Saturday, November 7, 2015

416. On Time for the United States to Learn from China

In her blog, Asia Unbound,  Elizabeth Economy pointed out that the United States should learn from China. She said that, "The United States has spent over thirty years trying to “teach” China with, at best, mixed results. I think the time is well overdue for a turnabout in roles. We need to start learning from China." Interestingly enough, she called for the United States to learn from China in 2011.

From this blog and Dr. Dave Wang's published works, readers may have learned, the history that the United States learned from China is longer than the history of the United States. Famous colonists, including the founders of this nation, started to learn from China and adopted positive elements from Chinese civilization in the colonial period.

Clearly, the process of learning from China was started by the founding fathers who borrowed much wisdoms from China, including Confucianism in the founding era.

415. American Confucian or American Socrates

For John E. Remsburg, Benjamin franklin was an American Socrates. The following statement from Franklin can be used to support John's opinion,  “The perusal of Shaftesbury and Collins had made me a skeptic; and, being previously so as to many doctrines of Christianity, I found Socrates' method to be both the safest for myself, as well as the most embarrassing to those against whom I applied it. It soon afforded me singular pleasure; I incessantly practiced it; and became very adroit in obtaining, even from persons of superior understanding, concessions of which they did not foresee the consequence" Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography, p. 17)  Clearly, Franklin adopted Socrates method for reasoning and communication.

In moral cultivation, it is more appropriate to say that Franklin was an American Confucian. Through Dr. Dave Wang’s research, we have learned that Franklin loved Confucius moral philosophy since his young age. He organized the youth group to discuss how to improve one’s virtue. He published chapters of Confucius work in 1737. He claimed the Confucius was his example in advancing his and the human beings  virtue in 1749. We have enough reasons to say that Franklin was an American Confucian by 1749.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

414. Confucian Moral Philosophy and America's Best Hope

The founders would be very happy to read what a contemporary writer’s following statement,   “America's best hope is to adopt a more Confucian lifestyle: (1) more focused on education, (2) more respectful of old people, (3) better able to subordinate private needs to public goods, (4) more responsible to the needs of family, (5) more polite in our daily lives, and (6) more hardworking.” (What Can Americans Learn from Confucianism? A Whiteheadian Appreciation of the Confucian Lifestyle.)
The United States has developed from a small nation composed of the 13 colonies into the world power since 1776. Indeed, over the 240 years, situation changed a lot. Many things disappeared or lost in the history. However, the efforts improving American virtues through Confucian moral philosophy has remained the same as the founders’ in the founding era. The virtues Jay McDaniel listed are mainly what the founders hoped and requested the new Americans to possess.
Jay has also noticed that, “The likelihood that Americans will be learning from Confucianism increases every day. … As Hillary Clinton observes in a recent article in Foreign Affairs: "It is becoming increasingly clear that the world's strategic and economic center of gravity will be the Asia-Pacific, from the Indian subcontinent to western shores of the Americas.”

Saturday, October 10, 2015

413. Confucius and the Origin of Communal Tradition in the United States

The communal tradition of the United States was started by the founders in the founding era of the United States. It was nurtured by Confucian moral philosophy the founders promoted in the new nation. 

Most people would not think ancient Chinese thought was relevant for the American founding, but Confucian moral philosophy had answers for the moral reconstruction in the wake of the independence. In his famous work The Analects, Confucius taught a life long process of moral advancement. One of my friends was puzzled by Dr. Dave Wang's paper, Confucius in American Founding. For him, Confucianism favored a hierarchical political system culminated in the emperor. How Confucianism made contribution to the cause of the founders, who fought against the monarchical society. It was also unthinkable that Confucius would support the founders radical ideals, --commitment to liberty, equality, government of the people and rule of law. 

Here we need to understand Confucianism fully. No doubt, in Confucius era, the monarchical society with an enlightened ruler was an ideal social system. Confucius taught rulers to be virtuous and formulated a series of ethic principles for leaders of state. Therefore, a very important part of Confucianism is personal virtual cultivation. Confucius requested leaders to be  gentlemen who should always claim moral leadership to exercise proper influences in order to put society in good order. Following Confucius moral principles, gentlemen with good virtue always serve the community with their talents and resources. They should devote attention to local welfare institutions, such as promoting education.

Clearly, the founders who realized the value of Confucian personal virtual cultivation, adopted his individual moral improvement in their efforts to reconstruct a new virtue for the new nation. That explains why the founders promoted the Confucian moral philosophy in the founding era. As for how they used Confucian moral philosophy, please read Confucius in the American Founding.

One of the legacies from the founding fathers efforts is that their efforts had produced the phenomenon as discovered by Alexis de Tocqueville in 1803 "that Americans were very good at associating with one another and subordinating their individualism to voluntary groups of one type or another."(Francis FukuyamaConfucianism and Democracy).

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

412. Why Confucius, not Socrates in American Moral Revolution

Dr. Dave Wang's article, Confucius in American Founding, examines the efforts of the founders who used Confucian moral philosophy to help created a new virtue for the fledgling new nation. One question is that why Socrates virtue was not adopted by the founding fathers. In the following readers will find why Confucius moral principles, not Socrates were chosen in the moral reconstruction during the founding era. For the founders, Socrates's real moral principles were corrupted by Plato, Thomas Jefferson pointed out that "So again, the superlative wisdom of Socrates is testified by all antiquity, and placed on ground not to be questioned. When, therefore, Plato puts into his mouth such paralogisms, such quibbles on words, and sophisms, as a school boy would be ashamed of, we conclude they were the whimsies of Plato's own foggy brain, and acquit Socrates of puerilities so unlike his character." ( Thomas Jefferson’s Letter to William Short from Monticello August 4,1820.)

In one of his federal papers, James Madison, told his fellow Americans, "Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates, every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob." (The Total Number of the House of Representatives, Independent Journal, Wednesday, February 13, 1788)

Finally, in the eyes of  John Adams, Confucius comes in the first place in terms of virtue. Adams declares, “Confucius, Zoroaster, Socrates, Mahomet, not to mention authorities really sacred, have agreed in this” goal of happiness through virtue. ( John Adams - “Thoughts on Government”April 1776) 

Confucian moral philosophy made available in the eighteenth century to wider and deeper strata of the colonists. For example, Benjamin Franklin worked hard to spread Confucius moral teachings in North America as early as 1737. Confucius moral teachings had been studied and discussed in the colonies about half century before the founding of the United States.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

411. Chinese President Xi, Secretary of State John Kerry, Benjamin Franklin and Confucius

I am sure that my readers and the readers of Dr. Dave Wang's research on Benjamin Franklin and Confucian moral philosophy have noticed the following remarks from the Secretary and the President on September 25, 2015;

"Dr. Franklin – the reason I mention this is because Dr. Franklin was absolutely fascinated by the great scholar Confucius and by China generally, which he way back then called the wisest of nations.  As a scholar himself, Franklinlearned all he could about Chinese silkworm, cultivation, about ship design,candle-making, and home heating.  And one of his inventions, the Franklinstove, was actually based on Chinese ideas, which emphasizes that intellectual property was a hot issue way back then.  (Laughter.) 

 "And Secretary Kerry just announced to us that this room is named after Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the United States.  And Mr. Franklin had a close connection with China.  He has such great respect for Confucius – a Chinese philosopher, thinker, and founder of Confucianism – that he personally promoted Confucius moral philosophy among the American people. " 

Ben Franklin RoomWashington, DC
September 25, 2015

Saturday, September 12, 2015

410. Dr. Eric Schwitzgebel, Confucius-A Part of American Past

Dr. Eric Schwitzgebel, professor of philosophy at UC Riverside, wrote an excellent Op-Ed article for Los Angeles Times, titled “What's missingin college philosophy classes? Chinese philosophers,” He pointed out correctly, “Our neglect of ancient Chinese philosophers in U.S. philosophy departments is partly a remnant of our European colonial past.” However, “the remnant of our European colonial past” is only a part of American history, a main part if you want to say. Clearly, we need to study other parts and piece them together to construct the whole history of the United States. There is no right history until we get all parts and put them in right place in American past.

The tradition-to learn from Confucius moral philosophy, started by the principal founders of this country, was longer than United States history. Actually, the main founders were good students of Confucius moral philosophy. They not only studied but also promoted Confucius moral philosophy in North America tirelessly. As early as 1738 Benjamin Franklin published some chapters of Confucius moral principles in his widely read newspaper, Pennsylvania Gazette. Thomas Jefferson even regarded a moral model set up by Confucius as his own moral example.   

Dr. Schwitzgebel has found that, “Considered globally, moreover, Confucius, Laozi and, to a lesser extent, the other major ancient Chinese philosophers have been enormously influential.” He has also found surprisingly the fact that in the United States, “among the general population, Confucius and Laozi are better known and more broadly discussed than any but a handful of European philosophers.” 

Why this? We have to go back to the founding fathers' wisdom and efforts to borrow from Confucius ethics. It was not Confucius walked with his teachings into American history but the founders applied his moral teachings in the founding of this country. As for how the founders used Confucius moral principles to help them in the founding of the United States, please read Dr. DaveWang’s article" Confucius in American Founding", in Virginia Review of AsianStudies, vol. 16, 2014.