Tuesday, May 31, 2011

How Confucius shaped Asia

Confucius - you've all heard of him. But do you really know the man? He is perhaps the most influential philosopher in East Asian history. His words have shaped the courses of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean history. Now I know that this may sound like an exaggeration, but hear me out.

Confucius was the founding father of this little principle called "filial piety." He espoused ancestor worship, and a strong connection to family. Another tenet of the Chinese philosopher's ideal society is rigorous civil examination - a bureaucracy that is dependent on merit rather than birth-right. Indeed, Confucius' exemplary teachings revolutionized the Chinese system of governance, and the Civil Service examinations were started.

What a baller.
In Ancient China, before Civil Service exams, peasants were born peasants; they had no social mobility, and to make matters worse, their own children would undoubtedly be peasants. After years and years of oppression, when social mobility finally became a possibility (thanks to the civil service exams), the number one priority of every poverty stricken farmer was to raise an intellectually inclined child. Farmers and merchants poured excessive amounts of money into educating their children. It was their only hope. Come present day, the reason why Asian students are so hell-bent on exam preparation becomes clear. Indeed, Confucius' teachings have permeated all facets of contemporary Asian society and culture.

I must make my family proud! But... so tired... zzz
Another aspect of Asian society that can be attributed to Confucianism is filial piety and ancestor worship. Confucius considered the family a basis for an ideal government. As a result, Asian society is highly familial; unlike in Western countries, the elderly are respected as the wisest, most knowledgeable members in a given community. An interesting fact is that Korea, Japan, and China all participate in some form of ancestor worship (perhaps slightly less so in Japan). On New Year's Day, Asian children usually receive money from their elders after performing a lengthy series of bows and listening to moral anecdotes. Furthermore, the elderly are taken care of in Asian society -- usually by sons and daughters. They never live alone; in fact, they frequently live with their sons or daughters. As a result, many Asian children are raised by their grandparents.

Taking care of the elderly since 500 BC.
In a recent global examination (2008 to be exact), Asian students topped the charts in science and math -- an impressive feat that reveals a stereotypically "Asian" inclination for rationality and methodology, rather than creativity and expression. The typical image of the studious Asian has saturated the global education system - mindless robots void of creativity and free will. It's as if all they ever do is study.

To some extent, this is true. Asian students are, in general, more studious than their Western peers. In order to understand the paradigm of the studious Asian, it is crucial to note that a successful education is the pinnacle of achievement (because it allows for social mobility, to this day). In Korea, for example, students student study until the brink of death in order to get into a respectable university (while some student actually do commit suicide under the pressure). In Japan and China, the stories are eerily similar.

Strangely enough, once in university, Asian students seem to meander, aimless in their endeavors. Their unflagging sense of purpose is lost. These students study for their entire lives for a chance to study at a prestigious university. But all they know is exam preparation; they haven't had the chance to explore their own identities yet.

Asians always seem to be studying... that is, until college.

As the number of Asian students entering Western universities increases exponentially, the teachings of Confucius come to mind. If we don't want mindless drones running Asian society, perhaps it is time to revise the old traditions and seek greener [educational] pastures.

-Choi

19 comments:

  1. I definitely have noticed a growing asian population at my university. Interesting take.

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  2. screw confuscious, I shaped asia.

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  3. I think I might go to China in the end of this year.

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  4. China is a great place. The USD just goes so far... unless you're in Shanghai, then a lot of stuff is pretty expensive.

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  5. Interesting, im looking to visit china during my gap year(:

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  6. I actually like the ideals of Taoism.

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  7. Nice post and I really liked that picture of the sleeping asian lol

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  8. He was one smart man. No doubt about it.

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  9. the asians i kno in college ONLY study xD

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  10. I know him a lot better now.

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  11. I love reading his work, and work that was written about him - a really fascinating person.

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  12. This post makes me want to study Confucius. Thanks!

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  13. He was a really interesting man.

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  14. I always wanted to visit asia, by the way nice blog, follow you

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