The philosopher Confucius (551-479 B.C.) inspired the most profound reforms of ancient China, but he left a legacy that today hampers the striving of some Asians for democratic change. That legacy is an emphasis on centralized rule. Many surrounding Asian countries have adopted aspects of Chinese culture, including Confucianism. As these countries have developed economically, their citizens have demanded political rights commensurate with their new-found economic power.
Confucius taught that sound moral values ensure harmony between family members, ruler and ruled, and among nations. Confucianists viewed the state as an enlarged family headed by a single, paternalistic sovereign ruling by moral example rather than by force. The ideal ruler acts benevolently for the people's welfare. But some leaders have exploited the ethical system in attempts to legitimize the harshest absolute rule.
However, agitators for democracy, like despots, may also invoke Confucianism. The sage taught that a ruler should abdicate or be overthrown if he loses the ``Mandate of Heaven,'' or broad popular support.