Monday, October 23, 2006

Heaven and Man as One


The notion tianrenheyi has pervaded the Chinese philosophy since the Spring and Autumn Period. The definition of the two concepts of "heaven" and "man" varies with different philosophers. And their relationship has been explained by different theories in traditional Chinese philosophy. For example, Xunzi required that a "distinction be made between heaven and man". Zhuangzi theorized that "those who are ignorant of heaven know nothing about man". Furthermore, the question of "relations between heaven and man" was often found in the discussion about the relation between "nature" and the "Confucian ethical code." Nevertheless, the mainstream of traditional Chinese philosophy has taken as its main task the demonstration or explanation of how "heaven is integrated with man."

The Confucian philosopher Zhou Dunyi noted explicitly that "A saint shares virtue with heaven and earth", and "a saint aspires to heaven". Zhang Zai stated in his West Inscription: "That which exists between heaven and earth is my intrinsic being; that which commands heaven and earth is my character." Zhu Xi held that "Heaven is man, and man is heaven. Since this man is born, heaven rests in him." and that "A saint . . . is integrated with heaven."

Such saints do exist, one of who is Confucius.

Confucius has always been called a saint (), furthermore, he has been perceived as a God-like figure (). In China, there are thousands of temples in which Confucius was worshiped. Zigong said: “Confucius is the sun and moon which no one can climb beyond.” (19.24) and “The Master cannot be matched just as a ladder cannot be used to climb the sky.” (19.25) Confucius is regarded as such not only because of his knowledge and virtues, but also because people have high respect for him and are willing to follow him. This is an interesting notion: a saint or God is a saint or God is because people believe so. Zigong said: “He gave them a place and they took a stand, He led them forward and they followed, He brought peace and they flocked to him, He aroused them and they achieved harmony. In life he was glorious, And in death he was mourned.” (19.25) Confucius is a saint/ God-like human because people think of him as such.

In this sense, Confucius could be said to have achieved tianrenheyi. And by reading the Analects, through Confucius’ teaching and philosophical expressions, we could learn more about the subject.

The first is the relationship between Heaven, Man, and Li.

One definition of Li is rites, which are performed to worship God and spirits. So Li could be understood as a bridge that connects man to heaven. However, there’s more to it than this definition. Li, as far as I’m concerned, is based on the understanding of tiandao, the Way of Heaven.

Li is concerned with relationships, between person and person or between person and God/ spirits. Confucius contends that Li is in harmony with the universal order, that is, the tiandao, or the Way of Heaven. Only in this way can Li perform its function as a way to establish harmony in the society. The Analects said, "Among the functions of propriety (li) the most valuable is that it established harmony. The excellence of the ways of ancient sage-kings consists of this. It is the guiding principle of all things great and small." Since Li is a product of the sages who knew the Way of Heaven, and everyone can become a sage if he/she chooses to, the Confucian philosophy denotes possibility of human’s coexist with the Heaven and Earth, moreover, human’s integration with the Heaven.

The notion of the integration between Heaven and Man has four profound meanings.

The first is Confucius’ conception of living in the present, living in reality.

Confucian philosophy is about the present, not the past or the future. When “Zilu asked how to serve the spirits and the gods. The Master replied, ‘Not yet being able to serve other people, how would you be able to serve the spirits?’ Zilu said, ‘May I ask about death?’ The Master replied, ‘Not yet understanding life, how could you understand death?’” (11.12) Confucius holds that only after people conduct themselves properly and follow the virtues can they serve the spirits and the gods.

One of the virtues of tian is that it’s always changing and developing. Confucius once stood on the riverbank and said: "Isn't life's passing just like this, never ceasing day or night!" (9.17) If you interpret this sentence as expressing depression and sorrow, then Confucius would not be much different from ordinary people. However, when Confucius observes the unceasing passing of time and tide, he said this to remind people that they should seize the day, and that in order to be one with tian, people need to have tian’s virtue of continuously progressing, therefore, they should be constantly cultivating themselves. To Confucius, what matters is the process, not the result, so the amount of progress people are making each time is not as important as the fact that they are making an effort. He said, "As in piling up earth to erect a mountain, if, only one basketful short of completion, I stop, I have stopped. As in filling a ditch to level the ground, if, having dumped in only one basketful, I continue, I am progressing." (9.19)

Apart from living in the present, Tianrenheyi also express a sense of living here, the real world in which everyone and everything is connected.

The Master said, "I think I will leave off speaking." "If you do not speak," Zigong replied, "how will we your followers find the proper way?" The Master responded, "Does tian speak? And yet the four seasons turn and the myriad things are born and grow within it. Does tian speak?" (17.19) When he reflects on the speechlessness of Heaven and the simultaneous marvelous workings of Heaven in the sun, the moon, and the four seasons, he points out that nature is sacred, not because it is sanctified by a transcendental God but because it inspires a sense of order, harmony, and purpose. So though Heaven does not speak to us literally, we can recognize its generative power and come to be aware of the objective order in the universe by Heaven's working. The way of Heaven embodies a whole cosmic pattern, in which everything is related to everything else, and thus create order and harmony.

As stated above, Confucius has very high regards for relatedness. Man, in Confucian ethics is not an impartial individual who is independent from the details of personal life. Instead, he is one who lives in various concrete social relations. The Confucian self is not a concept of an independent entity. In the process of self-development, the key is to relating to one's social commitment, rather than isolating oneself from others and society. The society that Confucians aim to build is not one that consists of a group of self-interested and self-centered persons, but one composed of virtuous individuals who live in harmonious relationships with other members of a community. The Western atomistic perception of the Man is never a part of the Confucian philosophy and the Man is never understood as an independent being distinct from all others. In the eyes of Confucians, Man’s relationship with the outside world, especially with other persons is as important, if not more, as the Man himself.

That’s why Confucius advocates a sense of broadmindedness. He said: "How great indeed was Yao as a ruler! How majestic! Only tian is truly great, and only Yao took it as his model. How expansive was he - the people could not find the words adequate to praise him. How majestic was he in his accomplishments, and how brilliant was he in his cultural achievements." (8.19) As you know, Yao established the system of shanrang, in which the next emperor is chosen among all citizens by looking for the best virtues and abilities, not chosen among relatives, and that the preceding emperor would give the throne to him peacefully and willingly. Confucius greatly praised Yao for taking tian as his model. Tian is a perfect example of broadmindedness for it is so grand that it contains everything. As for a person, in order to be one with the grand tian, he has to open his heart to tolerance.

In addition, the notion of tianrenheyi is a recognition of Man’s potentials. The Confucian understanding of the Man is that Man is not only a li-follower, but also a li-maker. Man is endowed with the ability to seek the Way of Heaven. It is known that one of the most important insights of Confucianism is its affirmation of the moral subject. Confucius affirms that it is possible for everyone to develop his potentiality and to become a sage, for a sage is one who has achieved the ultimate in the development of his human potential, and this achievement is within the reach of every human being. By being sincere, being true to one's own heart-mind, everyone is able to reach the same objective. It is through the infinite heart-mind that the subject can be in a position to be one with Heaven and Earth.

In conclusion, tianrenheyi is not an ideal, but a state in which the Man is in harmony with the surroundings. It is attained by following the Way of the Heaven, by being broadminded, and by constantly cultivating oneself.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Zheng Ming

From the Great Learning to the Analects,

From Wittgenstein to Confucius

-- A Comparative Study of ZHENGMING



Professor Aimes was wearing a new tie last Tuesday. I immediately recognized it as a souvenir from Peking University as the patterns on the tie are the Peking University logo. Just as a logo identifies a tie, a name can be the most direct and immediate identification of a person.


A name is not just something to call a person by. It reveals how one is perceived by others and how one correlates to the surroundings. It includes one’s relationships with other people and one’s standing in this society. For example, when you call someone “Doctor”, “Professor” or “Pastor”, you are relating to this person by his profession and social status. While talking, these implements come naturally; you don’t have to think about their social status before you speak. But think about it, it actually has a significant meaning. It does not only state a fact (about their identity), but only shows your attitudes toward this person and more importantly, your relationship / correlation with this person. This way of correlation is why MING, names, and ZHENGMING are important in the Confucian philosophy.

Ever since Han Dynasty, there had been controversies over the meaning of ZHENGMING. Some scholars believe it means the correctness of words, some others believe it means the appropriateness of the names used in titles or referred to as a social status.


In the Analects, Confucius said: “A cornered vessel without corners. – A strange cornered vessel! A strange cornered vessel!”1 A Gu which doesn’t look like a Gu only has its name, but not the reality, so it’s a folly. Therefore, to Confucius, it is no longer suitable to call that a Gu. Bearing in mind Confucius’ attitude toward this misuse of words while thinking about the misuse of one’s title, you will have some idea about what ZHENGMING means in the Confucian philosophy.


First of all, a Gu is, in fact, still a Gu, even if it’s strange. So Confucius is not saying it is wrong to call it a Gu, but rather it is inappropriate. The same applies to persons. For instance, you are correct to call a doctor a doctor even if he is incompetent or knows nothing about his area, but it would be truly ironic. In that case, Confucius thinks that since he doesn’t conduct himself in accordance with his name, it is inappropriate to call him a doctor.


Gu is only used as a metaphor in explaining Confucius attitude toward this kind of inappropriate use of words. We should know that ZHENGMING is not just any kind of inappropriate use of words, but only limited to the misuse of words relating to the ancient system of piety or the titles and names. The common inappropriate use of words is a problem of language proficiency, while the inappropriate use of words in terms of the piety system or the titles and names is a problem related to moral and politics. One must be able to differentiate the two. The latter is what Confucius is concerned about.


Compared to the common mistakes people make with the words, the misuse of words in a moral or political sense is more abstract as there is no grammar book or a dictionary dealing with these kind of problems. You have no concrete standards to refer to. Hence, you cannot say a word or name is wrong, all you can say is it may not be appropriate in relation to the context. A word, or a name does not stand alone in this world. In order to understand a word or a name, you can only doing so by observing how it correlates to the surrounding world.


Wittgenstein expressed similar ideas in his philosophy. He believes that you cannot give a simple definition to a word. You can only describe something by describing what context it is in or its usage. “What can be shown, cannot be said.” (4.1212) “To give the essence of a proposition means to give the essence of all description, and thus the essence of the world.” (5.4711)2 And, "If we had to name anything which is the life of the sign, we should have to say that it was its use."3 The idea of correlation is very similar to that expressed in the Confucian philosophy.


In his Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein further argues that “Our investigation is a grammatical one. Such an investigation sheds light on our problem by clearing misunderstandings away. Misunderstandings concerning the use of words, caused, among other things, by certain analogies between the forms of expression in different regions of language.” 4 Here he affirms that one of the causes of misunderstanding concerning the use of words is the forms of expression. This idea is related to Confucius’ idea about the “inappropriate use of words”. For Confucius, it is the inappropriateness in a context, in a society of piety system that he concerns about. For Wittgenstein, it is also about the forms of expression, the choice of word and language. I cannot say which one has a broader meaning, but I think their essence is the same. That is, in many cases, if not all, inappropriate names, or inappropriate use of words prevent us from seeing the world as it truly is, or seeing people as they truly are.


As stated in the beginning of the essay, you cannot say a name is right or wrong, all you can say is it is appropriate or not in the context. Wittgenstein, again, has an interesting passage about a similar idea: “Rules of life are dressed up in pictures. And these pictures can only serve to describe what we are to do, not justify it. Because they could provide a justification only if they held good in other respects as well. I can say: "Thank these bees for their honey as though they were kind people who have prepared it for you"; that is intelligible and describes how I should like you to conduct yourself. But I cannot say: "Thank them because, look, how kind they are!"--since the next moment they may sting you.”5 Your description of a bee may largely depend on whether you have been stung or not. Similarly, your description of a person largely depend on your relationship with him/ her and your mutual understanding. The reason why you call your mother “mom” is, first of all, she in fact is your mom; secondly, she is conducting a mother’s duty (that’s why a good stepmother could hear children call her “mom”, but a bad one can’t); thirdly, she is relating you as her child. The name “mom” seems simple enough, but as you see it consisted of one’s identity, one’s way of conducting themselves and one’s correlation to others. Both Wittgenstein and Confucius believe that the importance of words lies in showing, not telling.


On top of that, I think ZHENGMING is similar to the concept of GEWU in the Great Learning, which is about the cultivation of oneself, the regulation of the family, the well-ordering of the state, and the making the whole kingdom peaceful and happy. The order of the objects of GE is as person, family, state and kingdom. The order is stable, One cannot GE a whole kingdom without GE oneself. It shows the priorities and the stages of reaching “the ultimate goodness”. So GEWU and ZHENGMING follow similar logic; the difference is that ZHENGMING is mainly about ranks, social status, while GEWU is about person, family, state and kingdom. The former is viewing from a moral perspective, while the latter is from a practical perspective. Nevertheless, they share the same spirit of conducting appropriately.


ZHENGMING is the key of Confucius’ political idea. When Zilu asked what the first priority should be to administrate a state, Confucius replied: “Without question it would be to insure that names are used properly”6. And when “Duke Ching of Ch'i asked Confucius about government. Confucius answered, 'Let the ruler be a ruler, the subject a subject, the father a father, the son a son.”7 The reason why Confucius says this is because when everyone is in their appropriate status, doing job that suits one’s name, using objects that suits one’s title, then order would be established and a peaceful society would maintain. But if a Gu is not a Gu, then a country is not a country. In Confucian philosophy, ZHENGMING is an essential condition in all politics.


Finally, we come to the translation of ZHENGMING. If we simply translate it as the “rectification of names”, then we are isolating the names by cutting off its connection to the surroundings. However, this is the last thing Confucius wants to do. In his philosophy and political ideas, ZHENGMING is closely related to one’s social status, one’s surroundings, and one’s conducts.


According to my understanding, MING, name, in the Analects, is not only about the title, but also related to the social status and rights a person has accordingly. You can only grasp the meaning of the name by observing how it correlates to the world surrounding it. Therefore, a better translation of ZHENGMING might be the appropriateness of the name or making the name appropriate. Unlike the GEWU in the Great Learning, or the “misunderstanding of words” in Wittgenstein’s philosophy, ZHENGMING in Confucian philosophy is more from a political and moral sense.







1 Legge, James. Confucian Analects. City: Kessinger Publishing, 2004. VI.23)

2 Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, translated by D.F. Pears and B.F. McGuinness. Routledge and Kegan Paul, London 1961

3 Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Blue and Brown Books. Cambridge: Blackwell Publishers, 2002.

4 Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Philosophical Investigations, translated by G.E.M. Anscombe. Basil Blackwell, Oxford 1963

5 Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Culture and Value, translated by Peter Winch. Basil Blackwell, Oxford 1980

6 Ames, Roger and Henry Rosemont. The Analects Of Confucius. New York: Ballantine Books/Ballantine Pub. Group, 1999. II.7

7 Confucius and D. Lau. The Analects (Lun Yü). New York: Penguin Books, 1979. XII.11)

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Govern by Li, or Govern by Law

The Master said: “Lead the people with administrative injunctions and keep them orderly with penal law, and they will avoid punishments but will be without a sense of shame. Lead them with excellence and keep them orderly through observing ritual propriety and they will develop a sense of shame, and moreover, will order themselves.”
From this paragraph, we could see that Confucius values self-discipline more than extra-discipline. Leading by rules and laws could restrict people’s evil conduct to some extent because people are afraid of punishment, but fear could not teach people the sense of shame. Once the external restraint is lifted, they will be free to do whatever they want because then they are fear of nothing, and they haven’t yet known shame. This is like a prisoner could behave well with handcuffs on, but as soon as the handcuffs are took off, he could be ever more evil and violent. As we know, human character is what we call “what you are when no one else is looking”. What makes human a superior being is that they are not ruled by others, but by themselves.
Confucius contextualizes “ruling by oneself” by saying people are ruled by their sense of shame which are developed through observing ritual propriety. Just as punishments are based on laws and rules, ritual propriety is not only attached with excellence (De) but also based on it. While laws and rules keeps people away from evil, excellence and ritual propriety are magnets that attract people to virtuous conducts. For that reason, Confucius believes that governing people by laws can only have the people’s a superficial obeisance, only leading by excellence can change the status quo fundamentally. It is said that western medicine takes less time to take effect but it only treats the disease superficially, which leaves room for the disease to reoccur in time; in comparison, traditional herb medicine takes longer to take effect, but it cures the disease from it’s very source to the surface eliminating the possibility of reoccurring. This may or may not be the case, but it’s an analogy of the relationship between govern by law or govern by Li. While govern by law may receive instant obeisance, only govern by Li can make the people virtuous at heart.
Confucius said, “If a man is able to govern a state by observing the rites and showing deference, what difficulties will he have in public life? If he is unable to govern a state by observing the rites and showing deference, what good are the rites to him?”
Confucius also stresses on the word “guide, lead (dao)”. Just as a tourist guide had to travel the same place to lead the way, a governor should behave with the same excellence and virtue as he wish the people to behave. Confucius way of governing is inclusive, not exclusive. In ancient China, most of the time, the so-called “ruled by law” is exclusive, meaning the governors, superior officers, let alone emperors are exempted from the laws and rules imposed on the people. Confucius is a man that have high respect for authorities, “On going through the outer gates to his lord's court, he drew himself in, as though the entrance was too small to admit him. When he stood, he did not occupy the centre of the gateway;' when he walked, he did not step on the threshold. When he went past the station of his lord, his face took on a serious expression, his step became brisk, and his words seemed more laconic. When he lifted the hem of his robe to ascend the hall, he drew himself in, stopped inhaling as if he had no need to breathe.” By advocating “leading by excellence”, “having a sense of shame through observing ritual propriety”, Confucius does not mean that all people are the same, quite the contrary, he put the people of high status on a higher level because they will be models for their people, their conduct should represent a superior excellence. Hence we can see another advantage of Confucius way of governing: it’s effective on the superiors.
Only when the governors themselves are being an example can the people be expected to behave as such. Confucius said, “If people are proper in personal conduct, others will follow suit without need of command. But if they are not proper, even when they command, others will not obey.”
From above, we could see that it is not easy to be a good governor by Confucius’ definition, as he is expected to be an example of excellence. Confucius also knows this, therefore when Duke Ting asked, “’Is there such a thing as a single saying that can lead a state to prosperity?' 
Confucius answered, 'A saying cannot quite do that. There is a saying amongst men: "U is difficult to be a ruler, and it is not easy to be a subject either." If the ruler understands the difficulty of being a ruler, then is this not almost a case of a saying leading the state to prosperity?'” Then when Duke went on to ask “'Is there such a thing as a saying that can lead the state to ruin?' 
Confucius answered, 'A saying cannot quite do that. There is a saying amongst men: "I do not at all enjoy being a ruler, except for in fact that no one goes against what I say." If what he says is good and no one goes against him, good. But if what he says is not good and no one goes against him, then is this not almost a case of a saying leading the state to ruin?'” By saying that, Confucius has yet a higher requirement for a good governor, on top of realizing the difficulty of being a model of excellence, he should enjoy being so, finding happiness in conducting himself in a proper, appropriate, and authoritative way.
In conclusion, Confucius advocates govern by Li for it prevents transgressions at the very basis, human heart, and leads people to excellence. It is done by making an example of the excellence and enjoying doing so.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Colleges' Reconstruction in East & West

The reconstruction of our campus has just become the talk-of-school.People are excited, but at the same time, concerned. People are excited about the changes, yet concerned about the problems that have been brought up, for instance, the construction noise, the effect on the school's environment, the constant come and go of strangers on the campus. Is the school taking measures necessary to ensure the best outcome? And what’s the students’ view on this? Earlier this month, one of our journalists had a discussion with a foreign student at BFSU on this particular issue.

Touch: Have you noticed the trees trunks here in the campus?
Foreign Student: Yeah, people pointed it out to me.
Touch: A line of trees have been cut. What do you think about it?
FS: Well, I never got to see them when they were there. I know some people are mad because the trees were very old. Is it possible to move them?
Touch: Of course, they could have just dig a deep hole and pull the trees up.
FS: Hmm...
Touch: But of course, the expense maybe high.
FS: I will tell you about the college I went to. It was built in the 1960's, in the middle of a forest. It's kind of strange, it's like a campground or something. But in the past couple years, the school has expanded, with many more students, and so they're building lots of new buildings. And cutting down lots of big redwood trees. Most of the students are really pissed about it. And it definitely changes the feel of the place.
Touch: So did anyone protest?
FS: Yes, there are protests. But not that much, the organized protests are all against the war : )
Touch: And what's the school's explanation?
FS: They say they need to accommodate the new students, and I guess that's true because the more people go to college the better.
Touch: Back in my high school, when it expanded, the trees were pulled up, with the roots and replanted in another place.
FS: Wow, that's cool. I didn't know you could do that.
Touch: Cutting them off is lot easier of course. And by selling these, the school can get profit.
FS: Oh really, I didn't think about that part. But in my opinion, they really should build new colleges in other towns rather than simply expand the old campus or do the reconstruction; they try to save money by not doing this. They keep building new prisons in California, but not
new colleges.
Touch: What?
FS: Yes, in the past years they have built new prisons, but only one new campus of the university of California system (UCLA, Berkeley, etc)
Touch: Why's that?
FS: 1. prisons are more profitable, and can be contracted out to private companies, so both the state and company makes money
FS: 2. the prison guards' union is the strongest lobbying group in the state (effecting govt. decisions)
Touch: I see, So what do you think is the best way for our school to
expand?
FS: Someone in my department said it's not an issue of getting new students, but they have more money now and want to make better facilities. Do you know if that's true? Well, it seems like one way to go would be to knock down these bad facilities and replace them, rather than replace the nicest part, the trees : ) I have been to Peking University, and what makes the campus so nice is all the open space and the plants.

Despite all the controversy it causes, the reconstruction work is already underway. In the meanwhile, we could only hope the school would take effective measures to rebuild a beautiful environment for the students.

The Many Aspects of XIAO

What does it mean to be 孝? 孝 for me has always been being obedient to parents or the elders. However, after reading the Analects, I realized the above definition has limitations. Confucius extends my definition by believing that 孝, one of the most four virtues leading to a life of perfect goodness, is about love and reverence. It represents a good relationship. It’s a strong attachment a child has to his/ her parents, making one truly care about one’s parents. It came from a relationship in which the child learns from the parents in many different ways.

孝 is often translated into English as filial piety. For Confucius, filial respect and, by extension, respects for elders were "the root of authoritative conduct."1 Therefore, it is important to discern what 孝 really means. The character 孝 is composed of two parts: 爻, to influence, and 子, child. So the word originally means putting a child under influence. We could learn more about it by comparing 孝 with two other Chinese characters with the same stem: 教, to make learn, and 效, mimic, copy or effect, efficacy. It shows the importance of parents’ influence on a child. Suppose a child is raised up in an environment where parents don’t respect each other, or are hostile to their own parents, it is indeed difficult for the child to grow up to be filial to his/ her parents. So in my understanding, filial piety represents a relationship in which the children can learn proper conduct from their parents by observing and imitating.

What kind of relationship it is? To begin with, I think 孝 is based on one’s love for his/ her parents. “Tseng Tzu said, 'I have heard the Master say that on no occasion does a man realize himself to the full, though, when pressed, he said that mourning for one's parents may be an exception.'”2 Now think of the occasions in which one could not hold oneself, or in which one’s emotion surpass one’s reasoning. According to Confucius, only the mourning of one’s parents, with grief so deep, could bring about the revealing of one’s true feelings. It is a very touching passage, and it is true that the parents-children relationship should be a bound of deep affection and love.

Apart from mourning, the Analects also says something about how a person of filial piety should conduct after the death of his/ her father. “The Master said: ‘While a person’s father is still alive, observe what he intends; when his father dies, observe what he does. A person who for three years refrains from reforming the ways of his late father can be called a filial son.’”3 This is nowadays a somewhat controversial passage, for in today’s society, innovation is the wheels of development. People argue that if everyone do as this passage commend, refraining from reforming his late father’s ways, there would not be progress in the society. Thus, this action does more harm than good. On the surface, it may seem a plausible argument, however, carefully examine Confucius’ real intention of saying this, we could find that the “ways” he talks about is not the material way but rather a way of conduct. It does not mean if a farmer’s son is not filial if he grows up to be a doctor. Quite the contrary, he would be unfilial if he does become a farmer, but a lazy and decadent one. The reason why Confucius says this is because when the father is alive, the son would always seem obedient, for he dares not do things against the father, so we can only observe his character through his intentions; when the father dies, the restraint is broken, the son could do whatever he wants; but if he’s a person of 孝 (filial piety), his love for his father would prevent him to do anything against his father’s ways. It is no longer for the physical reasons (for instance, a child does not dare to contradict his father for fear of physical punishment), but rather for emotional reasons. A child would love his father so much that he doesn’t wish to change the ways.

孝 also means the reverence and obedience (恭顺) toward the parents. Notice the word reverence is placed before obedience. It’s because only with reverence can one truly be obedient. People could seem obedient when they are under tyrannical laws and rules, but this is not real obedience; one’s the restrictions are lifted, the people would become ever more unruly and contemptible. That’s what Confucius means by saying: “Lead the people with administrative injunctions and keep them orderly with penal law, and they will avoid punishments but will be without a sense of shame.”4 But there is more to 孝 than mere obedience. 敬, for one, is another quality of 孝. “Those filial persons are not fond of offending against their superiors, for they are, in heart, reverent and obedient. ”5

In being 孝, obedience is subordinate to reverence. For instance, what should one do when his/ her parents make mistakes? If one only follows the rule of being obedient, then he/ she would still do the things parents ask of them even it is wrong, and thus continues on the wrong track leading to an undesirable consequence. What, then, should a person of 孝 do when the parents are wrong? The Master said, "In serving his parents, a son may remonstrate with them, but gently; when he sees that they do not incline to follow his advice, he shows an increased degree of reverence, but does not abandon his purpose; and should they punish him, he does not allow himself to murmur." 6This is how a son may remonstrate with his parents on their faults. And here we can see that reverence is placed with more importance than obedience.

Moreover, reverence is considered the central element of 孝. When Ziyou asked about filial conduct, Confucius said the difference between human beings and animals is that people respect their parents, not merely support their parents financially. Confucius said, “even dogs and horses are given that much care. If you do not respect your parents, what’s the difference? ”7 That is to say, disrespecting parents makes one no different to animals. So we can see that great emphasis is put on respect.

孝, as I said, rises from a relationship, strengthens a relationship, and is a reflection of a good parent-children relationship. As all kinds of relationships, it is developed in trivial things. Do you visit your parents often? Do you make tea for them? Do you trim nails for them? All these things are relevant with whether a person is filial or not. And to Confucius, there are more to it than conducting these simple deeds. It is not what you do that is important, but rather how you do it. Cheerfully and willingly, or reluctantly, out of obligation? Confucius said, “It (filial conduct) all lies in showing the proper countenance. As for the young contributing their energies when there is work to be done, and deferring to their elders when there is wine and food to be had – how can merely doing this be considered filial. ”8 How, then, does one show the proper countenance? It goes back to a child’s love for his/ her elders. According to Zhu Xi, only a filial person who loves his elders will have peace in mind, and only then can he appear pleasant, and only then can he show the proper countenance. Serving the elders is not difficult, but serving the elders and enjoying doing it is a high requirement, and could be considered an evaluation of a person’s filial piety.

The last passage I want to quote here is an interesting and touching one. It’s important in terms of understanding Confucius’ view on filial conduct. “The Master said, ‘Children must know the age of their father and mother. On one hand, it is a source of joy; on the other, of trepidation.’” It may be hard to understand this passage at first, but we know that the age of father and mother does not only mean the number, their age, but the fact that they are old and are getting older. To say it is a source of joy is because the age shows parents’ longevity. To say it is a source of trepidation is because children fear that with aging, their parents are becoming more and more frail. This is a sincere feeling of love. 孝 doesn’t need propaganda, nor does it need a magnificent feat; it’s embedded in the most trivial things, for example, knowing the age of parents.

From what has been discussed above, we may arrive at the conclusion that 孝 came from a good relationship; it means to love and respect the elders and to care for them attentively. With that, a person would see filial conduct not as an obligation, but a habit, and an enjoyment.


1 Ames, Roger and Henry Rosemont. The Analects Of Confucius. New York: Ballantine Books/Ballantine Pub. Group, 1999. I.2

2 Legge, James. The Analects Of Confucius, The Great Learning, Doctrine Of The Mean. New York: Dover Publications, 1971. XIX.17.

3 Ames, Roger and Henry Rosemont. The Analects Of Confucius. New York: Ballantine Books/Ballantine Pub. Group, 1999. I.11.

4 Ames, Roger and Henry Rosemont. The Analects Of Confucius. New York: Ballantine Books/Ballantine Pub. Group, 1999. II.3.

5 Zhu Xi's Reading of the Analects: Canon, Commentary and the Classical Tradition. Daniel Gardner. A Century Of Arts And Letters. New York: Columbia University Press, 2003.

6 Legge, James. The Analects Of Confucius, The Great Learning, Doctrine Of The Mean. New York: Dover Publications, 1971. IV.18.

77 Ames, Roger and Henry Rosemont. The Analects Of Confucius. New York: Ballantine Books/Ballantine Pub. Group, 1999. II.7

8 Ames, Roger and Henry Rosemont. The Analects Of Confucius. New York: Ballantine Books/Ballantine Pub. Group, 1999. II.8

Sunday, October 15, 2006

He > Harmony

He is not only an important idea in the Confucian philosophy, but also one of the fundamental ideologies of the Chinese. In this essay, I will try to discern the meaning of he by looking at some of the passages in the Analects.

First is I.12, in which Youzi talks about the relationship between li and he. Translations of this passage could be categorized in two groups, while the definition of li is basically the same, they differ on the definition of he: one group tends to translate it into “a natural easy” while the other translates it into “harmony”.

The philosopher Yû said, "In practicing the rules of propriety, a natural ease is to be prized. In the ways prescribed by the ancient kings, this is the excellent quality, and in things small and great we follow them. "Yet it is not to be observed in all cases. If one, knowing how such ease should be prized, manifests it, without regulating it by the rules of propriety, this likewise is not to be done."

-- Legge I. 12.

To Legge, he means a natural ease. Though ritual propriety has a set of very strict rules, but they all come from nature, so the practice of ritual propriety is especially precious if it’s done with natural ease. The great Confucian scholar of Song Dynasty, Zhuxi, expressed similar idea in his commentary of the Analects. He says that jing (respect) is what li (ritual propiety) is build on and he is where yue (music) comes from. Zhuxi also comments that what Youzi said has reached the roots of li (ritual propiety) and yue (music). He then says that strictness brings peacefulness, he brings restriction, that is the nature of reasons and the wholeness of ritual propriety. With a little mistake, or inclination of either of the two, it’s not going to work. Here we can see that Zhuxi has already extended the meaning of he to more than just natural ease, but a sense of properness and appropriateness, a traditional Chinese idea of being mutual, standing in the midway (what we call zhongyong).

This idea also lies in the other interpretation of he, harmony.

Yu Tzu said, 'Of the things brought about by the rites, harmony is the most valuable. Of the ways of the Former Kings, this is the most beautiful, and is followed alike in matters great and small, yet this will not always work: to aim always at harmony without regulating it by the rites simply because one knows only about harmony will not, in fact, work.'

-- Lau I. 12.

By interpreting he as harmony, as it is here, the reader can get a more clear distinction about the two hes appeared in the third sentence. In “知和而和”, the first he is a noun, meaning harmony or a harmonic state, while the second is a verb, meaning realizing or achieving this state. Harmony, however, is a vague word, as there are no clear definition or standards of harmony.

In the Analects, the concept of he, li and yue never appear alone, they always come in pairs. My understanding of their relationship is that he means harmony, which is also the key element of yue, at the same time, yue is the practice of li in a real setting, especially when God, ancestors, emperors, or officials are involved. To show proper respect in the practice of li, there must be appropriate and harmonious music. As the purpose of li was to bring the action-receiver pleasure not torture.

Additionally, I want to draw your attention to the relationship between he and zhong (middle). In Yang Shuda’s commentary of the Analects, he is interpreted as the middle-way of things (“事之中者”) , meaning appropriate. In terms of supervising a nation, the use of ritual propriety lies in not doing too much and not doing too little, but just doing properly and appropriately. But of course, what Confucius is advocating here is not appropriate for appropriateness’ sake, there is a idea of “limit” here. In the Book of Propriety, the Confucius said ritual propriety is to keep things in a middle kind of way. “子曰:‘礼乎礼,夫礼所以制中也。’”(《礼记·仲尼燕居》)

There are two things we need to keep in mind when we think about the term he and zhong.

First, they contain a meaning of blending the conflicts, but with a limit, and that limit is set by ritual propriety. For example, there’s a metaphor says “hold the two ends, and use the middle to serve the people”. The Confucian philosophy advocates serving the people in a mild way, ruling them by morality. But it doesn’t mean it has little to no regards for law, quite the contrary, the Confucian philosophy has very high regards about rules, laws and ritual proprieties.

Second, he is not a blind mix. The idea of being harmonious while maintaining differences (“和而不同”) is very important in Chinese philosophy. He’s not a melting pot, in which everything loses its original taste and character; it’s not a salad bowl, in which everything was simply put together but has no interaction with each other. It’s putting things/ opinions/ persons of different features and characters together in a way that their demerits could be compensate by others’ merits so that they can reach a perfect balance. It’s very important that these elements coordinate with each other. In fact, he is like the idea of 阴阳, where different things are integrated and unified.

Moreover, he conveys the meaning of openness, being able to accept and include other things/ ideas/ persons, and not to be bias. The Chinese believe there are five elements in the nature: wood, metal, fire, earth and water. Likewise, there are five desirable qualities in people: authoritativeness, propriety, making good on one’s words, appropriateness, and wisdom. Only person who acquires the five qualities can be called perfect. Being he is to be able to not only regulate the outside relationships to a harmonious state but also develop the inner-self, personal characters in full aspects.

In conclusion, he both means the state of being harmonious and the acquiring/realizing of this state. It’s under the rule of ritual propriety. It’s about relatedness and coordination. It’s about internalizing different ideas.

Monday, October 9, 2006

To ZHI is to Understand

ZHI is one of the five “constant virtues” Confucius upholds, other four being human-heartedness (REN), appropriateness (YI), propriety (LI), sincerity or good faith (XIN). In traditional Chinese, the word 智, wisdom, shares the same character with ZHI, so un-like the clear distinction between wisdom and knowledge in English, it is hard to define ZHI with one of these meanings.
In several passages, Confucius seems have given us a definition of ZHI. For instance, in IX - 28, Confucius said “ 知者不惑”, translated as “a wise man is free from doubts”1, or “the wise are not flustered”2, or “with wisdom, there’s no delusion”3. ZHI, here, as wisdom, seems to be a mystery-solver. But it doesn’t say about what doubts or delusion a wise man is free from. Does it mean that a man of ZHI has no doubts whatsoever and is clear about everything? Then this concept of ZHI would be so broad that no one is ever able to achieve it.
In VI - 22, when Fan Ch’ih asked about wisdom, Confucius gave him a more detailed explanation of what a people with ZHI would conduct himself. “Devote yourself to these duties which are proper to the people; and respect the spirits but maintain the proper distance from them. This May be called wisdom.”4
Other translations of the same passages include:
Fan Ch’ih asked about knowing. He said: put your energy into human equities, re-spect the spirits and powers of the air and keep your distance, that can be called know-ing.2 Or, “To work for the things the common people have a right to and to keep one’s distance from the goods and spirits while showing them reverence can be called wis-dom. ”5 Or, “To work for what is right for the people and to respect the spirits and gods from afar, can be considered wisdom.”3
There’re two objects in this paragraph: the people, and the ghosts and spirits. Wis-dom, therefore, is one’s way of dealing with these two objects. As to the people, a person of ZHI is a person who not only behaves appropriately, but also cares about and strives to do what is appropriately for them. As to the ghosts and spirits, one should respect from afar.
Why?
This is, as far as I’m concerned, the key question in revealing the meaning of ZHI. My understanding is that while it is fairly easy to understand what is appropriate to the people, it is almost impossible to determine if something is appropriate to the ghosts and spirits, for they are mysterious and inconstant. When the object itself is unap-proachable and inconsistent, it will only be thoughtless to pursue after it.
The most proper meaning of ZHI would be “to understand”. Because you may say “I know there are ghosts in the world” or “I know about the ghosts”, but you can never say “I understand there’re ghosts” or “I understand the spirits” as they are not real. ZHI is the understanding of something real. Moreover, the passage defines a person of ZHI as to one who exerts oneself to do what is appropriate. So it adds yet more sense of the word ZHI, which means understanding of real and appropriate things.
Still there is another question, does this ZHI comes naturally, are persons born with ZHI? If not, then how does one acquire it?
There’s an interesting passage worth our attention, in which Confucius says: “I am not one who is born knowing it. I am one who loves antiquity and diligently pursues it.”6
Could Confucius be regarded as a born-knowing person? What’s his purpose of dis-claiming his knowing?
Zhang [Xuan] said, “To say this is to exhort others to learn”. Zhu Xi’s reading was: One who is born knowing it is of pure, clear psycho-physical stuff (QI): his moral princi-ple manifests itself clearly. He knows without the need of learning. 6 In Zhu’s reading of the passage, all human beings are born with good human nature and a particular al-lotment of QI (psycho-physical stuff). Dense, turbid psycho-physical stuff obstructs the realization of the inner goodness with which we are endowed. By contrast, pure, refined stuff allows the goodness to become perfectly manifest. To be born knowing it is to be born with the purest and most refined endowment of human nature in all its moral goodness. In Zhu’s mind, Confucius was indeed born with an exceptional endowment of psycho-physical stuff. Thus in this sense, he was certainly born with the understanding, that is, the understanding of the moral principle that is human nature.
Mr. Yin [Tun] said “That Confucius, a sage born knowing it, always speaks of fond-ness for learning, is not only to motivate others. It would seem that what can be known at birth is simply moral principle. As for ritual, music, names and their things, and the changing affairs past and present, these indeed must be learned, and only afterward can we test their truth.” 6
Citing Yin Tun, Zhu goes on to make a distinction - one that probably was intended to help reconcile his assertion that Confucius was born understanding it - from Confu-cius’ own disclaim here. The reader is informed that the knowledge possessed innately by the Master was the moral understanding of right and wrong, not the knowing of eve-ryday affairs and matters. These affairs - including ritual, music, and past and present events - must be learned and assessed for their truth. Learning therefore remained cru-cial even to a sage like Confucius if he were to conduct himself appropriately in these everyday affairs and matters.
Now it seems that I can end the essay with the conclusion that ZHI to Confucius means the understanding appropriateness, and a person of ZHI should act upon what is appropriate and be able to distinguish right and wrong. It’s more of a moral sense than an intellectual sense. But how, then, do persons acquire this understanding if they are not born with it? More importantly, when they have acquired it how can they evaluate it; how does one distinguish the true from the false? And what is virtue? It is said that one should practice the Way, but how does one find out what the Way is? What is the great standard by which all things are to be measured?
Does Confucius provide us the answers?
Sadly, no.
He has no such standards. At least, there’s no such statement in the Analects. Nor did he say that the standards could be found in any other book. Nevertheless, the mere fact that he never states in the Analects that antiquity or certain books provide the ulti-mate basis of truth, does not prove that he did not think they did. As quoted above, Con-fucius said: “I am one who loves antiquity and diligently pursues it.” 6 In other versions, “pursue” is also translated as “investigate”. It is also noted in the Great Learning that “ the extension of knowledge lay in the investigation of things. Things being investigated, knowledge became complete. Their knowledge being complete, their thoughts were sin-cere. Their thoughts being sincere, their hearts were then rectified. Their hearts being rectified, their persons were cultivated. Their persons being cultivated, their families were regulated. Their families being regulated, their states were rightly governed. Their states being rightly governed, the whole kingdom was made tranquil and happy.”7 This statement has been known as the “eight ethic-political items”, but basic to all, of course, is the cultivation of one’s own self.
From above, we can infer that pursuing/ investigating of the past is one of our chief way to getting near ZHI. But no matter pursuing or investigating, it must be done me-thodically. “The Master said, ‘I could describe the ceremonies of the Hsiâ dynasty, but Chî cannot sufficiently attest my words. I could describe the ceremonies of the Yin dy-nasty, but Sung cannot sufficiently attest my words. (They cannot do so) because of the insufficiency of their records and wise men. If those were sufficient, I could adduce them in support of my words.’”8
Not everything is equally reliable as evidence, however. We must always keep our eyes open, learning all we can from experience. Yet we cannot expect to understand eve-rything; we must understand what we can, and concerning the rest maintain suspended judgment. After all, “The Master said: ‘To be fond of something is better than merely to know it, and to find joy in it is better than merely to be fond of it’”. 5
Now we can draw the conclusion that ZHI (often translated as knowing) means the understanding appropriateness and the ability to distinguish right and wrong which could only be acquired through arduous learning and careful investigation of the past experience.

Sunday, October 8, 2006

AIESEC Interview

Back from the AIESEC interview. One room, 13 people, 10 interviewees. Began with introduction, proceeded with a stupid game, an unsuccessful team project, a super fun collaborating game (building a tower using newspaper), and ended with a long Q&A session.
So how did I do? That's what every one is asking. Well, I felt silly at first, all these questions about "supposing you are the city committee, select five words from the blackboard as the key values of your city". I mean, this is so hypothatical that it sounds just ridiculous. For one, a city is never going to be depended solely on five values. Besides, these values are so broad that with a little twist of meaning, they basicly could mean the same. Take a look at some of the words: family, love, achievement, awarding excellence, etc.
Anyway, the last game, the tower-building was pretty fun. So I think it's worth the time:)
In the Q&A session, instead of asking what their main programs are, which are business or finance related, I asked about volunteering programs like war-relief programs or campaign against aids. The interviers, two AIESEC members from Peking University, must be pissed off, and said "okay, I want to know in what programs the majority is interested". Haha! That's the happiest time in the interview!
Let me clarify this, I didn't really want to get in AIESEC. After all, it's business is really about business. And I have this prejudice against finance/ business stuff (no offense, Matthew~). So I'd be surprised if I got in. Then I'll probably have to explain why I applied when I didn't want to join.
The answer is quite simple, really. For Matthew. He's quite enthusiastic about it, and well, if we are really connected as I always believe we are, then my applying may give him a better chance of getting in:) Weird logic, I know, or, it's not logical at all. Women are strange creatures. Look out.