Those qualified should seek public service: Chinese version
January 26, 2017 4:56 PM   Subscribe

The recent question Plato on the virtuous citizen, received a quote from J Livengood, he who refuses to rule is liable to be ruled by one who is worse than himself. I vaguely recall similar sage urging to civic responsibility in a Chinese context, to the effect, a good man should not hide but rather should involve himself in public service. Confucious? Outlaws of the Marsh? 请 帮 忙 。
posted by gregoreo to Society & Culture (1 answer total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Confucius, as I've read him, is ambivalent about whether a good man -- a gentleman -- should join or serve the government. I don't think he saw there to be a constant obligation to public service. When 'worse' men are ruling, he seems to advocate quietism, avoiding serving the government. For instance:

Analects 14.1 "Xian asked about shame. The Master said, "When the dao prevails in a state, take office. To take office when the dao does not prevail -- that is shame. [...]"

And the following analect relates Confucius' reluctance to serve a particular lord; how he attempts, unsuccessfully, to avoid meeting him. Hiding from him to avoid public office, in effect:

Analects 17.1 Yang Huo wished to have Confucius appear in audience, but Confucius would not appear. Yang Huo sent Confucius a suckling pig. Confucius timed a visit for a day when Yang Huo was not at home and went to pay his thanks, but encountered Yang Huo on the road.

Yang Huo addressed Confucius: "Come. I want a word with you. / To conceal your treasure and let your state go astry, can this be called humanity? No, it cannot. To be eager to engage in affairs but to repeatedly miss one's proper time, can this be called wisdom? No, it cannot. / The days and months are rushing by; no extra years will be allotted to me."

Confucius said, "All right. It is my intent to serve."

The kind of social harmony and well-being which Confucius envisioned was perhaps not primarily a political one, so that being involved in 'ruling' isn't crucial for a good man:

Analects 2.21 Someone addressed Confucius, saying, "Why do you not engage in government?" The Master said, "The Documents says, 'Filial, merely be filial, and friends to brothers young and old.' To apply this as one's governance is also to engage in government. Why must there be some purposeful effort to engage in governance?"

(I'm referencing parts of the analects which bear on your specific question about an obligation to public office. Confucius had, of course, a lot to say about what good rulers were like, and how to rule well. He did care quite a lot about the political sphere, but not as the only scene of moral and spiritual action.)
posted by bertran at 6:31 PM on January 26, 2017 [4 favorites]

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