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Confucianism is not a perfect system

October 20, 2009



by Gladys Lau Hoi-yan

Chinese Confucianism has been a dominant philosophy in China for thousands. I have been hearing stories influenced by it, such as the 36 Filial Piety Stories, since I was small.

For many years, I believed that they were wise teachings. But what are they really about? They are inspired by a philosophy adopted by emperors in ancient China to consolidate their political power. For example, Confucianism stresses living in harmony with others people in order to have build a stable society. But what about basic freedoms and the right to individuality? In Confucianism, everybody has to follow the rules. If they do not, they are considered immoral.

I once read a story about a widow in ancient China. A man took her hand, and so she chopped her hand off in front of him to show her loyalty to her deceased husband. What kind of morality is that?

Some articles in the 36 Filial Piety Stories are also very strange. There is one about a boy who lays on the icy surface of a lake because he wants to melt the ice and catch a fish for his sick mother who is ill. I’m not sure that is what any that’s what a good mother would expect of her child.

Every philosophy has its good points, and Confucianism is not an exception. But I believe that all philosophies must take into account our right to be treated decently as a human being.

Let’s say, when it comes to Confucianism, there are many ways to show respect and loyalty to one another – and with dignity.

Confucianism is a good example of the importance of not following any one philosophy blindly.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Jenny Leung permalink
    November 6, 2009 4:38 pm

    Confucius was brought up thousands years ago. It was aimed to make the society stable again.
    However,the society struture has changed today. Absolute monarchy was abolished and democracy is risen.That’s why the idea of ‘obey your ruler’ is not suitable today.

  2. October 26, 2009 4:05 pm

    If you read the Post Magazine, you might have seen that last Sunday’s Reflections piece by Wee Kek Koon was related to this discussion.

    It recalled a scandal that burst in 1182 when Zhu Xi, the great scholar of neo-Confucianism, tried to ruin the reputation of his political and intellectual rival Tang Zhongyou by accusing him and his lover Yan Rui of having an improper relationship.

    Zhu managed to arrest Yan and tortured her for two months so as to get a confession that would spoil Tang’s reputation and put an end to his career.

    But Yan didn’t make the confession. She said: ‘Even if I were to admit to the accusation, I wouldn’t be sentenced to death. But where truth and falsehood are concerned, I cannot lie and wrongfully incriminate a gentleman.’

    Eventually, the Emperor intervened; Yan was released and Zhu was showed as a cruel man.

    But this incident seems to have been quickly forgotten. It didn’t prevent Zhu from becoming one of the most regarded Chinese philosophers.

  3. iherei permalink
    October 21, 2009 4:12 pm

    I think today’s cults of individuality are terrible. They just make people so selfish and uncaring about society and the rest of the world. Why should we put our personal needs above others’?
    None of the great progress we have made as a society would have happened if we had all been worrying about ourselves. One stick is easily broken but it’s hard to break a bundle.
    Yet we insist on being that lone stick.
    This whole idea is a lie.

  4. Young Post permalink
    October 20, 2009 4:17 pm

    Thanks Gladys for your very interesting letter. It is not always easy to question the validity of an ancient philosophy, especially when you’ve been hearing stories influenced by it as child. So well done! Very good thinking.

    Do you think Confucianism still influences our modern society?

    Are we still using this philosophy to define the principles of morality and respect?

    What about Western societies which have build their identity around the right to individuality, do you think they are better off?

    What would you keep from Confucianism and what would you leave?

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