Tuesday, April 14, 2009

子曰:齐之以礼 Confucius Said: Regulate People by Rules of Li

Confucius said, 'Lead the people with legal measures and regulate them by punishment, and they will avoid wrongdoing but will have no sense of honour and shame. Lead them with the power of virtuous example and regulate them by rules of li, and they will have a sense shame and will thus rectify themselves.'
When Confucius said the above more than two thousand five hundred years ago, it is as though he had already seen the problems we faced today and found the answer in the ritualisation of li. Li is the most important term in Confucius’ thought.
The word li encompassed a number of ideas convey in English by separate words, such as ritual, custom, propriety, and manners.
The oldest meaning of li referred to the scared rites of sacrifice, the heart of early Chinese ceremonial practices. Confucius took this idea of activity specifically pertaining to sacred things and enlarged it so that all daily activities could be viewed as sacred. However, one should note that the main goal here is to make the attitudes appropriate to sacrificial rites pervade all the affairs of life rather than to get close to the spiritual things. As Confucius himself put it: 'To give one's self earnestly to the duties due to men, and, while respecting spiritual beings, to keep aloof from them, may be called wisdom.'
The assumed direction of influence in the Confucian view was from the top down – that is, from the head of government down to the common people. If the leaders can be changed, then the people would be changed also. As the saying goes, fish begins to stink at the head.

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