Confucianism, Democratization, and Human Rights in Taiwan

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If we look at the ancient alchemy and claim that the scientific rules discovered by modern chemists are not universal and subject to historical change, and go further to apply the same logic to other disciplines, then we will come to a dangerous conclusion that all things in the world are unknown and human efforts of seeking knowledge and truths would be in vain. The evolutionist view may lead to a contradictory result.

For example, Dr. Sun Yat-sen, the founder of Republic of China who to some extent agreed to Social Darwinism, stated that "the rights of people is not from nature, but from the historical development. At his time, the trend was towards democracy. Regardless of obstacles, democracy would be long lasting cited in Chou, , p. If rights are relative to social and historical development and in history one types of rights under a political system replaces another, then how can Dr.

Sun predict that democracy will be long lasting or irreplaceable in the future? Marxists assert that Socialist rights are the final stage of the social evolution and replaces bourgeois rights, just like Capitalism wiped out Feudalism. On one hand, the Chinese government disregards the principles of human rights as absolute. On the other hand, China insisted upon the Four Cardinal principles, namely,. These doctrines are considered absolute. Actually, it is the same fallacy as that of Sun Yat-sen.

When Charles Darwin introduced the model of biological evolution, he hypothesized that the evolution is based on the natural selection and the survival for the fittest. If rights are also evolutionary, they have to base on a principle. The quest for a principle for social evolution inevitably becomes a search for universality.

If the evolution of different periods bases on different principles, these periods would not be associated as several stages and history would not be considered as a continuous process. In this sense, it would not be an evolution at all.

The notion of Marxist economic determinism cannot pass the empirical verification. Today, many Third World nations, including China, have exceeded this amount, but they are still far behind to the Western standards of democracy and human rights Chow, , p. Interestingly enough, economic factors are frequently used as an excuse to slow sown or even to avoid the realization of Western-style democracy and human rights. For instance, Shen Baoxing et al. Or more? At which level would it be considered adequate?

Human rights need a universal and philosophical foundation, rather than an evolutionist and economic one. From the very beginning, the Chinese philosophy affirmed the existence of universal truths and morality. French thinker Foucault asserted that in the past century Western scholars started to apply the macro cosmic order to the study of micro subjects.

But thousands years ago Chinese thinkers had compared the cosmic order to the societal structure.

Chinese ethics and universal human rights

Before the establishment of any philosophic school, the Chinese regarded Heaven as a moral universe. Then "Yin" and "Yan" transform themselves into various forms and matters. In short, "Tai Chi" is considered the ultimate universal principle. Mencuis, the second greatest master of the Confucian School, further developed the principle of universal morality by introducing "Ho Yan Ching Hay" mighty and just vital force. In Mencuis' philosophy, a man is born good and capable of cultivating the internal vital force , which is given by Heaven. When we fully cultivate the vital force, we fully realize our human nature.

This doctrine, indeed, was implemented by many Confucians. For instance, when the Mongolians overthrew the Sung Dynasty and established the Yuan Empire, the former Sung official Man Tin-cheung refused to co-operate with the new oppressive regime at the expense of his freedom, and at last, his life. Before he was executed, he wrote: "Heaven and the earth have the 'Ching Hay'.

It is embodied in various forms. In the earth it takes the form of rivers and mountains. In Heaven it takes the form of the Sun and stars. In humans, it is called 'Ho Yan'. In Taoism, "Tao" Way or Word is the metaphysical law that governs the universe. There are different interpretations of Taosim. According to Munro , Taoists did not accept natural law. They denied that nature revealed any social and ethical qualities. All value and ethical judgements, Taoists maintained, were only human inventions.

In contrast, Tong asserts that Taoists emphasized natural law or the Way of Heaven more than Confucians did. Lou Tzu, the founder of Taoism states: "Man learns from the earth. The earth learns from Heaven.

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Heaven learns from Tao. Tao learns from the nature. The essence of the message is the emphasis on the subordination of man to the natural law, which manifests itself through Heaven and earth. When we put the natural law into words, it becomes "Tao. The Legalist School also respects natural law. While observing the complexity of the nature, Kun Chung, the politician of the kingdom of Chai during East Chou period, concluded that human world is as complicated as the nature.

There must be some laws guiding their operation. Thus, he regarded the validity of moral law as that of natural law. The Chinese Rationalists were interested in ethics rather than epistemology. The latter is value-free and empirical knowledge. The way of acquiring this kind of knowledge is simply by learning. However, moral knowledge, Rationalists maintained, is not learned, but by introspection and cultivation of our instinct.

Rationalists did not stop at the point that human nature is ethical. They went further to ask how it is possible for humans to introspect the moral nature? Following the concepts of "Tai Chi" and "Tao," Sung philosophers introduced a new concept--"Le" reasoning. Chu Hay, one of the great Master of Chinese Rationalsim, stated that human nature is rational. A man acquires reason from the "Tao". Hence, human reason and "Tao" are one, and cultivation of human moral nature becomes possible. If people share the common moral nature, how could Chu Hay explain the differences of norms and values among various times and places?

Chu Hay stated that the form of the reason is one but the contents can be different. If one examines carefully, one can observe that all people and things in the world appear to be different but still carry the same "Le" as oneself. And thus, it is reasonable to respect every one. This type of fraternity is called "Mui Yee Man Bao. The underlying assumption of universal human rights is the equal concern and respect for every human-being. Chu Hay's philosophy certainly constructed a ground for mutual respect. However, the assertion of moral and rational human nature would be resulted in the over-estimation of human ability.

The humanistic character of Confucianism will be evaluated later. Moreover, over-emphasis on universality of human nature would smash individual ego and lead to collectivism. Another weakness of Rationalism is the absence of definitions of the world and human. Before the Westerners had encountered the Chinese, the Chinese considered China and the surrounding tribes as the entire world and only Chinese as authentic humans. These two points will be discussed more in later sections.

Confucianism's assumption of a moral universe is similar to the natural law theory suggested by John Locke. As Edwards et al. John Locke argues that human rights are based on natural law. It was adopted by Catholic scholars such as Aquinas. At the time of John Locke, the discovery of scientific laws strengthened the faith of natural law.

Locke asserts that because the study of the universe shows that laws are operating throughout nature, it follows that there must be moral laws governing the conduct of men. Science, says Locke, shows that laws are universally operative. Therefore, he concluded, science demonstrates the existence of natural law. Locke also suggests that in the state of nature, people lived in a pre-political condition, later people formed a political society because they wanted to overcome the "inconvenience of the state of nature.

The formation of this political society is called the social contract. Under the social contract, the state is a judicial body, interpreting the law of nature for individuals who have not surrendered their natural rights, but who have by their own consent created that state simply and so it may, without favor to any man or group, and without bias against any man or group, interpret objectively those rights and use the collective authority to enforce their observance Ibid.

Cranston commented that natural law is a bad argument. For the laws discovered in nature by scientists are not laws in the sense in which moralists and lawyers speak. A scientific law is an observed regularity in nature, and it embodies some degree of replication and some kind of prediction. It is not something that can be obeyed or disobeyed at will. A law of conduct, on the other hand, can be obeyed or disobeyed; and it would not be a moral law if someone could break it p.

Even if a moral law could be broken, it would still be a law. Does the commendent "Thou shalt not steal" remain a moral law in spite of theft and robbery? Further, a person also can try to break the scientific law, but like breaking the moral law, he will suffer the consequences. If a person ignores the law of gravity and jumps from the roof of a house, he will be injured or killed instantly. But if a person ignores the medical finding of the correlation between smoking and cancer, he may get the lung cancer thirty years later.

By the same principle, if you act immorally, you may face the consequence immediately or later. The Chinese tradition indicates that moral laws are predictable. There is a famous Chinese proverb: "Generosity will be returned by generosity. Evils will be returned by evils. If there is no return, just because that's not the time. According to the "Karma" doctrine, every action would lead to a chain effect. Good seeds grow good results and vice versa.

However, Peerenhoom , a Sinologist at the University of Hawaii, argues that the Confucian ethic is not trying to apply such an abstract universal principle as natural law, but to assume people's responsibility for constructing their own just society. Peerenhoom quoted a saying by Confucius to support his argument: "It is the person who is capable of broadening the Way. It is not the way that is capable of broadening the person.

Peerenhoom also says that Confucianism is a challenge to inalienable human rights because humanity is an achievement instead of a given. One must earn the rights granted to him and guaranteed by society by achieving some minimal level of personhood of humanity. In short, one becomes a human being, a humane person, by virtue of participation in society. On the other hand, modern Chinese philosopher Tong holds the opposite view that in the Confucian tradition, metaphysics and ethics are mutually dependent-- the Way of Heaven Tien Tao" is also the Way of Man "Ren Tao".

The Way may have five meanings:. The last two are considered the Way of Heaven while the first three, the Way of Man. During the Sung dynasty, Rationalists preached the doctrine of a moral and rational human nature. The maximization of this doctrine would lead to an interpretation of human responsibility as Peerenhoom's theory.

However, Rationalists tended to fuse the two Ways and suggested "reunion between Heaven and Man.

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In the Chinese tradition, people are required to "learn hard in the earth in order to upgrade themselves towards Heaven. However, the statement quoted by Peerrenhoom does not imply the insignificance of natural law. In Confucius view, when people make effort to build the Way of man--a just and ethical community, they need a frame of transcendental reference--the Way of Heaven.

Confucius says, "Without recognizing the ordinances of heaven, it is impossible to be a superior man. The view of Peerenhoom may lead to a dangerous conclusion: Rights are conditional and one must become a particular kind of person that can fit the political norms, otherwise rights will not be given. One some occasions, the People's Republic of China grants right to "people," whose behaviors prove themselves as patriotic but deprives "people's enemies" of rights.

As the Workers' Daily put it with respect to freedom of speech:. In order to protect Socialist public ownership and consolidate its political rule, the proletariat must give political rights and freedoms, including freedom of speech, to the masses instead of to the antagonistic classes or their remnants. The Chinese tradition did not leave any room for evolutionist models until the birth of the Republic and People's Republic.

The Chinese traditional thinkers emphasized universal truths and universal morality. The former is considered the external law governing the universe while the latter is considered the internal reason regulating our behaviors. Peerenhoom regards Confucianism as a challenge to inalienable human rights, but indeed the moral and rational human nature, in Confucians' view, is the projection of the moral universe.

The assumption of moral universe is very similar to the natural law suggested by John Locke, and most Western philosophers and theologians prior to the 19 th century. In this sense Chinese moral philosophy is compatible with the Western concept of human rights. In February of this year the U. State Department issued a detailed report charging that the Human rights climate in China has deteriorated dramatically since the Tibet and Beijing crackdowns.

In the same month, Amnesty International issued a list of Chinese political prisoners and demanded the Chinese government to release them based on humanitarian consideration Sing Pao , June 17, , p. The Chinese government strongly reacted to these international interventions. In the November issue of Beijing Review , Yi tried to disprove the existence of universal human rights by citing the fact that many countries have reservations about international conventions on human rights.

Ho wrote that not a single international convention or agreement passed by the United Nations had been accepted without reservation by member states. In the case of the two most important international documents on human rights--the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights , more than 30 countries expressed reservations about the former and more than countries about the latter.

Therefore, these documents do not supersede the laws of any country. On February 22, the Chinese ambassador to the United States, Zhu Qiz-hen, lodged a strong protest against the human rights report issued by the U. State Department. Zhu stated that "the Chinese government and people express their utmost indignation at this act which violates the basic norms governing international relations, grossly interferes in China's internal affairs and seriously encroaches upon its sovereignty.

Surprisingly, the Chinese pro-democracy leaders did not answer the preceding points. Although they mentioned the importance of human rights many times, they tend to take human rights as a postulate instead of a question for theoretical study. She wishes the U. After China had released the well-known dissident Fang Lizhi and his wife Li Shuk-han, who had been protected by the U.

He also talked of the need he saw to push China into the international community New York Time , July 7, , p. The People's Republic of China accused the U. If they cannot construct a rationale for international interventions, their request would not be considered ethical.

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Interestingly enough, critics often accuse the US of being too interventionist e. Latin America as well as not involved enough e. South Africa, China, and Ethiopia. Even if the US did what Chai Ling and Fang Li-zhi demanded, probably it would create more problems instead of solving them.


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Ultimately, international intervention is a moral issue, instead of a legal one. Positive rights are recognized by laws while moral rights are recognized by morality Cranston, The power of the United Nations to enforce the documents and make a country stop violations of human rights is limited.

Thus, the documents are moral persuasion. When we ask whether national sovereignty is higher than these documents, we are not questioning which law is higher. Instead, it is a question of whether morality is higher than sovereignty and local laws. As a mater of fact, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has articles to deal with the relation between local laws and human rights. Although Article 29 permits a state to enact laws limiting the exercise of the rights proclaimed in the Declaration, a government's authority to impose such restriction is limited by Article 30, which provides that "nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any state, group, or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any rights and freedoms" proclaimed in the Declaration cited in Buergenthal, , pp.

The Chinese philosophy totally justifies that morality precedes law. Confucius is the most well-known moral philosopher of China. He advocated a community ethics of "jen" generosity and "I" fairness or justice --the care for others based on one's own integrity. Furthermore, he taught his student Chi Lui: "If the norms and rituals are not flourished, the punishment by the law will not be reasonable. The unreasonable law would make people normless. In the Sung Dynasty, Chu Hay further interpreted this Confucian idea: " Political procedure and punishment are the tools of administration.

Morality and norms are the foundation of politics. Morality is the source of norms. Even in the early Legalist school, Morality ranks a higher priority than law. Chi Chan was a contemporary of Confucius. He is considered the pioneer of the Legalist School. Just before Chi Chan died, he concluded his philosophy as the following: "Only morality can make people obey. Next to morality is the tough law. In his view, norms, justice, purity and conscience constitute the "net" of a nation. If all of them are not widespread, the nation will perish Ibid. Two hundred years after the death of Confucius, Mencuis tended to give the legal system the equal status with morality.

He said: "Kindness only is not sufficient in politics. Laws only are not sufficient to be implemented reasonably. In the west, most rights holders would prefer to have parallel legally enforced rights as moral rights, but Donnelly asserted that the moral force of human rights will often be greater than legal rights. Legal rights ground legal claims on the political system to protect already established legal entitlement. Human rights ground moral claims on the political system to strengthen or add to existing legal entitlement.

He went even further to announce that human rights claims are essentially extralegal ; their principal aim is to challenge or change institutions, practices, or norms, especially legal institutions p. Therefore, there are prisoners of conscience who disobey unjust laws all over the world. In ancient China there were many prisoners of "Hay Jai," vital force and principle the same meaning as prisoners of conscience.

Man Tin-cheung, mentioned in an earlier chapter, is a good example. Milnes found that morality is logically prior to law because there can be morality without law, but not law without morality. While law can create particular obligation , it cannot create the general obligation to obey law. Copper et al. Milnes' view shares a common ground with the Confucian school's while Copper et al.

The Confucian concepts of "Jen" and "I" are clearly the foundation for respect of human rights. It implants an internal obligation in people's hearts. On the other hand, the Legalist School provided formal and external guarantees for the internal discipline. Yi argues that the invalidity of universal human rights is manifested by the fact that not all countries agree to the international documents on human rights.

And thus, international intervention is wrong. It is a poor argument because you can find some ones object any idea at any time and any place. The ethical standard is not a matter of voting. For instance, after Iraq had invaded Kuwait on August 5 this year, the U. Jordan's King Hussein even praised Iraq's leader Hussein as a "patriot. However, China still joined the list of nations that have slapped sanctions on Iraq and occupied Kuwait.

Obviously China's action is an international intervention for a moral world order. Draper regarded the concept of human rights as a concept of world order. It is a proposal for structuring the world so that every individual's human worth is realized and every individual's human dignity is protected. Thus, it is immoral to let a country violate human rights in the name of its sovereignty and laws.

For example, after World War II, when the Allied courts tried the Japanese and German military personnel, the military personnel replied that what they did was legitimate because they followed their national laws Wang, Definitely, the Allies did the right thing to rescue the Jewish people in Germany. Richard Pierre Claude and Burns Weston pointed out that after the rise and fall of Nazi Germany, the doctrine of state sovereignty changed dramatically.

Most commentators concluded that state sovereignty is not an absolute principle, but rather was subject to limitations in regards to human rights. Ancient Chinese played the same role as the modern Allies. When the ruler of a province maltreated his people by imposing unjust laws, the princes would ignore the ruler's sovereignty and sent troops to punish him.

Chinese ethics insists upon the superiority of morality to sovereignty and law, in both theory and practice. Chinese Confucians emphasized the internal control by spreading codes of ethics while Legalists stressed on the importance of external control. However, both sides regarded morality as the supreme principle and the foundation of law. Both ancient and modern Chinese rulers, indeed, interfered with other countries' affairs when injustice occurred there.


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The pre-supposition of human rights in the Chinese and Western philosophies are similar: They both accept the notion of the universality of morality; they both contend that morality supersedes sovereignty and law. Then, why didn't the ancient Chinese thinkers and politicians develop the concept of modern human rights? Theoretically, the Chinese ethics are logical and reasonable, but as every ethical system, including the Western one, there are flaws in practice. Many Chinese and Western scholars evaluate the Chinese culture by reading what they say.

Bias will be inevitable if one doesn't look at what we do. One major flaw of Chinese ethics that hinders the realization of human rights is the double standard.


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The formation of the Chinese double standard could be traced back to its unique geographical characteristic. North china is cut off by mountains and deserts to the north and west. There are also mountain ranges running parallel to the coast in southern China, and oceans lie on the east and south. As a result, the Chinese culture was isolated from other well-developed civilizations such as Greece and Roman. China had remained the most developed nation without major competitors in Asia for three thousand years.

Other tribes and countries near China were called "Yee", which means "non-human" or "nothing. Very few ancient Chinese philosophers questioned the status of "Middle Kingdom. Chung Tzu is one of the few. In the last chapter headed Autumn Floods of his book entitled after his name, he asked: "Is not the Middle Kingdom, in comparison with what lies within the area bounded by the four seas, like a small seed in a granary? But the majority of the Chinese people regarded themselves as the center of the universe and thought that they knew about morality the best.

Since the late Ching period, the Chinese people have been using a pejorative term, "devils," to label Westerners. This attitude looks like that they treated other tribes as "Yee" in previous times. Nonetheless, a love-hatred relationship to foreigners, especially to the West, had been added into the new ethnocentricism. Since the late Ching period, China had been facing failures when challenging by the West. Although the Chinese realized that the West had superior technology to their own, they still insisted that China was more civilized than the West for its three-thousand year tradition of culture and morality.

On one hand they aspire to learn the Western technology and management. One the other hand they look down the "immoral practices" of the Westerners. Oksenberg named this mentality as "confident nationalism. The classification of First, Second and Third Worlds in the Chinese foreign policy is a typical example of "self-moralizing".

Confucianism, Democratization, and Human Rights in Taiwan

China is behind to the West and Japan in economy. One way to resume the glory of the "Middle Kingdom" is by moral impact. China divides all nations into three categories. The First and Second Worlds are viewed as imperial and the Third, the oppressed. China places itself into the Third world and "morally" fights for their rights.

Through this prism, the actions of China and the Third World are viewed as ethical and the First and Second Worlds are not. The results of this study have profound implications for other Asian countries such as China and Singapore, which are also Confucian but have not yet made a full transition to democracy. About the Author Joel S. Average Review. Write a Review. Related Searches. In this revealing and beautifully written memoir, Mark Obama Ndesandjo, recounts his complex relationship with In this revealing and beautifully written memoir, Mark Obama Ndesandjo, recounts his complex relationship with his older half-brother, President Barack Obama, including their first meeting in Kenya over twenty years ago.

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