Confucianism has easily been influential in the development of the Chinese state through history. In fact, the core ideals of Confucianism have evolved. Despite the harsh repression of Confucianism by Marxist revolutionaries during the second half of the twentieth century, Confucian values continues to be influential in Chinese society and recently, Confucian political philosophy has resurfaced again. In addition, the political ideas and social ethics of Confucianism can provide the basis for a new, functional form of government in China. Confucianism can be a viable political philosophy for China in the twenty first century because many intellectuals have turned to Confucianism to make sense of such social practices, to think of ways of dealing with China’s current social and political predicament, and to resolve the conflicts between the morals of the Confucian and Communist ideas.
“Confucianism is an ethical and philosophical system developed from the teachings of the Chinese philosopher Confucius. (Confucianism)” Confucius’ real name was Kong Qiu, and he was generally known as Master Kong. “Judging from the little direct evidence that still survives, however, it appears the Kong Qiu did not view himself as the founder of a school of thought, much less as the originator of anything. (Teiser 3) The Zhou political structure had been decaying for more than 200 years during his lifetime, and Master Kong’s goal was to restore social and political harmony by “reviving the moral character of the ruling class and the literate elite. (Adler 1)” Three major virtues in which he felt were the “basis of morality” were humanity, ritual propriety, and filial respect.
Confucius said “humanity was the essential goodness and affection for others that makes us unique from other animal species. (Adler 1)” Following Confucius, Mencius put it, “To be human is to be humane.” Ritual propriety is the “necessary outward expression in behavior of that humanity, and must be consistent with culturally specific norms. (Adler 1)” Filial respect, or respect for elders, is a “naturally occurring virtue that is the building block of the other virtues. (Adler 1)” Later on, filial respect would become the best known Confucian virtue.
“Confucianism originated as an “ethical-sociopolitical teaching” during the spring and Autumn Period, but later developed metaphysical and cosmological elements in the Han dynasty. (Confucianism)” In fact, Confucianism became the official state ideology of the Han dynasty after the desertion of Legalism in China after the Qin dynasty. Since the Han period onward, most Chinese emperors used a mix of Legalism and Confucianism as their ruling doctrine. “In other words, Confucian values were used to alleviate the harsh Legalist ideas that underlie the Imperial system. (Confucianism)”
After the fall of the Han Dynasty in 220 CE, Confucianism fell into decline and both Buddhism and Daoism were developing and gaining popularity. “It was not until the Song dynasty that there was a major revival of Confucianism. (Adler 4)” The second great period of Confucianism has been given a name by Westerners that did not exist in China: “Neo-Confucianism.” “This Confucian revival was strongly influenced by Buddhism, and to a lesser extent, Daoism. (Adler 4)”
The most dominant figure of “Neo-Confucianism” was the 12th century scholar Zhu Xi, who synthesized the teachings of his 11th – century forebears into a coherent system of philosophy and religious practice that became the dominant religion philosophical worldview of the literate elite until the 20th century. In addition, “Zhu Xi systemized a curriculum of education extending from elementary school to the Ph. D level. (Adler 5)” “Although Zhu Xi’s system was motivated by his sincere desire to help people achieve or approach Sage hood, it quickly became co-opted by the state, and therefore politicized. (Adler 5)” Later on, it became the basis of the civil service examination system, which was the most important way of social mobility in China. “Memorization of Zhu Xi’s interpretations of the Confucian tradition therefore became the goal of those hoping to get government jobs, ignoring the moral purpose of the whole system. (Adler 5)” In fact, politicized Confucianism was used to support conservative agendas, such as absolute obedience of elders and strict subjugation of women to men, during the Ming and Qing dynasties.
Furthermore, the Marxist revolutionary government of Communist China dealt with Confucianism negatively. “In the early 20th century, both before and after the fall of the Qing dynasty, Confucianism was harshly criticized by the New Culture Movement. (Adler 6)” The assumption of this movement was that “virtually everything about China’s traditional culture was holding it back from becoming a modern nation-state.” In fact, Confucianism was high on the list of culprits in this “blanket rejection” of traditional China. “The New Culture Movement criticized Confucianism for its age and gender-based hierarchies, which had become quite rigid during the Ming and Qing dynasties. Communist thinkers also joined this anti-Confucian trend, so by the time of the Communist victory in 1949 Confucianism in mainland China seemed virtually dead. (Adler 7)” “After the Communists took power their anti-Confucian rhetoric only increased. In addition to their professed opposition to social hierarchies, they viewed Confucianism as a feudal ideology. (Adler 8)”
“Daniel Bell’s proposal is in response to Jiang Qing’s recent proposal for “political Confucianism” in China. Jiang is a Chinese Confucian who has stirred both admiration and controversy in arguing for a Chinese constitution in which Confucianism would become the state religion, and the national government would be organized around a legislature with three houses. (Arnhart)” In addition, Bell claims that the Chinese Communist Party needs to be replaced by a Chinese Confucian Party.
According to Jiang, there are three sources of legitimacy for a state, which are “heavenly sacredness,” earthly historical tradition, and human consent. “He proposes to institutionalize these three sources of legitimacy through a tricameral legislature, which are the House of Exemplary Persons, the House of Cultural Continuity, and the People’s House. (Arnhart)” The “House of Exemplary Persons” would call forth “heavenly sacredness” where members would be chosen by Confucian organizations relying on examinations testing knowledge of the Confucian classics. The “House of Cultural Continuity” would have members representing various religions and members who were descendants of great sages, including the descendants of Confucius. The “People’s House” would be chosen by elections and functional constituencies to represent the masses of uneducated people.
However, Bell sees problems in Jiang’s tricameral legislature that results him to propose an alternative bicameral legislature. “He proposes that there should be a meritocratic house with members chosen for seven- or eight-year terms by examinations, which should cover not only the Confucian classics, but also world history, basic economics, and a foreign language. (Arnhart)” Moreover, the other house of the legislature would be democratically elected to represent the preferences of the people.
Additionally, I agree with Bell’s proposal regarding a meritocratic branch of legislature because it would be beneficial and advantageous for the government if one would be able to cover the Confucian classics, world history, basic economics, and a foreign language. In fact, Daniel Bell’s proposal does not completely ignore the voices of the people because there will be another legislature where the people’s preferences will be considered. In my opinion, the democratic branch of elections brings failure because our democracy has proved that the wisdom of crowds is deranged. Elections result in mob rule; therefore, I believe Bell’s proposal is more favorable. ‘The Confucian emphasis on meritocracy might seem to conflict with democracy, but there have been institutional proposals to combine the two desiderata. (Bell 6)” In order for the conflicts between the democratic and meritocratic branches to be resolved, I suggest that they compromise an organization where both branches would be able to work equally.
On the other hand, I disagree with the creation of a Council of Sages because the Meritocratic and Democratic branch already have enough power to look after the interests of non-citizens. A Council of Sages is not completely necessary for the government, even if it is a group of people who think beyond the other two branches. The meritocratic and democratic branch already have an important responsibility to make the best decision for all the approaches to come.
Overall, Confucianism can be a viable political philosophy for China in the twenty first century. In fact, it seems clear that the People’s Republic of China is politically motivated. First, “they are reclaiming traditional Chinese culture as one of the world’s great civilizations (Adler 11)”. Second, they are claiming Confucius, “the world-renowned philosopher whose ideas permeated traditional Chinese culture (Adler 11)”, as their own. Third, China’s current president, Hu Jintao, has made a “harmonious society” his signature socio-political slogan. Therefore, Confucianism can be a practicable doctrine for China in the twenty first century.