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— Confucianism - The Pros & Cons

So, here are a list of the pros and cons of Confucianism and feel free to draw your own conclusions or think up more and let me know what you think etc.

Even if one list outweighs the others, it doesn’t mean that they’re any less valuable or any more correct. It’s just how it is. Both the pros and cons are valid concerns. It may be easier to think of it as the pros being why Confucianism is valuable and worthy and why it is so famous and the cons are the mainstream criticisms and historical implications of Confucianism in action because all policies, politics or philosophies SHOULD be scrutinized.

It’s almost our duty to scrutinize how a policy or a philosophy is in action, otherwise you risk becoming kind of like a mindless sheep, which is a bit strong of a term, I know.

The Pros of Confucianism:

  • Confucianism says that if you treat others with respect, you’ll get treated with respect and even if you don’t, that has nothing to do with you. It doesn’t matter how you get treated by others - that’s selfish - you should still treat other people as you would like to be treated and if they don’t, it’s on them and not you.
  • It embraced the idea that kings could lose power if they behaved incorrectly.
  • Filial piety says that you should respect your parents and your elders because they’re not only raising you, but they have valuable wisdom and experience and you can learn from them and appreciate the world around you.
  • It encourages knowledge and spiritual growth.
  • It embraces the idea of a meritocracy - you get what you get because of how good you are and not necessarily because you’re born with a title or not.
  • It tries to work in the roles of society which have always existed and build upon them.
  • It encourages politeness, respect and kindness of yourself, others and everyone, preaching humaneness towards others even if they’re your enemies. With that concept, you can look past petty grudges and be better off for it.
  • Rectification of names - Call something what it is and treat others how they are to be treated based on their titles.
  • Teaches people to be worthy of themselves. Be worthy of being a child of someone and respecting them, be worthy of the titles you were given, the responsibilities you get and always give your best effort when you set out to accomplish things.
  • It presents a utopian ideal where everyone does what is expected of them and so there is harmony. Confucianism promises a harmonious society if these conditions are met.

The Cons of Confucianism:

  • Confucianism, because of the time period it was based upon, encourages a hierarchy. And hierarchies tend to not always be fair. In fact, the Chinese hierarchy became almost as stringent as the caste systems where there was no chance of escaping, which later led the way for Buddhism to become so popular.
  • Confucianism says that a man is loyal to his family above all else; his country is secondary. Now, keep in mind that this is in a time with multiple little factions, but that had grave implications. If someone was wronged in the family, the entire family might put out an Italian-style vendetta, very Godfather-style. It also meant that if someone started an uprising and had to be executed, this meant that their entire family ended up being killed because they the policy was to put your family above the law. This is what’s known as “claning” where you take out an entire person’s clan and led to a lot of bloodshed.
  • When Confucianism puts the family above the king, it can create some real problems. If a minister has to decide if an action will hurt the rest of the kingdom but improve his family’s lives, which is better? We’re taught that it’s the majority over the minority but Confucianism makes it so that people would need to look out for their own skins basically.
  • The pomp and circumstance tends to be very expensive and runs the Dynasty into debt. Things like changing the colors that represented the dynasty and refurbishing everything can get very expensive.
  • The Mandate of Heaven is not a physical thing. It’s a concept. So when a king has “lost the Mandate”, there was nothing physical to lose except for maybe his seal. So, if a king is behaving badly, the people might revolt because he’s acting like a scoundrel. He’ll say that they’re defying their place as the common people and you basically rip loyalties apart. The military might side with the king because it’s their duty as soldiers to obey the king but then they have a conflict of interest because they also must protect the people.
  • Filial piety is very sexist, looking back on it now. Again, grain of salt, it was written thousands of years ago but filial piety and the rectification of names says that women are loyal to men and thus subservient. A woman is basically owned or obedient to a man through her entire life. As a child, she’s obedient to her father (and mother). As a wife, she’s obedient to her husband. As a widow, she’s obedient to her eldest son. It also calls into question what happens if a woman wanted to remarry. It used to be the case that a woman could remarry anyone but then with the idea of being loyal to your husband, she had less options or faced shame. She could remarry but often times it was to her husband’s brother or she became a nun or a widow and lived with her children. There are stories of women who remarried someone with the same family name as she did, which made it less bad but… still inconvenient for women. Even the Empress or a queen is loyal to her husband or her son. There are many Empress Dowagers who were widowed by their husbands (the Emperor) and sat in until her son was old enough to rule, often behind a special curtain. Women in China rarely had the opportunity to be rulers in their own right and when they were, they were usually looked upon with fascination or anger.
  • Meritocracy may not encourage the best in people. In fact, it fosters jealousy just as much as an aristocracy. Consider if a king is crowned but his brother wants to be king so he kills him and becomes king. You have Hamlet. Or the Lion King. But in a meritocracy, it fosters a sense of jealousy too so it doesn’t eliminate that problem. It’s basically the idea of a middle class or the nouveaux riche who were seen as upstarts threatening old money. Those who were poor but very gifted were looked down upon by the wealthy.
  • Shame is a very tricky thing because it doesn’t always induce reform; but also deceit. There are people who act kind because they have to, not because they want to. Shame doesn’t always work. You can say “love thy neighbor” but that doesn’t make you love your neighbor automatically, it just makes you feel bad if you don’t love your neighbor or worse, if you have a legitimate reason for not loving your neighbor.
  • Again with the problem of rectification of names and the hierarchy, there are people who don’t really deserve their titles that they get. Some parents aren’t good parents. So do you rebel against your parents and hate them or do you act nice to them and do what they want despite their attitudes? There were stories that were kind of like the Chinese Cinderella where someone’s parents were terrible to them and tried to kill them but they were very dutiful and were honorable to them anyway anyway. It makes them seem more benevolent and kinder by comparison - sort of like how Cinderella never took a hatchet to her stepmother and that makes her a more good and kind character - but you have to ask yourself where does the punishment for the parents come in? 
  • Confucianism works on a set of ideals and conditions. IF you’re good and do this then this WILL happen. The world doesn’t always work that way. It’s very idealistic to hope that it will all work that way but there are some people who will become tyrants. And even if YOU do what you’re supposed to do, it doesn’t guarantee that EVERYONE ELSE will do what they’re supposed to do. Just because someone is supposed to act a certain way doesn’t mean they will and so it’s very possible to get disillusioned with humanity.