Confucian societies : Does Confucian/Legalist Culture Promote Bigotry?

There are some who deem colonial capitalism’s facilitation of Chinese emigration as the cause for the opportunism and bigotry that hallmarks s.e. Asian states where they have emerged as the majority in the entire state, states within states, or wherein they enjoy significant economic clout. i.e., Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and to some degree, the Philippines. They move on to argue that this somehow relieves them of the ‘post-colonial guilt’ required to render them empathetic to others. How true would that be?

Firstly, that argument seems quite illogical. If that was true, then why would the west exhibit any ‘post-colonial guilt’ or even consider granting independence to their colonial possessions? Why is it that China has no problem with doing what it does to Tibet and Xinjiang? Does one think that China is going to one day exhibit ‘post-colonial guilt’ or grant Tibet or Xinjiang unconditional independence? Of course, some might say that these lands had historical ties to China, but is that reason enough, or is it simply a case of seeking the slightest reason for appropriating and pocketing?

Additionally, the Chinese did not go into other s.e. Asian lands solely as capitalists and petty bourgeois but also as workers, indentured labourers, and refugees escaping the conflict between the Chinese communists and nationalists – I knew a member of the KMT myself who sought refuge in Singapore after fleeing from the communist advance ‘whom were just across the river’ from his village...a very nice quiet man who handcrafted wooden key-chains for a living in a home for the elderly where I once worked. However, with their arrival came 2 millennia-old subservience to authority, conformism, traditionalism, and an aversion to difference developed over more than 2000 years history of subservience and monoculturalism. And it is this that founded the basis for the resurgence of traditional Confucian/Legalism in Singapore. As a result, whether it is in the traditional Chinese family, triad societies, schools, or employment, these various levels of social experience symbiotically founds and replicates the basis for the authoritarianism and apathy that comes with it.

Attributing opportunism and apathy in Confucian/Legalist societies to ‘colonial capitalism’ detracts attention from the contribution of Confucian/Legalist culture to political and social apathy. Has anyone ever wondered, for instance, why the Singaporean government is so frenzied in its promotion of the said culture and maintenance of ethnic imbalance, or why the Chinese government does similarly in Xinjiang and Tibet? People are too focused on how this act marginalises the others without simultaneously appreciating how this shameless promotion actually perpetuates marginalisation by way of a return or institution of an age-old perspectival system that helped maintain the authoritarian political and perspectival status quo of China for more than two millennia.

The act of lauding one culture over another does often lead to the marginalisation of others, but the act of lauding a culture that promotes apathy in itself serves to exacerbate the problems emerging from the former whilst enabling the government to ‘divide and rule’ as it pleases with impunity. We could say that in the Chinese context, the former is a product of the latter. This is a refinement of the colonial ‘divide and rule’ approach whereby one ethnic group was used to rule others. In the Confucian/Legalist scheme of things, the aim, or consequence, is the division of the single individual from another - hence, their ‘miraculous’ advance in a capitalist socio-economic milieu where the elite can do as it pleases without bothering about unions, human rights, inter-race relations, and other such trivial concerns that is a bane to the elite in other parts of the world. The final goal is to bring about a ‘harmony and tolerant society’ where everyone takes her/is hierarchically ordered place without question. In essence, and in a sentence, Chinese civilisations may be described as 'an effort to do one's best within a bad situation as opposed to doing one's best to eradicate the said bad situation.'

Chinese Culture of Resistance

A people whom have been accustomed to awaiting and abiding by top-down directives, and whom have historically suffered political failure in their joust with the government will inevitably move on to building a culture of resistance, not in the face of the government, but in efforts to circumnavigate the consequences of the said political failure – and which produces the overly rated ‘Chinese pragmatism’, but which I aptly term ‘familial’ or ‘short-sighted’ pragmatism. This can lead to little other than pervasive opportunism, or what I would term ‘horizontal activism’. When we fail to take continuous issue as a people with a government’s ravenous demands for fear of seemingly unassailable repercussions, and move on to viewing politics as the ‘business of professional politicians’, the only option we are left with is doing our best through each other opportunistically. That is when people are generally viewed as a means to a self-aggrandizing end just as they are similarly perceived by authority. That basically leads to mutual alienation and the apathy that hallmarks those Confucian/Legalist societies ‘untainted’ by ‘western-style’ democracy. In that, a vicious cycle is brought about that ensures that the people have sufficient distrust of each other to not feel that they can rely on another’s support if they were to take issue with the government. Thus, the statement, ‘don’t challenge the government or you’ll get into trouble’ can be paraphrased by, ‘if you get into trouble with the government, you can count on my turning the apathetic cheek’. So a combination of top-down oppression - that leads to popular mutual alienation and opportunism as a means to ensure survival and success - along with a historical experience of severe repercussions if one was to challenge a government, together brings about that amount of apathy it takes to found the basis for top-imposed bigotry to proceed with impunity.

In such a climate, any government that intends to rule indefinitely has to effectuate monoculturalism since a singular experiential paradigm is required to found the basis for a singular dominant pinnacle. The exchange of perspectives amongst distinguishably different schools of thought cannot be countenanced as it can produce that degree of multiangular thinking that would undermine the popular inclination to have a top-imposed one-way of comprehending reality.

Hence, the existence of mutual alienation-cum-the marginalisation of difference will leave the people oblivious to the effects of top-imposed discrimination. After all, if we don’t feel it our business to take consistent issue with governmental pressures on us, why would we bother about their acts against different others, and especially since it still places us at a relative advantage? That, significantly, explains why the Chinese of Singapore are today taking issue with the influx of foreign talent and labour since, for the first time, they are being afforded a similar experience as those whom they have enjoyed a privileged status over – albeit to a far lesser degree.

Bigotry, however, is not only a top-imposed condition as a Confucian/Legalist people, whom have been accustomed to a one-way history will themselves frown upon difference as they would have necessarily been relieved of those propensities required to be curious of or intelligently interact with dissimilar others – without the feelings of intellectual ineptness that comes with a monocultural experience of things. Both empathy and an appreciation of difference and detail is required for the alleviation of bigoted and self-absorbed tendencies. As these have, in the course of Chinese history, been proven to bring about political vibrancy, and with top-down repercussions in its wake, such tendencies will generally and usually suffer underdevelopment. Thus, one can plausibly assume that governmental measures to ethnically and culturally saturate the population with just one (Chinese) race is not anathema to the Confucian/Legalist persona. Xinjiang and Tibet are cases in point.

It is within this context that the elevation of Chinese culture has the dual effect of others being marginalised by way of their 'race’ and respective cultures being relatively less lauded, and by the said culture reinforcing the apathetic base required to perpetuate the marginalised condition of others.

There are two paths to cultural fascism. One, by way of violence, and two, by way of peaceful ignorance and apathy. The means might be dissimilar, but the consequences are identical.