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The Concept of Harmony in Contemporary P. R. China and in Modern Confucianism



The present article deals with the idea of the “harmonious society,” which is at the core of contemporary social ideologies in the P. R. China. This concept is examined from three perspectives: the official state interpretations of the concept of harmony (he 和 or hexie 和諧), and the classical and Modern Confucian elucidations. The author concludes that official political interpretations from the P.R. China mainly follow Xunzi’s classical elaboration of this concept, which is in the legalist tradition and implies autocratic elements, whereas the philosophic interpretations written by the Taiwanese Modern Confucians generally elaborate the Mencian, i.e. the more egalitarian and democratic stream of classical Confucian thought.
Asian Studies I (XVII), 2 (2013), pp. 320
The Concept of Harmony in Contemporary P. R. China and
in Taiwanese Modern Confucianism
The present article deals with the idea of the “harmonious society,” which is at the core of
contemporary social ideologies in the P. R. China. This concept is examined from three
perspectives: the official state interpretations of the concept of harmony (he or hexie
), and the classical and Modern Confucian elucidations. The author concludes that
official political interpretations from the P.R. China mainly follow Xunzi’s classical
elaboration of this concept, which is in the legalist tradition and implies autocratic
elements, whereas the philosophic interpretations written by the Taiwanese Modern
Confucians generally elaborate the Mencian, i.e. the more egalitarian and democratic
stream of classical Confucian thought.
Keywords: harmony, Confucianism, ideology, harmonious society
Predmet pričujočega članka je raziskava ideje »harmonične družbe«, ki je v središču
aktualnih družbenih ideologij L. R. Kitajske. Avtorica razišče kitajski koncept harmonije
(he ali hexie) z vidika treh različnih perspektiv: uradne interpretacije sodobnih ideologov,
klasičnih pomenov in moderno konfucianskih nadgradenj. Pokaže se, da uradne
interpretacije v glavnem sledijo Xunzijevemu razumevanju tega koncepta, ki vsebuje vrsto
avtokratskih elementov, medtem ko Moderni konfucianci večinoma izhajajo iz Mencijeve,
t.j. bolj egalitarne in demokratične struje klasičnega konfucianizma.
Ključne besede: harmonija, konfucianizem, ideologija, harmonična družba
Jana S. ROŠKER, Department of Asian and African Studies, Faculty of Arts, University of
Ljubljana, Slovenia.
The present article is a result of research work supported by the Chiang Ching-Kuo Foundation in
Jana S. ROŠKER: The Concept of Harmony in Contemporary P. R. China
1. Harmony and Confucianism in the P. R. China
The main purpose (and the expected significance) of the present study is to
illuminate the relation between modern ideologies and traditional concepts. It aims
to show that Confucianism is by no means a monolithic or static scope of
traditional thought, but rather implies different currents that can be used quite
arbitrary and selectively by modern ideologies. It furthermore aims to show a
specific kind of conceptualiying biased historiographies, marked by their function
of legitimizing the state power. These research questions are significant as they
allow us to examine the influence of modern Chinese theories, especially those
deriving from the state-forming Confucianism, which, in its modernized form,
presently still functions as one of the central ideologies of the entire present-day
Eastern Asia, and has a profound influence on political, economic and cultural
relations between Europe and China. In this context, we need to consider the
extent of the philosophical traditions based on historic assumptions, and the
extent of the mere product of the (ideological and political) demands of the present.
One of the main reasons for the loss of the normative authority (which the
Communist Party of China enjoyed unconditionally until the 1990s) can be found
in the fact that the values it asserts within its central ideologies are no longer in
contact with social reality; none of the leading ideologists can establish waysin
which the values of “collectivism” or serving the people (both of which hold an
important place in the so-called socialist morals), may be combined with the term
market economy and the harsh competition that defines it. This is even truer when
dealing with the concepts of protecting workers rights and the social state, which
are one of the dominant socialist values, but cannot be found in the priorities of the
Communist Party of China (CPC). These discrepancies lead to the vacuum of
values that is not reflected merely in blind consumerism and the lack of critical
reflection in the political measures and social mechanisms, but also in the loss of
traditional identities. Jürgen Habermas called such states crisis of rationality
(1986, 87), for these states appear in every society that finds itself at a crossroad
between actual practices and the ideological assumptions suited for the previous
The idea of “harmonious society” represents one of the core elements of the
social ideology in contemporary China. Although the concept of harmony which
underpins this idea has often been explicitly denoted as originating in Confucian
thought, Confucian discourses did not form any part of the public intellectual
Asian Studies I (XVII), 2 (2013), pp. 320
debate in the P. R. China before the last two decades of the 20th century. Prior to
that time, the historical figure of Confucius, and the entire Confucian tradition,
were the targets of severe criticism by official governmental ideologists.
Confucian teachings were seen as a reactionary “feudalistic” ideology which had
mainly served the interests of the exploitative ruling classes of the previous social
orders, while Confucius himself was seen––in the light of the tradition of the May
4th cultural renewal movement1 and Marxist modernization theories––as a symbol
of the ultra-conservative tradition that had blocked Chinese modernization and as
thus “responsible” for the countrys backwardness. Helena Motoh (2009, 91)
argues that such criticism reached its peak in the campaign “Criticize Lin, Criticize
Confucius (Pi Lin pi Kong2) after Lin Biao’s death in an airplane accident in
1971. In this campaign, Confucius and his thought were seen as a prototype of
reactionary ideology and traditionalism, although it was mainly directed against
Lin Biao and the moderate politician, Zhou Enlai.
Less than two decades later, however, and to the complete surprise of many
experts in Chinese studies, such criticism was completely reversed. As Helena
Motoh (2009, 91) points out, one of the first indications of this turnabout was Gu
Mu’s official address on the occasion of the 2540th anniversary of Confucius’ birth.
In his speech, Gu Mu, who was one of the chief ideologues of Chinese
modernization, indicated the importance of a “correct” (or rectified) relation to
traditional national culture and urged a revival of the positive elements of
Confucian thought within the framework of a synthesis with Western ideas. At the
same time, he stressed that in this synthesis the Chinese tradition should
predominate over the Western one.
This “official” turning towards Confucianism manifested itself in the official
Party language, the founding of numerous departments and chairs of “national
studies3” and the establishment of a network of “Confucian institutes” throughout
the world (Motoh 2009, 91). However, Confucianism was also re-discovered by
many intellectuals who hoped to find in it a useful tool for re-evaluating
1 In his article, “How to understand the slogan ‘Let’s close the Confucian store’”, Zhang Yixing
wrote: “This slogan of the May 4th cultural revolution gives the impression that the representatives of
the May 4th movement were totally opposed to Confucian thought and traditional culture.” (Zhang
2004, 1) (“五四新文化运动中打倒孔家店这一著名口号给人的印象,似乎是五四那批代表
2 批林批孔
3Guo xue 國學. In contemporary China, we can also cite the so-called “National studies fever” (Guo
xue re 國學熱).
Jana S. ROŠKER: The Concept of Harmony in Contemporary P. R. China
(traditional) social practices, thereby contributing to the solution of the many
socio-political problems facing contemporary China.
In recent years, Confucian teachings have been valued primarily in terms of
their possible contribution to the idea of a “harmonious society.” According to
Zheng Yongnian and Tok Sow Keat (2007, 2), China now needs to adjust its
attitude: a more proactive role is now necessary if the country is to shape its own
destiny, both internally and externally. “Scientific development” (kexue
fazhanguan)4 and harmonious society serve to provide Hu’s domestic audience
with new developmental objectives; harmonious world sends the signal that
China is now moving into a new stage of development. This new mentality and
approach—China finally “going out”—is applicable to both China’s domestic and
foreign policies, three decades into its “open door” policy.
2. Harmony and Legislation
Although in the reports of the 17th Communist Party Congress, the concept of the
harmonious society would be overshadowed somewhat by the slogan of “scientific
development,” the “construction of a harmonious society” (hexie shehui jianshe)5
still represents one of the main principles of the continental government, and was
even applied in the new reform of Chinese legislation. This link between harmony
and law was often the focus of Chinese academic articles dealing with the legal
implications of the (planned) harmonious society:
In establishing its legal and judicial system, the ancient Chinese society in
which Confucian culture predominated laid stress upon the concepts of
“applying rituality, respect for harmony and consideration of the methods of
ancient rulers.In its method of following “the middle way,Confucianism
strove for the consolidation for these concepts. The “respect for harmony”
represents the core of ancient Chinese culture and, at the same time, the basic
value tendency on which rests the classical Chinese idea of a legal system.
Nowadays, we have re-established this idea of “constructing harmonious
society” and emphasized the content of the notion “harmony” . Thus, the
foundation of modern societies is law, which is based upon regulations, the
wisdom of the people, equality and justice. A harmonious society lays stress
upon peace and order, sincerity, friendship, love and also upon a coherent
development. It strives for the unification of man and nature and for a healthy
4 科學發展觀
5 和諧社會建設
Asian Studies I (XVII), 2 (2013), pp. 320
sustainable development. Thus, if we want to establish a harmonious society,
we must first establish the rule of law6 (Zhou 2010, 285).
As Leila Choukrone and Antoine Garapon point out, the concept of harmony in
this context is seen primarily as an instrument of social discipline, a view which
comes to the forefront in discussions on the linkage between harmony and law:
This theoretical framework turns law into a disciplinary principle dedicated to
society’s moral construction. If law is seen as an instrument for legitimizing
power, it remains implicitly but primarily subordinate to the regime’s
durability . Thus, at the current juncture, “harmony” is also essential for a
Party concerned over retaining its grip on the country. (Choukrone and
Garapon 2007, 3)
This position was already made explicit in an article by Xiao Zhuoji, a professor of
the School of Economics of Peking University and Vice-chairman of the Social
and Legal Affairs Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative
Conference, whose comments on the new political direction appeared in the
English edition of the official China Daily soon after Hu Jintao’s announcement of
the new “harmonious path”: “In addition, we will crack down on various social ills,
which are poisonous tumours in a harmonious society and must be eliminated”
(Xiao 2010, 2).
Similar passages can also be found in various academic articles which, within
the context of the harmonious society, stress the importance of discipline, self-
restraint and a “correct” attitude towards superiors and the community (see Li
2010, 9). If, as Choukrone and Garapon argue (2007, 3), the idea of harmony
serves as an ideological support for a legal model which is used as a disciplinary
and moral tool for preserving the present regime, then harmony (as an ostensibly
essential aspect of Confucian teachings) also serves as a symbol for Confucius,
seen as a thinker who propounded a “proper” morality that manifests itself in the
subordination of individuals to “higher” social goals and in the unconditional
obedience to superiors.
Jana S. ROŠKER: The Concept of Harmony in Contemporary P. R. China
3. The Concept of Harmony in Original Confucianism, Later
Developments by Mengzi and Xunzi
Although official publications dedicated to promote the idea of a harmonious
society often indicate Confucius and/or Confucianism as the source of this concept,
at first glance the connotations indicated above do not seem to derive from the
original Confucian canon, but from the discourses of the post-Confucian Legalist
school of thought. However, we should recall that for Dong Zhongshu, the Han
scholar and reformer who elaborated the later traditional Confucian state doctrine,
the normative function of “propriety” (zheng ), which manifests itself through
the implementation of rituals (li ), provided a basic means (together with the
hierarchical social structure) for integrating legalist elements into the ideal
framework of original Confucianism. In order to understand the implications of
this position, let us briefly examine the semantic connotations of the concept of
harmony (or harmonization) in the context of the most relevant classical texts7.
In the Analects (Lun yu 論語), Confucius makes a radical distinction between
sameness (in the sense of “uniformity,” tong ), and harmony or “harmonization”
(he ), and criticizes the former in the following terms: “The nobleman creates
harmony, not sameness. Ordinary men, on the contrary, are all the same and
cannot create harmony8. (Kong 2012a, Zi lu 23)
The idea that diversity is a condition of harmony (Motoh 2009, 99) can also be
found in the Confucian classics The Annales of Spring and Autumn (Chun qiu lu
If the ruler approves something, everyone approves it. And if he is against
something, everyone is against it. This is like adding water to water. Who
would like to eat (such a watery soup)? This is like all instruments (in an
7 Li Chenyang (2002, 583) points out that the character he has been applied mostly in the verbal
form (“to harmonize”) or as an expression that denotes the process of harmonization (often in the
sense of tuning). However, this kind of mixed usage is true for the majority of classical Chinese
notions (especially when abstract), which can assume different grammatical functions depending on
the context. In addition, there are many passages in ancient Chinese texts, in which the notion he can
be best translated by the noun “harmony” (e.g Kong 2012a: Xue er 12, 2. Sentence; Li ji 2012: Tan
gong I, 59, or Zhuangzi 2012: Shan xing 1 etc). Even the modern term “harmony” (hexie 和諧) can
appear in both the verbal and nominal form.
Asian Studies I (XVII), 2 (2013), pp. 320
orchestra) playing the same musical tune. Who would like to listen to such
music?9 (Kong 2012b, Shao gong ershi nian 1)
Underlying this view is the assumption that social harmony is merely a projection
or metaphor for the mutual coherence of tones that forms the basis of any good
music. Rituals, of which it is part, also have a regulatory function. Thus, any kind
of harmony that was not in accordance with rituals was deemed inappropriate by
the Confucians and could not represent a positive value: To know the harmonious
coherence and still create harmony without regulating it by the rules of propriety,
this likewise should not be done.10 (Kong 2012a, Xue er 12)
Here, we find the regulatory or normative function of the central Confucian
concept li. Although music is an important part of Confucian ritual, not every kind
of music is appropriate for cultivated people. The function of the ritual fusion of
nature and culture, men and nature, individuals and society can only be fulfilled by
“proper,or “sublime” music (ya yue11). Given the similarity with the Confucian
understanding of harmony12, it cannot be claimed that the disciplinary function of
harmony––in a broader sense––derives exclusively from legalist discourses.
As is well known, the interpretations of the original teachings of Confucius by
his most important followers, Mengzi and Xunzi, differed in their specific
approach towards innate human qualities. This naturally influenced their divergent
views on the relation between individuals and society, as well as their
interpretation of social harmony. We should bear in mind that Xunzi also provided
the interpretative foundation of Dong Zhongshu’s reformist thought, which
implied various legalistic elements. On the other hand, neo-Confucian philosophy
mainly followed the Mencian interpretations of the original Confucian teachings,
and provided a basis for the later Modern Confucian theorists. In the framework of
the present study, it is worth noting that while the concept of harmony often
appears in the works of the “legalist” Xunzi, it is scarcely mentioned by the
“humanistic”13 Mengzi, who always understood the concept he in the sense of
mutual human harmony and coherence:
11 雅樂
12 As one can easily imagine, the harmonious coherence between unmarried lovers does not find an
unconditional approval in Confucian ideology.
13 In Mengzi, it is mentioned only three times, while in Xunzi not less than seventy-six times.
Jana S. ROŠKER: The Concept of Harmony in Contemporary P. R. China
Opportunities of time provided by Heaven are not equal to vantages of
situation provided by the Earth, and vantages of situation arising from the
Earth are not equal to the union arising from the harmony between people14.
(Mengzi 2012, Gongsun Chou III/10).
Mengzi explains this view with the following example, in which he analyses the
reasons for a citys decline:
The city walls were distinguished for their height, and its moats were deep
enough. Its arms were distinguished for their strength and sharpness, and the
stores of rice and grain were large enough. Yet it was given up and abandoned.
This is because vantages of situation provided by the Earth are not equal to
the union arising from the harmony between people 15 . (Mengzi 2012,
Gongsun Chou III/10)
Such a harmonious coherence is conditioned by adaptation, for he also applied the
term he with this connotation: Hui of Liu Xia could apt harmoniously to the
sages16. (Mengzi 2012, Wang zhang II/10).
In his understanding of the concept he, Xunzi adhered to its original meaning,
which is linked to musical harmony: Rituality is grounded in the respect of
culture, and music in harmony17. (Xunzi 2011, Quan xue 12)
Further, he often explicitly connects the harmonious compliance among people
with the concept of regularity (jie)18:
If we want our government to function well, our efforts will and thoughts
have to follow rituality. If not, then chaos will prevail and people will suffer.
Our food, clothes, homes and actions must all follow rituality, because only in
this way can harmony be achieved. Otherwise, we will experience
unhappiness and illness19. (Xunzi 2011, Xiu shen 2)
18The contemporary meaning of the term jie refers to festivals or celebrations. Originally, it meant
“respect for proper social rituals.” Even the modern compound that denotes a feast, implies the word
for “ritual” (lijie 禮節). The regulative function of the word jie is also evident in its classical
connotation of “saving.”
Asian Studies I (XVII), 2 (2013), pp. 320
According to Xunzi, this regularity which was meant to order human relations
in a harmonious society was based upon the regular order of Nature. In fact, it
manifested itself in the orderly sequence of the four seasons:
To act in accordance with Heaven/Nature means that there is no drought on
the heights and no floods in the lowlands. Winter and summer follow each
other with an orderly, harmonious constancy and the crops mature in their
proper time20. (Xunzi 2011, Xiu shen 3)
This orderly harmony must be strengthened by culture (Xunzi 2011, Ru xiao 1)21.
Xunzi thus distinguishes between “good” and “bad” harmony:
When harmony among people is established by the means of goodness,
everything will flow smoothly. If somebody wants to establish harmony by
means of evil, he is nothing but an opportunist22. (Xunzi 2011, Rongru 11)
Hence, “good” harmony is based on a regulative order of nature, which also
manifests itself in a proper hierarchic structure of society. Such connotations,
which are already rather legalistic, are expressed explicitly in the following
passage, in which this Confucian philosopher links an orderly social hierarchy to
the concept of unification. This concept is, of course, fundamental to the
functioning of a centralistic state, while also clearly contradicting Confucius who,
as we noted above, advocated diversity:
It is therefore reasonable to create harmony by the means of divisions. (Such)
harmony allows unification and unification allows superiority. In this way, the
farthest borders (of the state) can be reached and our enemies can be
defeated23. (Xunzi 2011, Wang zhi 19)
But Xunzi goes even further, and links the creation of harmony to the idea of
punishment: With the establishment of forms of punishment, the governing [of
society] will become balanced and people will live in harmony24. (Xunzi 2011,
Wang zhi 26)
The disciplinary connotation that prevailed in the understanding and
propagation of a “harmonious society” in China under Hu Jintao, thus derives
directly from Xunzi’s interpretation of this notion. They can thus be regarded as
22以善和人者謂之順 以不善和人者謂之諛.
Jana S. ROŠKER: The Concept of Harmony in Contemporary P. R. China
Confucian, but in terms of their fundamental aims they derive from elaborations of
the original Confucian teachings which were functional to the integration of
despotic elements into the new state doctrine formulated in the Han period.
4. Modern Confucian Interpretations
In the context of the present study, it is of particular interest to determine whether
(and to what degree) the modern concept of a “harmonious society, which
represents an important element of current ideologies and is often denoted as a
Confucian heritage, may also be linked to the theoretical conclusions of Modern
As noted, Modern Confucians have generally followed a neo-Confucian
philosophy based upon Mengzi’s, rather than Xunzi’s development of the original
teachings. Xunzi was thus often viewed as something of a heretic who did not
profess or elaborate a “proper” Confucianism in his own discourses. Xiong Shili,
who taught many of the representatives of the second generation of Modern
Confucianism, identifies what he considers the fundamental failing in Xunzi:
Confucianism upholds original human goodness, that is, the shining aspect of
human nature. Orthodox Confucianism, from Mencius to Wang Yangming,
insists that there is original benevolence in human nature (with the exception
of Xunzi). Xiong concludes that Xunzi fails to reach the essence of
Confucianism (Yu 2002, 131).
In order to better understand this basic division, we will briefly examine the
meaning and interpretations of the concept of harmony in the context of the second
generation of Modern Confucianism. The main representatives of this generation
are Mou Zongsan, Xu Fuguan, Tang Junyi and Fang Dongmei. Although the
present study is devoted to the specific theoretical concepts relating to
modernization (and it is in this context that these philosophers will be discussed
below), given their relevance to our chosen topic, we will provide a brief survey of
their views on the legitimization of Confucianism and harmony.
One of Xiong Shili’s most gifted students was Mou Zongsan, who is generally
regarded, especially in philosophical terms, as the leading representative of the
second generation of Modern Confucians. With respect to the legitimacy of
Confucian teachings and the definition of a “proper” Confucianism, Mou agrees
Asian Studies I (XVII), 2 (2013), pp. 320
with his teacher Xiong Shili in terms of the criteria of autonomous ethics and the
unity of reason and emotions. Consequently, only Confucius, Mengzi and the
authors or commentators of the classical works, The Doctrine of the Mean (Zhong
yong25) and The Book of Changes (Yi jing26) can be considered as “legitimate”
heirs to pre-Qin Confucianism. Xunzi instead belongs to a lateral (i.e. not
completely legitimate) current, due to his advocacy of the so-called “ethics of
heteronomy” (Lee 2001, 73).
While Mou does not give much attention to the question of harmony, at least
explicitly, some clues to harmonious living in society can be found in his work,
On Summum Bonum (Yuan shan lun), in which he attempts to explain the method
of the harmonization (or unification) of happiness and goodness. In this study, he
also briefly considers the interpretation of the original Confucian phrase “the
harmony of balance” (Zhong he); a phrase which, however, has nothing to do with
the social connotations of harmony that are at the heart of presentday continental
ideologies. On the contrary, this phrase refers to the ideal foundations of harmony,
which are grounded in the completeness of the individual (and integral) moral Self.
The existence of my individual life is a completed fact, but it still implies
possibilities of improvement. Therefore, it is not a kind of fixed or determined
existence. This existence is, according to the Buddhists, a non-defined
existence of everything that exists. Everything that exists is in this completed
fact of existence, but, at the same time, this existence is un-defined (i.e. it is
not of a fixed, determined nature). All existence is permeated by reason and
grows out from it. The Doctrine of the Mean27 refers to this, for it says:
25 中庸
26 易經
27 The Confucian classic, the Doctrine of the Mean (Zhong Yong) is a text rich with symbolic
meanings that provide implicit guidelines for the improvement and cultivation of human personality.
Ezra Pound defined it as an “unswerving” or “unwobbling pivot,” in the sense that the mean (zhong)
is a balance, without oscillations or inclinations to either side. The second part of this compound
(yong) generally refers to something common, familiar or domestic. It is changeless, but not static;
rather, it can be regarded as continual. I have decided to translate it with the term “own way.” One of
the first translators of this text, James Legge, understood the purpose or goal of this mean as the
preservation of a harmonious balance that keeps the mind in a state of continuous concentration.
Someone who follows these principles can never stray or deviate from their “own way,meaning
that they can always act in accordance with their unique or individual position within the natural and
social world. These principles apply to everyone, and help each person to live in accordance with the
natural order (see Li ji 2012, Zhong yong 33).
Jana S. ROŠKER: The Concept of Harmony in Contemporary P. R. China
“When the harmony of balance is achieved, Heaven and Earth are in their
proper places and everything that exists develops28. (Mou 1985, 306)
In his discussion of the Doctrine of the Mean (Zhong yong), Xu Fuguan
likewise deals with this concept (i.e. the harmony of balance, zhong he), which
he views as a notion that:
refers to the nature that unifies the internal and the beyond and to the
harmonizing function of the nature that consummates both the self and the
things around (it). The internal aspect is what consummates the self, and the
beyond is what consummates the things around. (Ni 2002, 287)
Xu explains this notion as follows:
Here, the notion “balance” (zhong)29 does not only refer to a foundation of
some external balance, but rather to a common basis for both “balance”
(zhong) and “one’s own way”. In the third commentary of Guang Ya we can
read: “One’s own way is harmony.” This means that harmony can be equated
to one’s own way. The expression “harmony” which forms a part of the
compound “harmony of balance” (zhong he), is not only an effect of the “own
way,but a joint effect of balance and the own way. The balance that appears
in the expression “harmony of balance,” acts outwards as the way of the mean
(or the middle way), but on a higher level it connects the innate qualities of
each individual with their life. Therefore, it can be denoted as the “great
foundation.” The notion “harmony,” which appears in the phrase “harmony of
balance,is an effect of the middle way (or the own way of balance). The
middle way (or the own way of balance) therefore implies the actual effect (or
substantial impact) of “harmony” and thus is capable of reaching everything
under heaven . Hence, we can say, that the concept of harmony refers to
something which describes “the effect of that which is called dao.” At the
same time, this concept expresses the very entity which makes the inherent
connection with the middle way (or the own way of balance) possible30 (Xu
2005, 127)
28我之個體生命之存在是既成的, 雖是既成的, 但可改善. 因此, 茲並無定性的存在, 此如佛家
無定性眾生, 推之, 凡天地萬物都是既成的存在, 但亦都非定性的存在. 一切存在都可涵泳在理
性底潤澤中. 此既
所謂致中和, 天地位焉, 萬物育焉.
29 Zhong= “the mean, the middle.” Due to its very specific and concrete use in the text, we have
translated it with the more appropriate term “balance.”
30中和之 ”, 不僅是外在的中的根據, 而是
: “, 和也”. 可見和亦即是庸. 但此處中和之 ”, 不僅是
效果, 而是中與庸的共同效果. 中和之中, 外發而為中庸, 上則通與性與命, 所以謂之 大本”.
和之 ”, 乃中庸之實效. 中庸有 的實效, 故可謂天下之達道中和的觀念, 可以說是
性之謂道的闡述., 亦即是 中庸向內通.
Asian Studies I (XVII), 2 (2013), pp. 320
The harmony of balance is thus the most basic foundation of each individual,
which enables them to achieve/maintain a harmonious co-existence with other
individuals and society as a whole. As we shall see, in Modern Confucian
philosophy the moral Self represents both the foundation of each individual and
the core of the universal reason. This is naturally preconditioned by the
complementarity of the relation between the individual and their natural/social
environment. This means that social harmony is necessarily linked to the
harmonious inwardness of the individual.
Given that, in the Modern Confucian view, the universe (or all that exists) is
permeated aiming the virtue of goodness, both the phenomenal forms of reality as
well as its substantial nucleus that manifests itself in the idea of the “things as such”
(noumenon) are axiological notions. The harmony of human existence is thus
strictly bound with moral premises. For Xu Fuguan, these values are closely linked
to the aesthetics of perceiving beauty, which is one of the fundamental functions
or effects of harmony. Xu argues that this is why music was considered of
paramount importance in the ideal framework of original Confucianism. A
profound musical sensation enables us to simultaneously project its harmony into
the sphere of social reality:
In Confucianism, balance (zhong) and harmony were the central aesthetic
criteria of music. Behind balance and harmony there is the meaning of
goodness; thus, they can move human hearts and awaken goodness in them.31
(Xu 2001, 14).
In the field of concrete social politics, Xu Fuguan envisioned a system that would
enable society to achieve “rational harmony” on the basis of a reasonable
competition. A co-existence that was not merely a question of the individual
should be premised on the independence of each individual, with the collective
rights of the community grounded in individual rights (Ni 2002, 29697).
However, when the maturity of the people and the other conditions are
sufficiently present so that people who enjoy political rights can live together
harmoniously, the system of rights may become less important or even
unnecessary. As Chenyang Li suggests, between well-related family members, “it
is meaningless or even destructive to talk about their rights against one another”
(Li 2010). Yet between the stage that relies on sage rulers and the stage at which
31中與和是孔門對樂所要求的美的標準. 在中與和後面, 便有善的意味, 便足以感動人之善心.
Jana S. ROŠKER: The Concept of Harmony in Contemporary P. R. China
harmony prevails, Confucianism must provide room for something less ideal. As
Shu-hsien Liu says, in the current historical situation “we have to negate the
tradition in order to reconfirm the ideal of the tradition (Ni 2002, 298).
Xu Fuguan was thus advocating a harmony of human communities based upon
the uniqueness and irreproducibility of each individual.
In the chapter “Twenty years of Duke Zhao, in Zuo’s Commentary on the
Spring and Autumn Annals, Yanzi says: “Harmony is like a stew.” A stew contains
various kinds of tastes that blend together into a delicious unity. Therefore,
“harmony” is composed of many different combinations of particular qualities. In
harmony, none of these particular qualities will lose its uniqueness: instead, they
blend harmoniously with one another.32 (Xu 2005, 127)
The morality offered to the individual by Tang Junyi is not based on either the
uniqueness of their individual existence (as in Xu Fuguan’s political philosophy),
nor on the autonomous freedom of the moral Self and its infinite mind (as in Mou
Zongsan). Tang’s idea of morality is much more directly rooted in the individual
sense of the innate responsibility which––similarly to the neo-Confucian concept
of “innate knowledge” /liang zhi/––can guide human beings through the opaque
thickets of all the ethical dilemmas and doubts they encounter during their actual
lives. But the individual can contribute to the higher goal of social harmony only if
they obey this inner gnome of responsibility:
You need not ask what you should do, because you alone know what is to be
done. However, sometimes you might sense the possibility of acting in more
than one way. You might even feel that these different possibilities are in
contradiction with one another. You might not know immediately which one
to choose, or how to unify them in order to achieve a higher level of harmony
. And yet all these questions must be resolved exclusively by you, for you
alone can recognize the reason for acting in one specific way33. (Tang 1985,
However, this form of responsibility does not condition individual interests based
on those of society (or groups). A morally conscious person will always act in
32左轉昭公二十年晏子謂 和如羹焉”, 羹是由各種不同的味, 調和在一起, 而得到統一之味的.
所一 是各種有個性的東西, 各不失其個性, 卻能彼此得到諧和統一之義.
33你不必問什麼是你該作的, 因為你自己知道你自己所該作. 但是你自己可以同時感到機種該
, 你感到他們間的矛盾, 你一時會不知道如何選擇其一, 或統一之於一種更高的和諧這些
仍只有你自己去解決, 因為只有你自己, 才真知道你感該作時所據以為該作之理由.
Asian Studies I (XVII), 2 (2013), pp. 320
accordance with their responsibility, regardless of their own interests, or the
interests of the broader social community.
A human being is not a thing; a human being is a goal in and of itself. This
means that individuals are not tools of society, nor tools of the state. And the
people of today are not tools for the people of tomorrow . But if we say
that people are not tools of society, this does not mean that we are outside of it,
and individuals should not look upon society and the state as the means for
achieving their own interests . I believe that the conflict between
individuals and society can only be solved by educating people to develop to
the utmost their innate moral nature34. (Tang 2000, 6162)
This is clearly not about obedience to external authorities. As his choice of
language indicates, Tang remains loyal to the fundamental principles of Chinese
ethics, which consciously strives to transcend the boundaries between the Self and
Others through harmonious action in the sphere of interpersonal relations. (Sin
2002, 320)
However, since the ethical Self or the morally conscious mind of an individual
also strongly influences the specific features of the culture in which they were
born and live, Tang believes that the prevailing orientation in a given culture is
rooted in the attitudes that predominate in the minds of the persons within that
culture. Hence, one of the main differences between Chinese and Western culture
is to be found in the Chinese focus on ethics and art, while the West was instead
founded on religion and science. A difference which, Tang adds, derives from the
Chinese stress upon harmony, as opposed to the Western emphasis on distinctions.
A similar (albeit more biased) view on “cultural35” difference can also be
found in the works of Fang Dongmei (Thomé Fang), whose thought is essentially
based upon the “typically Chinese” concept of “creative harmony.He considers
Western philosophy to be trapped in a mesh of continuous contradictions, from
which it seeks to escape through nihilism (Li 2002, 265). If the Chinese tradition is
far more sophisticated, then this is due precisely to its concept of harmony and
34人不是物, 人本身為一目的. 人本身為一目的涵義, 亦包括個人不是社會之一工具, 國家之一
工具, 此時代之人不是下不是下一時代人之工具... 我們說每一人不是社會之一工具, 不是說每
一人可以自外與社會, 個人亦不須視社會國家為達其個人目的之工具我們人為只有以教化充
兩發展人之此種道德的天性, 可以協調所為個人與社會的衝突.
35 Gross generalizations applied to different cultures (and without entering into the definition of this
complex and semantically vague notion) is a characteristic of the Modern Confucians and, to a
certain extent, of modern Chinese theoreticians in general.
Jana S. ROŠKER: The Concept of Harmony in Contemporary P. R. China
In contrast, Chinese philosophy maintains a balance between qing and li36.
Through cultivation, Chinese philosophy aims at a grand harmony in life; it is
like a symphony, with all notes contributing to its harmonious unity (Fang
1980, 93).
This “harmonious unity” is rooted in Fang’s core concept of “comprehensive
harmony,” which is grounded in turn in a view of the universe as a balanced and
harmonious system. And because he considers this paradigm as the very bedrock
of Chinese philosophy, the Chinese ideal of life must be harmonious as well. In
this ideal, there is no room for either conflicts or selfishness. This kind of harmony
is not limited to the universe, but also represents a criterion for the formation of
behavioural patterns and political ideals (Fang 1980, 93).
But given the idealistic nature of his philosophy, Fang did not devote much
attention to questions regarding the social reality. Harmony, which is at the centre
of his idealistic theory, is mostly confined to the harmony of the unification of
men and nature, in contrast with other representatives of the second generation of
Modern Confucians who, as we have seen, addressed questions of social harmony
in a more comprehensive and detailed way.
5. Conclusion
Even though the modern ideologies in the P. R. China that proclaim the ideal of a
harmonious society, and the treatises on harmony by theorists from Taiwan and
Hong Kong both refer to Confucianism as their main template for achieving such
social coherence, it is manifestly evident that certain fundamental distinctions
divide these two discourses. The most obvious difference is to be found in an ideal
of harmony which, for the continental theorists, is rooted in the tradition of the
legalistically oriented Xunzi, while Modern Confucianism instead tends to follow
the more humanistic line of Mencian discourses. The ideology of this emergent,
neo-liberal superpower is thus grounded on an authoritarian discourse which has
the obedience of its citizens as its prime concern, whereas for Modern Confucians
influenced by Mengzi’s philosophy, the autonomy of the individual is at the
forefront of their theorisation. The Mencian approach certainly offers a much
36Emotion and reason
Asian Studies I (XVII), 2 (2013), pp. 320
better basis for the development of a “democratic37” society composed of free
individuals. But given that the Modern Confucian concept of a harmonious society
is still unachieved and remains mostly at the theoretical level, while the more
disciplinary discourse is supported by a well-equipped, highly efficient and at
times very aggressive propaganda apparatus, this latter may very well prevail.
Ultimately, the question of what kind of “harmony” awaits the Chinese people in
the near future remains an open one.
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China’s ‘reform and opening-up’ policies that have started in the late 1970s have increasingly reshaped global economy and politics. In addressing ‘China’s rise’ on the world scene, Chinese academic studies and political statements unvaryingly refer to China’s Confucian past. Confucianism is herein characterized as a philosophy of ‘harmony’. This contribution assesses ‘China’s rise’ from an analysis of the country’s Confucian past. It is outlined how ‘harmony’ is a different concept than what is in the Western world usually understood as ‘peace’. Developing from this analysis, the ramifications a global implementation of ‘universal harmony’ may have for ‘universal peace’ are discussed.
Full-text available
Fang's General PhilosophyFang's Interpretation of Chinese Classic PhilosophyFang's Critique of Song-Ming Neo-ConfucianismExcerpts from Fang's Publications
Full-text available
The Sense of Anxiety and the Heart—Mind CultureBodily Recognition and Embodiment: A Methodology of Chinese LearningConfucian Government by Virtue and DemocracyThe Chinese Aesthetic Spirit
Ethics and MetaphysicsDiscussion of Tang's Account of Ethics and MetaphysicsCultureDiscussion of Tang's Account of CultureConclusion
Daily Decrease and Daily RenovationOriginal Reality and FunctionChange and TransformationOriginal Reality and HumanityVirtue and Metaphysics
The Norms of Chinese Harmony: Disciplinary Rules as Social Stabiliser
  • Leila Choukrone
  • Antoine Garapon
Choukrone, Leila, and Garapon, Antoine. 2007. "The Norms of Chinese Harmony: Disciplinary Rules as Social Stabiliser." China Perspectives (Online) 3 (36-49).
Lunyu 論語 (The Analects) Chinese Text Project. Pre-Qin and Han
  • Fuzi 孔夫子 Kong
  • a
Kong, Fuzi 孔夫子. 2012a. " Lunyu 論語 (The Analects). " Chinese Text Project. Pre-Qin and Han. Accessed July 07, 2012,
Chunqiu lu 春秋錄 (The Annals of Spring and Autumn Period Chinese Text Project. Pre-Qin and Han
  • Kong
  • 孔夫子 Fuzi
Kong, Fuzi 孔夫子. 2012b. " Chunqiu lu 春秋錄 (The Annals of Spring and Autumn Period.) " Chinese Text Project. Pre-Qin and Han. Accessed July 07, 2012,
Der Konfuzianismus im modernen China
  • Ming-Huei Lee
Lee, Ming-Huei. 2001. Der Konfuzianismus im modernen China. Leipzig: Leipziger Universitätsverlag.