Sept. 28 marks 2,569 years since the birth of Confucius, who is known as the “great sage and teacher” in China, whose ethical and philosophical teachings continue to have a profound influence on every aspect of Chinese society. In China, even a three-year-old toddler can recite some of his famous quotes, such as “What a joy to have friends coming from afar!” and “Whenever I walk with two other men, I can always find teachers in them.”
Understanding Confucius is one of the ways to understand the minds of the Chinese people.
Confucius’ views are quite different from the pursuit of “seeking your true self” emphasized in Western philosophy. According to Roger Ames, a professor of the University of Hawaii, Confucius’ views can be concluded as the following: “The way in which we become consummate as human beings lies in the roles and relationships that locate us with our family and community.” This requires one to become a better parent, a better child, a better teacher, a better merchant or a better emperor.
Confucianism teaches that a ruler should rule by virtue, but not by force, with a complete system established to constrain imperial power. This view was highly praised by French philosopher Voltaire, who believed it to be very advantageous, because in Chinese society where Confucianism was taken as the mainstream philosophy, the government only needed to maintain social morality, while the general public could handle everyday affairs through their own moral and ethical judgment.
It is thus clear that the spread of ideas and thoughts is not entirely limited to a particular country or era. With a practical philosophy focusing on the relationship between individual and society, Confucianism found its way deep into the hearts of the people. Even in our time – the internet age of the 21st century – Confucius’ theory is still worth learning. Ma Yun, also known as Jack Ma, founder and executive chairman of China’s e-commerce giant Alibaba Group, believes that Chinese enterprises can gain fundamental strengths from traditional Chinese culture. He once said that a company, which has developed to a considerably large scale but still knows nothing about the ideological system of Confucianism, will have no chance to last in the market.
Ancient Greece, India and China from the sixth century BC to the fourth century BC produced a good number of outstanding philosophers and thinkers, such as Socrates, Sakyamuni and Confucius. This period is hailed as the Axial Age in the history of human civilizations. While the great thinkers of the past may have had no way to communicate with each other, today people can carry out varied cultural exchanges through multiple channels and platforms. It is exactly this mutual understanding, mutual respect and mutual learning among different civilizations that Confucius conveyed to us as “harmony in diversity.”