How to understand Confucianism today?

Updated: 2013-06-26 06:51

By Zhu Yuan (China Daily)

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For example, he says that a real gentleman is not an instrument, by which he means that a man should make his own judgments about everything, rather than just following whatever other people say. With such an independent mind, a person will refuse to be used by others. But in reality, it is very hard for anyone to do so on all occasions.

When Confucius talks about zhongyong, the middle course or moderation in general, he says that a real gentleman can apply moderation in life, but a mean person is against it. The former knows how and where to apply it, but the latter is against it because he knows no limit to the things he wants. Confucius knows that it is extremely hard even for a person with moral integrity to apply moderation, but he maintains that moderation is the foundation, upon which a man cultivates his personality and morals. That is why I consider him an idealist.

Some scholars maintain that moral principles with Confucianism as the very foundation used to be the tool the royal courts employed to govern people in China. So Confucianism is to blame for the lack of democracy and rule of law in the country.

However, the problem is that the requirements Confucianism set for regulating people's relations turned out to be the instrument that rulers of ancient dynasties used to gain submission and obedience from their subjects. It is the inequity and unfairness between the rulers and the ruled, rather than Confucianism itself, that stood in the way of the country's progress. It is the principle that criminal penalties do not apply to court officials that underlined the inequality between the privileged and underprivileged.

The unreasonable or one-sided application or garbled interpretations of Confucianism can never justify the denunciations and accusations this traditional school of thought has suffered.

Studying the texts of Confucius and Mencius, it is easy to see that the heritage these sages left us is a way to put ourselves in the right place in our relationships with nature and people around us.

Never use a net but a hook to fish, and never attack a bird's nest but shoot the bird, said Confucius. This is the way that Confucius tells us how to maintain a sustainable relationship with nature. He says, never do to others what you don't want others to do to you. This is the way we can maintain a harmonious relationship with others.

Even with modern rule of law, can we say that these are irrelevant today?

The author is a senior writer with China Daily. cn

(China Daily 06/26/2013 page8)

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