Jackie Chan and the Utter Failure of Confucianism

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Tuesday April 21, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

Speaking at the Boao Forum in the Middle Kingdom of Pollution, Poison and Propaganda, Jackie Chan gave forth with some unusual alleged personal insights. In reality they were statements in support of the authoritarian rule/dictatorship in the People's Republic of China (PRC). Chan declared "We Chinese need to be controlled." And further "If you're too free, you're like the way Hong Kong is now. It's very chaotic. Taiwan is also chaotic." Chan's remarks drew applause from the "fat cat" businessmen attending for obvious reasons. And though Chan has since been raked over the coals by many for his words, ironically if one goes deeper between the lines, what he did was actually highlight the utter failure of Confucianism as a way of life in Chinese history.

At issue is the age-old argument between the Confucianism and the Legalist tradition of China. And by attempting to show that democracy would not work in China, Chan championed the Legalist tradition that justifies and supports strong control from a central power like Beijing and the Chinese Communist Party's Politburo. However, the unspoken and implied viewpoint that Beijing did not want to be revealed but which is between the lines is that despite 5000 years of culture, and some near 3000 years of Confucianism Chinese need to be controlled. Why? Though no one wants to come out and say it, the bitter conclusion is because they are "too dumb, too stupid, and too selfish to rule themselves democratically."

Too dumb, too stupid and too selfish to rule themselves. A bitter statement indeed but that is the unfortunate bottom line of what Chan is saying. Despite 5000 years of Chinese culture and despite nearly 3000 years of harmony-seeking Confucianism, the end result remains that Chinese cannot be trusted with self-rule. That does not say much for the old sage, but as Chan put it, "We Chinese need to be controlled."

Surprisingly these remarks of Chan drew applause from the Chinese businessmen and government officials in the audience, but here again one must look at the Chinese psyche and the Legalist justification. When those on top in China say the people are too dumb, too stupid and too selfish to rule themselves, they are not talking about their own selves. They are referring to all "the other Chinese," the common masses, the ugly Chinese. Most businessmen and government officials see themselves in a different light; they are the "enlightened and magnanimous exceptions." They are the one's who must take the heavy burden of rule; it is Colonialism with a capital C in one's own country.

In so ruling, the "enlightened despots" insist on a minimum of three requirements. First, there must never be transparency; it would only confuse the masses. Second, rule of law must be foregone; enlightened despots need to have the necessary freedom to operate. Third, a questioning free press must also not be allowed, the dumb must not be allowed to question for obvious reasons.

Taiwan's experience of course has been different, but then Taiwanese are different from Chinese; they live on the "chaotic" side of life. Taiwanese have discovered that they are not too dumb, too stupid and too selfish to rule themselves. This doesn't mean that they are perfect by any means but they have been freely electing their rulers since 1996 and operating with transparency, rule of law, and a free press. So where do you stand? Do you agree with Chan, or do you see the Taiwan experience as valid and the way of the future?