Political Thinking For an East Asia Context


Chinese civilization has been considered to be the longest continuous civilization on earth. The system of the Chinese dynasty gave it a bureautic control against a system that in the end was advantageous to the Chinese agrarian system than the neighboring nomadic and hill cultures. The civilization of China was also boosted by the development of one written language between the many dialects in China (http://tourism.e-china.ru/en/search-Chinese_civilization.html). The written language implied that the Chinese had to learn a second language apart from their traditional dialect. Therefore, the success of Confucianism was partly attributed to Mencius (Ebry, 1993). This is because Mencius advocated for the learning of the second language. The neighboring communities that conquered the Chinese dynasties ended up adopting the Chinese civilization, especially the bureaucratic system of governance.

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Therefore, the pre-modern Chinese Government can be traced from various stages of civilization. The first stage, is “extended from the dimly limned beginnings of the Shang state to the creation of the first empire, its predominant characteristic was patriotism, second stage was meritocracy, third stage was aristocracy, the final is the pre modern stage”.

The last dynasty to be established in China was in 1644 and was established by Qing (Ch’ing). The dynasty had Beijing as its capital. The Chinese dynasty faced so many attacks from other different nations. For instance, the Opium war of 1839 – 42, that was a war between the Chinese dynasty and the British government. Being the longest civilization, Chinese philosophy can be divided into five phases: the ancient (Ca. 1000 BCE – 588 CE), the medieval (589 – 959 CE), the Renaissance (960 – 1900 CE), the modern (1901 – 1949), and the contemporary (after 1949 CE) (http://www.iep.utm.edu/m/mod-chin.htm). The renaissance period is a characteristic of the Neo-Confucian movement. This movement according to (http://www.iep.utm.edu/m/mod-chin.htm) lasted for four dynasties which were; the song (960- 1279), Yuan (1280 – 1367), Ming (1368 – 1643) and Qing (1944 – 1911).

Changes that took place through out the Chinese civilization from the early phases had an effect through out Chinese politics, social and economic life, to the current china. For instance, “Liang Qichao (1873 – 1930)… Suggested in his writing of;

The Chinese Academic History in the past three hundred years (Zhongku Jinsanbainien Xueshushi) that modern Chinese philosophy was rooted in the traditions of classical Confucianism, Neo – Confucianism, pure land Buddhism, and the Xixue (“Western learning,” that is mathematics, natural sciences and Christianity) that arose during the late Ming Dynasty (Ca 1552 – 1632) and flourished until the early republic period (1911 – 1923). As he noted, there were two Confucian traditions handed down from the Han dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE) to the early Qing dynasty, namely classical Confucianism (Jingxue) and Neo – confusianism (Lixue), (http://www.iep.utm.edu/m/mod-chin.htm).

There were those who were opposed to the Neo Confucianism approach. These were called the Jingxue (school of classical studies), or classical Confucianism. This grouped developed in the early years of the Qing dynasty. This classical Confucianism were founded on six, “that is the Yijing (Book of changes), the Shujing (classic of incitement History), the Shijing (classic of poetry), the now lost Yuejing (classic of music), the Lijing (classic of propriety), and the Chunqiu (Annals of the Spring and Autumn Period)”, (http://www.iep.utm.edu/m/mod-chin.htm). The argument of Liang was that where as Neo – Confucianism placed more emphasis on abstractions, i.e. Xin (mind), Xing (human nature) and Li (reason), but placed little concern to practical affairs that include economic affairs, “political, an military knowledge that will strengthen the national defense, benefit the public welfare, and promote people livelihood (http://www.iep.utm.edu/m/mod-chin.htm).

The proponents of Confucianism opposed to the high handedness Legalist governments. They felt that the government involvement in the economic matters would have negative impact on the economy. However, according to Bell (2006), “this did not translate however, into endorsement of an uneffered private property rights regime. Rather, Confucians defended constraints on the free market in the name of more fundamental values”.

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The Confucian advocated for family ownership of property as opposed to individual ownership. In this form, the system enabled the society to take care of people such as the elderly. This was the filial piety policy. His system had an advantage of making sure that those at the low ranking in the society are not much disadvantaged.

Confucianism was a one intellectual movement in warring states of China, (Van Norden, 2006). According to Van Norden, soon after the Kongzi died, Mohists (followers of the philosopher Mozi [motzu]) developed a consequential ethical system that was anti traditional and anti-Confucian …Yang Zhu (Yang Chu) criticized both Confucian and Mohists, arguing that we should follow ‘human nature,’ (renxing [jen hsing]), which dictates that we preserve our lives rather than take part in governmental activities.

When the state of Qin took reign in 221 B.C.E, the other states were conquered and this led to an end of the warning states of China, but rather has a unified Chinese state. During the reign of Qin, many Confucianism scholars were killed as well as burning of all books that contained the Confucianism ideologies of the day. This is because Qin believed in the ideology of legalism, and not Confucianism. The Qin dynasty lasted only up 207 B.C. E. according to Ropp,

Although the Confucius was no less eager to shape political, the legalist officials were better positioned to implement their political ideas. The state of Ch’in became the center for legalist reforms, which enjoyed some local success but could not easily be imposed in other states after king of Ch’in attempted to extend his laws an institutions over the whole of china when he conquered the warring kingdom in 221 cc, (pp 88).

The Han dynasty that came to power after the Qin reign again reinstated the ideologies of Confucianism, and in fact making it the official ideology of the state. These Confucianism ideologies of Han were different from the other Confucianism ideologies. This is because the Han Confucianism combined with elements of non-Confucianism philosophers.

Before the development Confucius ideologies, the Chinese people religion grew out of animism. They worshipped in such things as the sun, and revered the death (Chai, 1973 pp 19). Under the rule of Han Buddhism was introduced in China. This religion happened to become a de factor dominant religious ideology in China after even after the fall of Han.

According to Legendre (1972), while it may be a common place to say that the family is the paramount social unit, the statement is specifically applicable in China. This primitive organization forms in China a solid entity, held together by natural and artificial ties. Tradition, religion and law combine to cement its unity and to uphold it. So strong indeed is the Chinese family that it delights in a splendid isolation, depending on its own resources, and shunning contact with others,” (pp 16).

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Neo – Confucianism ideology is basically an anti Buddhist, but it has adopted several of Buddhist ideas, especial Huayan (Hua –Yen), and Chan (Ch’an, known in Japanese as Zen),” (Van Norden, 2006). According to Giles, (2005),the Chinese are emphatically not a religious people, though they are very superstitious. Belief in a God has come down from the remotest ages, but the old simple creed has been so overlaid by Buddhism as not to be discernible at the present day. Buddhism is now the dominant religion in China. It is closely bound up with the lives of the people and is never failing refuge in sickness or worldly trouble.

Buddhism has how become common in China and much more defined than it was in India. Most who believe in Buddhism have seen it to be their savior, through righteousness. But the Chinese people make jokes and mock the Buddhism priest, especially about their shaven heads. The Buddhist priests are the only who seems to lead purity lives i.e. not taking drinks nor eating meat.

The extent of the Confucianism is still felt till now in China. There are still those advocating for the use of the Confucianism ideologies. There have been a moral vacuum in China due to the economic, politics, and social changes that is now being filled up by the “Christians sects, Falun Gong and extreme forms of nationalism,” (Rogers, 2006). These changes have not been received well by the government of China as it feels that such changes are a threat to the security of the state that has been hard – won. Hence, to the government, the best option is for the revival of Confucianism.

This was first propagated in 2005 by the Chinese president Hu Jintao. According to Rodgers, (2006), like most ideologies, however, Confucianism can be a double – edged sword. “Confucius said, Harmony is something to be cherished,” president Hu Jintao noted in February 2005. A few months later, he instructed China’s party cadres to built a “harmonious society”, echoing Confucian themes. Hu said, China should promote such values as honesty and unity, as well as forge a closer relationship between the people and the government.

To make sure that policies take root, Confucianism syllabus have been introduced in schools teaching curriculums. The government has also extended the policies abroad by setting up branches of Confucian institute.

The Confucian policies are very advantageous to the government. This is because the harmony that goes with the policies is of more concern to the ruling party. There had been some disturbances in the country, and one way that has been completely assisting in the peace of the society is the filial petty. This Confucianism policy calls for adult children to take an obligation of taking care of their elderly parents.

The current situation in China has made even the intellectuals to turn into trying to use Confucianism to solve the current china’s social and political predicament. But these intellectuals’ definition of Confucianism is not as the original meaning of Confucianism. For instance, “Jiang Qing, author of political Confucianism in which he argues that for contemporary China, political Confucianism is more appropriate than Western style liberal democracy”, (Rodgers, 2006). Jiang has argued for a Confucianism that allows for the entrustment of the elite in the society (i.e. in the Taiwanese publication), and on the web, he argues for the establishment of the state religion, as Confucianism (Rodgers, 2006). This shows the confusion of Confucian meaning being created by the intellectuals.


Intellectuals for foreign policies have also arguably used Confucianism. In this case, they do favor the use of moral examples in international affairs rather than using force against other nations. for instance many intellectuals were against the use of force by the American’s invasion of the Iraq. The intellectuals’ argument was based on Confucianism, but again this shows divergent form the original meaning of Confucianism. “The idea that Taiwan should be reintegrated into the mainland by being threaded with invasion and bloodshed is far removed from Confucian ideals. Perhaps the biggest challenge to the government is the Confucian emphasis on meritocracy”.

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Bell A. Daniels (2006): Beyond Liberal Democracy: political Thinking for an East Asia Context.

Chai, Ch’U & Chai Winberg. Confucianism. ISBN 0764191381, Barron’s Educational Series, 1973.

Ebry, Patricia S. Chinese Civilization: A Source Book. 2nd ed. New York: The Free Press, 1993.

Giles, Herbert A. The civilization of China, ISBN 1595407510, 1st world publishing, 2005.

Legendre, Aimé-François. Modern Chinese Civilization. ISBN 08369669464, Ayer Publishing, 1972

Rodgers, Ross. China Confucius and Politics, 2006.

Ropp, Paul & Barret Timothy H. Heritage of China: A contemporary Perspective on Chinese Civilization. Berkley: University of California Press, 1990.

The Internet Encyclopedia of philosophy, Modern Chinese Philosophy (1901 – 1949). Web.

Van Nordan, Bryan. W: Early Chinese History, 2006.

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