Hsun Tzu and Mencius: Conflicting Perspectives of Society

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HSUN TZU AND MENCIUS:
Their Conflicting Perspectives of Society

The Warring States period in China (453-221 BCE) presented a time of great confusion and chaos among the people of China. However, it was also a great period for the philosophy of Confucianism, with the teachings of Mencius and Hsun Tzu to lead the way for their lost followers. According to Hsun Tzu and Mencius, human beings give birth to their children with a sense of an inherent reaction to life. Without proper teaching, children would be uncivilized, and ineffective in contributing anything towards society. Young age is important, for it is at this time that their perspectives drastically split. Mencius believed that human beings were born with a rationality of good sense. Hsun Tzu, in opposition, believed that all human beings are born into a state of primitive evil. While both claiming to interpret the philosophy of their teacher, Confucius, with certain contrasting ideas, it is Hsun Tzu's ideas that seemed more logical and realistic to the people of China. Hsun Tzu was a devoted follower of Confucius, despite his departure from a more "typical" Confucian way of thinking. He believed in dedicated and effective political officials who based their governance on action. This official would grow up in a system of being taught self- cultivation for the betterment of one's virtues by living modestly amongst those who did not. Hsun Tzu's philosophy of governance, economics, and morality was considered to be a much more sound philosophy of Chinese thought because it relied upon sacrifice for the cultivation of a modest and well-schooled society.

Hsun Tzu lived during the Warring States, a period of disunity, so he naturally did not have much faith in the corrupt government that was ruling China. For Confucian scholars, the way to maintain order and safety for the people was to bring back ways and rules of the past. However, with the pressure of competition from other states wanting control, rulers were constantly dropping old ways in search for a more modern system that would increase military power as well as gain greater control over the people and material resources. As a Confucius scholar, Hsun Tzu believed that the most important aspect of government was the ritual system. Rituals were important because they were developed by ancient sages to embellish human life by giving us a structure in which we can fully express our natural emotions. Also, rituals were a way to try and limit the power of the ruler and emphasize his obligation to his people. This was a very important idea in Confucianism as a whole. According to Hsun Tzu, and Confucianism, he regarded the state as a family. As a father takes care of his children, a ruler must take care of his people. If the ruler does this accordingly, the people will respond with loyalty. Hsun Tzu believed that human nature was the same in everyone. No one starts off with moral principles. An increase in greed and struggle for power amidst numerous regimes in China lead Hsun Tzu to his belief that people were not inherently good due to the outbreak of corrupt governance and economic status. This would directly correlate to morality of the state, as Hsun Tzu belief that the only salvation for society's morality was to study the examples of the ancient sages. These sages were the first and last of inherently moral people who did exist like everyone else, but for those who wanted to achieve betterment of ones life was through study. Studying the classic writings of the sages was the most effective way in bettering one self in a lifetime, where your entire life was devoted to study and your personal conduct reflected this. This was the only glimmer of hope as he experienced it himself by studying the classic writings of the sages, for society to curb their own inherently destructive and evil habits.

Mencius believed that human nature was good and that it can be developed by cultivating...
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