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Cultural Traditions - Selected Documents

Page history last edited by Bob Andrian 6 years ago

Chinese Cultural Traditions: Values, Beliefs, Customs


Confucianism: Confucius (551-479 BCE): Selections from the Analects:


The Gentleman:

Confucius said, “When he eats, the gentleman does not seek to stuff himself. In his home he does not seek luxury. He is diligent in his work and cautious in his speech. He associates with those who possess the Way (dao), and thereby rectifies himself. He may be considered a lover of learning.”


Confucius said, “The gentleman reveres three things. He reveres the Mandate of Heaven; he reveres great people, and he reveres the words of the sages. Petty people do not know the Mandate of Heaven and so do not revere it. They are disrespectful to great people and they ridicule the words of the sages.”


Filial Piety:

Confucius said, “You can be of service to your father and mother by remonstrating with them tactfully. If you perceive that they do not wish to follow your advice, then continue to be reverent toward them without offending or disobeying them; work hard and do not murmur against them.”


The Duke of She said to Confucius, “In my land there is an upright man. His father stole a sheep, and the man turned him into the authorities.” Confucius replied, “The upright men of my land are different. The father will shelter the son and the son will shelter the father. Righteousness lies precisely in this.”


The following passge is quoted in Wu Hung, The Wu Liang Shrine, (Stanford Univ. Press, 1989), p. 294.


A Virtuous Man

Zhu Ming was from the Eastern Capital, and he had a [younger] brother. After their parents passed away, the two brothers divided up the family property; each obtained a million cash. The younger brother was arrogant and willful, and soon spent all his money. He then went to the older brother to beg, and his older brother always provided. This happened several times, and Zhu Ming’s wife became angry about this and cursed and beat her brother-in-law. Zhu Ming heard this and said to his wife: “You are a daughter of a different family, but my brother is related to my own flesh and blood. Since there are so many women in the world, I can have another wife, but it is impossible to have another brother.” Then he divorced his wife and never saw her again.


On Governing:

The Master said, “Lead them by means of government policies and regulate them through punishments, and the people will be evasive and have no sense of shame. Lead them by means of virtue and regulate them through rituals and they will have a sense of shame and moreover have standards.”


Jikangzi asked Confucius about governing, posing the question, “What would you think of my killing those without principles to help those with principles?” Confucius responded, “You are the government. Why employ killing? If you want what is good, the people will be good. The virture of a gentleman is like the wind, the virtue of a small person is like the grass. When the wind blows over it, the grass must bend.”


"He who rules by virtue is like the North Star. It maintains its place, and the multitude of stars pay homage." (Li Xinping quoting Confucius)


Correlative Cosmology: The Wu Liang Shrine (Shandong Province) 

“The Intertwining Tress:” They grow when a ruler’s virtue and kindness are pure and harmonious, and when the eight directions are united.


“The Birds Joined at the Wing:” They appear when a ruler’s virtue reaches high and far.”



Legalism: Han Fei (d. 233 BCE): Selections from Han Feizi:            

When a sage rules a state he does not count on people doing good on their own but rather takes measure to keep them from doing wrong. If he depended on people who do good of themselves, he could hardly find a few dozen in the whole realm. But if he uses methods to keep them from doing wrong, then everyone in the state can be made to act the same.


Those who do not understand how to govern all say: “Obtain the hearts of the people.” ... The people are no more intelligent than an infant. If an infant’s head is not shaved, his sores will not heal; if his boils are not lanced, his illness will worsen. ... for a baby cannot see that a small discomfort will result in a major improvement. Now the ruler wants people to till land and maintain pastures to increase their production, but they think he is cruel. He imposes heavy punishments to prevent wickedness, but they think he is harsh.


"When those who uphold the law are strong, the state is strong. When they are weak, the state is weak."

(Li Xinping quoting Han Fei)


Censorship under the Qin (Ch’in) dynasty (221-206 BCE):

In 213 BCE at an imperial banquet, a Confucian scholar spoke out in favor of feudal values. In reply, the emperor Qin’s Grand Councilor, Li Ssu, addressed the emperor:


In the past the empire was disunited. Because there was no emperor, the feudal lords were active and in order to confuse the people they harped on antiquity. Now Your Majesty rules a unified empire in which distinctions between right and wrong are as clear as your own unapproachable authority. Yet there are those who unofficially propagate teachings directed against imperial decrees and orders. The people are thus encouraged to be disrespectful. ... Your servant requests that all persons possessing works of literature and discussions of philosophers should destroy them. Those who have not destroyed them within thirty days after the issuing of the order are to be branded and sent to work as convicts.


(The passage was taken from, Arthur Cotterell, The First Emperor of China. (Holt, Rinehart and Winston), pp. 163-64.



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