中华文化之旅-中华传统美德 The Traditional Chinese Virtues


The Summary of the Traditional Chinese Virtues




    Virtue entails possessing admirable moral qualities, which encompass positive, elevated traits that influence individuals and society towards goodness. Moral character entails the particularities of individuals' actions and speech, some established through written laws, decrees, and literature, while others transmitted through teachings and examples across generations. While laws exert control externally through governmental authority, moral character internally regulates individuals through personal strength.


    The virtues rooted in Chinese tradition represent a remarkable moral legacy spanning five millennia, characterized by their extensive and profound influence on all dimensions of social existence. At their essence lie the principles of benevolence, righteousness, propriety, wisdom, and faith, serving as the cornerstone for personal development and the governance of family, state, and global affairs across four fundamental domains.





   Confucianism, the most influential philosophical tradition in ancient China, embodies the fundamental cultural beliefs of the Chinese people. Originating with the teachings of the revered philosopher Confucius during the Spring and Autumn Period, it later flourished as the predominant school of thought in China's feudal society under the guidance of the scholar Dong Zhongshu during the Western Han Dynasty. At its core, Confucianism emphasizes the values of benevolence, righteousness, propriety, wisdom, and faith, alongside principles such as Zhong Shu (treating others as one would wish to be treated) and Zhong Yong (harmony and balance). It advocates for governance based on moral education and benevolent rule, placing a strong emphasis on ethical conduct.


> The Core ldeas of the Traditional Virtues



    The principles of benevolence, righteousness, propriety, wisdom, and faith constitute the foundational concepts of Chinese traditional virtues and serve as the central tenets of Confucian philosophy, collectively referred to as Wuchang, or the cardinal virtues. These principles permeate the ethical evolution of ancient Chinese civilization, representing the primary pillar of its value system.


    Ren, or benevolence, represents the norm and standard for human interactions, emphasizing deep connection and mutual assistance among individuals. Throughout China's history, there has been a profound emphasis on ethical relationships, particularly emphasizing harmonious coexistence among people. As such, benevolence holds a paramount position, serving as the core principle of Wuchang and the foundation of all virtues.  Confucius, the esteemed Chinese philosopher (551 B.C. - 479 B.C.), defined benevolence as the practice of showing love and articulated that those seeking success should first strive to help others succeed, while those seeking understanding should first seek to understand others. He further elaborated that demonstrating respect, tolerance, honesty, intelligence, and graciousness embodies benevolence in its entirety.  The moral essence of benevolence permeates various aspects of Chinese society, including interpersonal relationships emphasizing kindness and fulfillment of duties, political principles emphasizing benevolent governance, and international relations promoting good-neighborliness, peaceful coexistence, all deriving philosophical justification from the concept of benevolence.


    ,指公正、合理。孔子日: 君子寓于义,意思是君子处事应当公正、公平,中国非常重视义这一美德。古代伟大的思想家孟子(约前372289):生亦我所欲也,义亦我所欲也,二者不可得兼,舍生而取义者也。意思是,生命是我想要的,正义也是我想要的,如果二者不能同时得到, 那么宁可选择正义而舍去生命。义反映在中国日常生活的方方面面, 如在国家的层面,要讲求正义,公平合理地处理各种关系;对朋友交往要讲求义气,互相帮助;而夫妻之间则要重情义,用心经营自己的婚姻。

    Yi, or righteousness, embodies the principles of fairness and reasonableness. Confucius emphasized the importance of impartiality and fair dealings, stating that a noble person should exhibit these qualities. In Chinese culture, righteousness holds significant value, with the ancient philosopher Mencius expressing a willingness to prioritize justice over life itself, asserting, "Life is what I desire, but I also desire righteousness. If I cannot have both, I would choose righteousness and sacrifice life."  The concept of righteousness manifests in various aspects of daily life in China. At the national level, there is an emphasis on administering justice in dealing with various societal relations fairly and reasonably. Among friends, loyalty and mutual assistance are cherished virtues. Within marital relationships, the importance of mutual respect and careful management of the partnership is emphasized, fostering a sense of brotherhood/sisterhood and harmony within the family unit.


     Li, or propriety, refers to the observance of etiquette and formalities, encompassing ancient laws, regulations, and codes of conduct governing interactions both between nations and among individuals. Propriety holds a significant place within ancient Chinese society, with a strong emphasis placed on its importance. Chinese culture has long recognized the critical role of propriety in maintaining societal stability, earning the reputation of being a "state of ceremonies."  Confucius underscored the significance of learning and practicing propriety, asserting that without such knowledge and adherence to proper conduct, one would struggle to establish themselves in the world. In ancient China, propriety governed various social relationships and was upheld as essential. For example, ceremonial norms were observed between monarchs and their subjects primarily to instill fear and respect for the ruler, while similar norms between teachers and students aimed to foster respect for educators while preventing arrogance on their part.  

     ,是指智慧、知识与经验, 意味着知对错、明善恶,要具有较高的见识,对一件事的性质有正确的理解和判断,对于事情的未来发展有精准的预测。孔子说:智者不惑。就是指只要有智慧,面对问题就不会迷惑,在关键时刻就能够做出正确的决断,从而解决问题。中国一直非常重视智这一美德,智体现在生活的各个方面。无论是政治决策、社会管理,还是家庭生活、个人为人处世,都需要智慧。

    Zhi, or wisdom, encompasses both knowledge and experience, enabling individuals to discern between right and wrong, as well as good and evil. It entails having a deep understanding and insight into the essence of things, as well as the ability to accurately predict their future development. Confucius emphasized the importance of wisdom, stating that with it, one could navigate through challenges without becoming lost, making sound decisions at crucial moments to resolve problems effectively.  Throughout China's history, great value has been placed on the virtue of wisdom. It manifests in various aspects of life, including political decision-making, social governance, and interpersonal relationships. Whether in matters of statecraft, community management, or personal interactions, wisdom plays a crucial role in guiding individuals and society towards positive outcomes.

    ,指诚信、信义、信用,是治国和人际交往的基本原则之一。中国人一直崇尚诚信,古人云: 对人以诚信,人不欺我;对事以诚信,事无不成。意思是对待别人要用一颗真诚的心,别人便会尊敬自己;做任何事情都得用诚信去对待,才会获得成功。

   Xin, or faith, denotes credibility, integrity, and trustworthiness, serving as a fundamental principle in both national governance and interpersonal relationships. Chinese culture has long upheld the value of honesty, emphasizing the importance of sincerity in dealings with others. An ancient adage highlights the reciprocal nature of sincerity: treating others with a sincere heart leads to their respect for oneself, while conducting oneself with integrity paves the way for success in all endeavors.



> The Foundation of the Traditional Virtues


    几平每一个中国人自幼就知道修身、齐家、治国、平天下这句真言。此言出自西汉典章制度书籍《礼记》:古之欲明明德于天下者,先治其国; 欲治其国者,先齐其家;欲齐其家者,先修其身身修而后家齐,家齐而后国治,国治而后天下平。意思是:古代那些要想在天下弘扬光明正大品德的人, 先要治理好自己的国家:要想治理好自己的国家,先要管理好自己的家庭和家族;要想管理好自己的家庭和家族,先要修养自身的品性品性修养后,才能管理好家庭家族;家庭家族管理好了,才能治理好国家;治理好国家,天下才能太平。

    From childhood, many Chinese are familiar with the principles of self-cultivation and governance, which originate from ancient texts such as The Book of Rites and the laws and institutions of the Western Han Dynasty. These teachings emphasize the importance of personal development as the foundation for effective governance at various levels. According to these sources, individuals aspiring to promote justice and uphold traditional values worldwide must first excel in governing their own country. To govern a country effectively, one must first establish harmony within their own household and family. Achieving harmony within the family requires the cultivation of moral character. Through this progressionfrom personal moral development to family management, then to effective national governancethe ultimate goal of global peace and stability can be attained.

    “修身、齐家、治国、平天下,相辅相成,缺一不可, 构成了中国人传统道德理想的根基。以此为基础,中华传统美德不断完善发展,大致可以分为四个层面。一是个人修养的层面: 这是中华传统美德的基础,包括勤奋、勇敢、谦虚、节俭、慎独、智慧、恒心、诚实、守信这九种美德。二是家庭的层面:家庭在中国有重要的地位,是沟通个人和社会的枢纽,因此处理好家庭关系极其重要。家庭关系大致包括父子、夫妇、兄弟等几种关系。三是社会的层面:社会有诸多关系,包括个人和国家的关系、师生关系、朋友关系、邻里关系以及陌生人与陌生人的关系等。四是自然的层面:中国人一直强调天、地、人和谐相处,因此人类应该遵守人的本分,不能以自然的主人自居而肆意妄为。

    Self-cultivation and the regulation of family, country, and the world are interdependent and essential elements that form the cornerstone of the Chinese traditional moral ideal. Building upon this foundation, Chinese traditional virtues have continuously evolved and progressed, delineated into four distinct levels.  The first level pertains to personal accomplishment, serving as the bedrock of Chinese traditional virtues. It encompasses nine virtues: diligence, courage, humility, thriftiness, self-restraint, wisdom, perseverance, honesty, and trustworthiness.  The second level focuses on the family, which holds a central position in Chinese society as the nexus between the individual and the community. Managing family relationships is paramount, including those between parents and children, spouses, and siblings.  The third level extends to society, encompassing various social relationships such as citizen-state relations, teacher-student dynamics, friendships, neighborly interactions, and interactions with strangers.  The fourth level involves harmony with nature, emphasizing the traditional Chinese belief in the interconnectedness of heaven, earth, and humanity. Individuals are encouraged to fulfill their duties within this harmonious framework and refrain from considering themselves masters of nature, instead respecting its inherent balance and limitations.



    Talking on Chinese traditiona virtues will begin from these four aspects as the individual, family, society and nature, so you can fully understand the Chinese traditional virtues.




Personal Virtues


    Personal morality refers to the individual stable mental state and habits and behaviors forming through the consciousness of moral cultivation and social moral education, which is the foundation of other moralities. Personal virtue in traditional Chinese virtues has many aspects, mainly including diligence, courageousness, modesty, thrifty, self-restraining, wisdom, perseverance, integrity and credit.


Family Virtues

    家庭联系着个人和社会,是个人和社会之间的中枢。自古以来, 家庭在中国都处于非常重要的地位,古代选官员的时候,往往要看他的家庭关系,如果此人不孝顺,或跟妻子、兄弟有矛盾,便不会被录用。家庭由父母、夫妇、兄弟、儿女等成员组成。不同的家庭关系, 需要不同的处理方式,譬如儿女对父母应该孝敬,父母对儿女应该教养,夫妻之间应该互相尊重,兄弟之间应该和睦相处。

    Family, connecting individuals and society, is the pivot betweer them. Since ancient times, family has been in a very important place in China. ln officials selecting in ancient times, candidates' family relationship would be examined. lf the candidates were not filial, or could not get along well with their wives and brothers, they would not be employed. A family consists of parents, husband and wife, siblings, children and other members. Different family relationships should be dealt with different approaches. For example, children should show filial Piety for their parents, while parents should parent their children. Husband and wife should respect each other and brothers should live in concord with each other.



Social Virtues

    中华民族一直非常重视社会美德,因为只有社会关系处理得当, 社会才能总体稳定,各种秩序才能正常发展。家庭属于私人领域,社会则属于公共领域;家庭关系因为有亲情在,所以相对简单,而社会关系没有亲情为依托,相对复杂,因此社会美德对于处理好社会关系来说极其重要。一个人在社会中,应该处理好个人与国家的关系,尊重师长、团结朋友、邻里友好、尊重同事和与人为善,这就是所谓的社会美德。

     China has always attached great importance to social virtues, because only when social relationship is properly handled, the overall stability of society can be achieved and all kinds of orders can be normally developed. Family belongs to the private realm, while the society belongs to the public domain. Family relationship is relatively simple because it contains kinship, while social relationship is relatively complex because it consists of no kinship. As a result, social virtues are extremely important for dealing with social relationship properly. A person in the society should deal with the relationship between individuals and the state properly, respect teachers, unite friends, be friendly to neighbors, esteem colleagues and bear good intention towards others. These are the so-called social virtues.


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