Confucianism was almost banned by the Chinese leader Chairman Mao during the 1960 Cultural Revolution, but its ability to stay relevant demonstrates the influence the philosopher exerted. It is said that Confucian teachings can be summarized by the statement “the way of sageliness within and kingliness without” (Feng 4). To the Chinese this statement seamlessly combines elements of both an ethical and political system and denotes that by being a sage one is “to cultivate one’s person, to regulate one’s family, to govern the state well and to make the whole empire tranquil and happy” (8). This account then follows the progression that the sage, through cultivation of the self, is an ethical person and can therefore govern the state in a manner that leads to overall happiness. “Internal sageliness will not only qualify a person already in the noble position to be an effective ruler, it will elevate one to such a position by the power of influence” (Ni 70). The sage would then be given complete power to govern since their ethical nature would not require that they be governed by checks and balances, as in a democratic system. While Mao “denounced Confucianism for spreading ‘slave ideology,'” his attempt to eradicate Confucian influence was hindered by the fact that his unquestioned power was somewhat linked to his image as a sage and the supremacy that was granted to that position through the Confucian teachings (Kingsbury). Mao embraced his position as the leader of China and was cared for by his people because of his status as a sage. Chairman Mao stated that as a sage he would take the consideration of the people to heart and examine himself and his actions. However, his rule produced poverty and was relatively unsuccessful at modernizing and progressing China. For the reason that the sage ruler is granted unquestioned power, the nature of this position, as understood by through Confucian teachings, hindered the progress of the Chinese people. “‘The way of sageliness within and kingliness without’ therefore became a great cultural obstacle” in this case (Feng 7). Although some believe that China cannot fully modernize without adopting democracy, its economic and industrial systems have continued to grow without abandoning its Confucian influences.
In fact, Confucius, and the Qufu site, have experienced a recent resurgence since the ruling Communist Party rehabilitated the fifth-century-B.C. thinker. This year was the first time that birthday ceremonies received official approval. The shift has more to do with political expedience than philosophical merits. As emerging capitalism breeds cynicism toward Marxism, China’s leaders find it expedient to embrace Confucian teachings of virtue, righteousness, and “above all” subservience to benevolent authority. Said Confucius: “Let the ruler be a ruler, the subject a subject, a father a father, and a son a son.” (Kingsbury)
It can therefore be posited that Confucianism has continued to prevail and exert its influence on Chinese ethics and politics because it advocates the ideal of a sage politician and the importance of the people to follow and accept their elders and leaders. Through the Chinese people following the rules set by their leaders, due to their unquestioned status and respect for the hierarchical system, Confucianism continues to remain instrumental. The rules and etiquette that were promoted by Confucius, concerning everything from dining to one’s overall actions and character, continue to encourage order through hierarchy.
The teachings of Confucius, the man titled “‘the perfect Sage, the ancient Teacher,'” have transcended time and still find social, political, ethical, and philosophical relevance today (Yao 206). His views revolutionized ancient China and have persisted through time and modern persecution due to their rootedness within the plethora of Chinese political, social, cultural, religious, and ethical institutions. Although Confucius may not have known the degree to which using a variety of approaches would have helped in their proliferation, it proved indispensable. For this reason, his life and teachings continue to be celebrated by his followers and the state.