Live Chat
Order Now

The Lasting Legacy of Confucian Moral Theory and Practice on Political Economy, Law, and International Relations

Home Free essays Philosophy The Lasting Legacy of Confucian Moral Theory and Practice on Political Economy, Law, and International Relations

Confucianism is the ethical and multifaceted political teaching. The founder of the doctrine was Confucius (551 – 479 B.C.). He proposed the idea of uniting members of a family, a team, combining a state and nation. In imperial China, Confucianism has played a role of main religion and served as the principle of organization of the state and society for more than 2,000 years. At the beginning of the 20th century, Confucianism as a main religion was substituted by the doctrine of “Three Principles of the People”. Now, Confucianism moral theory is effective in governing and lifestyle of people. In Chinese, the very meaning of the word “state” includes as an integral part, the root “family”. Over the ages, Chinese rulers were governing by the principle of unity of the state and people. This principle formed the basis of modern China’s modernization policy. Therefore, Confucian principles, teachings and moral theory influenced Chinese and world political economy, law, and international relations greatly in terms of modernization of the economy and socio-political system developing a modern model of Chinese society. The central problems that Confucianism considers are questions about ordering relationship of rulers and citizens, moral qualities, principles, etc.

Confucianism and Other Teachings

In general, Taoism, Legalism, and Confucianism had a significant impact on the formation of the political traditions of the Chinese people. Confucianism had a major effect on law, international relations, and society. The principle of Taoism includes ‘Tao’ (the way of objectively existing laws of nature), and the concept of ‘non-action’. Since this concept aims to minimize political action, Taoism was like an escape from the political realities. Taoism is the complete opposite of legalism that was materialistic, political, and oriented for legitimizing the absolute power of the sovereign, as well as the most stringent measures to maintain it. The doctrine originated in the era of warring dynasties, when the first emperor Qin Shi Huang managed to unite China under his ruling, and to establish the reign of the Qing Dynasty. However, after 15 years of the dynasty, it was overthrown, and legalism was not that popular anymore.

Confucianism, in general, is a kind of middle ground between Taoism with his political indifference, and Legalism, with its penchant for clear positivism and real politics.

After the death of Confucius (479 B.C.E.), syncretic doctrine split into eight movements. Only with the advent of the second imperial dynasty, Confucianism, interpreted by Dong Zhongshu, became the ground for governing. All other Confucian currents were banned. Therefore, as the official ideology of imperial dynasties, Confucianism had a great influence on Chinese society and was a central element of Chinese traditional political culture. The Confucian scholars who elaborated ideas that influenced Chinese society were Mencius, Wang Yangming, Zhu Xi and others. Mencius also belonged to Confucian scholars: he argued that restrictions on trade and high taxes result in the demoralization and the pauperization of the people, but Mencius was not able to translate his ideas into practice. Wang Yangming became famous because he stopped riots using both the military and the main socio-political measures. A study of Wang Yangming focused on difference between good feelings and innately selfish “desires” and it became the basis for further rigorous self-examination and the search for personal sins. Around a half of a century desire for introspection, philosophical reflection and implementation of individualistic tendencies in social and economic spheres prevailed in Chinese philosophy.

The Impact of Confucian Moral Theory on Chinese Politics, Economy and Law

Sometimes, religious scholars include Confucianism religion to the supreme deity, which focused on the virtue of heaven, and as the great prophet was the sage Confucius. He offered moral improvement within the strict, fixed, and ancient ethical standards. In ceremonial standards, Confucianism penetrated in the life of every Chinese as equivalent to a religious ritual.

Innovative development of China’s political, economic and social system requires a deep study of the Chinese traditional way of living, referring to the tradition of Confucianism.

Since the beginning of modernization in 1978 and until now, the Chinese society has undergone fundamental changes. China is experiencing a rapid rise and the successful development of various sectors of politics, economy, and social sphere. However, behind the visible prosperity, there are serious trials and problems requiring urgent solutions: contradictions in the market economy, the division of Chinese society between rich city dwellers and poor peasants, targeting young people at the ideals of Western culture – all these make it difficult to build a harmonious society. The preconditions for Confucian economy were strong families, voluntarism, and moral consensus. The concepts of Confucianism In political economy included institutions and efficiency, societal welfare, the role of property, money and inflation, social opportunity costs, non-congruence, moral regulations etc..

Based on desire for material overconsumption and power, struggle for natural resources, for the right to property, fore expansion ambitions, the confrontations and wars between countries and regions, the hegemony of the unipolar world, international terrorism arise. These phenomena hinder the development of human society, destroy social harmony and, ultimately, lead to the society disintegration.


During the process of modernization, China encountered the need for balance between market reforms and political stability. Contemporary Chinese political scientists use the ideas of Confucian thinkers to solve the emerging problems. Confucianism socio-political norms have always been the main pivot around which there is a modern model of the social and state structure of China. The principle “The old to service the modern”, formulated in ancient China, demonstrates the commitment to the traditions inherent in the Chinese mentality. Confucianism is not only the root of Chinese culture, but also a political compass.

At present, China does not copy Western ideas of modernization. This country goes on independent paths, based on the creative reinterpretation of the Confucian tradition. This statement can illustrate an example of the political setting “western innovation based on Chinese traditions”, which accurately conveys the focus of China’s political vision. Modern Chinese politicians successfully combine both socialist and capitalist models. They form their own model of society development and the country as a whole based on local traditions, the rich historical past and the selective use of the achievements of Western civilization. The Chinese leadership manages to combine state planning and market mechanisms. Confucian values today a rapid rush of innovative technologies in the right direction and contribute to the harmonization of the development of contemporary Chinese society clearly, in accordance with the moral and ethical social criteria. Confucianism creates a balance between traditional and innovative forces. Due to that, the development of modern Chinese society becomes stable and harmonious.

Confucian ethics contained the postulates both stating the negatives of modernization and democratization and promoting them. The first reason is that Confucian ethics is the product of an ancient agricultural civilization. This feudal ethics based on the principles of a rigid hierarchy that differs much from the spirit of industrial society built on the commodity-market relations at equality of subjects. Another aspect of Confucianism is that during 2000 years of development, it has incorporated many provisions of other teachings, philosophies, beliefs and social and political traditions that make it compatible with the modernization.

The anti-modernization side of Confucianism included the idea of hierarchy and interdependence (reciprocity), which is not consistent with modern principles of equality and the spirit of democracy. The Confucian ethics separates law from the duties that is not like in the democratic principles: in particular, heavens conferred the rights of the emperor and raised an absolute fact that the sage controls the country. One more feature is the exaltation of the family, the power of the emperor and ancestor worship in opposition to the principle of individualism. Moreover, there was the requirement of Confucian reverence for antiquity is not consistent with the principle of creativity in modern society. Rigid Confucian social justice became the supreme principle of morality, which is incompatible with the principle of competition. Moreover, the moral values of Confucianism are generally placed above any material interest.

However, Confucianism may contribute to the modernization and democratization, because it has a strong sense of social responsibility, a vigorous and active attitude to life, the emphasis on moral values, and self-regulation activities contributed to the development of the spirit of patriotism of the Chinese people. The principle of a positive attitude towards others and the spirit of pragmatism promote modernization. The complexity of the Confucian ethics includes its strengths and weaknesses integrated into a single unit, and one outlook may have a double meaning, which makes Confucianism still barely acceptable as an ideological base for modernization. However, the contradictory doctrine does not automatically lead to the conclusion of its incompatibility with the spirit of modernization.

Notions of Confucian Morality in State Development

Under the direct influence of Confucianism, the Chinese state at the present stage has its own course of development. In Li Chi, the famous book of Confucian, there are such notions as ‘xiao kang’ and ‘da tong’. The notion of ‘xiao kang’ means ‘average prosperity’, and ‘da tong’ means ‘the great unity’. These ideals are the basis for the development of strategic plans for political, economic, and cultural modernization of Chinese society. The most important goal of modern Chinese state policy for the period up to the middle of the 21th century is the formation of society with middle income and prosperity, which later would lead to the implementation of the ideal society of the ‘great unity’.

The fundamental interrelated principles in Confucianism are ‘ren’ (benevolence, humanity), ‘li’ (piety, ritual), which is necessary for the proper enforcement of laws and ‘dao’ (a concept transformed into Confucianism from Daoism). Confucianism differs from Legalism and Taoism by having significant humanism, which suggests its presence in democratic features. Humanism can be seen because Confucius created a picture of the world, devoid of demons and spirits by putting a man in the center of the world, thus, enhances the value of the human person.

Moreover, Confucianism requires education and self-education to comply properly with the notion of ‘li’. The idea of self-education significantly correlates with Western notions of individual independence and autonomy of an individual, despite the fact that education and self-education of an individual in China was carried out within the institution of the ‘big family’ in accordance with strict regulations of ‘li’. This unbreakable bond of Confucianism and the ‘big family’ had a great influence on contemporary political culture of China.

Confucianism includes the phenomenon of a network of personal relationships of an individual, based on a mixture of values, attitudes, habits, practices and so on.

However, certain features of the abovementioned phenomenon may be a prerequisite for the spread of democratic values and attitudes.  Confucianism describes the significantly higher level of individualism, which finds expression in individual adaptation to changing environmental conditions and to reducing the level of subordination to the authorities. 

The basis for the successful implementation of Confucian goals is the development of Chinese education in terms of Confucian moral principles. Educational reform in China began in the 1990s of the 20th century. Its success provided the impetus for the rapid development of the economy. Changes in the education system of China focused on improving the educational level of the whole population, the innovative development of science and technology, the introduction of advanced technologies in production. Of particular importance is the fact that public policy in the education of youth, the formation of its moral principles based on the Confucian tradition. It is designed to bring up humanely person, who respects values that were worked out by millennia of Chinese culture experience, preserving cultural identity and tending to the continuous self-development and self-improvement.

The spirit of pragmatism and Confucianism can be compatible same as opposite principles as ‘Confucian morality’ and ‘profit’. A according to the teachings of Confucius, only one can be a noble man, who promotes the success of another person in his desire to succeed. Activities of the entrepreneur, following these moral norms, will benefit the society and in the end to the person himself.

Currently, the prominent school of Chinese traditionalists helps in the study of the compatibility of Confucianism and Western democracy. Its representatives are seeking connectivity principles of the two concepts. For example, they believe that Chinese political culture is quite compatible with Western democracy institutions such as the general elections and political participation, as for the traditional Confucian the type of governing is indifferent. The moral and ethical nature is much more important. However, liberalism and individualism are unacceptable for Confucianism. Confucianism largely influenced the formation of the modern Chinese political culture, which can be regarded as transitional.

Citizens also bear out their state obligations. The state provides a national defense and security, as well as provides civil liberties. Confucianism has the principle of reciprocity. This principle applies to individuals, social groups, classes, and social order of justice judged by the observed balance between giving and receiving.

The official ideology of imperial China, Confucianism, has had a great influence on the political culture of the Chinese people. Up until the 20th century, Confucianism has been cultivated mainly in the framework of the institute ‘big family’. Then, Confucianism in the thinking of the Chinese people has changed. The democratic and anti-democratic traits in classical Confucianism and in modern political culture of the Chinese people are bound, and are sometimes inseparable. The modern Chinese model of development of a society is based on ethical and political teachings of Confucianism, which focuses on the achievement of the spiritual good of man. It can be considered as an alternative to Western modernization project, focused on material values. The fundamental principles of the Confucian tradition include humanity, piety, ritual, and ‘dao’. The principles of Confucianism serve as a reliable foundation for the socio-political development of contemporary Chinese society.

Confucianism, in terms of modernization of the economy and socio-political system, develops a modern model of Chinese society. It organically combines tradition and innovation. According to the provisions of the basic model, the most important goal of the state policy of China, initiated by Deng Xiaoping and for the period of time until the middle of the 21th century is the realization of the Confucian idea of ‘xiao kang’ (‘average income’). Some basic principles of Confucianism are important not only for China but also for the entire international community as a whole, as playing an integrative role in the development of world society.

Confucianism influences Asian states, not only China, but also Japan, Vietnam, Singapore, and Korea and within international organizations where China holds membership. Opposing to the Western individualism, China prefers the way of conducting foreign relations using principles of social and political collectivism, including peace, friendship, and harmony among nations. A mutually beneficial and mutually present cooperation could lead to the solution of the priority issues and global challenges in the world community. Confucian ideology has a beneficial impact on the future development of the whole world and its society. Modern China offers a way to build foreign relations, which is based on the socio-political collectivism, peace, friendship and harmony among nations. Confucianism is able not only to explain economic, spiritual, and moral contradictions, but also to give particular means and ways for their solving. This can lead to the solution of priority tasks and overcoming global challenges facing the world today.

Discount applied successfully