Letters

Chinese Culture

Confucianism: Order and Virtue

— Philip Li Ching Hum

In the aftermath of Third World Chinese Conference held last week in Mauritius, let us pay a glowing tribute to Confucius the erudite ,the teacher, the poet and the philosopher. Confucianism forms the essence of Chinese Culture, and the Chinese diaspora in their search for better pasture have never forgotten to carry it along in their scanty luggage.

Born on 28 September 551 BC, during the Zhou period, at Qufu in the state of Lu in modern Shangdong province, Confucius (551- 479 BC) has moulded the Chinese soul and has left indelible imprints behind. The Three Teachings of Confucianism, Daoism and Chinese Buddhism constitute China’s great contribution to the spiritual and moral history of humanity. Confucianism is the foundation of Chinese culture; it lays much emphasis on social and family ethics, centred on a hierarchy of relationships and on the rites of ancestor veneration.

Confucius travelled extensively across the Middle Kingdom but was heart broken to witness so many devastating social and political upheavals. His mission was to bring peace and social harmony among the warring petty states. After 13 years of dismal failure, he returned to Lu, his hometown, to devote his time to teaching. After his demise, several centuries later, the ruler of the Han dynasty began to value the precepts of Confucius based on his theories as principles of government. Confucianism turned out to be a code of ethics and morality that emphasized the complexity of the web of relationships that tied people together and the virtue of fulfilling personal duty for the sake of common welfare.

A profound sense of “ren’’ (humaneness) is the heart of Confucianism. It means acting with sensitivity to the diverse facets of human contacts. It is founded on the relationship between parents and children. Confucius propounded that a child must owe filial piety (obedience and duty to parents) while the parents in return owe the child loving and attentive care. This is ingrained in all traditional Chinese families. The dynamics of this fundamental relationship translates into other social spheres — between husband and wife, and between ruler and his subjects. Above all Confucius stressed upon virtues of humanity (ren), wisdom (zhi), righteousness (yi) and sincerity (xin).

Confucius believed that to crystallize “ren” one must study and practice “li” (rituals and etiquettes). He was convinced that “li’’ were so potent that their sincere practice would lead to a metamorphosis of the self which ultimately would have a strong impact on the cosmos. His ultimate dream was to bring righteousness (yi) to the world.

Confucianism has weathered many an onslaught from successive Chinese regimes. Confucius is today more than ever alive in the hearts of Chinese families, and in many countries of South East Asia he is deified, temples are built to commemorate and honour him, and celebrations are held on a large scale every year to mark his birth anniversary. It is not surprising that the so-called Little Dragons (Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea) should have attributed their economic success of the 1980s and early 1990s to their Confucian legacy.

The Confucius Institute (similar to the British Council and Alliance Francaise), long promised in Mauritius and whose objective is to promote Chinese language and culture, and to facilitate cultural exchanges will hopefully become a reality in the days to come.

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