T.R Reid’s Confucius Lives Next Door was a remarkable insight into what it is like for an American to be plucked out of their “normative” culture and placed in one that is very differentiated. At the time of their culture shock, Reid and his family were “smack in the middle of a fundamental shift in world history – a basic realignment of global stature and political power” (Reid 5). I never realized that Japan and China only became global powerhouses in the 1990s; thanks to Reid’s vivid narrative it felt like I was there.
Although many would assume this book to discuss the political and economic evolution of East Asia, it is about the social miracle that “is probably more important, and certainly more instructive, than anything the Asians have achieved in the economic sphere” (Reid 7). Reid did not waste any time to begin talking about the strong influence ethics and morals have on East Asia’s culture.
In the first chapter, he compares the different aspects of society between America and Asian countries.
Following the comparisons, he goes more in-depth on the social miracle of East Asia; he sums up what he was told all over East Asia, that the basis of the miracle was “Asian values, passed down over the millennia in Oriental societies and still assiduously taught and promoted today” (Reid 16). But where do these values that are the key to their social miracle originate? Well, they pretty much agree on the fact that the values came from “the Chinese classics, or the Confucian classics” (Reid 17).
It is an incredible idea that “a few basic precepts laid down by a Chinese sage who lived at the end of the fifth century B.C.” (Reid 17) is still influencing our world today. Toward the end of the chapter he coins the phrase “Confucian ethic” and states his theory that those ethics has helped East Asian societies “escape some of the intractable social problems that have plagued the developed countries of the West” (Reid 19).
It is easy to understand that ethics and morals have made their society thriving; but to see why following ethics and morals has worked for them and not others, we need to consider what theirs consist of. From looking at Confucius beliefs, we can see that the tenets (Yi, Li, Jen, Chih, and Hsin) are the key to their success. In the third chapter, Reid reminisces about the time his son playing the electric bass, and it caused a major disturbance for their neighbors. This experience was when their neighborhood-groups Yi (specified duty) became apparent. Mr. Matsuda was the one who pointed out that they “had committed a meiwaku” (Reid 75). So to follow the tenet of Li (properly performing actions) “it was clear that avoiding meiwaku” (Reid 75) was their way to do so. As explained in the module slides, Confucius believed Jen was the result of Li and Yi together. In other words, once someone completed duties out of the sense of duty, they would eventually do it out of an internal feeling of sentiment.
Chih, which is moral wisdom and the idea that people are born good, was Mr. Matusda informing Reid on his societal offense lead Reid and his family to be more aware of the morals of their community and less likely to commit the offense again. The fifth tenet that aids their success with the ethics and moral societal approach is hsin, which is demonstrated in avoidance of divorce in Eastern Asia. Although it is legal to get divorced in Japan “maintaining a stable family is still considered something of a duty owed to society as a whole” (Reid 10). Additionally, Confucius taught that it is important for us to use appropriate words. If we use the word father and ruler, “we must know what we mean when we use those words”[Smi91]. When Reid discusses attending a speech given by Malaysia’s president about American democracy, that turned into a verbal attack on the US, it was so rude that the US Ambassador got up and left. Despite Reid wanting to follow him, he thought that “it might be useful to tell Americans readers what other have to say about us”[Rei99). This anecdote was useful because it further proves his point that “a clear American paradox is that a society that places such a high premium on freedom has effectively reduced the physical freedom of most Americans” (Rei99). This is a modern example of Confucius’ belief of “Reflection of Names” [Smi91].
Another aspect of Confucianism, is the five key (and constant) relationships that “constitute the warp and woof of social life” [Smi91]. Those relationships are husband and wife, parent and child, older and younger sibling, ruler and subject, and then between older friend and younger friend. Each of the people in the five relationships have their own appropriate attitudes for that relationships. Those attitudes to their respective roles are parents should be loving and their children reverential; older siblings gentle while the younger ones are respectful; husbands should be good while their wives are good listeners; older friends should be considerate and the younger ones are to be differential; rulers should be benevolent while their subjects are loyal [Smi91]. In Japan, Reid talked about how there is a difference in the language they use to greet someone of higher societal stature verses one of lower; I feel that this exemplifies the constant relationships and the appropriate attitudes because of the relationships between a ruler and subject, they subject would greet the ruler with a very formal attitude and language.
Confucianism’s Doctrine of the Mean is the book that is “central to the Confucian cannon” [Smi91] . Respect for this doctrine brings balance and harmony because it is the “constantly in the middle between unworkable extremes”[Smi91]. It is the counterpart of the Golden Rule of Christianity, which leads some to think the two religions and their leaders are extremely similar. But, Reid wants his audience to know that Confucius is “less Christ-like, though, when it comes to things like loving the enemy and turning the other cheek”[Rei99]. Getting the opportunity to read Confucius Lives Next Door has opened my eyes a little more to Confucianism and Japan’s culture. I have always been one who is open to multicultural affairs and such; but the insight provided from this book makes me want to take a trip there and learn first-hand about it. Ultimately, I have learned different ways that I can improve my moral and ethical practices and contributions to those around me. Works Cited Reid, T.R. Confucius Lives Next Door. New York: Random House, 1999. Print. Smith, Huston. The World’s Religions. New York: Harper Collins, 1991. Print. 22 January 2015.