A Confucian Constitution

Is this op-ed a parody or what? Everyone here will find it worth reading, but may not know whether to laugh or cry. I’d like to know what you think.

If that column gives you a headache, you can also use this as an open thread.

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 102 Comments

What China needs is its own set of vocabulary and philosophical concepts to go head to head with the bullsh*t concepts of democrazy and freedamn. Without our own lexicon, we are forced to discuss and debate the West using their own words and concept – how can you win something if you are subordinated to discuss things in terms that are invented by others? In order to win a debate, you have to speak on your own terms.

What does it mean? It means putting together the best sociologists, the best economists, the best philosophers, the best rhetoricians, and have them come up with a very complex and rich set of ideas/lexicon/words that shape the message of China, that’s a Oriental rival to Democracy/Freedom/Multiparty elections of the West. And this must have 2 prongs:

the first prong is making it accessible to the general public (ie, simple slogans, banners, catch phrases, aphorism, etc. The West has this, such as ‘ Democracy is the worst govt except for all rest’, blah blah. We need our own witty phrases to counter)

The second prong is substantiate these concepts and vocabulary with very serious and ‘thick’ and ‘boring’ academic writing. Preferrably there should be a series of ‘big books’, maybe 20,000 pages each, that explore these topics in detail. To the point where anyone who wants to seriously challenge these ideas must first spend years and years studying them in depth.

Once these concepts/lexicons are formed, there shall be tens of thousands of scholars trained in it, and those will in turn have students, and in turn have students, etc. So that after 10 years, it’ll be a sign of uncultured and uneducatedness for any intellectual not to be familiar with these concepts.

And slowly there’ll be western scholars of these conepts/lexicons, and they’ll permeate western colleges/books/literature/academia.

Ans slowly, once you have build up it up and matured it, people will have no choice but to take your ideas seriously, and will be forced to speak in your lexicon and to argue on your terms.

This is how you build an intellectual counterpunch to the Western bullshit ideas of democracy/freedom/multiparty elections, which have dominated the discourse for 100 years.

It’s time for China to offer a new set of vocabulary, new direction of discourse.

It’ wont be easy of course, and is a multi-generational effort. And the problem is most scholars and intellectuals in China are mental slaves of the West – they have no idea how to speak and write outside the Western lexicon. So how can we depend on them to create something new?

July 14, 2012 @ 8:00 am | Comment

“In order to win a debate, you have to speak on your own terms.”
—LOL. In order to win a debate, you need logic, reasoning, and intelligence. What you’re talking about is simply semantics. That doesn’t win debates, but merely obscures the subject…which, come to think of it, is really the tried and true expertise of the prototypical CCP apologist like you.

It’s amusing (and sad) that your ideas revolve around what can best be described as “burying them with bullshit” and “appealing to the lowest common denominator”. I suppose that is the only hope of “selling” authoritarianism. Unfortunately for authoritarianism, you can dress it up and put lipstick on it, but it’s still going to be a pig.

But by all means, I hope you embark on your decades-long multi-generational attempt to create your own bullshit. By the time you withdraw your head from your ass, hopefully Chinese people will already be busy engaged in a Chinese version of democracy.

July 14, 2012 @ 9:24 am | Comment

—LOL. In order to win a debate, you need logic, reasoning, and intelligence.

That helps, but oftentimes it’s your ability to dominate the discourse with money, resources, intellectuals willing to shill for you, etc. And the West dominated the discourse for the past 200 years due to its economic and military strengths, and then the intellectuals followed, and then its own lexicon and ideas are established and refined and matured, soon enough, anyone who doesnt speak in West’s terms are ridiculed as marginalized.

July 14, 2012 @ 9:32 am | Comment

Well, types like Eric Li and Shaun Rein are already more than willing to shill for the CCP. However, I suppose it is quite a stretch to consider them “intellectuals”.

But while you use ‘concepts’ and ‘terminology’ somewhat interchangeably, it seems to me you are still really just worried about the “lexicon”. Are there really any novel ‘concepts’ to be had when it comes to things like freedoms, rights, rule of law, and democracy? If not, then will it really be fruitful to reinvent the wheel? Or are you just looking for new words to better serve your obfuscation purposes? For me, it seems something like “democracy with Chinese characteristics” is amply vague to serve such purposes.

But here’s the thing. Why are you concerned about being ridiculed and marginalized? If Chinese people truly were convinced that the CCP’s way is the way to go, why would they care that other people disapprove? If the CCP was confident that it enjoyed true legitimacy among Chinese people, why would they care about marginalization and ridicule? There are only 2 logical reasons why the CCP would take offense to ridicule and marginalization coming from beyond China: that she ultimately intends to export her brand of authoritarianism to the world at large, and such marginalization and ridicule diminishes the likelihood of success; or that she lacks confidence in the strength of her legitimacy at home, such that external ridicule and marginalization could be viewed as a threat to progressively erode her tenuous hold on legitimacy. I very much doubt the former, and very much believe in the latter.

July 14, 2012 @ 12:27 pm | Comment

Without our own lexicon, we are forced to discuss and debate the West using their own words and concept

If you live in mainland China, you may be forced to a lot of things, By the Clock, but by whom?

July 14, 2012 @ 1:17 pm | Comment

@The Clock – You seem not to know anything about China. If you did you would know that China is already governed by a ruling party whose ideology has its own lexicology, its own heavy tomes, its own heroes, academics, and catch-phrases.

The problem for you is that the majority of Chinese people, including party members, recognise this ideology as being utterly false and empty. With the exception of a few fanatics and people whose livelihood depends on it, no-one treats this nonsense seriously, neither inside nor outside China, despite study of state ideology being a mandated part of the educational curriculum. Even the university lecturers tasked with teaching nonsense like the Three Represents laugh when you ask them what possible application it could have and why people should have to learn it.

Like it or lump it, democracy is a tangible thing which people can see real-world results coming from and hence by-and-large they support it. Communism, even the re-defined version seen in modern-day mainland China, is nonsensical garbage used as a paper-thin screen by a self-interested dictatorship, and everyone who is of sane mind knows this.

July 14, 2012 @ 1:57 pm | Comment

By-the-Clock will probably inform you that the lexicon you are referring to is foreign stuff, FOARP. Well, it’s with Chinese characteristics, but anyway.

Here is the crux, I believe:

Once these concepts/lexicons are formed, there shall be tens of thousands of scholars trained in it, and those will in turn have students, and in turn have students, etc.

There shall be.

That’s about the wording the Lord God used – or will use – to (re-)create the world. And I have no doubt about which kind of little movie is running in By-the-Clock’s little totalitarian brain when he’s writing stuff like this.

It comes down to “foreigners know nothing, Chinese people who disagree with me know nothing, the party knows very little, but I know everything, and behold, I am making all things new”.

Tens of thousands of scholars shall be trained in what By-the-Clock thinks is good for China. He’s really plagued by very strange lexica (foreign or otherwise), he’s resenting it, but he’s talking it anyway.

And he’s blaming “the West” for it. Convenient, but useless.

July 14, 2012 @ 2:39 pm | Comment

JR, I’m flattered that you’ve kept a notebook of all my comments. Do you have a “best hits” shortlist?

July 14, 2012 @ 5:51 pm | Comment

I haven’t kept a notebook, Raj – I have a rather long memory. Besides, I thought your comments about the Dalai Lama there made a lot of sense. But what I can’t see is why the same reasonable standards you applied in the Dalai Lama’s case shouldn’t apply elsewhere.

July 14, 2012 @ 6:26 pm | Comment

Maybe because the Dalai Lama didn’t create the political system in Tibet so it’s fair for him to refute it, directly or indirectly. Whereas Confucius did create his own beliefs/lessons.

Now fair enough modern students aren’t Confucius, but it would be healthy if they emphasised more clearly and unambiguously that Confucius was wrong on women. Referring to the May Fourth Movement is ambiguous because it was about a lot of things and people took part in it who didn’t care about women’s rights.

July 14, 2012 @ 6:31 pm | Comment

And I’ve never said all followers of Confucius want to discriminate against women. But I think it’s necessary to indicate that his views on women are 100% wrong, lest anyone get the wrong idea and think there might be something to them. You don’t have to bind women’s feet to discriminate against them.

July 14, 2012 @ 6:39 pm | Comment

Maybe because the Dalai Lama didn’t create the political system in Tibet so it’s fair for him to refute it, directly or indirectly. Whereas Confucius did create his own beliefs/lessons.

Neither did the Dalai Lama create “his” society, nor did today’s Confucians create “theirs”, Raj. I can’t see your point there.

July 14, 2012 @ 7:56 pm | Comment

Sorry, I think I lost the point you were trying to make with the Dalai Lama comment.

To reiterate, referring to the May Fourth Movement is ambiguous because it was about a lot of things and people took part in it who didn’t care about women’s rights. It seems sensible to me for Confucian scholars to spell out their disagreement with Confucius’ views on women, plainly and directly.

July 14, 2012 @ 9:00 pm | Comment

referring to the May Fourth Movement is ambiguous because it was about a lot of things and people took part in it who didn’t care about women’s rights

Even in political movements today, there are people taking part who don’t care about womens’ rights, Raj – and certainly beyond China, Korea, or Taiwan, and beyond Confucianism. If there are people who find that relevant, because they alledge that only an open apology for or a public retraction about the past will be convincing, so be it. It would, however, be a first in mainland Chinese public life – except for ritualistic or forced retractions. That’s one reason why I don’t expect it to happen.

I’m also sure there are people in Dharamsala who find the Dalai Lama far too liberal – politically for sure (Tibetan Youth Congress), and “morally” with some likelihood (every place has its share of bigots). But I see no need to dig there and to hold it against the Dalai Lama. Rather, if the CCP were interested in getting some Han-Tibetan reconciliation started, they should act as long as the old man remains available.

But therefore, I can’t see why the kind of “ambiguity” you alledge, re May-4, should discredit Confucians today. People who demand bullshit (and Jiang and Bell certainly do), are doing just that. Those who are making reasonable efforts to understand how Confucianism may be relevant today, politically or otherwise, are doing just that. It’s an individual responsibility to make such efforts and choices, it is – in the field of womens’ rights – in Chinese womens’ interest to judge such choices and to make their own choices, and all of them may, in future, become real issues to decide – among Han-Chinese and Tibetans -, if the Chinese political system allows for a public life that deserves the name.

July 14, 2012 @ 10:00 pm | Comment

One line that may help to make my view clearer: different positions among Tibetans abroad are no reason for me to find the Dalai Lama’s position – or his implicit denouncement of the past – too ambiguous to be believed. If I want to distrust people, I’ll never find them “unambiguous” enough to be trusted.

July 14, 2012 @ 10:20 pm | Comment

Excellent rebuttal to this argument in the NY Times:

Jiang Qing and Daniel A. Bell present their constitution as a third way for China between the hackneyed alternatives of authoritarianism and democracy. But it is not. It would be nothing more than new clothes for today’s authoritarianism.

There is nothing in it that the Politburo Standing Committee in Beijing would not like, except, perhaps, for the headache of trying to implement such an awkward plan and defend it before public opinion.

July 15, 2012 @ 2:03 am | Comment

I think it’s no real challenge to refute Bell or Jiang, Richard, but to object to that stuff when published by a paper with a lot of prestige is still a good thing. “Authoritarian”, however – that’s how the letter to the editors refers to the status quo in China, should be differentiated further. Tu Wei-ming believes that a highly politicized Confucianist society would be more coercive than, for example, a purely legalist society, because Confucianism is about minds, and not only about behavior (as legalism is, in his view). That’s how Wang Zhicheng quotes Tu, anyway. (Such a mind-control ambition also seems to describe the CCP quite accurately, I believe.)

Tu sees himself as a New Confucianist. I think this is noteworthy, because Confucianism doesn’t necessarily aspire to build a political system in accordance with its own ideological blueprints. They can actually be unremitting critics of their own tradition. People like Tu would hardly agree with Jiang or Bell. What kind of “Confucianism” you get depends on who you ask, and I believe that Jiang and Bell may be good for catchy short op-eds, but not good enough if we want to see the complete Confucian scope.

July 15, 2012 @ 2:31 am | Comment

Even in political movements today, there are people taking part who don’t care about womens’ rights

Let’s stop muddying the waters. Confucianism was one of the most destructive forces on the lives of women in East Asia. So when people start championing Confucianism again (especially when women are massively under-represented in areas like politics), I think it’s healthy to spell out what they are and what they are not advocating.

It’s not about apologising. Confucian scholars have nothing to apologise for. It’s about being clear, so that people with backward ideas don’t try to hijack the project. If Confucian promoters are too proud or stuffy to say anything that might be construed as a criticism of Confucius, I can recommend a good surgeon who will remove the sticks jammed up their backsides.

July 15, 2012 @ 3:15 am | Comment

Let’s stop muddying the waters.

Colors are usually not black and white, but muddy, especially if you go a few decades or centuries into history, Raj.

So when people start championing Confucianism again (especially when women are massively under-represented in areas like politics), I think it’s healthy to spell out what they are and what they are not advocating.

Sure. Which is what they are doing. But there are no Confucians who would dominate the discussion, and could bindingly speak for Confucianism – and if there were any, I doubt that this would alleviate your reservations. As far as the discussion described by Wang is concerned, I say no reason to find them particularly suspicious.

However, I believe that our discussion is going in circles, and that might indeed “muddy” this thread. My suggestion is that if you are interested in continuing this discussion, drop me an e-mail (the address is available on my blog, under “about” at the top). And if we arrive at something new, it might become interesting for other readers here – as far as I can see, nobody else has been interested in our discussion since Mike made his, at #43.

July 15, 2012 @ 3:55 am | Comment

One more thing, Raj: I mentioned a Confucian who is indeed very critical of what “Confucius said”. I mentioned Tu Wei-ming there. As I said before: If you really want to distrust people, you will never find them unambiguous enough to be trusted – be it the Confucians, the Dalai Lama, or the Japanese, for that matter.

July 15, 2012 @ 4:08 am | Comment

JR, I don’t see what we can really get by continuing the discussion in detail by email.

As a closing thought, would you agree unreservedly with the following comment?

Confucius’ views on women are wrong and have no place in modern society

July 15, 2012 @ 7:00 am | Comment

Confucianism doesn’t demand that you obey every tenet of Confucianism lest you be branded a heretic and burned at the stake, that said Confucius did not really go into depth about the supposed roles of women.

Because of this, Chinese women were undoubtedly more free than their contemporaries elsewhere where anywhere from 25-90% of women were slaves that could be raped at will. Chinese women were generally free women who have a long history of running businesses, leading and raising armies, etc.

July 15, 2012 @ 8:05 am | Comment

Raj
Confucianism was one of the most destructive forces on the lives of women in East Asia.

Please drop the overdone internet chivalry act. Confucianism was in no way entirely destructive to the lives of Chinese women. Confucianism in Japan and Korea have taken on their own meanings based on their native societies and their experiences can’t really be generalized on China as a whole.

July 15, 2012 @ 8:08 am | Comment

Raj, it sounds like you’re trying to box JR into a corner.

I can say a lot about Judaism and Christianity’s long histories of discrimination against women, some of it ongoing even today, not to mention Islam’s. Taoism wasn’t much kinder to women, either. China has come a long way since the fall of the Qing, and improving the status of women is one of the few things I give Mao genuine credit for. Mission is not accomplished, of course, but the steps forward have been dramatic. If we’re going to go after Confucianism, I see the brain-cell-destroying notion of “face” to be its worst byproduct.

July 15, 2012 @ 8:17 am | Comment

I’m pretty sure face is not really a Confucian concept, nor is it solely a Chinese phenomenon.

July 15, 2012 @ 10:13 am | Comment

“Confucius’ views on women are wrong and have no place in modern society“

It depend on which “Confucius” you talking about, the apparent parting line on discrimiation against woman was Song Dynasty, you would notice that Han Dynasty was a pretty matriarchy society, that is why many ‘new confucian’ from the May Forth era and contemporary like Tu suggest to rediscover confucianism and discard lixue (理学), particularly Cheng-Zhu Neo-Confucianism (程朱理學) including their view toward woman.

July 15, 2012 @ 11:56 am | Comment

I can say a lot about Judaism and Christianity’s long histories of discrimination against women, some of it ongoing even today, not to mention Islam’s. Taoism wasn’t much kinder to women, either. China has come a long way since the fall of the Qing, and improving the status of women is one of the few things I give Mao genuine credit for. Mission is not accomplished, of course, but the steps forward have been dramatic. If we’re going to go after Confucianism, I see the brain-cell-destroying notion of “face” to be its worst byproduct.

Agreed on most of your points here. Not sure about face being the “worst” thing that Confucianism brought upon China–I’d say that actually it’s the bureaucratist/statist impulse that Confucianism, especially past the Song Dynasty, created, that has done the most to hobble China.

That strain of Confucianism seems to have created a perverse idea where the only way the nation can grow strong is if the state can overpower society. That’s crazy… and tragic.

July 15, 2012 @ 1:26 pm | Comment

Cookie, neither “face” nor the designation of women as second-class citizens were unique to Confucianism and go back quite a long way. But Confucianism more than any other force helped to institutionalize them.

T_co, I don’t disagree with you; it’s just a matter of degree.

July 15, 2012 @ 1:31 pm | Comment

JR, I don’t see what we can really get by continuing the discussion in detail by email.

Maybe there’s nothing to get from that, Raj. But then, we won’t get anything by continuing the discussion in detail in this thread either. I made the e-mail suggestion to find out about that.

As a closing thought, would you agree unreservedly with the following comment?
Confucius’ views on women are wrong and have no place in modern society

To know if Confucius was wrong, I’d need to know how much of what “Confucius says” can actually be attributed to him. I believe that women have the same rights as men. People who want to deny them these rights – at home or in society – must not be allowed to exercise political power. That’s no matter of majorities – it’s a matter of legitimacy.

Rhan, if you know some good sources on Confucianism today, in Chinese or English, please let me know. The problem with the current discussion about Confucianism seems to be that it is either rather tentative, or extremely assertive (as in the case of Jiang Qing and his school). The latter, it seems to me, is most likely to chum up to the power that be (the CCP), wishing to win it over and to “confucianize” it.

July 15, 2012 @ 3:38 pm | Comment

To know if Confucius was wrong, I’d need to know how much of what “Confucius says” can actually be attributed to him.

Well in that case maybe there’s no such thing as “Confucianism” because nothing supposedly attributed to him may have been said by him!

With all due respect, your unwillingness to accept that Confucianism has ever led to the suffering of women is bizarre. I really hope you’re not typical of supporters of Confucianism. The sign of a healthy political or philosophical system is when its followers are happy to criticise aspects of it, past or present. It would be a shame if others were similarly in denial about Confucianism’s legacy regarding women.

July 15, 2012 @ 4:35 pm | Comment

@Raj – It is necessary to distinguish between traditional Chinese culture and Confucianism per se, especially where traditions pre-date Confucius or come from entirely different sources.

@JR – Correct. The Clock’s belief that arguments will be developed to support his prejudices marks him as an ideologue.

July 15, 2012 @ 5:11 pm | Comment

With all due respect, your unwillingness to accept that Confucianism has ever led to the suffering of women is bizarre.

I think discussions like these lead nowhere without patience, Raj. I’m not sure if you can read my comments without anger by now, but I suggest that everyone who reads here takes his or her own look at your question, and my answer to it. To answer to your assertion (comment #80), I have no doubt that Confucianism has been a cause for the suffering of women, and I’m no supporter of Confucianism (“I really hope you’re not typical of supporters of Confucianism”). However, I believe that Confucianism will remain an important system of religion and thought in China, and Chinese debates within and about Confucianism shouldn’t be ignored.

My advice would be that people who want to have a meaningful discussion should read patiently, be polite, include every stage of a discussion in their judgment of other people, and should not jump to conclusions.

July 15, 2012 @ 6:57 pm | Comment

@Raj, JR and anyone interested in how gender equality relates to Confucianism.

Part of Confucianism is the ‘three cardinal guides and the five constant virtues’ (三綱五常). Leaving aside the virtues for now, the cardinal guides (三鋼) refer to three relationships: ruler-subject, father-son, and husband-wife.

Although it is stated that with each of these relationships there should be a reciprocal moral responsibility, one person still has to be the ‘boss’ (the whole point of a hierarchical order).

Is this husband-wife relationship compatible with concepts of gender equality? I would argue that it is not.

If one chooses gender equality, that may call into question the other two cardinal guides.

If you are interested in a different opinion, you could read Wang Tang-jia’s chapter on gender roles in Fan Rui-ping’s book, ‘The Renaissance of Confucianism in Contemporary China’ (you can read it on Google Books). Wang states ‘for anyone who tries to learn from and apply Confucian wisdom to the contemporary world, the best way is to avoid the extremes of masculinism and absolute egalitarianism.’ (pp. 100).

July 15, 2012 @ 7:43 pm | Comment

Thanks for the book recommendation, Xilin.

I haven’t seen comments here which would suggest that Confucianism can play a role at all without calling much of past principles into question. And maybe Confucians will indeed need to find an answer to the question if two of the sangang can remain, if one of them has to be dropped. Maybe.

But then, many of the Confucians are probably married to women who wouldn’t tolerate the sangang practice. One aspect to judge how Confucian theorists and advocates tick might be to know their wives and children.

And other religions have gone through turns which would have been thought of as impossible – before they happened.

July 15, 2012 @ 8:03 pm | Comment

Xilin: the pages around 100 describe Jiang Qing‘s views on gender equality, right? Combined with Jiang’s “gongyang theory”, and his claims to political power as laid out in the NYT op-ed, it wouldn’t be too surprising, I guess.

Here’s a Jiang-Qing reaction to a previous speech by Tu Wei-mingof at least seven years ago.

July 15, 2012 @ 8:17 pm | Comment

@JR –

“I believe that Confucianism will remain an important system of religion and thought in China”

Actually my opinion is the exact opposite. Confucianism is neither of great religious, political, or philosophical consequence in modern-day China. Nothing displays this more than the CCP’s tolerance of it.

July 15, 2012 @ 9:40 pm | Comment

Thanks, JR.

Jiang Qing rejects the concept of equality.

If, however, one supports the concept of gender equality, what impact does that have on Confucianism (Classical, Neo, New, Political, Constitutional or otherwise)?

Put simply, if husband and wife are equal, are we all equal?
Conversely, if, according to Jiang Qing, husband and wife are not equal, are we all not equal?

Why is this this integral to current debates on Confucianism? Because if one discounts a single one of the three cardinal guides on the grounds of equality, then should one not also apply this concept to the other two?

I agree, JR, that religions have gone through many changes. Confucianism, however, is not a religion; it is a philosophical and ethical system. As I understand it, the three cardinal guides are core to Confucian thought. I don’t believe they are compatible with concepts of equality and I don’t know what Confucianism would really be without them.

July 15, 2012 @ 9:43 pm | Comment

I have no doubt that Confucianism has been a cause for the suffering of women

I’m not so sure why it had to take so much prodding on my part for you to say that. Still, I do appreciate you saying it so clearly.

Actually my opinion is the exact opposite. Confucianism is neither of great religious, political, or philosophical consequence in modern-day China. Nothing displays this more than the CCP’s tolerance of it.

FOARP, that’s an interesting view. If the CCP doesn’t feel threatened by it, they can’t feel it will amount to much.

July 15, 2012 @ 10:01 pm | Comment

Raj, I’ll leave the interpretation of our discussion – which was basically going on between you and me over the past few days – to everyone else who’s commenting here – people who are themselves involved are usually no objective critics, or “referees”.

Xilin, if someone asked me which religion is closest to me, I’d probably say it’s Buddhism. It’s not my religion – I only find it more plausible than Christian beliefs, for example, and I’m no pacifist, so I’d hardly qualify anyway.

But if someone says that he or she believes in Confucianism – possibly even as a religon -, I’ll buy that, and I’ll also buy it if they say that they can practice it and at the same time respect equality between men and women. Religion is that much a matter of personal experience that I can’t tell what faithful people may be able to reconcile, and what they can’t reconcile. But I guess that I can look at how their ideas are practiced, and then find out if it would by my kind of society, or if it wouldn’t.

Peng Guoxiang, one of the New Confucians, seems to argue that Confucianism is both philosophy and religion – a religious tradition, but not in the same way as Western Jewish or Christian religion.
Tu Wei-ming‘s school seems to believe that this can work “philosophically”, too.

FOARP, I think the letter to the editors quoted by Richard further above may provide the answer as to why the CCP is tolerant of “political Confucianism” discussions. I’d actually go one step further and say that Jiang and/or Bell may be trying to sell the concept to the CCP. It would only question the dictators if Jiang & Cie. started condemning the CCP for not accepting it.

July 15, 2012 @ 10:21 pm | Comment

@JR – Just so – in fact since so many people who talk about political Confucianism in the modern-day context are trying to explain how the CCP is already Confucian, even that is probably not a risk. This is the reason why for a long time my attitude has been, to paraphrase an old German play:

„Wenn ich ‘Konfuzianismus’ höre, entsichere ich meinen Browning“

Yes, Confucianism does exist as an independent religio-politico-philosophical concept, but very few people seem to have a concept of it that appears to make any sense at the present time. Instead it too often seems to be a way of excusing the inexcusable by saying it should be accepted as ‘traditionally Chinese’.

July 16, 2012 @ 4:33 pm | Comment

When the Golden Rule is spelled in classical Chinese, it reaches people more easily than if it’s spelled in English, in Hebrew, or in any other language, FOARP. I think that seen from that angle, Confucianism is relevant – and again from that perspective, it doesn’t even spell cultural, let alone political particularism. Whenever I can read something in German, rather than in English – let alone Chinese -, I’ll reach for the German version first. I don’t think that makes me a particularist – at least not more than an average Frenchman would be a French particularist. So, before I suspect a Confucian of totalitarian motives, I want to hear what he actually says, and practices. Many of those cited by Wang Zhicheng are more into seeking common ground with other world religions, and at times concede that among those, Confucianism is only a small one.

I think that it is obvious, after the past century, that Confucianism needs to re-evaluate itself. It is also quite likely that among academics, liberal and secularly/constitutionally-minded Confucians will rather remain a minority. If not naturally so, people like the Thirteen scholars with their “Joint Statement” (if their aims are reflected correctly by Zhang Qianfan will make sure that political Confucianism will remain about as “attractive” as athlete’s foot, to most Chinese intellectuals.

But Confucians have a right to their beliefs – just as anyone else.

And unfortunately, if there should be a political decision at all, it won’t be made by majorities, neither among intellectuals nor among all citizens. The real problem is that the CCP may warm up to the concept. The debate about Confucianism isn’t a public debate in a democratic rule-of-law country. Nothing is too insane for the CCP if it helps their legitimacy, even if only in their own view.

Therefore, this “public debate” – and I’ve stated before that I see no genuine Chinese public life there that would deserve the name – is a try to convince the dictators, rather than a majority. Either the Confucian (Jiang Qing et al) or the secular way (Zhang Qianfan, for example). It is a classical approach in China to “sell” your ideological stuff to those who are actually in power. This was true even before Confucianism became the state doctrine, and when different schools competed with their concepts.

I expect that this is mostly going to be (or remain) a dispute between secularists on the one hand, and gongyang-style Confucians on the other. Taoists seem to have no ambitions that would lead to similar arguments. Real democrats will always be accused of not taking the proper approach to power – hardly a chance to sell their concept even to Wen Jiabao-kinds of officials.

Meantime, the party is cooking its own ideological dishes, while social management makes sure that software developers elsewhere serve nothing forbidden.

July 16, 2012 @ 5:45 pm | Comment

Apologies – but I can’t resist this little side-blow: it isn’t only Chinese people who take the kind of sales approach I referred to above. 😉

No offense meant. I’d just like to point out that you don’t have to be evil or authoritarian-minded to argue for the Imperial Court’s hearts and minds.

July 16, 2012 @ 6:02 pm | Comment

Raj
I’m not so sure why it had to take so much prodding on my part for you to say that. Still, I do appreciate you saying it so clearly.

Drop your tiresome white knight act. If Confucianism stood in the way of Christianity and Islam in China, it only benefited them on balance.

Other than that, Confucianism barred women from intellectual posts they often deserved, but also lessened punishment dealt to them. It often made mothers powerful as well.

There’s a reason why murder, assault and rape against women in Confucian societies is so much lower than your much-vaunted wonderful chivalrous West.

July 22, 2012 @ 1:26 am | Comment

“There’s a reason why murder, assault and rape against women in Confucian societies is so much lower than your much-vaunted wonderful chivalrous West.”
—that’s actually probably true. On the balance, there does seem to be less outright violence against women in China than in “the west”, and even less still in comparison to Islamic states.

However, in the grand scheme of male-chauvinism and under-respect for women, that seems to be a world-wide phenomenon. Ultimately, if it is happening, I don’t think it makes much difference whether it occurs in the name of religion, culture, or whatever else.

July 22, 2012 @ 1:59 am | Comment

The general lack of respect for women, I would say, has a lot to do with the general lack of respect for everyone but a tiny minority of powerful men (and their female associates).

No one seems to have any sympathy for men in “traditionally” dangerous jobs that are crippled and killed when they aren’t being underpaid.

July 22, 2012 @ 2:23 am | Comment

Why would the NYT publish this? Consider its readership. What percentage of its readers – national or global – have any knowledge or understanding of Confucian thought? This article probably sounds deeply philosophical to many NYT readers. Confucianism has a romantic mysticism for much of the west. Picture a bunch of benevolent bureaucrats with Fu Manchu beards wandering around in silk robes spouting quotes from Confucious.

Full disclosure; although I do not subscribe to the above misconception, I in now way claim any knowledge or understanding of Confucian thought.

July 23, 2012 @ 8:22 am | Comment

[…] on July 10: “A Confucian Constitution for China”. Bizarre (and possibly funny) stuff from a foreign perspective. Bizarre, too, but also worrying stuff from a secular Chinese perspective. Worrying, because in […]

August 23, 2012 @ 3:14 pm | Pingback

[…] bizarre Daniel Bell-Jiang Qing op-ed op-ed on a “Confucian constitution” that set off a spirited debate in this thread. You remember: the one about a Confucian meritocracy system, in which leaders in at least one […]

September 10, 2012 @ 8:35 am | Pingback

[…] You can find a spirited Peking Duck thread on the meritocracy argument here. […]

November 15, 2012 @ 5:51 am | Pingback

Confucianism certainly has its problems. Nonetheless many negative things that are associated with Confucianism have also been exaggerated, such as its support for absolute obedience of an authoritarian ruler (which is not true, given a good Confucian should remonstrate against his misbehaved ruler). Read the Mencius, writings by Wang Yangming and his followers, and Huang Zongxi for examples of this. These people I just mentioned do want moral, intelligent and independent-minded individuals and ministers to stand up against their rulers if needed. They do not support authoritarianism where the ruler can do whatever he wants. As for the Sanggan principle, it was developed in the Eastern Han, it was not there at the beginning. It also did not prevent later Confucian thinkers from questioning it and not following it either. For examples, remonstrating with one’s ruler and father is also advocated by Confucian texts such as the Xunzi (chapter Zidao)and the Xiaojing (chapter 15). Mencius even advocated tyrants should be do away with, which is again supported by Cheng Hao, a prominent Song Confucian. Of course, the conflict between loyalty and filial piety has been a major issue in Chinese history. Confuciansim after all, has a lot of different, diverse ideas within the teaching. The Analects is only one of the classics, not the Classic.

As for the Confucian position on women, again a complicated topic. Let’s just say while women did not have an equal position to men within Confucian teachings, they were also not as low as some people make them out to be. Also, status of women in Chinese society does change overtime in her long history. One can read works by Dorothy Ko and Patricia Ebrey on this topic for more.

Also, Confucianism has not had much influence in modern China anyway. Anti-traditionalism has had the upper-hand. These days, the CCP are not really promoting Confucianism either. Schools are not really teaching it. The CCP certainly don’t encourage political remonstrations, which is central to Confuciansim. The CCP members know very little about Confucianism, and many of them are still against it, due to Marxist teachings. Therefore, the CCP is not a Confucian government, it is basically devoid of Confucian content. In addition, most Chinese don’t really practice Confucianism, nor do they know much about it. Many of them are also against it. All of these have been the case since the May 4th.

As for Jiang Qing, really, not that many Chinese are truly paying attention to him either. So I think he has very little influence. Danile Bell’s ideas also won’t work in China today, given there are really no Confucians scholars left. It would be very very difficult to train them again, since most Chinese don’t have good classical langauge skills anymore. In modern China, there is a loss of faith of tradition, which still exist today among perhaps the great majority of Chinese population. So overall, I don’t think Jiang and Bell can do much with their ideas.

December 28, 2012 @ 7:31 pm | Comment

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