Cleaning cyberspace of perverse speech

By Wan Lixin
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Shanghai Daily, October 19, 2016
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In today's cacophony of cyberspace, everybody has something to say or share.

In the omnipotent WeChat, for instance, you can reap, gratis, a harvest of aphorisms, injunctions, or consolations every few minutes, each competing for your attention with more sensational, provocative, or misleading titles or images.

Here are some of my recent gleanings: A girl lost her life after consuming a persimmon and then drinking a cup of yogurt 30 minutes later; Why it is imperative to keep a distance from poor people; A recommendation of "Against Democracy" by Jason Brennan, which debunks the myth of democracy as a uniquely just form of government, and questions the belief that people have the right to an equal share of political power.

Ironically, this last piece, while not original, does accentuate the urgency of more effective control over cyberspace.

Free speech has its own merits, but it should not come at the expense of a healthy mainstream tone of a society.

Our ancestors realized this over 2,000 years ago, towards the end of the Spring and Autumn and Warring States (770-221 BC) period, when lack of effective central control allowed a hundred schools of thoughts to contend with each other, often leaving the public unable to tell good from bad.

Confucius and his disciples explained why orthodoxy is important.

Mencius (c. 372-289 BC), for instance, in defending himself against the charge that he was fond of disputing, cited the necessity of time, when perverse speech and oppressive deeds were rife.

"The words of Yang Zhu and Mo Zi fill the country. If you listen to people's discourses throughout it, you will find that they have adopted the views either of Yang or of Mo. Now, Yang's principle is ‘each one for himself,' which does not acknowledge the claims of the sovereign. Mo's principle is ‘to love all equally,' which does not acknowledge the peculiar affection due to a father," Mencius explained (in James Legge's translation).

The rise of a unified Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-24 AD) called for an effective ideology, thus Emperor Wu (156-187 BC), acting on the advice of scholar Dong Zhongshu (179-104 BC), proscribed all non-Confucian schools of thought and espoused Confucianism as the ruling state ideology. It remained so until the Qing Dynasty was overturned in 1911, and since then there have been sporadic attempts at resuscitating the core principles of this ideology.

During a recent seminar on "One Belt One Road" in Shanghai, some scholars pointed out that in promoting the initiative, merely appealing to self-interest might not go very far. There is the need to resort to core Confucian tenets about benevolence and righteousness as the governing principles in facilitating international understandings.

Principles higher than math

The irony is, how can we expect our neighbors to buy this when many of our own children today see Confucius as a droll figure, a byword for pedantry?

Our children are versatile, knowledge-able, computer-smart, but they hardly believe there are principles higher than physics and math.

You can blame anybody, but I find some of explanation in their textbooks.

I picked up one Chinese textbook for six graders, and was surprised at its hodge-podge of content. While some articles in the textbook might be interesting pieces of some merits in their own right, compilers should have given more space to core Confucian values about benevolence and righteousness.

Few understand why the compilation of the textbooks (especially those for primary school children) used to be entrusted to the first scholar (in singular).

There is a widely influential textbook first published in 1695 titled Guwen Guanzhi ("The Acme of Literature from the Past"). In a new preface to the book in 2003, after the many merits of the anthology have been condescendingly acknowledged, it was pointed out that the book failed to include any of the works representing different schools of thought during the Spring Autumn and Warring States period.

In Mencius, it was observed that "If the principles of Yang and Mo be not stopped, and the principles of Confucius not set forth, then those perverse speakings will delude the people, and stop up the path of benevolence and righteousness. When benevolence and righteousness are stopped up, beasts will be led on to devour men, and men will devour one another."

If you look around, especially in cyberspace, you know it is not alarmist talk.

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