Individualism in China

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Individualism - the lack of it or the excess of it - has often been considered a major problem in the modernization of China. In the early decades of this century reformers championed individualism in opposition to traditional authority in both thought and social life, and especially in opposition to the "Confucian" family system. Others contended that what thwarted China's modernization was not the absence of individualism but rather a surplus of it.  

     The common term for "individualism" in modern East Asia (in Chinese ge-ren zhu-i) represents a Western idea, and implies that no such "ism" exsited in traditional thought. Thus it symbolizes the challenge of a new idea to traditional values and suggests the advocacy of change. Nevertheless, in the earlier Chinese tradition the problem of the "individual" - his relation to the the group, his role in society, his rights in the sense of due him as a human being - has been the subject of as much thought and discussion as in the West. The problem of "individualism" has existed in China's past as well as in its present.  

     Deeply involved with the problem of the self and person, Confucius himself had set guide lines for the discussion. In the Analects reveals his basic stand. "One cannot flock with birds or herd with beasts. If I am not to associate myself with humankind, then what am I to do? If Way prevailed in the world, what need would there be to change things?" (18:6)  

     "To associate oneself with others" is a fundamental premise of Confucius' thought. There can be no fulfillment for the individual in isolation from his fellows. Distinguishing them from birds and beasts, Confucius associated his own fulfullment with the fulfillment of others.  

     Another passage elaborates this theme when Confucius is asked what it takes to be truly human: "The humane man, if he seeks to establish himself, will help others to succeed. To be able to judge other by what one know of oneself is the method of...
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