The fate of Confucianism

焚書坑儒(fen shu keng ru; 213 BC)

  • the burning of books and burying of Confucian scholars (fen shu keng ru) ‘annihilated the Confucian learning’. (Ban Gu, 32-92)
  • Emperor Hui (194-187) repealed Qin emperor’s radical prohibition of possession of books containing Confucian teachings.
  • Rulers of Han wished to resuscitate Confucian teachings, but suffered from lack of texts
  • Dong Zhong Shu (c.179 – c.104 BC)

1. Genesis

‘Heaven, earth, and man: they are the root of everything.

    • Heaven creates,
    • the earth rourishes,
    • and man completes.

Heaven creates with filial piety (xiao) and fraternal love (ti), the earth rourishes with food and cloth, and man completes with ethics and music.’

‘Failure to have filial piety and fraternal love is to lose what you are created with, failure to have food and cloth is to lose what you are to be reared with, failure to have ethics and music is to lose what you are to complete everything with.’ (春秋繁露, 立元神)

  • Superior position of xiao and ti
  • They became an absolute, ineluctable code of human conduct because it is what we are all made with.
  • Humans may be made by humans; but filial piety is made in heaven?
  • 葉公語孔子曰:「吾黨有直躬者,其父攘羊,而子證之。」 孔子曰:「吾黨之直者異於是。父為子隱,子為父隱,直在其中矣。」 Lunyu 13.18
  • 子路曰:「願聞子之志。」 子曰:「老者安之,朋友信之,少者懷之。」 Lunyu 5.26

2. The cosmic struggle of yin and yang

‘The permanent feature of the universe is the alternation of yang (the positive energy) and yin (the negative energy).’ – 天地之常,一陰一陽 (春秋繁露, 陰陽義)

  • ‘The primordial One brings forth two sides. The two sides bring forth yin and yang. – Zhou Yi
  • ‘Dao brings forth one, one brings forth two, two bring forth three, three bring forth everything. Everything is equiped with yin and contains yang. Mixture of these two energies makes harmony.’ 道生一,一生二,二生三,三生萬物。萬物負陰而抱陽,沖氣以為和 Lao Zi, Dao De Jing, 42

However, Dong displays a mixture of prototype Manichaeism and severe misogyny (陽尊陰卑):

  • ‘Yang (+) is the virtue of the almighty Heaven; Yin (-) is the punishment of the almighty Heaven. 陽天之德,陰天之刑也’
  • ‘The ruler is yang; the minister is yin; the father yang, the son yin, husband yang, wife yin.’君為陽,臣為陰;父為陽,子為陰;夫為陽,妻為陰。(春秋繁露, 基義)
  • ‘As the dim light of moon (yin) is permanently suppressed by the brilliant light of sun (yang), all that the moon can do is to become full only to lose its fullness. The almighty Heaven thus punishes and forbids yin.’
  • 惡之屬盡為陰,善之屬盡為陽。陽為德,陰為刑。(春秋繁露, 陽尊陰卑)

Earlier tradition, on the other hand, had a ‘neutral’ view of the natural world:

  • 一陰一陽之謂道,繼之者善也,成之者性也。仁者見之謂之仁,知者見之謂之知。(繫辭上 Xi Ci Part I, 5) Alternation of yin and yang; this is the way things are (dao). … If a benevolent man looks at it, he will say it is benevolent. If a wise man looks at it, he will say it is wise.’
  • ‘Yang completes man, yin completes woman. Yang starts (knows when to start), yin completes and achieves (has the capacity to complete and achieve).’
  • ‘How great is yang! With yang begins everything. How vast and permeating is yin! With yin is created everything.’

But, Meng Zi already displayed misogyny:

  • ‘The way of girls and ladies is to follow. They are right when they follow.’ 無違夫子 以順為正者,妾婦之道也 (滕文公下 7)

The once harmonious relationship between yin and yang is now degenerated into a perpetual struggle for control. Dong Zhong Shu went on:

To control all evils which reside within and to forbid them from manifesting themselves without, that is our mind (xin). That is why mind is called the controller (栣眾惡於內,弗使得發於外者,心也,故心之為名,栣也。) Just as, in the universe, yin and yang are in the relationship of control and prohibition, so in our body too, emotions and desires must be controlled (天有陰陽禁,身有情欲,與天道一也。是以陰之行不得干春夏,而月之魄常厭於日光。乍全乍傷,天之禁陰如此,安得不損其欲而輟其情以應天。). To destroy desires and to stifle emotions, that is to be in tune with the universe. What the almighty Heaven forbids, human body forbids too. That is why it is said that human body is just like Heaven. To forbid what Heaven forbids is not forbidden by Heaven. Rather, to do so is to know the true nature of Heaven (天所禁而身禁之,故曰身猶天也。禁天所禁,非禁天也。) (春秋繁露, 深察名號)

3. Metaphysical foundation of Dong Zhong Shu’s political ideology.

When Heaven created man’s original mind (xing), Heaven commanded it to carry out Ren (仁) and Yi (義; rightness). Ren (仁) means to bring comfort [outwardly] to others; Yi (義; rightness) means to correct oneself [inwardly]. Man [alone] received these commandments from Heaven.

The ruler’s likes and dislikes, joy and wrath correspond to the Heaven’s movement of spring, summer, autumn and winter. The way the nature works is just like the four seasons. When the wind of fondness blows, it brings the warmth and everything begins to sprout. When the wind of hate blows, it brings coldness that kills everything. Joy will bring the hot atmosphere which makes everything grow. Wrath will bring the freezing atmosphere which makes everything to shut and lock. With his likes and dislikes, joy and wrath, the ruler of men changes the way people live. With his warmth, coldness, heat and frost, the Lord of Heaven changes the way plants live. The Lord of Heaven and the ruler of men are therefore one. 天地人主一也 – Chun Qiu Fan Lu, 王道通三

The ruler who received the heavenly commandment is approved by the will of Heaven. That’s why he is called the son of Heaven. It means that the ruler must regard Heaven as his father. He must respect and worship Heaven with filial piety. The name ‘feudal lords (hou)’ means that they must protect (hou) their vassals and uphold the son of Heaven. The name ‘great ministers’ means that their loyalty, ethics and rightness must be greater than ordinary people. The name ‘officers (shi)’ means that they must serve (shi). The name ‘people (min)’ means that they are stupid and virtually blind (min). 受命之君,天意之所予也。故號為天子者,宜視天如父,事天以孝道也。號為諸侯者,宜謹視所候奉之天子也。號為大夫者,宜厚其忠信,敦其禮義,使善大於匹夫之義,足以化也。士者,事也;民者,瞑也。- Chun Qiu Fan Lu, 深察名號,

4. Dong Zhong Shu’s theory of Omen

When the king is about to prosper, nice signs begin to appear. When the king is about to perish, weird signs begin to appear.

Small scale disasters are the cautions [yellow card] of the Lord of Heaven. Major catastrophes are the threats [red card] of the Lord of Heaven. When the caution does not work, the Lord of Heaven terrifies men with threats. The root of all disasters and catastrophes lies in misgovernment. When things in government begin to go wrong, the Lord of Heaven brings forth small scale disasters to issue the caution. When people are thus cautioned, and nevertheless fail to reform, the Lord of Heaven shows major catastrophes to shock people. If, even after this shock treatment, people still do not fear the wrath of Heaven, serous disasters will strike really hard. So, we may understand that our Lord’s will is benevolent [He loves us]. He does not mean to trap us in hardship.

Heaven will judge it for you. Be not judges of others, and you will not be judged; do not condemn others and you will not be condemned. Seek instead to control and correct yourself and keep yourself from sin (zheng wo 正我). And, most of all, love others (ren, ai ren). (“以仁安人,以義正我, … 仁之法在愛人” — 春秋繁露, 仁義法) Then, everything will be given to you. Because the Lord of Heaven loves you. Our Lord’s love of man is limitless, boundless, and endless (wu qiong ji 察於天之意,無窮極之仁也). Chun Qiu Fan Lu, 王道通三, 1