This lesson will focus on the decline of Confucianism within the Republic of China. In doing so, it will highlight the concepts of Jen and filial piety. It will also explore the role of and the influence of the Three Principles of the People.
In today's lesson we're going to take a look at the decline of Confucianism in China. As we do this, it's really important to point out that this lesson is going to be a very, very quick overview. In order to really cover this topic, we'd need days if not weeks. With this being said, there is one main point you should glean from today's lesson. Here it is.
With the imperial government of China falling and the republic of China rising, Confucianism lost its place as the state-sponsored religion of China.
With this main point set in our minds, let's get to the details of the lesson.
By the early 1900s, the country of China was on the verge of revolution. For years it had been a pawn in the hands of the foreign governments of Western Europe, with countries like Britain and Russia controlling its commerce and its trade. However, as the West began to creep further and further into the lands of China, the more educated people of the nation began to clamor for someone to stand up and say no to the encroaching West.
In 1911, the people of China found their guy. His name was Sun Yixian, the leader of China's first Nationalist Party. Disillusioned with the archaic ways of the Chinese empire and wanting to see his country modernized, Sun Yixian and his followers were successful in overthrowing the empire and creating the Republic of China.
With this, China began its journey of becoming a modernized nation - an international force to be reckoned with. However, in order to gain such power, many of the traditions and beliefs of old imperial China had to be rearranged if not completely thrown by the wayside.
Perhaps the most important of these traditions to be altered was China's reliance and adherence to the ancient faith of Confucianism as its state religion.
In order to understand the reason why Confucianism didn't quite fit with the new revolutionary spirit of China, we'll need to understand some of the basic tenants of Confucianism.
Ancient Confucianism had at its heart the idea of living in harmony and avoiding conflict. This alone helps explain why revolution and Confucianism didn't really mix.
At the very core of Confucianism is the principle of Jen. Sometimes spelled Ren, Jen can be translated as goodness or humaneness. In other words, it is the idea that humans should seek the good of others over the good of themselves. So important is the concept of Jen, that Confucianism teaches all other virtues spring from it.
In ancient Confucianism, Jen was the preeminent funnel for all human behavior and actions. In fact, ancient Confucianism taught that one should be willing to give his own life in order to protect Jen. One should strive, even sacrifice, to treat everyone with goodness. One should seek the good of others over the good of self.
Although this concept of Jen sounds admirable, historians tell us the more educated of China were becoming very, very disillusioned with the way it was playing out in their culture. Yes, in a perfect world where everyone else was playing by the rules of Jen, it sounds quite lovely. However, when countries like Turkey and Russia are knocking on your door with guns and tanks, the whole Jen idea begins to seem a bit, shall we say, naive.
Adding to the conflict between Confucianism and the new Republic, the ancient faith taught great loyalty to the family and the home. Known as filial piety, Confucianism held that deep respect of one's ancestors and elders was one's supreme responsibility in life. Family came before everything else.
If forced to choose between allegiance to country and allegiance to the family, family wins every day of the week, every week of the month, and every month of the year. Not surprisingly, the leaders of the new republic weren't too keen on this set up.
Agreeing with this viewpoint, the Nationalist Party of China, known as the Kuomintang, replaced Imperial China's Confucian principles with their own. Known as the Three Principles of the People, Jen and filial piety were sort of pushed to the backburner and the three principles of People's Nationalism, People's Sovereignty, and People's Livelihood took center stage. Stated very, very simply, the new republic of China was waving goodbye to passivity and saying hello to kicking out foreigners, individual rights, and finally trying to make some money for the country!
In order to support these new Three Principles of the People, Sun Yixian and his Nationalist party, known again as the Kuomintang, desired to build up the country's national forces. They wanted a strong army and a navy, not a citizenry that would roll over and play dead. They wanted a people swept up in a spirit of nationalism and patriotism, not a bunch of separate families living insular lives.
However, the old ideas of Confucianism made this very difficult, and for a time the new Republic struggled to gain its footing in both the country and the world. And, as history has definitely proven, the coming of the Republic of China, did signal the beginning of the end of Confucianism's hold over the politics of China. Yes, it still played a fringe role in the culture of China, but it lost its seat as the country's state religion, as men like Sun Yixian would eventually succeed in bringing China into the modern age.
By the early 1900s, the country of China was ripe for revolution. The educated of the country were tired of being bossed around by Western Europe, and they were losing faith in the old Confucian principles of Jen and filial piety. As the West began creeping further into their borders, the more educated citizenry were ready to swap out the concepts of goodness, harmony, and unquestioning family respect for a new set of values.
With this desire for change, the educated of China found their leader in Sun Yixian. As the leader of the Chinese nationalist party known as the Kuomintang, Yixian and his followers pushed Jen and filial piety to the background in favor of what were called the Three Principles of the People.
Being more modern and believed to be better equipped to handle the threats from the outside world, these three principles were People's Nationalism, People's Sovereignty, and People's Livelihood. In other words, the new Republic of China was telling the world it was throwing off its passivity and starting to kick out foreigners, seek individual rights, and finally concentrate on making some money for the country!
As time went on Sun Yixian and his followers realized their new principles wouldn't be as easy to institute as they first had hoped. However, despite the many setbacks it would face, the Republic of China was here to stay, and Confucianism officially lost its place as the state-sponsored religion of China.
After completing this lesson, you should be able to:
- Understand the change in the political scene in China at the turn of the 20th century
- Describe the decline of Confucianism as the politically sponsored religion of old China
- Explain why Sun Yixian and the Nationalist Party needed to push Jen and filial piety to the background of Chinese society