General principles of Chinese culture: human nature basically good; reverence for the old (filial piety) extending into afterlife (ancestor worship); QI: breath, or life force; family-based; group over individual; practical (whatever works; syncretistic-“I’m a Confucian and Buddhist and Taoist.”).  

Confucius: Grew up in Warring States period, 6th Century B.C.  Time of chaos so tried to create a system of ethics by which HARMONY could be attained through the development of  “gentlemen” of honor.  He looked back into history and described an idealized feudalism.  Chinese have typically looked back to find wisdom.  This fits into the oldest religious custom, the worship of ancestors, who are to be revered in life and death.  Confucius was a traveling teacher and like Socrates, Buddha, and Jesus, his teachings are known through his disciples.  

Confucianism: a social system of rules and rituals by which every person knows what he or she is to do in any situation (compare to a book on traditional weddings.)  Explained by key Chinese concepts:

Tian: “heaven” the impersonal (mostly) concept of ultimate reality.

Dao: the “way” of “heaven”: the way of morality

Jen: “goodness” or “conscience”: the basic moral instinct that is to be developed by training and education

Li: the rituals and rules of society.

To follow the Dao of Tian one must develop one’s Jen by following the Li. Or, learn the Li to develop one’s Jen to follow the Dao of Tian.

Society is formed of five key relationships:

father and son; husband and wife; older generation and younger; ruler and subjects: all of these are vertical relationships.  The one-up position (father, husband, older, ruler) is to care for and educate the one-down position (son, wife, younger, subject) who in turn is to respect and obey.

Final relationship is friend to friend which is equal.  Therefore, best friends are usually of the same age, class, and gender (e.g., a classmate.)

Strengths: hard work, meritocracy (e.g., national exams), humble

Weaknesses: no check on power; other-directed personalities

Discussion Questions

1. Although Confucius was neutral about human nature, his follower Mencius taught that humans are basically good and only corrupted by society (a view later shared by Marxists in China.)  What difference, if any, is there from believing that evil and suffering comes from a fallen nature in humans themselves vs. a corrupt society?

2. If powerful people aren’t virtuous, what can the less powerful do if anything?

3. What similarities do you see among Confucianism and other religions that we have studied?

4. What difference, if any, is there between Jesus’ admonition to love our neighbors and the Confucian concept of loyalty to the family first?

Daoism (Taoism)

A philosophy from the observation of nature: all changes, all passes away.  Everything is a cycle.  Reality in terms of the life force qi is described by the interaction of Yin and Yang:

Symbol has several parts:

Circle symbolizes that all is one ultimately; we perceive reality, however, as divided into dark and light (male-female; dry-wet; hot-cold; etc.).  The divisions are curved lines because these apparent opposites really flow into each other and are in constant flux.  The “seed” inside each half shows that the beginnings of the opposite are embedded (joy in the midst of sorrow, sickness in the midst of health; hate in the midst of love.)  

Key text is the Dao-de-jing by Lao-ze, which describes the Dao as indescribable and messes with logic (“To become straight, bend…”)  Personal transformation comes through wu-wei, (“inactivity”), letting go, purposeful non-action.  Classical Daoism is anti-Confucian (mystical not rational; individualistic, not communal; relativistic, not absolute; natural law not human law; anti-achievement; anti-government.)  Later Daoism became preoccupied with immortality and techniques (breathing, diet, alchemy) to extend life.  It eventually blended with Buddhism and developed rituals, temples, and monastic orders.  

Influences are on Chinese medicine (maintenance of qi through the balance of yin/yang) and Chinese art (helicopter perspective, diagonal composition; dominance of nature; unsymmetrical).

Discussion Questions

1. How is Daoism the yin to Confucianism’s yang in Chinese culture?

2. What similarities do you see among Daoism and the other religions that we have studied?

3. The Dao is beyond moral distinctions.  Good and evil must balance.  Do you think that evil is necessary for there to be good?