The Confucian ideal friend

Authored by: Ying Zhang

The Ming World

Print publication date:  August  2019
Online publication date:  August  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138190986
eBook ISBN: 9780429318719
Adobe ISBN:


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To what extent did Confucianism, the dominant ideology in the Ming, actually inspire people’s behavior in everyday life? Although many of the Confucian moral ideals sound lofty, idealistic, and impractical to us today, many literati actually aspired to live by them, exhibiting extraordinary compassion and resolve. Take friendship, one of the Confucian Five Cardinal Relations, as an example. The philosopher Roger A. Ames explains the Confucian gentleman as a friend in this way:

Unlike the English word friend, [‘friend’] for Confucius cannot be used loosely for mere acquaintances or strangers, or as a mark of goodwill or kindly condescension . . . ‘Friend’ in classical Chinese is resolutely hierarchical—an occasion to grow personally—and can only be assigned to the ren relationship in which one is able express deference to another. 1

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