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Confucianism vs. Communism: Differences and Similarities

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“By nature men are pretty much alike, it is learning and practice that set them apart.” This quote by Confucius has been entrenched in the people of China’s minds. Chinese lives revolved around Confucian teachings and beliefs. Confucian ideas and beliefs would come to shape the Chinese government. In addition, Confucian ideas would dominate Chinese society, and governed the Chinese’s way of life. Then in 1949, the Communists swept into Beijing, and took power. The leader of the Communists, Mao Zedong, announced the birth of the People’s Republic of China. After gaining power, the Communists tried to change the value system that had been entrenched in China for three thousand years.

Without a doubt, Confucius was China’s best-known philosopher. He had developed many ideas about how to restore peace and ensure harmony that governed Chinese way of life for three thousand years. Confucius taught five relationships that he felt must govern Chinese society. They were relationships between ruler and ruled, father and son, older brother and younger brother, husband and wife, and friend and friend. All but the last relationship, does the one person have authority over the other. Confucius said, “If a ruler himself is upright, all will go well without orders. But if he himself is not upright, even though he gives orders, they will not be obeyed.” With this quote, he meant that the superior person should set an example for the inferior.

He also believed the superior should be responsible for the inferior. Furthermore, Confucius stressed the idea of filial piety and the fact that the father takes the credit or blame for his children’s actions. He strongly believed in the importance of family, respect for elders, duty, and harmony. Confucius also emphasized the importance of education. According to Confucian ideas, a person’s age, sex, education, and occupation all affected his or her place and role in society. To him, young people had to respect their elders; women were inferior to men; scholars held the highest positions in society; and peasants who worked the land were more valuable that merchants and soldiers.

On the other hand, Communism was a new, revolutionary philosophy that was very different from that of Confucianism. Communism was a so-called, “dictatorship of people”. Chairman Mao had a role very similar to Confucius. Children and adults were taught that Mao Zedong had all the answers to China’s problems. Quotations From Chairman Mao, also known as the Little Red Book, was a book that people had to memorize sayings from. Although they had similar roles, they had different beliefs. Mao believed that instead of filial piety, he called for loyalty and service to China. Through the vast country, posters and loudspeakers declared, “Serve the People”. By doing so, the Communists tried to promote national unity. In addition, Mao believed in a classless society, where everyone was equal. “Learn from the peasants,” was a saying by Mao.

Furthermore, the Communists tried to reverse Confucian teachings of respect for elders and put their faith in young people. Mao encouraged children to criticize their parents for staying with the old ways. During the Cultural Revolution, children often took blame and responsibility of their parents’ actions and backgrounds unlike in Confucianism where the father takes credit and blame of his children’s actions. Finally, however different were Confucius and Mao’s beliefs, they had some common goals. Both wanted the country to benefit. In addition, they both focused on education. However a difference is that Mao wanted people to learn correct Communist beliefs, while Confucius taught Confucian beliefs.

No matter how hard Mao tried, he was not very successful in trying to change the value system in China. The Communists tried to change a value system that had been in effect for three thousand years in less than a hundred years. For example, the Communists tried to destroy the traditional reverence for ancestors. They forbade families to hold traditional funerals or make offerings to their ancestors. Even with the threat of Red Guards attacking, respect for elders and other traditions still survived, especially in the rural areas. Even Communist party leaders sometimes held bountiful funerals for their parents and grandparents. In addition, the classless system did not work very well. Much of the collective farms and commune systems failed.

The Communists had to then resort to the responsibility system, which was a step closer to the class system. On the other hand, Mao was somewhat successful in adjusting the value system. “Women enjoy equal rights with men in all spheres of political, economic, cultural, social, and family life. Men and women enjoy equal pay for equal work.” This quote is from China’s 1950 constitution, where Communists introduced major changes for women. Also, China’s marriage law also gave women the right to own property and to keep their family name. Furthermore, the Communists made Mandarin China’s official language and took steps to make Chinese script easier to learn. Lastly, to promote literacy, the government simplified two thousand of the most commonly used characters.

Overall, the Communists were partially successful in their strife to change China’s value system. Trying to change a value system that had been used for three thousand years is not easy and cannot be accomplished in less than a century. Given the amount of time Mao had, he made some conspicuous reforms. Perhaps his utmost change in the value system was granting new rights to women. In the past and according to Confucian beliefs, women were considered inferior to men. However, with the new laws and China’s Constitution of 1950, women were considered equals to men. Mao however was unsuccessful when he tried to replace filial piety with loyalty and service to China. Despite the new laws and possibility of attacks, many Chinese continued to respect their elders and hold funerals. In conclusion, Mao made quite a few significant changes in the value system, but failed in his strife to totally change the system according to his beliefs.

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