Saturday, April 19, 2014
Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) was deeply impressed by China. Due to the lack of direct communication between China and North America in Benjamin Franklin era, Franklin was forced to make his extra efforts to collect information on China. When in Europe, Franklin tried every means to find books on China and read them. Although it is difficult to find out how many books on China Franklin read, we can tell from his determinnation to follow Confucius' moral teachings to cultivate his virture and from his great efforts to borrow Chinese technologies Franklin's reading list was very inclusive, including subjects such as literature, economic and natural sciences. Unsatisfied with the books he read, he tried to approach people who had been to China in person. In order to obtain information on Chinese life and customs, he contacted the “sailors on the Packet who had previously made the trip to the China seas.” Later in his life, Franklin obtained “his knowledge of Chinese navigation from Captain Truxtun who in the following year himself made the voyage to China.” Franklin even tried to visit China personally, and told one of his friends, “If he were a young man he should like to go to China.”
Saturday, April 12, 2014
Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) admired Voltaire (1694-1778), the French leader of the Age of Enlightenment. Voltaire regarded Confucianism as a high system of morals, and Confucius as the greatest of all sages. From Jefferson’s speech, it is evident that Jefferson accepted the Confucian concept of the true gentleman, and the belief that a good moral foundation was the foundation of a good government. Jefferson’s vision for a better United States was largely based in a benign religion and a wise government. The morals Jefferson listed in his inauguration speech were the same moral principles that Confucius maintained. Jefferson also enshrined the Confucian moral principle that a ruler loses his mandate if the people don't approve in the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident . . . That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it.
Saturday, April 5, 2014
Dr. Benjamin Rush (1746-1813), an ardent patriot, asserted in a 1798 essay on education in the new republic that “the only foundation for a useful education in a republic is to be laid in Religion. Without this there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments.” Having expressed his veneration for Confucianism which “reveals the attributes of the Deity,” Rush declared that he had rather see the opinions of Confucius “inculcated upon our youth, than see them grow up wholly devoid of a system of religious principles.”
Sunday, March 30, 2014
Thomas Paine (1737-1809), the famous polemicist of republicanism, regarded Confucius as one of the world's great moral teachers. In his Age of Reason, 1791-1792, Paine listed Confucius with Jesus and the Greek philosophers as one of the world's great moral teachers. Paine reiterated this point in an article he wrote a decade later for The Prospect, a New York magazine: As a book of morals there are several parts of the New Testament that are good, but they are no other than what had been preached in the East world several hundred years before Christ was born. Confucius, the Chinese philosopher, who lived five hundred years before the time of Christ says, ‘acknowledge thy benefits by the turn of benefits, but never revenge injuries.’ Remarkably, Paine used Confucius’ moral codes in his political dispatches with the Federalists. He criticized the moral faults of some federalists and told them to follow Confucius teaching. He told them if they would follow this commandment, they would be “leaving off lying.” “As to the hypocritical abuse thrown out by the federalists on other subjects, I recommend to them the observance of a commandment that existed before either Christian or Jew existed. "Thou shalt make a covenant with thy senses, "With thine eye, that it beholds no evil. "With thine ear, that it hear no evil. "With thy tongue, that it speak no evil. "With thy hands that they cemmit no evils.
Sunday, March 23, 2014
John Adams (1735-1826)realized that virtue ennobled individual character and lifted the entire society. Virtue encompasses a variety of characteristics, such as humility, industry and goodwill. These precepts serve as the cornerstones for both individual and societal governance. Adams came to the conclusion, "All sober inquirers after truth, ancient and modern, pagan and Christian, have declared that the happiness of man, as well as his dignity, consists in virtue. Confucius … agreed in this". Adams’ statement conveys the significance of virtue for a good government and the significance of Confucius's moral philosophy in Adams’ own efforts to bring up “the minds of the people”. John Adam showed his high regard for Confucius virtues and believed that any good Americans should possess these traits. In a letter to Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), Adams criticized the English theologian and natural philosopher Joseph Priestley (1733-1804) for ignoring Confucius in his writing: Priestley ought to have given us a sketch of the religion and morals ...of Confucius, and all the founders of religions before Christ, whose superiority would, from such a comparison, have appeared the more transcendent.
Wednesday, March 19, 2014
In today's New York Times, March 19, 2014, Thomas L. Friedman pointed out the direction for the United States, which is to make America "a global technology and moral leader and ensure that the next generation can thrive here on earth." (see his op-ed article, From Putin, A blessing in Disguise). I like to read Mr. Friedman's article. I just finished an article, "Confucius in American Founding," and sent it to the chief editor yesterday. It is well-known that the American Revolution was a political revolution which marked the birth of the United States as a new nation. However, it was also simultaneously a moral revolution. While the founders were concerned with preserving their civil liberties and economic freedom through their stance, “no taxation without representation,” they were also concerned with public morality. They fully understood that the war was as much a battle against “the corruption of 18th century British high society” as it was against financial oppression. As a result, the founding fathers were determined to construct new virtues responding to the needs of the new nation. Having seen the results of the moral corruption in the old world, the founders worked diligently to use all valuable moral resources available for them to create virtues for the new nation. If history is a guide, we can understand the significance of being a "moral leader." We have to admire Thomas Friedman's wisdom and the founding fathers' foresight.
Friday, March 14, 2014
Among Chinese porcelain wares, Washington had a special fondness for blue-and-white porcelain. I have found at least nine recorded references to his purchase of blue-and-white Chinese porcelain in Washington's Papers. Samuel Fraunces (ca 1722-1795), realizing that Washington loved this, found an assortment of blue-and-white china for Washington. As the War of Independence came to an end and the focus of American officers and troops turned toward their civilian futures, Washington began to search for a large set of chinaware for Mount Vernon. He wrote to Daniel Parker (a partner with William Duer and John Holker in a company formed to provision the Continental Army) in occupied New York and requested "a neat and complete sett of blue and white table China." With the help of Samuel Fraunces, Parker collected 205 pieces of blue-and-white porcelain before September. Edward Nicole, Jr. also provided some blue-and-white pieces for Washington. Washington learned through an advertisement in The Maryland Gazette and Baltimore Advertiser on August 12, 1785, that the Pallas, which was coming directly back from China, would be selling its cargo, including blue-and-white Chinese porcelain. He wrote to Tench Tilghman, his former military aide, and asked him to inquire about the conditions of sale and price.Five days later Washington, at Mount Vernon, learned that "the Cargo is to be sold at public Venue, on the first of October," and wrote a letter to Tench Tilgman in which Washington asking him to buy “a set of large blue and White China Dishes with the badge of the Society of the Cincinnati" and the best Hyson Tea, one dozen small blue-and white porcelain bowls and best Nankeens. In July 1790, when two ships had just arrived in New York from Canton, Tobias Lear asked Clement Biddle to purchase and send to Mount Vernon blue-and-white china tea and coffee services for twenty-four persons with three or four matching slop bowls for tea dregs. A week later Biddle sent to Mount Vernon a box marked GW containing 3 dozen china cups & saucers, 2 dozen coffee cups & saucers, & 4 slop bowls by the sloop Dolphin, Captain Carhart, on 6 August, 1790.