Troy Parfitt, the author of Why China Will Never Rule the World – Travels in the Two Chinas says the Analects of Confucius represents only stone-age logic and dictums posing as wisdom that support tyranny. He says the Confucian concept of piety is virtually identical in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Macau.
However, Mr. Parfitt does not mention that Confucian philosophy is also practiced in democratic republics such as South Korea, Japan and the Philippians. In fact, people in all of East Asia practice different aspects of Confucian philosophy.
A hallmark of Confucius’ thought is his emphasis on education and study. He disparaged those who have faith in natural understanding or intuition and argued that the only real understanding of a subject comes from long and careful study.
Thus, under Confucianism, teachers and scholars were regarded, like oldest males and fathers, as unquestioned authorities [unless they lose the trust of the people by not doing their job].
In fact, the philosophy of Confucianism is not blind obedience. It is earned obedience. In addition, due to the value placed on eduction and merit, those in positions of power usually earned his or her position through hard work and merit and not popularity as in most liberal democracies.
Religion and Spirituality in Singapore
The face of Confucianism that pertains to tyranny is the political propaganda that governments in East Asia have used for centuries in futile attempts to convince the people to blindly obey. The only countries this has worked well in so far are Japan and North Korea.
Yet, Japan, with its Confucian dictums that puts loyalty before filial piety became a parliamentary republic and one of its most innovative corporations, Toyota, is the number one global auto manufacturer with GM running second place. If we were to accept Parfitt’s opinion that Confucianism supports tyranny and not innovation, there is no way that Toyota could have been as successful as it has been.
If anyone doubts the power of Confucian loyalty and obedience in Japan, this is what Rutgers University has to say on the subject, “In modern Japanese society one is loyal to one’s immediate group, the “company”, the family, etc., just as previously the emperor, the shogun, or other lords commanded total obedience.”
What Parfitt doesn’t seem to understand is that in the family and in the village, Confucian social philosophy largely revolves around the concept ofren, “compassion” or “loving others” and not on blind obedience to the government.
Subjecting oneself to ritual does not, however, mean suppressing one’s desires but instead learning how to reconcile one’s own desires with the needs of one’s family and community.
If the political face of Confucianism was successful and crippled innovation as Mr. Parfitt preached in our debate, then China would have never invented silk, paper, the printing press, gunpowder, multi-stage rockets, the compass and so much more—centuries before these innovations reached the West.
Instead, the face of Confucianism with the most influence comes through the family—not the government—and in the family, the people learn the meaning behind the Mandate of Heaven and the value of a merit based education.
Return to The two-faces of Confucius – Part 4 or start with Part 1
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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