I’ve studied and taught Chinese (Sinic) civilization with enough rigor so as to provide some insight into how one can approach and therefore discern the enduring contribution of both Confucius and Lao Tse; both being the authorities on Confuciansim and Taoism, the ethics of native Chinese culture.
Throughout my tenure as a scholar I remain committed to examining the indigenous historical and philosophical antecedents, specifically the exhaustion that was 19th century Asia, as it lay prostrate to western domination culminating in the Boxer rebellion and the present creation of autonomous status of Hong Kong.
It remains clear for any student to study how such ethical systems were unable to resist either the deadly allure of Marxism or the promise of power under western tutelage. Students ought to be trained to discern political craft as a moral standard giving civilizations the possibility of advancing solutions to challenges. Whether divining the status of any idealism or ethical system, the student ought to appreciate the significance of an enduring political craft as measure for both personal and corporate growth. This post briefly examines the limited role that such indigenous ethical systems played in permitting China the possibility of handling its domestic affairs. In contrast, I would affirm the enduring value that a specific western Church has performed in gaining man a transcendent vision to inform any political order sustaining growth regardless of adversary.
The study of comparative civilizations is riddled with analogous material that if not methodically vetted leaves only confusion. Our point of interest with China is both the historical antecedents of the Warring States Period and its attendant leader under Confucius.
Much ink has been spilled on this perilous time known as ‘The Warring States Period’ (pronounced chan kwo), it coincides with the arrival of Sun Tzu ‘The Art Of War’ as the premier monograph informing decisive Machiavellian statecraft both on and off the battlefield. The ‘Warring States Period’ coincides with the Roman Peace, known as ‘The Pax Roman’, a Roman counterinsurgency program that purchased time for a dying Empire. The total exhaustion that became of China immediately during and after this period provided a stimulant for the rise of statesman who could both assimilate the population and provide political framework as a solution that was cultural anarchy. Their are similarities to the rise of Mao and the embrace of Marxism here, but Confucius remained the single most significant person, save possibly Wu-Ti, who established the Empire of the Han, uniting defeated rivals into Empire ending the ‘Warring States Period’.
Ending political anarchy itself was not sufficient as a solution. The real challenge lay for Confucius to consolidate this opportunity into a permanent parry, laying the foundation for stability.
Confucianism itself is not our interest here, our vision is its political and theoretical impact; a field of intelligible study to inform us of its relevancy to sustain and inform contemporary personal growth. We can immediately discern its limited scope politicly as China maintained cultural stasis analogous to ‘Warring States’ throughout its engagement with the West beginning in mid 18th century, climaxing with the great reversal under Deng Xiaoping (pronounced Den Say-Pong) that is now an exuberant semi-capitalist Chinese mainland.
Throughout Chinese history the impact of Confucius is immeasurable. But I warn the student in his/her embrace of oriental systems, for throughout its history, even coinciding with intellectual vitality, China rigorously maintained the twin enormities of social failure in its unequivocal pursuit of suicidal statecraft and militarism. Both are born and sustained under a gnostic vision that is the antithesis of the west: namely the inviolability of conscience and the singularity that is the individual person. Neither positions can be engendered from within indigenous oriental systems because neither have a transcendent source.
Confucianism remains a deeply cultivated formidable aristocratic ethos, but it cannot flourish outside such a milieu. The challenges of modernity leave it archaic. Witness the young throughout Asia, the do not aspire the rigidity that is Chung Tzu (this being the public bearing of a rigorous Confucius upbringing.) Both native ethical systems dominate a gaze that do not cultivate ‘the future’.
If one studies the commentaries that beguile most westerners, one can patiently discern what both Confucius and Lao Tse implicitly knew, yet never publicly acknowledged: the age of growth lay behind them. This was an act of consolidation.
The West remained not immune to either failures that dominated Asia. But we maintained a way to confront ourself for the arduous task of renewal. The rise of secularism from within the house of Luther (Protestantism) and Kant (the Enlightenment) gave destructive animus to a western posture that still resonates as Nagasaki and Auschwitz.
The chief difference is significant, I brook no equivalency between Beijing and Rome! The west maintained a heritage to continue its proposal for the inviolability of conscience and the unrepeatable reality that is humanness.
Ask yourself: why did the Chinese embrace Tocqueville, Burke and Jefferson after Mao? The answer is the same for why, when the barbarians broke through the frontier, they encountered a Church!
The Church provided a better competing vision of humanness! The Church remains the milieu where man can publicly encounter, pronounce and shape a future worthy of hard won praise and liberty. Materially, the Church provided the philosophical stimulant for the economic and social revolutions that maintain western hegemony.