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Issue of Democracy in Asia Pacific Societies Discussion

Issue of Democracy in Asia Pacific Societies Discussion


The assertion that China, Japan, and other societies in the Asia-Pacific have poor prospects of achieving authentic, vibrant democratic polities due to their Confucian philosophical tradition is a complex one. To evaluate this claim, we can draw upon the perspectives of three different schools of thought: Xunzi (representing Confucianism), the Tiantai School (representing Mahayana Buddhism), and the Rationalist School of Zhu Xi (representing Neo-Confucianism).

  1. Xunzi (Confucianism): Xunzi’s philosophy within Confucianism is often associated with a more authoritarian and hierarchical view of society. He believed that human nature is inherently selfish and that individuals need strict moral and social education to become virtuous and contribute to the well-being of the state. From this perspective, one might argue that Confucianism, as understood by Xunzi, emphasizes authority and hierarchy over individual freedoms and democratic values.

    Socratic Myth: In Confucianism, the Socratic myth could be seen as legitimating a strong centralized government and leadership that guides individuals towards moral development and societal harmony. The myth may legitimize the authority of benevolent rulers who act as moral exemplars.

    Provision for Political Change: Xunzi’s philosophy does not advocate for political revolution from below. Instead, it emphasizes gradual change through moral education and the cultivation of virtuous leaders.

    Role of “the People”: In Xunzi’s view, “the people” play a role as subjects who should follow the guidance of virtuous rulers. Their role is to conform to the moral order established by the government to maintain social stability.

  2. The Tiantai School (Mahayana Buddhism): The Tiantai School of Mahayana Buddhism, particularly in the context of China and Japan, can provide a different perspective. Mahayana Buddhism, including the Tiantai School, emphasizes compassion, interconnectedness, and the potential for enlightenment in all beings. This perspective might not necessarily clash with democratic values.

    Socratic Myth: Mahayana Buddhism offers a myth emphasizing the interconnectedness of all beings and the potential for enlightenment in every individual. This myth can be seen as legitimating a more inclusive and compassionate form of leadership.

    Provision for Political Change: Mahayana Buddhism can provide a basis for peaceful political change driven by moral awakening and compassion. It may not explicitly advocate for revolution but rather transformation through inner change.

    Role of “the People”: “The people” in Mahayana Buddhism are seen as individuals on a path of self-improvement and enlightenment. Their role is to cultivate inner virtues and contribute to a more compassionate society.

  3. The Rationalist School of Zhu Xi (Neo-Confucianism): Neo-Confucianism, as represented by Zhu Xi, introduced new elements to Confucian thought. While it still emphasizes hierarchy and order, it also incorporates elements of metaphysical inquiry and moral cultivation.

    Socratic Myth: Neo-Confucianism, influenced by Zhu Xi’s Rationalist School, could legitimize a government led by scholar-officials who are not only morally upright but also intellectually capable. This myth might legitimize the authority of a well-educated ruling class.

    Provision for Political Change: Neo-Confucianism, particularly in the Zhu Xi tradition, allows for political change through intellectual development and moral transformation. It may not directly advocate for revolution but emphasizes the importance of virtuous leaders.

    Role of “the People”: “The people” are expected to follow the moral and intellectual guidance of the ruling class, and through this, they can contribute to social harmony and stability.

In conclusion, the assertion that Confucian philosophical traditions inherently hinder the development of democracy in Asian societies is a broad generalization. While some interpretations of Confucianism, such as Xunzi’s, may indeed emphasize authority and hierarchy, other schools of thought within Confucianism and Mahayana Buddhism offer more nuanced views that can accommodate democratic principles. Neo-Confucianism, influenced by Zhu Xi, particularly provides a basis for a leadership structure that combines moral and intellectual virtues. Therefore, the assertion does not fully capture the diversity of thought within these traditions regarding democracy and governance.

Issue of Democracy in Asia Pacific Societies Discussion





On the basis of what we have studied this quarter, evaluate the validity of the following assertion expressing a view widely shared by American scholars and policy makers, most notably by Samuel P. Huntington of Harvard University, in accordance with the instructions that follow it:

“China, Japan, and indeed most societies in the Asia-Pacific have poor prospects of achieving authentic, vibrant democratic polities, because of the legacy of their Confucian philosophical tradition, with its emphasis on authority, hierarchy, order, and the supremacy of the collectivity over the individual. In short, their philosophical traditions simply offer no basis for democracy.”

(Note: This is not a direct quotation from Professor Huntington’s work. It is a summary by Dr. Hoston of the views he espouses.)

Make an argument in support of or against this claim by selecting three schools of thought or thinkers,

one of which must be one of the schools of Buddhist thought covered in the latter half of the course, and one of which must be either Zhu Xi’s or Wang Yangming’s school of Neo-Confucianism.

You must choose 1 of the following schools (1 to be selected from 1-4 below):

1. Xunzi

2. Mohism (Mozi)

3. Legalism (Han Feizi, Li Si)

4. Daoism (Laozi and Zhuangzi)

You must choose 1 of the following Buddhist schools in China and Japan (The Tiantai School must be discussed in either case):

5. Mahayana Buddhism (including a discussion of the Tiantai School, but excluding /Zen Buddhism,) 6. The Chan / Zen School (including a discussion of the Tiantai School)

You must choose 1 of the following schools of Neo-Confucianism: (1 to be selected from the following numbered 6 and 7):

7. The Rationalist School of Zhu Xi (including a discussion of Confucius and Mencius)

8. The Idealist School of Wang Yangming (including a discussion of Confucius and Mencius)

Your essay must answer each of the following questions:

1. What is the Socratic myth (or 1 or more possibilities thereof offered by Buddhism) legitimating

the body politic and its leadership;

2. What provision does the myth make or imply for political change, including political revolution

(from below); and

3. What role do “the people” play in that provision?

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