Confucianism is generally regarded as the foundation of the present Chinese culture1. To a great extent, it is associated with the way most Chinese national behave in different situations.
Apparently, it a way of life that based on principles created by Confucius centered on the values held by three Chinese families namely Xia, Shang, and Zhou. Due to its supremacy in the Chines culture, the contribution of Confucianism on the modern Chinese culture and way of life can not simply be ignored.
Seemingly, it is essential to study the life of Confucius if one is to understand the mind of the Chinese people2. As the most influential figure in the Chinese history, the way that the Chinese people live today is closely interrelated to the incredible teachings of Confucius.
As an English word, Confucianism used to denote a particular religious tradition and owes a debt to Western terminology and world views. For some people, Confucianism is first of all the ancient religion of China, and then the views of the great philosopher himself.
Apparently, this is similar to when we confess under Christianity the records and teachings of the Old Testament as well as those of the New Testament3. Other scholars have, however, argued that Confucianism is quite far and completely detached from religion. Matching the two is therefore not acceptable.
Born in 551 B.C. in Lu, modern day Qufu, in the province of Shandong, Confucius is fondly remembered by the Chinese people as upright individual who pursued the tenets of honesty, integrity and promoting good for all4.
At the time when he was born, China was going through a very difficult political time. Socially, people did not regard each other with respect since no standards were in place to govern relations and create a harmonized society5.
According to Confucius, every single intellectual has a responsibility that goes beyond studies in an enclosed class room environment. Intellectuals should use whatever is at their disposal for the benefit of their country and the entire world.
It is, therefore, unacceptable for any intellectual to act in a selfish way and only think about himself or herself and to some extent, his or her immediately family members.
The teachings of Confucius were largely accepted throughout China due to the fact that they appeared quite sound and dependable if China was to advance with every one aboard the development ship6. In spite of the fact that he Confucius failed to make a great politician, he succeeded as an educator and philosopher.
Simply put, Confucianism may be viewed as a multidimensional system of ethics that is entirely founded on respect for humanity.
In general, the teachings of Confucius about life deal with issues such how men and women should relate with one another on a day to day basis and how leaders in every sphere of life should lead people effectively among many others.
In a way, it is a means of reinforcing good leadership and ensuring that leaders devote themselves to doing what is acceptable and building for the Chinese people.
The Effect of Confucianism on China Today
Historically, Confucianism has had far reaching influence over human and social institutions in the Chinese society. To a large extent, Confucianism constrains the Chinese people and defines their religious identity7.
Although the practice of Confucianism has been criticized to some extent by opponents, it is today a basis of numerous actions among the Chinese people8.
Confucius teachings on having great relations with other human beings and treating them compassion and respect, for example, are the pillars of leadership in modern day China to ensure the existence of a stable country and a harmonized society.
In the year 2006, the President of the Chinese Republic was quoted as urging his people to go back to moral ethics taught by Confucius in order to deal with serious menace of corruption and to promote equality among the Chinese people.
One of the areas in the Chinese culture that has greatly been influenced by Confucianism is family relations. A deep examination of Confucianism reveals that it has a profound influence on the daily lives of the Chinese people. It also provides a guideline on how the Chines people train their children how to live.
Confucianism is, therefore, referenced time and again to provide a guide on appropriate behavior in different situations. The emphasis in a society with Confucian heritage is never only on hierarchy but healthy families as well.
As far as Confucian families are concerned, the leadership of the home is the sole responsibility of the father and all the other members of the family are expected to submit to his leadership authority.
Furthermore, it is only the relatives from the male parent’s side who were regarded as true relatives and the family lineage could only be passed on from the father to the sons. Also, no marriages were allowed among two people who regarded themselves as relatives.
Just like the human body, all members of the family can only function effectively when there is harmony and understanding. By insisting on having well established family relations, it becomes possible to effectively control the behavior of the entire country with so much ease.
A movie bearing the title, Confucius, attempted to drive home the point on respect for hierarchy as well as relationships among the Chinese people. In this movie, one of the brothers gave the Master some soup to drink after noticing that for a very long time he had been playing music and had eaten nothing.
Before he could drink the soup, one of the brothers collapsed and needed something to drink. Immediately, the Master left his seat and walked straight to where the brother was seated, supported by other brothers, and offered him the soup to drink.
Despite the fact that the brother was really in need of something to drink, he refused to drink before the Master did and insisted that the Master drinks. Slowly, the Master drank some of the soup and, it is only after he did so that the brother later accepted to drink the soup9.
Thereafter, the Master requested all the other brothers to share the remaining soup. Clearly, the movie depicts a very powerful teaching on hierarchy and respect for humanity, one of the things taught by Confucius.
The education sector has also greatly benefited from the operations based on Confucianism. Because of the strong desire to promote equality among the Chinese people the Chinese government guided by the tenets of Confucianism resolved to provide scholarships for its people so as to allow them pursue their education with little struggle. B
y providing such scholarships, the Chinese government essentially ensures that all the Chinese people, whether rich or poor are accorded an opportunity to study to completion. Among other benefits, this gesture obviously goes as far as making the People’s Republic of China develop quite steadily.
According to some scholars, Confucianism played a major role in shaping the perceptions and values of the Chinese people for thousands of years10. Under Confucianism, the greatest gift a nation can boast about is the existence of strong family ties.
Apparently, great family relationships are the ingredients for good governance, stability, and progress. Without healthy family relationships, dealing with societal issues such corruption, equality, and respect for law and authority become very challenge for law enforcers and those in authority.
To a large extent, this is also true in other countries. When efforts are not made to ensure that great families exist, poor parenting creates a nation that is filled with individuals who are very and do not value each other as much as they should. This negatively impacts on the progress of a nation and majority are made to suffer.
For some scholars, rich social theories implied in Confucianism are the guiding principles of Chinese social life. The objective of Confucian philosophy is to establish a harmonious social order in China. Obviously, the basic skeleton of such social order is morality.
The Confucian philosophy presumes that social relations are the foundation of human existence, and that relations are all kinds of morality. Usually, when morality, social ethics, and human relationships work properly, then an orderly harmonious society is possible.
Despite the fact that Confucianism is the objective structure embodied in social institutions, Chinese people are able to by pass it in order to suit their own interests11. Clearly, this points to the fact that Confucianism has little effect on the Chinese people.
According to Bell and Chaibong, whether or not Confucianism conflicts with democracy is an important question not only for the future democratization of China but also for the future political development of other East Asian countries with a Confucian heritage12.
Apparently, the compatibility of Confucianism with democracy may refer to the strong thesis that Confucianism is always supportive of democratization. Although some scholar have argued that Confucianism is incompatible with democracy, this may not necessarily be true.
Confucianism is, therefore, capable of embracing the idea of democracy and it can thus be developed for strengthening the tenets of democracy in a democratic republic.
Although there is no consensus about the meanings of democracy and Confucianism, analyses by different scholars reveal that the tenets of democracy and Confucianism are consistent. The interesting thing, however, is that the founding fathers of the Chinese republic recognized the role of Confucianism in democratizing China.
Some scholars, however, believe that Confucianism should be reformed and developed into a new system that is compatible with democracy and human rights in order for it to deliver the intended results for the Chinese people13.
Confucianism has gone down in the history of the Chinese Republic by affecting every bit the Chines way of life. It is a very powerful philosophy and one that promotes commendable ways of life and a good governing system for the Chinese people.
Although it presents a number of benefits, Confucianism also has some limitations that make it unsuitable in certain cases. However, the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.
As noted by Bell and Chaibong14, Confucianism played a crucial role in the struggle for democracy in China. They argued that Confucianism was not only consistent with but also necessary for a democratic republic to take hold in China.
Furthermore, it is believed that Confucianism also plays the critical role of building up an identity for Chinese citizens in a democratic republic. As the main tradition in Chinese history, Confucianism can help to provide a common identity that binds citizens in a democratic republic.
Unlike Western style democracy, it is argued that Confucianism is what could help to address most problems that affected the Chinese people.
A number of Chinese political elites are today advocating for Confucianism as an effective way for maintaining the political order, social cohesion, and territorial integrity of the People’s Republic of China.
Confucianism is, therefore, a major political culture in China, competing with Marxism-Leninism-Maosim and liberalism to define Chinese national identity and politics15.
Researchers generally agree that intellectuals are the major carriers of Confucianism in the Chinese society. Confucian morality is also disseminated among the lower classes through popular literature and Chinese values.
There are, however, other religions in China that are equally influential in the Chinese society. Therefore, in spite of the fact that Confucianism has its role in the Chinese society, it is important to take note of the fact that it has limitations that are as a result of religious competition in the People’s Republic of China.
Bell, Daniel and Chaibong, Hahm. Confucianism for the Modern World. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
China Mike. “Confucius 101: A key to understanding the Chinese Mind”. China Mike. Accessed from http://www.china-mike.com/chinese-culture/understanding-chinese-mind/confucius/.
Cultural China. “The Influences of Confucius”. Cultural China. Accessed from http://history.cultural-china.com/en/182History5836.html.
Fat Chow Yun and Xun Zhou. “Confucius”. You Tube. Accessed from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kfdg2ws6Ouo.
Ko, Nai-Hua. “Familism in Confucianism.” Women’s Global Connection. Accessed from http://wgc.womensglobalconnection.org/pdf/11naihuako.pdf.
Kwok-bun, Chan, Ku Agnes, and Yin-wah Chu. Doing Families in Hong Kong. Danvers, MA: BRILL, 2009.
Rainey, Lee. Confusdfcius and Confucianism: The Essentials. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2010.
Richey, Jeffrey. Teaching Confucianism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.
Travel China Guide. “Confucianism”. Travel China Guide. Accessed from http://www.travelchinaguide.com/intro/religion/confucianism/.
Yang, Fenggang and Tamney, Joseph. Confucianism and Spiritual Traditions in Modern China and Beyond. Danvers, MA: BRILL, 2011.
1 Travel China Guide (TCG). “Confucianism”. Travel China Guide. Last Modified December 11, 2012. http://www.travelchinaguide.com/intro/religion/confucianism/.
2 China Mike (CM). “Confucius 101: A key to understanding the Chinese Mind”. China Mike. Accessed from http://www.china-mike.com/chinese-culture/understanding-chinese-mind/confucius/.
3 Richey, Jeffrey. Teaching Confucianism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 3.
4 Travel China Guide (TCG). “Confucianism”. Travel China Guide. Last Modified December 11, 2012. http://www.travelchinaguide.com/intro/religion/confucianism/.
5 Cultural China. “The Influences of Confucius”. Cultural China. Accessed from http://history.cultural-china.com/en/182History5836.html.
6 Cultural China. “The Influences of Confucius”. Cultural China. Accessed from http://history.cultural-china.com/en/182History5836.html.
7 Kwok-bun, Chan, Ku Agnes, and Yin-wah Chu. Doing Families in Hong Kong (Danvers, MA: BRILL, 2009), 226.
8 China Mike (CM). “Confucius 101: A key to understanding the Chinese Mind”. China Mike. Accessed from http://www.china-mike.com/chinese-culture/understanding-chinese-mind/confucius/.
9 Fat Chow Yun and Xun Zhou. “Confucius”. You Tube. Accessed from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kfdg2ws6Ouo.
10 Ko, Nai-Hua. “Familism in Confucianism.” Women’s Global Connection. Accessed from http://wgc.womensglobalconnection.org/pdf/11naihuako.pdf.
11 Kwok-bun, Chan, Ku Agnes, and Yin-wah Chu. Doing Families in Hong Kong (Danvers, MA: BRILL, 2009), 227.
12 Bell, Daniel and Chaibong, Hahm. Confucianism for the Modern World. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
13 Bell, Daniel and Chaibong, Hahm. Confucianism for the Modern World (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 78.
14 Bell, Daniel and Chaibong, Hahm. Confucianism for the Modern World (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 78.
15 Yang, Fenggang and Tamney, Joseph. Confucianism and Spiritual Traditions in Modern China and Beyond. BRILL, 2011.