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Taipei Confucius Temple Confucian Culture

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From Li to Ren: Li as an Objective Manifestation of Ren

Although benevolence is considered the core value of Confucianism, during Confucius’ time the culture of Zhou Dynasty had lost its vigor and the systems that governed rites and ceremonies had gradually collapsed. To Confucius, the realization of the ideals of benevolence was nowhere in sight. Confucius saw the world around him and knew the only way to restore benevolence was through the restoration of li, or rites. Confucius taught people to follow the rites and formalities set down by the sages, to restrain and control their whims and desires, and live according to principles so they would treat others with proper conduct. By acting in accordance with li, people would be able to maintain their integrity, follow their principles, and act with restraint and propriety, thereby restoring the true nature of benevolence.

In sum, restoring the rites of the Zhou tradition was the only path for Confucius to establish the core value of benevolence. Although the rites during this period had become mostly vacuous formalities devoid of the spirit of li, Confucius insisted on maintaining these formalities, hoping that the form could be inspired by the essence of the spirit. By implementing these rites, people would gradually behave in harmony with “principles,” since they expect others to act with restraint, and hold the same expectation for themselves. Gradually this would bring about restoration of a state of self-awareness and benevolence. In light of this, li is also a central topic in the teachings of Confucius.

Review by Su-Fen Lin and Timothy Baker Jr.
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