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Critique of Confucianism

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Part of the series Confucianism
1 The rites
2 Covernance
3 Themes in confucian thought
4 Influence in 17th century Europe
5 Critique
6 Religion or philophy debate
7 Names for confucianism

Promotion of corruption

Like some other political philosophies, Confucianism is reluctant to employ laws. In a society where relationships are considered more important than the laws themselves, if no other power forces government officers to take the common interest into consideration, corruption and nepotism may arise. It has been suggested that a mix between Buddhism and Confucianism would be a perfect religion, with laws from Buddhism and logic from Confucianism.

However, the above argument is not the real point. Confucianism does not negate laws. Confucius' idea is indicated by his advice for Min Zijian (闵子骞) on political affairs: "By moral, by law" (以德以法). Actually, in traditional China, one of the main roles of regional officials was to practice law. In Confucian political philosophy, law is necessary, but statesmen should lay more importance on morals.

As lower-ranking government officers' salaries were often far lower than the minimum required to raise a family, while high-ranking officials (even though extremely rich and powerful) receive a salary of a value much lower than their self-perceived contribution (for example their incomes are often substantially less than a successful merchant), Chinese society was frequently affected by those problems. Even if some means to control and reduce corruption and nepotism have been successfully used in China, Confucianism is criticized for not providing such a means itself. But there's no theory in Confucianism suggesting paying higher-ranking officials excessively or paying lower-ranking officials on the level unable to raise a family. Salary of officials varies in different era, comparatively high in the Han Dynasty, and low in the Ming Dynasty even for high-ranking officials. There is a poem titled Bei Men (北門) in Shi Jing that voices the hard life of a low-ranking official, showing Confucius' sympathy.

Stagnation; Inability to Evolve

Another problem is this: perfect Filial Piety may result in perfect conformity, across multiple generations, to ideals learned from elders, ideals which perhaps do not change, even as the world changes. This could lead to stagnation, to fail to evolve. If the world of people living in Confucian ideals will not change, yet the rest of the world changes, this may lead to failure to adapt to a changing world. Ancient ways might be perfect for ancient days. In modern days, can ancient ways be competitive? This is a challenge to the modern Confucian. How to preserve ancient wisdom and harmonious ways, yet still adapt to a world that is always changing?

Loss of free-will and individuality

Another similar critique of Confucianism is that if children are always to obey, respect and listen to their parents then it would not be up to the children to decide what they wish to do with their lives in the future but their parents. This is a loss of freedom for the young individual, of course one could argue that a young mind would not know what is best; parents would be acting in the best interests of the child. But by making the decision for him/her ,once he/she has decided to do something else that his/her parents had not planned or doesn't want him/her to do then it could already be too late or there could be an argument against the Confucian thinking of harmony and order of parents to children.

Question of Individuality; Timing of Assumption of Role As Independent Elder

If perfect Filial Piety will require children to always respect and obey wishes of parents, when will children (who may survive their parents) become an elder generation presumed capable of instructing their own children? Must they forever transmit the wishes of their forebears? Again, this raises a question of ability to adapt. Confucians may argue that the commands and instruction of the grandparents will be obeyed by the parents who will convey this instruction to their children who will similarly instruct the grandchildren. Yet the grandchildren may live in a world which is very different from the world which nurtured the intentions of the grandparents. Confucianism may allow the oldest living members of a family to have absolute authority on some matters, but perhaps less so on other matters which may be more relevant to, and best decided by, less elderly members of the family. This is reasonable: but this transfer of moral authority, and the transfer or delegation of nodes of ultimate Filial respect and Piety, is perhaps not well elucidated in traditional Confucian teachings. Hence the recurrent nature of this critique.

To summarize, when may the younger generations assume the role of choosing their own destinies? And if they may make such a choice, why should not their own children, at comparable junctures in the courses of their lives, also make such choices?

Female Equality then and now

In China, women were treated as second class citizens (for around 1500 years until the end of Qing), this was because Confucius thought that all wives should listen to their husbands and in doing so keep social harmony. This for a while was so extreme that some women weren't even given names nor did they go to school, they were expected to be in homes and take care of the family.

Nowadays, since the nationalists took the country in 1912, women have had the rights to attend school, get a job and overall have as much rights as a man in China. However social attitudes are still mostly the same as before and females are still treated as second class citizens in the family; parents still prefer to have a boy rather than a girl, perhaps worsened by the One Child Policy, as they are seen as the heir to the family and are able to continue the family's surname, plus they are viewed as better financial providers once the parents have retired. It also because that when the daughter of the family gets married they "in a sense" become a part of the groom's family. Examples of this is that their child will be born in the province/city where the groom's family comes from (if possible), plus the son/daughter will have the father's surname.

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