What Makes China Different

December 4, 2019

One major difference is that most Chinese have NOT been seriously influenced by the politics and religious beliefs of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. The major influences of Chinese Culture come from Confucian and Taoist thought.

In fact, the former prime minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew thought that Western-style democracy is incompatible with Confucianism and that the latter constitutes a much more coherent ideological basis for a well-ordered Asian society than Western notions of individual liberty.

Confucianism and Taoism appeared in China almost nine hundred years before Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire. It would take another three centuries before Christianity and Islam reached China, more than twelve hundred years after the 5th century BC when Confucian and Taoist thought was introduced to China.

The Jews arrived much later. Most scholars agree that a Jewish community existed in Kaifeng, China since the Northern Song Dynasty (960–1127 AD), though some date their arrival to the Tang Dynasty (618–907 AD), or earlier.

Buddhism arrived during the Han Dynasty, but by then China was already deeply Confucian and Taoist. Both have philosophies that focus on harmony and social order in society. Although Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism all mention harmony, too, the violence and wars caused by these religions have painted a wide bloody scar through history that continues today. You might be shocked to discover that Buddhists can be violent, too. If you are interested, I suggest you read A Short History of Violent Buddhism to learn more.

Confucius and many of his contemporaries were concerned about the state of turmoil, competition, and warfare between the feudal states. They sought philosophical and practical solutions to the problems of government — solutions that, they hoped, would lead to a restoration of unity and stability. – Columbia.edu

Taoism (also known as Daoism) is a Chinese philosophy attributed to Lao Tzu (c. 500 BCE) which contributed to the folk religion of the people primarily in the rural areas of China. Taoism focuses on the present – heaven and hell exist in how you connect to the present moment. On the other hand, Christianity teaches that heaven or hell happens after death.

Classroom.com says, “Taoism and Islam are very different in many ways. Religious Taoism is polytheistic, worshiping no single, omnipotent god, and instead venerating a pantheon of gods, many of whom have functional titles and roles. The Taoist classic text is the ‘Tao Te Ching.’ ‘Tao’ means, roughly, ‘the Way,’ and refers to both the ordering principle of the universe and to the gentle seeking of accommodation with it. … Islam says there is only one God, Allah.”

China like Singapore legally allows five religions, but only 200 million Chinese (14 percent of China’s population of 1.4 billion) practice Buddhism, Daoism, Islam, Catholicism, and Protestantism.

According to Religion in China – By the Numbers, there are 44 million Christians and 20 million Muslims in China today. Combined, Islam and Christianity represent less than five percent of China’s population compared to the United States with the largest Christian population in the world, about 75 percent of its 320 million people.

The most widespread religion in China is a combination of Buddhism, Chinese folklore, Taoism and Confucianism. It is estimated that 800,000,000 Chinese follow this tradition that retains traces of its ancestral Neolithic belief system including the veneration of the Sun, Moon, Earth, Heaven and various stars, as well as communication with animals. Folk religion in China has been practiced alongside Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism by Chinese people for thousands of years.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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Judging China through a Chinese lens

April 10, 2019

I have often read or heard what others think of China and its government with them knowing little or nothing of China’s history, culture, or what China’s Constitution says. Too much of that criticism is often influenced by bias and/or ignorance.

In this post, I will focus on four articles from China’s Constitution and attempt to link what they say to Confucius. If you want to learn about the rest of China’s Constitution, click the link in this sentence.

Chapter II

Article 51: Citizens of the People’s Republic of China, in exercising their freedoms and rights, may not infringe upon the interests of the State, of society or of the collective, or upon the lawful freedoms and rights of other citizens.

Article 52: It is the duty of citizens of the People’s Republic of China to safeguard the unification of the country and the unity of all its nationalities.

Article 53: Citizens of the People’s Republic of China must abide by the Constitution and other laws, keep State secrets, protect public property, observe labour discipline and public order and respect social ethics.

Article 54: It is the duty of citizens of the People’s Republic of China to safeguard the security, honour and interests of the motherland; they must not commit acts detrimental to the security, honour and interests of the motherland.

If you clicked the link and read/study China’s Constitution, do not forget the four articles listed above. Through the lens of Articles 51 – 54, you might learn how to interpret the rest of the Constitution. It also helps if you understand the basics of Confucian ethics.

Confucius was a Chinese teacher, editor, politician, and philosopher of the Spring and Autumn period of Chinese history. The philosophy of Confucius, also known as Confucianism, emphasized personal and governmental morality, the correctness of social relationships, justice, and sincerity.

The Khan Academy says, “Towards the end of the Zhou Dynasty, as feudal lords fought over land, there was a scholar and government minister by the name of Kong Fuzi—later Latinized as Confucius by sixteenth-century Jesuits. … Confucius urged ethical and upright behavior, framing responsible government as a moral duty similar to parenthood. He believed providing a good example of moral conduct to the people would spur them to act within the confines of the law.”

How is Confucianism guiding President Xi Jinping?

CNN reported, “In the first few months since he took power, Xi has pushed a popular and arguably progressive agenda: attacking corruption, not just flies (junior officials) but a few tigers (senior officials) too; curbing official extravagance, like senseless banqueting, and, one of my favorites, banning ‘empty speeches.’

“But in recent weeks, Xi has turned ‘left’. He allowed tighter control over the traditional and social media, silenced dissenting voices among academics and scholars, and cracked down on liberal activists, petitioners and protesters.”

Return to Articles 51 – 54 to help understand what Xi might be thinking when he curbs official extravagance, silences dissenting voices, and cracks down on activists.

Is Xi Jinping following the Confucian Ideal of Harmony?

Harmony (known as “he”) is probably the most cherished ideal in Chinese culture. The word “he” predates Confucius. Its earliest form can be found in the inscriptions on bones and tortoise shells from the Shang dynasty (16th to 11th centuries B.C.E.)

The Harmonious Society (Chinese: 和谐社会; pinyin: héxié shèhuì) has been a socioeconomic vision in China. The concept of social harmony dates back to ancient China, to the time of Confucius. As a result, the philosophy has also been characterized as a form of New Confucianism.

Therefore, when Xi Jinping and/or the Chinese Communist Party “cracks down” on corrupt officials, activists, and protestors, think about what a harmonious society means to them and what they think they have to do to achieve one, and do not confuse “he” with the Western concept of human rights.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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GUANXI

March 13, 2019

The more China changes, the more it stays the same.

Just because China has a one-party political system that calls itself the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), that doesn’t mean the government is not Chinese. In fact, the CCP maintains that despite the co-existence of private capitalists and entrepreneurs with public and collective enterprises, China is not a capitalist country because the party retains control over the direction of the country, maintaining its course of socialist development.

In China, Guanxi is a complex system of social networks and influential relationships which facilitate business and other dealings. Because Guanxi is built into social networks and influential relationships, it also runs deep through the CCP like threads through a complex interwoven, handmade tapestry.

Sir Robert Hart (1835 – 1911), the godfather of China’s modernization and the main character in my historical fiction novel, My Splendid Concubine, discovered the importance of Guanxi soon after he arrived in China and eventually went to work for China’s Emperor. Hart quickly learned that a ‘supreme value of loyalty glued together China’s structure of personal relationships.’

In addition, Robert Hart wrote in a letter in 1891, “These people (referring to the Chinese) never act too soon, and, so far, I have not known of their losing anything by being late. To glide naturally, easily and seasonably into the safe position sequence as circumstances make, is probably a sounder though less heroic policy for a state than to be forever experimenting …”

To translate, it takes time to develop Guanxi through relationships, friendships, and trust where everyone benefits. In China, one must prove they can be trusted before being accepted into a Guanxi social and/or business network.

There are several elements and layers to Guanxi. First, Guanxi is based on a Confucian hierarchy of familial relationships, long-term friendships, classmates, and schoolmates that no stranger, Chinese or foreign, will ever have access to.

Guanxi developed over millennia because China did not have a stable and effective legal system similar to the one that developed in western countries.

And thanks to the greed, insanity, and incompetence of President Donald Trump and the Libertarian movement in the United States, China will probably never become a capitalist kleptocracy like the U.S. is fast becoming. Guanxi will make sure that never happens in China, and corrupt individuals like Donald Trump will never understand how Guanxi works because of his inability to be honest and trust others. To Trump, he must always win and everyone else must lose.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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China is the Misunderstood Dragon

January 30, 2019

If you want to make an attempt to understand China, I suggest starting with the differences between Chinese dragons vs. Western ones.

Kid World Citizen.org tells us, “(Chinese) Dragons symbolize importance, power and strength, represent all things male, and were the symbol of the Emperor of China (who was said to sit on the dragon throne). The imperial dragon is shown with 5 claws instead of the usual 4, to distinguish him from lesser beasts.”

Chinese “Dragons are essential in agricultural life, since they are seen to control the seasons and the weather.  Although they (Chinese dragons) have no wings, the fiery pearl sometimes displayed in their mouths gives them the power to fly to heaven.  The male air and weather dragons would bring rains and winds to help the harvest, while the female earth dragons would preserve the waters in rivers and underground wells.” …

If you are interested, there’s more about Chinese dragons at Kid World Citizens dot org (find the link above).

Compare what you have learned about China’s dragons to the West’s. The Vintage News.com says, “From ancient Greek myths to Game of Thrones, the legend of the dragon is one of the most enduring and romanticized throughout history. It has been traced back as far as 4000 BC and exists in all parts of the world.” …

In the West, dragons were generally treated as violent monsters that must be slain by heroes and saints. European dragons could have four legs, two legs, or none, and often had wings.

“In Asia, and especially China,” The Vintage News continues, “the view of these creatures was very different. … They breathed clouds and moved the seasons. The dragon was the symbol of the Chinese Emperor, and the Imperial throne was called the Dragon Throne. Known as the Dragon, the emperor ruled in harmony, and brought peace and prosperity to all. … Chinese dragons are depicted as being more serpent-like, with long, snaking bodies and usually had four legs. They are generally seen as wingless.”

There are also a few other differences to compare.

China is a collective culture vs Europe and North America that are individualistic cultures. It is possible that the reason China’s dragons are different is because of the influence of a collective culture.

Does that mean we can explain the evil and danger of Western dragons to the influence of individualistic thinking?

European and North American cultures are influenced mostly by Christianity, Judaism, and philosophers from ancient Greece and Renaissance Europe. Ancient Athens in Greece is among the first recorded and one of the most important democracies in ancient times; the word “democracy” ( Greek: δημοκρατία – “rule by the people”) was invented by Athenians in order to define their system of government, around 508 BC.

Christianity, Islam, and Judaism have never been a major political or religious influence in China.

Religious and/or philosophical influences in China come from Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism.

Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism have never been a major political or religious influence in Europe or North America.

Because of these differences, mainland China has never had a republic or democracy similar to Europe or North America.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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Competition vs Harmony

October 3, 2018

China is a collective culture vs. Europe and North America with cultures based on individualism, and understanding Confucianism helps explain how China’s collective culture works.

Religion

China has never been dominated by one religion like Christianity dominates Europe and all of the Americas or Islam dominates the Middle East and most of North Africa.

Philosophy

In China, Confucianism developed during the Spring and Autumn period from the teachings of the Chinese philosopher Confucius (551–479 BCE). His philosophy concerns the fields of ethics and politics, emphasizing personal and governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, justice, traditionalism, and sincerity. Over time, Confucianism replaced Chinese Legalism.

Chinese Buddhism entered China from India during the Late Han Dynasties. By the time of the Tang dynasty five-hundred years after Buddhism’s arrival into China, it had transformed into a thoroughly Chinese religious philosophy dominated by the school of Zen Buddhism. Neo-Confucianism became highly popular during the Song dynasty and Ming Dynasty due in large part to the eventual combination of Confucian and Zen Philosophy.

In Europe and the Americas, there is Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, Rene Descartes, John Lock, et al.  In the West, instead of one major philosopher, there are many. Western Philosophy refers to philosophical thinking beginning with Ancient Greece and Rome, extending through central and Western Europe and, since Columbus, the Americas.

The Basics of Philosophy says, “Very broadly speaking, according to some commentators, Western society strives to find and prove ‘the truth’, while Eastern society accepts the truth as given and is more interested in finding the balance.”

Westerners put more emphasis on individual rights while Easterners focus on social responsibility.

Individualism vs. Collectivism

China is a collective culture vs the west that is based on individualism, and this difference might explain why China was the wealthiest, most technologically advanced civilization on the planet for about 1,500 years up until the 16th century.

Objectivism 101 explains, “Collectivism … sees the group as the important element, and individuals are just members of the group. The group has its own values somehow different from those of the individual members. The group thinks its own thoughts. Instead of judging the group as a bunch of individuals interacting, it judges the group as a whole, and views the individuals as just members of the group.”

In individualism each individual is acting on his or her own, making their own choices and are not guided by the collective, and to the extent they interact with the rest of the group, it’s as individuals.

Collectivism views the group as the primary entity and most if not all individuals are expected to conform. Harmony is considered the foundation of a collective culture while divisiveness is the foundation of individuality.

But first, China Mike says, “To understand the Chinese mind, you need to start with Confucius (552-479BC). Arguably the most influential person in Chinese history, Confucius and his teachings continue to exert a deep influence on society even in modern China today. … Confucianism is a complex system of social and political ethics based on filial piety, kinship, loyalty and righteousness. His teachings cover a wide range—from how a ‘true gentleman’ should behave in his daily life (down to how he eats with proper decorum) to how a ruler should govern (with a benevolent concern for the well-being of his subjects).”

Note: When I started iLookChina in January 2010, I set a goal to write and publish three blog posts a day until I reached 1,000 posts, and then I slowed down. More than seven years later, iLookChina has now published 2,355 posts with more than one-million words. That’s why I have decided to slow down some more. Starting today, I will be posting once a week on Wednesdays. To the more than twenty-thousand amazing people that follow iLookChina, thank you.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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China Joined the WTO in 2001

August 22, 2018

The BBC reported, “After 15 years of diplomatic struggle, China finally has become a fully-fledged member of the international trading system.”

China became a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) on December 11, 2001. The admission of China to the WTO was preceded by a lengthy process of negotiations and required significant changes in China.

Many elements in China’s WTO accession agreement required improving the rule of law. When China joined the WTO, China agreed to ensure that its legal measures would be consistent with its WTO obligations and that led to China’s Rule of Law Reform.

China also made a substantial number of other WTO commitments related to the rule of law in areas of transparency, judicial review, uniform enforcement of laws, and nondiscriminatory treatment.

China reformed its judicial processes to ensure that they were compatible with its WTO commitments.

This transition from Chinese to western legalism hasn’t been as smooth as some critics wanted it to be, but it is happening, and it’s clear that in the last few decades China has made an effort to fit into the community of nations while retaining its own identity.

That might be explained by the differences between Chinese legalism and Western legalism primarily related to morality. Western legalism defends the rule-of-law but argues against the morality of law. In contrast, Chinese legalism, especially in the early Pre-Qin era, did not separate morality from law.

Chinese legalism was interpreted as the fidelity (loyalty) to the monarch in moral terms often as defined by Confucianism. In other words, morality in the United States and Europe is mostly based on the teachings of Christianity and many western philosophers while the morality of China is mostly based on Confucianism.

Understanding China’s history and the morality that’s part of its legal system is often ignored, especially by many ignorant Americans that judge China based on Western values and laws.

For instance, a conservative, born-again Christian, a former friend, once said to me that China needed a proper legal system. Since China already had a legal system, what did he mean?

I knew this individual for about sixty years, and I’m sure he meant that China should have a legal system like the U.S. or the U.K. After all, he claimed scripture guided his life and the Christian Bible has been around for centuries proving, to him, that it came from God. For this former friend’s approval, China had to bend its laws to fit Christian scripture.

However, the Chinese learned from Confucius while in the West we learned from the likes of Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, the Old and New Testaments, and many other voices that influenced western thought. I wonder if too many voices often lead to confusion, and that might explain why the Chinese civilization has been more stable over the millennia than the west has.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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Mongol Yuan Dynasty Defeats Song: Part 2 of 3

May 17, 2018

To decide who the next khan would be while Kublai was still in China, a secret council was held in Mongolia’s capital Karakorum, and a rebellion was plotted by Kublai’s rivals.

After his mother warned him of the plot, he had no choice, and Kublai broke off the war with the Song Dynasty and led his army north to Shang-Tu. where he gathered supporters and was elected the great Khan of the Mongols at the age of 44.

Deciding he wanted a new capital, construction was started on the site where Beijing stands today. It would take 30,000 men five years to complete the new city. This is the city Marco Polo reached in 1266.

Kublai received Marco and his brother with hospitality and asked them many questions regarding the European legal and political system. He also inquired about the Pope and Church in Rome. After the brothers answered his questions, he tasked them with delivering a letter to the Pope, requesting 100 Christians acquainted with the Seven Arts (grammar, rhetoric, logic, geometry, arithmetic, music and astronomy).

Kublai Khan was now ready to wage war with the Song Dynasty again. At first, he tried diplomacy but the Song Dynasty refused to surrender. To fight the Song, Kublai Khan knew he had to build a navy and learn naval warfare. The Mongols had never been a seafaring race but this didn’t stop him.

Kublai’s army was now up against the great fortress city of Xiangyang.  On the other side of this city was the Yangtze River and on the other side of the river was the heart of the Song Empire. He had to take the city before he crossed the river.

The siege lasted for five years before taking the city of Xiangyang and then Kublai’s army crossed the Yangtze.

At the time, the Song emperor was only four years old, and his aging mother handled affairs of state ruling China as the Empress Dowager. In 1276, she admitted defeat and the Song Dynasty surrendered.

Continued in Part 3 on May 18, 2018, or return to Part 1

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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Subscribe to my newsletter to hear about new releases and get a free copy of my award-winning, historical fiction short story “A Night at the Well of Purity”.

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