Influence of Confucianism on China Essay
Influence of Confucianism on China
Confucianism is a system of philosophy and religious practice that sprouted in China around 500 B. C. E, and which has had a tremendous impact on Chinese culture and politics since. It was created by a social philosopher named Kong-Fu-Tzu, who being convinced of his ability to restore order to the world devised a philosophy of morality and social duty. Unlike other political philosophies of the time such as legalism, Confucius placed importance on proper action through a moral code, not a legal code.
This moral code was solidified with the threat of intense shame, both in the eyes of the living and in those of your ancestors who watch over your actions. But in codifying his philosophies in such a manner, he also set his own short-sightedness, misogyny and dated thinking into an immutable morality that plagues the Chinese to this day. It is in this way that any positive characteristics of Confucianism give way to the corruption of politicians and the serious injustice of the concept of filial piety as laid down by Confucius’ disciples.
And furthermore, it is difficult to address these issues within the scope of Confucianism because they are the ways of “ancient wisdom” transmitted by Confucius, and are treated as immutably righteous. So, the injustice of Confucianism and the social disparity it promotes plagued China for millennia even to this day in some respects. Indeed, I believe Confucianism has had on overall negative impact on China. Confucianism, like Hinduism with its Code of Manu, has a hierarchical system that separates peoples into castes ordained by heaven.
These castes are slightly less specific than in the aforementioned example, but they are still a very real dynamic in Confucian thought. Each person is considered to have duties to certain people or “filial piety” (Confucius, 45), a subject must serve his h/er ruler, a child must respect h/er parents, a wife must obey her husband. And though these relationships are reciprocal, as a ruler has a duty also to his subject, they are each organized in regard to a superior to h/er inferior. Rulers are seen as having a “Mandate from Heaven”, and to disobey your ruler is to bring shame upon yourself and your relatives.
So not only was there legal repercussion for disobedience, but also the engrained shame of having disobeyed at all, even if you are being wronged or abused. Besides these stringent class divisions, women are treated as intrinsically inferior to men as a whole, making it exceedingly difficult for Chinese women. Male offspring are extremely important to a family as the Chinese divine heredity through the male parent and a grown son can be considered in breach of his filial piety, and thus shame his family, if he does not give birth to a son.
As mentioned earlier, a woman must also obey her husband as part of her filial piety. To do otherwise would be to shame herself and her family. Moreover, a woman’s duty to her family demands that she marry whomever her parents see fit, which makes her beholden to both her parents, and to a man whom she did not choose as her spouse. In the Book of Mencius, it describes women as living through three subordinations, to their fathers as a child, to their husbands as an adult, and to their sons in old age (Lin Yu Tang, 743). All in all, Confucianism served to heighten the struggles of women in an already patriarchal society.
Having been introduced to these inequalities in Confucian thought, it may come as little surprise that Confucius described a serious mandate of the state over the individual. Those in such castes as were seen fit to rule over others afforded themselves much power, and little can be done to challenge a hierarchy in which defiance means shame in the eyes of all your ancestors. Subjects owe filial piety to their ruler, and as such a ruler must be righteous in his actions, but is considered the clear superior to the ruled. Should a ruler not fulfill his duties properly, the peasants are still controlled by him.
So, while the ruler can break his duties to his subjects and still retain the power to control them, the ruled must risk a great deal in breaking their duties to the tyrant. Thus, the concept of filial piety to ones ruler only serves to embed tyrants, and does not provide any real recourse should a ruler break his own supposed filial piety to the ruled. An interesting example of this sort of filial piety to a ruler can be seen in the Chinese “Book of Songs”, in which this poem appears in the section set aside for “folk and peasant songs”: “To be rejoiced in are ye, noble men, The foundations of the State.
To be rejoiced in are ye, noble men; — May your years be myriads and without end! ” (Nan-Shan-You-Tai, Poem 172). That such a poem might be considered a folk song seems strange as it seeks only to glorify noblemen. Such is the bias engrained in the poor that the noblemen above them were to be “rejoiced in”. Another of the most important tents of Confucianism is deference to, and respect for your superiors, especially your parents. Filial piety to ones parents is paramount in Chinese families, and there are many stories of children in ancient times that went to absurd measures to please their parents.
Some of the known ways that children have been made to bend to their parents will borders on utter child abuse. One story speaks of a child named Min Tzu-chien who let himself nearly freeze to death to appease a cruel stepmother (Brians, para. 4). Another relates the tale of Wu Meng, a boy in the Chin Dynasty who purportedly let his belly be feasted upon by mosquitoes numbering in the hundreds so they would not feed on his parents (Brians, para. 5). A particularly telling tale of this kind is the story of Kuo Chi, who lived during the Han Dynasty, was very poor, and who cared for his mother and three year old son.
He could not feed either fully, and his mother often gave a portion of her food to her grandson so he would not hunger. Kuo Chi having seen this, told his wife “It would be better if we buried our son. We can always get another son, but it is impossible to get another Mother. ” Kuo Chi then dug a grave in which to bury his son, but upon completing it he found a pot of gold which read “Officials cannot take it, people may not steal it” (Brians, para. 6-7).
Kuo Chi was rewarded for his willingness to sacrifice the life of his inferior duty (his son) in favor of his greater duty to his mother. While the level of truth in such ancient stories is suspect, they represent the way in which Confucius’ idea of filial piety could be bent to allow for horrible injustice and child abuse. Confucian disciples also instituted a National Testing System for political office. The purpose of which was to insure that rulers were chosen on merit and not on lineage.
But though Confucius advised a thorough education regardless of class, it was simply not the case in much of China. Learning was important, but the poor simply could not afford to give their children the full range of education necessary to succeed in the examinations. China became a watered-down sort of Oligarchy where only those wealthy enough to give their children a thorough education could hope to see their children into public office, and disparity between castes increased because of it. Meritocracy can not exist where equality of opportunity does not.
All of these things can be considered unjust, unfair and even despicable in some instances, but the notion of changing them is difficult while maintaining Confucianism because like most philosophy rooted in spirituality, to deny the prophet often is seen as denying heaven. The traditional Chinese were severely limited by Confucianism because they believed any deviance from the righteous way of life prescribed by Confucius could lead to great shame and sorrow, to complacency and stagnation. And yet, Confucianism has continued in China even to modern times, though the Communist Government seeks to be rid of it.
New troubles have been loosed because of Confucianism including but not limited to “sex specific infanticide” in which female babies are aborted in favor of male children because the Chinese Government has placed a cap on the number of children a family can have. The strong preference for male children, fed by Confucianism, is directly responsible for this horror. What new problems these outmoded ways of thinking, thousands of years dated, will bring up no one can tell. But as long as the tenets of Confucianism meet transgressors with shame and derision, it will no doubt continue to have a negative impact on China as a whole.
Works Cited Confucius and Jennings, William trans. The Confucian Analects. New York: George Routledge and Sons, Limited, 1895. Waley, Arthur trans. Book of Songs: The Ancient Chinese Classic of Poetry. New York: Grove Press, 1996. Yutang, Lin ed. The Wisdom of India and China.
New York: Random House, 1942. Brians, Paul. “Examples of Filial Piety (14th Century CE). ” Reading About the World, Volume I. 1998. Washington State University. 23 Mar. 2006, <http://www. wsu. edu:8080/~wldciv/world_civ_reader/world_civ_reader_1/filial. html>.