Explain Confucian Elite Regulation
In most East Asia countries, political elites had the highest status among the citizens. The presence of ruling elites in a nation can be beneficial or detrimental to the citizens. In ancient civilizations, the ruling class created a lot of problems to the citizens, forcing political philosophers of ideas such as Confucians to advise on the best approach to follow to have a cohesive society. Leaders led armies that caused the deaths of citizens as well as the destruction of properties. Therefore, ancient philosophers tried to address how the governing elite could govern without oppressing the people. Consequently, Confucianism made proposals such as the federalism, ethics in governance, and education among other suggestions to ensure that the nation did not fall into disorder.
Initially, Confucius did not provide safeguards against rulers in the hope that they would be benevolent and govern without hurting citizens. The initial standards held that a ruler would treat the citizens as a parent handles a child. As a result, most citizens began to obediently follow the ruler sparking intense debate after the death of Confucius. Some scholars such as Lu Xun in his 1918 book titled Madman’s diary attacked the Confucianism tradition as an oppressive system that supported the excesses of rulers (Lecture notes July 1). He was also critical of the system, believing that it was responsible for creating an unjust society that was also passive and unequal. Therefore, at the start of the idea, there were a lot of controversies about it as it did not provide safeguards against the activities of the rulers.
One of the principles that Confucius and Mencius taught was to rule the people through ethical inspiration and not by brute force. These teachings were in direct contradictions of the belief of the rulers of the day. Most of them thought that the best way to govern was to use military might in handling internal disorder and external threats. However, Confucius advocated that force should not be the primary method of governance, but should come as a last resort. The use of the term virtue was initially a form of political charisma that only the king possessed from the accumulation of knowledge and special skills (Lecture notes July 3). Through acts of generosity and kindness, a king would appease the citizens to be obedient. Therefore, governance, by virtue, is one of the mechanism that Confucianism advances as a tool to regulate the political leadership of the country.
Mencius is a famous Chinese philosopher who taught about ethics in governance. He argues that one way to prove that a king was compassionate was by observing how the person treats animals during the process of offering sacrifices. If they were merciful to the sacrificial animals, then they would show compassion to the people they governed. Since the citizens are not the problem in governance, if the ruling were ethical and compassionate, the two would coexist well (Lecture notes July 15). Since the ruling class is in charge of state power, it fails to exercise restraint, making it necessary to have regulations to protect citizens.
Virtue was an integral part of the lives of the people during various periods of Chinese history when Confucianism was part and parcel of the state. The early philosophers held that the subjects would value a ruler who governs through virtue because they would never need to use coercive methods. Eventually, virtue became something owned by a person with exceptional character regardless of their social status. By the time the Zhou dynasty came to an end, virtue was used to refer to specific elements of a person’s character, such as wisdom, courage, and benevolence. According to Mencius, the leader needed to possess these attributes so that they can govern peacefully without using excessive force to subdue the people.
Rituals were essential elements for a Confucian because they had a connection to the benevolence of the leader. They were a vital idea for ethical and social philosophies. In Chinese traditions, a ritual was a formal ceremony, such as the burning of offerings to the ancestors for a specific reason. As the history of the country and the community developed, the meaning expanded to include etiquette such as the best approach to follow in bidding guests goodbye (Lecture notes July 8). After an extended period, it became a term used to refer to ethics.
Confucius began to demand that it was essential to exhibit certain characters and emotions during the performance of rituals. Any person occupying high office was expected to show emotions in mourning when sacrificing an animal. According to Mencius, it was wrong for a leader to disrespect rituals and hoped that the citizens would honor them. Therefore, disrespect for ceremonies was a sign of lack of generosity as a leader. Disrespect to the animals was a sign of rudeness from the ruler (Lecture notes July 10). The dishonor of the dead during mourning was also proof of disconnect between the ruler and his people. Therefore, Confucius claimed that leaders must exhibit specific characters.
Mencius holds the view that the state must guarantee the wellbeing of the people. He argues that the country must ensure that people can access food and free from the fear of violence. However, if the people are well-fed, have warm cloth, and live comfortably without instruction, then they are likely to behave like wild as animals. Therefore, the ruler needs to establish law and order to avoid disrupting the lives of the citizens. According to Mencius, the achievement of worthiness requires personal effort for an individual to become a responsible ruler who is benevolent to the citizens (Lecture notes July 1). Therefore, the state and the citizens are partners that can co-exist in peace with all the parties performing their respective duties honorably.
In most cases, Confucianism was critical of the leadership in power as it encouraged it to avoid using excessive force in their administration of the state. As a result, during some dynasties, they were suppressed by the people in power. According to Confucian disciples, philosophers such as Mencius advised the Qi Dynasty to conquer the Yan state because there was disorder and needed assistance in the restoration of order. However, they did not follow the advice; he disagreed with the rulers because of harming noncombatant people and carrying citizens as trophies of war. In this case, Mencius argument was that the state could assist another government in the restoration of law and order, but try as much as possible not to hurt the people (Lecture notes July 3). Helping citizens live in dignity was the primary objective of the state, and any misuse of power by any leader was not acceptable. Therefore, when Confucians did think that the government was hurting the people; they were quick to criticize them.
The Confucian tradition held that the elite leaders were critical in creating a healthy society. They were responsible for setting the agenda of the areas under their jurisdiction, whether it was a region or a whole country. Leaders were also expected to be morally upright. Confucianism also held that the policy that the government pursues must serve the interest of the citizens (Lecture notes July 1). If the leadership of a country can follow the aspirations of the citizens in developing strategies, then it would be accessible for the two groups to co-exist peacefully.
Confucianism argues that the role of the government in power is to serve the people by ensuring that they have food, and they can trust it to protect them. It also suggests that it must ensure that citizens can access education. Throughout its history, Confucian scholars established their schools from where they taught their philosophy (Lecture notes July 3). They explained the importance of having a moral compass throughout the life of a person. It showed that the family was an essential unit in building a cohesive society. Therefore, it encouraged parents to ensure that their children learn to obey authority (Lecture notes July 15). In its constitution, it suggested that the best approach in governance so that a country could flourish is for the state to adopt functional Federalism. In such a system, the central government would share its duties with the regional government. In essence, it would be possible for the local institutions to co-govern with the national government.
Confucianism encourages leaders to be virtuous. It avers that moral leaders can balance the interests of the state with those of the citizens. They can adjust their interests with those of the people who require their services. Virtuous leaders are also likely to strike a balance between the interests of the present and future generations (Lecture notes July 3). According to Confucianism scholars, the desire to balance the interests of various stakeholders in governance is a virtue that encourages the adoption of hierarchies that benefit all the stakeholders equally. Importantly, the leadership must help the rulers and the subjects.
Confucianism was critical of corruption tendencies by the elite. It discouraged the bribery of the citizens from gaining economic power or the use of economic might to coerce the citizens. It inhibited the military from destroying the properties of the conquered subjects (Lecture notes July 1). Instead, it encouraged the establishment of national holidays when all citizens participate in traditional rituals. The culture also urged citizens to aspire to be better members of society through personal growth. It taught the importance of learning that life is a process that requires constant improvement. Thus, while it discouraged the corruption of the elite, it also encouraged the citizens to be responsible citizens involved in personal development.
Confucianism is one of the most important traditions of East Asia countries though it began in China. The philosophy developed during turbulent and prosperous eras in the history of China and was shaped by these experiences. As a result, Confucians philosophers such as Mencius held that letting rulers govern without regulation was disastrous. Therefore, it was essential to regulate their activities so that they could maintain law and govern fairly. For example, they discouraged the destruction of the properties and encouraged showing kindness to the conquered people as they become subjects. Philosophers such as Mencius advised for the establishment of Federalism to govern the vast lands as well as colonies. Also, they implored on leaders to be ethical and compassionate with citizens. The tradition notes that rulers and the governed must coexist. The citizens benefit when there is law and order, and the rulers benefit by having vast areas under their command and receiving tributes or taxes.
Lecture notes July 1
Lecture notes July 3
Lecture notes July 8
Lecture notes July 10
Lecture notes July 15
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