The Lasting Legacy of Confucian Moral
The Lasting Legacy of Confucian Moral Theory and Practice on Political Economy, Law, and International Relations
Over the centuries, Confucian philosophy has made considerable contribution to the way of life in almost all East Asian nations. The perception of the surrounding world, politics and economy, law and justice, education, culture and art, psychology and mentality as well as human relationships was formed under the great impact of the Confucian tradition. The Confucian thoughts have been evolving in China and later in other emerging East Asian countries for more than several millenniums (Bell and Chaibong 79). Thus, it is no accident that almost every aspect of life of people living there is largely shaped by this philosophy. Most of these aspects are observed to be formed under Confucianism even today like those concerning etiquette, temperament and education. In fact, such spheres as international relations and foreign policy of East Asian countries, their political economy and sustainable development as well as the judicial and legal system along with the law as a whole are deeply influenced by Confucianism. It is crucial to analyze the result and consequences of impact of Confucian theory on these aspects that make most of East Asian countries develop and reach their ups and downs.
First and foremost, international relations in Eastern Asia as well as geopolitics are influenced by the traditions that evolved thousands of years ago since countries like China have never been much open to the rest of the world. According to the majority of the political theories, East Asian countries of the past have always pursued the objective of paying large attention to the interest of the state or “national interest” (Latham 13). It can be obviously explained by the place of China in the world order and its role in the international arena. China has always been a state that kept regional leadership until European countries and the USA have taken a chance to make contact with it. After the numerous attempts to establish diplomatic and merely commercial relations, large colonial empires began to use some other means of intervention. Apparently, the only purpose of countries like the British Empire, France and the United States of America was to start a business, perform commercial operations and sign some kind of basic trade agreement between them and China. Nevertheless, they have been always rejected to do it due to Chinese perception of the state’s role in both regional and global relations with other participants in the international arena. Historically, over the centuries, most of the China’s neighbors where various Asian tribes that were constantly migrating around the territorial borders of this large country (Latham 14). Therefore, China needed to protect its borders on the appropriate level to insure the integrity of the state and safety of the emperor who is the most valuable and is the “son of the sky”, according to Confucian philosophy. The best way is to antagonize barbarian tribes against each other while maintaining good relations with each of them and to slander some of them so that their attention would be paid to their personal disputes rather than to potential conquest of Chinese territories.
In fact, Chinese government has chosen the above-mentioned strategy in the situation with European states and the USA. They basically ignored the diplomatic missions or merely perceived them as a tribute to respect to the Chinese emperor from other countries. The same situation was with the technological innovations and new technologies as the representatives of government received it like a gift or donation for the household of the emperor (Bell and Chaibong 28). In fact, Confucian tradition justifies such way of making international policy because it is grounded on peaceful relations with others, especially between the potentially opposing states, on the prevention of war and on peaceful existence within the borders of the state. As a result, nowadays the lasting legacy of these processes is observed through the way Chinese government makes the foreign policy of the country. Apparently, it is hard to obtain an approval from China to make some steps in international relations concerning foreign trade or communications if the state shares border with the country or is somehow connected to it. Furthermore, China is always neutral in any conflict not concerning the country’s territorial security, and this is also the manifestation of the lasting impact of the Confucian theory on politics.
The other factor concerning international relations that was largely influenced by Confucian philosophy is the concept of force and its role both in the international cooperation and emerging conflicts between states. First of all, the force, according to the Confucian thought, is only minor if not unnecessary aspect for performing any policy. Thus, people of China think that the emperor and government is focused on the armed forces as a factor that can and should be changed into moral persuasion and constrained every time when hostility emerges between states. It is stated that it is much more important to influence the thoughts of the enemy and to provide a place for some maneuver in order to avoid an armed confrontation and save lives of soldiers. Therefore, the best commander and ruler is that who won the battle before it even started without utilization of weapons but through peaceful measures and moral persuasion to influence enemy, for instance, through degrading moral spirit of the opposing army.
The second important feature that manifests the lasting legacy of Confucianism is political economy, development and prosperity growth. For about two thousand years until the revolution, the Chinese economy was in some cases guided by the Confucian ideas, and it was reliable enough because it worked. The consequences of such connection between economic strategy and philosophical paradigm were both effective and destructive. First and foremost, the patriarchal state of society was perceived as a standard feature for those who followed the Confucian ideas as well as the almighty emperor who could do whatever he wanted and extort tremendous tributes and regularly paid taxes from not only reach but also extremely poor people (Yao 31). Furthermore, freedom was not even an issue of the conversation since people could not move and work without permission. Today, it is obvious that such policy will never foster economic growth and prosperity in the country.
The other consequence of such connection is absolute neglect of the profits and basically the process of earning money. The reason for it is that according to Confucianism, money is only needed by a person to fulfill its material satisfaction and desires which is not the basis of peaceful existence of a person in harmony. Therefore, material issues were to be replaced in the minds of admirers and followers of the Confucian doctrine. Hereby, it is no accident that tradesmen were not admired and respected for what they did. As a result, salesmen and merchants were often neglected and placed at the bottom in the hierarchy of the traditional Chinese society of that time. It is logical because they were treated like the ones whose only and true concern and intention was to earn more and to raise their own income. Apparently, even the aforementioned trade missions form European countries and the USA were received and met not in a proper way as it was established in the developed countries of that time (Bell and Chaibong 83). Hereby, there occurs the question if Chinese governmental institutions should be observed as competent, bearing in mind that they had no idea about China’s actual position in the world economic and politic order and any innovation or new technologies fostering economic growth throughout the world. The country’s place concerning the equilibrium of forces was ridiculously overestimated. In fact, the perception of China inside and outside the border had merely nothing in common, which was the destructive consequence of perceiving the state as a center of universe.
Talking about other economic features influenced by the Confucian ideas, it is necessary to mention the role of agriculture since it is one of the main parts of China’s economy today. Referring to the Confucian thoughts, the core feature of the successful economy and sustainable growth lies in the focus on agricultural production. The reason is that it can bring a good result expressed in the prosperity of the nation, rise in people’s well-being and standards of living as well as improve their livelihoods. However, if agriculture plays such an important role, almost nothing is left for the internal and external trade and commerce which nowadays are much more crucial for the maintenance of economic stability. Thus, Confucianism had a destructive effect since trade, especially foreign one, has been not of the greatest importance for the millenniums. Apparently, when representatives of colonial empires reached sea borders of China in seaports like Shanghai or Guangzhou and threatened them with force, Chinese government understood that foreign trade might help them build close relations with other countries in the future. The reason is that no ties or relations could be stronger that commercial ones since the military, political or regional cooperation was impossible since China rejected to receive diplomatic missions or grant land for embassies of some states.
There are much more bad features of the lasting legacy of Confucianism, so few more arguments should be stated. In fact, most of the effects of this philosophy on the economy of the East Asian countries were rather destructive. Apparently, too much attention was paid to the nature, and, therefore, the knowledge about nature was far more crucial than knowledge of political theory of basics of economic development. Nature was the central aspect of world perception by the Chinese. Hereby, the knowledge necessary for the sustainable growth of income and economy as a whole was commonly neglected with the help of Confucian ideas and available only for the particular groups of exceptionally educated officials. It is not surprising that economic activities were not prompted enough, taking into account the fact that one of the core values of Confucianism was living life like a person lives in poorness and has no problems with that since the main purpose is to following their “way”(Yao 34).
Confucianism has also brought a few positive features to the development of the economy. For example, it is crucial to pay attention to education while building strong and stable economy since it is impossible not only to support and maintain this growth but also to invent new technologies without professionals. Thus, educational standards along with cultural ones were the core values regarding the Confucian philosophy as it was the issue of the greatest importance. These ideas made people go to school and study doing their best to achieve higher level in society. Hence, it is no accident that pre-revolutionary China had well-educated and intelligent population. The other good effect of Confucianism is that it actually promotes economic prosperity by means of spiritual issues. For instance, thousands of years ago, China’s economy became one of the biggest on the planet due to such a powerful factor that united people to work efficiently to raise not only their personal wealth but also that of the whole country. If to take into consideration all these good features of the Confucian theory, it is clearly observed that the lasting legacy of it helped to build a strong economy today since China is an extremely rich and productive country.
Finally, Confucianism has partially shaped the legal system and the Chinese law as a whole. These effects and consequences can be easily depicted in the several examples. To start with, one of the universal ideas of this philosophy is the statement that every human is fundamentally good. According to Confucius, the society is built on some traditional norms which should be respected since it will lead to the sustainable societal order much faster and nobody would behave disrespectfully toward others because of not knowing their moral principles. Thus, referring to these ideas, all people should accept common traditions and customs which is the basis for the common and united legal system because the emergence of such norms and principles underlies the emergence of law as a whole. It is also necessary to remind that ideas of Confucianism have no intention to eliminate any of formal laws. Moreover, Confucian theory provides that it is important to recognize and pay attention to various interests of society. Therefore, the leader must understand and consider the diversity of thoughts in society to maintain social order in the country. A good ruler should not make people be afraid of him and behave in a proper way but also to be admired among them to become the ideal leader for them. The knowledge of problems in the society is also necessary for the resolution and settlement of disputes occurring between different social groups. Thus, even with rejection of the general usage of formal laws, Confucian theory even today teaches the society to obey the leader and respect him not because of fear but because of their deepest admirations of his values and accomplishments.
To conclude, it is obviously observed on the example of China how Confucian philosophy have influenced the basic aspects of life in East Asian countries. Being the core values of this theory, education, culture and nature foster other three very important factors, namely international relations and foreign policy, political economy and economic growth and legal and judicial systems. The prominent feature of all effects caused by Confucian doctrine is that they are both effective and destructive. For instance, there are much more effects of Confucianism that appeared to be rather subversive to the economy of a country. Simultaneously, economic growth was promoted by other features emerging from Confucianism, for instance, a great attention to education and cultural development of people. Furthermore, there were a lot of effective aspects of international policy of China concerning barbarian tribes threatening the borders since the mechanism of coping with this problem was rather efficient, which was influenced by Confucianism.