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Notes about China
Notes about China
Li and Tao
Chinese culture is as ancient as Chinese nation itself. The first signs of presence of a civilization in the territory of China date back to sixth millenium BC. The artefacts bearing signs that the civilization was exactly Chinese belong to the period of Shang dynasty (16th century BC).
Classical culture of ancient China was formed in first millenium BC. For this period the classical works "Shijing" ("Book of Songs"), "Shujing" ("Book of History") appeared. Later Confucius, whose influence on the subsequent development of China, in author's opinion, is immeasurably more, than of any of the Chinese governors, edited these literary monuments and created the notes of "Chunqiu" ("Spring and Autumn"), equal on importance. He founded the philosophical-religious doctrine, apologizing for the benefit of hierarchical system of society's organization and primacy of interests of the state. Lao Tze, the figure equal to Confucius, based the doctrine known nowadays as Taoism.
The development of science, philosophy, technology, economy, art, literature, other aspects which are included into the concept of "culture", was so bright, that it is quite deservedly described and analyzed in the numerous proceedings of all the world's sinologists. Those who wish can refer to these books directly.
We shall try to understand, how the culture has affected the formation of mass mentality of Chinese people.
In small town of Qufu of present Shandong province there is a huge ancient manor. Now it is a museum. A lot of years back it belonged to the distinguished statesman and one of greatest thinkers of antiquity - Mr. Kong Zi, which was called Confucius in European literature. In museum's territory there is a huge park being simultaneously a cemetery. Here, aside with Confucius, are buried his numerous descendants and students. There is a lot of tombs, but actually followers of the great teacher were much more. It is not hyperbolical to say that the ideas of Confucius ruled the public life of all China through centuries, and they have not died yet.
I shall not try popularly state the bases of Confucian doctrine here. Silly to count myself to be smarter than one who devoted whole life to develop and distribute his ideas, and to believe, that I have understood these ideas so, that can retell them better than Confucius. Those who wish can get aquinted with the great philosopher's works themselves, since their translated texts exist. I dare to tell only few words to give the reader the most simplified idea of Confucian philosophy.
The doctrine of Confucius puts the concept of Li as a cornerstone. It is not possible to define this concept in one word. Our sinology define it so: "tradition", "ritual", "convention". Following Li is virtuous. In order to everyone had no doubts, Confucius on numerous examples carefully explained, what is "good" and what is "bad". After his death the students concentrated the instructive sayings of the founder in the voluminous book named "Lunyu".
To speak extremely briefly, Li is the base on which it is required to build relations between the people at all levels of society, from family to state. The man can be called virtuous as far as he benefits to society (more exactly, to the state, and even exacter, to persons on levels above). If such activity objectively injures himself or family where he is a patron, his virtue does not decrease. But if he uses his abilities for his own or for his nearest relatives' benefit (except for cases of expression of filial respect), and does not remember about the state - he is not virtuous.
In Confucius' times Chinese state was feudal-monarchic. Therefore Confucius' detailed manuals how it is necessary to benefit the state were considered by many people as apology of aristocratic hierarchy. In due time this popular opinion was used by Mao Tse-tung to eliminate from political scene the figure unnecessary to him - Lin Biao. Having raised the campaign to criticize Lin Biao and Confucius, the Chairman created an atmosphere of intolerance around rather ordinary person of objectionable and then died marshal, undeservedly putting him ahead of great thinker and attributing him the ideas which had little in common with true reasons of persecution.
Nevertheless, Confucian principles found a lot of adherents through all the country and also have been exported off limits of China inside a general cultural flow, strongly have got accustomed in public consciousness of the peoples of East Asian countries. So strongly, that they still dominate.
Not so important, what political system is in the country. It can be rule of a Marxist party, as in PRC, Vietnam, Northern Korea, or multipartisan parliamentary republic, as in Taiwan, Japan and Singapore. In a system the hereditary aristocratic official can be easily replaced with party member from the people or democratically elected politic. The relations of a society and a person in these countries are essentially identical. If you work extremely for yourself, that is only for the sake of salary, and well-being of the higher persons is of no concern - it means that you at least are unsocial guy, if not pure villain, and do not deserve the positive attitude. If you actively demonstrate yourself devoted to the corporation, political party or even to some relatively informal community of people, for instance, association of tea ceremony experts, honour and praise to you.
Certainly, after 1949 Chinese government could not publicly propagandize the ideas of ancient philosopher, on which the feudal state was constructed. Communist party officially condemned the exploitation of poor peasants. However in practice the Confucian self-consciousness of peasant masses quite suited new authorities. Rooted to a genetic level the idea about primacy of state interests above the private made it easy to force Chinese peasants to make steel in their yards. To peasant personally this steel is of no need, but if the government demands, why not to melt?
Living according to Confucius is certainly good. For the state. But if the ordinary person become seriously anxious with the benefit of state, he could not live for a long time. The state is very demanding, do not satisfy with little. Fortunately, in Chinese mass consciousness there is something to balance Confucianism.
Another, rather interesting philosophical and somewhat religious doctrine which has similarly deep roots in the Chinese mentality is Taoism. The essence of it is that entire reality has its superior way - Tao (pinyin: Dao). Tao is present everywhere, from any small thing up to the Universe itself. To live well, one should understand Tao and follow it. From here Taoist principle of Wuwei (which can be translated as "non-acting") is taking roots. Someone simplifiedly interprets it so, that according to this principle Taoist must lay with belly up and do nothing. However it is more correct to look at the principle through a prism of Tao: everything in the Universe has its Way, its order of things, and it is senseless to try changing it; it is necessary to act according to Tao, and then everything will be made. That is to act against Tao is not meaningful.
Taoist doctrine pays little interest to the state. The state is only one of the diverse phenomena of the universe ruled by general Tao.
If to study Taoism deeply, it can be found out, that there are significant religious and mystical moments in it, for example, divine nature of Tao, and the aspiration to self-perfection: it was considered, that one who understood Tao had got supernatural abilities.
Actually Taoism in its religious aspect attracted not so many people. Inside conventional consciousness of Chinese people it was fixed as one of outlook principles. For that Chinese as a nation not only survived but also developed through centuries, they should be grateful to Lao Tze who has taught them to live.
© Dmitry Alemasov
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