A Ku Indeed!

Cameron Diaz Slips on Path to Junzi

Posted in Chinese Philosophy by Chris on June 25, 2007

Today Cameron Diaz made the news, but unfortunately for the wrong reasons. Here below you see the problem:


Seems unproblematic, no? Just Cameron rather taking pictures of the Pervian countryside. Unfortunately, Diaz’s bag contains a saying from Mao Zedong “serve the people”. Doubly unfortunate is the fact that Peru has had a bloody history associated with followers of the Mao-inspired guerilla insurgency the Shining Path. As a consequence, and not surprisingly, many Peruvians were upset by what was no doubt seen as a direct insult or, at best, an act of insensitivity.

I have no doubt that Diaz didn’t mean it as a direct insult. To do that would require that she be able to read Chinese and know something about Peruvian history, and I suspect she is deficient in both areas. But so are lots of people, and that shouldn’t excuse her. It is here that I think a Confucian analect speaks wisely to the situation:

When Confucius entered the Grand Temple, he asked about everything. Someone said, “Who said Confucius is a master of ritual? He enters the Grand Temple and asks about everything!” Confucius, hearing this, said: “This is the ritual.”

Wise words to the traveler. What Confucius’ detractor no doubt meant here was that it is surprising that one would call a person a ‘master of ritual’ if they don’t already know what to do in every circumstance. However, what Confucius is suggesting here are two things: one, that no one knows everything, and so humility with respect to how one should act is always advisable, and second, that when one goes into an area or place in which one doesn’t know everything, one should ask questions so that one does not inadvertently do something stupid. If the Junzi aims to be benevolent as a person, she recognizes that one can only do so through acting in certain ways. But acting must be interpreted, and in one context an action will be socially understood in one way and in another in a completely different way. Thus although ‘benevolence’ is universally required, the ways in which it is accomplished are, to some degree, socially relative. In a Christian church, one removes one’s hat as a sign of respect. In a Jewish temple, one puts one one to accomplish the same end. If one traveled from one to the next, one would need to ‘ask questions’ in order to know how to be respectful in particular contexts.

Clearly Diaz is guilty of not asking enough questions. If you go to a foreign country, and you have a bag that says something in a language you don’t understand, this might be a good place to start.


One Response

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  1. Derico said, on September 28, 2007 at 11:21 am


    I Googled for something completely different, but found your page…and have to say thanks. nice read.

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