How has Confucianism Influenced Economic Growth in East Asia

How has Confucianism influenced modern economic development in East Asia?

The rise of Asia’s so called “Tiger” economies followed by China, has given rise to the spectrum of a distinctly East Asian economic development model. The pioneering economic success of in particular, Singapore, South Korea and Japan since the 1970’s has highlighted the need to evaluate and distinguish how such economies achieved such successive growth. A variety of possible factors can explain or highlight possibilities for the successive development of East Asia. A particularly unique factor that has to be taken into account is Confucianism.

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The interplay between culture and development can help explain how in particular Japan and South Korea, which were relatively closed societies, have risen to attain the status of newly industrialized countries. This essay will investigate and evaluate, through the presentation of arguments and examples, the extent to which Confucianism has influenced modern economic development in East Asia. This will be achieved by firstly providing a working definition of Confucianism; then locating its positive impact within a broader debate concerning a distinctly Asian development model; investigating and analyzing the challenges presented by Confucianism in the economic development of East Asia; evaluating both the negative and positive implications of Confucianism in East Asian economies and finally assessing to what extent Confucianism has played a role in the development of East Asia’s economies.

Confucianism attained its name from Confucius, who was a scholar, in Eastern China (551-479 BCE) . Confucianism is a system of ethical and philosophical teachings introduced by Confucius and further developed by in particular Mencius (372-289BCE), who was a pupil of Confucius teachings. Traditional Confucianism according to shares a set of basic convictions, which can be understood as: Humans are born with the capacity to develop morality; this moral development begins with self-cultivation, that is, to reflect internally with the purpose of improving ones morality; the improvement of ones moral development contributes to the project of perfecting the world by achieving a harmonious society.

These basic convictions are reiterated by who wrote that Confucianism can be summarized as a “cross between religion, a way of life, a system if belief about society, and a state ideology”. Argues that Confucianism focuses on filial piety, that is, respecting and adhering ones elders, the maintenance of authority through social order and the maintenance hierarchy for the purpose of perfecting social harmony.

Confucianism rose and blossomed during the eleventh and twelfth centuries as Zhu Xi, a Song Dynasty Confucian scholar, revitalized the philosophy by providing a new synthesis that now predominates modern attitudes to Confucianism . Zhu Xi’s neo-Confucianism develops the notion that the natural world and human society exist in unity and are governed by the same moral principles and thus existing traditional social norms and institutions are seen as part of the natural order of the world . The orthodox nature of Confucianism, both new and old, evidently advocates to the maintenance and continuation of filial piety and of traditional ceremonies and practices, which contradicts the transformation of East Asia both culturally and economically.

The continual growth of East Asia, in particular that of China, in recent times in comparison to the rest of the world highlights a necessity to identify how Confucianism has influenced the economic models within the region. Argues that Confucianism has influenced East Asia’s economic development because of its strong ties to hierarchical structures and the belief that loyalty and effort will be rewarded from the top-down. Japanese workplace culture in particular adheres to these doctrines, as prominent feature of Japanese workplace culture is lifetime employment and managerial aims for harmony and consensus within the workplace .

Confucianism’s respect for the governing body and the pacifist nature of Confucianism can be seen to have helped the continuation of economic and political stability within East Asia, which has allowed for the bureaucracies to focus on economic development rather than social order and stability . Confucianism’s influence on the growth of East Asia economic development can be observed from both a macro-level and a micro-level. On a micro-level the emphasis on education, diligence in the workplace and frugality in life are seen as characteristics borrowed from Confucianism, which have had a positive impact on economic development .

Confucianism’s influence on a macro-level in East Asia’s economic growth is evident argues in that, the bureaucracies can carry out economic reform without major objection from both the factions of the private and public sector due to the benefaction to a hierarchical society. The growth of East Asia’s economic development is evidently influenced by the ideas of Confucius in particular in relation to ideas of social hierarchical order and harmony.

The influence of Confucianism in economic development is a double-edged sword as highlights. Whilst a strong allegiance and loyalty to the bureaucracy can help the transitioning and implication of ideas and goals to better economic development and the society, it can also be used as a tool to subjugate and exploit the lower levels of the hierarchy whilst remaining vigilant in demanding obedience to the rulers through loyalty.

In particular highlights that whilst Japanese society increasing might demand equality throughout its society, the ruling class has used Confucianism as a ‘cultural safeguard’ to defending its conservative hierarchical structure. & both emphasize the opportunity for corruption presented by the power and submission to the existing hierarchy, in particular its usages in a, post ex facto sense, that when in particular the Chinese and Singaporean elite gained power an emphasis on Confucian values was reinstated to protect the acquired political power. The influence of Confucian values and systemic beliefs according to hindered a Chinese economic development particularly between the eighteenth and twentieth century because of its canonization of tradition which impedes creativity and entrepreneurship through glorification of past and present elites.

Max weber noted that Confucianism is the least compatible ideology with capitalism, which can be seen as hindering Chinese economic development between the eighteenth and twentieth century in particular . Weber specifically noted that the influence of Confucianism hindered entrepreneurial innovation, instead favoring selflessness and harmony, in noting “ The typical Puritan earned plenty, spent little, and reinvested his income as capital in rational capitalist enterprise out of an asceticism compulsion to save”. The influence of Confucianism, in particular its traditionalist values have hindered some aspects of East Asian development.

An analysis of Confucianism’s overall impact on East Asia’s economic development highlights the extent to which Confucianism has played an overarching role in the development and highlight to what extent its impact has been beneficial or disadvantaging. In the case of China the overarching influence of Confucianism, can be seen as notes , in the Chinese Communist Party’s revitalization of Confucian values as a platform for continuation the bureaucracy. Highlights the systemic use of Confucianism to revitalize momentum and allegiance, which in the past was granted from communist ideals.

The gradual liberalization of China has damaged and lost support for its traditional orthodox communist values, thus again presenting a post ex facto usage of Confucian rhetoric. Rather than a technique to maintaining traditionalist values argues that Confucianism’s explicit impact on East Asia is due to the fact Confucianism only stipulates basic principles that should be universally observed, regardless of religious and political beliefs. Confucianism is absorptive rather than exclusive, this is seen argues in Confucianism’s absorption of elements of various religions and doctrines, in particular Buddhism, Legalism and Taoism.

Thus presenting Confucianism as a political culture and social tradition to guide standards of behavior by any member of a society. Confucianism in this collectivist sense presents a factor to the success of reformed communist countries in particular Vietnam and China in contrast to former USSR Baltic nations which due to the loss of communism as an collective ideal has divided its societies into conflicting factions of religion, race and values . An overarching influence of Confucianism can be drawn from the analysis that highlights a link between culture and economy. Confucianism has influenced a distinctly East Asian form economic development that evidently has embraced western concepts whilst still remaining adamant in maintaining the traditional Confucian influenced culture. The intertwined nature of culture and development has explained how Confucianism has influenced East Asia’s economic development. Confucianism as a developing doctrine of social norms has transformed and adopted since its introduction by Confucius.

The positive influence of Confucianism on East Asia economic development has been its promotion of social stability through social hierarchy, filial piety and pursuit of education for the purpose of a more harmonious society. Confucianism’s conservative nature as demonstrated in this essay has influenced bureaucracies and in the examples used demonstrated its ability as a tool for legitimizing and continuing the rule of the elite.

The internally reflecting nature of Confucianism as demonstrated in this essay has according to the scholars cited hindered earlier possibilities for economic development in East Asia. The overall impact on East Asia’s economic development as described in this essay has been its advocacy of stability, social order through unity and hierarchy and finally its pursuit of a more harmonious society. This essay has argued, through highlighting the positive and negative impacts of Confucianism, listing examples of its direct implementation, the extent to which Confucianism has influenced East Asia’s economic development.

Works Cited
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Rozman, G. (2002). Can Confucianism Survive in an Age of Universalism and Globalization? Pacific Affairs , 75, 11-37.

Tucker, M. E. (2010). Confucianism. (W. J. Bauman, Ed.) The Spirit of Sustainability , 1, 75-78.

Weber, M. (1951). The Religion of China: Confucianism and Toaism. (H. H. Gerth, Trans.) New York, NY, USA: Macmillan.

Wildman, K. N. (1980). The Naturalization of Confucianism in Tokugawa Japan: The Problem of Sinocentrism. Harvard Journal of Asian Studies , 40 (1), 157-199.

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