Lasting Legacy of Confucian Moral Theory and Practice on Political Economy, Law, and International Relations

Category: Research

China is not an ordinary country that occupies large territory on the world’s geographical map. It is the cradle of the prominent humanistic philosophy having caused the substantial social, political, and judicial changes in ancient Chinese states and influenced neighboring territories. Moreover, this moral theory, which Confucius had created, gradually reached the Western Europe and later other countries in the world having become the precious universe human heritage. Being grounded on the principles of high men’s value, the perfection of the internal human world and its harmony with such external factors as nature and interpersonal communication, it could not influence all the spheres of human being. If the legacy of Confucianism in the area of the spiritual human world is quite clear and undeniable, its impact on the practical side of the life being is a rather controversial issue that causes hot debates among the scientists. Thus, the paper seeks to show the significant traces that the Confucian moral theory and practice have left on the state governance, including such areas as political economy, law, and international relations.

Confucian moral theory

Confucius (551 – 479 B.C) lived in China at the time of war and conflicts between the Chinese states. This time is known in the history as Spring and Autumn period. Consequently, the study of this great philosopher reflected the thirst for justice of Chinese people who were tired of continuous infightings between their rulers. Confucius considered that maintaining certain social norms would promote some order in the society and provide stability. For this purpose, the philosopher created the code of human conduct, further called as the Confucian moral theory. Having been tested by the times, it was announced as the state ideology and followed by Chinese society during near 20 centuries.  

The concept of jen, which could be translated in diverse ways related to love, benevolence, or humanism, lies on the base of Confucian moral theory. Confucius meant that jen had to be the primary human virtue. Its practicing would promote forming interpersonal relations grounded on the care about the others. Moreover, the people’s behavior was considered to be only the manifestation of inner human perfection.  Confucius claimed the virtue of jen should be the guiding force for any decision starting from the individual choice and ending with the political course or social priorities. It is worth admitting that moral theory Confucius created was later developed by his followers Motzu (479 – 390 B.C.) and Mencius (370 – 296 B.C.), who had brought their significant individual contribution to its applying in practice.

Confucianism’s legacy on the laws and states’ governing

The Confucian moral theory has played the most fundamental role in the Chinese history of the law. This area of social relations is related as no other issue to the personality of men and their behavior within the family and community. This concept equating the notions of the family and the state was in the core of Confucius study, and it is also the basis of the governing.  Thus, the followers of Confucianism claimed that the knowledge, humaneness, and courage are the three universal virtues of the world. People should cultivate these goodnesses in themselves through self-educating, care, and shaming of misconduct. Those who have seized the skill of self-cultivating will be able to manage other people, and, thus, they will know how to govern the family and the state. 

Therefore, an ideal ruler should be a sage who carefully adheres to all the ethics norms of Confucian moral theory, saves and practices ancient traditions and rites that are also an integral part of the Confucianism. According to the study, the good ruler should treat the country’s population as his children and take special care of old persons, lonely people, and orphans. Only appropriate ruling could win the complete people’s support and prevent conquering the territory by other states. Moreover, the population of the neighboring states would be striving for following such an example that would promote uniting of the lands under a single leader. 

However, if the king violates moral norms, the people have the right to remove him from the power and even execute the offender in the case he allowed himself to cross all the boundaries of justice. It was the bright manifestation of human rights’ value in the Chinese lands that was reflected in their further law system. In this concern, it is also worth mentioning that the concept of Mandate of Heaven, according to which the power was given to the ruler by the God’s will, is reflected in the will of people. 

Thus, caring about men and their rights was considered to be the highest value that overcame the law in most cases. The justice was the crucial precursor for all choices and decisions even if one should violate the law for establishing the righteousness.  It could be said that the organized law system and institute of jurisprudence were absent in the Chinese lands where social order was controlled only by the means of morality and traditions. It was the traditional Chinese law model that has existed and has been applied for the centuries. Even today, its major principles could be noticed in the Asian law practices. However, current Asian model differs in some aspects from the classical Confucian study because of integration of the moral theory with the legalism that appeared and developed during IV –III centuries BC.   

In its essence, legalism was a totally opposite study to the Confucianism. When the latter study did not include any law punishment for misconduct besides shaming and social condemnation, the first one was aimed at creating the system of punishment. According to legalism, the people are the material for the ruler. The latter, being their master, transforms them into the beautiful thing by the means of cutting all needless issues. The laws were considered as the instrument for such transformation.  However, strong traditions of the Confucian moral theory (that became a part of nation’s consciousness) did not allow rooting of legalism. In II century BC, Confucianism regained its dominating role in governing the state, but new compromise norms had appeared in the study. Since those times, the Confucian moral theory has gained formal features of commitment and formalism. Ethic norms, as it was mentioned earlier, were in the basis of social order. However, according to new tendencies, law was the primary factor that banned evading them.  

Thus, due to the essential influence of rites and morality, the juridical system in China did not make fast progress as it was not needed as the instrument for regulation of social relation. Despite modern situation, the progressive shift is gradually noticed in the Asian region; the devotion to the traditions and prevalence of the elements of the Confucian moral theory are remaining significantly different in eastern law system and the western one. Moreover, the Confucian major value of human rights accompanying with high requirements of the public and private ethics, social and individual aspects of moral life is the basic element of present human morality and fundament of modern democracy. 

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The Confucian moral theory and international relations

An official conduct in international relation is the logical extension of the state governance according to the Confucian moral theory. Thus, the best interstate policy that Mencius considered is the maintaining good governing at home because a satisfied nation is the most substantial ground for holding the power and defending the country’s borders. Moreover, the highest value of human rights was also the core element of interstate affairs. Taking into account that Confucian study did not approve the violating of routine people’s lives to invade other territories, the expansions and wars were not justified. Thus, peace and its maintaining were considered to be the prevailing form of international relations. It is also worth admitting that in spite of the fact that maintaining peace was the primary element of the universe order, Confucian theory emphasized the need to strengthen the borders and train the soldiers. It was considered as the war prevention element, not the preparing for attack.

However, there was an exception from this peaceful rule in the international regulation. Regarding the Confucian moral striving for justice, the study allowed the war or intrusions for the sake of righteousness. Despite the existing hierarchy, due to which all vassals were subordinated to the royal house, and their role in the system was coherent with a certain status, their intervention in the social life of each other was approved in the case of unjust ruling. The tyranny was not welcomed, and the vassals were allowed to establish justice through the forced removal of the tyrannical ruler of any other state from the power. Thus, the notion of just and unjust war appeared and became significant legacy of international relations’ area. Furthermore, it could be applied in modern world policy as well. 

The superior status of Chinese ruling house was one more principle of international policy. However, it is not a forced expansion, it is rather moral power. The true ruler should be a sage as it was mentioned previously, and, therefore, he should spread the highest Confucian virtues (e.g. benevolence) not only in his land but also beyond its borders. He should promote the establishing of the universal order participating in the international processes. According to this universal order, all the interstate meetings that presided over the royal house were regarded as legitimate, while those that the royals did not attend were considered to be illegal.  

The Sinocentric hierarchy was another factor aimed at harmonizing of interstates affairs.  The system of hierarchy was grounded on differentiated relationships existed among Chinese states for maintaining the universal order. It served as the way of avoiding any division of the country by the former vassals. The system passed the significant tests but survived to the end of imperial China. 

Thus, most of the philosophical context of Chinese international policy could be reassessed and widely apply in modern relationships in the world. Mutual respect, harmonizing of the interests, the virtue of benevolence and justice are the smallest aspect that should be an integral part of modern Universal order. Moreover, taking into account the growing quantity of the wars and appearing of the real threats of violating peace in the world, Confucian concept of just and unjust war gain new meaning and should be studied by military officers across the world. 

The meaning of the Confucianism legacy for economic prosperity 

The economy seems to be the less related to moral concepts in comparison to other social aspects of the country’s life. However, it would not be correct to reject its strong dependence on human factor that is ruled by ethics and morality in its activity. Taking into consideration this fact, one can understand the crucial meaning of the social consciousness for temps and directions of the economic development. Based on this judgment and having considered the Confucianism as the ground for Asian social order, way of thinking, and manner of people’s conduct, it is easy to see that the Confucian moral theory became also the crucial precursor for the economic prosperity in Asian region.

 It is evident that the Confucian striving for justice and defending human rights transformed into the fair market and created decent conditions for living with other people if speaking about economic context of the study. It is not a surprise that the basic material welfare and care for needy members of the family are two of the most prominent Confucian economic values, which still influence moral and political life in Asian region.   

Thus, providing elementary conditions for people’s subsistence and intellectual development is the direct obligation of the government according to Confucian moral theory. Preserve the balance of subsistence means that ruler should control just distribution and fair use of the lands and other sources and respect property rights. The Mencius’s system of well-field was the manifestation of the division of labor. Simultaneously, those who had lands and were engaged in farming were qualified as the producers of food for non-farming classes. This system was broken at some time by the Communists; but it later returned to life in the new Deng Xiaoping’s interpretation. The farmers should give the part of their production to the state at fixed low price, but they also were allowed to sell the produce in the open markets. It is worth admitting that this economic policy grounded on Confucian theory became the crucial precursor of fast economic development of China that, in its turn, promoted the improvement of the people’s material welfare.  

As it was mentioned before, the family relations are the most valuable phenomena in human’s life that should be carefully saved from the rest of the society. It does not mind the character of these relations and how many issues exist within the family members where everyone should care about each other, including financial support and welfare. Thus, the Confucian study emphasized the meaning of the filial piety when one more economically productive family member should support the other one according to five systems of the relationships such as ruler and subject, father and son, husband and wife, elder and younger brother, and friends. Special attention was paid to caring about elder parents. This obligation is beyond the personal choice. However, the heritage right of property was used to full this Confucian moral obligation with the economic meaning. Those who have failed in the fulfillment of it risked to lose family property. The echo of such practice is still used in Asian territories. It was only two crucial elements of the Confucian moral theory that left their significant legacy in the Chinese history and continued playing meaningful role in the context of modern development in the region. 

Conclusion

Thus, one can see that Confucian moral theory provides the substantial ground for people’s obedience to moral norms that gradually became their way of thinking or the Asian mentality if speaking in other words. Obviously, if stability, harmony, and benevolence exist in human mind, it certainly will be reflected in reality. One can observe this situation while analyzing the primary principles of governing in the Chinese lands and law system, their international relations, and even economic development. The majority of the aspects of the Confucian moral theory have been changed when they were faced with practical applying or influenced by other opposite studies and modern tendencies. Anyway, the axis of the theory remained in Chinese ideology and is still causing significant impact on modern life in Asian region. Moreover, the moral wisdom of the Confucian moral theory migrated to the rest of the countries all over the world, and it is worth being investigated, adapted to new reality, and applied practically. 

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