A Ku Indeed!

Confucius and Authoritarianism

Posted in China, Chinese Philosophy, Politics, Values Analysis by Chris on October 1, 2007

Today in Values Analysis we were talking about “how far” Confucius would say that we need to make allowances for the bad behavior of a parent, or of a ruler, and how accepting (or passive) a son or daughter (or citizen in the case of a ruler) needs to be when this occurs. Admittedly, Confucius has received a bad name on these issues, the assumption being that he would pretty much put up with anything, and that the son/daughter or citizen simply has to accept their lower role in the hierarchy and passively deal with the bad behavior of those above them.

No doubt some of the concern regarding Confuicus comes from 4.18, where it says:

The Master said, “In serving your mother and father, remonstrate with them gently. On seeing that they do not heed your suggestions, remain respectful and do not act contrary. Although concerned, voice no resentment.”

Prima facie, it looks like Confucius is saying that we ought to be passive in the face of mistreatment or in the presence of bad behavior, if it’s coming from someone above us in the social hierarchy (we discussed in class some ways around this interpretation of 4.18). We also discussed some of the differences between Confucius’ and Mencius’ stances on these issues, noting that Mencius is famous for suggesting that regicide is sometimes permittable (well, because he claims that the object of the murder is no longer a king if he’s not doing his job well!). Very interesting stuff, especially as it relates to questions about the proper Confucian response to issues of familial or spousal abuse, or even with to issues of just plain bad government.

Now, almost as if was sitting in our classroom this morning and wanted to comment on the discussion, Sam Crane at Useless Tree has a post up on the subject (the bottom half of the post)! So, if you’re in my class (even if you aren’t), head over there and as they say in the blogging business, read the whole thing. I think Sam’s got it right.

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