Five Core Concepts of the East Asian Tradition of Political Thought and Action

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The Confucian social and ethical system captivated enlightened minds and philosophers in Europe, including Voltaire and Francois Quesnay in France. Because the state was controlled according to the political and moral maxims inherent in the Confucian classics, some experts argued that the Confucian blueprint provided a precedent for an ideal contemporary state. Although Confucianism originated in China, it spread to the west thanks to Christian missionaries who were influenced by Christian images of the eastern culture. Confucian studies have been picked up by several Sinologists, philosophers and historians making it be established as a subject in Asian Studies, philosophy and religious studies (Yao 3). In East Asian tradition, Confucianism provided several core concepts that were related to political thought embraced in the society. The core concepts presented were: human nature, the ecological family, harmony, flourishing, and governance.

Human Nature

Human individual development was a key concern of Confucius, and it was believed that human nature had a potential for development because it was not a fixed fact. The human nature according to Confucius has the potential to be rational, social, cooperative, and capable of autonomous moral judgment and actions. The environment of the individual strongly influences the human nature potential especially relationships such as family. However, the key driver for personal development in human nature is the individual’s responsibility. Through Confucianism, an individual can develop personal responsibility that can influence the human nature development. The concept of human nature in Confucius is expressed by the golden rule that is stated in the negative “Do not to other what you would not like them to do to you.” The phrase underlines ritual and filial piety as ways in which a human should behave towards others from an attitude of humanness (Yao 147).

In action, Confucianism holds that if a ruler or a leader lack humanness, then it would be difficult or even impossible for the subject to behave humanely. The Confucian political argument is based on the human nature concept. Confucianism presupposes that a leader should refrain from acting in humanely towards his subjects or lose the "Mandate of Heaven" which gives the right to rule. When a ruler loses mandate, the subject need not obey the ruler. However, when a ruler behaves humanely towards the subject, it follows that the human nature of the subjects will strictly obey the ruler because the ruler will have gained the mandate of heaven to lead the people. Therefore, human nature in the East Asian tradition is a core concept of political thought.

The Ecological Family

Confucianism scholars view the family as a network of interacting individuals who are in competition and cooperation with each other. A relationship is one of the major themes in Confucianism. The family is a core concept because of the humanization and education ability in the family. An individual who has a family can behave humanely towards others. In the process of showing humanness to their families, an individual educates their children on how to behave towards other hence fostering humanness. Furthermore, a family provides a sense of self-fulfillment. An individual who is fulfilled with himself is usually happy hence the person's attitude will be positive which will enable the person to show human kindness to other and serve them (Yao 150).

In Confucianism, the relationship status that one had determined the duties assigned to the person. An individual who has a relationship such as a family can be considered for a leadership position to someone else who does not have a family. The East Asian thoughts of leadership were influenced by the argument that a moral leadership begins in the family because a ruler is supposed to view his subject as a family that he is leading. The economy of a nation that a ruler has to address can be compared to the family expenses which make a family be viewed as a typical enterprise. Therefore, the family is a root institution of leadership in the society. The performance and behavior of an individual in a family can, therefore, spill over to the leadership qualities of the person. A person with a bad family is expected to have bad politics while an individual with a good family is projected to enable a good world that lives in harmony and is prosperous.


The concept of harmonized society in Confucianism does not necessarily mean uniformity instead it refers to the cooperative interdependence between the individuals in the community that helps in generating an optimal outcome. The way of harmony concept focusses on how harmony can be achieved in various forms such as between human and heaven, between conscious activities and environment, between individuals, between families and in the society in general. A Harmony is not only a core concept but also a spiritual manifestation of Confucianism life and power. The Confucian harmony was primarily between humanity and Heaven. According to Confucian, the unity existence was an indication of harmony in a world where human lived and behaved in a humanness hence providing peace, happiness, and order in the society. Furthermore, it provides the sense of security and continuity through the relationship between the human and the spirit form. The creation of harmony in the society involved reciprocating proper feeling and actions and creating balance to ensure every individual avoids extremes in any situation (Yao 170).

Confucianism believed that harmony is a political ideal that a leader should be able to foster. The ability of an individual to develop and promote harmony was considered an excellent political quality. In creating harmony in the society, the leader will have to develop a preference for agreements. Harmony is about ensuring that every individual cooperates and dependence on the other. Therefore, the leader will have to rely on agreements between different ideas to rule the society. Consequently, conflict is considered degenerative to the order created by harmony. In the case of any conflicts, the leader should ensure that the differing individuals reach an agreement so that harmony can be sustained. Harmonization is a moral obligation of every individual because a person cannot be forced to cooperate and develop interdependence with another person.


The concept of flourishing in Confucianism is the full development of life, especially human life. The concept of flourishing manifests in both material and moral aspect of the individual’s life. Material flourishing is concerning the abundance of Confucianism validated wealth and well-being while moral flourishing refers to a society where individual act morally on their own accord and are rewarded for their actions. In this society, morality is an accepted component of a good life. In a flourishing moral world, the aspect of good life is a development of human nature for individual purpose and that of the society (Yao 160).

The most important component of flourishing is the flourishing of the family. When a family flourishes, it meant that all the member of the family had been involved in the development process. As earlier argued, politics is similar to family. Therefore, for it to flourish every individual involved should behave morally and contribute to the society. Furthermore, people who showcase morals should be rewarded by being given a leadership position in the country.

Confucianism as Good Governance

The concept of good governance in Confucianism is embedded in the argument or proper order in the society. According to this concept for an individual to be able to govern other, a person should first be able to govern oneself. An individual should first develop their virtues which can spread and influence others in the society. However, the person is not supposed to interfere with the usual functions of others in the society but should enrich and educate them through the personal development that will be seen (Lecture notes).

The personal development and governance should make those around the individual to be pleased and attract other people. A leader is supposed to be someone that can be emulated by others in the society. Therefore, being able to please and attract people from a distance makes a person to have desirable qualities of a leader. The concept of good governance can be used to deter actions of aristocratic rulers that can harm the society and its population by ministers, counselors, and the subjects.

Works Cited

Lecture notes.

Yao, Xinzhong. An introduction to Confucianism. Cambridge University Press, 2000.

May 02, 2023

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