Culture Shock! China - A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette, 2nd Edition

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150 CultureShock! China


Confucius (551–479 BC) was a thinker, political figure,
educator and founder of the Ru School of Chinese thought.
His teachings, preserved in the Lunyu or Analects, form the
foundation of much of subsequent Chinese speculation on
the education and comportment of the ideal man, how such
an individual should live his life and interact with others, and
the forms of society and government in which he should
participate. Fung Yu-lan, one of the great 20th-century
authorities on the history of Chinese thought, compares
Confucius’ influence in Chinese history with that of Socrates
in the West.
A book called the Analects, a haphazard collage of thoughts,
became the sacred book of Confuscius’ teachings. It is still
studied by the well educated in modern Chinese society. It has
influenced the values of Chinese people for centuries, even
to the extent that it has been passed to illiterate peasants in
the form of common proverbs and sayings.
Two of his followers, Mencius (370–300 BC) and Xunzi
(310–215 BC) can be attributed with solidifying Confucius’
ideas into teachings that set the thread of thought that has
run through more than 2,000 years of civilisation. Each laid
his hand to writing tomes that extended Confucian thinking.
The Mencius, a book drafted by the author of the same name,
had less impact than essays written by Xunzi. Mencius
followed Confucius footsteps in travelling the land appealing
to rulers of various states to embrace Confucian values in their
rule. He thought that only through benevolent government
would any ruler be able to unify China. He went beyond
this to propose concrete political and financial measures to
ease tax burdens and improve the lives of Chinese people.
One of his unique views was around the innate goodness of
human nature. It was around this last point that Xunzi had
a dramatic departure from Mencius’ thinking. In his writing
and sermons, he disagreed with Mencius’ argument that
humans are innately good, arguing that men are born bad
and therefore education essential.
Quick dips into the Analects gives us four themes that we
see carried into modern Chinese society. The first concerns
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