Loubna El Amine: Hierarchy, Status and Order in Classical Confucian Political Thought

China remains one of the world’s oldest, richest and most enduring civilisations, stretching back thousands of years. Among its many contributions to the world history of ideas is the Confucian school of thought, which could arguably be said to be the cornerstone of Chinese culture. Even as Mao strenuously repudiated Confucian ideals in the 20th century, the legacies of Confucius and his followers can still be found in Chinese society today: for example, the emphasis on filial piety, harmony and social stability. Confucianism has even been claimed to be the bedrock of a ‘pan-Asian’ identity, as part of the debate on Asian values. These currents might suggest that if we want to understand the Chinese mindset both then and now, we should try to examine Confucianism more closely.

This week on The Provocateur I talk to Loubna El Amine, assistant professor of political science at Northwestern University, to discuss her take on Classical Confucian political thought. We start by thinking about why Confucianism matters in the context of studying non-Western thought, before going on to discuss more specifically the work of Confucius, Mencius and Xunzi. Then we talk about Loubna’s radical new interpretation of Confucianism, which stresses the importance of hierarchy, status and order in the Confucian worldview, as opposed to the standard account which argues for the centrality of virtue. We also touch on the complexities of defining Confucianism and what it means to Chinese society today.

You can listen to the podcast here: 

Further Reading:

Primary texts:

Confucius (1979) The Analects, translated by D. C. Lau. London: Penguin.

——— (2003) Confucius: Analects with Selections from Traditional Commentaries. Translated by Edward Slingerland. Indianapolis: Hackett.

Ivanhoe, Philip and Bryan Van Norden (eds.) (2005) Readings in Classical Chinese Philosophy, second edition. Indianapolis: Hackett.

Mencius (1970) Mencius. Translated by D. C. Lau. London: Penguin.

——— (2008) Mengzi: With Selections from Traditional Commentaries. Translated by Bryan Van Norden. Indianapolis: Hackett.

Xunzi (1988-1994) Xunzi: A Translation and Study of the Complete Works, 3 vols. Translated by John Knoblock. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

——— (2014) Xunzi: The Complete Text. Translated by Eric Hutton. Princeton University Press.

Secondary readings:

Angle, Stephen C. (2017) “Social and Political Thought in Chinese Philosophy”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2017 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2017/entries/chinese-social-political/>.

Brindley, Erica (2009) “‘Why Use an Ox-Cleaver to Carve a Chicken?’ The Sociology of the Junzi Ideal in the Lunyu.” Philosophy East and West 59 (1): 47–70.

Hsiao, Kung-Chuan (1979) History of Chinese Political Thought. Translated by Frederick Mote. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Fingarette, Herbert (1972) Confucius: The Secular as Sacred. Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press.

Pines, Yuri (2009) Envisioning Eternal Empire: Chinese Political Thought of the Warring States Era. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

Salkever, Stephen G and Michael Nylan (1994) “Comparative Political Philosophy and Liberal Education: “Looking for Friends in History,” Political Science and Politics 27:2, pp. 238-247.

Schwartz, Benjamin (1985) The World of Thought in Ancient China. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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