Confucius' Political Philosophy
Kong Qiu also known as Confucius by English scholars was born in the Shandong Peninsula in 551BCE. He was a great thinker, educator, political figure, and founder of the Ru School of Chinese thought according to Chinese tradition. His teachings were kept in the form of Lunyu or Analects and have been preserved for over 2000 years now. These teachings form the footing of much of successive Chinese theory on the education and conduct of the ideal gentleman, how one must live and interrelate with his neighbors, and the systems of society and government that he should engage. According to Fung Yu-lan, who was a great Chinese historian in the 20th century, Confucius' influence in Chinese history is comparable to the works of Socrates in the West.
Photo of Confucius
Confucius' teachings on political philosophy were deeply entrenched on the confidence that a leader should exhibit self-discipline, lead his people by example, and shower them with love and apprehension. “When people are led by laws, and uniformity among them sought by punishments, they will try to escape punishment and have no sense of shame. When led by virtue, and uniformity sought among them through the practice of ritual propriety, they will possess a sense of shame and come to you of their own accord” (Lunyu 2.3; see also 13.6.).
We find out that, during his time, activists of more legalistic approaches were getting a huge following from the ruling class. He was always there to correct them in case of any wrong doing or offer advice whenever they sought for it. This prompted Confucius to warn them of the dangers of transmitting law codes as a way of preventing their application. He lamented why his moral ideas were not being applied by the ruling class at that time.
Photo showing the different states of China during Confucius’ time
Present day China
He was very vocal about reforming the political system which he claimed had stalled. He went through a lot of trouble trying to convince the people why they needed to make a change on the political system. Confucius recognized this failure as a result of the point that those who exercised authority as well as those who held minor positions clinging on by holding privilege to titles that they were not qualified. The ruler of the great nation of Qi, neighbor to Lu in the Shandong peninsula, went to seek his guidance concerning the principles of good leadership. Confucius reportedly said; “Good government consists in the ruler being a ruler, the minister being a minister, the father being a father, and the son being a son” (Lunyu 12.11).
He argued that one should only claim for himself a title that is justifiably his and when he holds that title and take part in several hierarchical associations meant by that name, and he ought to live up to the implication of the designation that he claims for himself. Confucius' scrutiny of the absence of association between realities and their titles and the necessity to change these facts was also known by the name “Confucius' theory of zhengming.” In some parts of the Analects, he talks to his follower Zilu claiming that his first action as a ruler of the state would be to apply the theory of zhengming (Lunyu 13.3).
Confucius assumed that this restructuring had to start from the very top of the government. He argued so because it was here at the top that differences in names and realities had started. He claimed if a leader’s conduct is corrected then those under him will do the same. In his discussion with one Ji Kangzi, they engaged in a meaningful conversation, and he advised him “If your desire is for good, the people will be good. The moral character of the ruler is the wind; the moral character of those beneath him is the grass. When the wind blows, the grass bends” (Lunyu 12.19).
According to Confucius, superior ruler-ship was characterized by the control of de or ‘virtue.’ Confucius conceived this ‘virtue’ as a moral power that allows one to win a following without the option to physical force. This ‘virtue’ also facilitated the leader to sustain good command in his nation without worrying himself of any troubles or by relying on his loyal deputies. He also argued that, “He who governs by means of his virtue is, to use an analogy, as the pole-star: it remains in its place while all the lesser stars do homage to it” (Lunyu 2.1).
He taught that the only way one can sustain and nurture this royal ‘virtue’ was by engaging in the exercise and performance of li or ‘rituals.’ These ceremonies defined and interposed the lives of the prehistoric Chinese aristocracy. It is through these ceremonies that they executed sacrificial rites at ancestral shrines to show humbleness and gratitude. They performed ceremonies of fulfillment, and gift exchange binding the aristocracy together into a compound network of responsibility and obligation among the people. The actions of graciousness and dignity such as prostration and yielding identified their actors as gentlemen.
Drawing of workers building Levees against flood
Picture of Peasant farmers
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