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Confucian Liberalism: Convergence Between the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Chinese Traditional Culture
July 31,2020   By:CSHRS
Confucian Liberalism: Convergence Between the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Chinese Traditional Culture
 
ZHAO Jianwen*
 
Abstract: As early as the 18th century, Confucian liberalism of considering others in one’s own place was integrated into the provisions of freedom of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. In 1948, the Confucian idea of benevolence and other liberalism had an important influence on the drafting and content of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The fulcrum of Confucian liberalism is self-discipline based on benevolence. The code of conduct created by Confucianism of “What you do not want done to yourself,do not do to others” has the social effect of safeguarding people’s negative freedom; the code of conduct of “while establishing himself and pursuing success, also works to establish others and enable them to succeed as well” has the social effect of safeguarding people’s positive freedom. Confucian liberalism is social-oriented, which adheres to the unity of everyone’s freedom with the freedom of others, and the idea that individual freedom lies in the overall freedom of the social community. It is based on the conscience (benevolence) of the way of considering others in one’s own place and the practical path from the obligation to rights and freedoms are prominent features of traditional Chinese culture. It is consistent with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ provision that everyone has duties to the community, and is similar to Marx’s philosophy that “the free development of every human being is the condition of the free development of all human beings”,and is a unique system of liberal discourse that is different from Western liberalism.
 
Keywords: human rights· right to liberty ·confucian liberalism·Universal Declaration of Human Rights · traditional Chinese culture 
 
Dignity, freedom and responsibility are the fundamental ideas and theoretical pillars of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (hereinafter referred to as Declaration).Through various resolutions, the United Nations Human Rights Council has called on all countries to explore and promote traditional values, including dignity, freedom and responsibility1. These important values embodied in the Declaration are significant to traditional Chinese culture and have played an important role in shaping the human rights cause in contemporary China. There are many rich and unique liberalist ideas in traditional Chinese culture, of which Confucian liberalism is representative to a certain degree. The present paper will explore the consistency between Confucian liberalism and the Declaration, with respect to the relations between human beings.
 
I. The Far-Reaching Influence of Confucian Liberalism: From the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
 
During the drafting of the Declaration, Chinese representative Peng-chun Chang emphasized that previous human rights declarations were 18th century products of the West. However, Chang also pointed out that Chinese philosophy was also well-known among 18th century thinkers and scholars. Voltaire, Denis Diderot, Goethe, Leibniz,Oliver Goldsmith and Alexander Pope all had extensive interest in Chinese philosophy and social structure. The translation of Chinese philosophical treatises influenced the philosophy of the 18th century Enlightenment movement in Europe.2 In 2019,more than 70 years after the birth of the Declaration, French President Emmanuel Macron presented Chinese President Xi Jinping with a state gift during the latter’s visit to France: a copy of the French version of An Introduction to the Analects of Confucius, published in Paris in 1688.3 This confirms Chang’s thesis that the translation of Chinese philosophical treatises had influenced the 18th century Enlightenment movement in Europe.
 
A. The influence of confucian liberalism on the Declaration of the Rights of the Man and of the Citizen
 
In the 17th century, the French scholar Fran?ois de La Mothe Le Vayer (1588-1672) read about Confucius in the Christian Expedition among the Chinese undertaken by the Society of Jesus, a treatise by the Italian Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci. In De la vertu des payens (The Virtues of the Pagan) in 1641, Le Vayer compared Confucius to Socrates, and pointed out that the Confucian teaching “What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others” was the core essence of traditional Chinese moral values.4
 
In the 18th century, many French enlightenment thinkers such as Diderot, Montesquieu, and Voltaire cited and praised Confucius’ moral philosophy. For instance, Voltaire was fond of citing quotes from the Analects of Confucius (also known simply as the Analects) in his works, such as Essay on the Manners of Nations and Philosophical Dictionary. He praised “what you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others” as an “eternal principle” akin to Newton’s law of gravity5, believing that it should be “graven in the hearts of all men”6.
 
After the outbreak of the French Revolution, the French National Constituent Assembly adopted all 17 articles of the Declaration of the Rights of the Man and of the Citizen on July 26, 1789, based on the theories of Enlightenment thinkers such as Voltaire, Rosseau and Montesquieu.7 Article 4 of this Declaration stated that “Liberty consists in the freedom to do everything which injures no one else; hence the exercise of the natural rights of each man has no limits except those which assure to the other members of the society the enjoyment of the same rights. These limits can only be determined by law. Some scholars argue that the archetype for this article was “what you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others”, given that Voltaire held this adage from Confucius in high regard, which was then included in the Declaration by Maximilien Robespierre8. Regardless of the veracity of this claim, the “liberty” mentioned in Article 4 refers to the right to “do anything which does not harm others”, subject to “those borders which assure other members of the society the fruition of these same rights”, which is entirely in line with the substance of “what you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others”.
 
In January 1793, a majority of the French National Constituent Assembly voted to execute King Louis XVI, which put an end to calls for a constitutional monarchy. On June 23 of the same year, the Assembly adopted a new declaration consisting of 35 articles, known as the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1793. Article 6 of the 1793 Declaration states that “Liberty is the power that belongs to man to do whatever is not injurious to the rights of others; it has nature for its principle, justice for its rule, law for its defense; its moral limit is in this maxim: Do not do to another that which you do not wish should be done to you.” The text of this article is virtually identical to Confucius’ teaching that “what you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others”, as quoted by Voltaire and his peers, but somewhat distanced from similar expressions in the Bible; furthermore, the French revolutionists of the time were known for their fierce antagonism towards the Church.9 Historical context and textual evidence both show that the Confucian adage “what you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others”, recorded in the Analects, had been written into the “liberty clause” of the 1793 Declaration. In keeping with the course of the French Revolution, the French National Constituent Assembly adopted a new constitution on August 22, 1795. The preamble to the 1795 Constitution, known as the Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man and Citizen, consisted of 31 articles, of which eight were the obligations of man and citizens. The second of these was: “All the duties of man and citizen spring from these two principles graven by nature in every heart: Not to do to others that which you would not that they should do to you. Do continually for others the good that you would wish to receive from them.”10 In this article, words to the effect of having “what you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others” were identical (in the original French) to the 1793 Declaration, and entirely aligned with Voltaire’s view that this golden rule be “graven into the hearts of all men”. Furthermore, the principle of “Do continually for others the good that you would wish to receive from them” may very well be a refinement and summary of Confucius’ call that “those wishing to be established himself, seek also to establish others; those wishing to be enlarged himself, seek also to enlarge others”. However, there is as yet no conclusive evidence to this regard.
 
B. The confucian ideal of “being affable but not adulatory” as applied to the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
 
The drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights took place in an atmosphere of free debate. An analysis of the records of the time makes it apparent that Peng-chun Chang applied the Confucian ideal of “being affable but not adulatory” to the drafting of the Declaration.
 
Confucianism advocates harmonious relationships characterized by “affability without being adulatory” and “pluralistic co-existence”. In the “State of Equilibrium and Harmony” chapter of the Classic of Rites, there is an argument that “All things are nourished together without their injuring one another. The courses of the seasons, and of the sun and moon, are pursued without any collision among them.” In this we find that Confucianism believed that all things in the world should “be nourished together” and “pursued together” without “collision” or “mutual injury”. This philosophical outlook which emphasizes harmony between man and nature necessarily holds in high regard harmonious relationships between human beings. Confucius himself said that “The superior man is affable, but not adulatory; the mean man is adulatory, but not affable.” (The Analects, Chapter 13 “Zi Lu”). In his view, the “superior man” (jun zi,also translated as “man of virtue” or “gentleman”) allows for diversity of ideas and does not unduly insist upon uniformity of views, while the “mean man” (xiao ren, that is an “unvirtuous person”) seeks to impose uniformity, which leads to disharmony due to the divergence of interests. “Affability without being adulatory” essentially implies freedom, while “being adulatory but not affable” implies coercion and dispute.
 
The memoirs of Eleanor Roosevelt, who was instrumental to the drafting of the Declaration, noted that Peng-chun Chang was a believer in pluralism, and believed in an extremely attractive manner that there was more than one ultimate reality; Chang believed that the Declaration should reflect not just Western conceptions11. This shows that Peng-chun Chang was an advocate for “affability without being adulatory”, that the Declaration should embody the diversity of the world’s human rights traditions and allow for the harmonious, pluralistic co-existence of these diverse values. This also shows that Chang was against “being adulatory but not affable”, that is he advocated that the Declaration not only reflect Western conceptions of human rights, and unduly impose these conceptions upon non-Western nations.
 
The preliminary draft of the Declaration was inconsistent with the cultural diversity of human rights in the world. Article 1 of the preliminary draft stated that: “All men are brothers. Being endowed with reason, members of one family, they are free and possess equal dignity and rights.”12 This mainly reflected Western conceptions of human rights. Peng-chun Chang pointed out that conceptions of human rights in Non-Western traditions contained rich human rights resources were equally worthy of recognition. Chang also believed that the sole inclusion of Western conceptions of human rights in the Declaration was inconsistent with its conception as a universal standard for human rights13. Chang insisted upon the consistency of human rights and cultural diversity with the Declaration as a common standard that all countries should strive to achieve.
 
Thus, Peng-chun Chang pointed out that it was insufficient to merely include words to the effect of “man are endowed with reason” in the universal declaration, and that it was necessary to include the traditional Chinese value of ren (仁). He explained that a literal English translation of ren would be “two-man mindedness”, which was similar with “sympathy” or “consciousness of one’s fellow man”14. Chang believed that, akin to the idea of “reason”, ren should also be treated as an essential human attribute15. After much debate, the drafting committee decided to accept Chang’s recommendation that the concept of ren be included in the Declaration. Although no English word fully captures the entire meaning of ren, the drafting committee, after much debate, unanimously decided to include “conscience” (which was close to the connotations of ren) in Article 1 of the Declaration. The joint inclusion of “conscience” and “reason”, two related elements of traditional Chinese culture and traditional Western culture thus achieved “affability without being adulatory”. The core principle of Confucianism was incorporated into the foundational Article of the Declaration, which would guide the interpretation and applicability of all articles contained in the Declaration. This was a historic contribution by Peng-chun Chang to the drafting of the Declaration16.
 
Thus, we can see that history has repeatedly demonstrated the strength and vitality of Confucian philosophy, from the behavioral norm of “what you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others” to the incorporation of ren and other core Confucian concepts into the Declaration.
 
II. The Pillar of Confucian Liberalism: Moral Self-Discipline
 
During the drafting of the Declaration, Peng-chun Chang provided a commentary on Confucian philosophy. Chang stated that Confucius’ teachings did not require that people gave up their occupations or families, nor did it require them to live apart from others; instead, Confucius taught that people should live among others, and exercise self-restraint through noble but entirely practical principles of behavior. Chang believed that this was one of the reasons why Confucian thought had had such a large influence on the lives of the Chinese people17. Self-restraint through noble but entirely practical principles of behavior, as mentioned by Chang, is precisely the “self-discipline” advocated by Confucianism.
 
A. Self-Discipline: a necessary condition for dignity and liberty
 
Confucianism holds that, despite being living things that share many attributes with animals, human beings differ from animals in that we have a “conscience” (ren), and can restrain ourselves through “a ‘refined’ code of conduct”, and thus turn themselves into refined “men of conscience”. René Cassin, who was a member of the drafting committee for the Declaration, was inspired by Peng-chun Chang proposal. He believed that Chang’s ideas on ren where similar to the idea of “fraternity” proposed during the French Enlightenment movement. Also, Cassin concluded after hearing Chang’s explanation that ren constituted the essential difference between man and animals,and endowed mankind with greater dignity and obligations than other beings of the earth.18
 
Cassin’s interpretation was correct, in that both Confucius and Mencius did discuss the differences between humans and animals. For instance, Confucius said: “Filial piety nowadays means the support of one’s parents. But dogs and horses likewise are able to do something in the way of support; without reverence, what is there to distinguish the one support given from the other?” (The Analects — Chapter 2, “Wei Zheng”). Mencius said: “That whereby man differs from the lower animals is but small. The mass of people cast it away, while superior men preserve it. Shun clearly understood the multitude of things, and closely observed the relations of humanity. He walked along the path of benevolence and righteousness; he did not need to pursue benevolence and righteousness.” (Mencius — “Li Lou II”). From the perspective of Confucianism, the existence of conscience (ren) was the fundamental difference between man and animal. Animals act in accordance with their instincts, while man should and is able to curb his animal instincts to a certain extent when living among his peers, and obey such social behavioral norms as ren and de (virtue). Such “dignity and obligation” that differentiates man from animals is inseparable from man’s self-discipline — because animals have no capacity for moral self-discipline.
 
According to Confucian philosophy, all human beings play a role in society. For instance, princes, ministers, fathers and sons are members of society, not “individuals” that exist independently. This would then require self-discipline, i.e. self-restraint in accordance with certain social behavioral norms, so that one may become a person in tune with the norms of society.
 
Human self-discipline is inseparable from human dignity. As espoused in Confucian philosophy, Li (“ritual”) is in fact a code of conduct related to self-discipline and dignity. As for Western doctrines, Kant made a particularly profound exposition on the relationship between self-discipline and freedom. Kant believed that self-discipline is the highest form of freedom. Kantian philosophy holds that dignity was based upon self-discipline. Self-discipline was a form of “reason” that with which human beings were naturally endowed. As an innate ability that allowed men to strive towards virtue, self-discipline accorded human beings with the capacity for dignity; as a “manifested force”, it made men worthy of dignity. Dignity is not a stationary state, but rather a dynamic process. Only through relentless effort, can man’s original dignity be gradually realized, allowing man to reach a “sublime” state19. Only a self-disciplined person may become a dignified person who can reach such a state.
 
Confucianism holds that human beings had “subjective initiative”, which allowed them to ge wu (“investigate things”), and thus to zhi zhi (“reach wisdom” or more accurately, “reach moral wisdom”). In that sense, human beings were free actors. Thus, self-discipline means to discipline one’s free will. Human beings are free moral agents that may exercise judgment and choice with regards to their acts, and are aware of moral reproach and moral responsibility. Kant believed that because humans were rational beings, human actions were always based on free will, which in turn implies that the will was “self-legislating”. However, only a “self-disciplined” person will truly be autonomous.20
 
Autonomy comes only with self-discipline. The Confucian saying, “What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others”, and “the man of perfect virtue, wishing to be established himself, seeks also to establish others; wishing to be enlarged himself, he seeks also to enlarge others”. Autonomy does not imply that one may act or omit to act per his own whims, but rather that he chooses his actions (or omission of action) per social norms and regulations in a “self-disciplined manner”. A person who does unto others “what (he) would not like (himself)” infringes upon the autonomy of another, and is not a truly autonomous individual. In fact, he may lose some of his autonomy. Neither is a person who does not “establish” or “enlarge” others when seeking the same for himself a truly autonomous individual, because his selfishness and narrow-mindedness makes him unable to promote the liberty of others or the wider society.
 
B. Self-Discipline: the intrinsic requirements of “conscience” (ren)
 
Confucianism holds that the practice of ren in the relationship between people should start from oneself and should be initiated by oneself. Confucius asked (rhetorically): “Is the practice of perfect virtue from a man himself, or is it from others?” (The Analects – Chapter 12 “Yan Yuan”) “From a man himself” implies initiative, i.e. self-discipline, while “from others” implies passivity.
 
According to Confucianism, in order to be a man of “conscience (ren)”, one must practice self-discipline by “subduing himself”. Chapter 12 “Yan Yuan” of the Analects records many instances where Confucius answered questions regarding the meaning of ren. For instance, one passage goes: “Yan Yuan (one of Confucius’ disciples) asked about perfect virtue. The Master said, ‘To subdue one’s self and return to propriety, is perfect virtue. If a man can for one day subdue himself and return to propriety, all under heaven will ascribe perfect virtue to him.’”. Another passage goes: “Zhong Gong (another of Confucius’ disciples) asked about perfect virtue. The Master said, ‘It is, when you go abroad, to behave to everyone as if you were receiving a great guest; to employ the people as if you were assisting at a great sacrifice; not to do to others as you would not wish done to yourself.’” Yet another passage goes: “Fan Chi (another of Confucius’ disciples) asked about benevolence. The Master said, ‘It is to love all men.’” In these exchanges, the practice of ren (which was variously translated in the passages above as “benevolence” or “perfect virtue”) requires “subduing oneself” and consideration of the relations between oneself and others (the relations between oneself and the group).
 
According to Confucianism, the practice of ren and de must begin from the self in order to be proper. For how can one rectify others if one cannot rectify oneself? According to Confucius himself: “When a prince’s personal conduct is correct, his government is effective without the issuing of orders. If his personal conduct is not correct, he may issue orders, but they will not be followed.” (The Analects, Chapter 13 “Zi Lu”). The “Da Xue (Great Learning)” chapter of the Classic of Rites pointed out that: “The ruler must himself be possessed of the good qualities, and then he may require them in the people. He must not have the bad qualities in himself, and then he may require that they shall not be in the people. Never has there been a man, who, not having reference to his own character and wishes in dealing with others, was able effectually to instruct them.” Glosses on this passage by the Song Dynasty Confucian scholar Zhu Xi went further, where he said: “Only one who is virtuous may request virtue of others; only one who is free from vice may rectify the vices of others. These are all instances of guiding others through self-example, and is what is known as ‘reciprocity’. Otherwise, one’s commands would be in conflict with one’s preferences, and the people would not obey these orders.”21
 
The Confucian advocacy of self-discipline is closely related to the Confucian mission of governing “the kingdom, with all its states and families”. In Chapter 14 “Xian Wen” of the Analects, a passage reads: “Zi Lu asked what constituted the superior man. The Master said, ‘The cultivation of himself in reverential carefulness… (the cultivation of himself) so as to give rest to others… (the cultivation of himself) so as to give rest to all the people.” In “Li Lou I” of Mencius, a passage reads: “Mencius said, ‘People have this common saying, “The kingdom, the State, the family.” The root of the kingdom is in the State. The root of the State is in the family. The root of the family is in the person of its Head.’”. In his glosses, Zhu Xi noted that “although (the kingdom, the state and the family) are commonly mentioned, but they may not necessarily be in that order. When we consider these words, it seems that the family lies at the root of all. This is also in line with the previous chapter, based on the “Great Learning” which states ‘From the Son of Heaven down to the mass of the people, all must consider the cultivation of the person the root of everything besides.’”
 
Chapter 2 “Wei Zheng” of the Analects records Confucius’ description of his own life: “At fifteen, I had my mind bent on learning. At thirty, I stood firm. At forty, I had no doubts. At fifty, I knew the decrees of Heaven. At sixty, my ear was an obedient organ for the reception of truth. At seventy, I could follow what my heart desired, without transgressing what was right.” “Following what (the heart) desire(s)” simply means that actions are borne of free will and not the result of external coercion, while “without transgressing what was right” simply means that one’s actions were in line with social behavioral norms, as well as the “inevitabilities of all things”. To “follow
(the heart’s desire) without transgressing what was right” was to attain the state of personal freedom that was the goal of Confucian self-discipline.
 
C. Self-Discipline: the inherent logic of the way of shu and xie ju
 
1. Shu and xie ju: empathy with others through “conscience” (ren)
 
The Chinese character shu consists of two radicals, respectively ru (meaning “alike” or “as”) and xin (meaning “mind” or “heart”). Regarding shu (which has been translated as “reciprocity”, i.e. “thinking of self and other as alike”), Zhu Xi pointed out that “to empathize with others is shu”. Shu originally meant to forgive others and treat others with generosity. Its meaning was later extended to mean self-discipline through ren and de (conscience and virtue), and treating others the same as one would want to be treated oneself. In other words, shu implies treating others with sympathy and empathy. Ren is the fundamental requirement imposed by Confucian philosophy, i.e. that one loves all men with a heart of empathy, and loves all men as one would one’s own parents and siblings. This was to be carried out by means of shu, i.e. that “what you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others”. Whereas in a more “active” (or positive) form, this would be to “those wishing to be established himself, seek also to establish others; those wishing to be enlarged himself, seek also to enlarge others”22. Simply put, shu is a behavioral norm where each person practices empathy with others by using his conscience (ren).
 
The practice of xie ju zhi dao is a code of conduct for interpersonal relationships,based on shu, proposed in the “Great Learning” chapter of the Classic of Rites. Regarding its literal meaning, the Eastern Han Dynasty scholar Zheng Xuan writes in Li Ji Zheng Yi (a commentary on The Classic of Rites, also translated as “Correct Meanings of the Record of Ritual”) that xie refers to a “knot (of rope)”, and thus a “handle”; ju means “fa” (which can be understood as a “standard”). Thus xie ju meant that the gentleman (junzi, which may also be understood to mean “sovereign” in the original text) had a means by which to abide by a “standard”, and his actions would be proper insofar as he adhered to this standard. Based on its literal meaning, we may understand xie as “to strictly implement by analogy” and ju as “to judge the feelings of others using our own feelings” (i.e. to put ourselves in another’s shoes). Thus xie ju can be understood as empathy with others in all respects with the aim of achieving substantial effect. As for the actual connotations of the practice of xie ju, Zheng Xuan summarized it thus: the way of xie ju, properly practiced, allows one to exercise reciprocity; the key to state governance lies herein.
 
2. The way of shu and xie Ju: moral self-discipline
 
In February 1895, Yan Fu pointed out in his article “On the Urgency of Change in the World” that shu (reciprocity, empathy) and xie ju were similar to Western conceptions of liberty. According to Yan Fu, the West believed that men were born of heaven (or nature, and thus equal) and were each endowed with natural rights, and also bore all the obligations that came with liberty. Yan believed that of all Chinese principles, shu and xie ju were closest to the Western conceptions of liberty. However, Yan added that they could only be seen as “similar” but not “actually equal”, because the Chinese conceptions of shu and xie ju were applicable to all interpersonal relations, while the Western conception of liberty, insofar as relations with others were concerned, had hidden connotations of “that which had to do with oneself”.23 In March of the same year, Yan pointed out in his article “On the Origin of Strength” that strong nations are strong because they implement policies that benefit the people, which are necessarily based on endowing the people with the ability to benefit themselves — being able to benefit themselves is the origin for freedom, while freedom is the origin of self-governance.The ability to self-govern in turn necessarily originates from the ability to practice shu and xie ju24. Based on his argument, those who were able to practice shu and xie ju would be capable of self-discipline, and thus “self-governance” (zi zhi). Self-governance in turn allowed one to achieve “self-autonomy” (i.e. liberty or freedom). As the means to self-discipline, shu and xie ju were also the means to self-governance and freedom. 
 
3. The way of shu and xie ju: on the boundaries between self and others
 
How does shu and xie ju bring about self-discipline? Because they are behavioral norms based on empathy (reciprocity) that delineate boundaries between oneself and others.
 
In 1903 (the 29th year of the reign of the late-Qing Guangxu Emperor), when translating the 1859 edition of John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, Yan Fu rendered “liberty” as zi yao in order to differentiate it from zi you , which was his translation for “freedom”. As for the title, Yan Fu rendered it as Qun Ji Quanjie Lun (“On the Boundary Between the Self and the Group”). In a foreword to the book, Yan pointed out that a man who lived a hermit-like existence far from the rest of the world, there would be no boundaries on his freedom. He would be free to define good and evil (virtue and vice), and who would say otherwise? But after the formation of societies, one may enjoy very well liberty, but so would others. In the absence of any restraints, if everyone were free to do as they liked, their liberties would necessarily be in conflict. Hence,the liberties of one man necessarily constrained the liberties of another. Yan believed that this was akin to the Way of Xie Ju as contained in “Great Learning”, and was that which monarchs depended upon to govern. He commented that On Liberty was a guide to which freedoms were allowed, and which were not.25
 
In “freely” translating the title of On Liberty to “On the Boundary Between the Self and the Group”, Yan Fu captured the essence of liberty and also provided an answer as to how shu and xie ju were similar to Western conceptions of liberty. The essence of the Western conception of liberty was in fact the question of “boundaries between the self and the group”, whereas shu and xie ju were means by which such boundaries may be delineated.
 
III. Confucian Liberalism: Negative Freedom and Positive Freedom
 
On a philosophical level, what is meant by “liberty”? Liberty is simply the actualization of the goals in one’s mind.26 In Confucian philosophy, the “goals in one’s mind” are divided into “that which is desired” and “that which is undesired”. If one actualizes “that which is undesired”, that would be to achieve “negative freedom”, in the words of the British scholar Sir Isaiah Berlin in his essay “Two Concepts of Liberty”, i.e. a freedom characterized by “non-interference”. On the other hand, if one actualizes “that which is desired”, one would achieve what Berlin called “positive freedom”, i.e. the freedom to do what one desired.
 
A. Shu and xie ju in the negative sense: behavioral norms that safeguard negative freedom
 
1. “What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others”: no one should perform acts injurious to others
 
Chapter 15 “Wei Ling Gong” of the Analects has a passage containing Confucius’views on shu in the negative sense: “Zi Gong asked, saying, ‘Is there one word which may serve as a rule of practice for all one’s life?’ The Master said, ‘Is not RECIPROCITY such a word? What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.’” Confucius himself believed that reciprocity (shu) was the “one word which may serve as a rule of practice for all one’s life”.
 
Things that “you do not want done to yourself” are simply those things which are injurious to yourself. If all persons follow the golden rule of “not doing unto others what you do not want done to yourself”, there would be no person who engages in acts that may harm others. This is also the fundamental mandate of the “conscience” (ren), as well as the “moral bottom line” for all human beings. This rule, which is prohibitory in nature, imposes a “passive” obligation that governs human action: omission of acts that harm others would satisfy its requirements. The rule is easily followed by any human being who has the ability to act. The rule itself is related to human liberty
because compliance would prevent human beings from harming each other, and thus ensures the “negative freedoms” of others. Human beings may enjoy liberty only when such liberty does not cause injury to others — this is precisely what Article 4 (the “liberty clause”) of the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of the Man and of the Citizen implies.
 
To refrain from acts which may harm others is to safeguard the negative freedoms of others. If this prohibitory principle is widely followed, it would be possible to universally eliminate criminal acts that infringe upon the personal and property rights of other persons, as well as eliminate civil and commercial torts that deliberately damage the rights and interests of others. This would then universally safeguard the negative freedoms of other members of society. Negative freedom is a “defensive freedom”, which protects rights and interests, as well as human dignity and value, from being violated.
 
2. “What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others”: behavioral norms for “state governance and peace under heaven”
 
The “Great Learning” chapter of the Classic of Rites pointed out, when explaining “state governance and peace under heaven”, that: “What a man dislikes in his superiors, let him not display in the treatment of his inferiors; what he dislikes in inferiors, let him not display in the service of his superiors; what he hates in those who are before him, let him not therewith precede those who are behind him; what he hates in those who are behind him, let him not bestow on the left; what he hates to receive on the left, let him not bestow on the right: This is what is called ‘The principle with which, as with a measuring square, to regulate one’s conduct.’” This is xie ju in the negative sense, which can be summarized aptly as “do not unto others what you would not want done unto yourself”.
 
In his glosses on this passage, the Tang Dynasty scholar Kong Yingda stated that this clarifies the meaning of xie ju, in that when one is treated badly by a superior, one should not repeat such actions upon one’s inferiors. In the same vein, when one receives such treatment from one’s inferiors, one should not repeat the same upon his sovereign. This principle can be generalized to all people-to-people relations. Zhu Xi further commented that if one hopes to be treated with respect by his superiors, he would imagine that his inferiors expect the same, and would not treat them with disrespect. If one hopes for loyalty from one’s subordinates, he would imagine that his superiors expect the same, and would be loyal towards his superiors. The same applies to his peers. The relationship between “front” and “back” was akin to the relationship between predecessor and successor; the relationship between “left” and “right” was akin to the relationship between colleagues, so on and so forth.
 
The practice of xie ju in the negative sense means to apply “negative principles or methods” of xie ju to the social relations inherent in “state governance and peace under heaven”. In all forms of social relations, a person should not do unto others (within the same social network) that which he does not wish done upon himself. This was seen as the “key” to state governance because a man who is committed to such a principle, when witnessing acts “hated by him” (i.e. unsavory acts), would put an end to such behavior, which violates the norms of social relations and is detrimental to state governance and universal peace. If such principles are universally followed, all “actions which inspire hate” (which harm others and are detrimental to governance and peace) will be effectively curbed, paving the way towards universal peace and good governance.
 
Unlike shu (reciprocity, empathy), which represents a “two-fold” relationship between “self” and “other” (two subjects), xie ju in the negative sense is a “three-fold” relationship, as pointed out by Zhu Xi. For instance, it may be a “relationship between another person (a superior) and yet another person (an inferior)”. One important distinction is that “actions which one would not wish upon oneself” (as defined by the ideas behind shu), are generally not actions that actually harm oneself, but rather actions that one judges to be harmful to oneself. Xie ju, however, is different— it is applicable to those undesirable actions by others that have already occurred, i.e. actions that have already resulted in varying degrees of harm to oneself. The essence of xie ju lies in preventing such actions from causing further harm to others – preventing the re-occurrence of such injurious actions with regards to all social relations.
 
“What a man dislikes in his superiors let him not display in the treatment of his inferiors”— when treated by one’s superiors in an unsavory manner, one should not repeat the same onto one’s inferiors. However, is one permitted to take “revenge” and direct such actions upon one’s superior? The answer is no. Xie ju would not allow a person who has been treated unfairly to act in the same manner, even if only toward the person who has subjected him to unfair treatment in the first place. Even for criminal acts, there is no moral or legal basis for personal vengeance in the sense of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”. Human society has long left behind the era where lex talionis or personal vengeance was seen as legitimate. When one’s rights and liberties are illegally violated, one may only seek relief through legal remedies. 
 
B. Shu and xie ju in the positive sense: behavioral norms that safeguard positive freedom
 
1. “Those wishing to be established, seek also to establish others; those wishing to be enlarged, seek also to enlarge others”: all individuals should seek to act in a manner that benefits others
 
Confucius discusses what we may call shu in the “positive sense” in Chapter 6 “Yong Ye” of the Analects: “(Those) wishing to be established themselves, seeks also to establish others; those wishing to be enlarged themselves, he seeks also to enlarge others. To be able to judge of others by what is nigh in ourselves this may be called the art of virtue.” By this, Confucius means that a man of ren (a man of conscience or a man of virtue) will seek to benefit of others when seeking to benefit himself. Those who are able to put himself in another’s shoes may be said to be practicing ren. In his commentary on this passage, Zhu Xi pointed out that one would examine his own desires, and by analogy know that the desires of others are the same. This practice of inferring the desires of others by examining one’s own desires is simply shu, i.e. the practice of ren. Relentlessly practicing this ideal, would then allow one to “overcome” one’s selfish desires, and achieve the justice inherent in tianli (literally: “heavenly pattern”; a neo-Confucian term for what may be understood as “universal rational principle”, i.e. an objective order of nature).
 
“Those wishing to be established themselves, seek also to establish others; those wishing to be enlarged themselves, seek also to enlarge others” simply mandates that one pursues actions which benefit others for their benefit. This is not an unattainable moral standard. Confucianists hold that one should “treat with the reverence due to age the elders in your own family, so that the elders in the families of others shall be similarly treated; treat with the kindness due to youth the young in your own family, so that the young in the families of others shall be similarly treated”, which embodies the notion of “establishing others when seeking to establish oneself”. Confucius himself pursued “learning without satiety”; in pursuing his own cultivation, he also “instructed (his students) without being wearied”. In this way, Confucius was an exemplar of “establishing others when seeking to establish himself”.
 
When Peng-chun Chang was explaining the meaning of ren during the drafting of the Declaration, he said that ren was simply the ability of a person (when he has certain desires) to understand that others may have the same desires; therefore, when a person enjoys certain rights, he would be able to consider that others have the same rights27. In essence, this is precisely what is meant by “establishing others when seeking to establish oneself”.
 
The obligations stipulated by this code of conduct are positive in nature, and safeguards the positive freedoms of others. This social behavioral norm cannot be created or abided to by a “zero-sum mindset”. Instead, it requires the notion of “win-win” or mutual benefit. One does not expand one’s freedom by sacrificing that of others, but rather one creates conditions where everyone may enjoy freedom. One does not only recognize his own liberties, but also acknowledges that others enjoy equal liberties. Liang Qichao had a deep understanding of this principle. According to Liang, if one seeks to establish one’s status, he would necessarily work towards his goal together with his peers, because humans live in connection with other humans. “To establish or enlarge others”, per Liang’s thinking, was to “establish and enlarge” the human race, not simply to benefit other persons. The human race is constituted of the self and the group, which implies that the act of benefiting others benefits the human race, whereas benefiting the human race implies benefiting oneself.28
 
The notion of “establishing others” and “enlarging others”, as well as the resulting actions, would require treating the human community as a community of shared future where all mankind shares the same weal and woe. Such Chinese cultural traditions have subconsciously guided the thinking and actions of the Chinese people, whether in domestic or international affairs. In 2015, Xi Jinping pointed out in a speech entitled “Building a China-Pakistan Community of Shared Destiny to Pursue Closer Win-Win Cooperation” that Chinese culture advocates ji yu li er li ren, ji yu da er da ren (“seeking to establish others when establishing oneself”); China upholds justice while pursuing shared interests, and to help Pakistan is to help China.29 
 
To “establish” and “enlarge” others are noble acts undertaken for the benefit of other persons. Confucius himself was very rigorous when speaking of “establishing others when seeking to establish oneself”. Because this required the pursuit of actions for the benefit of another person, “the desire to establish oneself” was limited to the desire to “establish” or “enlarge”, and was not simply “desires of the self”. To “establish” or “enlarge” others was to seek to benefit the “establishment” or “enlargement” of other persons.
 
2. “Self (upper) wants to stand up to the people, self (upper) wants to reach the people”: the code of conduct for “ruling the country and the world”
 
The chapter on “Great Learning” in the Classic of Rites points out that: “What is meant by ‘The making the whole kingdom peaceful and happy depends on the government of his state’, (is) this: When the sovereign behaves to his aged, as the aged should be behaved to, the people become filial; when the sovereign behaves to his elders, as the elders should be behaved to, the people learn brotherly submission; when the sovereign treats compassionately the young and helpless, the people do the same. Thus the ruler has a principle with which, as with a measuring square, he may regulate his conduct.” This is xie ju in the positive sense, which may be characterized as “(superiors) seek to establish others when establishing oneself”.
 
Here, the “superior” is contrasted with the “ordinary people”, where the “superior” refers to a gentleman (jun zi, or man of virtue) or a political leader. Political leaders should accord the elderly with due respect, show care for the young, and strongly promote such virtues across the wider society. If society then forms a custom of respect for elders and care for the young, this would reflect that the gentleman (or political leader) has achieved xie ju. In this respect, Zhu Xi points out that when a sovereign respects elders and cares for the young, and when his actions are emulated by those below, the result would be “families are regulated, and the state is well governed”. Zhu also went on to state that the “key essence” of “state governance and peace under heaven” was for the sovereign to ensure that he had the same desires as the people, and did not seek his own selfish benefit, which is also to promote the essence of xie ju; if that were possible, then all would be in order and there would be peace throughout the world. It is apparent that xie ju, in the positive sense, referred to a set of norms advocated by Confucianism with regards to state governance and universal peace. Xie ju, then, was both a means and an end.
 
The litmus test for whether a political leader or gentleman had achieved xie ju would be actual practice or societal impact. It is inadequate that they respect their elders and love their young; it is required that they promote such virtues and encourage the wider public to emulate their actions, thus giving rise to a universal desire to attain such virtues. In addition, they should ensure that the wider society has the material means to achieve such virtues. In the chapter on “Great Learning” in Volume 16 of Zhuzi Yulei (Collection of Conservations of Master Zhu), Zhu Xi explains that ju (in xie ju) means “mind” or “heart” — the desires of one’s heart are the desires of another’s heart. If one wishes to be filial and benevolent, one inevitably hopes others would wish to be the same. Zhu also asks: if taxes were overly burdensome, causing the people to be unable to provide for their parents, how would they be able to achieve this? Therefore, Zhu says, a sovereign should be able to exercise “reciprocity” (empathy) with his subjects, thereby allowing them to provide for their parents, wives, and children. If exemplary actions by those superior results in a “downstream effect”, this would indicate that political leaders are able to exercise “reciprocity” in the political realm, i.e. be benevolent to the people, which then allows them to implement benevolent policies and guide the people through their personal virtue.30 If however, the sovereign does not practice xie ju, though the people may have a desire towards good,such desires remain unachievable in practice.31 Xie ju, in the positive sense, would require that political leaders or gentlemen bear even more burdens and obligations than the common folk, i.e. that they pursue the principle of “establishing others when seeking to establish oneself” during governance, and promote improvements to the people’s livelihoods and better social customs. This would then allow ordinary members of society who wish to “establish” or “enlarge” themselves to do so, as well as enjoy more rights and freedoms.
 
IV. Confucian Liberalism: From Duties to Rights and Freedom through “Reciprocity”
 
Unlike Western liberalism, Confucian liberalism is not a specific, systematic doctrine on rights and freedom. However, it is part of the diversity of the global human rights tradition, and has distinctive traditional Chinese cultural elements. 
 
A. Confucian liberalism: a possible path for the extension of duties to rights and freedom through “reciprocity”
 
The Confucian ideas of “reciprocity”, whether with regards to duties or rights, are preconditioned upon the notion that all members of society enjoy equal status with respect to their rights. During the drafting of the Declaration, the Chinese expert Lo Chung-shu wrote in a reply to an enquiry from UNESCO regarding human rights that the fundamental Chinese social and political moral value was to perform one’s duties towards one’s neighbors, not to seek individual rights. Lo also added that the best way to prevent infringement of rights was by seeing every person as having the same needs and rights and for everyone to perform their mutual obligations.32 Treating all persons as having the same needs and rights, and the performance of mutual obligations, were both based on the equal status of men with respect to their rights. Without such a notion, there would be no way for the idea of reciprocity to extend from duties to rights.
 
The starting point for the principle of “what you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others” is that every person should first meet the obligation to not “do unto others what you do not want done to yourself”, i.e. to not perform any action injurious to others. If this principle is universally followed, it would ensure negative freedoms are universally safeguarded throughout society. Similarly, the starting point for the principle of “Those wishing to be established himself, seek also to establish others; those wishing to be enlarged himself, seek also to enlarge others” is that each person should first undertake the positive obligation of “establishing and enlarging” others, i.e. to perform acts that are beneficial to other persons. If this principle is universally followed, it would then ensure that positive freedoms are universally safeguarded throughout society. Because both of these behavioral norms are generally applicable, the “self” would be perpetually embedded among “others”, i.e. that the “self” may become the “other” at any time. In a social community, the duties of each person would then be transformed into the rights and freedoms of others, thus safeguarding and promoting the rights and freedoms of all members of society.
 
Classical liberalism defined freedom as being free from external coercion. Such coercion occurs a person acts (or omits to act) in the service of another person’s goals against his will. If all persons were to uphold the principles of “What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others” and “seeking to establish others when establishing oneself”, it would be impossible for there to be coercion that infringes upon the freedoms of others. On the other hand, if one were to “do unto others what one does not want done upon oneself”, and obstruct others in achieving what one wishes to achieve, one would be practicing coercion and infringing upon the freedoms of others. All actions that violate the legitimate freedoms and rights of another person, regardless of how lofty their purpose, are not in line with the principle of shu.33 It is entirely possible for the actualization of the Confucian principles of shu and xie ju in people-to-people relations to lead to rights and freedom. 
 
B. Confucian liberalism: actual applications of the extension of duties to rights and freedom
 
The ways of empathy and reciprocity embodied in the Confucian ideals of shu and xie ju are achievable by all persons. All normal persons are aware of their desires, and are capable of understanding the desires of another person as long as he is willing to practice empathy. If he can put himself in another’s shoes, i.e. see himself and others as subjects in an interactive relationship, he would be able to practice “reciprocity”.
 
The extension from duties to rights and freedom is not only theoretically feasible,but also applicable to the real world. For instance, the principle of “what you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others”, which is prohibitive in nature, takes the form of an obligatory duty. However, it can also be used to advocate rights, as this principle becomes a “right” when applying it to others, but a “duty” when applied to oneself.34
 
When drafting the Declaration, Peng-chun Chang quoted the Confucian adage of “what you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others” to advocate for rights. At the time, representatives from nations with a strong Christian cultural tradition proposed that the Declaration should include mention of a divine Creator. Chang then quoted the Confucian ideal of shu (reciprocity), and expressed the hope that the representatives, who hailed from various cultural backgrounds, would be able to assume the perspectives of other members, and in turn recognize the limitations of that proposal.35 According to Chang, Christianity held Jesus in high reverence, while Chinese Confucians held Confucius in high regard. Diversity of ideas was a fact of both history and society – why should China be forced to accept Western conceptions? Surely the West would object if China were to force them to renounce Christianity and convert to Confucianism. Here, Chang smoothly transitioned the basis for his argument from historical and social fact to the Confucian adage of “what you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others”.36 Through his efforts, these representatives agreed to exclude a “God” (which was based on a specific religious context) as a divine Creator and the source of rights from the Declaration.
 
There can be no doubt that to require others to abide by the principle of “what you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others” is to advocate for one’s own rights and freedoms. For instance, in 1839, Lin Zexu pointed out in a public notice to foreign merchants to surrender their opium (“shiyu waishang sujiao yapian yantu sitiao gao”) that “it is known that the consumption of opium is banned in your countries, and that offenders are sentenced to death, which clearly shows the evils of opium. To ban consumption but not trade is not in line with the principle of shu (reciprocity). Illicit sale despite a formal ban is to trifle with the law.” These lines exposed the crimes of the British traffickers who continued to sell opium in China despite the bans in their home countries. In so doing, they were doing unto the Chinese people an act which they would not wish upon themselves, which was hardly in line with the principle of reciprocity (shu). Another example would be Japan, which imposed a grossly unfair treaty upon China even though the country itself had broken free of the shackles of the unfair treaties imposed by Western nations. On December 1, 1924, Sun Yatsen was interviewed by reporters in Japan’s Moji Ward. When answering a question from a Japanese reporter on whether the Twenty-One Demands, which China and Japan had previously agreed upon, required “improvement” (revision), Sun replied that: “All unfair treaties concluded between China and other countries require revision, not only the Twenty-One Demands. Of course, the Twenty-One Demands are included. An ancient Chinese saying goes: “what you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others”. If the USA were to make Twenty-One Demands upon Japan, would you Japanese be willing to meet these demands? Of course not. Well, since you wouldn’t be willing, then based on the principles of reciprocity and fairness, how could you impose demands that you reject upon China? It is you Japanese who should be first to propose revisions.”37
 
C. Confucian liberalism: extending duties to rights and freedom — an approach based on obligations
 
As mentioned earlier, the second of the articles on “duties” in the 1795 French Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man and Citizen provides that: “(One must) not to do to others that which you would not that they should do to you. Do continually for others the good that you would wish to receive from them.” From the inclusion of Confucian liberalist ideas regarding people-to-people relations into the 1795 French Declaration, it can be seen that Confucianism upholds the core status of man’s obligations with regards to the relationship between rights and duties.
 
The Confucian approach to extending duties to rights and freedoms, which is based on man’s obligations, necessarily includes many restrictions on rights and freedoms. Scholars have pointed out that to define a right would be to limit the right itself; it excludes that which is not included in the right, and that which is defined within the scope of the right immediately delineates its boundaries.38 In Confucian liberalism, this viewpoint is especially prominent. The behavioral norm of “what you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others”, advocated by Confucians, succinctly identifies the limits to the freedoms of an actor. In fact, this principle prohibits actions that may cause harm to others, and safeguards the negative freedoms enjoyed by all members of society by prohibiting actions that may result in mutual harm. The behavioral norm of “what you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others” advocated by Confucians clearly requires that actors should act in a manner that benefits themselves, and safeguards and promotes the positive freedoms of all members of society by requiringthat all persons act in a manner that benefits both themselves and others. The Confucian principles of shu and xie ju protect and promote the rights and freedoms of all members of society by restraining (or restricting) the freedom of action.
 
Clause 2 of Article 29 of the Declaration stipulates that: “In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.” During the era when Confucianism first arose (and later became China’s mainstream ideology), the governance of Chinese society was based both on li (rites or rituals) and fa (law). As a social consensus, li, as advocated by Confucianism, also played a role in restraining or safeguarding rights and freedoms. China did not have concepts of “democracy”, as espoused in Article 29 of the Declaration, but did have similar “people-oriented” philosophies. For instance, “law”, as meant in “subject only to such limitations as are determined by law” may be understood in the traditional Chinese cultural context as “fa and li” (law and rituals). A “democratic society” may be interpreted as a “people-oriented society”. Confucian liberalism is entirely consistent with the liberal ideas contained in Clause 2 of Article 29.
 
The Confucian approach of extending duty to rights and freedom, based on man’s obligations, leaves somewhat smaller space for personal rights and freedoms when compared with the rights-based approach, where rights take precedence over duties. In Confucian liberalism, the freedoms of an actor are restricted with regards to matters that involve “what you do not want done to yourself” or matters that involve “establishing others when seeking to establish oneself”. Actors are free to act only when their actions conform to the principles of “what you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others” and “those wishing to be established himself, seek also to establish others; those wishing to be enlarged himself, seek also to enlarge others”.
 
Compared to the rights-based approach, where rights take precedence over duties, the Confucian approach of extending duty to rights and freedom, based on man’s obligations, makes less of an emphasis on individual rights and freedoms. This may impact an individual’s private initiative, and thus adversely impact a society’s vitality. When Yan Fu translated the theories of Western scholars on individual liberties, Chinese intellectuals had already become aware of such limitations arising from Confucianism. Today, China’s Constitution and laws fully safeguard individual rights and freedoms.
 
However, the past limitations of Confucian liberalism do not obscure the merits of Confucianism in maintaining a balance between individual liberty and the overall interests of society in ancient China, which consisted of agricultural societies based on natural economies. Neither does it obscure the current merits of Confucian liberalism in treating certain contemporary “social ailments” related to individual freedoms, nor its significance to global human rights. 
 
D. Confucian liberalism: a system of discourse on liberty different from western liberalism
 
There are scholars that believe liberalist ideas do not exist in Confucianism. For instance, they argue that “shu and xie ju both imply reciprocity and empathy. In this sense, Yan Fu tenuously equated shu and xie ju to freedom. However, ultimately, these concepts should not be mutually confused. Shu and xie ju fail to affirm individual freedom, which is central to liberalism. This is also precisely why, when practicing ‘reciprocity’, liberalism gives rise to a boundary between the self and the other that is based on freedom of the self and respect for the freedom of others. Individual freedom is seen as the end itself, while the substance of xie ju lies in such ‘measures of benevolent governance’ as care and respect for the elderly, and care for the young and disadvantaged. It is entirely a tool for ‘regulating the family, governing the state, and bringing peace to the kingdom’. In equating the two, Yan Fu showed that he was still confusing Confucian ‘benevolent governance’ and Western liberalist politics.” 39
 
It is indisputable that the Confucian ideals of shu and xie ju are not the same as Western liberalism or the idea that “individual freedoms are seen as an end”. Hayek wrote that freedom is not a means to an even higher political end; it is the highest political end.40 It is true that such ideas are not present in Confucianism. However,the fact that Confucianism does not contain Western conceptions of freedom does not mean that Confucianism is devoid of liberalism. Arguments that “the substance of xie ju lies in such ‘measures of benevolent governance’ as care and respect for the elderly, and care for the young and disadvantaged” are entirely without basis. Shu and xie ju are generally applicable behavioral norms, whereas “care and respect for the elderly, and care for the young and disadvantaged” are merely some measures for “state governance and universal peace” mentioned by Confucian scholars when writing about xie ju, not the essence of shu and xie ju per se.
 
The crux of the matter is whether adherence to the principles of shu and xie ju can lead members of society to individual freedom. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen defines “liberty” to be the right to “do anything which does not harm others”, and included words to the effect of “what you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others” into their “liberty articles”, which goes to show that the Confucian ideals of shu and xie ju were conceptions of liberty in all but name.
 
Confucian liberalism and Western liberalism are different systems of discourse. A person who may be deemed to be “free” in the Confucian sense, for instance a person who, as Confucius described, “could follow what (his) heart desired, without transgressing what was right”, may be deemed to be “not free” in the context of Western liberalism. Examining Western liberalism from the perspective of Confucian liberalism, it can be seen that according supremacy to individual liberty has a negative impact on social harmony.
 
If the criterion for judgment were based solely on the doctrinal framework of Western liberalism, then it can well be said that liberalism does not exist in traditional Chinese culture. However, the diversity and equality of the world’s various human rights traditions have been repeatedly emphasized and affirmed during the drafting of the Declaration. In the present age, it is surely both outdated and a departure from the notions of liberty and pluralism to judge solely by the ideological system of Western liberalism whether liberalism exists in the Chinese tradition.
 
V. Confucian Liberalism: Social Liberty and Putting Society First
 
Clause 1 of Article 29 of the Declaration provides that: “Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.” This clause is consistent with the ideas of social liberty and putting society first, as contained in Confucian liberalism.
 
A. Confucian liberalism: orientating towards a society based on interconnected relations between individuals
 
In Western liberalism, human beings are seen as separate “atomic individuals”. One of the roots of the Western conception of individuals as entirely separate entities can be found in the atomic theory of matter, which in turn has its roots in ancient Greek and Roman philosophy. In modern times, the atomic theory of matter was also espoused by thinkers like Thomas Hobbes, David Hume and Adam Smith41. For instance, Hobbes believed that morality was non-existent and irrelevant if mankind were to exist in a state of nature, and that when human beings were endowed with liberty, conflict would arise as man sought to safeguard private gain and fulfill selfish desires. Adam Smith believed that human beings were selfish by nature, and needed to maximize their gain through market trade. This view of fellow human beings as atomic individuals readily leads to individual voluntarism, which in turn leads to the unbridled expansion of individual desires and the abuse of the right to liberty.
 
When reflecting upon the Western liberalist conception of the individual, the contemporary German scholar Axel Honneth “developed” a conception of relations between non-atomic individuals based on Hegel’s notions of liberty. Honneth pointed out that in section 7 of the introduction to On the Philosophy of Right, published in 1821, Hegel argued that friendship and love are examples of freedom outside the realms of society: “Here a man is not one-sided, but limits himself willingly in reference to another, and yet in this limitation knows himself as himself. In this determination he does not feel himself determined, but in the contemplation of the other as another has the feeling of himself.” Honneth pointed out that, to Hegel, mutual recognition was the starting point for his key conceptions of liberty; the existence of mutual recognition was a condition for the realization of one’s will and goals. Under this condition, both parties would recognize the complementarity of their goals, meaning that they see themselves through the eyes of the other party, and hence expand the conception, thus far, that freedom only existed in a single subject42. Honneth aimed to overcome the flaws of the Western liberalist conceptions of “freedom existing only innthe individual” or “an atomic conception of individual liberty” by applying Hegel’s ideas of “mutual recognition”.
 
In fact, Confucian liberalism, which predated Hegel by more than two millennia, had already conceived of the relations between individuals as interconnected. Confucius advocated the behavioral norms of “what you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others” and “Those wishing to be established themselves, seek also to establish others; those wishing to be enlarged themslves, seek also to enlarge others”, which is precisely what Hegel characterized as man “(limiting) himself willingly in reference to another, and yet in this limitation knows himself as himself.” In this respect, the American scholar Herbert Fingarette pointed out that conceptions of the individual can be found in the Analects, and that Confucianism advocates the nurturing of these particular ideals through self-cultivation, i.e. through care and respect for others.43 Roger Ames also pointed out that such self-cultivation was pursued and achieved through the various connections developed through ordinary family and social roles.44 From the Confucian viewpoint, individuals do not exist in isolation. Rather, individuals may only realize their intrinsic value when playing a role in the social community. With regards to the relations between the individual and society, Confucianism upholds the primacy of the group.
 
B. Confucian liberalism: “reciprocity” based upon “conscience” (ren) and man’s social values
 
Article 1 of the Declaration asserts that all human beings are “endowed with reason and conscience”. Chinese representative Peng-chun Chang strongly advocated for the “supplementation” of “conscience” (ren) into the Declaration. Individual liberty, as conceptualized in Western liberalism, is in essence liberty founded upon “reason”. Such individual liberty was a product of resistance against external coercion or oppression by public (state) authority, and founded upon a rational judgment of “gains versus losses”. It was characterized by the view that the individual and his autonomy were the “ultimate value” (the intrinsic end), and pursued the maximization of individual liberty. Thus, this conception of individual liberty was highly “expansionist”, and would even go so far as to result in exclusivity and aggression. This conception of liberty neglected the liberties that the social community rightly enjoyed, and inevitably led to vicious cycles and social disorder when it came to certain issues.
 
Western liberalism, as an ideology, has historically been linked to the “liberty” to enslave, the “liberty” to seize and loot colonies, and the “liberty” to deprive indigenous peoples of their existence. According to Domenico Losurdo, “the liberal nations” not only failed to prevent such disasters; in fact, such disasters were borne of close association with liberalism.45 Imperialists, colonialists, and racists will not be willing to follow the behavioral norm of “what you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others”. Today, people are questioning the merits of Western liberalism because of itsless-than-ideal impact on society. Western liberalism has also been linked to today’s
gross economic inequalities and injustices in the economic field, as well as ever more adverse political, social and cultural impacts.
 
In Confucian liberalism, freedom is essentially based on “conscience” (ren). Article 1 of the Declaration has affirmed “reason”, as advocated by Western doctrine, as well as the “conscience” (ren) found in all human beings, a particular emphasis of Confucianism which Peng-chun Chang called for the Declaration to include. This bears important theoretical and practical significance. Confucian liberalism is based on “conscience” (ren), which is the very means by which human beings practice shu (reciprocity). Both the principles of “what you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others” and “seeking to establish others when establishing oneself” embody the principles of ren, as well as human empathy (or consciousness of fellow man) and the human spirit of fairness and justice. In essence, these behavioral norms require that no human being acts in a manner that harms another, and that all human beings should act in the benefit of others.
 
Confucian liberalism, which is based on reciprocity founded upon “conscience” (ren) ensures that one’s liberty does not depend on sacrificing the liberty of another. Neither will it lead to the vicious expansion of individual liberty or condemn certain social problems to a vicious cycle by distorting social community values.
 
C. Confucian liberalism: social liberalism where individual freedom resides within larger social freedom
 
Honneth believes that the theories and systems of liberalism prevalent in Western societies today manifest many “pathological” features. In response, Honneth put forward the idea of “social liberty”, based upon his research into Hegel’s conceptions of liberalism. Honneth pointed out that in Hegel’s conception of social liberty, the freedom of an individual can only be realized through those normative mechanisms of practice that ensure the mutual recognition of their relations in which they participate.46 This means that, in order to achieve social liberty, it is necessary for members of society to have “mutually recognized” relations, as well as “normative mechanisms of practice” at the family, societal and state level. In his view, the key difference between social liberty and individual liberty is that a community characterized by universal love (unity), instead of the individual, was the medium by which liberty was achieved.47
 
In the Idea of Socialism, Honneth asserted that social freedom was the true idea behind socialism.48 Honneth’s view of social freedom does not deny the concept of individual liberty. Instead, it attempts to overcome the flaws of an “atomic” conception of individual liberty. Social freedom implies that those members of a social community that participate in social activities are able to accord one another with much concern and care, and that these members of society accord mutual aid to others in fulfilling legitimate needs for their mutual sake.49
 
In On the Philosophy of Right, Hegel did not apply the concepts of “mutual recognition” or “social freedom”. These concepts, which bear great practical significance, were “unearthed” by contemporary scholars from Hegel’s ideas. In the same vein, words to the effect of “mutual recognition” or “social freedom” do not exist in Confucian writings on shu or xie ju, but it is undeniable that Confucian liberalism encompasses these concepts. The Confucian ideal of “reciprocity”, as embodied in shu and xie ju, implies mutual recognition. Liang Shuming believed that shu was founded upon one recognizing the rights of both oneself and others.50 When there is mutual recognition by virtue of “what you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others”, the freedoms of the self are linked to the freedoms of others, and the freedoms of the self are actualized without injury to the freedoms of others. When there is mutual recognition by virtue of “seeking to establish oneself by establishing others”, the social relations described by Honneth, where members of society show care for and aid one another, would arise. Such concern and aid are, in fact, care and concern by the social community for the actualization of every person’s rights and freedoms. By starting from “what you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others”, members of society would be free from having others perform undesirable actions upon them. Based on “establishing” and “enlarging” others, one would be able to be “established” and “enlarged”. These behavioral norms advocated by Confucian liberalism are able to achieve a “fusion” or “unity” between individual freedoms and the freedoms of others. The scope and effect of such fusion is then the scope and effect of the freedoms of the social community. Individual freedoms reside within such freedoms of a social community. This is similar to what Marx meant by “the condition for the free development of each is the free development of all”.51
 
(Translated by ZHANG Kuanxu)
 
* ZHAO Jianwen ( 赵建文 ), Researcher, Institute of International Law of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
 
1. On September 27, 2012, the United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution (A/HRC/RES/21/3) calling on the international community to promote human rights and fundamental freedoms through a better understanding of traditional values such as dignity, freedom and responsibility, and advocating “best practices in the application of traditional values while promoting and protecting human rights and upholding human dignity”.
 
2. Peng-chun Chang, “The Evolution of Chinese Culture”, in Peng-chun Chang on Education and Theatrical Arts, ed. Cui Guoliang and Cui Hong (Tianjin: Nankai University Press, 2004), 303-308.
 
3. Gong Ming, “The Story Behind the State Gift of The Analects”, People’ Daily, July 14, 2019.
 
4. Xu Minglong, “What You Do not Want Done to Yourself, Do not Do to Others”, China Reading Weekly, June 13, 2012. 
 
5. Ibid.
 
6. Yang Chaoming, “Witness Confucius and the Analects Crossing the Seas”, People’ Daily, July 14, 2019.
 
7. Ma Shengli, “The French Revolution and the four Declarations of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen”, Collected Papers of Historical Science 2 (1993): 41 and 46.
 
8. Qiao Qingju, “Comments on the Relationship between Confucianism and Concept Epistemology”, Modern Philosophy 6 (2010): 98. Xin Jianfei, The World’s View of China (Shanghai: Xuelin Press, 1991), 206. Zhang Tengxiao and Zhang Xianzhong, Marxism and Confucianism (Beijing: China Renmin University Press, 2000),2.
 
9. Xu Minglong, “What You Do not Want Done to Yourself, Do not Do to Others”, China Reading Weekly, June 13, 2012.
 
10. Ibid.
 
11. Eleanor Roosevelt, On My Own (New York: Harper, 1958), 77.
 
12. United Nations Economic and Social Council, Drafting International Declaration of Rights Submitted by Working Group of Drafting Committee (Preamble and Articles 1-6), E/CN.4/AC.1/W.1, 1947, 2.
 
13. Mary Ann Glendon, A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2001), 47.
 
14. History An Facing History and Ourselves and Facing History and Ourselves National Foundation, Fundamental Freedoms: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Brookline: Facing History and Ourselves National Foundation, 2010), 155.
 
15. United Nations Economic and Social Council, Commission on Human Rights Drafting Committee, First Session, Summary Record of the Eighteen Meeting, E/CN.4 /AC.1/SR.8, 1947, 2.
 
16. Zhu Liyu, “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the Paradigm of Diverse Cultural Intermediation”,Modern Law Science 5 (2018): 3.
 
17. Peng-chun Chang, China at the Crossroads (London: Evans Brothers Limited, 1936), 48-49.
 
18. United Nations Economic and Social Council, Commission on Human Rights Drafting Committee, First Session, Summary Record of the Thirteenth Meeting, International Bill of Rights, E/CN.4 /AC.1/SR.13, 1947, 4.
 
19. Wang Fuling and Gong Qun, “Self-Discipline: The Foundation of Dignity in Kantian Philosophy”, Thinking 2 (2013): 84.
 
20. Gu Chunde, Western Philosophy of Law Exploration (Beijing: China Renmin University Press, 2018), 90-91.
 
21. Zhu Xi, Commentaries on the Four Books (Beijing: Zhonghua Book Company, 2011). All quotes from Zhu Xi’s commentaries in this paper are cited from the same. 
 
22. Cao Bohan, A General Guide to Sinology (Beijing: Tiandi Press, 2019), 116.
 
23. Yan Fu, On the Urgency of Change in the World-Collected Works of Yan Fu (Shenyang: Liaoning People’s Publishing House, 1994), 3.
 
24. Ibid., 19-20.
 
25. Ibid., 132.
 
26. John Frederick Wolfenden, trans. Huang Junjie, The Approach to Philosophy (Nanjing: Jiangsu People’s Publishing House, 2018), 173. 
 
27. United Nations Economic and Social Council, Commission on Human Rights Drafting Committee, First Session, Summary Record of the Thirteenth Meeting, International Bill of Rights, E/CN.4 /AC.1/SR.13, 1947, 4.
 
28. Liang Qichao, History of Pre-Qin Political Thought (Shanghai: Shanghai Classics Publishing House, 2013), 74.
 
29. Xi Jinping: “Building a China-Pakistan Community of Shared Destiny to Pursue Closer Win-Win Cooperation”, People’s Daily, April 22, 2015.
 
30. Cao Bohan, A General Guide to Sinology (Beijing: Tiandi Press, 2019), 117.
 
31. Li Jingde, Collections of Conversations of Master Zhu (Beijing: Zhonghua Book Company, 1986), 360.
 
32. Mary Ann Glendon, A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2001), 73-76.
 
33. Hu Xiaoming et al., A Brief History of Chinese Thought (Beijing: China International Radio Press, 2010), 124.
 
34. Xu Minglong, “What You Do not Want Done to Yourself, Do not Do to Others”, China Reading Weekly, June 13, 2012.
 
35. United Nations, Economic and Social Council Official Records, New York, 1948, 120-123.
 
36. Jack Mahoney, The Challenge of Human Rights: Origin, Development and Significance (New Jersey: Wiley-Blackwell,2007), 146.
 
37. Guangdong Academy of Social Sciences, Complete Works of Sun Yat-sen (Beijng: Zhonghua Book Company, 1986), 436.
 
38. Gudmundur Alfredsson and Asbj?rn Eide, trans. China Society for Human Rights Research, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: A Common Standard of Achievement (Chengdu: Sichuan People’s Publishing House, 1999), 663.
 
39. Zhou Guoping, What the Chinese People Lack (Shanghai: Shanghai People’s Publishing House, 2018), 135.
 
40. Friedrich Hayek, trans. Teng Weizao and Zhu Zongfeng, The Road to Serfdom (Beijing: Commercial Press, 1962), 70.
 
41. David L. Hall and Roger T. Ames, The Democracy of the Dead: Dewey, Confucius, and the Hope for Democracy in China (Nanjing: Jiangsu People’s Publishing House, 2004), 42.
 
42. Axel Honneth, trans. Wang Xu, Freedom’s Right (Beijing: Social Sciences Academic Press, 2013), 73-74. 
 
43. Herbert Fingarette, trans. Peng Guoxiang and Zhang Hua, Confucius: The Secular as Sacred (Nanjing: Jiangsu People’s Publishing House, 2002), 90-91.
 
44. Roger Ames, trans. Wen Haiming, Seeking Harmony not Sameness: Comparative Philosophy and East-West Understanding (Beijing: Peking University Press, 2009), 138. 
 
45. Domenico Losurdo, trans. Wang Dongxing and Zhang Rong, Liberalism: A Counter-History (Beijing: Commercial Press, 2014), 376.
 
46. David L. Hall and Roger T. Ames, The Democracy of the Dead: Dewey, Confucius, and the Hope for Democracy in China (Nanjing: Jiangsu People's Publishing House, 2004), 77.
 
47. Chen Fan, Gao Zhaoming, “Socialism and Social Freedom: Reflections by Honneth on Early Socialist Values”, Marxism and Reality 2 (2017): 142.
 
48. Ibid., 144.
 
49. Ibid., 143.
 
50. Liang Shuming, Cultures and Philosophies of the East and West (Beijing: Commercial Press, 2006), 221. Liang Shuming, Essence of Chinese Culture (Taibei: Taibei Liren Shuju, 1982), 253.
 
51. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, trans. Central Compilation & Translation Bureau, Marx/Engels Collected Works (Beijing: People’s Publishing House, 1995), 294.
 
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