The People in the Chinese Philosophy
The concept of the people and their place in the world has always been one of the central problems of any philosophy, including the Chinese one. However, the perception of the people in the Chinese philosophy has many features that distinguish it from the Western philosophical tradition. They have been preserved throughout thousands of years, up until the beginning of the XX century, which was the time of the radical changes both in the Chinese society and Chinese philosophy. As a result, the perception of the people has also changed, reflecting the shift in the Chinese society. Considering the importance of customs and traditions in China, it will be quite interesting to analyze the evolution of the role and place of the people throughout the many centuries of Chinese history. Therefore, the following essay is dedicated to the study of the concept of the people as it was viewed by the various Chinese philosophers and thinkers, such as Confucius, Liang Qichao, and Lu Xun.
The first of the reviewed philosophers is Confucius. It should be noted that he has lived in an era when the issue of stability of the state was the most pressing for the philosophers. As a result, the problem of keeping the state in order was the primary concern of Confucius. Therefore, he was not interested in the people themselves, viewing them as a part of a strict hierarchy, where they had a definite place. Therefore, for Confucius, the teaching of the people was inseparable from that of the state or the government. From his point of view, it must show how they should behave in different situations. Thus, the teaching of the people has a strong practical orientation and is aimed at the proving of the eternity and immutability of the recommended rules of behavior and relationships between them. It is enough to get acquainted with Analects, which all researchers consider to be the most authentic expression of the views of Confucius, to make sure that it does not raise the problem of people, rather being a set of practical tips.
Moreover, Confucius never discussed the philosophical foundations of the teaching of the people. He offers his recommendations on the basis of traditional Chinese views on the world order. From the context of his remarks, it is clear that he considers the mankind to be a special subject of nature that must obey it but is also capable of resisting it. This is due to a position of the people in the world: on the one hand, they fit into the universe, and make it whole and, acting as a link between heaven and earth. On the other hand, a man occupies a place that allows him to relate both with Heaven and Earth. Moreover, Confucius did not pay much attention to such issues. In particular, he refused to speak about spirits, focusing on the teaching of proper behavior. He has also avoided discussing the question of human nature, claiming that by their nature, the people are similar while being different in their habits. Moreover, Confucius has established a clear distinction between the people of the different social status. In other words, he supported the system of social classes, i.e. the strict hierarchy within the society of people. The position of the people in the society depended on their moral qualities, which Confucius viewed as the ones having superhuman and universal significance. Thus, he stressed out the inevitability and inviolability of social stratification. According to Confucius, the Heaven is watching over the world, being the guardian of social inequality.
The thought of another prominent Chinese philosopher, Liang Qichao, has moved closer to the ideas of Buddhism and teachings of Neo-Confucian school (the doctrine of heart-mind). On the contrary to Confucius, he paid more attention to the spiritual part of life, believing that the environment is by created spirit, and that the idea of a mother of reality. He perceived the spiritual realm as the true one while considering the material one to be illusory. According to him, the spiritual power that is inherent in the people houses something incredible and intimate within it – a reality of the existence, thereby placing them on a special place in the universe. Thus, for Liang Qichao, the people were something more than a link between heaven and earth.
The anthropocentrism of Liang Qichao is also reflected in his ideas of civic nationalism. Prior to him, the terms nation and country were considered synonyms. However, Liang Qichao has claimed that without the process of nationalization of the people, the country cannot be called a nation. He was the one playing a paramount role in this process in China, presenting a concept of the people of the nation, or, in other words, citizens. According to him, the fate of the nation primarily depends on the fate of the people that comprise it, i.e. the nation itself is a group of people. The national policy of the country is not something that is controlled by some unseen force (as in the philosophy of Confucius) but is actually a process of self-government that is carried out by the people. The love for country is the love of its people for themselves. As a result, the powers and rights of the people are the reflection and source of those of a nation. In turn, when they vanish, the same happens to the powers and rights of the nation. Thus, it is clear that on the contrary to Confucius, Liang Qichao considered the people the primary source and the driving force of the state and the nation rather than simply one of the elements of the governmental system, which is being overseen by such mystical entity as Heaven.
The last but not least person in the list, Lu Xun, was not a philosopher, but a writer. Nevertheless, he has greatly influenced the development of literature and political thought in China the first half of the XX century and is considered the founder of the modern Chinese literature. His works were primarily focused on the people, being somewhat similar to those of Liang Qichao. However, Lu Xun’s primary focus is the individual feelings and strivings of a single person, as opposed to Confucius and Liang Qichao, which viewed the nation as a monolithic entity. His short stories, such as Kong Yiji, raise the problem of the little man, showing a critical attitude of the author to the people and the society they live in.
Indeed, from his point of view, the feudal Chinese society disfigured and emptied the people, killing their best desires and feelings. In the struggle for the development and approval of the little people that are still injured, oppressed, and depressed, Lu Xun has focused on the unique values of each person. The people must understand that they were not born to replenish the ranks of docile crowd blindly following customs and traditions that were established once and for all. Lu Xun took it upon himself to prove that the individualism exists in China and that China has many faces both in life and in death. Lu Xun has also acknowledged the importance of the spiritual sphere for the people, being disappointed in the omnipotence of medicine as it heals the body but not the spirit of a man. As a result, the people whose spirits are in daze are not able to oppose the tyranny and exploitation, and can only be either the tools in the hands of their rulers or indifferent curious onlookers of the executions.
As a conclusion, it is possible to say that the perception of the people by the Chinese philosophers has changed radically by the beginning of the XX century. The ancient thinkers, such as Confucius, did not pay much attention to the people, considering them a part of the other philosophical concepts. The people have been perceived as part of nature and the cosmos, the idea of man’s dominion over nature and other living beings was not popular, although his ability to not obey the rules of nature has been noted. Moreover, any forms of individualism were rejected. However, by XX century, the situation has changed. The contemporary philosophers, such as Liang Qichao, have started viewing the people as independent beings standing above nature due to their spiritual powers. Moreover, the people, their rights, and powers, were perceived as cornerstones of the nation, and, therefore, the state. Finally, the prominent writers of the time, such as Lu Xun, have promoted individualism – something that was unthinkable during the times of Confucius. The perception of each citizen as individuality with unique personal traits and values was a breakthrough for the Chinese philosophy. Moreover, Lu Xun has pointed out the significance of the political system of the country for the development of its people. Indeed, being robbed of their individuality, they cannot rise against anything that displeases them, becoming nothing more than tools. Thus, the concept of the people in the Chinese philosophy has evolved significantly in the short period of time, placing them above everything else and making them the masters of their own fate.