, “historically speaking, ‘Taiwanese Confucianism’ during the Ming and Qing dynasties was nothing more than the ‘Taiwan branch’ of the Fujian School” (p. 11). What this means is that as the first Confucius Temple was built in Taiwan in 1665, and Confucianism became a key part of Taiwanese architecture, education, and national rites, this localised branch of Confucianism has only ever been significant in Taiwan.

However, the reality of how Confucianism developed in Taiwan is much more complex. On the one hand, Confucianism was applied to serve political ends as certain ideological values of Confucian thought, such as loyalty, patriotism, and filial piety, were promoted by the government in standardized textbooks (Huang, 2009). Specifically in the postwar period, certain facets were also selected by political elites to create an “official Confucianism”, whose goal was to support the state ideology by creating a highly selective interpretation of Confucian ideology. This sort of misinterpretation and misapplication of Taiwanese Confucianism was not an exceptional occurrence in history. Even in China, at the start of Emperor Wu’s reign during the Han dynasty (140–86 BCE), all non-Confucian schools were banned as Confucianism was utilized and distorted by the officialdom (Huang, 2009).

At the same time, in contrast to official Taiwanese Confucianism, Confucianism was also interpreted by intellectuals such as Xu Fuguan (1902–1982), as it became a key school of thought to resisting foreign influence. In Development of Confucianism in Taiwan, Chen Chao-ying (2014) pointed out that Confucianism in Taiwan led the territory to oppose the Qing and support reinstatement of the Ming, criticize Japanese occupation, and resist wholesale Westernization during the period after Second World War. In that case, clashes between the Taiwanese and Japanese and the incoming Mainlanders after 1945 shows that the cultural and intellectual tradition in Taiwan was diverse, complex, and multifaceted.

As the revival of Confucianism continues throughout East Asia, the history of Confucian development is not as clear-cut as is usually imagined. Rather than simply being part of China’s cultural sphere of influence or as an indigenised ideology in Taiwan, Confucianism has been influenced by a number of cultural, political, and economic factors that were both local and global, allowing the tradition to develop “in the unique context of the interaction between Taiwan and China, tradition and modernity, and indigenous and foreign culture” (Huang, 2009, p. 8). For future research, the question remains as to what are the prospects for Confucian tradition in Taiwan with the challenges of air, water, and industrial pollution that accompany industrialisation in addition to the other challenges of modernisation. More work needs to be done to investigate these processes.

The Revival of Chinese Confucianism 中国儒家思想的复兴

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How can Confucianism modernize and shape future cultural discourse? Can it help solve global problems in the twenty-first century? China Daily host talks to Stephen C. Angle, a philosopher and professor specializing in Chinese Philosophy at Wesleyan University.

Virtual Confucius 虚拟孔子

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Shortly after coming to power, Chinese president Xi Jinping promised to rejuvenate his nation through the ‘Chinese Dream’. This would see China become a strong, civilised and harmonious socialist modern country by 2049, the 100th anniversary of the People’s Republic (Ljunggren, 2015). Although previous national concepts such as ‘peaceful development’ and ‘harmonious world’ have been deployed, one of China’s greatest hurdles to realising its national dream has been identified by critics to be its lack of “soft power” (the ability to shape others’ preferences and interests through attraction).

In recent years, the Chinese government has aimed to spread its influence by creating Confucius Institutes around the world. These interactive spaces, however, have not significantly raised a favourable political image of China abroad (Xie & Page, 2013). Additionally, a gap in spreading cultural values to the younger generation, both domestically and internationally, has continued to widen for China making it difficult to promote a strong national image.

In many cases, when culture is not communicated from generation-to-generation, intergenerational tensions arise “from competing understandings of the rights and responsibilities of young people and the autonomy and freedom they should be entitled to” (Mansouri et al., 2015, p. 6). Further, generational gaps also make it difficult to promote and protect ‘intangible cultural heritage’, which UNESCO (2017) defines as the skills, knowledge and customs that are passed on to the rest of the community. When present in communities, passing on traditional skills and customs can encourage a sense of belonging which helps individuals feel part of society at large (Sandis, 2014).

Since the social and economic value of cultural transmission is important for developing states, whose cultural heritage comes under increasing pressure from the processes of modernisation and globalisation (Techera, 2011), a few academics have begun to examine virtual reality as a way of communicating Chinese cultural values to younger generations, while also promoting China’s influence abroad.

Confucianism, in particular, is a relevant system of thought that has been integrated into everyday practices of several Asian cultures. For the younger generations, Confucianism has been gaining popularity in books and cinema. For instance, the book written by Yu Dan about Confucius sold more than 10 million copies, indicating a high demand for Confucian knowledge in modern Chinese societies (Sun, 2009). While less successful, the 2010 biographical drama Confucius (孔子), directed by Hu Mei and starring Chow Yun-fat, also had blockbuster sales for China’s domestic audience despite missing the mark for many international film critics (Groves, 2009; Marsh, 2010).

Building on these attempts of using modern communication technology and popular culture to communicate cultural heritage, a recent study from the Imagineering Institute in Malaysia has designed a new form of cultural play, where users explore cultural values and teachings through a digital media platform called Confucius Chat – “a philosophical conversational agent which models Confucius knowledge and teachings” (Cheok et al., 2017, p. 328).

Providing interactive and personalised advice from virtual Confucius, which is not possible in passive media such as printed books or film and television, Confucius Chat provides on-the-screen responses generated from classical texts, Confucius’s disciples, and general facts about the names of ancient countries and dynasties. In that sense, as well as providing relevant Confucian knowledge content to audiences who use social networks as key sources of information and advice, interactive technology such as Confucius Chat has the potential to promote Chinese values and culture beyond formal institutions and government-led projects.

The way the technology works is by identifying sets of topics and user inputs to create appropriate responses. For example, the user input “What is your name please” maps to two templates in the system’s database, identifying both the template “PLEASE” and “WHAT IS YOUR NAME”. Since this sentence includes the word ‘please’, the response automates to “Thank you for being polite”, with the second reply “My name is Confucius”. For this example, both templates match all the worlds in the input sentence, resulting in a score of 1.0 (Cheok et al., 2017).

Virtual Confucius 1

Image: Cheok, A.D., Edirisinghe, C. & Karunanayaka, K. (2017). iSage mobile app: an extension of Confucius Chat system [Screen Shot].

The score divides by half for more general templates on topics such a ‘love’, ‘family’, and ‘money’, which offers random output relating to passages that may discuss these topics. Importantly, if the output sentence contains any words from the forbidden word list, “which is a list of words Confucius will not discuss, for example God and Jesus, the score will be 0.0.” (p. 337), meaning that the system will not respond.

Key benefits to this type of technology include active experience as an important condition for enjoyment. As Wang et al. (2012) state in their article on using artificial intelligence to create a virtual interactive philosopher, “more freedom should be given to users to freely explore things in which they are interested” (p. 3). Using short and fast interaction to generate Confucius’s responses as well as an easy-to-use interface where no prior knowledge is required to interact with the system provides outreach to audiences who describe interactive cultural play as “just like talking with [a] read friend” (Cheok et al., 2017, p. 342).

Virtual Confucius 2

Image: Cheok, A.D., Edirisinghe, C. & Karunanayaka, K. (2017). iSage mobile app: an extension of Confucius Chat system [Screen Shot].

Currently, the Confucius Chat system has been extended into an Android mobile application, iSage Confucius, which allows people to talk to virtual Confucius on their smart phones by typing or selecting questions. The server processes the incoming request, and returns the answer given by the system’s algorithms and recorded templates (Wang et al., 2012).

While current algorithms sometimes gives unrelated answers and lack the ability to comprehend words without semantic meaning, such as people’s names, interactive technology could become another avenue for spreading China’s cultural heritage. Targeting the younger generation in the developing world and the West plays into China’s “charm offensive”, which is slowly increasing in the global networked information space.

Chinese Military Ethics from a Confucian Perspective 儒家与战争

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Image: See here.

With the rapid development of China’s military forces throughout the 1990s and 2010s, academia has paid increasing attention to Chinese military ethics and international politics (Di Cosmo, 2009; Stalnaker, 2012; Zhang, 2012; Lo & Twiss, 2015). From a Confucian perspective, the emphasis on humanity and ethical behaviour has often meant that war has been viewed as an abnormal social phenomenon that is caused by blinded human nature: “war disappears with the guidance of humanness, love, and good deeds” (Yu, 2016, p. 265). Thus, despite the focus on just war theory in classical Chinese war strategy, many scholars have argued that Confucianism does not have much to say about war other than that war should be abolished, and the Great Unity of the world developed (Pecorino, 2001).

However, according to Yi-Ming Yu from the National Defence University in Taiwan, rereading classic Confucian texts reveals that Confucianism does discuss ethics in warfare, and has played a significant role in wars that impacted China’s development. Indeed, as Fuchuan Yao states in his article War and Confucianism, while humanism may be true in theory there were more wars and chaos when Confucianism became the recognised political thought in China. It should therefore “bear some, if not prime, responsibility for the vicious circles of war and chaos” (p. 214). On the other hand, Yao’s comments- that Chinese people suffered from the Confucian political context where a history of war, famine, and revolution killed millions of people- may not be enough to conclude that there is a direct correlation between war and Confucianism. For example, Liu (2001) states that it was corruption and despotism that led to the stagnation of Chinese society and the vicious circles of order and disorder, while Ruiping Fan (1997) highlights that Confucianism was misinterpreted and propagated to serve totalitarian rulers.

Despite this, rereading classic Confucian texts does show that Confucianism can be used as a way of understanding Chinese military strategy and ethics in warfare. As Rigel (2014) notes, examining selected Chinese resources that discuss war and ethics has a very long tradition (see, for example, Master Sun’s The Art of War).

From a top-down point of view, the Confucian text The Great Learning states that the ultimate goal of all individuals is to accomplish world order and peace. Based on different translations, this may mean that individuals should either achieve world peace or pacify the world (Cheng, 1991; Jiang & Jiang, 2012). In that case, for the ruler to be a ruler (“The Analects”, 12:11), the Son of Heaven would have a moral duty to pacify the world for the sake of world peace even if war became an imperative means to obtain or maintain that goal (Chen, 2007). So, even though violence and war would not be considered as the primary means of establishing peace, in cases where force is required to maintain stability or pacify a threat, warfare would be permissible.

Furthermore, the Confucian scholar Mencius is recorded to have said:

“Chieh and Chou lost their empires because they lost the people and they lost the people because they lost the hearts of the people. There is a way to win the empire … It is to collect for them what they like and do not do to them what they do not like, that is all” (Mencius 4A: 9).

For “if the king makes a grave mistake, an advice should be given. If the king does not listen repeatedly, he should be removed.” (Mencius 5B: 9).

Both of these passages reveal that to maintain long-term harmony, citizens should overthrow rulers who do not govern with Heaven’s Mandate. That is, rulers who do not express virtue through the humane care of their people. In that case, because “there is no ethical warrant prohibiting the overthrow of such a ruler” (Ivanhoe, 2004, p. 272), if necessary the non-ren ruler (that is, one who lacks humaneness or benevolence) should be ousted by means of force. According to Kung and Ma (2013), it is this Confucian doctrine that has always been used to justify the removal of cruel despots throughout China’s history, leading to a tradition of peasant rebellions in the last 260 years of China’s dynastic rule.

This line of thought is considered to deviate from traditional Confucianism where war only results in further violence and social turmoil (see The Analects 12:19), as even if the state wins land by war it loses the support of the people considering that people face the most harm from war when ongoing death and destruction results in trauma, hopelessness, and the loss of livelihoods (Murthy & Lakshminarayana, 2006).

However, for Xunzi, when war becomes a necessary means to restore social order, standards for military actions should be followed to ensure that war ultimately achieves good ends. These include putting people as the primary concern, monitoring the enemy secretly and in depth so that doubtful military plans are never implemented, and promoting military leaders who displays moral qualities and various skills, such as correct rewarding, punishment, and combat (Xunzi, “Man’s Nature is Evil”, p. 219-234).

In that case, war loses legitimacy if certain rules are not followed so that military action endangers social order or people’s lives. For example, Yu (2016) states that as well as avoiding seizing cities to preclude unnecessary causalities, “when executing military missions…the safety of soldiers should be the first priority” (p. 269). The idea is that by seeking support from the people of the state, war should only ever be used to punish enemies that violate justice and humaneness. Common people, property, and crops even if belonging to the enemy state, should always be protected.

While in theory, Confucian military ethics follows traditional just war ideas where battles should be fought effectively and rightly so as to maintain the trust of the people (Snider et al., 2009), the practice of following these rules in live combat may not be so clear. For example, even though warfare that is necessary to establish peace and stability may be justified under certain conditions in Confucian thought, does the ruler have the right to wage war against rebels who use force to overthrow non-ren rulers?

Further, what does the army do if the ‘enemy’ uses cover and hides amongst the population so that it becomes difficult to distinguish between the enemy and the common people?

Even though early Confucian teachings allow for various reasons for entering wars, it should be noted that these reasons must be specific and people-centered. Soldiers and generals alike are expected to cultivate virtues, and avoid practicing immoral tricks, such as deception (gui, 詭) and deceit (zha, 詐). As Confucius said, ideally people should be lead through moral force (de, 德) where order is kept through rites (li, 礼) – it is only under these conditions that “they will have a sense of shame and will also correct themselves” (2:3).



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

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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

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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.

Confucius and the Cultural Revolution – 50 years on

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Monday marked the 50th Anniversary since the start of former Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution. During this devastating period in China, immense cruelty was demonstrated between the country’s citizens, resulting in over 1.5 million deaths across the nation and over 36 million people suffering some form of political violence.

In 1973, Mao launched a political propaganda campaign against Confucianism named ‘Criticize Lin (Biao), Criticize Confucius Campaign’, where he openly criticized Confucius and his teachings. Red Guards attacked the Temple of Confucius, Qufu and vandalized the Cemetery of Confucius as part of the campaign.

Anti Confucius

An anti-Confucius poster printed in 1974 by Shanghai Renmin Chubanshe (Shanghai People’s Press). Source:

Traditional Confucian values of filial piety and existing in harmony were acted against to the extremes, with one lawyer admitting in 2013 that he had sent his mother to her execution in 1970 by writing a letter to the authorities informing them she had called Mao a ‘traitor’.  The strong Confucian values of the relationships between teacher – student, emperor – people, father – son, husband – wife and importance of family unity were deemed by Mao as inferior, and citizens were encouraged to turn against each other through betrayal and violence. Young people challenged authority and respect at home, school, university and in their workplaces.

This vitriolic denunciation of Confucius continued until the demise of Mao, ending the Cultural Revolution in 1976.

The views on Confucianism from the leaders of China has come a long way, as reflected with President Xi Jinping personally endorsing the philosophy in his keynote speech at the 2565th birthday anniversary commemoration in 2014. He stated that “Confucianism and other schools of thought in Chinese history all adhered to the principle that theories must serve the management of state affairs and benefit real life.”


President Xi Jinping, points at a bust of Confucius in the China pavilion of Frankfurt Book Fair he attended while still serving as Vice President in 2009. Source:

Furthermore, in 2013, China introduced the “Elderly rights law” which attempts to enforce adult children to visit their elderly parents, which mirrors the strong Confucian emphasis on filial piety.  The government has even extended the use of Confucian philosophy to prisoner rehabilitation, unveiling the first Confucius classroom in a prison last week.