Philanthropy in Confucianism

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

By Jessica Lamhonwah

The words ren and yi represent the fundamental moral values in Confucianism. Although varied in translation, the word ren means benevolence. Ren is the consideration of one human being for another and is what ties individual together. According to Confucian thought, ren is instilled in human nature. In Confucianisn, Ren is regarded as the highest merit that can be achieved by an individual. Mencius (372-289 BCE), the second master of Confucianism, describes ren as compassion for orphans and elderly. Ren embodies the principles of moral obligations that Chinese societies follow. The word yi translates to righteousness. To be righteous means not to approximate the gain for oneself but rather to give oneself for the good of others. Yi is the correct actions an individual is inclined to carry out throughout their life. According to Confucian thought, when a society lives by yi, it progresses efficiently and everything is in its proper position.

When placed together, the two words hold important significance in understanding the act of giving for followers of Confucianism. Giving exemplifies the being benevolent and righteous. Mencius famously stated “Ren is the heart, yi is the path”. Yi embodies the way to live while ren is the inward expression of those same teachings.

In the perspective of ren and yi, giving means to take action for others with a compassionate heart. In Confucius thought, giving should extend not to one’s immediate family and to other families as well. Giving is ultimately fulfilling one’s obligations to family and the community. In addition, generosity to others should be widespread. An individual should lend a helping hand to cover material needs as well as psychological and spiritual needs. Giving should also enable others to stand on their own feet. In the Confucian tradition, one of the most important acts of philanthropy is giving education which still stands as an essential aspect of philanthropy in Chinese society.

In Confucianism, guidelines exist to help direct the act of giving. Confucian tradition calls for individuals to give respectfully. Generosity should be appropriate to the situation and giving should also not make the recipient feel inferior or uncomfortable. The magnitude of the gift given by an individual is irrelevant. A smaller gift given with a compassionate heart is more courteous than a larger gift without the proper motivation. Confucianism teaches that the recipients should be grateful to the givers and the givers should not expect any return from the recipients.

In Confucianism, the inspiration to give comes from the belief that human beings receive gifts from both heaven and earth. Taking into consideration that heaven and earth nourish human beings graciously, human beings should return the act to others. To give is therefore a part of human beings duty on earth. According to Confucianism, individuals ought to seek out every opportunity to pay a mark of respect to heaven and earth by giving.

All in all, giving is best signified by the golden rule of Confucianism: “Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you.” Giving expresses the core attitude of humaneness. Therefore when one gives, they can be regarded as a morally superior or ideal human being.

Works Cited

Confucius. China Culture. Retrieved from

Ren (Confucianism). Wikipedia. Retrieved from

Pan-chiu, L. & Lee, P. (1 March 2002). Traditions of giving in Confucianism. Alliance Magazine. Retrieved from

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