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Filial piety and fraternal submission -- are they not the root of all benevolent actions?" The superior man does not innovate, but is judged upon how perfectly bows to the conventions that were established, to what moral truths and ideals have come before his existence on earth and in heaven. (the Analects, Chapter 1)
The superior also is deferential to his subordinates -- and aloof from those beneath him. Even when the student Tsze-kung asks Confucius "What do you pronounce concerning the poor man who yet does not flatter, and the rich man who is not proud?" The Master replied, "they will do; but they are not equal to him, who, though poor, is yet cheerful, and to him, who, though rich, loves the rules of propriety." In other words, even a poor man who is not socially aspiring should be cheerful in his or her deference. Furthermore, although the rich man may not be proud, he should observe some remove and propriety towards his subordinates and not be overly free in his social relations with his inferiors. (the Analects, Chapter 1)
Duty to who and what has come before, to both moral principles and the persons of one's answers, conformity rather than nonconformity and innovation is what is paramount in Confucian philosophy, in direct contrast to the American stress upon innovation in ideas, governance, and moral behavior. The assembler of the Analects quotes not only Confucius, but also Confucius quoting those who taught before him, stressing the continuity rather than the innovation of Confucian philosophy. "The philosopher Yu [is said to have said, according to Confucius] "In practicing the rules of propriety, a natural ease is to be prized." Confucius, in one's social mannerism additionally reinforces the idea that a lack of hard effort should be affected, rather than any illusion of social betterment and hard work and achieving an image of upward mobility, in contrast to American values. (the Analects, Chapter 1)
Also, rather than stress equality of all persons, the master states: "Have no friends not equal to yourself." Individuals must keep to their specific and enclosed stratum of society -- although Confucius does not state individuals should be compared with one another as better or worse, that women are not 'good' compared to men, for example, in a harmonious social order, all individuals are on a hierarchy, fulfill their functions on that hierarchy. This stress upon hierarchy in the pursuit of social harmony rather than social mobility means that a socially conservative state of affairs is achieved by following Confucian principles -- all individuals must fulfill their function on the ladder, from commoner to emperor, but each with different prescriptions of actions.
One of the reasons that Confucian philosophy strikes one as so alien is that Americans tend to stress a lack of governance to achieve a more perfect state, for the purpose of the government is to serve the people's freedom and to serve individual aims. For Confucius, however, the purpose of the human individual is to serve the state, and by serving the state create a better and more perfect world in harmony with heaven.
This does not mean that the ruler is absolved from doing good and serving the state, anymore than one's social betters can ignore one's social inferiors. In fact, much of the obligations of the Analects are directed to the members of the elite, administering classes and castes. "To rule a country of a thousand chariots, there must be reverent attention to business, and sincerity; economy in expenditure, and love for men; and the employment of the people at the proper seasons."
All persons must be employed in their proper places and achieve goodness in these places, even the Emperor. Thus, although it is tempting to discount the Analects as useful today, it is also important to note Confucius' purpose in authoring his work -- he wishes not simply to instruct obedience, but to spur a good leader to govern better, as well as for individuals to serve their leader and family better through achieving excellence in their individual spheres.
Confucius. The Analects of Confucius. Readings From Ancient China. Website maintained by Tony Beavers. http://eawc.evansville.edu/anthology/analects.htm[10…[continue]
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