|BOOK TALK by YK Kwan (Apr 2010)
The Spirit of the Chinese People (春秋大義)
By Ku Hung-ming, 辜鴻銘1915
Born in Penang, Malaya in 1857. Studied in Britain in 1870, graduated as
MA from Edinburgh University at the age of 20. Got engineering degree in
Germany and a LLD in Paris University. Worked in Singapore and returned
to China in 1885. Worked in the foreign secretariat in the Governor’s office
of Guangdong and Guangxi. He could speak 9 languages including Greek,
Latin, English, French, German, Russian, Italian. Taught in language
college, the predecessor of Wuhan University. Appointed Vice-foreign
Secretary in 1908. After the revolution in 1911, professor in Peking
University. Died in Peking in 1928.
In Ku Hung-ming’s book, “The Spirit of the Chinese People”(春秋大義) he
talked about the culture and civilization of the Chinese people,
Confucianism as compared with western religions, why Europe was
engulfed in a world war and the way to get out of it. Though the book was
written almost 100 years ago, yet his perceptions, analysis and projections
are still valid or worthwhile to-day.
Ku considers that the Chinese spirit has depth, broadness and simplicity,
like ancient Greeks, with a delicacy like the French. For 2500 years the
Chinese are used to a free society with no priests, and no policemen in
their daily lives and no tax (apart from land). He quoted Goethe saying
“There are two peaceful powers in the world Right and Tact” and that was
what Confucius gave to the Chinese civilization. Ancient Greece showed
Tact but not Right; and the Hebrew Bible taught Right but not Tact. What
Confucius’ Canons taught is a Religion of good citizenship. Religion in the
broad universal sense.
Confucius says “The gentleman understands Right, the cad understands
Interests” (君子喻於義, 小人喻於利). To do what is right, behave with tact
and good taste are the secrets of the Chinese soul. The enemy of the
world at the time was selfishness plus cowardice which produced
commercialism and militarism.
Men understand two forces, the force of Nature and the physical force of
men. Also, unlike animals, men understand moral force. In the past, in the
west, Christianity was a moral force but it became ineffective (to prevent
the war). Europe was faced with the question of anarchy and militarism.
They must use force, militarism, to stop anarchy but with militarism, they
cannot avoid war. The worship of militarism in Prussia made war
Chinese civilization appreciates moral force higher than physical force. If all
mankind agree to recognize right and justice, physical force will become
unnecessary. There is no need for militarism. To this end it is necessary to
recognize the nature of man is good. If we assume the nature of man is
evil, militarism is the only solution.
Western society is built on Religion and Law. Religion means the fear of
God, fear implies the use of force, spiritual or physical. Fear of the law
also implies the fear of physical bodily harm. In contrast, the entire
population of China (greater than the population of whole of Europe) lives in
peace without priests or policemen or soldiers, ie. without the fear of a
religion or the military.
Religion in a broad universal sense, is a system of teachings with rules of
conduct accepted as true and binding by the mass of people of a nation.
Confucianism is a system of philosophy and ethics and a synthesis of the
Chinese society and civilization which can take the place of religion.
Western religion in the strict sense is a Church Religion, whereas,
Confucianism in a broad sense is a Social Religion or State Religion,
relying on the Principle of Duty and Honour. Confucianism is the Magna
Carta of China. It rests on two corner stones, loyalty and filial piety.
Christianity stresses on Marriage being a sacrament and holy. Confucius
also rests on the marriage of men and women as fundamental to the
Family and to the State. “Law of the gentleman begins with recognition of
husband and wife, in its utmost, it reaches the whole universe” (君子之道,
造端乎夫婦, 及其至也, 察乎天地).
Confucius even had reference to God. He says “At fifty, I knew the
Ordinance of God”. Heaven was the word used in those days. In Taoism, it
is called the Way. Even western religion requires the observance of its
moral laws through the moral sense of its believers. Christ says, “The
Kingdom of God is within you.”
Goethe is quoted saying : “Belief in God is not an end of itself, but a
means to achieve perfect calmness, to attain the highest culture and human
Confucianism is not a religion in the narrow sense but it serves the purpose
of religion in the spirit and culture of the Chinese people. The book is
available from the internet at: