The two faces of Confucius – Part 4/5

When comparing the practice of Confucianism in China to Japan, a report by Wai-ming Ng at the Chinese University in Hong Kong says, “The relationship between loyalty and filial piety, two fundamental virtues in Confucianism, has been a subject of concern among Confucian scholars in East Asia for many centuries.

“Many modern Japanese scholars believe that the main difference between Japanese Confucianism and Chinese Confucianism rests with their preference between loyalty and filial piety, suggesting that Japanese Confucianism puts  loyalty [to the government] before filial piety, whereas Chinese Confucianism prefers filial piety [in the family] to loyalty [of the government].”

That difference may be explained by China’s concept of the Mandate of Heaven, which says that heaven would bless the authority of a just ruler, as defined by the Five Confucian Relationships, but would be displeased with a despotic ruler and would withdraw its mandate, leading to the overthrow of that ruler. The Chinese people, of course, would be heaven’s hammer, which does not sound very obedient.

However, in Japan, the Mandate of Heaven is not practiced the same as in China. While the Chinese may protest and rebel, the Japanese tend to shy away from this behavior.

In The Coming China, Joseph King Goodrich says, “Obedience in China is a word that connotates far more than it does in Japan. It means obedience to the emperor, to the parent, to the family and to the government, although the Japanese have the reputation of being singularly marked with this trait.”

Confucianism = ritual, etiquette and being kind to one another

In China, the difference lies in the mandate to rule, which means that leaders do not tax the people unjustly. They make sure people have sufficient food and live in an orderly and peaceful society.

Confucian political philosophy is also rooted in the belief that a ruler should learn self-discipline, should govern his subjects by his own example, and should treat them with love and concern.

By providing these things, Confucius believed leaders would earn the confidence, trust and obedience of the people. By not providing these things, China’s leaders would lose the trust and obedience of the people.

One element of Confucianism that runs strong throughout East Asia is that Confucianism regards government and education as inseparable. Without a good education, it is considered impossible to find leaders who possess the virtues to run a government.

Confucius asked, “What has one who is not able to govern himself, to do with governing others?”

Continued on December 18, 2011 in The two-faces of Confucius – Part 5 or return to Part 3


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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