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Monday, February 2, 2015

What Confucius taught us

When a society passes through critical crises, alternative systems emerge to tackle the situation. Reformers try to repair the broken system and make it functional again. On the other hand, revolutionaries and radicals want to completely abolish old institutions and replace them with new ones that are based on their ideology.

After developing an understanding of the society and its problems, philosophers, thinkers and intellectuals present ideas and thoughts to change the social fabric. The role of philosophers became crucial and effective in Chinese history whenever the society faced political, social and economic difficulties.

The famous philosopher who presented innovative ideas to control the crises and to transform the society was Confucius, who was born in 551BC at Lu (Northern China). After completing his education, he wandered from one state to another in search of employment as he wanted to implement his ideas through state authority. But he failed to get a job and returned home disappointed.

We love Chinese food and culture, how about some Chinese philosophy?
Later, when he became a teacher, he attracted students and disciples who were eager to learn his brand of philosophy. He established an academy, which was an innovation because there was no such educational institution in China at the time. Previously, education was a privilege only for children from the nobility, but his academy was open to the rich and poor alike. This showed his belief in social equality. He introduced a curriculum which included poetry, history, politics, music and sports with the objective of producing educated and well-rounded people for a model society.

Confucius, like Socrates, did not write anything but verbally transmitted his knowledge to his students. Later, his disciples collected his sayings in the form of a book entitled Annalex. Through this book, we can study the philosophy and ideology of Confucius which emphasises the creation of a class of morally and ethically sound bureaucrats. He believed that the three qualities imperative for government officials were kindness, courtesy and compassion.

He wanted them to be appointed on the basis of their intelligence and merit, and not by right of birth or because they belonged to a privileged family. Thirdly, he believed that they should have the determination and courage to implement law and order, and perform their duties without any fear of higher authorities. Candidates appearing in the examination for bureaucracy or civil service had to learn and memorise the ideas and teachings of Confucius as part of the curriculum.

Confucius also laid stress on maintaining the hierarchical order of the society. In a family, children should obey their parents and look after them in their old age. Since there was no system of social security for the elderly, this ensured that the family would be morally bound to take care of their elderly parents and grandparents.

He highlighted ancestry and the importance of linking the past to the present. He wanted people to obey their superiors and ultimately the ruler. Successive Chinese ruling dynasties adopted the philosophy of Confucius to control social and political problems and to establish their domination.

Is the philosophy or ideas of Confucius relevant today or not? In Pakistan, moral and ethical values have declined and thus corruption, lawlessness, disorder and anarchy have been unleashed. There is increased unemployment leading to an increased crime rate. The bureaucracy trained and educated on principles of colonialism is inefficient and corrupt, arrogant, rude and anti-people.

The society needs to learn moral values as a solution to these problems. Confucius’ philosophy is not based on any religious or spiritual authority but purely on a secular concept of meritocracy. Perhaps our society requires such moral and ethical values to restore honesty, piety, dignity and compassion.

Past present: What Confucius taught us
by Mubarak Ali, dawn.com