Monday, November 19, 2012

November 18, 2012
What Would Confucius Do? 

    Good morning everyone! Once again, I'd like to extend a huge thank you to those that are continuing to read and comment this blog. I really appreciate the support!

In the past few weeks, my world history class has been learning about several ancient Asian civilizations, namely, China and India (as evidenced by my last few posts). In that vein, I'd like to begin a fascinating conversation topic, that was suggested by my world history teacher. The question is, if Confucius was alive today, who would he have voted for in the recent U.S. presidential election? 

As with all questions in life, this cannot be answered superficially. I am sure there are Ph.D  theses out there that have dealt with some form of this question! However, I will try my best to address some relevant issues that will help us come closer to an answer.

In order to fully answer this, we need to know some very important information. First of all, who was Confucius, and what did he contribute to society? Second of all, what were his personal beliefs regarding government, religion, and societal behavior? And finally, the hardest one of all, if he were living today, what would he believe?

Let's answer these one at a time.

Confucius was a Chinese philosopher, writer, and visionary who lived about 2500 years ago from 551-479 B.C.E in Ancient China. For historical purposes, it is extremely important to realize that Confucius lived and wrote right smack in the middle of what is called the 'Hundred Schools of Thought' period of Chinese history. This era lasted from circa 600-200 B.C.E. It got its name from the many (perhaps hundred!) different philosophical, theological, and political schools of thought that emerged and began to flourish at this time. Although China was constantly in the midst of inter-state warfare and bloodshed, during these years, a broad range of new, creative ideas and philosophies began to develop. It became a sort of 'golden age of Chinese philosophy.' Among the many great thinkers who lived during this time was Confucius. His thoughts and writings turned into a very popular philosophy, known as Confucianism, which included many religious aspects as well. It greatly influenced and continues to influence the lifestyles and social behavior of many Asian countries, up until the present day.

The core of Confucianism is the belief that we as human beings are imperfect and very teachable. The primary objective of life is to improve one's conduct, manners, and behavior through reinvention and recreation. Ethical behavior is held in the highest regard by adherents of Confucianism. The three most important, basic ethical principles are ren, yi, and li. In short, these three cardinal principles basically entail always seeking to do good, behaving morally, and being an altruistic, self-less person.

Confucius taught his eager disciples his philosophical outlook on life, and they later transcribed his words into six books. They consisted of laws, poetry, rituals, and his thoughts. Confucian ethics and morality can be boiled down to five different values. These are:


Along with these, Confucius also wrote extensively regarding the merits and importance of loyalty, filial piety, honesty, and kind-heartedness. 

More importantly regarding our question is Confucius's attitudes about government. In short, Confucius believed that before we govern others, we must govern ourselves. He believed (perhaps too idealistically) that if people are righteous, kind, and just, then influence and power will naturally come to them, because they gain respect. Confucius was a big believer in a meritocratic system, where people attain positions of power and prestige based on their character and intelligence, rather than military might or wealth. 

The idea that becoming moral and ethical is greater than being born into nobility was a novel concept, that has greatly influenced Western civilization. 

Confucian thought greatly influenced European thinkers who lived during the period of Enlightenment. Humanistic philosophies began to take hold of Europe in the 1500s. Many of these revolutionary idealogues and philosophers took their inspiration from Confucius, in order to protest the Church's abuses of power, and call for an end to monarchy.

While I have mainly talked positively about Confucius, and his impact on Asian society, it my duty and obligation as an objective writer to also write about some of the negative aspects of Confucianism. Since the Han Dynasty, Confucian thought has largely defined Chinese social thought, and beliefs (although they were often willfully distorted). Today, his beliefs about the roles of each gender are still widely accepted. This is where the waters get a little murky. 

Confucians taught that a virtuous woman was supposed to uphold 'three subordinations': be subordinate to her father before marriage, to her husband after marriage, and to her son after her husband died. Men could remarry and have concubines, whereas women were supposed to uphold the virtue of chastity when they lost their husbands.

This ideology leaves most 21st century Americans with a bitter taste in their mouth. Confucius, for all his innovation and modern thinking regarding self-improvement and government, would be considered an overt sexist in our society. Some of his followers coined adages like: 

"A woman's duty is not to control or take charge."
"Woman's greatest duty is to produce a son." 

It is impossible to know what Confucius believed today. However, his modern-day followers to continue to hold onto many of his beliefs about the domesticity and subordination of women. As much as we would like to apologize for Confucius, we cannot. The only comfort we have is that like Confucius taught, human beings are imperfect. 

With this pertinent historical background in mind, I believe that we can a pretty sound prediction as to who Confucius would have voted for. To summarize: Confucius strongly believed in improving oneself morally and ethically, that the splendor of government should be given through merit, that we have an obligation to take care of the poor, destitute, and downcast, and that women should live domestically, and serve their husbands.  

Because of my fear of subjectivism and being partisan in my answer, I decided to take an online political spectrum quiz, and answer the questions based on what Confucius would say. I took the quiz on political, and here are my results: The following are your scores. They are based on a gradual range of 0 to 12. For instance, a Conservative/Progressive score of 3 and 0 will both yield a result of social conservative, yet 0 would be an extreme conservative and 3 a moderate conservative

Conservative/Progressive score: 8
You are a social moderate. You think the progressive movement is overall well meaning, but sometimes it goes too far. On issues like abortion and affirmative action, you see the negatives of both extremes on the issue. You probably value religion, but at the same time you think it should still stay separate from the government

Capitalist Purist/Social Capitalist score: 9
You're a Social Capitalist, you think that, left to its own, Capitalism leaves a lot of people behind. You think that Health Care should be free to all, that the minimum wage should be raised, and that the government should provide jobs to all that are capable of having them. You likely hated the Bush tax cuts, and believe that the middle class has gotten poorer, and the rich have gotten richer over the past several years. The far extreme of social capitalism is socialism.

Libertarian/Authoritarian score: 6
You're a Moderate. You think that we all have certain inalienable rights that must be protected, but that sometimes laws need to be made to protect the majority's lives or quality of lives. You might think that the 2nd amendment isn't necessary anymore because letting everyone a gun is extremely dangerous to the community. You might also be against illegal drug use or public pornography because of its possible harmful effects to society.

Pacifist/Militarist score: 2
You're a Pacifist. You are angered that the United States thinks it should dominate the world through its military force. You think that the only time war is necessary is when we are in direct danger of being attacked. You also believe the US spends way too much of its money on defense, as we can practically cut it in half and still easily defend ourselves, and use that money to fix all our economic problems.

Overall, you would most likely fit into the category of Democrat

I'll let the results speak for themselves. And now, I'll turn the question over to all of you. Do YOU think Confucius would have voted Democrat? Answer in the comments below. 


  1. Don't you think that most people who are healthy in mind and spirit strive to be ethical and moral? Perhaps that is what "healthy in mind and spirit" means.

  2. I'm sorry, could you please clarify your question? My apologies for not understanding.

  3. Michael-

    This is such a great post! Do you think the quiz held true to your political beliefs?