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Looking at the Analects

Status and Hierarchy
Confucius was mainly interested in how to bring about societal order and harmony. He believed that
mankind would be in harmony with the universe if everyone understood their rank in society and were
taught the proper behaviors of their rank. Similarly, he believed that the social order was threatened
whenever people failed to act according to their prescribed roles.
Confucius devised a system of interdependent relationships a structure in which the lower level
gives obedience to the higher (extending from the family level to the national). As a result, Chinese
culture tends gives a considerable amount of reverence for authority and age (though not necessarily
sincere, especially in a changing modern China).
He believed that moral behavior stemmed from the fulfilment of traditional roles, as defined by these
five (5) principle relationships (with trust between friends as the only horizontal relationship):
1. Ruler and minister
2. Father and son
3. Elder brother and younger brother
4. Husband and wife
5. Friend and friend
In a sense, the Confucian ethic is egalitarian, though not in Western sense where everyone has equal
standing and opportunity within society. Instead, theres equality within a social rank.
Collectivism & Group Orientation
No matter how big, one beam cannot support a house. Chinese proverb
One of the dimensions that sociologists use to contrast cultures is the degree of individualism versus
Its probably obvious, but Western cultures tend to emphasize the individual people are defined
more by what theyve accomplished than by group membership. Individual expression is encouraged
from an early age and culturally reinforced in Western cultures.
In contrast, collectivism is inherent in a Confucian society. In order for Chinese society to operate
smoothly, it was necessary to subject ones own desires to the greater good of the group. In other
words, people didnt exist independently of one another. Instead, an individual was defined by his or
her relationship to the group.
For millennia, the Chinese have been culturally conditioned to suppress own personal needs and think
in terms of collective responsibilityfirst, to their families, then community, clan, and nation at large.

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The inscrutable Chinese? (Respect for Authority)

This respect for authority and hierarchy helps explain why Westerners have long complained that the
Chinese are inscrutable (or worse, devious). In contrast to Western cultureswhich encourage
individual expressionChinese culture encourages more of a poker face.
In other words, in a Confucian society, youre supposed to act according to your rank and not
necessarily by how you feel. In the interest of social harmony, it was important to behave with
reverence and obedience according to your rank. Indeed, it was not just the polite thing to do in
traditional Chinese society. Saying the wrong thing to the emperor or a powerful official could literally
cost you your life.
Importance of Family and Scholarship
If you do not study hard when you are young, youll end up bewailing your failures as you grow up.
Chinese proverb
On a related subject, Chinese culture has always had a heavy emphasis on the family including
extended familyas primary unit of social organization. In a Confucian society, one shows a great
deal of filial piety. This was originally conceived as devotion and obedience one must show to
parents (especially the father), but over time, it was extended to ancestors, giving rise to ancestor
This focus on family became added motivation for proper behavior and conduct. An individuals
successand shamebelongs to the whole family. Because of this Confucian idea of group identity
and shared face, Chinese familiescompared to Western onesare stereotypically overbearing (or
all up in each others business as the kids say).
Another big Confucian influence on Chinese society is the focus on education and scholarship. Its no
secret that Chinese (and other Asian) students put in more hours in classroom study that their Western
Confucius placed a heavy emphasis on scholarship. This aspect of Confucianism is still very much in
practice in China, as well as other deeply influenced countries such as South Korea, Japan, Taiwan,
and Singapore. Confucianism directly gave rise to the Imperial Examination system around 605 CE
in essence, giving rise to worlds first modern civil service. Though it continued be refined and tweaked
by future dynasties, the exam system was significant in that it was the only method by which a person
(specifically, males) could move up in the world.

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