Even though he died more than 2,000 years ago, Confucius still often comes up in conversations about Chinese behaviour and the Chinese psyche. The wisdom of the ancient scholar is credited with, and blamed for, many of the characteristics that outsiders observe in the Chinese today. But how much of modern Chinese behaviour can really be explained by Confucianism, and to what extent do Kongzi’s wise words live on in modern day China?
The man himself was born in the Lu state (modern day Shandong) in 551 BC in the so-called Spring and Autumn Period. Raised by his mother in poverty after his father died when he was three, Confucius was educated at a school for commoners before going on to hold minor governmental roles. It was only in later life that he began preaching about moral and social responsibly, and it wasn’t until 100 BC that his teachings were taken as the state philosophy of the Han Dynasty and the “Sage” was raised to god-like status. His analects on social harmony, respect and diligence continued to flourish alongside Buddhism and Daoism as the prevailing schools of thought through subsequent dynasties.
For the most part, Confucian ethics deal with the promotion of the Five Constants (Wǔcháng - 五常) that were laid out in the Han Dynasty. These five constants are: Rén (仁 - benevolence), Yì (義 – righteousness), Lǐ (禮 - etiquette), Zhì (智 - wisdom), and Xìn (信 - integrity). Confucius also encouraged other virtues, such as Zhōng (忠 -loyalty) and Xiào (孝 - filial piety), which are arguably equally important.
During the Cultural Revolution, leader Mao Zidong endeavoured to erase Confucianism from the collective consciousness, feeling that it epitomised the old feudal system he was keen to eradicate. However, in recent years, the Communist Party has encouraged its revival, believing that Confucian beliefs promote patriotism and that all-important social harmony.
But how much do Kongzi’s teaching still hold true today? Here are five Confucian concepts and what I consider to be their modern interpretations.
Confucius advocated many types of social harmony, ranging from national peace to family values. One of the most pervasive of his teachings was that everyone should know their place and act according to their ranking in society. Social harmony also means never openly criticizing another person and causing them to lose face.
These concepts are very much alive and kicking in China today. Harmony on a national scale these days manifests as a fierce brand of patriotism, drilled into the Chinese from childhood, that rejects foreign criticism of China, and by default, the Chinese government. On a more personal level, we see familial and workplace hierarchies strictly adhered to, with subordinates taught not to criticise their superiors.
Although Confucius never used the word "Guānxì" in his analects and teachings, the concept of the importance of interpersonal relationships has become one of his most enduring legacies. Guanxi is related to the ideal of social harmony and involves the use of interpersonal relationships to further one’s career or social standing.
While modern day guanxi can look very much like nepotism and corruption to outsiders, it is still an integral part of getting ahead in China. Whether it’s someone you went to school with, someone from your industry or someone in your social circle, it’s the personal connections we make in China that often lead to the best opportunities and advantages.
Confucius taught that righteousness lay in putting aside personal interest and sacrificing individual needs in favour of the greater good.
Much of this ancient selflessness has been eroded by intense competition and modern consumerism, but the group mentality persists, especially in the Chinese workplace. Striving for individual recognition and glory is considered bad form, and departments are often rewarded, and punished, as a group.
4) Filial Piety
Much of Confucius’s teachings revolve around filial piety and the importance of respecting your elders. As well as the child to parent relationship, Kongzi valued the vertical bonds between ruler and ruled, husband and wife, elder brother with younger brother, and so on.
While children are today more free to follow their own paths, devotion to one’s parents is still of huge importance in China. Many married couples live with at least one set of parents, and it is common for the whole family to be involved in important individual decisions. Children will also save in order to furnish their parents with hefty hongbao at Chinese New Year and to ensure they’re looked after in their old age. As seen by the common use of honorific titles for elders, social hierarchies are also still observed more forcefully in China than in the West.
5) Diligence and Scholarship
Confucius’s ideas about diligence and scholarship came to play during the formation of the imperial examination system in the early 600s. China’s civil service was one of the nation’s proudest achievements, and the hard work required to pass the entrance exams was seen as embodying Confucian virtues of scholarship.
Today, competition is just as fierce in the much-feared gaokao university entrance exams, and a student’s success or failure will set the course of the rest of their lives. As a result, values of diligence and scholarship are still very much upheld and promoted in modern Chinese society, and the stereotype of the studious pupil and the pushy parent is going nowhere fast.
What other Confucian values do you see in modern day China? Tell us in the comments section below.
Warning：The use of any news and articles published on eChinacities.com without written permission from eChinacities.com constitutes copyright infringement, and legal action can be taken.
Keywords: Confucius teachings modern China
All comments are subject to moderation by eChinacities.com staff. Because we wish to encourage healthy and productive dialogue we ask that all comments remain polite, free of profanity or name calling, and relevant to the original post and subsequent discussion. Comments will not be deleted because of the viewpoints they express, only if the mode of expression itself is inappropriate.
Please login to add a comment. Click here to login immediately.
raise you a Qin Shi Huang. Then double raise you Leonardo da Vinci. Treble raise you Isaac Newton. For a straight I will raise you Albert Einstein. For a Flush I will raise you Nicola Tesla. Royal Flush Steven Hawkins. it means while you can say okay he (your choice) was good. he was not the only one. the difference being all them names had more of an affect on humanity.
May 29, 2021 01:21 Report Abuse
Confucius was a Chinese philosopher who lived during the Spring and Autumn period in China’s history (~500BC). He is credited with authoring numerous classic texts covering all sorts of societal topics that have come to be known as “Confucianism”.
May 19, 2021 11:06 Report Abuse