Soft Power, Chinese-Style: Can Ancient Philosophy Help China Rule The World?

Confucius says...
Confucius says...
Fu Pei-Jung*


BEIJING - There has been a succession of dynasties in China’s long history, but Chinese culture has always followed the same basic ideology. This ideology is composed of ideas from three sources: the Book of Changes, Confucianism, and Taoism. Today, if we want to export the soft power of Chinese culture, we must first identify the core values of these traditional concepts, and then prove that they can still inspire us in modern times.

The Book of Changes

The Book of Changes, a compendium of divination also called the I Ching, is one of the oldest Chinese classic texts. Like its name implies, it is a book that explores change. Before the invention of writing, it taught people how to understand change and to predict both the good and the bad fortune that comes as a consequence of change.

Fu Xi, a legendary ancient Chinese ruler (2800-2737 BC), had eight symbols revealed to him, each symbol representing specific concepts. The eight trigrams (each symbol consists of three lines) were then developed into 64 hexagrams (each symbol composed of six lines) that represent a variety of complex situations and patterns. In essence, the Book of Changes reminds people to be aware of their own position in a certain pattern so as to take appropriate action. In other words, it teaches us to observe the laws of nature and interpersonal interaction so that we can be able to adapt our words and actions accordingly.

Initially the Book of Changes was used for making choices in imperial policy. Later on, scholars turned it into a philosophy in which principles can be applied to daily life and reflected in moral principles. These moral principles, which define heaven, earth and man as the three major elements, can be summed as: be prepared for danger in times of peace, be happy with the mandate of heaven and be content with what you are.

First it means that we should be vigilant. People often become lax in their efforts or indulge in pleasure thinking that everything is fine. However, since things “change,” a crisis can appear at any time. Therefore one must keep a sense of crisis and be vigilant even in a safe and peaceful environment.

Following the same logic, people in difficulty shouldn’t be discouraged. Since change is always in motion, a struggle can be followed by a positive outcome.

Second, it means we need an optimistic attitude to life. We have to be understanding and accepting of our fate and optimistic regarding individual experiences. When encountering setbacks, people should think about cause and effect, to find an effective way of improving their quality of life. In brief, to learn from the Book of Changes is to comprehend how one can excel in virtue, ability and wisdom.

Moreover, in the Book of Changes, the whole universe is considered as a single organism. Any tiny alteration can affect the whole body. Thus, every individual is closely related to all things and is interlinked with everyone else. Hence, people should cherish all existing things and treat their own life better.


Confucianism, based on the teachings of Confucius (551-479 BC) has had the most far-reaching impact on Chinese people.

During the Han dynasty (206 BC-220 AD), Confucianism became the Chinese emperors’ ruling doctrine and was an important tool of the imperial rule. The philosophy follows three important rules: respect for tradition (this is no exception for today’s ruling class), emphasis on education (by using the classics to educate people and stabilize the social order), and an altruistic society (an individual is to achieve self-value within the group).

Confucius and his followers are convinced that everyone should cultivate their own words and actions, to respect others like they want to be respected themselves: “Do not do to others what you would not like them to do to you.”

Filial piety is one of the greatest virtues of Confucianism and is established according to “five cardinal relationships:” between ruler and subjects, between father and son, between husband and wife, between elder and younger brother, and between friends.

In Confucianism the fact that “human nature is good” is embodied in the way we are with others. Personal behavior must be sincere and in good faith to engender a positive force. Humaneness is one of the basic virtues at the core of Confucianism, according to which everyone should act toward others with “human goodness.” But since goodness involves having relationships with others, people need to learn social norms. This is why Confucianism attaches great importance to education.

Once human goodness is affirmed, what is the best road to take in life? Choosing the right path requires knowledge and intelligence. Knowledge enables people to understand what is expected of them while wisdom enables them to change their mind, to make the right choices. This means having flexibility, having the courage to insist on principles such as benevolence and righteousness – to the point of sacrificing their lives if necessary.

Because of its humanism and emphasis on learning and self-cultivation, many Asian scholars believe that Confucianism can provide an ethical model for modern times.


Because of the expectations and pressure that Confucianism brings to an individual or society, when people are frustrated or society is unstable, many turn to Taoism for a solution. Do we use Taoism as an easy way out? Does inaction mean adopting a passive attitude? The answer is not as simple.

Tao means the “way,” the “path,” the “principle.” In the teachings of Lao Tse (6th century BC), all things are from the path and will eventually return to the path. The path represents the origin as well as the end of all things. It is not necessary to debate what the path is – we only need to understand that Tao is the source of all things, including humans. This concept solves the problem of nihilism.

How is this embodied in real life? The only way is through enlightenment. Tao is the sum of all parts: as a whole, all changes are relative and mutually restrained. Thus, people do not have to try to be smart and or try to accomplish anything on purpose.

Lao Tse’s inaction refers to unintentional actions, that is, everyone should do his share of the work without deliberate purpose. Zhuangzi (369-286 BC) went even further: “Flow with whatever may happen, and let your mind be free.” The key lies in the judgment as to when it is the moment to do something. This clearly requires wisdom, which can only be obtained through mental tranquility and emptiness.

When one understands this concept, one can easily resolve all kinds of emotions – in poverty, good or bad times, in fortune or misfortune, or even in life and death. Whatever the changes, they are in the Tao. The Tao is like the mother who embraces all things and we humans are her babies.

For the soft power of Chinese culture to play a role and provide a set of timeless values for the world, great efforts still need to be made. Scholars need to study the modern sense of these Chinese philosophy classics to adapt their meaning in today’s context. People have to play their part too, using the positive aspects of traditional culture to settle their body and mind. If this soft power can be fully unfolded, it will be China’s greatest contribution to the world.

*The author is a professor in the Department of Philosophy at the National University of Taiwan

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Queen Elizabeth II with UK PM Boris Johnson at a reception at Windsor Castle yesterday

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Hej!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where chaos hits Syria, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro is accused of crimes against humanity and a social media giant plans to rebrand itself. For Spanish daily La Razon, reporter Paco Rodríguez takes us to the devastated town of Belchite, where visitors are reporting paranormal phenomenons.



• Syrian violence erupts: Army shelling on residential areas of the rebel-held region of northwestern Syria killed 13 people, with school children among the victims. The attack occurred shortly after a bombing killed at least 14 military personnel in Damascus. In central Syria, a blast inside an ammunition depot kills five soldiers.

• Renewed Ethiopia air raids on capital of embattled Tigray region: Ethiopian federal government forces have launched its second air strike this week on the capital of the northern Tigray. The air raids mark a sharp escalation in the near-year-old conflict between the government forces and the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) that killed thousands and displaced over 2 million people.

• Bolsonaro accused of crimes against humanity: A leaked draft government report concludes that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro should be charged with crimes against humanity, forging documents and incitement to crime, following his handling of the country's COVID-19 pandemic. The report blames Bolsonaro's administration for more than half of Brazil's 600,000 coronavirus deaths.

• Kidnappers in Haiti demand $17 million to free a missionary group: A Haitian gang that kidnapped 17 members of a Christian aid group, including five children, demanded $1million ransom per person. Most of those being held are Americans; one is Canadian.

• Putin bows out of COP26 in Glasgow: Russian President Vladimir Putin will not fly to Glasgow to attend the COP26 climate summit. A setback for host Britain's hopes of getting support from major powers for a more radical plan to tackle climate change.

• Queen Elizabeth II cancels trip over health concerns: The 95-year-old British monarch has cancelled a visit to Northern Ireland after she was advised by her doctors to rest for the next few days. Buckingham Palace assured the queen, who attended public events yesterday, was "in good spirits."

• A new name for Facebook? According to a report by The Verge website, Mark Zuckerberg's social media giant is planning on changing the company's name next week, to reflect its focus on building the "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet.


"Oil price rise causes earthquake," titles Portuguese daily Jornal I as surging demand coupled with supply shortage have driven oil prices to seven-year highs at more than $80 per barrel.



For the first time women judges have been appointed to Egypt's State Council, one of the country's main judicial bodies. The council's chief judge, Mohammed Hossam el-Din, welcomed the 98 new judges in a celebratory event in Cairo. Since its inception in 1946, the State Council has been exclusively male and until now actively rejected female applicants.


Spanish civil war town now a paranormal attraction

Ghosts from Spain's murderous 1930s civil war are said to roam the ruins of Belchite outside Zaragoza. Tourists are intrigued and can book a special visit to the town, reports Paco Rodríguez in Madrid-based daily La Razon.

🏚️ Between August 24 and September 6, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, more than 5,000 people died in 14 days of intense fighting in Belchite in north-eastern Spain, and the town was flattened. The fighting began on the outskirts and ended in house-to-house fighting. Almost half the town's 3,100 residents died in the struggle. The war annihilated centuries of village history. The town was never rebuilt, though a Pueblo Nuevo (or new town) was built by the old one.

😱 Belchite became an open-air museum of the horror of the civil war of 1936-39, which left 300,000 dead and wounds that have yet to heal or, for some today, mustn't. For many locals, the battle of Belchite has yet to end, judging by reports of paranormal incidents. Some insist they have heard the screams of falling soldiers, while others say the Count of Belchite wanders the streets, unable to find a resting place after his corpse was exhumed.

🎟️ Ordinary visitors have encountered unusual situations. Currently, you can only visit Belchite at set times every day, with prior booking. More daring visitors can also visit at 10 p.m. on weekends. Your ticket does not include a guaranteed paranormal experience, but many visitors insist strange things have happened to them. These include sudden changes of temperature or the strange feeling of being observed from a street corner or a window. Furthermore, such phenomena increase as evening falls, as if night brought the devastated town to life.

➡️


We still cling to the past because back then we had security, which is the main thing that's missing in Libya today.

— Fethi al-Ahmar, an engineer living in the Libyan desert town Bani Walid, told AFP, as the country today marks the 10-year anniversary of the death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The leader who had reigned for 42 years over Libya was toppled in a revolt inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings and later killed by rebels. Some hope the presidential elections set in December can help the country turn the page on a decade of chaos and instability.


Iran to offer Master's and PhD in morality enforcement

Iran will create new "master's and doctorate" programs to train state morality agents checking on people's public conduct and attire, according to several Persian-language news sources.

Mehran Samadi, a senior official of the Headquarters to Enjoin Virtues and Proscribe Vices (Amr-e be ma'ruf va nahy az monkar) said "anyone who wants to enjoin virtues must have the knowledge," the London-based broadcaster Iran International reported, citing reports from Iran.

The morality patrols, in force since the 1979 revolution, tend to focus mostly on young people and women, particularly the public appearance for the latter. Loose headscarves will send women straight to a police station, often in humiliating conditions. Five years ago, the regime announced a new force of some 7,000 additional agents checking on women's hijabs and other standards of dress and behavior.

Last week, for example, Tehran police revealed that they had "disciplined" agents who had been filmed forcefully shoving a girl into a van. Such incidents may increase under the new, conservative president, Ibrahim Raisi.

Speaking about the new academic discipline, Samadi said morals go "much further than headscarves and modesty," and those earning graduate degrees would teach agents "what the priorities are."

Iran's Islamic regime, under the guidance of Shia jurists, continuously fine tunes notions of "proper" conduct — and calibrates its own, interventionist authority. More recently the traffic police chief said women were not allowed to ride motorbikes, and "would be stopped," Prague-based Radio Farda reported.

Days before, a cleric in the holy city of Qom in central Iran insisted that people must be vaccinated by a medic of the same sex "as often as possible," and if not, there should be no pictures of mixed-sex vaccinations.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

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