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Confucius, the Buddha and Lao Tzu Versus Western Hysteria.
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As the Raging Twenties unleash a radical reconfiguration of the planet, coronavirus (literally “crowned poison”) has for all practical purposes served a poisoned chalice of fear and panic to myriad, mostly Western, latitudes.

Berlin-based, South Korean-born philosopher Byung-Chul Han has forcefully argued the victors are the “Asian states like Japan, Korea, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan or Singapore that have an authoritarian mentality which comes from their cultural tradition [of] Confucianism.”

Han added: “People are less rebellious and more obedient than in Europe. They trust the state more. Daily life is much more organized. Above all, to confront the virus Asians are strongly committed to digital surveillance. The epidemics in Asia are fought not only by virologists and epidemiologists, but also by computer scientists and big data specialists.”

That’s a reductionist view and plenty of nuances should apply. Take South Korea, which is not “authoritarian.” It’s as democratic as top Western liberal powers. What we had in a nutshell was the civic-mindedness of the overwhelming majority of the population reacting to sound, competent government policies.

Seoul went for fast mobilization of scientific expertise; immediate massive testing; extensive contact tracing; and social distancing, as well. But, crucially, most of it voluntary, not imposed by the central power. Because these moves were organically integrated, South Korea did not need to restrict movement drastically or to close down airports.

Hong Kong’s success is due in large part to a superb health care system. People in the frontline, with institutional memory of recent epidemics such as SARS, were willing to go on strike if serious measures were not adopted. Hong Kong and Taiwan’s success was also due in large part to myriad professional links between their healthcare and public health systems.

Barbarism with human face

Then there’s Big Data. Han argues that in neither China nor other East Asian nations is there enough critical analysis in relation to digital vigilance and Big Data. But that also has to do with culture, because East Asia is about collectivism, and individualism is not on the forefront.

Well, that’s way more nuanced. Across the region, digital progress is pragmatically evaluated in terms of effectiveness. Wuhan deployed Big Data via thousands of investigative teams, searching for possibly infected individuals, choosing who had to be under observation and who had to be quarantined. Borrowing from Foucault, we can call it digital biopolitics.

Where Han is correct is when he says that the pandemic may redefine the concept of sovereignty: “The sovereign is the one who resorts to data. When Europe proclaims a state of alarm or closes borders, it’s still chained to old models of sovereignty.”

The response across the EU, including especially the European Commission in Brussels, has been appalling. Glaring evidence of powerlessness and lack of any serious preparations have appeared even though the EU had a head start.

The first instinct was to close borders; hoard whatever puny equipment was available; and, then, social Darwinist-style, it was every nation for itself, with battered Italy left totally to itself.

The severity of the crisis especially in Italy and Spain, with elders left to die to the “benefit” of the young, was due to a very specific EU political economy choice: the austerity diktat imposed across the eurozone. It’s as if, in a macabre way, Italy and Spain are paying literally in blood to remain part of a currency, the euro, which they should never have adopted in the first place.

As for France, read here for a relatively decent summary of the disaster in the EU’s second-largest economy.

Going forward, Slavoj Zizek gloomily predicts for the West “a new barbarism with a human face, ruthless survivalist measures enforced with regret and even sympathy, but legitimized by expert opinions.”

In contrast, Han predicts China will now be able to sell its digital police state as a model of success against the pandemic. “China will display the superiority of its system even more proudly.”

Alexander Dugin ventures way beyond anyone else. He’s already conceptualizing the notion of a state in mutation (like the virus) turning into a “military-medical dictatorship,” just as we’re witnessing the collapse of the global liberal world in real time.

Enter the triad

I offer, as a working hypothesis, that the Asia triad of Confucius, Buddha and Lao Tzu has been absolutely essential in shaping the perception and serene response of hundreds of millions of people across various Asian nations to Covid-19. Compare this with the prevalent fear, panic and hysteria mostly fed by the corporate media across the West.

The Tao (“the way”) as configured by Lao Tzu is about how to live in harmony with the world. Being confined necessarily leads to delving into yin instead of yang, slowing down and embarking on a great deal of reflection.

Yes, it’s all about culture, but culture rooted in ancient philosophy, and practiced in everyday life. That’s how we can see wu wei – “action of non-action” – applied to how to deal with a quarantine. “Action of non-action” means action without intent. Rather than fighting against the vicissitudes of life, as in confronting a pandemic, we should allow things to take their natural course.

That’s much easier when we know this teaching of the Tao: “Health is the greatest possession. Contentment is the greatest treasure. Confidence is the greatest friend. Non-being is the greatest joy.”

It also helps to know that “life is a series of natural and spontaneous choices. Don’t resist them – that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”

Buddhism runs in parallel to the Tao: “All conditioned things are impermanent. When one sees this with wisdom, one turns away from suffering.”

And to keep our vicissitudes in perspective, it helps to know: “Better it is to live one day seeing the rise and fall of things than to live a hundred years without ever seeing the rise and fall of things.”

As far as keeping much-needed perspective, nothing beats, “the root of suffering is attachment.”

And then, there’s the ultimate perspective: “Some do not understand that we must die. But those who do realize this settle their quarrels.”

Confucius has been an overarching presence across the Covid-19 frontline, as an astonishing 700 million Chinese citizens were kept for weeks under different forms of quarantine.


We can easily imagine them clinging to a few pearls of wisdom, such as: “Death and life have their determined appointments; riches and honors depend upon heaven.” Or “he who learns, but does not think, is lost. He who thinks, but does not learn, is in great danger.”

Most of all, in an hour of extreme turbulence, it brings comfort to know that, “the strength of a nation derives from the integrity of the home.”

And in terms of fighting a dangerous and invisible enemy on the ground, it helps to know this rule of thumb: “When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.”

So what would be the ultimate insight a serene East can offer to the West in such hard times? It’s so simple, and it’s all in the Tao: “From caring comes courage.

(Republished from Asia Times by permission of author or representative)
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  1. AaronB says:

    You are absolutely right that these ancient Asian philosophies of detachment and acceptance and serene joy are critical to happiness, and sorely lacking in the West.

    The problem is they are sorely lacking in modern Asia as well. China is largely Legalist – the harshest and most repressive of ancient philosophies. There is almost nothing that is Taoist or Buddhist about modern China, and very little that is Confucian.

    There is nothing Taoist or Buddhist about the incredible ambition and fast pace of development of Asia – nothing serenely joyful about that.

    Like the West, modern Asia is largely a betrayal of its ancient ideals – that’s what it means to modernize, to not cultivate detachment, to cultivate restless ambition over serene acceptance, to dominate nature rather than joyfully accept its meandering course, and to cultivate restless striving over contentment.

    And all of Asia has largely embraced the worst aspects of modernity – in fact, I expect the West sooner than Asia to return to this ancient way of thinking, which existed in the West as well in former times, and Asia to continue to develop the worst traits of modernity.

    To the extent that Asia “succeeded” in dealing with this pandemic, it reflects an intense materialistic fear of death, desire to control, and repudiation of its ancient ideals.

  2. Kouros says:

    World history is awash with counter-examples to this article, especially in Europe, which is almost as diverse as the Indian subcontinent, which is a federal state now due to the British…

    Anyone remembers the Prussians and their discipline, forged by the French hammer and Russian Anvil? They managed in the end tho create the strongest and largest state in Europe.

    What about Socrates, the third mind of the Axial Age period…? As much as I enjoy Pepe’s writings, sometimes he forgets himself. Forgets that the Brits managed to create one of the most centralized and economically efficient polity, and then stole some relevant know how from the Dutch, created the Burse and the Bank of England and ended up creating the biggest empire so far, and on a shoestring and a dime (Scrooges to the end those limeys – another scrooge like concept, lemons were more expensive)… One ship, Bounty, and its mutiny (nobody tells the story of the loyalists that were cast on a boat and went some thousand of miles to Dutch territories) is the only counter-example of the well organized Royal Navy (that went through ups and downs because at times it stopped having real enemies that could fight)

  3. I just peeled an egg
    And dropped it in a jar
    Of olive brine

    • LOL: Cortes
    • Replies: @gfhändel
  4. mijj says:

    when i put on my western imperialistic shades, i see in china western imperialistic psychology and motives for their actions.

    • Replies: @DB Cooper
  5. Sean says:

    Dozens of countries, including Japan and China, require children — typically newborns — to receive the BCG vaccine as protection against tuberculosis, an infection that is typically more common in lower-income countries. […]
    But scientists have long known that “almost by lucky accident,” the BCG vaccine doesn’t just protect against tuberculosis, it also helps fight other viruses, respiratory infections in particular, Cannon said. The vaccine, “in some sort of unexpected and magical way, is like a broad immune booster,” she said.

    • Agree: Delta G
    • Replies: @Delta G
  6. lloyd says: • Website

    The Republic of Korea enforces a rigorous Anti Communist and anti North Korea ideology. In that it is comparable to Germany where freedom of speech is also enforced by law. Not a co-incidence that Germany has the best record in Europe of containing the virus. There is now growing pressure that the surveillance and thought restrictions taken for granted in Germany where most citizens go into a panic if they are ever questioned be applied in other “democratic” countries. If coronavirus did not exist, they would have to invent it as all the secrets were coming out.

  7. DB Cooper says:

    The problem with Communist China (at least Mao’s China) is that it couldn’t care less about China’s territorial integrity. It is under Mao’s rule that China was conceding its territority left and right and this is the reason today’s China is much smaller than it was before Mao came to power in 1949. Back then China was the second largest country in the world, larger than Canada. If you want to see a country with imperialistic psychology it is India. Yeah I know, the main stream media never talk about India this way because India was created under the auspices of the British and the British pretty much see the new country as its adopted child and give India a free pass pretty much whatever it did. Once India was created in 1947 it continues the good old tradition of the Raj and land grabbed every single of its neighbors. Unlike China which shrinks in size after 1949 India actually got bigger after the British has already left. Ask India’s smaller neighbors and every one of them agree India is a bully. The country you should have in mind when you put on your western imperialistic shades is India.

  8. TheJester says:

    The antithesis of the culture that created the industrial revolution, modern science, modern medicine, decided the outcomes of WWI and WWII, and took humanity to the moon is … “DIE”: accepting the diversity, inclusion, and equality of all races, cultures, genders, and sexual orientations converging into a maelstrom of emotional, irrational, and inconsistent nonsense.

    The wisdom of Confucius, the Buddha, and Lao Tzu presume a unitary culture found in the collective, historical experiences of a people. “DIE” has condemned the West to expire as a postmodern “Tower of Babel” in which the collective wisdom of a people is replaced by emotion-laden guttural utterances mouthed by misanthropic antipodes masquerading as a people. Spontaneity replaces reason. People decide as it were, for no reason at all. Whatever “bubbles”! Think Orange Man, Boris, and Frau Merkel. Nietzsche warned us … but we didn’t listen.

    Look at the EU and the ZOG as a herd of pigs in a wallow grunting for nothing more than the base pleasures of food and sex. If you do, you can understand the West’s unfortunate plight. The West has descended into Dante’s demonic Ninth Circle of Hell that demarcates the West’s separation from the rest of humanity. The focus is almost exclusively on food and sex … and the industrial, psychotropic drugs that amplify the dopamine “rush” found in those experiences.

    This prognosis is terminal. In the face of the coronavirus pandemic and its social, political, and economic consequences, the EU and the ZOG cannot, in their current condition, plan their way out of a paper sack.

    • Agree: follyofwar
  9. songpoet says:

    forgive me small bird.
    i will hear the end of your song
    in another world

    • Thanks: SeekerofthePresence
    • Replies: @SeekerofthePresence
  10. anon[191] • Disclaimer says:

    The ineptness of Europe in dealing with the Corona virus has nothing to do with whether they follow the teachings of Buddha, Tao or Christianity, they are being inept because they don’t care about the White citizens of Europe, the only things that matter to the politicians are feathering their own nests, following the New World Order which involves looking for “hate speech” wherever it may exist and doing everything in their power to promote the interests of zionism and non-white immigration. The Asian countries’ governments still care about their citizens and people and did everything to nip this disease in the bud. If the disease hit Jews or Africans disproportionately in Europe, heaven and earth would’ve been moved to save them, not so with natives of Europe, they don’t matter and are dispensable.

    • Agree: Alden
  11. A virus appears
    Say goodbye to your freedom
    You don’t deserve it

    • Agree: gfhändel
    • Thanks: Kratoklastes
    • Replies: @SeekerofthePresence
  12. So what would be the ultimate insight a serene East can offer to the West in such hard times? It’s so simple, and it’s all in the Tao:

    “Tao called Tao is not Tao. Names can name no lasting name. Nameless: the origin of Heaven and Earth. Naming: the mother of ten thousand things.”

    As compared to the Judeo-Christo-Islamic practice of elevating Word or Logos to God, of lifting a limited abstraction of experience – ideology, over the imminence and exacting nature of practice.

    The West is two and a half millenia of eristic squabbling. Plato logically shows in his Parmenides dialogue that One and Many can’t influence, and know nothing of each other, and then proposes that the greatest difficulty is to show what he has just disproven.

    Even the scientific method of observation/measurement is now being turned into the faith of Science – accepting inference, testimony of the wise, as being capable of pointing out truths.

    Idea over practice, too mind made.

    • Thanks: St-Germain
  13. The shocking thing tho is that for all of the ‘Asian wisdom’, or ‘multi-polar’ opposition to the West etc as represented by people like Pepe Escobar –

    No major government or international organisation, is denouncing the satanic cruely of ‘lockdown’ in poor countries like Indonesia, India and Uganda

    Where the deprivation of income and economic destruction is causing people to LITERALLY STARVE TO DEATH

    Yet the world’s leftists, ‘advocates of the poor’ etc are mostly SAYING NOTHING

    It is clearly a violation of human rights for any government to tell people to stay at home, without ensuring that household’s supply of food and life’s basics, including continuing housing.

    Yet we have almost no developing world leader, speaking out against this insanity. Leaders of India and Indonesia, for example, barely hesitated to order starvation and death for their own people, in order to please international masters seeking their ‘coronavirus cooperation’.

    It is simply satanism, to impose a ‘lockdown’ on any poor population, without giving them the means of economic survival to get through the days and weeks of deprivation.

  14. East & West are both Functionally Retarded and devoid of understanding when it comes to basic mathematics. These political behemoths are equally dysfunctional management systems that erroneously conclude that Debt-to-GDP in excess of 100% is manageable & straightforward vis-a-vis leveraged debt & deficits.

    Professor Emeritus Maynard Keynes instituted this fallacy historically, and China bought in because it was the only game in town.

    Political totalitarianism is a Ponzi scheme of debts that will never be paid back to creditors as debt cannot be retired in full at the sovereign level. All sovereign nations are reliant upon debt based


    • Replies: @Curmudgeon
  15. “Integrity of the home”? What happens when one person in the household has it and the rest don’t.


  16. @songpoet

    Lovely verse. Much to contemplate.

    Hope to hear more.

  17. @Jedi Night

    Good, crisp haiku.

    Like a splash of cold water in the morning.

    Thank you.

  18. @Robert White

    Like Adam Smith, Keynes is often taken out of context. His government deficit stimulation was supposed to be during down times for the economy, paid for by surpluses in good times. The good times savings have been thrown under the bus.
    Most of the “conservative” economic models are counter intuitive. Deficits are bad, and debt is bad, no question, but so are private central banks and tax cuts. Private central banks require interest payments. Interest payments are the law of diminishing returns on an economy.
    While tax cuts are popular, are they really wise? If there is a debt, with interest, to be paid, like on your credit card, do you reduce your income to pay for it? Cutting back to essential spending is obvious, but reducing your ability to pay is not.
    The Keynes model will work with a government owned central bank paying no interest on its short term loan against anticipated income, and creating surpluses in good times. It allows infrastructure to be built, which creates employment. What will not work, is perpetual government debt paying interest, while cutting taxes to pay for the debt.
    Like 1930’s Germany, much of China’s “debt” is due to building infrastructure. Their are world leaders in building mag-lev rail, which will replace short haul flight. It may be turned to moving freight long distances. The infrastructure will provide an advantage, as much of the (((West))) has stood back and allowed infrastructure to crumble.
    I won’t go to why Lee Wanta is being stonewalled.

  19. Confucius said let the wise person rediscover their roots.

    Lao-tzu said the root is the unnamed One.

    Buddha said virtue is to live in accordance with Oneness.

    Jesus said God is One, and He (Christ) is the Way.

    “And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.

    “Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!”
    Rev. 22: 1, 2, 20 NKJV

    • Agree: Jedi Night
  20. Delta G says:

    I agree it is by human Luck that both the Asians have suffered less and that the BCG Vaccine seems to have provided some help but it is very unclear how that has worked.

    The most likely possibility is not some Magical Broad Immunity conferred by the BCG Vaccine but some type of cryptic infection or presence of a BCG related microbe that is doing a lot of the killing after the virus paves the way. The smokers resistance or better outcomes to Covid and the suggestions that the Covid infection create an serious imbalance in the immune response, fits in with old data suggesting nicotine can act as an immune suppressor. Maybe the smokers suppressed immune system protected them from the immune barrage created by Covid. Don’t know but it could be tested later some time. Chinese Physicians are treating later stage cases of Corona with immune modulation (Gamma Globulin) and chloroquine may also suppress aspects of the immune response hence it use in Lupus and other Rheumatoid Disorders.

    Also, a recent Scientific Paper, published in PNAS has demonstrated that the Covid strain in US and Europe has some differences from the East Asian strain, which may have been required for it to spread outside of East Asia. The basis for this is not clear but the authors suggest it might have something to do with selection for a variant that could spread in Non Asians. More detailed Molecular Genetics and Biochemistry and Cell Biology and Immunology will be needed to get a better picture.

    I know real Science is not of interest to most Unz Readers but in time you will come around to learn that Real Science and not Pseudo Science usually does better in getting the correct answer.

  21. SteveK9 says:

    The West still had plenty of people that knew how to handle a not-particularly-severe health crisis, and at least as well as the Asians, in the context of Western Society. Here is one: Knut Wittkowski, German-American, head of Dept. Of Biostatistics and Epidemiology at Rockefeller U., NY for 20 years and trained by Claus Dietz.

    There is in fact one country, Sweden, that has followed Wittkowski’s prescription very closely, because their response was led by a competent Epidemiologist, not a bureaucratic hack like Fauci. Unfortunately, the West has declined / degraded to the point, where they are a lonely example. Sweden had no lockdown, and it is clear at this point that they will have a number of deaths / 100,000 comparable or better than the lockdown countries, with much less damage to their economy, and their society.

    • Replies: @follyofwar
    , @Hail
  22. It is quite amazing that Master Kong (who almost certainly made up the Old Master, who is almost certainly fictional) is understood to have died around the time that Gorgias (teacher of Antisthenes) was born. And nowadays the consensus on Siddhārtha Gautama is that he died somewhere around 400BCE – by which time Antisthenes was in his mid-40s.

    Kong’s death: 479BCE; Gorgias’ birth: 483BCE.

    The parallels between Cynicism and Confucianism are pretty strong.

    Given the quality of Stoic and Cynic ethics, it’s a crying shame that most of the last two millennia was wasted on some stupid story about a fictional 1st century beta-Jew’s attempted revamp of Chosenism’s hate literature, which is to ethics what Ebola is to bodily health.

    That aside: as others have said in this thread, the Asiatics aren’t being all that ‘Confucian’ towards this gigantic COVID19 “Reaper of Sickly Octagenarians” nothingburger.

    They’re acting as if they care too much.

  23. Papertree says:

    “700 million were kept under various forms of quarantine.” These forms were so varied that in many cases it didn’t take any kind of “Confucian” mentality to follow these guidelines; it didn’t require “obedience” or “serenity” but a simple desire to come out of a crisis alive. What is remarkable about China’s response to COVID is that it wasn’t so much China’s response, i.e. a centralized response, but a highly regional and localized one outside of hard-hit Wuhan (where, with a spike of tens of thousands of cases, a heavy-handed approach was highly justified). In a word, key decisions were made at the local and municipal level; don’t forget, China is comprised of 31 provinces and thousands of municipalities, and lockdowns were only imposed in 15 cities. For instance, in Suzhou, quarantines were up to individual compounds like apartment complexes, according to American expats living there. Some complexes issued each resident several tickets that had to submitted in order to return; this minimized the number of trips throughout the building and exposure to the city. By the end of March, people were milling around again, though observing social distancing and wearing masks.

    In other words, quarantines were localized and tailored to the level of threat, and were often so relaxed they were hardly quarantines. As the above author said, thousands of small teams–actually, 1,800–were dispersed to trace contacts and make judicious decisions on areas to focus on and who to quarantine. Sounds authoritarian, but the alternative is even more heavy-handed: sending everyone home and shutting everything down, which is what we’re doing in the US.

    So the responses in Asia–whether in authoritarian China or democratic South Korea or Taiwan (where misinformation is rampant in the press)–was simply effective, smart and practical. I doubt it had anything to do with a Buddhism or Taoism. To the extent it had anything to do with Confucianism, this was probably indirect: Confucianism is probably the origin in China of selecting civil officials at even the lowest levels on meritocratic terms, and China has had 2,000 years to refine this. Essentially, officials are selected for high conscientiousness and basic quantitative skills. It may seem overkill in many situations, but this approach seems tailor-made for a crisis like this, where decisions have to be made by competent technocrats at every level. As such, you need people who can make good decisions on the field, often with little oversight. This characterizes the small teams in China doing contact tracing, as well as the response in South Korea to determine hotspots when the number of cases was skyrocketing.

    Ironically, in many cases the system is actually more top-heavy and bureaucratic in the U.S. For instance, when a Washington state doctor suspected that her patients might have corona, she was barred from testing them repeatedly by federal officials including those from the CDC. After weeks, she finally figured out a way to procure test kits and tested her patients, defying direct orders from the Feds. By the way, she was Chinese American. So much for “obedience.”

  24. @SteveK9

    The fact that Fauci still has his job shows how impotent and overmatched the Orange Man is in the face of this (plan)demic. I’m actually starting to feel sorry for the president.

  25. Smith says:

    The culture is craddled with Confucianism, but what the state practices is Legalism/Fascism.

    This is ultimately a good model but it has nothing to do with Confucianism and Daoism (aside from the basic teachings like you should obey the state/king, and respect “harmony” as in do not rebel).

    I would say that this approach is flawed because it’s not balanced. Collectivism i.e. pure collectivism has its strength, but it is inferior to an “As above, so below” approach.

  26. Australia has a similar Covid19 profile to South Korea yet it is a western liberal democracy. How do you explain that? Geographical proximity!

  27. @AaronB

    There is nothing Taoist or Buddhist about the incredible ambition and fast pace of development of Asia – nothing serenely joyful about that.

    You are pitching one utopian imagination against another cheap and shallow imagery of whoever’s making. When you say that today’s China is legalistic, you surely know not much about modern China nor the legalistic ideals and practices.

    Everybody in this world of ours manage to put immensely undue weight and interpretation on common sense ordinary actions such as wearing a mask during a pandemic. THIS IS SO FUCKING STUPID.

    Somehow washing hands is either about Freedom or any deep and vague and ancient philosophy is so frustratingly foolish.

    The morons of our time have to have deep philosophy to support them in simple trivial actions to HELP PROTECT themselves just tells me that maybe we all deserve to just die.

    • Replies: @Smith
    , @SomeoneInAsia
  28. @AaronB

    And all of Asia has largely embraced the worst aspects of modernity – in fact, I expect the West sooner than Asia to return to this ancient way of thinking, which existed in the West as well in former times, and Asia to continue to develop the worst traits of modernity.

    Alan Watts told an Indonesian friend he was saddened by the men of that country abandoning the traditional sarong for modern Western trousers. The fellow replied that he understood, but the old garment made difficult things such as running to catch a bus.

    Watts realized that the real problem wasn’t the “obsolete” dress, but the running for the bus.

    • Agree: AaronB
  29. Smith says:

    I would like you to expand on your opinion, I genuinely believe that China is in some form of modern legalism/fascism, ever since Mao actually.

    With definition of Legalism as such:
    >The Legalists believed that political institutions should be modeled in response to the realities of human behaviour and that human beings are inherently selfish and short-sighted. Thus social harmony cannot be assured through the recognition by the people of the virtue of their ruler, but only through strong state control and absolute obedience to authority. The Legalists advocated government by a system of laws that rigidly prescribed punishments and rewards for specific behaviours.

    Like it or not, this is true for modern China right now, and it has its good and bad sides, but I do agree with them that the ruler should consider the people’s opinion, but not always consider it as automatically correct. Democracy is a fallacy.

    • Replies: @yakushimaru
  30. @Smith

    Legalism in its ancient Chinese form is to design the law and abide to the law very, very rigidly. And most importanly, the law is to be everything, and nothing else is allowed. This is the true essence of Ancient China’s legalism: the rejection of everything but the law. Against legalism, Confucians put more weight on understanding the limitations of rigid rules, on the importance of building a blue sky vision for everyone, and on establishing good examples, and on teaching history.

    In a sense, Legalism is more akin to the rigid behaviorism in psychology in middle of 20th century. Think about Pavlov and Skinner. While, in this context of Legalism vs. Confucianism, the latter is more organic.

    Both are very ancient, and frankly, very primitive political ideologies. The modern industralised and informational society is way, way more complex for any serious attempt to fit with the ancient ideologies.

    For example, the US legal system is obviously legalistic. But there are a hell lot of other institutions to make it actually Confucian such as Church and Hollywood and Fukuyama’s books and the universities.

    China is fundamentally in the modern world at the same time it is fundamentally Chinese. Think about a modern jet airplane, is it a bird or is it a kite, or maybe it is a dragonfly?

    • Replies: @Polemos
    , @d dan
    , @Smith
  31. @AaronB

    I’ve never been to this part of the world but your comment is a believable counterpoint to Escobar’s idealized, idyllic (but historical, interesting & still useful to well-being) cultural depiction of modern China.

  32. Polemos says:

    But what happens when the law is also designed by algorithms that very soon, likely already with some clever ones, outpace the design capabilities of the human designers of laws? When does the unfolding law of a machine overcome the law of humans, and itself become as law of nature?

    • Replies: @yakushimaru
  33. d dan says:

    “Both are very ancient, and frankly, very primitive political ideologies. The modern industralised and informational society is way, way more complex for any serious attempt to fit with the ancient ideologies.”

    People who think that China is simply legalism or should be Taoism / Confucianist or whatever ancient thinking are just superficial. It is similar to many US conservatives who believe that every answer to modern problem faced by US government could be found in the US Constitution. It is a manifestation of unimaginative mind. In the case of China, those rigidity is even worse because those ancient Chinese thoughts are over 2000 years old.

  34. @Polemos

    Ancient philosophies are almost never consistent by today’s standards. Even Euclid is not consistent by standards of the 19th century mathematicians.

    The main opponents of ancient legalists of China, in their arguments, were the blood nobel families of their time. Confucians were only secondary in their consideration. The strict laws were designed to grab power from the nobel families, so the King can eventually become emperor (of Eastern style). The emphasis is not even the cleverness of the laws but the strictness and the overarching nature of it. Nobody is allowed to get around it even if a particular piece of law is stupid and unsympathetic to some specific situation, or that someone is from the most important nobel family that the King’s uncle and grand uncle came from. The strictness of it sort of put everyone into a prisoner’s dilemma and that is why it can be so effective at times and, indeed, gave the Qin state its victory. And China got its fist Emperor.

    Today, with market being so important, it is frankly ridiculous to claim China is legalistic. So much in society fell outside of strict law systems. In essence, China is no more legalistic than USA or any other modern functioning country.

  35. Smith says:

    But Qin Shi Huang practices legalism, and his enforcement of the laws are not rigid. In the fact the idea of rigid laws are only a thing in european society where they seriously believe in what they are spouting.

    Rigid laws are a tool to control, and the controller (for example: Qin Shi Huang) regularly breaks it but his subjects MUST submit to it, or else.

    And what is Confucianism per say? It’s a guidelines to hierarchy and social relationship, so on the proper surface, Confucianism is a good tool to “hide” legalism, the only times it goes against legalism is when it points out the inefficiencies of the Emperor.

    And the idea that because modern market can somehow put hold to legalism is naive, the market has existed back then too, what matters is if the state/the Emperor controls the market or not, just like every aspect of society, that’s the essence of legalism.

    • Replies: @yakushimaru
  36. @Smith

    the idea of rigid laws are only a thing in european society

    I think you are wrong. I don’t know much about ancient Egypt or Sumerian societies, but I somehow find it hard to believe that there can exist a human society of sufficient complexities, say Mayan, that is without laws, and that laws are not occasionally broken. It is frankly the norm. You have to have laws, and a whole set of laws, to have a functioning society, and the laws are always broken from time to time.

    Back to ancient China, there are famous stories that establish the rigidness of laws. By those stories the Chinese, ancient on down to today, learn about the meaning of legalism.

    One leading story is like the following. The king one day publishes a law that says if anyone uphold a long stick on the ground at certain location near the market place, he will be rewarded with a ridiculous sum of gold. Nobody believes because this piece of law is so outrageously silly. Eventually a man, with nothing better to do, decides to do just that. And he is rewarded as it is said in the law. And then everyone knows that the laws of the king are serious to the letter.

    the controller (for example: Qin Shi Huang) regularly breaks it

    Care to give an example?

    And what is Confucianism per say? It’s a guidelines to hierarchy and social relationship, so on the proper surface, Confucianism is a good tool to “hide” legalism, the only times it goes against legalism is when it points out the inefficiencies of the Emperor.

    As I said, ancient philosophy is not hard mathematics of today. They are vague and rooted in ancient times. Therefore there are many ways to look at it. For example, Confucius himself lived in a time where there never had been an emperor in China. And, for goodness sake, he never saw Chinese calligraphy. So much of China happened after Confucius time.

    But, I am not even sure what to talk about at this point. Do you see, for example, modern USA as a legalistic society and the entertainment and education are just ways to “hide” the legal codes?

    My point being, legalism in ancient China, when you remove the extreme ways it being carried out (in a short period in ancient China), it really is not much more than ordinary thinking about law in any society ever existed.

    And the idea that because modern market can somehow put hold to legalism is naive, the market has existed back then too, what matters is if the state/the Emperor controls the market or not, just like every aspect of society, that’s the essence of legalism.

    The market today is way more complex. But, look, in Mao’s China, which person goes to which college or not at all, and what kind of job a person gets, and how much food of what kind can a family buy, all these matters are decided by political power. That is legalistic in the ancient Chinese sense. Today’s China is very different. And that is why I think it is wrong to describe modern China as being legalistic. Mao himself, in informal discussions, thought his way of running China was legalistic. But, nowadays, people like you seem to think that the post-Mao China is legalistic.

    • Replies: @Smith
  37. Smith says:

    No, every societies have some forms of laws, but the issue is that europeans seriously believe in the letter of the laws to the point where they use the wording of the laws to argue against the state. This doesn’t happen often or at all in Asia, most asians accept the laws as they are, they might protest, they might bribe and find leeways, but only europeans have cases where they sue the government.

    And no, most famous stories in China are about breaking the laws, the 4 classic Chinese literatures do not show the rigidity of laws in China at all, with Water Margin for example showing that the laws/government are incredibly shifty and will side with outlaws against other other outlaws right off the bat.

    For example of Qin Shi Huang breaking his own laws, aside from the usual stuff like burning books and burning scholars, Qin Shi Huang was using state’s funding to hire alchemists and magicians to formulate immortality drugs for himself, he even organizes large sea trip just to gather materials for his drugs, the laws of Li Xi does not allow anyone to misuse government money.

    And yeah, you might say the society changes, but the basics of legalism stays the same: power (military, economy) is centralized around the state, people are encouraged to follow the laws and good behaviours (i.e. following the laws and submitting to the state) are rewarded. Those are societal policies and the complexity of the market does not come into that. I would say both Mao and Deng were legalist.

    For the US, I would describe it as a colony to a foreign power (Zionist jews), all of their laws and actions are meant to benefit that faction, every laws can be interpreted to fuck over anyone who disagree with Zionist jews.

    • Replies: @yakushimaru
  38. @Smith

    The difference is not between the understandings of law but the political structures behind. In Europe, political power was shared between king, the Church, and the nobel families. In ancient China, it was between the emperor and, basically, the bureaucracy.

    For example, it does not make a lot of sense even in today’s western justice system to go to the court to sue the judges. Or, maybe you can sue a lower judge in certain cases, but you cannot, say, sue the US supreme court.

    So the legal decisions in the west are checked by the balance between the power holders while in ancient China, they were checked by reality. Bad decisions would have to face the consequences.

    As for other disagreements between our opinions, it is mainly because of the definitions of concepts…

    • Replies: @Smith
  39. 76239 says:

    Luke 12:22-23

    And He said to His disciples, “For this reason I say to you, [a]do not worry about your [b]life, as to what you will eat; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.

    Christian individualism from the Father himself.

  40. Hail says: • Website

    See also a series of updates from Dr. Knut Wittkowski in the past days:

    They are in the linked-to comment and the comment-chain before it. I have been re-posting his comments there for easier viewing/reference.

  41. Smith says:

    I disagree, there are stories in all asian cultures about the loyal ministers who petition the king to kill the evil ministers and listing the evil deeds, so the precedence of “suing the government” did exist in Asia, it’s just that most of them end up with the loyal ministers being killed.

    And what do you mean facing the consequences, really? I mean every bad decisions have to face consequences at the end of the day.

    The difference lies in the fact asians have more respect for authority, while the europeans are more rebellious.

    • Replies: @yakushimaru
    , @yakushimaru
  42. @Smith

    I suppose I was trying to make the argument that “legalism” in Chinese has a specific historical meaning, and by that, today’s China cannot be described as a “legalistic” society. But I probably lost track of where the conversation was going.

    Another point I likely was also trying to make was that the difference in “human nature” of East Asians and West Europeans are probably not very big especially when we take a bird’s eye view. But, without specifics to talk about, an argument in this is simply too difficult to make interesting.

  43. @yakushimaru

    It amazes me that a post like this, with its vitriolic, vicious personal abuse and use of expletives, could be allowed by the moderators here at The Unz Review.

    The admin here seriously need to do something about this sort of thing.

    • Replies: @yakushimaru
  44. @AaronB

    Much as I love the traditional philosophies of East Asia and am deeply moved by the appreciation for them shown by a non-Asian like Mr Escobar, I fear I have to side with Aaron’s view that those philosophies probably have very little place in modern East Asian sociocultural milieux; Escobar’s citation of the thoughts expressed in them is somewhat less than appropriate in examining the issues currently faced by the said milieux and how they handle these issues.

    It’s true that certain things East Asian peoples often do, say or think — things which also happen to be of help in facing various current issues — can be traced to the said schools of thought. But what one would like to know is whether this is due to (1) cultural habit (‘I was brought up this way’) or to (2) the conscious study, understanding and endorsement of the thoughts and ideas found in the canonical texts. One’s suspicion is that (1) is more often the case. More to the point, there are just too many things East Asian peoples often do, say or think nowadays which are a plain contradiction of what Confucius, Laozi and the Buddha have taught.

    Take the endless pursuit of economic growth. Would Laozi have approved? “There is no calamity greater than lavish desires, no greater guilt than discontentment, no greater disaster than greed.” (Daodejing ch 46) The looming crises of environmental degradation, resource depletion and a global economy faltering beneath the weight of gargantuan amounts of unrepayable debt all bear witness to Laozi’s words, but how many people in East Asia are heeding him on this?

    As I see it, the East Asian sociocultural milieux have been so thoroughly ‘converted’ to the modern narrative of the endless pursuit of material wealth that they’ve for the most part left their spiritual heritage behind. Perhaps with the collapse of the current global order the survivors among them will come to a gradual rediscovery of this heritage, though I fear I’m not going to live to see it happen…

    • Replies: @yakushimaru
    , @yakushimaru
  45. @SomeoneInAsia

    If most people here are as polite or sensitive as you are, I surely should not have spoken the way I did. But I have to say, English is not my native language, and it is not always so that I can read viciousness or things like that.

    But, yeah, being polite is good.

    I just don’t think I stand out that much.

  46. @SomeoneInAsia

    the endless pursuit of material wealth that they’ve for the most part left their spiritual heritage behind.

    China is still so poor and now you people talk about “endless pursuit.” And if I drop back to my usual commenting mood, you will say I am being vicious.

    And, as regarding spiritual heritage, if you care to read about popular life in, say, late Ming, I suppose you would say that even in 1500s, Chinese already lost the heritage? As I said in another comment, you people just love to pitch utopian imaginations against each other. But, okay, maybe I am not being sufficiently polite again.

    And, the heritage is way richer than citing a few sentences in Lao Zi and trying to stick to it literarily. Again I am repeating myself, that so much of China happened after the time of Lao Zi and Confucius. Heritage is about all of that. It is “bad impolite word I wish I am allowed to use” to suggest that the heritage is lost because virtually no one in China trying to live by the exact words of Lao Zi.

    • Replies: @SomeoneInAsia
  47. @Smith

    And what do you mean facing the consequences, really? I mean every bad decisions have to face consequences at the end of the day.

    You know, scapegoating, and things like that.

  48. @SomeoneInAsia

    Would Laozi have approved?

    Would Laozi have approved of Qin Shi Huang the first emperor, or pretty much everything from his time on down to today? Do you even know what kind of drastic society Laozi dreamt up with in his book if you read his book literaly regarding its political philosophy?

    Heritage if interpreted this narrowly and mechanically does not exist anywhere anytime at all. Or, am I being vicious again?

    • Replies: @SomeoneInAsia
  49. @yakushimaru

    China is still so poor and now you people talk about “endless pursuit.” And if I drop back to my usual commenting mood, you will say I am being vicious.

    I’m not entertaining any illusion that many in China aren’t poor. (Actually, it can depend on how you define ‘poverty’.) But I’d like to know how fairly distributed the wealth in China is. As Confucius would have said, “Fret not about poverty; fret about unequal distribution.” And my strong suspicion is that the distribution there is currently very unequal indeed.

    And, as regarding spiritual heritage, if you care to read about popular life in, say, late Ming, I suppose you would say that even in 1500s, Chinese already lost the heritage?

    No, I wouldn’t say that. During the Ming China produced brilliant Confucian thinkers like Wang Yangming and Jiao Hong. Wang’s thought in particular left its mark on well nigh all of East Asia, not China alone. By contrast I’d like to know how many contemporary (mainland) Chinese thinkers are promoting her traditional philosophies and are half as influential.

    As I said in another comment, you people just love to pitch utopian imaginations against each other.

    With all due respect, I consider this an unfair accusation against me. I’ve never imagined that China’s traditional philosophies are a magical panacea that would solve all the world’s problems. (Much of Zhuangzi strikes me as impractical to the point of stupid, for example.) I’ve merely suggested that they contain a lot that’s worth preserving and promoting — and that we would be the happier for it. To look at Confucianism alone, surely a school of thought that could sustain an entire civilization for millennia deserves some acknowledgement of its value. No, Confucian China wasn’t a Utopia (and I never imagined it was, for your information), but firstly I’d like to know if this was because of intrinsic human evil which is found everywhere or to certain fatal flaws in Confucian thought, and secondly I’d like to know if any school of thought or and society guided by it could ever be perfect.

    One outstanding feature of Confucianism in this respect, as I see it, is its allowance for self-criticism. Confucius actually demanded a lot of independent thinking from his students and got upset when all they did was parrot what he said. Mencius likewise said that “it’s better to have no books than to believe everything in them.” The Song thinker Lu Xiangshan was almost shocking in his literary iconoclasm. “The Six Classics should be footnotes unto me. Why should I make myself a set of footnotes to them?” It is this feature of Confucianism that allows for endless self-correction.

    Finally, as to the quote I cited from Laozi, I’d like to know in exactly what respect I’ve been wrong in saying that things like environmental degradation etc have vindicated his words. Would you not agree that it’s the endless pursuit of greed that’s brought about such terrible things? (Or are you saying there’s no such thing as environmental degradation?)

  50. @yakushimaru

    Would Laozi have approved of Qin Shi Huang the first emperor, or pretty much everything from his time on down to today? Do you even know what kind of drastic society Laozi dreamt up with in his book if you read his book literaly regarding its political philosophy?

    I don’t know what your issues are with China’s traditional philosophies or with those who treasure them, but no, of course Laozi wouldn’t have approved of Qin Shihuangdi. And let’s be honest: Qin Shihuangdi was a horrible man. Yes, admittedly some of the things he did, such as standardizing the Chinese script, might have turned out to have been beneficial for China as a whole later on. But did he do them out of benevolent concerns or because of a desire to secure greater control over his empire? (Let me guess: are you going to say it doesn’t matter?)

    As for the kind of society Laozi envisaged in his work, we need not follow everything he says to the letter (and I’ve never suggested we do so). The idea of ‘Small is Beautiful’ has been promoted by people like E F Schumacher as well. And the idea of a small, localized, self-sufficient ecovillage is today seriously advocated by many environmentalists. But I doubt any of them would suggest going back to tying knots in cords as a means of recording things and events. It’s the spirit of Laozi we should go after, not the letter. Right?

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