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Chinese Statecraft, Confucian Humanism, and the Ethic of Responsibility

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The division of labor is very important. Not only the farmers, the artisans, the merchants, but also the intellectuals should all be recognized and take part in the process. And of course I even mentioned once that the Book of Mencius is a defense of the role of the intellectual. The intellectuals cannot produce, cannot manufacture, cannot exchange goods; but they are not useless because they help the governance and sometimes, in an idealized sense, they can be critics and even teachers of kings. 

The second one by implication of course is meritocracy. It is not election in the modern sense. You know we have the term xuan ju  as a modern concept that has not yet really occurred in the nation, even though a billion people are voting on a village level. But xuan ju in a classical Chinese sense meaning xuan, to select from above, ju which means to select from below. So, these rulers, these intellectuals are not only hand-picked by the rulers but also recommended by the people. So that is the way to create that elite class.

And the core values, I am jumping ahead, some of the core values that can easily be contrasted with liberal-democratic ideas, but I don't want to give you the impression that they are exclusive dichotomies; they are complementary, but with difference emphases. For example, there is more emphasis on justice or equality. Not enough on freedom, especially the individual freedom. A greater emphasis on the sympathy and compassion of the leaders; not enough on the rationality. Instrumental rationality, especially important in defining the efficiency of bureaucracy, is never asserted as the real quality of the ruler.

A ruler is not a calculator. A ruler ought to be a well-developed person; therefore sympathy and compassion. And legality is important. The law is the minimum requirement for security and maintenance of order. But it is civility, li again, because only through the notion of li can the people develop a sense of shame. And without a sense of shame it is difficult not only to govern the place but also to allow people to flourish.

In a highly idealized sense, politics is a mechanism to provide security, economic well-being, some form of prosperity, and education, for the best opportunity of human survival and flourishing. So it is very different from the conception that the political process is the minimum condition for security. Great values such as spiritual values are totally individualistic; you know you have the difference between the public political process and the private matters of the heart, but in the Confucian notions these two are very much fused.

Of course in this sense I already mentioned responsibility. Responsibility is not evenly distributed. And the people who are powerless, for example the homeless, may not have any responsibility at all except survival. The survival ability of a homeless is dignity in the broader sense of the term, but the ruler or the people who are well endowed have a much broader sense of responsibility. And in this sense a certain level of social security or social solidarity and social harmony is more of a priority than individualism or even individual dignity.

In this sense the question about human rights is very difficult to develop in China as many of you know versus the responsibility of the elite. The possibility of the functional equivalent of the rise of the people is by imposing very strong sense of responsibility of the elite. If the rulers are held responsible for the well-being of the people, not simply to protect their rights, then the functional equivalent of some of the rights for the people to claim, not the rights in the political sense, but the rights economic, social, cultural. ["]

Even responsibility from time to time is not enough. You have to have a sense of decency. If the billionaires are not decent, even though they are responsible, then society can still be milked dry by them. So, in a very extreme case, I respect your right, I am a billionaire, you are a homeless. I have no obligations whatsoever to help you. I respect your rights. If I give you one dollar which means I am exercising some kind of altruism, not control or implicated by my rights, or by your rights. But if I am powerful and influential and you don't have any of these resources, if you make claims of the elites for some of these things then certain functional equivalents of rights may evolve. Of course, this is a highly controversial point.

And in this sense, the private versus the public again is not a very clearly distinguished feature of the Confucian tradition. A distinction has to be made between private and personal. Private, from John Steward's point of view, is the kind of privacy that protects many things you want to be confidential. You don't want to let people know your salary and so forth. These are private matters. But personal is something you feel strongly but not only you don't mind discussing it but you think these things you feel strongly about are disputable, debatable, and of course they are also forfeitable, because there is a public accountability. The Confucians are very much concerned about personal involvement. So you don't study something as a science totally distinguished from your involvement, especially in the political sense.

You know about [Max] Weber's distinction between politics and sciences. But the Confucian notion about politics is very much about personal involvement, yet it is not private. And the public spiritness is always considered a positive way. I will give you an example, again a simplistic one: you have to move beyond your self-centeredness and selfishness to become public; you move away, you move above your private realm, otherwise you will not be able to experience or enjoy the warmth of even your own family.

Family is private then, but nepotism will have to be overcome. So the family will not be simply a private domain. ["] Finally, the public spiritness is to move from the self all the way to the world and beyond.

In the opening text of the Great Learning is the notion "from the emperor to the commoner" each without exception should regard self-cultivation as the root. But this statement is preceded by a rather elaborate statement about the ancients who wish to bring peace to the world, which means all under heaven. ["] The ancients must first govern their states; wishing to govern states they must first regulate families; wishing to regulate families they must first cultivate themselves. ["]

So, the major politics as so understood has its own perspective on power, legitimacy, and law. This is substantially different from our modern conception of what politics really is. The priority of the moral basis of politics of course is taken for granted. It is inconceivable that the people who are involved in the political process are not involved also in terms of their self-cultivation. Those who practice the art of science or managing the state of affairs will have to be people with personal integrity and ethic of responsibility.

["]

Tu Weiming: Lifetime Professor in Philosophy and Director of Institute for Advanced Humanistic Studies (IAHS) and World Ethics Institute Beijing (WEIB) at Peking University and Research Professor and Senior Fellow of the Asia Center at Harvard University.

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Dr. Thorsten Pattberg, East-West, is a linguist (PhD, Peking University) and the author of 'The East-West dichotomy', 'Shengren', and 'Inside Peking University'. He is also an alumnus of Harvard University, The University of Edinburgh, and The (more...)
 

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Confucian scholar... by Thorsten Pattberg on Saturday, Jan 5, 2013 at 3:41:26 PM
I'm not seeing the "humanism" in a Western sense. ... by Jim Arnold on Saturday, Jan 5, 2013 at 5:44:26 PM