Multiple Dimensions of Confucian Thinking on Benevolence

Social Sciences in China (Chinese Edition)

No.5, 2019


Multiple Dimensions of Confucian Thinking on Benevolence



Gan Chunsong


Debates about the Confucian concept of benevolence or human-heartedness (ren ai) have a long history. The pre-Qin dispute between Confucianism and Mohism centered on the similarities and differences between Confucian benevolence and the Mohists’ all-embracing love, and the different schools of Confucianism also carried on a longstanding debate over love based on kinship ties versus love of all. The emphasis on consanguineous relationships in Confucian ethics has led people to neglect the breadth of the Confucian concept of benevolence, that is, its ultimate development into the affirmation of love of the human race. Starting from Mencius’ “people are born with the same nature” to the Cheng brothers and Zhu Xi’s “Principle is one; its manifestations are many” and thence to Wang Yangming’s “all things are one,” a series of Confucian teachings have sought to reveal the complex nature of the union and differences between relationships based on kinship ties and those based on universal love. In the face of today’s global challenges, grasping the relations between man and man, individuals and the state, and man and nature through the union of difference and universality in the Confucian concept of benevolence can provide support for values derived from Chinese culture itself that will enable us to promote the construction of a new type of community.