The role of Confucian «ren» man concept in the formation of contemporary Chinese mentality
Давлетьярова М. А. The role of Confucian «ren» man concept in the formation of contemporary Chinese mentality // Молодой ученый. 2016. №21. С. 780-783.
Данная статья рассматривает влияние конфуцианства, в частности, категории «жэнь» и понятия о благородном муже на менталитет современного китайского общества. Исследование фокусируется на следующих проблемах: воздействие идей Конфуция на современные нормы этикета, включая приверженность ритуалам, сохранение лица как особой формы поведения, а также развитие специфической социальной связи «гуаньси»; влияние конфуцианства на отношение китайского общества к получению образования. Кроме того, исследуются современные отношения в обществе как отражение принципов конфуцианства, касающееся социальных связей в семье и между равными по статусу членами общества.
Ключевые слова:Конфуций, китайское общество, менталитет, «жэнь», «гуаньси», благородный муж
Although the initial acquaintance of the Western countries with China commenced since 1516, the Celestial Empire is still considered to be a mysterious state. Nowadays it attracts travelers and explorers from all over the world not only because of the unique architecture and extraordinary goods, like silk textile, natural tea, spices, and so forth, but also due to its bizarre and picturesque customs and traditions, which people of China have preserved throughout the thousands of years. Furthermore, among the heritages of antiquity, the Confucianism, named after its founder and inspirer Confucius, engendered a number of scholars and philosophers inspired by this ethical and political doctrine .
Confucius, notable as a great Chinese philosopher, was born approximately 2,500 years ago in the aristocratic family, in the state Lu, situated in Eastern China. During the entire life, he attempted to advance ancient Chinese traditions, customs, and the rules of etiquette, as well as intended to introduce them in a chaotic society of those times. Confucian doctrine disseminated throughout China and beyond within seventy-three years of Confucius»s life. His personality remains a mystery: disciples of the great philosopher revered him as an enlightened person, prudent and wise, while the opponents accused Confucius of failing to understand plain people. However, neither followers of the philosopher, nor adversaries could not imagine that eventually the name of Confucius and the Confucianism doctrine would be constantly associated with China and, to some extent, with the culture of the East Asia [1, p. 16], and that the old traditions, which he glorified and narrated, would strongly affect the mentality of Chinese people.
Confucius has revised Chinese traditions, examined, assessed, and reorganized them in order to invent a novel ethical and political philosophy for the benefit of future generations. Therefore, his prominent work has formed a basis of Confucianism, simultaneously ensuring a further development of Chinese traditions even after the philosopher»s demise. The Analects (Lunyu) or the Classified Teachings written by his disciples provide an overview of Confucius»s ideas on education and political governance [2, p. 1].
In fact, Confucianism intends to examine a human being: a man is the most valuable object of the philosophical concept. According to the doctrine, a verity can be discovered through the observation of a customary life, and Confucius»s principles of education seek to develop innate abilities of ordinary citizens. Such the ideas are embedded in the notion of Confucian humanism, which can be defined as an attempt to inspire future generations to self-improvement, at the same time, ensuring them opportunities for development [2, pp. 2–3]. According to Chi Yun Chang , the philosophy of Confucianism is based on the concept of «ren» that reflects the notion of a virtue, close to humanity, including kindness and graciousness; simultaneously, the «ren» is regarded as a foundation for proper social relations.
Confucianism emphasizes that «ren» is an exceptional quality, and that a few persons are virtuous inherently; Confucius himself could mention only six such honorable men of his time . However, according to the doctrine, the «ren» can be nurtured in a person by proper methods and self-development. For a virtuous man it is utterly important to behave suitably for a situation, and in accordance with hierarchy, etiquette, and traditions; besides, the possession of the face «mianzi» is paid the plenty of attention.
Furthermore, Confucius intended to actively implement the doctrine into the political system of China. Through teaching of young aristocrats, he purposed to educate decent future rulers endowed with «ren» for the benefit of China and future generations. Confucius’s efforts succeeded later: during the reign of the Han Dynasty (206 BCE — 220 CE), Confucianism became a state ideology that has greatly contributed to the establishment of numerous Grand Academies throughout the Chinese Empire [1, xv].
The education in accordance with Confucius’s principles has facilitated the emergence of the unique Chinese mentality and influences it for centuries. Ideas of humanism, correct behavior with respect to traditions and social hierarchy, the concept of a «ren» man can be traced nowadays in Chinese social relations, as well as in contemporary perceptions of individuals, concerning their adherence to rituals, etiquette, the devotion to collective, and the pursuit of education.
The priority in the research is given to the comparative method, as well as to the study of a causal relationship between the idea of the Confucian «ren» man and the contemporary Chinese mentality. The article is divided into the sections, which focus on the following issues: the impact of Confucianism on norms of etiquette, comprising the adherence to rituals, as well as the preservation of the specific social network — «guanxi» and the «mianzi» — a face as a form of behavior; the influence of Confucius’s ideas on the attitude of Chinese people to education; and the contemporary social relations as a reflection of Confucianism’s principles, concerning peer and family relations.
Influence of Confucianism on the norms of etiquette in Chinese society.
- Adherence to rituals.
Confucianism places the adherence to rituals in the core of the concept of a virtuous man or a «ren» person. Decent individuals are obliged to follow prescribed rituals, traditions, and norms of etiquette in accordance with their social hierarchy. Confucianism implies that a «ren» man's attention should be directed to the surrounding society; in other words, the fulfillment of social expectations and respectful behavior are more anticipated than individual’s self-realization. Moreover, Confucian tradition emphasizes the significance of a personal status, as well as the importance of a specific position in the social hierarchy [3, p. 224].
Such the attitude to the understanding of a proper social behavior enhances the necessity of self-discipline and self-cultivation for a person in order to comply with the image of a «ren» man. For instance, when a person disobeys rituals, other members of the society, which strictly follow traditions and norms of etiquette, resist accepting this individual as a part of themselves [3, p. 216]. The striking example can provide the procedure of presenting a gift, which is implemented within the prescribed ritual of Chinese social communication. Firstly, the essential condition of the offering is to present a gift with the both hands; otherwise, giving it with one hand can be regarded as a rude gesture. Secondly, the receiving person should politely reject an offering certain times, since the rapid acceptance of a gift, according to etiquette, is considered to be impolite and is perceived as an expression of avarice [4, p. 73].
1.2. Social network «guanxi» and aface «mianzi».
Furthermore, the Confucian idea of interdependence between an individual and the society is reflected in the so-called social network «guanxi» that exists nowadays. This term refers to interconnections of Chinese society through which a person can settle specific business or administrative problems of any kind. The indispensable precondition of the «guanxi» is the possession of a dignified status or a face, the so-called «mianzi» that can be supported by the provision of mutual assistance and service, as well as by the exchange of gifts as a symbolic payment [5, pp. 3–4]. Also, the «guanxi» enables Chinese people to settle a variety of issues through a simplified procedure and with a minimum of expenditures.
However, the system of «guanxi» possesses certain disadvantages connected with the obtaining such social connections and its retention. For example, a person deprived of the «guanxi» because of certain circumstances can no longer enjoy the privileges given earlier; besides, the initial absence of this social network ruins the development of innovative business ideas, if not gained enough support on the part of the society. Thereby, the original Confucian concept of «mianzi» remains relevant in contemporary Chinese society being considered the condition for the «guanxi».
Furthermore, as it was mentioned above, the «mianzi» is regarded as a one of a virtuous man’s qualities in the concept of Confucian «ren». The «mianzi» can serve as an indicator of a successful dignified person; it also encourages people to conform their behavior to norms of etiquette and necessary social rituals. In particular, Confucian doctrine interprets the demonstration of aggression in public as a loss of a face; respectively, the modern Chinese society treats a vivid expression of emotions as inappropriate gesture regardless of its negative or positive temper. Moreover, in order to preserve the «mianzi», Chinese people would prefer to remain silent instead of discussing provoking issues inacceptable for the rest of the society. For example, Chinese people commonly utter something that they believe a person wants to hear: though for a local person it can be seen as an expression of courtesy, the same situation for a foreigner can cause the plenty of misunderstandings [4, p. 69]. Thus, the entire social communications in China are aimed at the maintaining of a face, rather than on the possibility of its deprivation.
- Impact of Confucian ideas on the attitude of Chinese people to education.
Due to the fact that Confucius attributes greater significance to the implementation of social rituals as a hallmark of an honorable man, the self-cultivation and self-discipline obtain more attention with regard to a face preservation — «mianzi». Chinese people deny the belief of a divine origin of the plain population; instead, they give credence to the idea that individuals are able to develop themselves with great efforts in education [3, p. 223]. Confucius’s attitude to a man pursuing knowledge and endeavoring to study reveals the conviction, that «Those who are born understanding it are the best; those who understand it through learning are second. Those who find it difficult and yet persist in their studies are still lower. The worst are the people who find it difficult but do not even try to learn» [6, XVI-9]. According to Confucius’s opinion, the aspiration to learn is one of the most important virtues of a person and is the indispensable feature of a «ren» man [2, pp. 22–23]. One of the Lunyu's famous quotes, «To learn without «thinking», will lead to confusion. To think without learning, however, will lead to fruitless exhaustion» [6, II-15], explains that knowledge cannot be separated from the ability to think, and that they harmoniously complement each other. Indeed, by attempting to reason without the necessary knowledge of a theory or basic information on the subject, a person ventures to make incorrect and misleading conclusions.
Reflections of Confucian views to the tendency of learning can be traced in the contemporary Chinese people's mentality. The priority attached to education is quite observable within the society: the majority of peasants prefer to save possible assets for the purpose of providing their children opportunities to study in higher educational institutions. Although the Chinese society is considered to be unusual, the notion of the hard-working and the demonstration of great efforts in order to achieve career progress and a prestigious position yet exists [3, pp. 223–224). Therefore, Confucianism has affected contemporary Chinese people's perceptions on education, as well as on the use of each opportunity to learn, making it, to some extent, a personal obligation towards the maintaining of a face «mianzi». The pursuit of education in China nowadays is regarded not as a privilege, but as a responsibility of a decent man.
Social relations in China as areflection of Confucianism’s principles
- Family relations.
Furthermore, the Lunyu explains appropriate hierarchical patterns of behavior between children and parents, husband and wife through the prism of Confucian «ren» concept, that a virtuous man has to fulfill certain requirements with respect to family members. The doctrine mentions such the human qualities as obedience, proper expression of emotions while communicating with parents, and manifestation of children's respect. According to Confucius, the education of a decent son is considered to be a major objective of every man on the grounds that deeds of the future generations glorify the name of their progenitors [2, p. 76].
In fact, the contemporary Chinese society is based on the relations of subordination and obedience of children to their parents, as well as on the mutual respect. It requires attention that, in general, the social relations in China have only vertical character, even between coeval friends or classmates. Although members of the society have an amount of connections, the family ties remain the most important. The oldest man in the family, which also plays the role of a leader, embodies the core of such the domestic relations [3, p. 223]. Then, equally significant connections between a father and a son considered to be mutually binding: a father is obliged to protect his son, while the latter must implicitly obey the former. Relations between a husband and a wife possess less value in Chinese society than the blood ties; however, such the relations are likewise interdependent. Similarly, a female is subordinated to a husband, and he executes certain obligations towards her. Verner Worm [3, pp. 222–223] claims that this type of relationships is a reflection of the attitudes between an Emperor and subjects: whereas citizens of the Empire express loyalty and obedience to a ruler, a decent Emperor treats subject beneficially.
Indeed, Confucian devotion to parents nowadays is preserved in the Chinese legislation. The contemporary civil law implies the obligation of children to provide care for their old age or disabled parents, and the criminal law refers to a dismissal from a testifying against relatives. Therefore, it demonstrates that the concept of a virtuous man as a participant of appropriate hierarchic domestic and state relations has been retained in common social perceptions of Chinese people.
3.2. Relations among peers.
Confucius also emphasizes «friend to friend» type of relations. Upon the initial review, the communication among peers is seen to be equal; nonetheless, certain peculiarities can be revealed [4, p. 16]. In fact, even a slight age difference among friends or classmates influences their social behavior. The contemporary Chinese society still pays the plenty of attention to the adherence to rituals and rules of etiquette even among peers. For instance, the arrangement of guests» seats at public events and banquets is attached a great significance. A seat of a host should be commonly placed at a distance from a door making the entrance convenient to observe; colleagues, which are the most important guests, are offered sits on the right side of the event's owner, and other people, which possess a lower rank, should be settled around the tables in descending order [4, p. 82]. Thus, the inequality of attitudes to individuals at the different hierarchical positions can be seen; nevertheless, respect and the necessary attention to each person, regardless of the social status, remain the major attribute of a «ren» man’s behavior.
To make a conclusion, Confucius as a prominent philosopher and a teacher, has greatly contributed to the development of Chinese traditions and ancient rituals, as well as has considerably influenced the emergence and the formation of the modern mentality of Chinese people. Particularly, his ideas about the appearance and behavior of the «ren» man can be traced in the contemporary Chinese rules of etiquette, in certain social norms, and in the Chinese legislation. Distinctive features of a Confucius’s virtuous person, like the desire to learn, adherence to traditions, rituals, and to norms of etiquette, have largely predetermined the image of a decent member of the Chinese society. Moreover, the basic Confucian principles, such as the devotion to family and ancestors, country, and an Emperor can be revealed in the contemporary social relationships. Whereas the preservation of a dignity — «mianzi» in the ancient China has occupied the core place in people’s lives, nowadays, the concept of a face also plays an important role not only within the society, but also in business affairs. Furthermore, a network of connections — the «guanxi», encourages Chinese people to perceive the concept of the «mianzi» as the integral part of their existence within the modern society.
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