No Confucius? No China?
Reading online Chinese newspapers and commentaries everyday in my boring lonely retirement life, I came across a very enlightening article entitled,“Are We Able to Recover the Culture We Have Lost?” discussing how to recover the Chinese culture thrown away by Mao during his Cultural Revolution and use it to rebuild China. It was written by Professor Zhang Yiwu for the online“M4.cn.”
The remarks quoted below from his paper somehow inspired me to make a comparison of the Chinese Empire as represented by the Han Dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE) with the Roman Empire (27 BCE – 476 CE):
It may be noted that while the Chinese Empire was kept alive and active by succeeding dynasties for more than 2,000 years until the overthrow in 1911 of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the Roman Empire disappeared forever after living for only 503 year!
In my naïve opinion, because of their differences in culture.
With almost no human culture (人文 ) of their own to speak of, all the Roman emperors ruled their subjects and the conquered by force, and whatever laws they made were used only to rule and punish them – most likely very similar to the Qin Dynasty’s (221 – 206 BCE) Legalist (法家) form of government.
So, how could the conquered ones take themselves to be Romans?
When the Han Dynasty came to power, it followed the Qin’s Legalist practice for quite a while – more or less like the Roman Empire.
However, lucky for the Han emperors, before they came to power, the Chinese language in its written form was made the same in nearly all the lands owned and conquered by the Founding Emperor of the Qin Dynasty.
By the way, the land size under his rule was about the size of today’s China Proper – about a quarter of Europe’s size.
As a result, this made it easier for Han emperors to spread Confucius‘s (557? – 479 BCE) teachings.
Long before this time, running a feudal state, the first emperor of the Zhou Dynasty ( 1122-256 BCE) came up with his so-called “Mandate of Heaven” (天命), based on a verse in the nearly 4,000-years-old “Song of Five Sons” (五子之歌) which reads, “People are the foundation of a state; when the foundation is firm and solid, the state will be in peace and harmony,” but neither he nor any one in his court knew how to build such a foundation.
Fortunately, 500 some years later came Confucius and his idea of a Datong Society (大同, Great Harmony) for the people, as attached here below, which could create the“firm and solid foundation” for a state.
Interestingly, it may be noted that those welfare benefits mentioned here read almost like human rights in today’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, yet, in a Confucianist world, they are to be provided by the ruler as his obligations.
So, around 140 BCE, the ruling emperor decided to replace the Legalist form with the Confucianist kind of government where human-heartedness and justice (仁义) ruled from the top to the bottom with the emperor as its role model or family head.
In the meantime, a palace test system ( 殿试 ) based on Confucius’s teachings was introduced for hiring the common people to fill government jobs.
As a result, less and less royal family members and aristocrats were used for government service, and they were replaced by men with virtue and talent who had successfully passed the palace tests.
This kind of governing system lasted until about 600 CE when the Sui Dynasty (589 – 618) came to power.
By then, just about all the Han people or Chinese, had learned to write the Chinese characters in their standard forms.
So, it replaced the old palace tests with the rigorous Imperial Examination System (科举制度) – the modern days’civil service examinations.
And, this system lived with only occasional interruptions until the end of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) in 1911.
Thus, Confucius has been almost nonstop in keeping China alive and active for more than 2,000 years!
By the way, no millionaires have ever become government officials since by the Chinese tradition the merchants or businessmen belong in the fourth class below the intellectuals, the peasants and the artisans.
Had the Italians had some human culture or a political philosopher like China’s Confucius or even perhaps Greece’s Socrates (469 – 399 BCE), a large number of Europeans could now be called Romans besides the ones living in Italy today.
And the Latin or Italian could be the language for at least a quarter of the Europeans.
The Communists took power and established the People’s Republic in 1949.
Not knowing exactly what a Marxist or Communist society ought to look like, so following Mao’s death and the breakup of his Cultural Revolution, they began a few years ago to peddle and spread Confucianism by funding some 500 Confucius centers, institutes and academies throughout the world.
There are nearly 50 of them in the US alone!
In this way, the People’s Republic appears to be announcing to the world that she will now live by Confucius’s teachings or standards. And like the earlier dynasties, she now accepts the Mandate of Heaven and will build his Utopia or Datong Society for the Chinese people!
Dr. Kaising Chua (email@example.com)