'How Confucius Is Used to Turn People Into Sheep'

A commentary by Wei Jingsheng
china-elderly-parents-july-2013.jpg An elderly mother and her daughter walk together along a street in Shanghai, July 1, 2013.

Since ancient times, laws have been enacted that have become jokes. There once was a clever Roman emperor who imposed a tax on toilets.... Now, the National People's Congress run by the Chinese Communist Party has enacted its own legislative joke. [Grown] children who don't take care of and obey their parents will be breaking the law. They have even developed a standard of filial piety, which consists of "economic support, care, and psychological comfort." This is quite close to Confucius' line, "keep your parents close."

But it doesn't cost much to quote Confucian moral standards. With the exception of a few people who make a living at home by farming, few can live up to them. Even His Holiness shuttled between various states and various official posts, and he also had a big group of students in tow.... He was called back home to continue his studies after his father died, because there were no other descendants.

But what about his mother? The historical records show that later on, he couldn't even locate his mother's tomb. There are no records that he provided "economic support, care, and psychological comfort." From this we can see that His Holiness often got carried away when he spoke, and set a bunch of impossibly high standards for himself.

But nobody's perfect, and we can't expect our elders never to utter a wrong word. But regimes through history have grabbed hold of the mistaken speech of elderly people and turned it into a system for ruling everyone. Even into laws. The word 'filial' has turned into a huge joke and a huge burden of guilt ever since the hundred schools of thought were dismissed by the Han emperors in favor of Confucianism.

Officials [of the time] used a number of deals and incentives to spread the ideal of filial piety, giving rise to unmeasurable fraud and mockery everywhere, to an extent that was as bad as official scandals today.

What's more frightening is that they used impossibly high standards that no-one can attain to trap people, and even for the purposes of power struggles. We have no idea how many victims there have been of this 2,000-year-old injustice.

Why, 2,000 years later, do our leaders still like to do this? Everyone knows that [parents] need to encourage their kids to get out there and hustle, or else they'll just stick around at home and make nothing of themselves. Newborn calves don't fear the tiger. Getting out there and making one's way in the world will include coming to grips with social injustice, unreasonable officials, and the corruption that threatens our culture. So that's one reason.

Another reason is that [filial piety] strengthens family relationships, so that no man is an island, and that nothing can be achieved without other people. This has the effect of turning the majority of people into sheep who dare not challenge corrupt leaders and officials and who dare not stand up to injustice and unreasonable behavior. The leadership wants a peaceful society in which people are indifferent to the injustices suffered by others.

By the time their parents have died, grown children no longer possess the fire of youth. They have already turned into compliant subjects who will do what the government wants.

Do you dare to say you don't honor your parents? Such is China's tradition of cultural hypocrisy, which is also the advertising slogan for the corrupt practices of the highest-ranking officials.

It is normal for people to feel affections. But to use our feelings to prop up the distorted humanity of the regime ... will bring out the ugly side of humanity. Attempts to keep young people tied to their mothers' apron-strings have failed since ancient times.

If a tyrant is picking over the garbage of classical times to use as a shield for tyranny, it only shows they are at their wits' end.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie.

Wei Jingsheng is a U.S.-based veteran democracy activist who has served a total of 18 years in Chinese prisons for "counterrevolutionary" activities.


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