Confucius: Part 2. Of Vice and Virtue 防守孔教: 说清中国的文魂

Music: Mandate of Heaven

This is a continuation in the coverage of the biography and core philosophical principles of Confucius, to understand the world of Confucius and his rise in the Lu court, please refer to the previous chapter here. If we want to understand how Confucius' mind operated, we must try to see how he saw the world. Interestingly, his world view is intimately tied with the origin story of the Zhou dynasty itself. For the founding story of Zhou was a story of China's dynastic cycle in miniature - and from studying this story we can gleam the vices, virtues- and by extension the central ideas of the Chinese political order.

According to traditions, the Zhou dynasty was founded in virtue. Many who lived in the Spring and Autumn period all knew this, and Kong Qiu (Confucius) himself undoubtedly knew this intimately as well. The founding story of the Zhou dynasty was one of the most dramatic ones in all of Chinese history, and serve to gave the dynasty its legitimacy.


The ancestors of the Zhou kings were once vassals to the Shang kings. The powerful Shang kings had ruled for nearly four centuries and claims divine lineage from Heaven itself. The last king of Shang, named Di Xin was an irresponsible and lecherous tyrant. Despite receiving the homage of all the lords and petty Kings in the realm, he was extremely paranoid as well as cruel. He tortured many loyal vassals arbitrarily- including the march lord Ji Chang 姬昌- the ancestor of the future Zhou Kings and threw him in jail to rot. Eventually the Shang King became infatuated with a ruinous beauty called Da Ji who was as cruel and dissolute as he was. Both of them engorged themselves daily on wine and spent much of their time in debauched orgies while they watched those who aroused Di Xin's ire tortured to death (including burning them to death on a tall scalding bronze column.) The affair of the state was so neglected that there was great discontent under the heavens.

Eventually the imprisoned old lord Ji Chang 姬昌was released by Di Xin through the persuasion of some of the powerful courtiers, as a result, Ji was able to escaped back to his homelands at Zhou. There, he rallied many disgruntled clans together in a great rebellion against the decadent Shang King. However, Ji Chang's health was frail and he soon died due to his age. Thus the responsibility of the great rebellion was immediately passed down to his son 2nd son Ji Fan. The great coalition soon threw its weight against the Shang capital and a massive battle took place right outside the Shang capital's wilderness in the west. There, at Muye: or the wilderness of Mu, tens of thousands of Shang's slave soldiers switched sides to the Zhou and the Shang were resolutely defeated.

Debaucherous excess and destruction, Like the famous French Romantic Era painting "Death of Sardanapallus" by Eugene Delacroix- where the supposed doomed Assyrian King Sardanapallus committed suicide by having all of his prized horses and concubines slaughtered- in addition of having all of his treasures piled up for his funeral pyre, the last king of Shang hastily retreated back to his palace after his defeat at Muye. There he gathered all of his treasures together, forced his wives to commit suicide beside him, and lit the palace ablaze as a final act of gluttonous spite.

In defeat, Di Xin took flight from the battlefield and sped back to his palace. In the end, lecherous and gluttonous to his character, Di Xin gathered all of his treasures around him in his palace and lit the whole complex on fire, burning all, including himself in a final act of narcissistic and gluttonous spite.


Outside the burning palace, the ancestors of the Zhou kings dramatically inaugurated the beginning of the Zhou dynasty: for their first acts at the head of this meteoric new dynasty, they would free the many unjustly imprisoned Shang ministers, open the guarded royal granary to feed the starving poor, free the slaves who had aided them in the rebellion, and behead the corrupt queen Da Ji before the public. After which, the heads of Di Xin and Da Ji were both sent back to the ancestral temple of Ji Chang as recompense for the wrongful torture they had once inflicted upon him. For having forged this righteous new dynasty through battle, Ji Fan was honored as King Wu of Zhou, while his late father, the late patriarch Ji Chang was posthumously honored as King Wen of Zhou.

Despite the dramatics, what had happened thus far is still very shallow, ...only corporal. On the surface it was merely one lineage of rulers displacing another through oppurtunity and vengeance. However, it's what followed that truly made the rise of Zhou kings extraordinary, what happened is how the Zhou justified their successful rebellion that cemented their rule in the hearts and minds of the people and ideologically became a fixture of Chinese thought itself, the Mandate of Heaven- 天命 or Tianming, lit. "Heaven's Will."

For centuries, the Shang kings had branded themselves as the exclusive and inviolable "Son of Heaven"~ as powerful and immovable divinely ordained shaman kings. To challenge them was not only treason but blasphemy against the supreme Heavens and nature itself. But the clever Duke Wen of Zhou- the brother of King Wu brilliantly re-framed the ancient Shang narrative: claiming that indeed the vanquished Shang had once truly been great and was favored by the infinitely just and infinitely powerful Heaven itself. However, the terminal Shang Kings- in their madness and vice had lost their ways and thus lost the patronage of Heaven. However the Zhou's lords were by contrast virtuous. Thus the displeased Heaven saw it fitting to deprive the Shang King of their once- exclusive favor, and in turn confer the blessing of Heaven upon the newly consecrated Zhou kings. Under the able stewardship of Duke Wen of Zhou, the Zhou would consolidate its rule over the realm and the Zhou kings would lead with vigor for the next 200 years with the whole realm of nobles at their behest.

Music: Dynasty

...At least that's how it was. A picture of triumph, unity, electrifying vigor, flash- froze in a stillframe of confidence...But that's not like the world that Kong Qiu (Confucius) was born into. By the time of Kong Qiu's birth the world was broken again, the Zhou Kings during Kong Qiu's time were little more than timid puppets with no real power beyond their palaces at Luoyang. The rest of the realm was populated only by ruthless lords who act as de facto kings and warred with themselves like ravenous vultures. The people suffer endlessly in their petty squabbles and all have seemed to lost their ways. So how did the world become this? How did this world, which was once brimming in righteousness, auspiciousness, and wholesome unity become so wrong? How did the people loose their way? Unfortunately for Kong Qiu, when he tried to confront the problem, it would cost him everything.


And here is where we return to the world covered in our previous chapter, the world of friction and intense local violence. ...The world was already broken to pieces when Confucius came along during the final days of the Spring and Autumn period. In the 500 years since the founding of the Zhou dynasty, the last 300 years saw various feudal states of the Zhou disintegrated into hundreds of autonomous rival kingdoms and warring city-states. These lords not only openly flaunted the royal authority of the Zhou Kings but by the time of Confucius' birth some of them had became so emboldened that they openly elevated themselves as kings- aloof to all and answerable only to themselves. 

Precipice toward total war: unrivaled and answerable only to themselves, in the final phases of the Spring and Autumn period, many great lords became de facto kings in their respective domains, The greatest of these lords (colored) were conferred titles such as "Ba" 霸 which meant "Hegemons" - they could be thought of as ancient Chinese Shoguns: supreme lord of all under heaven, aloof to all except the Zhou Kings. The next few centuries after Confucius would see all of the great lords war with each other for supremacy in the highly destructive Warring States period.


Yet, despite all the turbulent strife of his times, Kong Qiu managed to rise in this world. Although beset by misfortunes and hardship in his youth, he was invited to court of the illustrious Duke of Lu to serve as a valued minister. And it was through decades of diligent service for the Duke that Kong Qiu was able to be promoted to become the right hand of the Duke Ding of Lu 鲁定公 (reign 510-495) himself. After having served as the master of the royal stables and the overseer of construction projects, Kong Qiu then rose to the rank of Minister of Justice at the age of 51- one of the most important positions within the court, finally, Kong Qiu was promoted to become the Chancellor of Lu: the pillar of the Lu state.

Duke Ding of Lu maintained close ties with Kong Qiu and often consulted him on trivial matters. Kong Qiu also became intimately close to his patron, Duke Ding himself on a personal level. Not only were they friends who shared many feasts together but Kong Qiu personally escorted Duke Ding with the Lu army on a perilous journey when it was suspected that kidnappers and assassins might harm the Duke. Through the stewardship of Kong Qiu, the state of Lu rose to become a prosperous and respected local power in eastern China. Although Lu was not known for its military prowess, Kong Qiu was able to ensure through a combination of clever diplomacy and unyielding military posturing that the ravenous great powers of Jin and Qi respected Lu's barbed independence. It is recorded that in 501, Kong Qiu was able to appease the powerful Duke of Qi and to save his homeland from a military invasion by Qi. Perhaps most importantly, despite constantly being surrounded by much more powerful states, Kong Qiu guaranteed that Lu was able to survive in this dog eat dog world always on its own terms.

The state of Lu at the time of Confucius' life. Lu (dark blue) was in an unenviable position. Although it was a regional power, in the increasingly big fish eats small fish world of 5th Century BC China, it's autonomy was rapidly threatened by the great powers of Qi (orange) and Jin (light blue). It is told that in 501, Kong Qiu was able to appease the Duke of Qi and to save his home country from a military invasion by Qi. 


However, despite the fact that it is plain for many to see the great accomplishments Kong Qiu made as the Chancellor of Lu, what destroyed Kong Qiu's career was not military threats or waiting assassins. Instead what destroyed Kong Qiu was something he was utterly and immovably against- that of corruption itself. For anyone who is familiar with the story of the fall of Shang dynasty, we can easily see why Kong Qiu was so vehemently against what happened next in his Duke's court.

Music: Corruption

When Kong Qiu ascended to the position of Chancellor, he foresaw many problems within the state and tried to enact many swift reforms, however, his enemies are many both inside as well as outside his domains. Because of Kong Qiu's proven skills as a diplomat and assessor of the neighboring state's powers- trouble soon came looking for him. According to Shiji: or Sima Qian's "Record of the Grand Historian," trouble started when the nearby powerful state of Qi sent Duke Ding 80 extremely beautiful women and 120 prized horses. It was recorded that the Duke was so enamored by them that he soon spent all of his days carousing with the women in pleasures while spending the other times hunting and riding atop the prized steeds. Later, Duke Ding became a distracted man and neglected much of the state while only consorting with these new favorite distractions.

Seeing the state of affairs that the leadership of Lu has degenerated into, Kong Qiu vehemently protested against these lures and warned Duke Ding the danger of these dangerous distractions. However, the now much- changed, and addled Duke Ding became tired of Kong's constant protestations and turned a deaf ear to his former friend. Thus there was great coldness between the ruler of the state and his once trusted Chancellor. Thus Kong was rebuffed and ignored while his ruler degenerated to further debauches. In this manner, the ducal authority of Lu waned.


There were several dimension of tragedy to what had happened. It should be mentioned that from a political front Kong Qiu had every reason to be deeply troubled by these "gifts" from Qi. During this cut throat era of Spring and Autumn politics it was very often that rival states would send batches of beautiful women, wine, and expensive tributes to each other in order to undermine the leadership at the highest level.

At the exact time frame of Kong Qiu's life, to the southeast of China, an exactly similar ploy was being used by two other powerful rival states. When the powerful state of Wu was bearing down on the battered upstart state of Yue, Goujian, the cunning young King of Yue sent many beautiful women to his archrival- King Fuchai of Wu as an appeasement and show of friendship. The ploy worked out perfectly and Fuchai was ensnared by the spells of his new beauties and his new expensive tributes. The loyal and clear sighted Wu prime minister Wu Zixu vehemently protested to Fuchai but the callous king only ordered him to commit suicide. Then, feeling overconfident, Wu turned its attention north for campaigns and it was during this exact time that Yue struck the distracted Wu and utterly destroyed it. In the end, the stranded Fuchai was forced to commit suicide in defeat. It was said that before his suicide the lonely and powerless Fuchai lamented that he had wrongly killed his most faithful minister. This all happened parallel to Kong Qiu's life in the other part of China.

Another dimension of the tragedy that was lost to no one living in this period is the fact that the Dukes of Lu were themselves descendants of the founders of the Zhou dynasty. Lu was formed from a cadet branch of the royal Ji clan that had founded the dynasty nearly half a millennia ago. During the entire lifespan of Kong Qiu, he was a great admirer of the founding fathers of Zhou and practically worshiped the great Duke Wen of Zhou for his wisdom in consecrating the concept of rule by propriety and virtue and also for enshrining the concept of the Mandate of Heaven where the fortunes of the state, and fortune of heaven and earth was dependent upon the proper behavior of kings in accordance with Heaven's just rules.

Music: End of An Era


The concept of righteous rule that describes the Mandate of Heaven explains that a dynasty rises to a place of prominence because they cared about the people, dutifully attended to the affair of the realm, repaired the state's infrastructure and fed the people, protected the locals from invading barbarians. Comparatively: a corrupt dynasty that does not adhere to its duties loose the legitimacy for their existence. Instead, the infrastructure lay neglected, the court was rife with corruption, the armies cannot repel against barbarians, and most of all the people are not fed and rebellions are abound in every corner while the ruling class sat aloof and only focused on their own needs. When the pillar of a state rots, it crumbles.

But seeing a long descendant of that royal house so utterly corrupted, turning away from the virtue of his ancestors (of the founding fathers of both Lu and Zhou itself) and instead embracing the corrupt qualities of the last King of Shang was nothing less than a betrayal of the most sacred virtues of not only this nation but the ancient ideal of this realm as well. Where as the direct descendants of the Zhou kings lived in Kong Qiu's time as nothing more than ceremonial puppets, now- the same decline awaits the once- upright Dukes of Lu. If the ambitious Kong Qiu once thought he could rescue his state and reshape it toward virtues of its ancient Zhou ancestors in miniature, the hopes died with the new distractions of Duke Ding. The Duke did not know that little by little through his neglect he has already doomed his house for the future generations, even if Kong Qiu saw it, he was too powerless to stop it.

We should clearly point out that yes, the over-moralizing Shiji's "castle- toppling" femme fatale archetype is an oversimplified and ultra conservative troupe in ancient China. That it used primarily to scapegoat the blame of complex calamities and attach them to "destructive beauties" ~ (fall of Xia, of Shang, of Western Zhou etc.) But as mentioned in the previous example of Goujian and Fuchai, during this era there was strategic precedent used to undermine rival states. But another factor that is perhaps more dangerous for Kong Qiu was his attempt to curtail the influential noble families in Lu.


Petty men: Jisun 季孫, Mengsun 孟孫, and Shusun 叔孫 were collectively know as the "Three Huans," or the "Three Families," they were all distant relatives of the ancient Duke Huan of Lu and had blood claims to the Lu throne. Because they exorcised extraordinary military power within Lu, Confucius had great weariness of their powers.

The over-moralizing Shiji may have over- emphasized the role of destructive seductresses and casted Duke Ding as a corrupted ruler and Kong as an unyielding and upright minister. The entire narrative has the ring of a Biblical allegory to it. However, on a more immediate level. Kong Qiu faced much greater threats than mere tributes of seductresses. For there was many powerful forces within the Lu court who were weary of his powers.

At the time of Confucius' tenure as the Chancellor of Lu, the Three Families of Ji, Meng, and Shu each had powerful city-states of their own guarded behind well fortified walls.

For decades, the powerful warrior clans of Jisun 季孫, Mengsun 孟孫, and Shusun 叔孫 within Lu had exorcised great military power on behalf of their Duke. But where as the Duke had relied on "The Three Families" in Lu's defense, Kong Qiu saw danger within them. In all three, Kong Qiu saw they were power hungry and cannot be trusted. All three families were vain and petty and constantly caused trouble in their infighting and factionalism. Worse yet, they were blood descendants of one of the Lu Dukes so all had blood claims to the Lu throne as well. It is with the suspicious that the three clans had the potential to unseat Duke Ding's power that Kong Qiu planned to remove them from their powerful positions and instead strengthen his patron in their place. Kong Qiu first tried to isolate them, then tried to strip their privileges and powers away. However, he failed in his endeavors. When Kong Qiu tried to dismantle the walls of their fortified city- states, he was rebuffed. And with this failure, Kong Qiu left the Lu court.

Having failed and lost everything he spent his entire life working for- Kong abandoned everything and departed from his homeland in self exile. If he looked back on his once ambitious life, in his wake there was only failure and defeat. Only failed reforms, failed friendships with the one man who could have saved Lu, and failed attempts in creating a respected state that could have been a lone candle in a evil storm. Since Kong Qiu do not have anything to show in his old age but his failures, he resolved to travel the whole realm to find an upright master who would be kind enough to listen to his advice...and in the end, to anyone who would listen at all.

Music: Dynasty


Thus concludes the segment of the fall of Confucius- in mirror contrast to the previous segment where we covered his rise. In hindsight, it should be mentioned that in the wake of Kong Qiu's parting, the conditions within Lu rapidly disintegrated. It would not survive the storm of war that would erupt throughout the Warring States period.

The state of Lu (dark blue) declined rapidly in the ensuing decades after Confucius' self imposed exile. Due to infighting at the hands of petty and assertive vassals and intrigues that saw many of its dukes deposed or exiled, by the start of the Warring States period Lu had diminished from being one of the most respected states in the realm to merely 1/7 of its original size.

After the death of Duke Ding, ducal authority quickly gave way and was consumed by the ambitious "Three Families," it was recorded in Shiji that Duke Ai- who succeeded his father was so powerless that for he had to beg his vassals to do everything. Thus did the Lu degenerate like the Zhou in miniature and bisected by its ambitious vassals. The domination of the "Three Huan" was such that Duke Zhao of Lu, in attempting to regain power, was exiled by them and never returned. In the ensuing centuries Lu would continue to decline in size to be only 1/7 of its size under the tenure of Confucius and was eventually snuffed out by the powerful southern kingdom of Chu.

Music: Path to Enlightenment

However, it is also here that we should redirect our attention from the life of Confucius the minister to more abstract elements. Although Confucius' long, self- imposed exile across a fragmented China was rife with dangers and adventures, it is here that we should focus on his core philosophy and the Confucian outlook.

For in his failure, he was freed from only merely contemplating the affairs of Lu and instead, shift to think of the realm as a whole. Rather than the fortunes of one house, he began to think of the relationship of man, all men within a society. The role we play in it. The guiding role of rulers. What men do to one another in reciprocity and mimicry. How one can keep compact with one another. How can we recognize the same humanity within each other. How culture can perpetuate society itself. How the same thoughts could perpetuate so long that millenniums later it could be contemplated at this very moment by the descendants of the same continuous civilization.Finally, how a hopelessly broken world could began to will itself back together, by willing itself toward the same sparks of virtue the Zhou founding fathers had at the very beginning this story.

Join us next chapter as we cover the core tenants of Confucian teachings.


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kol said…
Ever consider trying to get Cathay amory to send a piece of their armor to Adam Savage
Der said…
Excellent piece as always. I've only read the first part up to the founding of the Zhou Dynasty ... a few things:

1. If the Zhou had the surname Ji, what surname did the Shang rulers bear? You mention they held the title Son of Heaven, but did they? did they call themselves King 王 ??

2. The fall of Shang sounds like a morality tale, more fiction than fact. Like stories of the fall of the Roman Empire because Rome became decadent, lecherous, immoral (and more Christian by the way). It doesn't sound real, more like Zhou propaganda.

3. Some scholars I've read basically say the Zhou were merely the first in the long line of 'barbarian' steppe invaders and conquerors who too over the Central Plain with their own dynasty, the last being the Qing in AD 1644. How do you see it? Were the Zhou has 'foreign' as the Mongols, Xianbei, Manchus, Khitai, etc, etc.

4. Mandate of Heaven, some have said it was invented by the Zhou to justify their rebellion and conquest, that they even invented the Xia to show that the Shang won the Mandate from Xia and now Zhou wins it from Shang. Any merit to this thesis?

5. The Shang have always fascinated me, the only time in Chinese history where the Chinese came closest to something like a theocracy with a monotheistic Deity. But were they as brutal and savage as depicted, ... hunting humans for sport, invading and enslaving foreign populations, practicing human slavery on a massive scale. I don' think so, when the Zhou conquered Shang, there were still many Shang loyalists and officials who died rather than serve the new conquerors the Zhou.

6. The Western sinologist, Edward Shaughnessy, claims recently excavated bamboo books indicate a blasphemous truth about the 'loyal' Duke of Zhou. That after Wu Wang died, the Duke of Zhou usurped his nephew's throne instead of acting as Regent until his coming of age. The Duke of Zhou acted as Grand Preceptor while his brother the Duke of Shao acted as Grand Guardian and they fought a secret civil war that has been lost to to history. What are your thoughts on this ??
Dragon's Armory said…
6. Well Duke Wen gave up his rein of power, unlike other figures in Chinese history like Wu Zetian or Gaozu of Tang he was not ousted. His propaganda victory was flawless and given the circumstances of a disloyal court from within, Shang remnants, and also former Shang allies he did remarkably well. I don't have a horse to back in that fight and given how he was the one left standing the choice to tell his story was his. I mean same goes for Romulus and Augustus so I can't see why it would be different with him. His skills certainly gave a raw sense of legitamacy to stay in power and in the end he pass his office and retire on his terms.

4. I am not sure about inventing the Xia, their story might be played around by the Zhou (certainly the bit about the fall of the Xia) but there definitely was a once- powerful polity in the area near modern Erlitou: I did write an article about Pre- Shang China a few month back which covered this civilization. By that time they already had grand palaces, advanced architecture, scripts carved onto vessels, stratified chiefdom and social hierarchy, specialized streets for certain craftmen, and advanced irrigation. And not only in the case of Erlitou but the general region surrounding the Yellow River had seen a whole- inter- related culture of farmer- tribes (the Longshan Culture) for millennia before the Xia.

3. I don't think the Zhou were a "steppe people,"
The entire western lap of the Yellow River is culturally very familiar with that on the Central Plains long before the Zhou, Shang, or the Xia for that matter. They might have been on the fringes and had contact with foreigners but they were assimilated.

2. ...Well, of course, since the founding of the Zhou is consecrated from "the favor of righteous Heavens shines upon the new and well behaved Zhou and distances itself away from the bad behaving Shang" I would think that in order for the narrative to work, both side of the war has to be made into caricatures. What's more, caricatures that reinforces the vaunted origin story that ties the whole political framework in order.
Der said…
Just finished the rest of your article, awesome as always.

It's obvious Confucius, if he belonged to a political party, would have been an avowed advocate of enlightened monarchy, similar to the European monarchies during the Enlightenment Era, Confucius would have no problem with a Louis XIV of France the Sun King or Frederick the Great of Prussia ... strong capable monarchs at the center running the entire state and choosing worthy ministers to the army and bureaucracy.

But like in many European countries at the time, the gentry class and great noble families wanted a say in government as well (in France they were suppressed along with religious minorities, and in Prussia they were coopted into the Junker military caste). I think this is represented by the Three Huan clans that Confucius hated. For centuries they dominated Lu and ruled as an oligarchy over the State of Lu. But the question is it was never really formalized in parliamentary form was it ?? There was never a Lu version of King John of England who signed Magna Carta at Runnymede, so therefore a separate branch of government that could have represented other classes in China never really developed. Nor did the Three Huan formally depose the Lu Kings and formed an aristocratic Republic like the Romans did after expelling Tarqin the Proud from the throne of Rome. Spring and Autumn China came very close to going the way of Europe in creating government institutions like the Senate of Rome or the Parliaments of Europe. I wonder why??

As it is, the Spring and Autumn period gave way to the brutal totalitarian absolutist monarchies of the Warring States Period, and the rest is history.
Dragon's Armory said…
Oh the Huans had immense power, they made their offices into hereditery positions so there was a perpetual minister of this and that. Not only do they openly had monopolies in the respective key sectors of the state but when Confucius was going after them he was but a court favorite with no personal army nor a large coffer to contend with them.

No, the Huans never formally deposed the Lu Dukes, they just exiled many of them or force those who failed to topple them to never return again. Their were more keen on holding on to de facto power as king makers. Over all, it greatly weakened Lu.

However, unlike them, more brazen clans in the other part of the realm had no qualms about unseating their lord altogether, a lot of the small scrappy states were born by unseating a powerful overlord. One of the cases was the disentegation of the great state of Jin.

Jin was always one of the most powerful and most revered of the Spring Autumn states, they were directly related to the Zhou Kings and were known to act as a brother to the weakened Zhou Kings as sort of a~ Hand of the King. Sure the King had very little power now but they were the muscle of the King and took out his enemies. They were also known to be to only state big enough to put the boot on Chu whenever they get too ambitious. Well, the ambitious clans within Jin killed their lord and carved up Jin into 3 separate kingdoms. From the corpse of Jin was born Han, Zhao, and Wei, who would all continue to exist in the Warring States Period. The 3 existed for so long that it was not until Qin Shihuang that all 3 were conquered in 1 decade.

henrique said…
western missionaries educated in classics often referred to china as the kingdom of philosopher kings (a reference to Plato, which is a level even above the English parliament) until the 18th century. in fact chinese political thought was critical in shaping enlightenment with the translation of confucian texts.
I think it's rather pointless if the meaning is limited to western terminology, it's like saying china have never had math until western contact as the word mathematics is of greek origin, the root of the problem is to use the Western model of progressive, unidirectional and linear history
henrique said…
François Quesnay and His Le Despotisme de la Chine, written in 1767, describes Chinese politics and society as a model for constitutional despotism

There was a whole obsession with China's culture and philosophy called chinoiserie in Europe . But again china never used the words republic, democracy, philosophy, math as the etymology is obviously Greek or latin , which doesn't mean nothing was going on
Dragon's Armory said…
I mean I could totally understand why thinkers like Voltaire would go gagas over some elements of the Chinese society. The Imperial Examination system and the (at least literary) meritocratic framework for those who gets qualified into the imperial bureaucracy is something that 18th century Europe really needed.

I remember Votaire was quite furious at the state of the religious control over speech and the abundance of bloated blood nobles in the French offices. (France at the time was largely divided between the Nobles of the Sword - i.e. old feudal noble families with large hereditary landholdings, vs the Nobles of the Robes, aka, the more proven nobles and attendants who were largely raised because of good academia and useful mind who were positioned into the courts as lawyers, clerks, and judges. They have very little to none landholdings and their stations are largely depended on their abilities to maintain their usefulness.) Voltaire also hated the church for denying his matron, the great actress Adrienne Lecouvreur from a Christian burial.

All things considered, it's unsurprising how a free speech warrior would look at the tract records of Kangxi, Yongzheng, Qianlong for the whole of the 18th century and see something worthy of imitation. Considering that during his time the church was already censoring speech much more rigidly than in England, the court was bloated with frivolous resurgence of useless blood nobles in Louis XV's reign, and that he has to leave France because of the repression against critics back home.

Idk. The Qing aren't better in terms of speech- looking at what happens to the writers of "Dreams of the Red Chamber" and the amount of Yong Zheng's purges against critics, but I can see how people usually imagine repression elsewhere might be better than the same old same old back home.
henrique said…
I know the merchants in the Han Dynasty, neither they nor their children could attend the imperial examination to become officials. So when did that change? As you know the nobles of the robe were a merchant/bourgeois-ruled social phenomenon in Europe born from post-feudalism, who pretended to be noble hiding their humble origins
Der said…
I think the influence Confucius had on the European Enlightenment and the rise of secularism and the weakening of traditional religion in Europe is still an unwritten chapter in world history. How extensive was it? Was it acknowledged? I'm frankly surprised traditional and reactionary Christian elements are not more anti-Confucian like they are anti-Muslims or anti-Semitic. After all, I think Confucian philosophy did more to undermine traditional Christian influence in Europe and brought on the French Revolution more than Freemasons, Jews, etc.
henrique said…
Confucianism is neutral and indifferent in imbalancing all core elements of Christianity such as trinity, religious dualism, and messianism. It must be said that the Catholic Jesuits thought that Confucianism could be a complement to something they have never heard of before, no false prophets like Luther or Muhammad, and without the "Babylonian" polytheism of Buddhists and Hindus ( even worse with with its zoomorphism, ganesha = golden calf) ... above all Confucianism was the highest level in the Chinese social hierarchy ... "convert the king first and the people will follow"

The whole idea of ​​the West as descended from ancient Athens is a bourgeois invention that began from the Renaissance ... the West at first was really just the Catholic side of Europe while everything else was considered Eastern in the middle ages, very contradictory since the Byzantine Empire (locality of ancient Greece) was on the other side. The Europeans thought the Chinese were white and as civilized as themselves (yellow race is only from the 19th century onwards) ... the fascination with China comes from Marco polo, Christianity among the Mongols (Cathay kingdom), Franco-Mongol alliance, somewhere in the East europeans thought a Christian kingdom (prester john) would come out and restore the Holy Land from Islamic control, and finally the so prosperous chinoiserie trade with the largest economy in the world at the time, not to say industrial espionage:;_six_scenes_of_silk_manufacture_in_China._Engraving_Wellcome_V0024227.jpg;_five_scenes_of_silk_manufacture_in_China._Engravin_Wellcome_V0024226.jpg;_silk_manufacture_in_China,_two_women_working_at_a_Wellcome_V0024224.jpgçois_Xavier_d%27Entrecolles

The enmities between the West and china are mostly the result of the last 2 centuries, first imperialism and then communism ... that is why bias and chinese influence is simply ignored. Much of the history studies is to suit current politics, which generates little popular and financial interest in varied academic research, so it is very surprising for many to discover how much Confucius was appreciated in the 18th century before hardcore scientific racism and neocolonialism, a matter of mainstream stuff
Der said…
Thanks Heaven that the Figurists lost out, they and their syncretist pseudo-historical nonsense was rightly rejected by Confucians of that era. No ancestor of the Han Chinese was named Adam, Eve, Noah or Japheth ... obviously non-Huaxia Barbarian names.
Dragon's Armory said…
I am not very surprised, usually when a culture believes in its own world view too much they began to project others as being part of their own grand traditions as well. Sima Qian did a lot of that by claiming various people around China are descended from ancient Chinese Emperors and Princelings.

For instance that the ancestors of the kingdom of Wu was descended from an self exiled brother of King Wu of Zhou, that the kings of the Yunnanese kingdom of Duan was descended from a Chu military expedition, or that the Xiongnu were descended from the deposed house of Xia. etc
Der said…
For instance that the ancestors of the kingdom of Wu was descended from an self exiled brother of King Wu of Zhou, that the kings of the Yunnanese kingdom of Duan was descended from a Chu military expedition, or that the Xiongnu were descended from the deposed house of Xia. etc

yeah, but the difference is Wu, the Dali and Huns did believe that as well didn't they? They wanted to be connected with the only known civilization, namely China, out there. The Han Chinese do not, and never will, acknowledge connections to any Western or Biblical origins.
henrique said…
Talking about religion and a related case much older than figurism in China, the daoists believed that Laozi left China for the west, where he died and later reincarnated as the buddha. In other stories, the "Old Master" journeyed all the way to India and was the teacher of Siddartha Gautama, the Buddha. According to Chinese legend, Laozi left China for the west on a water buffalo after meeting 尹喜:

Laozi was usually portrayed as a 6th-century BC contemporary of Confucius, roughly decades before the birth of Siddhartha Gautama. Well, the west for old china it was all west of them, generically to refer to all regions to the west of China through the silk road and beyond, such as the Indian subcontinent (as in the novel Journey to the West ). Of course there is no way the story could be true anyway but it still has some logic.
Dragon's Armory said…
Hmmm, I am actually familiar with the narrative that Laozi went west and either became the Buddha or taught Buddha, pure nonsense really, but I have to thank you for give a more detailed source for it.

Thanks man.
Der said…
The story of Laozi going West and teaching the Buddha is nonsense of course. Something invented by Daoists to justify the success of Buddhism. But perhaps this ridiculous story tries to explain one thing, namely the synergy and resemblance of Daoist and Dharmic philosophy. Even the words 'Dao' and 'Dharma' are similar, perhaps instead of Laozi going West, there was an earlier diffusion of Indo-European Dharma tradition to China (centuries before Buddhism)? This is the thesis Prof Victor Mair I think. He seems obsessed with Indo-European tradition and its contribution to Chinese civilization.

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