Popular Science Monthly/Volume 40/November 1891/The Ethics of Confucius
|THE ETHICS OF CONFUCIUS.|
IN former papers on the Chinese religions I referred to Confucianism as a religion, following the generally accepted view of the matter. But in this paper I shall treat it as in no legitimate sense a religion, but simply and purely a system of moral or ethical philosophy.
Religion has to do primarily with the existence of a deity and with the question of man's immortality, and the relationship existing between the two. Morality may grow out of man's effort to sustain an acceptable relationship to the Deity and the future life but if so, it is incidental to and not a part of religion. The ages most noted for religious enthusiasm, and in which human fife and liberty were most freely sacrificed for orthodoxy in religious opinions and forms, were notoriously immoral. And at the present day, in many countries, the most religious are not the most moral communities. At Panama, a few years ago, I went to a cockpit on a Sunday afternoon, and among the spectators were several gentlemen in clerical cloth; and after the various battles were ended I observed that these clerically clad gentlemen were exchanging coin on the result. During the same afternoon, while "taking in" the sights of that town of cathedrals and churches, I saw more than one woman, around whose neck was suspended an image of the Virgin Mary, but whose manner of life indicated that a less appropriate symbol could not well be imagined. It is equally significant that rarely does a criminal ascend the gallows in this country that he is not accompanied by a clergyman, and he dies with the professions of piety and religious faith on his lips. Our penal institutions are filled with religious believers, and it is rare, in fact, that such men are not nominal members of churches, or at least have been at some time in their lives. I do not mention this fact to intimate that religious education or belief tends to promote immorality, for it does not; but rather to show that religious belief does not necessarily promote morality, no more than does the absence of such belief tend to promote immorality.
If a system of ethics and morality founded upon a purely human basis, and having no reference to any deity or future life whatever, is a religion, then Confucianism is a religion. But I do not know of any definition of the term that would include such a system.
The simple assertion, by those claiming authority on a subject that lies beyond the sphere of demonstration or proof one way or the other, has either to be accepted as a fact or repudiated as not proved. In the realm of religious dogmas it has been held to be good logic that when a proposition can not be disproved that it stands as proved. By this logic religions have been established. But in the matter of ethics the case is different. This comes within the scope of experience and demonstration, and is the outgrowth of experiment. There is no absolute standard of morality, what is construed as such being a relative condition, and regarded as good or bad, according to the state of civilization and educational standard by which actions are measured. What is regarded as perfect conduct in one age or under one environment may be rightly condemned under a higher development of the moral sense as a feeble attempt at morality.
What is called conscience can not be set up as a guide in the matter, for it is but the result of the mode of education. One man's conscience will approve of a given course, when another under a better social and political education will repudiate it as vicious. Among the lower orders of savages and uncivilized men there is apparently no moral standard observed. With the lower animal kingdom questions of priority and individual rights are settled, not by any tribunal in equity, but by the measure of physical strength. And what are considered the cardinal points in moral and ethical systems, as set forth in the decalogue of the Jews and in the corresponding codes of other ancient religions, are but the embodiment of the results of experience in the earlier developments of civilization When men first began to acquire property by industry or cunning, they found it inconvenient to have others appropriate the results of such thrift, and perhaps the first moral obligation recognized was the right to property; and the law against theft was among the first formulated codes: "Thou shalt not steal." Before such institutions as police courts were evolved, the only tribunal for adjusting personal difficulties was to fight it out; and the stronger combatant, other things being equal, was proved in the right because he vanquished his foe. But, as societies or community of interests began to be formed, it was found better to have boards of arbitration to settle disputes, and, as is shown in the controversy over the ownership of a certain herd of cattle in biblical times, the method of settling intricate problems partook largely of the plan of tossing up of pennies, yet it indicates that progress was being made over the fighting era. "Thou shalt not kill," especially a fellow-tribesman, was an early section of the moral code.
The custom of mating which obtains among many species of birds and some quadrupeds, and which, as man advanced in civilization, resulted in the establishment of the marriage relation, led to the edict against adultery. As tribes increased in numbers, it was found necessary for purposes of offensive and defensive warfare that some sort of organization should be observed, and this implied a division of labor and function. Political organization implied that some one or more of each tribe be designated to direct the operations of the rest, and the greatest warrior was naturally selected as the first chief; and the first chief used his power and position to install his sons as his successors, and thus were the first royal families evolved and succession to rulership established. National or tribal lines of jurisdiction followed the introduction of agricultural and breeding pursuits, and states and national boundaries were surveyed or designated. Territorial limits being established, tribunals or international bodies were necessary to regulate conflicting interests. The first resort was the war-club, and the enslavement of the vanquished. This method of arbitration has not yet been fully eliminated, but progress is being made in that direction, and international tribunals for arbitration now endeavor to supersede the sword.
Thus were governments evolved and written constitutions and statutes enacted, and codes of laws with penalties for restraining the criminal classes from violating the rules experience has found to be essential to good government and good society. None of these primary laws have been created by the makers of religions, but all such have found these in force wherever man has reached a sufficient degree of civilization to receive a religion.
This is why in all the various systems of religion we find the same essential basal moral laws inculcated. One has not copied from another, as is sometimes asserted. The fact that the same moral laws are found in two or more systems of religion does not indicate that the younger has copied the older, but that both appropriated existing well-defined and primal elements of moral law which had been evolved in preceding ages.
Confucius followed this principle, and did not lay claim to having originated the principles of his philosophy, but to have simply undertaken to revive laws which the ancients had laid down, but which had become practically obsolete through non-observance. He undertook to induce his fellow-men to observe the essential laws of good government and good society, not because of attached penalties, but because it was necessary to good society and the promotion of virtue. He recognized with sorrow that political intrigue, infidelity to the trusts of men in all relations, and crime of all kinds prevailed in spite of the laws intended to regulate such things, and to the task of restoring the righteous rules of his ancestors he set himself. He knew that penal codes were powerless for good when there was not a moral sense to enforce them. Modern prohibitive legislation is a parallel case.
All the prohibitive statutes that our Legislatures have so far enacted have failed to do away with drunkenness, for the reason that there is lacking sufficient personal sense of obligation to enforce them. The Chinese statutes, or the writings of the fathers, the classics so called, set forth the means to virtue and morality; but neither the legal authorities nor the people recognized any need for enforcing or observing them. He sought by precept and example to revive the moral sense of the people; but at the end of a long life he died in poverty and disappointment, having apparently produced no impression.
Kung-fu-tse (Latinized into Confucius) was born about 550 b.c. His father was descended from one of the many royal families which had figured in the past as rulers of tribes or provinces. Most likely these ancient Chinese royal families were little more than the Indian chiefs in our day, and their claim to royalty was recognized only in a very narrow limit. But he was not in power when the Sage was born. He had been married two or three times, but had no son, except one cripple, which did not count. At an advanced old age he married a young wife, and Kung, Jr., was the result. The father died when the boy was about three years old, and left his family in poverty. But, under the class distinctions into which Chinese society was divided, Kung inherited at least the class instincts of a gentleman, and managed in some manner to obtain a good education as Chinese education went. He was married when about twenty years old, and soon after his marriage his mother died. According to the custom of his country, this event required that he retire for three years from all business relations, and it is supposed that he spent this period of mourning in the study of the classics. When he again appeared in public he engaged in teaching school for some years; but, being imbued with the desire to effect a reformation among his people, he gave up teaching and sought and obtained employment in a government position under the ruler of his native province. His life as a civil officer enabled him to observe the methods of official conduct, and still further intensified his desire to restore a more righteous rule. He decided to seek the co-operation of some one of the many claimants to royal prerogative, and, by enlisting such sympathy, he calculated that by inaugurating a model reign, under whose influence men would turn again to the correct paths, he would absorb all contiguous provinces, unify the government of the race under a common flag, and see virtue and peace again among men. But he failed, after wandering from one province to another, to enlist the sympathy or co-operation of any one in a position to assist him; and he eventually gave up in despair, and, gathering a small following of disciples about him, he retired from public view, and passed the remainder of his days in teaching his chosen few and lamenting the evil days upon which his people had come. To fully appreciate the great task he had set out to accomplish, the reformation of China upon a strict ethical basis, it is necessary, as far as possible, to picture the condition of his people at that time. If we allow for some advance in civilization during the past twenty-five hundred years, and contemplate the China of our day with what in his day it must have been, we must concede that he had a very unpromising, crude material to work upon. From what he wrote on the condition of things, and also from the writings of Mencius a century later, we conclude that it was indeed a dark picture for the idealist to contemplate. Mencius states that in his time men had reached a state of degradation in which they denied that there was any distinction between good and evil, virtue and vice. All moral restraints were thrown off, and public or private morality was unknown. But, notwithstanding the philosopher was dead, his name and writings still existed, and had their influence on a few minds. Among these was Mencius, who seems to have been a more able man than Kung himself, and who espoused the cause of reform. He was wise enough to see that nothing might be hoped for in the way of co-operation of the rulers, who were as bad as the common people, but he set to work to gather and put into form the writings of Kung-fu-tse. Perhaps but for this work the very name of the Sage would long ago have been forgotten; for his writings were left in a fragmentary and scattered shape, and even do not take high rank in point of literary merit. The Confucian Analects, as compiled by Mencius, and with added comments by the latter, have been translated into English by Rev. Mr. Legge, an eminent Oriental scholar, and the work comprises in many large volumes about all that is known of the writings of the Sage.
The bulk of this extensive work consists in obscure allusions to things no doubt familiar in his time, but now obsolete; and in meaningless fine distinctions and references to the "Rules," "Forms," and such things that have but little significance to the modern reader. But the gist of the matter may be summed up in one short sentence: "Walk in the old paths." And when we come to define the old paths we find what he called the "Five Relations," under which he defines every known duty of man. These "Relations" had been defined and enforced ages before, in the books called the Classics, perhaps for the reason that they were so old that no one knew when or by whom written. It is these five propositions that have called forth dozens of folio volumes to elucidate and enforce. And it is these that constitute what is known as Confucianism, although he never originated them nor claimed to be other than a teacher of the faith of the ancients.
These five relations have in them an entire code of political and social economy of the highest order.
First Relation; King and Subject.—Kung, in harmony with the established form of government under which he lived, was an advocate of absolute monarchy. The fact that he had a tinge of royal blood in his own body may have unconsciously influenced his judgment on this point. At all events, he left no indication of any disapproval of the system. He favored paternal government, both for the nation and in the family. The patriarchal plan has always been followed out in China to the fullest detail. The Emperor is as the father of the big family, and there is no appeal from his authority. The question of how the reigning monarch attained his position is not taken into consideration. The fact that he is on the throne is sufficient to secure the most absolute and abject obedience to his mandates. Kung set forth certain wholesome rules which should control his actions in the belief that the subject as well as the ruler had rights. He sought to supersede kingship by force with kingship by fitness. The civil government being a counterpart to the family government, the rules or principles obtaining in one should be equally applied in the other. The subject should love the king as the son loves the father, not for the enemies he might have made, but because of a righteous administration of the affairs of the country. He gave no countenance to a divided household. No rival political parties, appealing by bribes of office, nor threats of non-support at the next election, could disturb the serenity of the rulers or ruled. No penalties for treason, where a government was so good that none could find fault, were needed; and, in the event of individual remonstrance, the recalcitrant was to be dealt with as a father would treat a disobedient son. The rod has always been the chief instrument of enforcing discipline in the political household as well as the domestic household; and cases that will not submit to this primitive method of chastisement are visited with the guillotine.
The fact that no one could be found willing to undertake to put in force his method of conducting government is due to the strict conditions he sought to enforce. Rulers were accustomed to hold the people in check by force of arms, and subaltern petty officers were appointed by the crown and held their position by carrying out the desires of their creator. Confucius declared that political appointments in the civil service should be made on the basis of individual merit, rather than simply the standard of subservience to the dictation of the throne. He was the first advocate of civil-service reform, and his success in that line is not calculated to create very high hopes in those of our day who would substitute a similar test for office.
It is commonly understood in this country that China has long practiced competitive examinations of candidates for office. They do go through such a form, but it is a mere farce. For appointment to a position in the customs service, for example, the examination is conducted by testing the candidate in his proficiency with the bow and arrow, and by having recitations from memory of certain portions of the classics. The man who can hit the bull's-eye the greatest number of times in a given number of shots with the bow, and can recite the greatest number of pages from some book, of the meaning of which he may be utterly ignorant, is considered the best fitted for the position. It may be that they consider that a man who is skillful with the bow, and whose memory will absorb a long list of trite sayings in a book, will also be capable of acquiring useful knowledge in his chosen position in the civil or military service; but certainly the attainments tested are of no practical benefit in the work to be done. Running and jumping and other athletic attainments are also tested. This is more useful, especially in the military service, than the other tests appear to be. A good runner in the army may be an important foresight in the selection of soldiers or officers who are thus selected. China's experience in her recent wars with European armies has taught her the need of a fleet-footed soldiery to enable them to get out of the way of the enemy.
It is, of course, difficult to estimate what part the teachings of Confucianism have had in forming the national character of the Chinese. Some powerful influence must have been required to secure such a condition of contentment under such an arbitrary government to hold together in apparent submission to one reigning house for so many centuries. True, that country has been the scene of many bloody civil conflicts in her history. At the time of Confucius the country was not, as now, one united empire, but was divided into many smaller jurisdictions. The political unity of China was brought about several centuries after his death, and was the result of a long period of tribal or provincial conflicts.
Then later the Tartars subjugated China, and absorbed the original China proper, as it is spoken of, into the present boundary, and the Tartar dynasty has held the control of the government ever since. The only attempt of any importance made since that conquest to restore Chinese rule was the Taiping rebellion. This revolt promised to be successful, until the British and French Governments interfered in aid of the Tartars, and under Chinese Gordon put down the rebellion. Now every precaution is taken to prevent another rebellion. Guns and gunpowder have been declared contraband, and are not permitted to the ownership of the natives.
The Chinese contingent in the army is equipped with bows and arrows, spears, and old-fashioned muzzle-loading blunderbusses of the most primitive pattern. All native regiments are also officered by Tartars, and Tartar regiments are equipped with modern rifles, and drilled under European tactics, to give them an advantage in the event of any future uprising.
Local magistrates and governors of provinces and districts are all appointed by the Emperor, from the Tartar contingent, and hold their offices at the discretion of the throne. They assume to judge of what is beneficial, and decide the policy of the Government entirely on their own judgment, without consulting the wishes of the populace. There is no appeal to the people for approval or disapproval of the Government's action on any subject. The masses submit to the inevitable, not apparently so much from any recognition of wisdom in its administration, but rather as an inevitable result of their inability to help themselves. Taxation is laid in a most summary and arbitrary manner, and collected by the officers appointed for that purpose, and there is a continual struggle between the tax-collectors and the tax-payers to try to outwit each other. Duty is assessed upon every article of domestic production, as well as all imports. Farm products have to pay duty at every thirty miles they may have to traverse to reach a market. A cargo of tea leaving Hankow for the seaboard for export, if carried in native bottoms, must pay taxes every thirty miles of the distance. Under treaty stipulations, cargo carried under foreign flags is assessed only at the point of departure. This has created a lucrative business for many Americans and others, who ostensibly buy boats and cargoes, and fly the American flag over them, for a fee from the real owners. Merchants of all classes are taxed five per cent on gross sales, and have to submit their books for inspection freely to the tax-collectors; and detected efforts to get around the tax, other than by bribing the collectors, which is not at all difficult to do, results in the confiscation of their entire possessions. Once I witnessed the novel transaction of a foreigner who wanted to purchase a milch-cow, and the farmer drove the cow to the outside limits of the tax station on the outskirts of the town, and tied her there and came for the buyer to accompany him outside to complete the purchase. He could pass the cow without taxation, but the native owner could not. This is why the Chinese in California show such skill and fertility of resource in smuggling in opium. Their past training in subterfuges to beat their own tax-collectors has trained them in the business. And they do not regard it as any crime to beat the Government if they can. In this freak they are not wholly unlike many of our own race, as our custom-house officers are aware.
We can not, of course, determine what would have been the condition of China, in the matter of the relationship between ruled and rulers, had Confucianism never impressed its doctrines on the subject, but certainly he has not achieved any striking success in this first of the five relations.
Second Relation: Husband and Wife.—The husband is regarded as holding much the same relation to the wife as the Emperor to the people—that is, he has absolute authority over her. But that authority must be exercised with justice and sympathy. The wife shall obey the husband, but he must be worthy of obedience. Polygamy is now practiced in China, but it seems not to have been at the time of Confucius. At least I have observed no reference to the matter in his treatise on the second relation, which seems probable would be the case if it was recognized at the time he wrote. His plan elaborated the most minute provisions for the conduct of married people, and, were his ideal carried out, a most happy state of married life would result; but, judging from appearances, he has more signally failed on this point than on the first relation. Chinese marriages are not conducted on the plan most conducive to harmony. Their matches are not made in heaven, as poets sometimes declare of this matter, but in a broker's office. They are not the result of a personal courtship between the parties to the compact, but are a matter of barter and sale. Fathers negotiate for wives for their infant sons, and infant betrothals are in reality infant purchases. Both husband and wife being entirely passive in the matter, there can not be anything approaching to personal attachment between them. Marriage being a matter of purchase, there is no provision for divorce required. If a husband is not pleased with the wife, he can sell or trade her off. If the wife is not satisfied, she can drown herself. The so-called slavery of women in Chinese communities in this country is simply the lawful marriage arrangement of that country. It sometimes transpires that women bought as wives are treated as merchandise, which they really are as a matter of fact, and are subjected to immoral and degrading uses. This is especially the case in this country, where the women are few in comparison to the number of men of that race. In China women are treated with perhaps as much consideration as in other countries. They are not accorded full recognition as the equal in rights with man, but there are those even in our own country who declare that this is true of our women also. In China they are not treated as being personally responsible for their position in society, and are guarded with a more jealous care than with us. Here, a wife or daughter, growing weary of the restraints of the home, may go to another city, change her name, and enter upon a life of entire freedom from all restraints with impunity. With them it is impossible. Women there sustain more the position of domestic animals, which have a material value, and, if they stray from home, some one is interested in looking after them, much as an estrayed horse or ox. It is a matter of fact that, from whatever cause, there is not to be found in Chinese cities the class of abandoned and immoral women as in all European and American cities. The laws of the land forbid them, and their laws are more strictly enforced in this regard than in any other country I know anything about. Polygamous marriages and the concubinage system prevail, however, and, while this may be as bad as the other, it is not so apparent and obtrusive upon the public notice as are the Whitechapels of London or New York. But, view it as one may, it is apparent that the condition of Chinese women is far from what Confucius thought it should be.
Third Relation: Parent and Child.—In this relation the greatest stress is placed upon filial obedience. Under the patriarchal family economy, the eldest male living is the acknowledged head of every family, even though the family, as it often does, contains three and four generations. The father of the family is the established authority on all matters of policy in business and otherwise, yet each son owes special allegiance to his own father. Nor is this duty ended with the death of the father, but is perpetual. Once a year the grave must be visited and the little mound rebuilt and kept in repair by the dutiful son. The wine and food that are left by the grave in connection with this ceremony of rebuilding graves are not a part of Confucianism, but the point of contact with Taouism. This custom of honoring the dead has created the impression among foreigners that the Chinese worship their dead. "Ancestral worship" is commonly spoken of as an established fact; but it is entirely a mistake. They do not worship their dead in any legitimate sense. The ceremony of restoring the graves is not unlike in nature and answers much the same sentiment as our annual Ceremony of decorating the graves of our soldier dead. We strew flowers upon graves and construct monuments in marble or bronze over the tombs of our distinguished dead, and yet we do not worship them. If a Chinaman, witnessing these observances with us wrote to his friends that the Americans worship their dead and erect idols over their tombs, it would be a similar error to that we perpetuate in our books regarding the Chinese ceremonies in honor of their dead. Ancestral tablets are hung upon the walls of Chinese homes much as painted portraits are upon ours, not to be worshiped, but to keep in perpetual memory the departed. The desire to be thus honored after death is why Chinamen are so anxious to leave sons. It is also why those dying in foreign lands are so careful to have their bones taken back to their native homes. They wish to be remembered when they are gone, and only sons—dutiful sons—will see that the graves of their fathers are kept green. It is the most striking feature of Chinese character—their great respect for their fathers. In all business enterprises, in poverty or in wealth, the Chinese look to their fathers for counsel and example. This amounts with them to a positive passion, and is the greatest obstacle in the way of the introduction of modern methods and appliances. What was good enough for their forefathers is good enough for them. If anything new is offered, they dismiss it with the belief that, if it had been necessary, their fathers would have had it. They are not an inventive people, and use to-day the same pattern of plow and hand-made goods of all sorts they did a thousand years ago. The same cut of coat, build of boats, architecture, everything remains now as it was at the time when history with them first began. Filial affection is deep-rooted in their natures, and no one questions the propriety of it. Here, at least, Kung has impressed himself upon his people.
Fourth Relation: Brother to Brother.—The patriarchal plan of family government leaves but little scope for individuality in the members of a household. Estates are entailed from one generation to another intact. All the members of a family partake of the resources in common, and are supposed to perform their share of the labor. But they own nothing in severalty. This removes the most fruitful source of fratricidal conflict. No quarreling over division of property, and no cutting off of one in favor of another heir at law, for all remain in equal possession of the property, and each subsists upon a common treasury. All the sons work in the same business, shop or store, with the father. This is why for a hundred generations the Chinese follow the same calling. A shoemaker's sons are shoemakers, for the reason that they are put to work at the bench as soon as they can drive a peg. Shifting from one employment to another is rare with them. They do not take freely to learning a new trade, because, if they have any property in the family, it can not be divided and sold by the heirs, unless the sale is by consent of all the heirs, and then, of course, a mutual distribution is made. In business pursuits, the profits of the enterprise are not drawn out by the members of the firm, which in almost all cases means the family; but, after meeting current expenses, the accrued surplus goes into the accumulated assets. Thus, unequal wealth is not a source of family quarrels. I never knew two brothers where one was poor and the other rich. They are all poor or rich together. The trait, thus developed, of intimacy between brothers and all members of the household has left its imprint upon Chinese character in general. Clannishness is one of their national marks.
Fifth Relation: Man to Man.—In this proposition is the province of ethics. It is a far wider field for the philanthropist and reformer to deal with than any of the foregoing. Here all ties of kinship and fear of authority are removed, and the question of the equality and rights of man comes in. The same sentiments in our Constitution are lauded as the climax of humanity and civilization. The same sentiments were promulgated by a pagan philosopher five hundred years before the Christian era; and he founded his arguments upon what had been written so long before his time as to be ancient history.
Men have always been in each other's way. Conflicting interests of tradesmen and fellow-workmen of the same crafts always have and always will exist. The harmonious co-operation of Bellamy will probably require more than twenty centuries to materialize. Labor unions seek to regulate the matter by restricting apprenticeships. Merchants try by underselling each other to drive the weaker ones to the wall. Manufacturers and capitalists enter into trusts, hoping to freeze out the smaller competitors and destroy competition. But all alike fail of their purpose, and conflicting interests as old as the human race itself continue, and always will, in all likelihood. In times past unwelcome competition was checked in a more violent manner. Walking delegates and boycott committees were armed with daggers and clubs, and the stronger tribes annihilated the weaker ones or enslaved them. It is certainly a high testimonial to the pagan reformer that he sought to inculcate the doctrine that one man had any rights that another was under obligations to respect.
The golden rule of the Christian religion is regarded as the climax of excellence. Five centuries before Christ, Confucius wrote page after page to inculcate this same principle. One half of the decalogue of Moses is devoted to enforce the rights of man between man. Thou shalt not steal, nor bear false witness against thy neighbor, nor covet anything that is his. One man shall not tear down or injure another, in order to promote his own interests, is a doctrine hostile to the nature and practices of men in all ages, and yet a principle essential to the perpetuity of governments and social progress. Animals by instinct devour and destroy each other in their pursuit of life. Men in uncivilized states do the same thing in effect; and it is quite clear that we have not yet fully outgrown the animal instinct in this direction. But we all understand that it is right to do so, and, if we do not, we at least pretend that we do, and only eat each other metaphorically.
Nature has wisely provided that, when a man has lived for a few years, he shall give place to his successors. But as long as one remains on the earth, other things being equal, he is entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in his own way, provided his way does not interfere with the rights of others. There is room on the earth for all that are likely to occupy it at any one time, and, when the numbers reach an excess, disease or famine or war relieves the surplus. And under all circumstances every man should be protected in his life and interests from unequal advantages being taken of him by his neighbors. So taught Confucius. So teach all systems of sound social and moral philosophy.
In conclusion, I wish to say that, judged by what it has probably accomplished, the Confucian system has done much toward creating whatever of good is found in Chinese character and institutions; and what it has failed to accomplish is not due to any defects in the system, but rather to the inherent tendency in human nature to seek its own way. Men have been slow to ask what is the better and wiser course to pursue, and have inclined to follow their more brutish instincts.
At the present day, however, Confucius wields but little influence over the Chinese. In most cities are temples, or, more correctly speaking, halls known as Confucian halls. They are entirely void of any appearance of idolatry. His name is revered as a wise and good man, but he is not worshiped, nor has he in any legitimate sense been deified by the people. As Washington in America is venerated as the father of his country, and as Abraham Lincoln is spoken of in history as the savior of his country, so likewise is Confucius spoken of among his people as the wise philosopher, and patron of letters, and promoter of good government, but not as the founder of a religion, nor an object to be worshiped. Educated Chinamen all profess to be disciples of him and to read his works, and to be guided by his instructions. In some respects they perhaps do, but they put their own interpretation upon the import of his teachings. There are no special teachers to expound his works, and every one is free to place such construction upon his teachings as his intelligence or impulses may lead to.
I am convinced that the power of the philosopher over his people has been overestimated by foreigners generally, and that the real nature and scope of his work have been largely misapprehended.