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Why Communists Loathe the Ethical Harmony Championed by Gandhi and Confucius

The legacy of the Communists led by Mao was class conflict, while Confucianism, their designated enemy, advocated harmony, propriety, and benevolence.

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Portrait of Mao Zedong behind surveillance cameras. Mao launched an anti-Confucius campaign for almost two years from 1973. (©Kyodo)

While going through the archives at the National Gandhi Museum and Library in New Delhi, I accessed a letter written in 1948 by Chia-Luen Lo (or Luo Jialun). He was the then-Chinese Ambassador to India. This was the time when China was still the Republic of China (1912–1949). It was undergoing a fierce battle between the Nationalists (Kuomintang) and the Communists. 

The Communists were beginning to establish firm control over most territorial parts of Mainland China. With the ultimate retreat of the Kuomintang to Taiwan, the Chinese Civil War ended in 1949. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) led by Chairman Mao Zedong formally proclaimed the "People's Republic of China" on October 1, 1949, at Tiananmen Square in Beijing.

Archived letter of Chia-Luen Lo, Chinese Ambassador to India in 1948 showcased at the National Gandhi Museum and Library, New Delhi. (Photo by Monika Chansoria)

Gandhi and Confucius

The archived letter was written by Chia-Luen Lo to condole the passing of Mahatma Gandhi following his assassination on January 30, 1948. It stated:

The assassination of Mahatma Gandhi [at the Birla House in New Delhi] at a time when his saintly counsel and his inspiring leadership [were] most needed by his people is an irreparable loss not only to India but to the world [...] 

Gandhi's teachings, living, and doing were peculiarly his own and characteristic of his great personality. Being a Chinese, I find something parallel between Confucian and Gandhian morals. 

Confucius practiced tolerance by magnifying the merits and minimizing the shortcomings of the other man, by laying the blame on himself first […] just as Gandhi fasted to induce remorse, to melt hatred, and to generate love in the hearts of millions and millions of his fellow countrymen. 

A real prophet is always ahead of his age, and so, as many an instance in history shows, persecuted by those of his own people who fail to understand him. Gandhi, a redeemer, finally went the way of great martyrs.

India's Prime MInister Narendra Modi unveils the bust of Mahatma Gandhi in Hiroshima. (From PM Narendra Modi's official website)

Confucius, the Communists' Designated Enemy

The ode and portrayal of Confucius as a philosopher-sage by Ambassador Chia-Luen Lo also draws his parallel to Gandhi. It makes for an interesting narrative drawn from contemporary Chinese political history.

The Nationalists considered Confucius as the civilization's greatest humanitarian. However, the Chinese Communists' hatred, campaign, and attacks against Confucius continued unabated.

A teaching Confucius. Portrait by Wu Daozi, 685-758, Tang Dynasty. (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

An essay titled "Why Mao Hates Confucius" was cited in the November 1973 edition of the Taiwan Review. According to the essay, Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai seemed to have realized that Confucianism was still the ruling force in the hearts of the Chinese people. They realized that Marxism was a veneer that people applied only for the purposes of survival. 

Not surprisingly, therefore, the Chinese Communists had ample reason to fear Confucius and the Confucian influence, for he identified politics with ethics.

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In one sense, the ideas of Confucius and the Confucian social order have dictated the development of Chinese history for the last 25 centuries. Chinese society remains Confucian on the Chinese mainland, in Taiwan, and in overseas Chinese communities. At the same time, the Communists intensely denigrate Confucius.

The Taiwan Review essay further argued, "The campaign against Confucianism amounted to admission that no amount of Marxism substitution can take the place of traditional teachings […] The gist of it being that anyone who supports Confucius is against Marxism."

Contemporary Impact

To an extent, anti-Confucianism has often been labeled as Mao's last campaign. The movement occupied China for about two years, beginning roughly at the end of 1973 and through 1975. It continued almost until the death of Mao Zedong in September 1976. 

Following the ravages of the proletarian Cultural Revolution, the anti-Confucius campaign occupied critical political space. Notably, when Deng Xiaoping was removed, for the second time, one of the many charges leveled against him was his commitment to "Confucian educational thinking." In fact, in July 1977, the Tenth Communist Party Central Committee denounced Deng as a man who neither understood Marxism-Leninism nor comprehended the class struggle.

A 1979 Asian Survey paper by James Gregor and Maria Hsia Chang underlined that the central theme of Maoist ideology, the Cultural Revolution, and the anti-Confucius campaign was not decentralization. It was the advocacy of perpetual class struggle and the "overthrow of one class by another." Their legacy was the ongoing class conflict, and their principal opponent was Confucianism, for Confucianism advocated collective harmony, propriety, and benevolence.

Mao's conception of a perpetual class struggle, his anti-Confucius campaign, and the turbulences in China's political history underline how the political discourse between the Communists and the Nationalists will continue. This ongoing discourse will reflect and define the contemporary contest in cross-strait Chinese politics and security affairs.

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Author: Dr Monika Chansoria

Learn more about Dr Chansoria and follow her column "All Politics is Global" on JAPAN Forward, and on X (formerly Twitter). The views expressed here are those of the author and do not reflect the views of any organization with which she is affiliated.

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