Philanthropy in Confucianism

sduncan post on January 30th, 2013
Posted in China and Taiwan Tags: ,

By Vanessa Wong

Confucius had a great impact on developing Asian culture. Born in 550 B.C. in northern China, his family was of modest background and this was partially due to his father’s death at a early age . At the age of 50, Confucius was appointed to a political position and where he witnessed corruption and the downfall of their system. After leaving this post five years later, he travelled for thirteen years around China and dedicated his life to teaching his philosophical beliefs and trying to gather political leaders to join him in implementing his views into their societies . By the time of his death in 479 B.C. he was said to have had over 3000 followers. Thru his teachings and followers, Confucius brought the concept of philanthropy to the Asian culture.

There are 3 main philosophies in Confucianism: Li, Jen and Chen-Tzu. Loosely translated, these words mean: courtesy, benevolence and “true gentleman” . Jen was the stepping stone for a lot of cultural developments and the rest of Confucius’ teachings. The general idea of Jen is the “well-being” of others regardless of their social status. “Do not do to others what you would not like them to do to you” otherwise known as The Silver Rule was a product of Jen and is now used all over the world and in other cultures and religions: Catholic – “Love your neighbour as yourself” (Matthew 22:39); Hindu – “Do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you” (Mahabharata, 5:1517). The belief and teachings of Jen helped to guide his political followers when developing laws. Confucius believed that the principle of Jen involved all the qualities that were part of living a moral life .

Mencius is regarded as Confucius’ best pupil and as the seconded greatest thinker. He added the element of i (duty)to Jen. This implies that people have a duty or obligation to be compassionate toward their fellow man. Since Mencius lived from 372 – 289 B.C. , and travelled the continent teaching and offering political advice, as Confucius himself did, therefore he did influence law and policy writing.

To this day, many Asian families still believe in the teaching of Jen even if they don’t know where it comes from. It is instilled in children that everyone is “family” and to treat each other as such. As a child, I was taught to address my elders as “Auntie” or “Uncle” even if they weren’t, and their children were my “cousins”. We were raised as one family unit, meaning that any adult could discipline you as your parents would. But on another note, these “Aunties” and “Uncles” would be as generous to you as they would their own children. I have “family” who have been in my life since my childhood – they have been my teachers, financial advisors, and friends. I have not experienced the same hardships as Confucius or Mencius, but the benevolence between family is still there.

Generosity and kindness is something that has been instilled in me from a young age; from helping my grandmother, calling strangers “Auntie”, and not fighting with my actual brother – it’s all about respect for one another. The Silver Rule teaches us to treat others as we would want to be treated. Seeing someone suffer on the street, or a starving child halfway across the globe, I want to help them because if I were in their situation, I would want someone to help me. Confucius is known as the world’s greatest thinker… I couldn’t agree more.

Works Cited

Pat Zukeran, Confucius,, (Probe Ministries, 1996)

Richard Hooker, China Glossary –, (Washington State University, 1996)

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