their influence was often turned against the development of Chinese industry and commerce. Thus, Confucians themselves were perfectly happy to seek "high station," while stiffling the ability of ordinary Chinese to produce "wealth." Over time, this was an evil influence in Chinese history.
While the essence of morality
is the limitation of self-interest, Confucius is clear that this does not mean complete denial of self. We have already seen a hint of this with Analects
XV:23, which begins with the character for "self" and ends with the characters for "others" (or "persons"). If what you don't want for yourself, you shouldn't to do others, then you would like others to do for you what you would indeed like for yourself.
We see a similar word structure, and stronger implication, at Analects
VI:28, "If you desire to establish yourself, also establish others."
This sounds more like what Mohism
called "mutual profitableness," but it is clearly essential to Confucius. The idea is distilled in a modern Japanese saying, jiri rita
, "self profit, profit other," or "self-interest[ed] altruism." This can, of course, also be read in Chinese, as shown. It contains different characters for "self" and "other" than Confucius uses, but these could easily be substituted, as can be seen by clicking on the image for a popup with the corresponding characters. Helping oneself and others at the same time is characteristic of what we might even call the "worldliness" of Confucianism and Chinese civilization. The Chinese have never been very big on the world-denying renunication so characteristic of India; and even though monasticism was brought to China by Buddhism and adopted by religious Taoism, Confucianism, which usually also meant the government, always remained suspicious of it: Monks and nuns were often suspected of being licentious freeloaders, an attitude we see expressed in the Judge Dee
novels. The hostility to profit that can occur in Confucianism thus has to compete against this contrary sense that self-interest can be promoted by cooperating with and pleasing others -- the essence of a market exchange.
During the T'ang Dynasty
, the canon of Confucian Classics
became the basis for the great civil service examinations that henceforth provided the magistrates and bureaucrats (the "Mandarins") for the Chinese government. This system is still impressive, but, because of the attitude of the Confucian scholars, it was not entirely to good effect. The founder of the Míng Dynasty
(1368-1644) Chu Yüan-chang
, an illiterate peasant who rose to expel the Mongols and win the throne, was suspicious of the influence of the scholars. He tried to balance the scholarly with the military establishment so that neither would dominate the government.
Later, when the Chinese sent Admiral Cheng Ho
], a Moslem eunuch who started out as a war prisoner and slave, on seven great naval expeditions into the Indian Ocean between 1405 and 1433, it was the scholars who powerfully opposed engaging in anything so lowly as trade and dealing with such uncivilized barbarians. The expeditions, indeed, visited not only Indonesia and India, but penetrated into the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea, and far down the east coast of Africa. The fleets were large, heavily manned, well armed, and contained ships of nine masts (the baochuan
, "treasure ships") that, reportedly, were more than 400 feet long.
But when the court faction of the scholars triumphed and ended the expeditions, they also destroyed their records and made it a capital offense to build anything larger than a two-masted ship. This crippled Chinese trade and foreign involvement; and one is left to wonder just how world history would have been different had Vasco da Gama arrived in the Indian Ocean in 1498, just 65 years later, to discover an overwhelming and technologically equal or superior Chinese naval presence.
In China itself, the scholars indeed went on to dominate the government and tip the balance against the military, which left the country so unprepared that in 1644 the last Ming emperor was forced to call in Manchuria to deal with a rebellion. The Manchus took advantage of this to take over the country; and so the final Chinese Dynasty, the Ch'ing
] (1644-1912), wasn't Chinese at all. This was probably not what the scholars would have wanted, but they had certainly brought it about. Curiously, the Ch'ing Emperors adopted scholarly sensibilities and retained Ming naval and maritime policy xenophobia. This left China once again helpless when forces technologically superior to the Portuguese, especially the British, eventually arrived, irresistibly pressing for commercial access to the country. The scholars never did adapt, and the examination system was eventually abolished rather than modernized.
A curious and noteworthy aspect of the teaching of Confucius is his arm's length attitude towards religion. There is considerably irony in this, not only because Confucianism later became one of the major religions of China, but in comparison to the life of Socrates
, who was born just nine years after Confucius died. Socrates, although he talked about the gods all the time, and saw his own philosophical project as a divine mission, was condemned and put to death for presumably not believing in them. Confucius, although he later became
a god, to whom temples were dedicated in every Chinese city, as the patron of students and scholars, nevertheless didn't talk about the gods at all:
The topics the Master did not speak of were prodigies, force, disorder, and gods. [Analects translated by D.C. Lau, Penguin Books, 1979, VII:21, p. 88]
The term for "god" here,
in Japanese), is often translated "spirit" or even "spiritual beings." We see another term in this quote:
Chi-lu asked how the spirits of the dead and gods should be served. The Master said, "You are not able to serve to serve man. How can you serve the spirits?" [XI:12, p. 107]
"Spirits" or "spirits of the dead" here are kuei
, "spirits, demons, ghosts." This is a remarkable passage considering the attention given by Confucianism as a religion for one's ancestors and for the care of one's family grave plot. This seems comparable to an instruction from Jesus:
[Matthew 8:21] And another of his disciples said unto him, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. [8:22] But Jesus said unto him, Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead.
Few Christians are so unconcerned about burial of relatives, or Confucians about the service of spirits. What Confucius honored rather than pious ritual is implied here:
The Master was seriously ill. Tzu-lu asked permission to offer a prayer. The Master said, "Was such a thing ever done?" Tzu-lu said, "Yes it was. The prayer offered was as follows: pray thus to the gods above and below." The Master said, "In that case, I have long been offering my prayers." [VII:35, p. 91]
This is interpreted to mean that Confucius has been praying all that was necessary just by being good and polite. Further prayers are unnecessary.
While the practice of Confucianism was not entirely consistent with these principles of Confucius just expressed, his attitude did have a significant effect on the conduct of Chinese religion, where popular gods possessed less status in terms of politics and high culture than we see in most other civilizations. Thus, while most people have a least heard of major Indian
gods, like Shiva and Krishna, I have frequently found entire classes of students who were unable to name even a single traditional Chinese god [3
]. The government of Imperial China treated the gods rather like other subjects of the Empire, assigning them rank and promoting or demoting them depending on their popularity or moral wholesomeness. Confucian authorities thus never doubted their standing to judge the status and worth of the gods. The Imperial cult, like Confucius himself, was concerned with much more abstract and impersonal entities, like Heaven
. Sometimes "Heaven" is therefore translated "God," but it is a principle, not a personal deity. Its reality, however, does refute attempts to characterize Confucius as the sort of sceptical and positivistic "secular humanist
" who has become familiar in modern society.
Reference : http://www.friesian.com/confuci.htm