India’s relations with its neighbours are precious for our journey towards a powerful nation. While dealing with neighbours, many a times we forget to understand their national culture, social psyche, cultural and institutional traditions and India’s influence on neighbouring societies. “Understanding Our Neighbours” is an attempt to provide an inside view of our neighbours so that we perceive them right and formulate policies accordingly. We are starting this series with the all important China. (Editor)
Dr Aravind Yelery
The rise of Asia is the major historical phenomenon the world is witnessing. China and India’s economic success has largely been interpreted as the result of successful economic and political reforms. The unparalleled performance of China and India, and their influence on the world economy, has been larger and faster than implied. As a neighbour it would be worth noting the rise of China. China is not only the neighbour but the mother of many inventories and explorations. Be it gunpowder, explorations, trade or invention of paper, Chinese history is long and complex. Irrespective of being the most populous country in the world, China often amazed the world with its philosophy and integrity. Though dynasties came and ruled, high valued philosophical traditions served as the backbone of modern China.
To understand the Chinese way of life and their progress, one needs to start with
Confucius’ (552-479BC) ideas and its influence on Chinese minds. Confucianism is the cornerstone of traditional Chinese culture. Like Hindu culture in India, it is a way of life in China. It has influence over the history, social structure and the people of China which cannot be overlooked. Confucius thought are Chinese Vedas and they providing an ethical guide as how the state and individual should act and what pays well by observing the rules. Loyalty, benevolent authority and dutiful submission are the fundamental principles of Confucianism, the ethical code that has for centuries swayed the soul of China. Confucius developed a humanistic ethics in a man-centered world. Confucius was mainly responsible for injecting spiritual values in the sense of loyalty and duties. He was mainly credited for creating the organic relationship between the individual and society and considers the two inseparable and interdependent. And in this sense Confucius never saw the individual man as an isolated entity; man is defined as a social being. It was this philosophy of creating the base of the modern state, where the core was human-centered philosophy; all actions were a form of interaction between man and man.
Like Chanakya, Confucius also links the interest of society and the common good with the responsibility of the individual towards the state. Confucius advocated and rationalised the duty of individual towards the larger interest through his thoughts on socialisation based on familistic ethics. In this regard Confucius said of cultivating and developing highest virtues in inter-human relationships to develop a harmonious society. Confucius advocated that the most fundamental relationships are the five cardinal relations. These five relationships and their appropriate tenor are affection between parent and child; righteousness between ruler and subject; distinction between husband and wife; order between old and young; and sincerity between friends. These five cardinal relations have been considered the basic norms of Chinese social order. The principles led by Confucius were less spiritual and based more on practicality of existence. And that is why these doctrines formed the core of social and moral training for the individual almost from the beginning of his consciousness of social existence until he became so conditioned to it that his standard of satisfaction and deprivation was based upon it. Quite similarly to Hindu tradition, self-cultivation, the basic theme of Confucian ethics traditionally inculcated in the child’s mind from an early age and the family was believed to be the vital key figure in the process. Here was the concept of self-sacrifice of the individual for the preservation of the group originated and later modified by Mao, though with the Marxist maxims. Regarding the status of the individual in the family, there was no recognition of the independent existence of the individual and the individual was submerged into the ethics of family. Social paramountacy of Family was the prime social reality of China’s traditional times. The family was placed higher than the individual. How Indian that is!
Confucius’ ideas spread quickly all over China compared to Taoist school. Taoism in some sense tried to overtake the Confucius schools by amplifying the individualistic notion of thoughts in Chinese society but it remained restricted compared to its acceptance across Chinese classes and could not side track the dominance of the Confucians thoughts. Schools attributing Confucius thoughts were set up to train young men for roles in government. The training was one of the criteria to compete in the national service exams, which existed during the dynastical days. In this way Confucianism became the dominant moral code of the bureaucratic class, which effectively governed China for over 2,000 years.
(The writer is Corporate Consultant, Shanghai Ji Ou Shanghai/Delhi)