Influences of Confucian Virtues on Chinese Moral Standard

Categories: InfluenceMoralVirtues

In China, “Hyo” is a traditional moral behavior since ancient China. In Chinese, “Hyo” means filial piety, a virtue of respect to parents and ancestors. This kind of virtue is not only praised highly in ancient China, it is also one of the most important virtues affecting modern Chinese nowadays. “Hyo” is the first virtue of the eight main virtues in Confucianism. These eight virtues include: Hyo, Ti, Zhong, Xin, Li, Yi, Lian, Chi. These morals of Confucianism influenced the moral behavior of Chinese from ancient times to modern times.

The core idea of Confucianism is Jen.

James D. Livingston described Jen as the supreme virtue of humaneness in Anatomy of Sacred. Confucius regards Jen as the supreme virtue, which includes the eight virtues. In order to interpret Jen, people have to study the eight virtues. Confucius thinks that Jen means loving people, and the love from children to parents is a kind of Jen. An old saying in China says that among all the good deeds, Hyo comes first.

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Compared with other country, filial piety is especially concerned in China that it even becomes a norm to judge people. Confucius mentions that Hyo is based on respect.

Nowadays, many youth interpret Hyo as supporting parents with substances. Confucius thinks this is wrong and he tells in his Analects: one can either raise livestock or their parents, but if he or she treats their parents without respect, then what’s the difference? So it is easy to see that respect is the fundamental of Hyo.

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Meanwhile, Hyo can also be interpreted together with Ti, the respect to elder and younger brothers. Confucius defines Ti more deeply that it is not only the respect between brothers, it is also a relationship making them help each other.

When Confucius defines Jen and Hyo in Analects, he mentioned: “Benevolence is the characteristic element of humanity, and the great exercise of it is in loving relatives ”(Zhongyong The Doctrine of the Mean). The ultimate purpose of Confucius proposing Hyo and Ti is to generalize this blood relationship from families to society, helping people to learn the essence of Jen and prosper the society. As James D. Livingston said: “Thus, a second means of advancing li and social order is through the Five Great Relationships.

They have to do with the rights and responsibilities of ruler and subject, father and son, husband and wife, elder brother and younger brother, and elder and young friends”(Livingston p231). Through the Five Great Relationships, the loyalty between ruler and subject is Zhong. Traditional Chinese scholar defines Zhong as the absolute obedience to ruler. For example, ancient Chinese Legalism opposed that someone have to die if the king want him or her to do so. Confucius opposes this viewpoint because the loyalty he proposes is combined with Jen, which means ruler and subject should have a benevolent relationship.

In a broader sense, Zhong can also describe one’s loyalty to friends, husband or wife, and even country. Confucius combines Zhong and Xin when he describes the relationship between friends. He considers loyalty and keeping promise as the essential of maintaining friendship, and also the necessary way to found and manage a country. These four virtues especially focus on managing relationship with people, and Confucius derives these virtues from dealing with people to dealing with country.

These moral standards are basic and important to all the Chinese, from the Chairman to even farmers. To further understand Confucius’s Jen and central moral standards of Confucianism, people need to know what is Li. “The rules of behavior governing the interaction between people in recurring social contexts, such as the way to conduct sacrifices, marriage ceremonies and funerals, the way for hosts and guests to interact, as well as various obligations one has toward another person in virtue of the different positions the two occupy within the family or state.

The term ‘li’, which refers to such rules, is often translated as ‘rites’ because it originally referred to rites of sacrifice and, even when used more broadly to refer to various rules of conduct, it still emphasizes the ceremonial. (Kwong-loi p. 140). ” Basically, Li requires people to respect and observe traditional ritual. “The Confucian sages believe that social unrest and war are the result of a decline in social ritual and that its restoration will result in a harmonious social order”(Livingston p229). So obeying Li is actually a way to understand people’s responsibility to the community.

Defining Li, Confucius refers to one term called rectification of names. He thinks that the names of things have to be correct, so it will be in accord with the true nature of things. The goal of rectification of names is to obey the hierarchy of community. “Duke Ching of Ch’i asked his advice about government, Confucius replied, ‘Let the prince be a prince, the minister a minister, the father a father, and the son a son’”(Livingston P230). From his reply to Duke Ching, it is obviously to see that Confucius is conservative and proposes obsession of hierarchy.

Nowadays, Li as a virtue is more treated as etiquette and is not a way to propose hierarchy anymore, but still, it’s meaning as etiquette and formality is influencing more and more Chinese people. According to David L. Hall, “Yi is one’s own unique disposition to act according to Li” (Hall p91). Literally, Yi in Chinese means justice or rightness. Confucius defines Yi together with Jen. Jen is the supreme virtue, an emotion of love, but this emotion of love needs to be expressed by proper ways. Yi means doing the right things, and that is a proper way to express Jen.

When carrying out Yi, Li is the tool. Comparing with Li, Yi is like content and Li is like modality. If Li is broken, the inner content behind Li will also be broken, and then Yi will be broken. “Hence, all three of Confucian principles, viz. , Li, Yi and Jen are closely linked to each other. Each is rather the genesis and sustenance of the other. All three create high morality at the individual and social levels and pave the way for happy and prosperous living with a sense of responsibility in prevailing circumstances” (Political Morality and Confucianism: The Interpretation of Li, Yi and Ren).

Confucians at present concern Yi and Li more as a way to manifest Jen, and Chinese people treat Yi as a way to do the right things. Lian and Chi are easier to interpret than virtues before. Lian indicates an honest and upright way of being a governor and ruler. Chi in Chinese means shame. Confucius thinks one should not do things shameless and he says in Analects: “To possess the feeling of shame is to be near to fortitude”(Zhongyong The Doctrine of the Mean).

He encourages people to take responsibility for shameless mistakes they have made, giving chances to all the people who have made mistakes before. To sum up, all the eight virtues are shown; to attain Jen is to follow all these eight virtues. The embodiment of Jen is the ultimate goal of excellent Chinese people since ancient until now. The eight virtues in Confucianism have a great influence on the formation of Chinese traditional moral standards, and these virtues will be carried forward by next generation. Work Cited Hall, David L. Thinking Through Confucius.

New York: State University of New York Press, 1987. Print. Kwong-loi, Shun. The Idea of the Good in Chinese Philosophy, in A Companion to World Philosophies edited by E. Deutsch and R. Bontekoe. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1997. Print. Livingston, James C. Anatomy of the Sacred. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education, 2009. Print. “Political Morality and Confucianism: The Interpretation of Li, Yi and Ren. ” Ravindra, Kumar. World Security Network, 23 Feb. 2011. Web. 11 Nov. 2013. “Zhongyong The Doctrine of the Mean. ” Yanzi Academy, n. d. Web. 11 Nov. 2013.

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Influences of Confucian Virtues on Chinese Moral Standard. (2016, Nov 01). Retrieved from

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