Red Cliff and Early Chinese Notions

Topics: Confucianism, Han Dynasty, Mencius Pages: 6 (1923 words) Published: October 21, 2012
Red Cliff and Early Chinese Notions


The philosophies of early Chinese thinkers differ greatly from the mindset of modern day philosophers. The four major philosophies of China, Confucianism, Mohism, Taoism and Legalism arose primarily during the Warring States era from 475 BC to 221 BC. Following the end of the Qin Dynasty and the fall of Qin Shi Huang, Confucianism became the dominant philosophical school in China. Confucianism represented the teachings of Chinese philosopher, Confucius, concerning the fields of ethics and politics and emphasizes on personal and government morality, humaneness and one’s duty to family and society. Following the popularity of Confucianism and the death of Confucius, the creation of The Analects or Lunyu 論語, was written by Confucius’ followers and disciples in the Warring States period. His teachings were the first to introduce the concept of meritocracy which considers that one’s status in society should not be determined by ancestry, wealth, or friendship but rather on education and one’s character. Confucius also explores notions on human nature and self cultivation and the purpose of human existence. This paper will focus on early Chinese philosophies of the relationship between the individual and the state and the relationship between man and nature with references and examples from the film, Red Cliff.

The Relationship between the Individual and the State

The three core concepts of Confucianism, “filial devotion (xiao), humaneness (ren), and ritual decorum (li)” (Sources of Chinese Tradition, p.43) embed the behavioural standards and expectations of how a person should practice these virtues. Furthermore, the three essential values integrate into Confucius’ views on government as well. Filial piety practiced within one’s family translates into how much one is willing to give to society which results in the stability of a state. Humaneness observes the importance of a ruler treating his people as how he would want to be treated if he were in their position. In Confucius’ perspective, ritual offers a sense of respect as rites are a mean of expression of a leader’s morality and also “encourages a sense of dignity and responsiveness among the people” (Sources of Chinese Tradition, p. 43).

Filial piety 孝 is considered the most fundamental of all Confucian teachings. The term can have a broad meaning that not only includes the obedience a child must show for his parents but also respect that should be shown to the living and dead. Filial piety develops into five relationships: ruler to ruled, father to son, husband to wife, elder brother to younger brother, and friend to friend. When subjects respect their ruler and the ruler respects the Heavens, the state will in turn thrive and prosper. From The Analects, Confucius states, “If a ruler himself is upright, all will go well without orders. But if he himself is not upright, even though he gives orders they will not be obeyed”. The concept of filial piety is displayed in many different ways in the film, Red Cliff. Because of the compassion and brotherhood the southern warlord, Liu Bei, has shown towards his subjects, they were prepared to sacrifice their lives for him and the state. Because Liu Bei has treated his ministers and warriors with respect, as a result, they willingly followed his leadership. Conversely on Cao Cao’s side, his subjects were obedient towards him but only because they were afraid of him. They know not to trust Cao Cao because of his apprehensive and suspicious character that could result in impulsive decisions to kill anyone without any reason or justification. Loosely quoted from Zhuge Liang, “Although Cao Cao leads a large army, the majority surrendered to him so they are not as trustworthy.” He has not shown humaneness 仁 to his subjects, therefore they were not motivated to fight for him.

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