Banazîr the Jedi Hobbit (banazir) wrote,
Banazîr the Jedi Hobbit

Confucian Fundamentalism

Are members of your family devout believers in some religion or system of belief? Would you call them "fundamentalists", either in the literal sense of returning to the original scriptures and doctrines of a system of belief, or the colloquial sense of being very hidebound adherents to the old-time religion?

I would call my folks Confucian fundamentalists. In some sense, they believe in the Taoist ideals of the Doctrine of the Mean, eschewing extremism and fearmongering in the name of theocratic authority. They believe in the principle that mankind should live in harmony with society, seeking first to set oneself, then one's family, then one's village, and finally one's nation right. They hold the humility, the love of learning, and humanity highest among virtues.

They also remain fervently conscious of the Five Bonds, though their view is perhaps modernized somewhat so that they can be stated as:

  • 1. Civic and legal

  • 2. Filial

  • 3. Marital

  • 4. Familial (vs. only fraternal)

  • 5. Social


Some of the Analects of Confucius that my folks are very fond of quoting are:

  • 近朱者赤,近墨者黑。
    jin zhu zhe chi, jin mo zhe hei.
    Literal translation: One who mixes with vermilion will turn red, one who touches pitch shall be defiled therewith.
    Meaning: Good companions have good influence while bad ones have bad influence.

  • 不是发愤图强要研究学问,我是不会去开导的,不是有话想说,却难以表达的人,我是不会去启发的,不能举一反三的人,我是不会重复教的。
    Literal translation: Who is not eager to study and get knowledge, I will not teach; who finds it difficult to explain it himself, I will not inspire. To one who is given one example and cannot return three, I do not repeat my lesson.
    Meaning: I do not open up the truth to one who is not eager to get knowledge, nor help anyone who is not anxious to explain something for himself. When I have presented one corner of a subject to any one, and he cannot from it learn the other three, I will not repeat my lesson.
    "Present one and receive three" (举一反三, jǔ yī fǎn sān) is a stratagema, an idiom that expresses the idea that "From a part we may judge the whole; from one instance we may learn by analogy, to draw inferences about other cases."

  • 三人行,必有我師焉。擇其善者而從之,其不善者而改之。
    san ren xing, bi you wo shi yan. ze qi shan ze er cong zhi, qi bu shan zhe er gai zhi.
    Literal translation: Amid three, must my teacher be found. From him who is virtuous I choose what to follow, from him who is not virtuous I choose what to change in myself.
    Meaning: When walking in a company of three, I am certain to find my teacher: a better person in order to emulate him, or a poorer one in order to recognize in him what in myself I must correct.

A few comments and critiques

Now, the principle of mutual responsibilities between parents and children, husband and wife, etc. are very well and good, but I have to note that one side-effect of zealotry towards Confucianism, as towards any religious or quasi-religious doctrine, is extreme intolerance. It's easy to take the principle that your friends should make you better in a such way that you become judgmental of your friends, divesting yourself of them for the sake of being "respectable". I don't think that was Confucius's intent: rather, it seems from his other sayings that meant that one should seek to emulate only the positive qualities of one's friends and acquaintances, and avoid picking up their bad habits and traits. Putting aside friendships was not only a last resort, but an acknowledgment that in finding something unworthy to avoid in such a friend, one had also failed to bring out the better part of him.

Frankly, there are any number of aspects of Chinese culture that I find overly dogmatic, from slightly traditionalist to terribly closed-minded and judgmental.

Seeming fair and feeling foul: Analects I.3

Take the popular conception of Lunyu I.3, for example. 子曰: 「巧言令色,鲜矣仁。」(zi yue: "qiao yan ling se, xian yi ren.") Translation, The Master said: "Fine words and an insinuating appearance are seldom associated with true virtue." From these seven words stem both a very wise sense of caution about the suave and unctuous, together with some of the world's most unreasoned and fervent prejudice against good orators and writers! Ask most Chinese people, and we'll generally tell you that we're distrustful of someone who speaks too well. The problem is: who decides how well is "too well"? The baser instincts that dogmatic belief in this analect engender include: automatic distrust of rhetorical reasoning; abhorrence of public speaking; and an unwillingness to improve even one's own communication skills. You can imagine some of the negative consequences when such thinking is taken too far.

Oddly enough, the above is one example of a prejudice my parents don't have, by and large. You'll see them apply the above proverb to a politician who seems enticing to many yet they don't trust; but in general, they don't eschew poised and well-spoken individuals.

Tags: china, chinese culture, education, history

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