Traditional Chinese Culture: The Courage to Stand on the Side of Truth


In the Analects of Confucius, Xianwen, Emperor of Northern Wei (454-476), described an emperor of the Chinese/Xianbei Dynasty Northern Wei, who responded to fundamental questions of law.

"A benevolent man worries not, a learned man is not perplexed, and a brave man fears not," Xianwen said. Courage is an essential virtue for establishing a perfect realm. Historical records speak of many courageous people in both Western and Chinese cultures.

According to folk tales, there were about 100 Mohist disciples, all of whom would sacrifice their lives for the truth without hesitation. There was the warrior, Jing Ke, in the Warring States Period (475-221 BC). He was on a quest to assassinate the king of the Qin Dynasty in the song, “The wind whirled to the west and felt extra cold, as soon as the brave soldier left on his quest from which there was no return.” Xiang Yu, a warrior, was grief-stricken from the loss of so many soldiers and ashamed to face his superiors. They were all brave and fearless. Zilu, one of Confucius' favourite students, was bold and straightforward. But Confucius said, “He is fearless but it is not worth mentioning.” In fact, Confucius appreciated a different kinds of courage.

Mencius said, “Do you want to be brave? I have heard from Confucius about being brave: 'If you look inward, and find justice is not on this side, then, even if the other party is a humble person, I would not threaten him. If after examination, I feel that justice is indeed on my side, then even if the other side is mighty, I will go ahead.'” (The First Volume of Gongsun Chou of the Works of Mencius)

Confucius' Efforts on Behalf of People

Confucius guided his students by following such principles during his entire life. According to legend, Confucius was tall and strong, but was always kind to everyone. He was very patient with his students and very modest and prudent. If he made a mistake, he would apologize to his students.

When the Zhou Dynasty was weak, Confucius tried to promote benevolence and persuade the king to educate the people by promoting etiquette and music.

When Confucius visited the state of Lu, he tried to resurrect it but failed. He then travelled throughout the land to promote his political views. He went to the states of Zhou, Qi, Wei, Cao, Chen, Cai, Song, Ye, and Chu, but the authorities did not accept his views and ridiculed him. He was surrounded by those that mocked him and frightened him, and he felt trapped and suffered from hunger. People told him to give up.

But the downward spiral of the deteriorating moral standard could not affect him. Slander and bad attitudes could not change the aspirations of saints. He always put the heritage of his culture as his destiny and took the implementation of righteousness as his responsibility. He told his student, “If virtue existed nowadays, I would not try to change it.”

In order to spread his ideas and educate the people, Confucius opened the first private school. No matter if a student was poor or rich, intelligent or slow, all could attend his school. When he was in his 70s, he concentrated on finishing and revising some ancient books. Confucianism had a far-reaching impact on China’s history, culture, personality, thought and much more.

Looking at the Ancient Greek Sage Socrates

In 594 BC, the Athenian statesman Solon created republican politics in the form of civic elections and jury proceedings. However, ethics, good morals, and faith were not of importance at that time. Many prosecutors and judges, elected among farmers and businessmen, only recognized the law and the sciences. They did not have a humble heart that believed in God.

Socrates maintained that the purpose of philosophy was not to understand nature, but, rather, to "know oneself." He promoted awareness of the truth in life and a moral life. He believed that everything in the world was arranged by God.

He emphasized ethics and believed "virtue is knowledge." He spent his entire life in dialogue with people and tried to prevent them from making mistakes. He wanted to appeal to their self-respect.

In 404 BC, a tyrant's rule replaced the democracy. The dictator ordered Socrates to arrest a rich man so he could confiscate his property. Socrates refused. He not only dared to resist the unjust order, but also publicly condemned it.

Regardless of the other side’s power or strength, Socrates insisted on living by his principles and justice. He did not yield to any unjust social forces, so he offended many people.

Facing charges of "corrupting youth," Socrates delivered this speech—as rendered by Plato—to an Athenian jury.:

“And so I go my way, obedient to god, and make inquisition into the wisdom of anyone, whether citizen or stranger, who appears to be wise ... I tell you that virtue is not given by money, but that from virtue come money and every other good of man, public as well as private. This is my teaching, and if this is the doctrine which corrupts the youth, my influence is ruinous indeed. But if anyone says that this is not my teaching, he is speaking an untruth. Wherefore, O men of Athens, I say to you, do as Anytus bids or not as Anytus bids, and either acquit me or not; but whatever you do, know that I shall never alter my ways, not even if I have to die many times.”

Those with great wisdom from the past exert enormous influence on us still today. Real courage is not belligerence, but rather to stand on the side of truth. As long as one sticks to the truth, even when facing power and violence, one will never be discouraged or give in.

When Confucius and Socrates were alive, it appeared that morality was not the norm, but these two didn’t give up. Their thoughts were ultimately of great importance for thousands of years to come. It is their courage that built their personalities and created a culture that has sustained morality for generation upon generation.

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