Confucius goes to Washington

Confucius has been restored to good standing in his native land, and all China-watchers are trying to decide what this latest "cultural revolution" means.

We have no idea how the new Confucianism will work out in Peking. But we have reread our Confucius in honor of the occasion, and we are convinced that, if many of the sayings were taken seriously anywhere, the world would be a better place.

Here, for example, is how the Reagan administration might be conducted according to policies of strict Confucianism. In the interests of simplicity -- a Confucian virtue -- we will adopt the question-and-answer style of the Sage. Let us imagine, infact, a White House conference, introducing Confucius to the Washington press corps as President Reagan's policy adviser.

Question: What are the priorities of this government, as you see them?

Confucius: "People must have sufficient to eat; there must be a sufficient army; and there must be confidence of the people in the ruler."

Question: If you were forced to give up one of these objectives, which would you do without first?

Confucius: "I would do without the army first."

Question: And next?

Confucius: "I would do without sufficient food. A nation cannot exist without confidence in its ruler."

Question: What do you look for in appointments?

Confucius: "I dislike garrulous people. A glib talker with an ingratiating personality is seldom a good man.

I would banish all flatterers. Let me have just one public official, plain and sincere."

Question: Why do you put such emphasis on character?

Confucius: "Those who would order their national life must set about ordering their home life. Those who would restore peace in the world must order their national life. But it all starts with setting one's heart right."

Question: Where do you stand on capital punishment?

Confucius: "What's the need of killing of people? When a ruler himself does what is right, he will have influence over the people without severe prohibitions, and when the ruler himself does not do what is right, all his prohibitions will be of no avail."

Question: You're talking about prevention then -- education. What would your educational policy be?

Confucius: You're talking about prevention then -- education. What would your educational policy be?

Confucius: "Young men and women should be careful in their conduct and faithful, love the people, and associate with kind folk. If after learning from all this they still have energy left, let them read books. When I enter a country, I can easily judge its culture. If the people are gentle and good-hearted, that indicates the teaching of poetry. When the people are generous and calm, that indictes the teaching of music. When the people are broad-minded and acquainted with the past, that indicates the teaching of history. When the people are quiet and thoughtful and observant, that indicates the teaching of philosophy.

"Although young people go through their courses of instruction, they are quick to leave it all when they get through. That is the reason for the failure of education today. It is possible to civilize people and reform the morals of a country only when education is continuous. That is the meaning of the passage in the Ancient Records which says, 'The ants are busy all the time.'"

Question: What is your goal for the economy?

Confucius: "Many producers of wealth and few big spenders. The material prosperity of a nation does not coneousness."

We may imagine the press conference ending with the other White House advisers -- the generals, admirals, career diplomats, and economists -- muttering: "Simple dolt!" And: "Nice philosophers finish last."

And these are the favorable opinions. Confucius would not be surprised. Almost 2,500 years ago he wandered over China , looking for a governor to whom he could play adviser. He found nobody prepared to act upon his code -- that a good society is the sum of good individuals, and there is no shortcut. Why should anybody expect him to be taken seriously today, when the education of good individuals is thought to be nice but irrelevant? One bombs or buys one's way to results. Still, the question remains: Is Confucius wrong?

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.