Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Jiang Qing (蒋庆) on Women and Confucianism

Note: A reader asked, under guest blogger Larry Mongoss's post "Confusion Democracy for China," whether Jiang Qing had written about the role of women. I forwarded the question to Miwan, a student and friend of Jiang Qing's in Beijing, and Miwan pointed me to the transcript of a speech. Jiang Qing seems to take a view that is very consistent with traditional Confucianism. He says somethings that I agree with, and others that I disagree with. I’m posting this for discussion.

The following is my translation of an excerpt from the speech Jiang Qing gave on April 16, 2005, during the "Cultural Dialogue and the Development of Contemporary Academy" forum in Shenzhen, China. The speech was titled "Liberty, Democracy, Three Cardinal Guides, and Feminism." The "Three Cardinal Guides" referred to in the text are: the sovereign guides the subject, the father guides the son, and the husband guides the wife. – Xujun

[In translation] Jiang Qing:

In his speech just now, Professor Tu Weiming views the Three Cardinal Guides as uni-directional, because the sovereign's authority is higher than the subject's, the father's higher than the son's, and the husband's higher than the wife's. Professor Tu asks whether I think the Three Cardinal Guides can be developed further. I think this needs some specific analysis.

Though Confucianism talks about heaven-father and earth-mother, about yin-yang harmony and unity, there must be an absolute, leading role, otherwise the universe would be in disorder.
From the viewpoint of highest philosophy, I-Ching affirms heaven's leading role. But that does not deny the role of the earth. Heaven is the source of the universe's vitality and creation, while earth is life's carrier and undertaker. This is not our subjective assumption; this is the natural order of the universe.

When this natural order of the universe runs through societal and familial relationships, it becomes the Three Cardinal Guides. The relationships are indeed uni-directional, which is the greatest, most positive characteristic of the Guides. We all know that as far as morality is concerned, a moral principle is an absolute command on the actor. It is not a reciprocal or symmetric interpersonal demand. There is no negotiation on morality. To follow the Guides is not to obey a particular person; it is to obey one's own absolute moral obligation.

Therefore, under the requirement of the Three Cardinal Guides, even if the sovereign is unkind, the subject must be loyal; even if the father is unloving, the child must be filial; even if the husband is unjust, the wife must be faithful.

However, the traditional Three Cardinal Guides proscribe the uni-directional morality requirements mainly to the subject, the son, and the wife. From a modern point of view this is a deficit, it is incomplete. The Guides should be supplemented with the uni-directional morality requirements proscribing to the sovereign, the father, the husband as well. This is to require that the sovereign be absolutely kind, regardless whether the subject is loyal; the father be absolutely loving, regardless whether the son is filial; the husband be absolutely just, regardless whether the wife is faithful.

Another layer of the Three Cardinal Guides is that, in each relationship, the guiding party also bears the responsibility. For example, if the son has behavioral problems, the main responsibility is the father's, not the son's.

Confucianism speaks about different roles of husband and wife, but not equality between them. This means man and woman each have a particular role in the social and family order, and that each should realize his or her own value of existence. I really don't understand Western feminism; I think feminism is actually poisoned by masculinism. Why? Because when the universe was created everything was not equal. Absolute equality is not possible and does not exist. Differences and unevenness are natural. A woman's role in family, as in society, is different from a man's. This bears natural rationale.

But Western feminists want everything to be equal between men and women, like the earth fighting the heaven for equality. How can this be possible? If men can do something, women must want to do the same. What is the measurement here? It is men. Feminism uses men's standards to measure women. The feminist is adopting a male value system; she is trying to realize her value by male standards. This disregards the importance of "difference." If a woman really wants to achieve her potential, she should instead realize her unique, particular female value, and not aim at the abstract, general, so-called "equality" that imitates male values.

Confucianism opposes both masculinism and feminism, but advocates gender differences under an orderly heaven-earth universe and harmonious yin-yang unity. Feminism is to be commended for its historical role in opposing overbearing masculinism. However when it goes to the extreme, Confucianism does not agree.


Anonymous said...

Thanks! I never expected such a detailed response.

I am meeting a group of Australian China watchers next week, and intend to bring their attention to IOC's Jiang Qing meme. They are almost all women, so we shall see what they have to say.

Would Chinese women stand for the constraint of their social status that Jiang is advocating? I can't see women like Zhang Yin acceding to this new order - should she be lead by her husband? In matters of business? Seems like a hard sell.

I should say that I am not entirely negative about Jiang's work. Even if it is unsuccessful, it is inspiring to see some one thinking about China's political future and trying to come up with ideas. I think that a man who embraces hardship and controversy looking at political problems is a true patriot.

I neglected to mention it in my last comment, but when I first read your original article in TCB I was immediately reminded of "The Diamond Age" (Neal Stephenson). I don't have a copy with me, but part of the future world he depicts is a China transformed from the PRC into a Neo-Confucian federation. Not terribly scholarly, but fun.

Are there any English translations of "Political Confucianism" available online?

Thanks again for the great follow up!

Aaron Gardiner

Xujun said...

Hi Aaron,

You are welcome. I also think "husband guides the wife" would be a hard sell for modern women. Jiang Qing will need to do some hard thinking in developing the Three Cardinal Guides.

On the other hand, I agree with him when he says that women should not use male standards as their value measure. Unfortunately too many young women are buying into the male standards, including my teenage daughter, who doesn't want to hear anything about different roles between men and women. LOL.

BTW, what do you mean by "bring their attention to IOC's Jiang Qing meme"? What has Jiang Qing to do with IOC?

Anonymous said...


The meme I meant was IOC's discussion of Political Confucianism; before reading your blog I had never come across the idea as a serious alternative political framework.

Aaron Gardiner

Xujun said...

Hi Aaron,

Could you please provide a link to IOC's discussion? I can't seem to find it by googling.

BTW, I forgot to answer a question you asked earlier. There is no English translation of "Political Confucianism" available online or in print. I was hoping my introduction would attract a translator or two, but I might have been too hopeful. :-)

Another scholar, Daniel A. Bell, discussed a bit about Jiang Qing's work. If you google Bell's name you should be able to find a few articles.

Xujun said...

Now I've confused myself with the more famous IOC - the International Olympics Committee. I'm pretty sure I've never taken a bribe though. :-)