chapter  2
22 Pages

The Confucian conception of harmony

One ideal Harmony remains a political ideal in many countries today. In China, for example, President Hu Jintao made it clear that the top priority of China is not simply to make progress in economic development but to build a ‘harmonious society’.1 Hu’s remarks reverberated throughout the country. According to a discourse analysis research report in a leading newspaper in Beijing in July 2005, the hottest expression in the spring and summer of that year in mainstream newspapers in China was the expression ‘harmonious society’ (hexie shehui 和諧社會) (Guangming Daily 19 July 2005; quoted in Zhu 2005: 258). In Hong Kong, the former chief executive, Mr Tung Chee-hwa, has stressed repeatedly the importance of building ‘an auspicious, harmonious and unified society’. The last policy address which he delivered, in January 2005, is titled ‘Working together for economic development and social harmony’. The new chief executive, Mr Donald Tsang, also featured ‘fostering harmony in the community’ as a guiding principle in his policy address delivered in October 2005. He has repeated a number of times that ‘building a harmonious society’ is at the top of his list of priorities.2 But what is a harmonious society? While Hu Jintao, Tung Chee-hwa, and Donald Tsang all emphasize the value of harmony, we cannot be sure that they are talking about the same thing. Tung seemed to take the three attributes ‘auspicious’, ‘harmonious’ and ‘unified’ to mean more or less the same thing. He saw disputes, criticisms and struggles for rights and democracy as detrimental to social harmony. But according to Hu, ‘a harmonious society should feature democracy, the rule of law, equity, justice, sincerity, amity and vitality’ (2005a). Harmony is a value-loaded term, which may mean different things to different people. Before we can evaluate harmony as a political ideal, we must first ask: ‘What kind of political ideal does harmony represent?’