Archive for ‘Confucianism’

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Tsewang Norbu was Right about the first “Dialog” accompanying the “China Cultural Year 2012”, and this is Why…

Ironically, the prelude to the cultural dialogue program for the Year of Chinese Culture in Germany is opened with Helmut Schmidt in Berliner Kommandantenhaus which is jointly organized by the Bertelsmann, Bosch and Koerber Foundation. The Ex-Federal-Chancellor is one of those weighty admirers of the Chinese economic miracle of the last 3 decades and is unfortunately also the most prominent representative of cultural relativism when it comes to criticism of China. He, therefore, acts as an apologist for the totalitarian rule of the Chinese communist regime and not as an advocate of the forbidden artists or oppressed peoples.

Tsewang Norbu,  cofounder of Association of Tibetans in Germany und Member of the Executive Board of Tibet Initiative Deutschland e.V., in a statement about the opening “dialog” accompanying the China Cultural Year 2012 in Germany (his statement in German here).

I would like to explain in some more detail why I believe that the three men on stage, Gu Xuewu, Helmut Schmidt, and Frank Sieren, proved Tsewang Norbu’s criticism correct. Their approach wasn’t complicated, but it was [update/completion: but it was cheap]. At the core, Gu and Schmidt put two concepts side by side: human rights and human responsibilities. The latter one isn’t entirely new, either; it was first brought up by a InterAction Council, with Malcolm Fraser, Helmut Schmidt and other retired politicians, in the 1980s. It was renewed and recommended to the United Nations in 1997.

A podcast of the Gu-Schmidt-Sieren talk in Berlin (in German), on January 31 this year, can be found here.

In that “dialog”, Gu was apparently the first participant to address the issue of human responsibilities. Asked by Sieren “what separates China and Germany”, Gu said that

what separates China and Germany seems to be a different idea of what people should do – that’s to say, in my view, an idea of more human rights or more human duties – this is a difference (was China und Deutschland trennt, scheint mir die unterschiedliche Vorstellung zu sein, was die Menschen tun sollen. Das heißt aus meiner Sicht, die Vorstellung von mehr Menschenrechten oder mehr Menschenpflichten – das ist ein Trennungspunkt).

Gu then linked the concept of human duties or responsibilities with Confucianism – as a concept of what people needed to do for society, for a collective, family, danwei, or the nation, rather than to make demands.

I’m not trying to judge if the “responsibilities” approach as described by Gu would indeed be Confucian. The interesting bit in my view was that neither Schmidt nor Sieren disagreed when Gu suggested that

somehow, a compromise needs to be found, a balance between human rights and human duties. As long as this balance isn’t there, I see a big problem for an understanding between Germans and Chinese people (es muss irgendwie ein Kompromiss gefunden werden, eine Balance zwischen den Menschenrechten und den Menschenpflichten. So lange diese Balance nicht da ist, gibt es aus meiner Sicht ein großes Problem für das Verständnis zwischen den Deutschen und den Chinesen).

Gu saw no such balance – neither in Germany, where human rights were “overemphasized”, nor in China, where collective duties were “overemphasized”.

Gu and Schmidt didn’t disagree with each other – if there was a “dialog”, it was one with little or no potential for genuine arguments, and indeed, there were no arguments.

A benevolent look at this kind of search for a “balance” between rights and responsibilities might suggest that there is an underlying, fundamental misunderstanding at work, of what human rights actually are.

After all, human rights do determine one fundamental duty: a duty to respect not only one’s own human rights, but others’ human rights, too. That requires no second, complementary charter of “responsibilities”. In fact, much of the catalog of duties as listed by Schmidt and the “Action Council” reads like a mirror of the Human Rights Declaration – and even if these duties, rather than the rights according to the UNDHR, were used as a standard, the West and China would be just as far apart from each other.

However, a “charter of responsibilities” can help to make human rights look relative – as long as these responsibilities (and their dependence on human rights) aren’t explained in some detail. Gu, Schmidt, and Sieren certainly spared themselves and their audience the effort to explore that side of the “responsibility” concept. Such a try could have turned out to become pretty unharmonious – and the job of the dialog was, apparently, to create “a positive atmosphere”.

Provided that you invite the right people, and shun trouble-makers like Tsewang Norbu at such events, you can have a beautiful, festive “dialog” – but you might as well spend your evening humming an infinite loop of “molihua”.



» Helmut Schmidt and the Korean War, March 1, 2012


Sunday, December 4, 2011

Why Taiwan is no Model for China’s Political System

Radio Taiwan International QSL card, showing the shortwave broadcasting site in Tainan

Broadcasting to China and to the world: Radio Taiwan International Tainan Shortwave Broadcasting Site (RTI QSL card)

I had a discussion with an (apparently) Taiwanese commenter on a Peking Duck thread during the past two days. Having a discussion is quite different from reading, or from revisiting your own brain’s lobes, and can lead thoughts into quite different directions. Both his, and my comments, could stand as blog posts in their own right respectively, but obviously, I can’t simply copy and paste someone else’s comments from someone else’s blog. The Taiwaner’s views can be found here and here. The following is a re-mix of what I wrote in the same thread. It’s basically about why Taiwan may or not be a model for China’s future political development. The following is also more decided than many of my usual posts, as frequently happens when its the result of an argument, rather than of mere reflection.

China probably isn’t going to become a democracy at all, and will feel “threatened” by the mere fact that democracy is a more attractive concept to most other nations.

Within China, fear of the outside world will continue to perpetuate dictatorship – but obviously, I hope that the brave people within China who continue to believe that their country can do better will prove me wrong.

But there are great differences between the Taiwanese “model”, and the Chinese “copy”.

One difference is that Confucianism isn’t the Chinese model. There have been and there still are academics who advocate the great tradition (i. e. political, rather than just popular, Confucianism). But the party is far from adopting Confucianism. They’ve cherry-picked some of its most stifling aspects, like “harmony” – but even Mao liked to use the classics for creating slogans of his own. No party document refers to classical values, but each document refers to Leninism, Marxism, Maoism, Dengism and the “Three Represents”.

There is another decisive factor which makes China and Taiwan very different. Chinese people fear the world. The Taiwanese, if anything, fear China. A climate of fear perpetuates dictatorship. I think we have seen (comparatively sophisticated) beginnings of such a climate in America, after 2001, and they still seem to continue to exist in parts of American legislation – but there, such trends haven’t continued to reinforce [each other]. Provided that efforts within civil society towards liberalisation are to continue in America, the 9-11 streak will abate.

I think the only time when the Chinese public made genuine moves toward the rest of the world was in the 1980s, and possibly at times during the 1990s and early this century. Especially if democracy continues to stumble forward in the rest of the world (in a number of Arab countries, for example), China’s leaders will continue to create fears, and make use of them.

The climate among urban Chinese, including some people who I know quite well, doesn’t make me think that GDP or purchasing power per person will be the defining metric here. It isn’t an irrelevant factor in my view, but it’s not always a pivotal one either. Within Arabia, I think it’s possible that, despite a much lower GDP per capita than Saudi Arabia, Syria is a more likely democracy than its rich neighbor to the south, and that Taiwan, even if its GDP per capita was lower than China’s, would be a more likely democracy than China.

China is a country where many mortifications are felt. The roots for many of these can be found inside China as it is today, rather than abroad – but it is abroad where most Chinese people, even otherwise liberal-minded, seem to seek fault.

I’m sure the CCP has nothing against Confucianism as a popular tradition, as long as it works the way you describe in your previous comment – if it’s conducive to perpetuating the powers that be should be alright. But that doesn’t elevate Confucianism to a guiding ideology within the party. You won’t find references to Confucianism in CCP documents, as far as they are published, to the end that Confucianism would be part of what they build their organization on. That would be everything from Leninism to the “Three Represents”, i. e. the ruling dynasty’s heritage to date.
It may be hard to think that Chinese rulers may not put Confucianism first, and what Chinese scholars put forward in that regard, even very palpable constitutional drafts as the one by Jiang Qing, or Zhang Xianglong‘s concept of “special Confucian zones” [might suggest that they expect to have an actual say in China’s future design],  but the CCP is a very particular brotherhood, and I think there are Confucians who are too convinced of the “naturally guiding role” of Confucianism to understand the relativeness (if not irrelevance), in Beijing’s view, of their ideas.

It seems to me that the last time Chiang Kai-shek undertook a genuine ideological effort to control peoples’ minds, and not just their behavior, was his “New-Life movement”. His rule on Taiwan was authoritarian, but I see no totalitarian ambition there. That authoritarian rule weakened has a lot to do with the vanishing ambition to “regain the mainland”, simply because that goal was becoming unrealistic. Taiwan counted in CKS’ books as a military base, not as something worth in itself to possess. Sure – Chiang Ching-kuo kept referring to the “recovery of the mainland” even in his last speeches, but these were somewhat ironic (and melancholic, I feel) scenes, just the more as Chiang was by then wheelchair-bound. All that stuff about getting the mainland back had become an empty slogan, waiting to be replaced by something else.

1987 Double-Ten Military Parade

1987 Double-Ten Military Parade (click picture for source)

The meaning of Taiwan had begun to change, even among KMT loyalists from China. That’s one important factor which loosened the KMT’s grip in the first place. The CCP has no reason to follow that example. Another factor was that Taiwan is quite different from China. To keep myself from going from length to length, I’ll just drop the “yellow” and “blue culture” buzzwords for now. If they are of any use, and if they are relevant categories when it comes to Taiwan, I’d categorize Taiwan as rather “blue”.

Context here. The thread contains arguments far beyond this topic, and Richard‘s (Peking Duck)  post’s original intention wasn’t Taiwan-related either.



» Lee Teng-hui’s New Central Plains, October 18, 2011
» Causes of Democratization, Wikipedia, as of Dec 4, 2011


Thursday, November 24, 2011

The BoZhu Interviews: “I’ve Become more Aware of How Easily People Adapt to new Circumstances” –

FOARP about Democracy, Arguments between Memory and Ego, and the End of Reform in China

FOARP (Fear of a Red Planet) is a blogger from Britain who lives and works in Poland. He has also lived in China and Japan, and his first long-distance flight took him to Taiwan, ten years ago. The following interview is all about the past ten years.
His blog’s homepage can be found here.

The interview –

Q:  Most foreign China blogs seem to get started at the beginning of an expat’s stay there, or at some time during their stay. Your first post says, “It’s Good to be Back”, in October 2007, after your return to Britain. Why the delay?

A: Until 2006 I had never even looked at a blog, much less comment on one. I guess like a lot of people I saw such things as a giant time waster (which they are) and as inconsequential (which they may or may not be). The change happened after I started working for Foxconn, where my job consisted of periods of intense activity interspersed with the occasional period of inactivity, in which I turned to reading/commenting on blogs as a way of fighting the boredom.

Q:  Not too long after your return to Europe, you became an expat again, a Briton in Poland. How did you get there? Had you been there before? Do you speak Polish? And does life in Poland have an effect on how you view the world?

A: Actually I left the UK back at the end of 2009, when I travelled to Japan and worked for a patent firm there. I came to Poland at the start of this year to work in-house for a Finnish MNC where I get to use my Chinese, my knowledge of intellectual property, and get to travel a lot. Coming to Poland for the job interview was my first time in the country. My Polish classes are funded by the company – at the moment I can speak some Polish, ale niezbyt dobrze.

I would say that both my experiences in Japan and my experiences in Poland have affected my view on the world. Working in Japan taught me a lot about people, some good, some bad. I made some very good friends, but also worked incredibly long hours, alongside people who basically sacrificed their personal lives on the altar of work. Poland is almost the polar opposite. Perhaps it is the communist inheritance with its emphasis on work-to-rule, but the Polish draw a very solid line between their personal lives and their work lives and clearly distinguish between them.

Living in both these places also put a different perspective on my experiences in China. Japan obviously has many cultural similarities with China (although I think the idea of a genuine ‘Confucian’ world is an incredibly dangerous oversimplification). However, Japan’s cultural inheritance has not cursed it to eternal dictatorship.  Poland’s story as a country which has emerged from dictatorship is also obviously relevant.

Q:  Relevant in which ways?

A: Poland managed to successfully ditch communism without harming economic growth, or even ever suffering a real recession, and without excessive bloodshed after the end of the martial law period. It hasn’t had the same exposition that East Germany experienced due to the activities of the Gauck commission though. Perhaps the ideal post-communist liberation would be economically Polish and politically East German, but then East Germany had the rest of Germany to assist it.

Of course, the experience of Taiwan is perhaps more to the point.

Q: When did you decide to go to China? Did you study the language, along with law, before going there?

A: I graduated with a degree in Physics and Astrophysics and no idea of how I was going to use it to find a job back in the summer of 2001. The one thing I was certain of, however, was that I wanted to see the world and to learn a language that would be useful. It was basically a toss-up between Russian and Chinese, and Chinese won.

Before I arrived in Taiwan in November 2001 I had studied Chinese for about 3 weeks but that was about the limit. Firstly in Taiwan, and then later at a university in Nanjing, I taught English and used the money from that to pay for my studies. It was only after studying Chinese for a few years that I felt confident enough to take on a job in the patenting department at Foxconn at the start of ’06, which was also my first introduction to patenting. After working there for about 18 months I decided that I wanted to try to get some qualifications related to patenting, and so returned to the UK where I studied my master’s in intellectual property as well as a diploma in law. The job market being as it was in ’09, I ended up going back overseas after graduating.

Q:  Did life in China have an effect on how you view the world?

A: Since I was 21 when I went to Taiwan, and 22 when I arrived in Nanjing, it’s kind of hard for me to distinguish between the changes that naturally occur after 21 and the effect that China had. Compared to most of the people I knew back home, though, I would say that I’ve become more cynical, and more aware of how easily people adapt to new circumstances and get used to them.

Some experiences which I had in China which had a big effect on me:

  • SARS – my interesting life in China was converted in a very short time into something approaching semi-apocalyptic within a few days of the government switching from cover-up to over-reaction.
  • My boss in Nanjing’s attempted murder of his secretary, his subsequent suicide, and the response of party authorities to it.
  • Learning the language – a great confidence-booster and something I will use the rest of my life.
  • The sight of the hundreds of new recruits who showed up from the countryside every day at the gate underneath my office windows at Foxconn.
  • The expat community – put simply, my fellow expats included some really clever, smart people, as well as some real scum-bags. The real shock was discovering that the two were not as mutually exclusive as I had previously thought.
  • A friend of mine crying when she described the poverty of her home town. It had never occurred to me before that that people could be that ashamed of a poor background.

Reading the above it sounds like I had a really bad time in China, actually I had a ball, it’s just that I also had to take the rough with the smooth – and in China there’s a lot of both.

Q:  I guess if there was something that would boost my confidence, it would be earning a degree in Physics and in Astrophysics… One of the purposes of your blog, as stated in October 2007, was to keep your Chinese polished. How closely do you follow Chinese and non-Chinese blogs on China respectively? Do you (as a reader) or they (as bloggers) focus on certain, recurring kinds of news and topics?

A: I try to keep up my Chinese by watching the occasional soap-opera and reading news articles, as well as the stuff I translate at work. Chinese bloggers who I follow have dwindled – Song Qiang and Wang Xiaofeng only post about once a month. On the English language side, blogs I’ll look at at least once a day include the Peking Duck, China Geeks, China Law Blog, Imagethief (when he posts) and, of course, Just Recently’s Beautiful Blog.

As a reader I’m not so interested in the business/legal side of things – outside of work, anyway. Politics and history are the things I like to read the most. A couple of new (to me, anyway) blogs I’ve been getting into recently: Sinostand, Seeing Red In China, and Roll, Roll, Run. Why not any with a more positive spin on the Chinese government?  Well, I simply don’t believe such a spin reflects the truth.

Q:  Have you seen big changes in your own blog or blogs, and in the Chinese, or foreign “China blogosphere” since you started blogging yourself?

A: The biggest change happened between 2006 and 2008, with the introduction of comprehensive blocking. Put simply, this destroyed the expat blogosphere in China, since the humorous complaining that had made up 90% of what was posted about life in China became impossible to access without a proxy, thus preventing people finding them by accident the way people did with websites like Talk Talk China. These blogs fed off comments, so without them they withered and died.The growth of the nationalist movement since 2008 and its effect on the Chinese internet has been well enough described elsewhere that I don’t need to go into it.

In my own blog, I’ve found out that the best use for it is as a sort of log book of what I thought about something in particular at a particular time. Nietzsche said something about how, when your memory and your ego argue, it is your memory that eventually gives way. I like to use my blog as a way of counteracting the temptation to unconsciously re-write what you really thought about something at the time. You see this a lot when you ask people if they supported the Iraq war – my friends accuse me of it.

Q:  In your view, has China changed since you started blogging? Has Britain? Has the world? How so?

A: The biggest change in China has been the ditching of reform – combined with the predicted slow-down this could spell big trouble. Or it might not.For the UK, the economic crisis has had a big effect, but I believe in the long term there will be some positive outcome from it. I’m hoping that the crisis in the Eurozone will teach people that they are much better off having their own economic destiny in their own hands, and not decided for them by Frankfurt, Brussels, or Athens. The death of the idea that continuous borrowing on the never-never is an acceptable way of running the country is also something I hope the current crisis will bring about.

For the world in general, I see two changes this year. The first is the re-emergence of democratisation as an engine of change. From 9/11 until this year it seemed that democracy was on the retreat in Russia, the Ukraine, Belarus, Central Asia, the Middle East and elsewhere. The Arab Spring will, I hope, change this. The second is the all-enveloping economic crisis has also had an effect, destroying confidence in many of our financial institutions.

Q:  Besides a return to, let’s say, the subsidiarity principle within the EU –is that what you mean? –, would you like to see a smaller role for organizations such as the IMF or the World Bank, too? If so, why?

A: I’m afraid it rather revolves around the current dispute between Mr. Cameron and Mrs. Merkel. Mrs. Merkel’s solution is more Europe, Mr. Cameron’s solution is less. The UK at least signed on to the European Economic Community after a referendum in which it was promised that the EEC would be a trade union first and foremost, you could argue that things have developed from there, but there was never really any mandate given for this change. My hope is that whichever way things go, some reference is made to the people of Europe and what they actually want, preferably through a referendum.

The IMF and the World Bank have something of a mixed record, but a lender capable of imposing conditions is certainly something that is necessary at the moment.

Q:  Have you ever stopped reading blogs because you felt they were becoming boring, or because they angered you?

A: Never because they angered me – I even still read Hidden Harmonies. Some blogs that used to be good have gone downhill however – Danwei being an example.

Q:  What’s the worst online article or post you have ever read about China (that you remember)? And what’s the worst online article about Britain that you remember?

A: China – well, there’s so many. It’s really a toss-up between Shaun Rein’s “Real poverty is pretty much gone” piece, his piece proposing that the Nobel prize be given to Deng Xiaoping, and Paul V. Kane’s piece suggesting that the US sell-out Taiwan in the NYT last week.

Britain? Well, there was a lot of stupid rubbish written in the US about “imperial decline” after the 2007 Iranian hostage crisis, but that’s the only thing that comes to mind. I guess you can also include the nonsense Mark Stein used to peddle about Europe (and Britain in particular) turning into “Eurabia” because of Muslim immigration – something with no statistical basis.

Q:  That’s to say, you don’t believe in that life-cycle – rise, decline and fall of empires?

A: Well, very few countries admit to being empires any more, do they? But any theory of history based on things being cyclical overcomplicates the point – things change, except when they don’t, and that’s it.

Q:  An interview about your blog wouldn’t be complete without a question about your online brawl with Chris Devonshire-Ellis. In November 2008, you wrote a post stating that Chris Devonshire-Ellis wasn’t a lawyer, and that it annoyed you that he was treated as an expert by people who ought to know better. Were you the first blogger to make that statement? Wang Jianshuo, a Chinese blogger, wrote in December 2009 that he had previously run into Mr. Devonshire-Ellis, too (also online, and not in real life). Did you expect what followed – i. e. this kind of correspondence? This followed almost two and a half years after your actual post, and it probably caused you some trouble. Would you have written the post anyway, knowing the aftermath? Why, or why not?

A: Actually someone left a comment on a thread on Wang Jianshuo’s blog outing him as early as 2006, and people knew about it before even that. It’s just that he had managed to silence them through intimidating tactics such as those Wang Jianshuo (and also Ryan McLaughlin) describe on their blogs. People were also discussing his disreputable tactics – particularly giving out that he was a legal professional when he had not even finished his A-levels – on various defunct expat blogs back in 2006, which is where I first heard of him. I checked out his story myself after I got back to the UK, and after hearing from some more people who had been hassled by him, I decided to write a post on him to encourage those who were being hassled to stand up to him by showing that there was actually nothing, legally speaking, that he could do to stop them telling the truth about him.

Do I regret outing him? Absolutely not! Yes, the old boy certainly knows how to hold a grudge, but as far as I’m concerned, he can go and whistle for all I care. I’m in the right, and he’s in the wrong. It’s that simple.

Even having my real identity outed by him, to me, was not such a problem. For years I had been planning to out myself  but the correct moment never seemed to present itself. He solved the problem for me. The negative consequences of being outed have so far been precisely zero.

I would, however, like to give a shout-out to everyone who wrote comments on my blog supporting me.

Q:  Your most beautiful post, you said when it was your turn in a blog-nomination-snowball initiative in August this year, was one about Taiwan. At the same time, it seems, you like to tease Taiwanese nationalists, once in a while. Why is that? Does your sympathy for Taiwanese (or expat-Taiwanese feelings) depend on the way they are expressed?

A: When I lived in Taiwan I had a lot of sympathy for the pan-greens. I still do. It’s just that sympathy does not extend to uncritically swallowing scare-stories about a KMT-CCP conspiracy to annex Taiwan to China over the heads of the Taiwanese electorate without evidence. It’s also striking how Taiwanese independence is the lens through which some of these bloggers see everything. They’ve become far more committed to Taiwanese independence than the average Taiwanese person, and far more committed to the pan-greens than the average Taiwanese voter, a commitment not unlike certain US officials and the former South Vietnam – which is why my first post on this was entitled “Taiwan Expats and the Saigon Syndrome“.

Also having followed the last ten years, it’s become obvious that for some people war is always just around the corner, and they always write accordingly. The Chinese invasion is always in the next election year, the KMT is always trying to fix a deal (for which there’s no evidence) , the CCP is always carrying forward its plans etc. etc. etc. Sure, “the boy who cried wolf” and all that, but there’s a difference between warning people to maintain vigilance, and essentially trying to sell scare stories on the basis of rumours.

The goal of demonising the KMT is to de-legitimise them as a political party. Any vote they win is put down to dirty tricks. Their manifesto is portrayed as a tissue of lies. The idea that, by de-legitimising one half of Taiwan’s democratic balance, they are also delegitimising Taiwan’s political system, does not seem to occur to the purveyors  of such propaganda. It does not matter that propaganda from the other side has the same effect.

I’ve kind of mellowed on the Taiwan blogs, though, firstly because the DPP has changed it’s policies over the past few years – particularly since Tsai Ing-wen become leader – and a lot of the blogs have followed their lead. I’m certain that the CCP will try to paint her as an extremist – it’s what they do to everyone – but this is neither here nor there. I just hope that, if she loses, she, or someone like her, gets another chance.

Q:  Is there an unasked question you’d like to reply to?

A: I’ve been asked a lot how I ever could have worked for Foxconn. The answer is that I joined them before the major scandals came out. Actually, for me, it was quite a positive experience. I know I’ve been critical of people who have worked for outlets like Global Times and it may look like I’m applying a double-standard, but to me it does not seem that way.

Q: Foarp, thanks a lot for this interview.

The interview was conducted by an exchange of e-mails.



All BoZhu Interviews


Sunday, October 23, 2011

Zhou Youguang: don’t Blame Confucianism – make it Work

Zhou Youguang (周有光) is the man who “invented” the hanyu pinyin – those pronounciation helpers not only used by foreigners who learn Chinese, but also by Chinese elementary school students, before they learn the simplified characters. The following was posted on his blog some five months ago – thoughts about how to make Confucianism work in our times.

Every country’s culture includes modern and traditional culture. Modern culture is  mainly about internationally shared natural and social sciences; traditional culture is mainly a nationality’s culture, history, philosophy, and religion. Our universities’ curricula are mostly modern culture, with a small share of traditional culture, which reflects the degree to which our country has entered globalization, and retained particular national features. Every culture, knowingly or not, carries out modernization.


Confucianism maintained imperial rule, and built a stable and prosperous feudal society. During the second millenium, it produced great and correct accomplishments. Confucianism wasn’t there to serve post-feudal times. To blame Confucianism for not being able to serve democracy or science is no adequate historic viewpoint. The Fourth-May era attacked Confucianism, which made as much sense as to criticize Confucius for not understanding English. At that time, there was no English language. To make Confucianism work for the post-feudal times isn’t Confucius’ responsibility; how to make Confucianism modern is the responsibility of current generations.


Modernizing Confucianism should include

  1. Removing feudalism, building up modernity
  2. removing conservatism, building up creativity – for example, “I narrate, but I don’t innovate” must change into “I narrate and innovate”1)
  3. removing dissimulation, building up practicality; sayings such as “man and nature are one, sage inside, king outside” will find it difficult to reach modern young people – both its shape and content needs reform. Our forefathers didn’t know what nature is, and easily put the two together. Today’s people have at least elementary scientific understanding, and man and nature don’t fit together. There’s a five-year old poet in India, his anthology is titled “Let me touch the Sky”, and he may welcome people and nature sitting together. Old  bottles may be filled with new wine, but if the artwork on the bottle disgusts people, there will be no people who want to try its good taste. Imperial thoughts have turned into swearwords – who would still want to be called a king? You call yourself a sage, and other people will want to scoff [at you], too! What’s hard to understand for modern youth will hardly play a role in modern society.

Confucianist content needs to be explored one by one, and should be seen in three different categories:

  1. What has guiding meaning for modernity, such as “to know that we know what we know, and that we do not know what we do not know, that is true knowledge” is to be kept
  2. what’s correct in principle, but not in specific cases, needs to be changed, such as “Parents can’t do wrong” should be put “天下有不是之父母”.2) Parents have their faults, may be an reassuring figure of speech. [Update, Oct 27: for the source of the original quote and a discussion, see commenting thread.]
  3. What’s not in correspondence with modern requirements should be abandoned, such as “Women and ordinary people are hard to handle”.3)


There are people who say that illiterate people were in need of being converted to religious Confucianism, studied people needed Confucian were in need of Confucian dissimulation, and young people were in need of Confucian practical wisdom – but these three [rationales] exclude each other, and might as well go their own ways respectively. Isn’t that an essential phenomenon of transition?


Ever since the Han dynasty, Confucians have made thorough studies of chapters, sections, sentences and phrases in ancient writings, and added explanatory notes, added footnotes to the Five Classics, to Confucius and to Mencius. Genuine development and innovation was very rare, but many wise sayings were left behind, having universal and perpetual meaning. Future development should bring Confucius spirit “as the most timeous sage [or saint]4”  into play, and turn the ancient, feudalism-serving Confucianism into a modern, “post-feudal” Confucianism.


Zhou Youguang isn’t the only blogging academic who explores Confucianism and modernity – Wang Zhicheng would be one of many others -, but Zhou is arguably the oldest blogging academic  who is pursuing this interest in particular, and reform more in general. He turned 105 in January this year.

Underneath the “notes” section, I’ve listed some posts which may or not be “related” to this topic.



1) 子曰:“述而不作,信而好古,窃比于我老彭。” Confucius said, “I transmit but do not innovate; I am truthful in what I say and devoted to antiquity. I venture to compare myself to your Old P’eng.” (Analects, 7:1 / 论语述而篇第七章1) Also: “I transmit but do not create. In believing in and loving the ancients, I dare to compare myself with our old Peng.”
2) I’m exceeding my time limit, seeking for a proper translation of “天下有不是之父母” – maybe a reader can help out here.
3) In full: “子曰:唯女子与小人为难养也,近之则不孙,远之则怨” – Confucius said: “Only women and non-gentleman are difficult to handle. Be close to them and they lack humility, stay away from them and they complain.” (Analects, chapter 17, 25.)
4) In full (according to a blogger’s translation):
Mencius said, ‘Bo Yi among the sages was the pure one; Yi Yin was the one most inclined to take office; Hui of Liu Xia was the accommodating one; and Confucius was the timeous one. In Confucius we have what is called a complete concert. A complete concert is when the large bell proclaims the commencement of the music, and the ringing stone proclaims its close. The metal sound commences the blended harmony of all the instruments, and the winding up with the stone terminates that blended harmony. The commencing that harmony is the work of wisdom. The terminating it is the work of sageness. As a comparison for wisdom, we may liken it to skill, and as a comparison for sageness, we may liken it to strength – as in the case of shooting at a mark a hundred paces distant. That you reach it is owing to your strength, but that you hit the mark is not owing to your strength.’



» At 105, now a Government Critic, NPR, October 19, 2011
» Lee Teng-hui’s New Central Plains, Oct 18, 2011
» Confucius relegated, April 27, 2011
» Neither Law, nor Order, April 21, 2011
» Does Confucius matter outside Asia, Dec 12, 2010
» Not Father, but Son, The Guardian, Febr 21, 2008


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Lee Teng-hui’s new Central Plains: “The Rising Winds and Scudding Clouds of Modern Thought”

The following is a quotation from “Taiwan’s Position”  (台湾的主张), a book written by former Taiwanese president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝), first published on June 11, 1999, pages 36 – 38.

The book was sold in Hong Kong and in many places outside China, and somewhat surprisingly, Hong Kong bookshops had copies with simplified characters (简体字) on offer – the way they are usually written in China (minus Hong Kong and Macau, where traditional characters prevail), and in Singapore. Traditional characters are standard in Taiwan.

Links and highlighting within the following blockquote added during translation – JR.

Although I received Japanese education from an early age and loved Japanese culture, I did a lot of desultory reading of Chinese literature, too. The May 4th movement in particular, and the rising winds and scudding clouds of modern thought, left a deep impression on me.


Chinese people have always been proud of their long history. But it is hard to deny that under its long-lasting feudal system, traditional culture was twisted, and produced chronic social ills.


In 1928, Hu Shih published “Virtue” [or Norm, 名教 – JR] in the New Moon Magazine, a painful criticism of China’s blind worship for catch phrases and slogans. He pointed out that Chinese people didn’t believe in religion, but held a superstitious belief in their own singularity, in having a long tradition of virtue, and that they correspondingly “idolized everything that had been written”. Therefore, they paid no attention to reality and sought for inner fulfillment through slogans, with the result that not only problems remained unsolved, but that values became confused, too. So he urged those in power : Government isn’t about catch phrases and slogans – once something needs to be done, go and do it.1)

一九二八年,胡适在《新月杂志》上发表的〈名教〉,就对中国社会迷信标语、口号的现象痛加批判。他指出,中国人不信仰宗教,却迷信自己独有、且具有悠久传 统的“名教”,即“崇拜所写文字的宗教”。因此,做事不重实际,只以口号、标语来求心理的满足,结果不但没能解决问题,反而造成价值的颠倒错乱。他因而奉劝当时的主政者:“治国不在口号标语,顾力行何如耳”。

Lu Xun‘s “True Story of Ah Q” and other of his stories, in a taunting way, ridiculed the Chinese culture of loving face, and struck a chord with many people. He believed that whenever a thing crops up, and Chinese people can’t think  of a way to solve the problem, they only seek to placate themselves and to save face – that had made Chinese society come to a standstill and was the main reason for its inability to make headway.


In his research of ancient history, Guo Moruo criticized the harm that stemmed from the feudalist system, and encouraged young people to rise to reforms. In his “Book of Ten Criticisms”, “Bronze Age”, and other books, by assessing pre-Qin personalities and thoughts, he praised early Confucian [scholar] Mencius and the importance Mencius attached to people-oriented thought. He denounced Han Fei’s “legalist”, “monarch-oriented” views and and Qin Shi-huang’s “totalitarianism”2), etc., advocated the idea of “the people as the foundation”3), believing that only if China freed itself of tradition’s constraints, reason to hope for development would be there.

而郭沫若以考古及历史研究的角度,批判封建制度之害,更鼓励了许多年轻人,起而改革。他的《十批判书》与《青铜时代》等书,借着对先秦人物与思想的评论, 如推崇早期儒家孔孟的重视民本思想,贬斥韩非的“法术”、“君主本位”,和秦始皇的“极权主义”等,宣扬“以民为本”的思想,认为中国只有摆脱传统的束 缚,才有发展的希望。

These theorists, who criticized the social ills of Chinese tradition, had a resounding effect among knowledgeable young people. I was only 29 years old at the time, but I had also read these books carefully, and explored the issues of Chinese culture. I believe that China’s greatest problem is that its feudal system brought development to a halt. It really looks like the soy vat referred to by Bo Yang, distorting peoples’ words and deeds.


Up until today, I admire these thinkers’ views. It’s a pity that China’s social development still hasn’t reached a mature stage. Therefore, even as the Chinese thoroughly criticize the society and the system, they haven’t been able to produce feasible methods to solve problems. Even if young people generally hold revolutionary ideals, they are still unable to grasp a direction or method with certainty.


From this perspective, it can be said that Taiwan’s successes stem from the actual implementation of these reformist currents of thought. Over the years, on the foundation of stable economic and social development, we have gradually freed ourselves from the shackles of tradition, set out anew, and concerning political reform and social transformation, we have been very successful. Obviously, to reach the ideal status may require still more efforts. But we believe that the direction we have taken is correct. What we have done has also brought new hope for the restructuring of Chinese culture.

就此一角度而言,今天台湾所缔造的成就,也可以说是当年这些改革思潮具体实践的成果。这些年来,我们在经济和社会稳定发展的基础上,逐渐摆脱传统的束缚, 重新出发,在政治改革和社会改造方面,都取得了很大的成就。当然,要达到理想的境界,可能还需要更多的努力。但是,我相信,我们的方向是正确的。而我们所 做的这一切,也都为中国文化的再造,带来了新的希望。

My active advocacy for  the “reform of heart and soul” in recent years is based on my hope to make society leave the old framework, applying new thought, face a new era, stir new vigor, from a transformation of peoples’ hearts. This goes deeper than political reform, and it is a more difficult transformation project, but we are confident that we will, based on the existing foundations of freedom and openness, achieve the building of a new Central Plain.4

近年来,我积极倡导“心灵改革”,就是希望从人心的改造做起,让我们的社会走出旧有的框架,用新的思维,面对新的时代,并激发出新的活力。这是一个比政治 改革更加深入、也更为艰巨的改造工程,但是我们有信心,可以在社会自由开放的既有基础上,完成建立“文化新中原”的目标。

A trial is scheduled to begin at Taipei District Court on Friday. Lee is accused of embezzling state funds. The charges reportedly date back to a period around 1994.

Chiang Ching-kuo, Lee Teng-hui

“Taiwan’s Position”, page 226: 李登辉是从《蒋经国学校》学会如何当一名政治家的 (“Lee Teng-hui learned from the “Chiang Ching-kuo school” how to be a politician”).



1)In full: 為政者不在多言,顧力行何如耳, or 为治者不在多言,顾力行何如耳. Once something needs to be done, go and do it isn’t a very faithful translation.

2) I’m not sure if “totalitarianism” is the adequate translation of 极权主义 – it may also be something like “despotism”. However, totalitarianism seems to be the term most frequently offered by dictionaries.

3 or “the people at the center”, “people-oriented”

4 Zhongyuan (中原, the central plains) is a term charged with a Chinese sense of mission and civilization – in that context, it may appear surprising that Lee, a “splittist element”, would use the term at all. The way Henan party secretary Xu Guangchun (徐光春) referred to the central plains may give you an idea: The history of Henan Province constitutes half of the Chinese history. Two years earlier, Xu had apparently given a talk in Hong Kong, with a similar message.  But this wasn’t necessarily what Lee had on mind, in 1996.
From “Taiwanisation – Its Origin and Politics”, George Tsai Woei, Peter Yu Kien-hong, Singapore, 2001, page 19 – 20 (footnotes omitted):

Another anecdote should also be mentioned here. In 1996, Lee Teng-hui declared his ambition to “manage the great Taiwan, and to construct a new Central Plain”. As is known, Central Plain (zhong-yuan) was, and still is, a term usually reserved to describe cultural China. To “manage the big Taiwan” is something easily understood, but to construct a new “Central Plain” is very controversial, to say the least. Some argued that Lee’s aim was to help rebuild China as a “new” central plain, but with his foot firmly on Taiwan. But others rebutted that what really was in Lee’s minds was to build Taiwan as a new Central Plain so that there was no need to unify, or have connections, with the “old” central plain, China.



» Who’s afraid of an ICAC, July 2, 2011
» Taiwan’s Unbelievable Justice, September 12, 2009
» “Always in My Heart”, Olin Lecture, June 9, 1995
» Audio archive: CBS coverage on Olin lecture, June 9, 1995
Soundfile removed for upload space reasons – if you are interested in the file, contact me and I will make it available online for a limited period – JR
» “Guo Moruo worships Confucius”, A Glossary, HK, 1995, p. 346
» Lee Teng-hui, Wikipedia


Friday, October 14, 2011

Ask SoSo: Oh, Huanghe?

Tags: China (中国), brilliant accomplishments (辉煌成就), English (英文)

Answer (答案):

Be refreshed by the cool breeze of autumn, day high cloud Dan, float in this flower fruit we welcome the birthday having come to motherland fifty-six-year-old , can feel very happy with everybody with Zhu Guo Qing , me in fragrant season. In here, I need to be proud the field says to motherland mother: I love you, China! Oh! Huanghe River Yangtse River, gallop ten thousands li, you have fed a what splendid nation! Splendid history for 5000 years , the China civilization having good reputation in the whole world, are enough to let person praise it as the peak of perfection. The river that the motherland , the stream trickling sluggishly pass through is your elegant long hair I see, age-old long continuous kop is your forceful backbone. You have buried treasure all over the mountains and plains , you landscape having much posture elegant and pretty , you have the Palace Museum resplendent and magnificent, even though having the Great Wall that you have to extend Wan Ting, eternal, there are eight famine in the horizontal stroke. You still have many. . . . . . On your vast territory, the all people of Chinese descent that generation once replaces has created splendid east civilization with one’s own hands. We could not forget but, the Chinese nation went through the mill also once , several classics were sad, our motherland mother was doubly bullied and humiliated and humiliated also once. We forget without end, garden Ming garden flame, forgets the hat detaining “the sick man of East Asia ” on every Chinese relations with people without end , forgets park entrance “Chinese and the dog enter the inner ” brand without end not to , forgets blood of 300,000 fellow countrymen of Nanjing dyes red Yangtse River without end. But the earth is moaning , Huanghe River is weeping, Chinese People is unable to be overwhelmed under pressure forever also. The tiger door sells a cigarette having revealed anti-aggression prelude of Chinese sons and daughters. The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom banner , shy Constitutional Reform and Modernization of 1898 thunder, broadsword of soldier of Boxer , the Chinese Revolution of 1911 shot, none does not indicate to the whole world: The Chinese nation cannot be insulted , Chinese People can not be bullied. The May 4th Movement loud shouts in support , Communist Party of China’s be founded, are like the shy thunder scarification night sky more. The cypress slope “, sparks of fire, can set the prairie ablaze ” from Nanchang to Jinggang Mountains , from Yan’an to the west. Chinese People uses really millet plus rifles have shown a new splendid Chinese, our this east giant has stood up finally! Go by disturbances in 56 , after making great efforts to built a strong state for 54, our motherland rises like a mountain in the east of the world. Chinese People is enjoying a time of national peace and order having no precedent. The socialism with Chinese characteristics steamer cleaves through the waves , holds head high moving forward! Already very much, schoolmates , our Chinese big and powerful, but can not forget, our great cause of reunification is not completed , international anti-China forces has not given up the wild ambition to subjugate our country , Japan brings the water to sb.’s mouth , can not forget more to Diaoyu Island of our country, quilt of our country embassy explodes in 1999, blood of the fellow countryman tell us: We are not enough big and powerful. Hardships and dangers in make one’s way , the lofty sentiments being arousing us fighting spirit new 1000, new century , new starting point, the Sixteenth National Congress has been sounded march towards new clarion call by us, hundreds of millions forward new Chinese People targets advance bravely.

回答人的补充   2009-12-18 18:19

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

If King Ma never Returns… it may not be James Soong’s Fault

Wong Chong Xia (黃創夏) isn’t exactly one of DPP presidential nominee Tsai Ing-wen‘s biggest fans (at least, that isn’t what the following article , written by him and  published by the China Times on Tuesday, would suggest). The China Times (中國時報) itself is considered to be pan-blue-leaning, even if more moderately so than another pro-KMT paper, the United Daily News.

King Ma, the Confident Campaigner

King Ma, the Confident Campaigner

Given the China Times’ (supposedly) moderately pan-blue background, the following article seems to express a lot of frustration with the way incumbent Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou‘s re-election campaign is conducted – frustration felt by Wong Chong Xia – the author – himself, and possibly the paper’s frustration, too.

The article was apparently first published as a blogpost, and the headline reads Without Soong Chu-yu, Ma Ying-jeou may still Lose (沒有宋楚瑜,馬英九也會輸).

My translation isn’t doing justice to the original, and input to improve it will be welcome.

[Update – December 10, 2011: the China Times link seems to be broken, but the article is still available here.]

[Main Link:]

Preface: Can they only act the  “stooge”, can they only go on and on blaming Song Chu-yu (or James Soong), can they only keep comparing themyourselves to Chen Shui-bian, Taiwan’s worst and most corrupt president, to find that they are “not that rotten after all”, and, proud just like “creditors”, arrogantly believe that the voters should “reciprocate for Ma Ying-jeou’s fairness”, and, like useless little boys, complain – the way  Ma Ying-jeou did to his elder sister Ma Yi-nan after the Morakot disaster -, that “good people weren’t rewarded!” ?? These are the essential reasons for Ma Ying-jeou’s self-destruction.


Surprise! Tsai Ing-wen’s shadow is already emerging in Japan, but this time round, King Pu-tsung’s inseparable shadow hasn’t yet been spotted there?


That’s the way to do things! Six feet tall and stalwart, full of dignity, well-fed and nothing else to do, rushing in the wake of a woman, she turns east, so does he; the woman turns west, so does he, just like another Deng Tuzi, only a prig demonstrating what a strawbag he is.


Facing the 2012 elections, the two Ying camps [Ma Ying-jeou and Tsai (Y)ing-wen]  are without rhyme or reason, the ruling party with all the advantages on its side, should be in a position to remain calm and composed while handling their affairs. As the opposition is in difficulties in all respects, they [the ruling party, KMT] should be firing on all cylinders. But in Taiwan, the winner chooses the loser’s strategy, in hot pursuit on all fronts, as the loser applies the winner’s strategy, handling things with cool heads.


This strategy will become a “self-fulfilling prophecy”. When the rulers self-fulfilling prophecy is a “loser’s pattern”, they won’t gain at the others’ [the opposition’s] expense, but add to [the opposition’s] momentum instead.



Just as it was today! Tsai Ing-wen was the one who looked like the KMT’s “leader” – Tsai gave her opinion, and Ma Ying-jeou “followed right at her bottom”, aping her at every step, like a political Deng Tuzi without convictions of his own. Apart from real hardcore Ma fans, who would still dare to vote for such this a “stooge” without values, who would still vote for Ma Ying-jeou?



More importantly, the pan-blue camp keeps believing that the Soong Chu-yu factor was causing them trouble. Look at the surveys more closely. Ma Ying-jeou’s support rate never exceeds a ten-percent lead over Tsai Ing-wen, and the pan-green camp’s voting rate has always been stronger than the pan-blue camp’s, and past experience shows that when it is a one-on-one race, and the pan-blue camp’s lead isn’t better than ten per cent, it is the loser when the ballots are counted on election night.


Soong Chu-yu isn’t the problem, stupid! Soong is playing a “political werewolf’s” game of schemes and political tricks, acting as the defender of Taiwan’s fruits of democracy – everyone can beat the drum to go on the attack. But even without the Soong factor, Ma Ying-jeou may lose to Tsai Ing-wen, and this is what the “King-Ma command center” should seriously reflect upon.


Can the King-Ma command center only act the  “stooge”, can they only go on and on blaming Song Chu-yu (or James Soong), can they only keep comparing themselves to Chen Shui-bian, Taiwan’s worst and most corrupt president, to find that they are “not that rotten after all”, and, proud just like “creditors”, arrogantly believe that the voters should “reciprocate for Ma Ying-jeou’s fairness”, and, like useless little boys, complain – the way  Ma Ying-jeou did to his elder sister Ma Yi-nan after the Morakot disaster -, that “good people weren’t rewarded!” ?? These are the essential reasons for Ma Ying-jeou’s self-destruction.


You people there, smart folks like King Pu-tsung and Ma Ying-jeou, wake up! Let Taiwan see a future with a sense of direction and a sense of responsibility, and you won’t need to remain “Deng Tuzis” behind a woman’s rear, and above all, you won’t need to hide behind Bei-bei Soong’s back where you will only be pitied!




» Tsai seeks Ally in Japan, VoA, Oct 4, 2011
» Ma no Persian Cat, August 23, 2011
» Wong Chong Xia’s blog, info


Friday, September 23, 2011

German Blog Review: Is Religion above Democracy?

Asking about the costs a papal visit would cause has been a leitmotif during Pope Benedict XVI‘s visit to Spain in August, and has remained one during his visit to Germany now. What is true is that such a visit does cause costs. But then, every state visit does.

Benedict XVI spoke to the Bundestag on Thursday. There has been an argument about that, too. The Bundestag was being abused by the Vatican and those who had invited the Pope to speak there, writes Almabu, a German blogger, and

protestants, atheists, muslims, and others – who are Germany’s majority, will experience this with astonishment (Protestanten, Atheisten, Moslems und Andere – die zusammen die Mehrheit in Deutschland bilden – werden es mit Befremden erleben…).

I’m a protestant, and an unbelieving one at that – a christian only by denomination. The influence of both the catholic, and the protestant churches, goes to far in my view, given that Germany defines itself as a secular state. The state collects a church tax on the churches’ behalf. Professors of theology can’t teach at German universities without permission from either of the two official churches.  Hans Küng and Uta Ranke-Heinemann were banned from teaching catholic theology – not by their universities, or by a court decision, but by the Vatican.

But that doesn’t seem to be the current protesters’ main concern. Child abuse in religious – and especially catholic – organizations are a topic. Papal opposition to “gay marriage” is, too. So is the Pope’s conservative attitude towards “unity among christians”, or ecumenism. But then, catholicism and protestantism are two  different concepts after all.

Maybe I’d be opposed to the Pope’s visit if I were a believing christian, and especially if I were catholic. Maybe. I know catholics who are struggling to make their voices heard within their church, and who argue that the catholic church needed to become more democratic, or at least more presbyterian (if that’s the accurate nomenclature).

So, talk may be cheap. I’m not catholic. But I’m a citizen of this republic, and I see no problem with the Pope speaking to the Bundestag. He spoke to Parliament as a fellow German, but above all, he stated his concept of the foundations of a free state of law (die Grundlagen des freiheitlichen Rechtsstaats). He may be dead-wrong, but he has earned himself the position to speak, through a long life of ardent and productive research and thought. As long as he doesn’t exceed the constitutional limits, why should his speech to the Bundestag be a problem? He wasn’t legislating – he was presenting his views.

Would he like to legislate, instead of elected lawmakers? Who can tell? I can’t. What I can tell is that I’m sometimes listening when the Pope speaks – for my information, not for guidance. I do believe that he is a man of great knowledge, even if not necessarily a man of wisdom. He’s dogmatic. Dogmatism may limit, but doesn’t seem to bar thought – much of what theologians write is actually very carefully thought.

The Pope, in his speech to the Bundestag, was aware that he wasn’t talking to a merely christian parliament. “How do we recognize what is right?”, he asked (rhetorically), and answered his own question:

In history, systems of law have almost always been based on religion: decisions regarding what was to be lawful among men were taken with reference to the divinity. Unlike other great religions, Christianity has never proposed a revealed body of law to the State and to society, that is to say a juridical order derived from revelation. Instead, it has pointed to nature and reason as the true sources of law – and to the harmony of objective and subjective reason, which naturally presupposes that both spheres are rooted in the creative reason of God.


For the development of law and for the development of humanity, it was highly significant that Christian theologians aligned themselves against the religious law associated with polytheism and on the side of philosophy, and that they acknowledged reason and nature in their interrelation as the universally valid source of law. This step had already been taken by Saint Paul in the Letter to the Romans, when he said: “When Gentiles who have not the Law [the Torah of Israel] do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves … they show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness …” (Rom 2:14f.).

But while most of the matters that need to be regulated by law, the support of the majority can serve as a sufficient criterion, it was evident that for the fundamental issues of law, in which the dignity of man and of humanity is at stake, the majority principle is not enough: everyone in a position of responsibility must personally seek out the criteria to be followed when framing laws.

Natural law, which helped to understand what is right or wrong, is no specifically catholic concept, according to the Pope.

But probably, there had been attempts to incorporate natural law into Christianity. It would be surprising if the Pope didn’t think of natural law as something within catholic teachings – the latter of which would supersede all other teachings, in his view.

Maybe it’s that suspicion (it’s certainly a suspicion I do feel myself) which drives oppostion against the papal visit to Germany in general, and his opportunity to speak to our elected representatives in particular.

But it makes no difference, as long as the law prevails. Besides, there would only be few people in this country, given our history, who would doubt that under certain circumstances, the state and its law must be opposed, not supported.

If or when such a situation would arise will be judged differently by different people. The Pope‘s criteria may not be my criteria. But when reading what he said as a cardinal, in 1996, about relativism, it seems to strike a chord here:

A system of freedom ought to be essentially a system of positions that are connected with one another because they are relative as well as being dependent on historical situations open to new developments. Therefore, a liberal society would be a relativist society: Only with that condition could it continue to be free and open to the future.

In the area of politics, this concept is considerably right. There is no one correct political opinion. What is relative—the building up of liberally ordained coexistence between people—cannot be something absolute. Thinking in this way was precisely the error of Marxism and the political theologies.

However, with total relativism, everything in the political area cannot be achieved either. There are injustices that will never turn into just things (such as, for example, killing an innocent person, denying an individual or groups the right to their dignity or to life corresponding to that dignity) while, on the other hand, there are just things that can never be unjust.

Indeed, writes Alan Posener, a British-German blogger,

democracy is, if you like, the “dictatorship of relativism”. Those who stand up for democracy advocates that every opinion may be voiced, and that all kinds of [political] parties strive for state power. No hate speech is allowed, no calls for violence, but basically, everything else is permitted. What is not permitted is to put an end to this relativism, the abolition of the rules of democratic practice. A party with the declared goal to bar other parties’ access to power or to ban free expression of opinion must not stand for election, not even if – and especially not if – they have a majority behind them. What democrats do not want is a dictatorship of truth – no matter if that is a minority’s or a majority’s truth.

But that’s what Benedict wants.*)

Is it? Posener quotes several very unpleasant – if quoted correctly – lines from the Pope, spoken in 2004, when the Pope was still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. I’m not sure, however, if Ratzinger, in 2004, really said that the West needed to ask itself if “European secularization wasn’t an exception which needed correction” (“ob die „europäische Säkularisierung ein Sonderweg sei, der einer Korrektur bedürfe” – that’s how Posener quotes him). According to Massimo Rosati, in Ritual and the Sacred, 2009, it was actually Jürgen Habermas, in a debate with the Pope, who

reminded us how, seen from Tehran, secularization in Europe, if compared with other socio-cultural contexts, appears an exception in need of correction.

Ratzinger however

had emphasized, on the one hand, how secularized Europe cannot reasonably think of herself as a model for other countries, how her particularistic self-representation cannot aspire to being an exemplary value, and, on the other hand, how this self-representation is not truly authentic even with reference to European history and culture [footnotes omitted].

Thomas Assheuer, a correspondent of German weekly Die Zeit, who listened to Habermas’ and Ratzinger’s debate in 2004, couldn’t tell if Ratzinger had claimed, for religion, the role of an usher which would supersede democracy, or one as a corrective. The Pope is trying to influence the public – the German public, the Italian public, the global public. But so is every Confucius Institute. The issue is if either of them wants to impose dictatorship upon Germany. (If either the Confucius Institutes, or the religious organizations, should play a role in our educational system, would be a different question.)

If the Pope is indeed as dangerous as he is portrayed to be by many of his opponents, blogposts like Posener’s (and many other critics) won’t cut. For sure, this is a country where the Pope’s views can be read, quoted from, and be challenged.

But before he can be challenged (or even quoted, for that matter), he must be read. Closely.



*) Tatsächlich ist die Demokratie, wenn man so will, die Diktatur des Relativismus. Wer für die Demokratie eintritt, setzt sich dafür ein, dass jede Meinung geäußert werden darf und dass sich alle möglichen Parteien um die Macht im Staat streiten. Man darf keine Hassreden schwingen und nicht zu Gewalt aufrufen, aber sonst ist so ziemlich alles erlaubt. Was nicht erlaubt ist, das ist die Beendigung dieses Relativismus, die Aufhebung der Spielregeln der Demokratie. Eine Partei, die das erklärte Ziel hat, den anderen Parteien den Zugang zur Macht zu verbieten oder die freie Meinungsäußerung zu unterbinden, darf nicht kandidieren, selbst wenn – ja gerade wenn – die Mehrheit hinter ihr steht. Was Demokraten nicht wollen, ist die Diktatur der Wahrheit. Egal ob das die Wahrheit einer Minderheit oder die einer Mehrheit ist.

Die will aber Benedikt.



» The Art of Happiness, December 9, 2008


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