Contribution of Confucianism to Global values, Lecture on Sep 16th in Berlin
DU Lun, chair of the German Confucian Society (DKG)
"Contribution of Confucianism to Global values"
Lecture on Sep 16th in the context of “The Sino-Global Discourse” in Berlin
1. Dialogue in the globalization
It is a great pleasure for me to be here and to talk about Confucianism in the context of “The Sino-Global Discourse”.
In a globalized world more and more problems concern everybody of us and we face numerous conflicts in different areas and on different levels. One of the best ways to solve such problems and conflicts surely is communication and cooperation. At least we can try to – I quote the ultimate goal of the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy – “prevent misunderstanding” and “reduce the likelihood of socio-cultural conflicts”. The “German Confucian Society” has similar goals. For example we aim to promote international understanding or rather “understanding between different cultures”.
But successful communication and cooperation in a globalized world and in the post modern time can only take place if some conditions are fulfilled. I just deal with some of them briefly.
A) Communication should take place on an equal footing.
That means, representatives of every culture have equal rights. People of different cultures should respect each other and learn from each other.
B) The diversity of different cultures should be kept.
On one hand we see the tendency of interpersonal networking and a unification of norms. But on other hand we can also observe that people of different countries try to keep their own traditions and identities. Therefore in a global dialogue the diversity should be kept. Otherwise these cultures and the world could not continue to develop.
Recently we often have been hearing the term “harmony” concerning the policy of the Chinese central government. But we should know that the meaning of “harmony” is not standardization, but “unit with diversity”. In the opinion of Confucians “harmony” marks the quality of a moral person who is able to stick to his own opinion while harmoniously dealing with other people. For example Confucius said, “”A Gentleman is conciliatory, but not adulatory.” (君子和而不同。子路13.23)
C) We should consider the values and norms in the dialogue between cultures.
First, dialogue is always bound to certain values and norms. Because the life of the human being is always a culture life and every culture has its own values and norms.
Second, we should reflect about the direction of our development. The behavior of the people is always bound to the norms and they need an orientation. And it is impossible to discuss their behavior and activities without considering values and norms. In other words, one of the most important tasks in a global dialogue is just to discuss the values and norms.
I will give you an example. Freedom is one of the most important values. If we only emphasize a one sided freedom and let people to do what they want without asking whether it is good or bad and without investigating it according certain norms, our society would get into a danger. Therefore a global dialogue should aim to discuss values and norms in order to steer the development of the human beings. I think, aside from freedom, “order” in connection to certain values and norms should also be seen as an important value.
If we integrate values and norms into the global dialogue, every culture could participate in the discussion and thus contribute to define some basic values for the common area in which we live and deal with each other.
Maybe some of you know the name Hans Küng. The German theologian is co-founder of the Global Ethic Foundation. The work of this foundation could be a good example for us. Its members are convinced that all the people of the world “are dependent on shared basic ethical values, criteria and attitudes for peaceful coexistence.” They are also convinced, that “such values can be found in all the great religious and philosophical traditions of humankind. [The people just] need to be made aware of them again; they must be lived out and handed on.”
2. Contribution of Confucianism
The title of my lecture today is “Contribution of Confucianism to Global values”.
I don’t use the tern “impact” because I am not sure whether I can see the impact of the Confucianism on other cultures and people. First, I think that the fact whether Chinese culture impacts other people depends only on the acceptance of these people and not on the ambitions of the Chinese and their one-sided efforts, for example trying to produce soft power. Second, I think that many Chinese themselves don’t appreciate their culture enough and don’t really know about Confucianism. But we can discuss the question of impact afterwards.
When we talk about Confucianism, many of you maybe think of hierarchy, obedience, hard working, performance orientation etc. Certainly we can observe and experience these phenomena in a Confucian society like China, but we hardly find such things in Confucian scriptures. Of course we can discuss the reasons for this. But we have to be clear that the thoughts about hierarchy, hard working, orientation on performance etc do not concern the core of Confucianism, properly speaking the values of the Confucianism as so called “Great Tradition”.
Now you would ask: What are the values of Confucianism, when you talk about “Contribution of Confucianism to Global values” today? My answer: There would be a long list if I would explain all of these values. Because Confucianism does not only deal with ethics and politics, but also with the ultimate concern of the individuals and can thusly show its religious and transcendental dimensions. As a philosophy of life, Confucianism deals with the question of the human life, its power, change and connection to the cosmos; it emphasizes the unit between heaven as God and human being and the importance of nature to humankind. In one word, Confucianism contains numerous values and wisdom which would be useful for the world in the post modern age, for example the theory of harmony (和) and the concept of the righteousness (义).
Today I will only talk about the two points: the core value of the Confucianism “Humanity” (ren仁) and the concept “Governance through virtue” (德政). In this context I will quote Confucius from the Analects and Mencius from the book Mengzi.
Maybe my lecture will be a bit abstract and won’t have a direct relation to the practice of your work. But the topic is still extremely important because it concerns the sense of our daily life and work.
That means in addition, when I talk about values such as Humanity and “Governance through virtue”, this doesn’t mean that these would be the reality. But we can consider them as – to speak with Max Weber - ideal types. We see these values realized sometimes and somewhere. But we can not see them realized every time, everywhere and in the full extent. But although we can not always see these values completely realized in the real life and political practice, it doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t work. They should serve as orientation. And if we just try to act according to them, we will see that they will work.
3. The origin and nature of Confucianism
Like Christianity and Islam, Confucianism is a tradition which has impacted the social life and political order of China and other countries like Japan and Korea. In order to understand Confucianism we should know about the origin and political aims of this school of thought. For example we should know that originally Confucianism was the teaching of the intellectual and political elite who reflected about social crises and the political order of China about 2500 years ago.
On the historical background: Confucianism originates from the time which the German philosopher Karl Jaspers called the axis age (from 800 to 200 BC). His founder Confucius lived from 551 to 479 BC. At this age the Chinese society was in a social crisis, and at same time upheavals happened. Confucianism was an answer to this social crisis and decline of values and norms. We also should know that Confucian teaching addressed the leadership, those who had responsible positions in the society, above all the ruler. Many of you know that Confucius was the founder of a private school in order to educate “officials” at different levels and he himself was a statesman (minister of justice) for a time.
Since its founding, Confucianism changed constantly in order to adjust to new social and political developments and to meet the challenge of other teachings like Daoism and Buddhism. It is also fact that in the Chinese empire (till 1911) Confucianism served as ideology. But in spite of the changes and adjustments the nature of Confucianism (as a thinking school of an intellectual elite) and its important values always remained the same, like the core value ren (仁), in English “Humanity”.
4. Core value: Humanity (ren 仁)
What does the notion mean? We can say in general, it is about the moral feelings of somebody to other people and to himself. And it consists of three parts: namely love, reciprocity and loyalty.
Now to the first part “love”, or “loving people”
4.1. “Loving people” (爱人)
Let us look back at the time of Confucius. Fan Chi, a student of him, asked the teacher one time about the meaning of Humanity. The teacher gave a very brief answer and said: “Loving people” (爱人。Lunyu 12.22). We can image following two situations. First, the student asked the teacher the question: “What is the meaning of Humanity?” The teacher answered: “You love (other) People.” or “If you love (other) People.” In this case Confucius understood the Humanity as experience and nature of human beings. This is certainly possible because we also experience different kinds from love of others and express our love to others too. Humanity isn’t something which is derived from a divine commandment, but from the human being itself. It can be observed in the daily life and can be experienced.
Another situation would be the following: the student asked the teacher this question: “How can we reach the virtue of the Humanity?” The teacher answered: “By loving (other) People.” In this case Confucius understood the Humanity as task of the human being. Everybody should learn to deal with others lovingly. Of course the boundary between Humanity as nature and task of human being is diffuse. We can sometimes deal with others lovingly, but it is not easy at all to deal with others humanely and lovingly at every time and in every situation. This is just why we should practice it in our daily life. To deal with others lovingly and to learn it is a life long task.
Because there are many and different relations between people, we have different forms to realize the moral feelings of Humanity ren: For example the parents’ love to children is different than the children’ love to parents. Therefore there are in Chinese two different terms, namely ci (慈) as the parents’ love to children and xiao (孝) as the children’ love to parents.
4.2. Shu (恕): Reciprocity, Consideration and Forbearance
When we consider Humanity as moral feelings, there are two principles or ways to realize it. The first is shu (恕). This Chinese notion has several meanings like Reciprocity, Consideration and Forbearance. In the book “Analects” (论语) of Confucius we find the following dialogue. One of the best students of Confucius, Zigong, asked him this question: “Is there one word which may serve as a rule of practice for all one’s life?” The teacher answered: “Is not Reciprocity such a word? What you do not want done to yourself, do not to others.” (子贡：“有一言而可以终身行之乎？”孔子：“其恕乎！己所不欲，勿施于人。”Lunyu 15.24) I believe that the last sentence sounds familiar to you. Indeed, what Confucius said about 2500 years ago, is called “Golden rule” in Europe.
Chinese scholars consider this maxim – I mean the “Golden rule” – as the passive form of realizing the Reciprocity, namely the minimal demand to human being. In addition there is a so-called active form of realizing the Reciprocity.
Confucius said to the same student Zigong by explaining the quality of moral persons (who can be called the man having the virtue of the Humanity): “The man having the virtue of the Humanity is one who, wishing to establish himself, seeks also to establish others; wishing to achieve success, he seeks also to help others to achieve success. To be able to draw from one’s self a parallel for the treatment of others, that may be called the way to practice the Humanity.” (夫仁者，己欲立而立人，己欲达而达人。能近取譬，可谓仁之方也矣。 Lunyu 6.30)
In the case of Humanity it is not about the subject self and its own achievement, the subject should always include other people into its own thinking and activities. In this case the subject is not someone who tries to draw a boundary from himself to others, but it is the person who improves its personality by helping others.
In addition, for Confucians establishing oneself and others means learning social norms in order to be integrated into society; and achieving success and helping others also to achieve success means having achievements in the effort to become a moral person and to improve the society.
4.3. Zhong (忠): Loyalty, Honesty and Devotion
The second principle of the way to realize Humanity is called zhong (忠) in Chinese and can be translated with “loyalty”, “honesty” and “devotion”. But we should know that the loyalty and honesty first of all concern the subject self. The person should at first acquire knowledge, learn social norms, get to know oneself and build one’s principles till he will be able to understand and help others.
Therefore the improvement of one’s self is logically the precondition for the above mentioned principle shu. Second, we should be devoted and try to give our best, when we do something good for others. We should also be able to warn those who are going to make mistakes.
In this moment, you may think that is very difficult to follow these two principles. I know it and can understand you. But this is just the reason why to learn it, because they are the tasks for the human being. If we always try to think about these principles and try to follow them, we will enjoy the pleasure which we will get by dealing with each other. Anyway, Mencius (about 372–289 BC), the second most important representative of Confucianism, was convinced of this view, when he said: “One who loves others is always loved by others; one who respects others is always respected by others.” (爱人者，人恒爱之；敬人者，人恒敬之。Mengzi 8.28)
At last I want to point out that the above mentioned German theologian Hans Küng suggested Humanity as universal value, when he wrote: “Is it in the context of the dialogue between the world religions worth to think about [the question] whether the Humanity of Confucianism can be something like the foundation for a common ethos of the human being?”
I absolutely agree with this suggestion. I think that many problems of the world are due to the fact that many people are extremely profit oriented and are only driven by their search for fun and their own interests without considering others and the posterity. The concept of Humanity is a way to avoid the disadvantage of this excessive individualism and to build personalities in the world community who not only take responsibilities for themselves in the sense of zhong but also for others in the sense of shu.
5. Good human nature (xingshan 性善), Heaven (tian 天) and Gentleman (junzi 君子)
If we regard Humanity as nature of the human being we have than to reason about it. Firstly, Confucians developed the so-called “theory of good human nature”. It means that humans are innately good. When some of them are bad it is because that they have lost their original good human nature, for example by being distracted by external stimulus and by seeking for material satisfaction.
In other words everybody has the disposition to become a good man or women. What he or she has to do is just to link their work to constant reflection about the sense of life and think about the development of the world as a whole.
Secondly, it should also be mentioned that Confucians deeply believe that the Heaven – I mean God (because the Heaven functions as God for Chinese) – provides the human being with the disposition to become a good man or women. In the opinion of Confucians the Heaven is the moral authority for the occurrences in the world. Therefore the humans should have great respect towards Heaven and have to answer to Heaven for their actions.
But this doesn’t mean that the people have to know that there is power over the human being and have to be afraid of it. It rather means that we should constantly make the effort to improve our moral qualities in order to correspond with the demands of God.
Thirdly, the goal of the building the personality is to become the so called „ Gentleman “; in Chinese junzi (君子). It is most important that the members of the leadership should think and act like a Gentleman.
We sometimes hear the concept “meritocracy” in political science. Of course you need – if you belong to the leadership – a lot of know-how and need the abilities to manage an organization. But finally you deal with the people and not with objects. Therefore you have always to have – besides of know-how and abilities – another quality, namely the morality. Without of this quality it is difficult for you to demand that the people led by you voluntarily follow you permanently.
Actually Confucians developed the concept of “Governance through virtue” which we can consider as ”Ethiocracy”.
6 Demands to the leadership: Governance through virtue
In the Analects we find following sentence of Confucius: „He who governs by means of his virtue may be compared to the north polar star, which keeps its place and all the stars turn towards it.“ (为政以德，譬如北辰居其所而众星共之。Lunyu 2.1)
That means, a ruler has to become a Gentleman who has moral quality and enjoys authority. Today we can say that he has soft power. He can then impact others and the ruling people by means of this moral power. Thank this moral power the people would follow him.
This idea is connected to the special Confucian understanding of politics. In the Analects we also read: Ji Kangzi (a ruler of the home state of Confucius) asked Confucius about government, he said: „To govern means to rectify. If you lead on the people with correctness, who will dare not to be correct?“ (政者，正也。子帅以正，孰敢不正？Lunyu 12.17).
In the opinion of Confucians the leadership should – after having brought the people to wealth – educate them morally. That means that the people should have the opportunity to learn social norms and rules for dealing with others, in short: to have an orientation. But at first the leadership itself has to act morally according to social norms. Otherwise the moral education wouldn’t work and the people wouldn’t follow them and their policies.
Confucius said: “When the personal conduct of the ruler is correct, his governance is effective without issuing orders; when his personal conduct is not correct, he may issue orders, but they will not be followed.” (其身正，不令则行；其身不正，虽令不从。Lunyu 13.6)
It is about exemplary function. It doesn’t matter which area it concerns, the leadership has always to serve as an example for the people which they lead. You can only then demand from other people to have good behavior if you already act accordingly.
Therefore the “Governance through virtue” is not only a universal value, but also a universal rule in politics. When we see that only such personalities (they can be politicians, managers or teachers) who are considered as having morality enjoy authority. Thus they would be followed when they are in a leadership position.
The question is now the meaning of virtue. I think there are at least similar views in the tradition of Europe and China. Virtue means “good qualities”. Thanks to these “good qualities” the subject can become a moral person. Otherwise there are some differences. For Greek philosophers like Plato and Aristotle virtue can help to have a happy life. In China virtue means the “benefit for oneself and benefit for others”. (悳，外得于人，内得于己也。) Because Humanity is the core virtue, we can say that the virtue means taking the responsibility not for oneself, but also for others. Today the virtue for a cosmopolitan means taking responsibility for all people in this world.
What are the facts today? Because many members of leadership cannot fulfill their exemplary role, we face problems such as the decline of values and a loss of trust to the leadership. In my opinion scandals of leadership (politicians, top managers etc) and their unmoral behavior are some kind of severe environmental pollution. Because they destroy not only the trust of the people to governments and political institutions, but also the belief that the world can be changed into better.
It is very dangerous for the humankind. Confucius was aware of such danger already 2500 years ago. I found following dialogue between him and his student Zigong:
Zigong asked Confucius about governance.
The teacher said: „The requisites of government are that there be sufficiency of food, sufficiency of military equipment and the confidence of the people in their ruler.
Zigong asked: “If it cannot be helped, and one of these must be dispensed with, which of the three should be foregone first?”
The teacher said: “The military equipment.”
The student again asked: „If it cannot be helped, and one of the remaining two must be dispensed with, which of them should be foregone?“
The teacher said: “Part with the food. From of old, death has been the lot of all men; but if the people have no faith in their rulers, there is no standing for the State.” (子贡问政。子曰：“足食，足兵，民信之矣。” 子贡曰：“必不得已而去，于斯三者何先？”曰：“去兵。” 子贡曰：“必不得已而去，于斯二者何先？”曰：”去食；自古皆有死，民无信不立。”(12.7颜渊)
I hope that leaders at different levels take the warning of Confucius seriously and try to govern through virtue. It would mean that Confucianism has contributed to global values. Confucianism doesn’t only belong to China; it belongs to the entire world!
Thank you for your attention!