Confucian society

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Part I: World History Themes Before Columbus


Principle Sources of State Power, Influence and Legitimacy in the Ancient World, Week 3



Make sure to bring your answers from Week 2 to discuss in class.


Please answer the below thoroughly in bullet-point form, referring to relevant quotes (and their page numbers) from the texts that back up your arguments.



  • What are the characteristics of a good Confucian ruler? And a good Confucian society?



  • Argue how the social values promoted in the Koran and the Analects of Confucius differ from the Greek readings (Plato and Thucydides) from last week.




News Item Exercise:


While reading the news this week ask yourself: how is the ancient world similar to our own? Or how is it fundamentally different socially, economically, politically or culturally?


Choose an article about a contemporary development/event from either The New York Times or The Economist. Write one-two paragraphs about how your article links to the overarching themes of one of these readings: Gilgamesh, Hammurabi, Plato, Thucydides, Confucius, Koran). Make sure to copy and paste the URL of your article into your answer as well. Kudos if you can also link the article to a world history concept discussed in lecture this week. Avoid generalities, the more specific you can be about the link you’re making, the better.

Refer to the News Item presentation guidelines uploaded onto this website (under Discussions or Files) for more information on writing these paragraphs.







*Answers each question directly and thoughtfully. Often offers a creative argument as an answer.


*Provides ample evidence from the readings (with page numbers to make returning to them during revision easier)


*Reads the texts closely and therefore chooses quotes/ events to comment on that are significant.


*makes the effort to link the readings of the week to: a) previous relevant texts; b) world history concepts raised in lecture.


*compares and contrasts similarities and differences between the readings.




*Answers each question thoughtfully.


*Provides some evidence from the readings (with page numbers to make returning to them during revision easier)


*Chooses quotes/ events to comment on that are significant but could afford to read the text more closely in order to find more unusual/original things to talk about.


* makes some effort to link the readings of the week to previous readings and world history concepts.




* Answers questions briefly


*provides evidence that doesn’t explicitly answer the question.


*misunderstands question


* some confusion/vagueness about events in the texts or how to interpret them


Low Effort:


* Low effort overall.


If you feel that you worked hard but still received this comment, please come see me in office hours to discuss how to improve your answers.


















What makes a good society?

What are the characteristics of a good Confucian ruler and a good Confucian society?

  • Above everything be virtuous – According to Confucius, virtue is more prominent to man than either water or fire. Men have died from treading on fire and water, but none has succumbed to death from treading a virtuous course. The supremacy of virtue is one of the most prominent tenets of Confucius (Confucius and D. C Lau, 1979).
  • Rule fairly and wisely – Chi K’ang enquired what causes people to revere their leader, remain faithful to him and assume a virtuous nature. The Master’s reply was that a leader should preside over his subjects with gravity to earn their undivided veneration. His kindness and firmness will make his subjects faithful to him. A leader that fosters goodness and teaches the incompetent will instill the same virtuous appeal to his people. Often leaders are oblivious of the fact that they should take care of those under them. Instead of their egocentric pursuit of glory and riches their focus should be on ruling wisely and fairly. The same message is echoed in the Kuran where a leader is evinced as an individual who works through a team of followers and does not accomplish anything by himself while being a servant-leader (Kuran).
  • Think before acting decisively – Chi Wan reckoned three times before taking action. When the Master was notified, he said, “Twice will do.” The society depicts a people whose judgments are clouded by rash decisions and actions. An individual and more so a leader should think critically prelude to doing something but then proceed decisively (Confucius and D. C Lau, 1979).

How are the social values promoted in the Koran and the Analects of Confucius different from the Greek readings (Plato and Thucydides)?

  • Confucius and Plato have discordant ideological foundations. Confucius held Ren as the fundamental concept while fostering piety and love and emphasizing restraint from ritual. He explicated his reflections in moral education, virtue, and management through the conventional concept of macho kinship based on interactive relations and real conundrums of man and society. Plato’s ideological system founded on ancient Greek society mainly addresses the relations of the citizens.
  • Despite Plato and Confucius reckoning that the pursuit requires external tenets and norms to regulate, they imply discordant means of regulation. Confucian ideological system depicts a Ren-based norm of regulation that involves restraining oneself and following rites to attain virtue. Plato is of the understanding that justice is the key to a better society.
  • Confucius approach to virtue involved stressing the harmony of knowledge and emphasizing devotion to the practice of Ren. He utilized clear metaphors when teaching students while encouraging them to practice drawing moral interpretations about other cases for one scenario. Plato is more focused on the pursuit of moral knowledge. While Confucius focuses on the nurturing of morality and illumination of moral obligation, Plato argues that teaching is a process of recollection.