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2015.04.22

Descendants of Confucius Who Do Not Read His Analects

JBpress on April 20, 2015

  • Kunihiko Miyake
  • Research Director
    Kunihiko Miyake
  • [Expertise]
    Foreign Affairs and National Security

The Han Chinese, those offspring of Confucius, must have stopped reading his Analects long ago. Recently, I had a chance to re-read the sayings and ideas of China's great ancient philosopher. I found it very ironical that the contemporary Chinese, and especially their rulers in mainland China, seem to neither read nor practice the teaching of Confucius.

Last week, I was back in my hometown of Kamakura, the old 13th century capital of Japan. I had been invited to give a speech on "The Teachings in the Analects of Confucius and a Roadmap to Japan-China Friendship." The title was so lofty and noble that I almost declined the offer. The organizer was Kamakura's "Society to Study the Analects of Confucius." The name says it all.

Confucius believed that the welfare of a country depended on the moral cultivation of the nation's leadership. He taught that individuals could begin to cultivate de (pronounced 'doo'), a sense of virtue. He also taught that a ruler's sense of virtue was the primary prerequisite for leadership. The theme of my speech was whether the communist leaders in Beijing really understand de.

The following are the five major teachings in the Analects of Confucius that I quoted and commented on in my speech.

- The Master said, He that rules by virtue is like the north star, steady in his seat, whilst the stars all bend to him. (Book II-1)
While basic human nature is considered depraved and imperfect in the world of monotheism, it is considered fundamentally good and positive in the teachings of Confucius. This is the reason why the Chinese often fail to understand the essence of Western democracy in which the power of the rulers must be checked and balanced by the people.

- The Master said, The gentleman is learned in right; the small man is learned in gain. (Book IV-16)
Unfortunately, at least in mainland China, the rulers have no de and are desperately corrupt. Not only in Beijing but all over China, gentlemen are not learned in right and rather they are, like the small men, only learned in gain. This must be, according to Confucius, one of the most serious tragedies for the ordinary people of China.

- The Master said, A gentleman will not be looked up to unless he is staid, nor will his learning be sound. Put faithfulness and truth first; have no friends unlike thyself; be not ashamed to mend thy faults. (Book I-8)
This simply means that a great ruler can and must correct his errors. For example, an official map of the East China Sea, published in 1969 by the government of the People's Republic of China clearly showed the 'Senkaku Islands' and 'Uotsuri Island,' not 'Diaoyu,' as Japanese territories. Chinese leaders should not be ashamed, as Confucius said, to withdraw their territorial claims.

- The Master said, A man of mind can always talk, but talkers are not always men of mind. Love is always bold, though boldness is found without love. (Book XIV-5)
The above means that those who have virtue are brave but the brave do not always have virtue. This typically applies to the People's Liberation Army's officers and sailors. We are concerned about their recent words and deeds, including physical interference and the 'painting' of fire control radar against U.S. and Japanese naval vessels navigating in the East and South China Seas.

- The Master said, The people may be made to follow, we cannot make them understand. (Book VIII-9)
This famous teaching has been misunderstood in Japan by those in the government who claim that this teaching means that, "The people shall be made to follow and they shall not be informed." Ironically, it is not the Japanese but the Chinese government which follows and practices the misinterpreted version of this teaching.

All in all, my conclusion in the speech was simple and clear. It is the loyal readers of the Analects in Japan who study, practice and promote the contents of the Analects, while Confucianism in China seems to have declined, especially since the Great Cultural Revolution between 1966-76, and has not been well practiced there.

It is noteworthy that some of the infamous Confucius Institutes, once established at 440 locations in 120 countries, have been closed down in the United States simply because they are nothing more than a political propaganda organ of the Chinese government. Isn't it high time for the modern Chinese rulers to start re-reading the great teachings in the Analects of Confucius?

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