Many people think that Chinese Confucianism is a religion. Contraryto popular belief, Confucianism is not a religion. Instead, it is thebasis of Chinese way of life and acts as an ideological system.According to Asia Society (1) Confucianism is frequently“characterized as a system of social and ethical philosophy ratherthan a religion”. Hoobler and Thomas (10) further explain that itis a thought system founded on Confucius teachings. Confucius is arevered individual in the history of Chinese people. He is referredto as a great teacher, who taught on how Chinese should live theirlife.
Confucius came up with Confucianism at a time when the ZhouDynasty’s political system was disintegrating. He intended toreinstate social and political unity through revival of the moralcharacter of those in leadership. As a result, Confucius came up withthree principles, which he regarded as the cornerstone of morality.These were humanity, filial respect and ritual property. Humanityreferring to showing love and kindness to other people, ritualproperty is the significant expression of humanity and filial respectrefers to respecting elders. Hence, fundamental to Confucianism isthe concept that individuals must live in accord, together and innature (Hoobler and Thomas 12).
The philosophy promotes a system of proper governance andinterpersonal relationships. As a way of life of Chinese people, thephilosophy influences numerous aspects of their life. It is possibleto observe Confucianism in most Chinese family units. The family actsas a fundamental unit of society. It is the natural environment fromwhere moral training happens. Confucianism teaches that it is fromthe family that individuals gain their human potential. Hence, humanrelationships are formed from the family (Hoobler and Thomas 12).Such teachings are still apparent and practiced by Chinese people ona daily life.
In most Chinese families, the strongest relationship is between thefather and son. The son must obey and respect the father. Once agrownup, the son is expected to continue honoring the father evenwhen he is dead. This is apparent in the continuous tradition offilial respect, where sons continue to offer sacrifices to thespirits of their fathers. It is a deeply entrenched Chinesetradition. On the other hand, the father takes up the role of theprovider, ensuring that he meets the needs of his family. Theposition of women is that of wives and mothers, whereby they areexpected to be submissive to their husbands and fathers. Althoughmodernization has changed the way Chinese family units are formed inmodern society, most families still comprise of a father, mother andchild. Even women that work continue to submit to their husbands asis expected of them by Confucianism.
Another area of life influenced by Confucianism is governance.Confucius teachings explain how rulers and subjects should relate. Inthe similar manner that sons must obey their fathers, the subject isexpected to respect the ruler. During Confucius era, the state wasseen as an extended family. The emperor acted as both mother andfather to his subjects. Years later, Confucius philosophy acts as“the official doctrine of the Chinese government” (Hoobler andThomas 14). The government has a one-party system, which means thatthere is only one ruler in china. The party utilizes Confucianism asa tool to support and promote such a government, since underConfucianism ideals there can only be one ruler and the others aresubjects (Robert 1).
Confucianism is also the foundation of Chinese people’s educationsystem. Over the years, a system of education has been created, whichaims at ensuring students are well aware of Confucian thought. TheChinese government has set limitations on the influence of westernart, religion and academia (Page 1). China’s education ministry hasintroduced the teaching of Chinese traditional culture, which is alsoexaminable. Schoolbooks are now being rewritten to incorporate textssuch as the need to respect elders (Page 1). These changes are areflection of the modern practice of Confucianism in china. Forinstance, the inclusion of texts on respect aligns with Confuciusteachings on filial respect, where children are expected to respecttheir elders.
Collectivism is defined as a philosophy linked to communism. It isthe concept that individuals need to place first the wellbeing ofsociety prior to individual wellbeing. The phrase collectivism isrelated to collection, and relates to political theories, whichprioritize the group prior to the individual. In a collectivesociety, authority is held by society at large and not a reserve of afew people, hence any political decisions are made with the objectiveof helping the masses and not those in power.
China is said to be collective because Chinese people are governedby traditional values, which place emphasis on the society as a wholeand not the individual. Chinese cultural history has been inexistence for many years, and the cultural values continue toinfluence Chinese people’s behavior to date. For instance, Chineseculture emphasizes on filial respect, which refers to respect forpeople who are older, respect for hierarchy, group orientation, faceconcept and the significance of relationships (Wong 5). In anyChinese society, relationships are very important. They start withone’s immediate relatives, who are viewed as an in-group and thesame is spread out to the extended members of the family and societyat large. Children are expected to respect the old, regardless of ifthey are related or not, due to the value for relationships insociety. These are values that expound on Chinese collectivism.
It is also possible to see why Chinese are collectivist based on howthey relate in a company. In a collective society, harmony as well asloyalty are very significant and must be upheld. Confrontation isavoided by all means. This is apparent among Chinese people. TheChinese do not disagree with other individuals’ opinions publicly.Instead, when there is a difference in decision, people areencouraged to express their differences privately and on a personallevel to avoid the loss of face (Wong 5). In place of outwardlyrejecting the ideas of another person, Chinese people use expressionsto signify their disagreement. Saying no is deemed to harm the groupharmony. The employer and worker base their relationship on unity andtrust, in addition to moral values. Hence, the company’s wealth ismore significant than that of an individual.
In Chinese learning institutions, students are examined on questionsthat have standard answers. Unlike in America where many examinablequestions are open-ended, Chinese schools expect that students havesimilar answers for similar questions. The teachers encourage theirstudents to answer in the same way. Such an education system thatfails to encourage students to think on their own may seem odd.However, to Chinese people it aligns with their culture ofcollectivism. When students respond to examination questions in thesame way, it implies that they have all understood the text beingexamined. Failure to do so would imply that some of the students havenot understood. This is an illustration of the group mentalityapparent in any collective society.
The eating habits of Chinese people are another illustration ofChinese collectivism. They share meals by eating together in groups.For instance, food can be served in a single plate and chopsticks areused to eat from the plate. It is a common behavior, specificallywhen people are eating as a family. In cases where the family islarge, most of the dishes are shared at the center of the table. Arotating disk centrally placed on the table and used to turn the foodconstantly. The objective is to ensure that everybody is able to geta bite. The reason why Chinese people eat together is because theyview it as an effective way of promoting harmonious living. Harmonyis a very important cultural value in China (Werth 1).
Chinese Confucianism and collectivism refer to philosophies, whichinfluence the way of life of Chinese people. They are ideals thatexplain how Chinese people should live their lives, in harmony.Confucianism is a thought system that is founded on Confuciusteachings of humanity, filial respect and ritual property. Inpractice, most Chinese people value the importance of relationships,and every relationship is founded on filial respect. An illustrationis the relationship between the father and son, where the son mustrespect his father. Young people in society are also expected toensure that they respect elders. The philosophy also influencesgovernance and China’s education system. Both are based on theideals of Confucius. Collectivism on the other hand, urgesindividuals to be concerned about the welfare of society as a whole,and not of the individual. Chinese people believe in the unity ofsociety. Their collectivism is apparent in workplaces, school and intheir eating habits. In workplaces, when an employee differs with theideas of another, it is unacceptable to publicly shame to avoidlosing face. School use standardized examinations to ensurecollective thinking. Also, Chinese people love to eat together as agroup.
Asia Society. Confucianism, 2016. Web. 17 Mar. 2016.http://asiasociety.org/education/confucianism
Hoobler, Dorothy, and ThomasHoobler. Confucianism.New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 2009. Print.
Page, Jeremy. Why China is turning back to Confucius. The WallStreet Journal, 20 Sep. 2015. Web. 17 Mar. 2016.http://www.wsj.com/articles/why-china-is-turning-back-to-confucius-1442754000
Roberts, Dexter. Confucius Makes a Comeback in China. BloombergBusiness, 2 Nov. 2012. Web. 17 Mar. 2016.http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2012-11-01/confucius-makes-a-comeback-in-china
Werth, Matthew S. Effects of Collectivist vs. IndividualistApproaches to Ethics on Sino-US Relations. Global Ethics Network,29 Apr. 2013.
Wong, Edward Y. The Chinese at Work: Collectivism orIndividualism? Lingnan: Hong Kong Institute of Business Studies,2001.