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Ho Chi-ping Patrick:From “material life dominated” toa “heart-centered” harmonious world


Entering the second decade of the new millennium, the world is undergoing drastic but profound changes. We see, for example, a nuclear crisis triggered bythe Japan earthquake, political unrest in the Middle East caused by the Jasmine Revolution, a European debt crisis which has led some countries to the brink of bankruptcy, an intensified social gap between the rich and the poor, and frequently occurring domestic violence. How to deal with these changes and conflictshas become a huge challenge today.
The“heart culture” of Confucianism is the right way to solve these social problems.
Some analysts believe that a large number of social problems emerge because of the collapse of traditional values and the lack of spiritual life. To write a prescription for contemporary society, one has to reviewthe development of human civilization and the social value system.
In 1943 psychologist Abraham Maslowadvanced the theory known as“hierarchy of needs.” This theory classifies people’s needsatdifferent stages of life, namely, physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization.
In my view, Maslow’s theory applies as well to human cultural development. The process of human development maybe broadly divided into four stages: ”material life dominated,”“belief in God,““people-oriented,”and“heart-centered.”
In the earliest stage of human society, humanspursuedthe improvement of material life andthe establishment of a property protection system as their ultimate goals. These goals met the physiological and safetyneeds at the lowest levels of the hierarchy of needs. In the “material life dominated”agricultural society, the core values were industriousness, thriftiness, adherence to law, honesty, and simplicity.
The limitations of modern civilization
Afterhaving solved the problems of food, clothing, and safety, humans began to think about the next levels of needs – social (love and belonging) and esteem. The theocratic system in medieval Europe and the Chinese imperial system after the Zhou Dynasty both formed feudal societies which believed in God. The core values of this period emphasized hierarchy, worship of God and ancestors, loyalty, filial piety, and righteousness.
The Renaissance removed the shroud of theocratic gloomover Europe, emancipated the mind, called for freedom, inspired creativity, and enlightenedthe next generations.It also translatedthe “god worship”culture into a “human exploration”culture. These representedthehuman turn to a higher level of needs, that of self-actualization.
This culture, encouraging subjective innovations and calling for individual freedom, achieved the release of humanity, accelerated the emergence of capitalism, laid the foundation for science, and established the rule of law. It alsointroduced individualism into philosophy, shaped the modern “people-oriented” society, and generated the modern ideasof freedom, democracy, human rights, the rule of law, equality,and fraternity.
Western humanism, however, wasdistortedby individual desire. The absence of constraints fromtraditional religious morality ultimately led to the alienation of human nature. The emergence of the “Occupy Wall Street Movement” in Western countries last year, as well as the debate triggered by the growing debt crisis in the USand Europe, indicates that the international community has been profoundly rethinking the long-established Western economic model.
To solve the problems of today’s society, it is not enough to depend only on what the West has achieved. We need to move from a “people-oriented human culture”toa“heart-centeredhumanculture.”
Since ancient times, “heart culture”has occupied an important position in Chinese culture. Itplays a key roleinkeeping Chinese culture different from Western culture.
Confucius said that one needs to cultivate individual moral character, keep the family in order, run the country well, andbring peace to the world, but first and foremost,one needs to “rectify the heart.”
Xunzisaid,“theheart decides one’s being.”Dong Zhongshusaid,“theheart is essential to one’s body.”Zhu Xi said, “the heart dominates.”Wang Chuanshan said, “in one’s body, the heart is before everything.”Wang Shourensaid, “Peoplearethe heart of universe and theheart is the lord of universe.”
Conscience, which is the heavenly principle, already exists in people’s hearts. As long as one tries hard to cultivate the heart, consciencewill not be blinded by lust and will finally achieve the “unison of knowing and doing.”
All these indicate that the heart rules the relationship between body and mind.
Confucianism in the contemporary world
The four greatancient civilizations – China, Babylon, India, and Egypt – were lostbecause of the conflictof cultural values. Only Confucianismintegratedforeign ideology and religion,while preserving its own identity.
The emergence of religious conflict and international war is a consequence of the failure to practice non-action and to learn from Chinese philosophy. The ancient Chinese did notagreewith foreign cultures and religionsaboutcosmology and metaphysics. They did not assume that the truth can be defined by words, or that people’s behavior couldbe regulated by dogma and criminal law. Eventually foreign religions and cultures, recognizing the wisdom of the ancient Chinese, had to adapt to traditional Chinese values and become integrated into Chinese culture. This led to theirbeing “Confucianismized and Taoismized.”
The world is now slowly transitioning fromacompetition of “hard power” to acontest of“soft power.” Confucianism’s teaching that“tolerance fosters greatness,”its admonition to “hold the world with virtue,”and its long historical  heritage of “heart culture”are the  cultural fountainhead of Chinese “soft power.”
As the British historian Arnold Toynbee said, “China’s past achievement and historical experience have endowed it with the qualifications that the West so conspicuously lacks. On the strength of that achievement, China has a more promising chance of shepherding humankind into political unity than any other country.”
Let us take the opportunity tobring Confucian culture to the worldin order to overcome the challenges today. For the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation and for the sustainable development of human civilization,let usbuild a harmonious, integrated, “heart-centered”new culture.
NOTE: This article is an abridged version of Dr Ho’s speech deliveredat the 2012 NishanForum on World Civilizations, which aimed to promote dialogue between different civilizations in the world and maintain cultural diversity.
Dr Ho Chi-ping Patrick
Deputy Chairman and SecretaryGeneral of China Energy Foundation Committee; Hong Kong Delegate to theChinese People’s Political Consultative Conference; former Secretary for Home Affairs, HK Special Administrative Region Government
CEFC Members : CEFC China Energy Co., Ltd. China Institute Of Culture Limited CEFC Shanghai Charity Fund
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