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Perceptions of Conflict Resolution in Ancient China

There was an era when the philosophies relating to upholding moral actions were highly discussed and followed in order to create the ideal world. These philosophies and ideologies were meant to balance or eliminate the fluctuating periods of war and peace that characterized the times in question. In China, Zuo gives an account of these periods in his chronicles. Mo Tzu (Mo zi) and Mencius, on the other hand, are aggressive in conveying ideologies and philosophies that promote peace using war. They challenge the rulers' need for war when there are alternatives that can be used to resolve conflicts and live peacefully with one another. This essay explores the changing attitude between Spring and Autumn Period as indicates in Zuo's chronicles and the philosophers such as Mo Zi and Mencius in the Warring States. The essay further considers and explores the circumstances, as indicated by these philosophers, which required government's use of violence for effective governance.

Discussion

Zuo gives an account of the Battle of Bi, which was fought in approximately 597 BC (Zuo 1). The battle was between the states of Chu and Jin, which had the greatest power at the time. In this battle, Chu gained victory which allowed the state to gain legitimacy, while Jin lost hegemony. Previously, Jin had won the Chengpu Battle. The Chu State was, therefore, revenging for the humiliation they underwent at Chengpu (Zuo 2). Apparently, these are some of the occurrences that provoked the philosophers of the Warring States to devise ideas and philosophies, which condemned war and violence.

The attitude depicted in the Battle of Bi was present in the ancient times and has been witnessed in contemporary time too. While war was used to prove a state's or region's power in relation to others, it also invoked due to other factors. Hereby, it was used as a means of gaining resources, expanding boundaries and making political statements. With regard to the battle in question, it was used as a revenge tool. Although the plans and strategies that led to the war did not take place as expected, Chu wanted to declare on Jin for revenge purposes. Chu's government felt that the Jin won the previous battle unfairly, and the state of political tension between the two powerful states continued to prevail.

As an outcome of war, the thousands of lives were lost in the battle field, while Jin state lost resources, including the loss of position of hegemony (Zuo 3). In fact, such scenario is attributed to as a cause of the First World War, which also started as a revenge mission. Moreover, such unwarranted wars and battles aroused the criticisms of Mo Tzu and Mencius who felt that people could live together without the use of violence. They, therefore, introduced ideologies that promoted peaceful living and conflict resolution factors in order to avoid war.

In his ideologies, Mo Zi is against unjustified aggression, especially when it is done either by states, villages or individuals. In his argument, Mo Zi indicates that if rulers were to go by the Heaven's Will, they would cease to engage in unnecessary military conflicts. On the contrary, they would make efforts to embrace peaceful coexisting techniques, thereby treating each other with respect and dignity. The philosopher indicates that if power in politics was categorized as the absolute moral standard, rulers and other individuals with the greatest power in the political arena would have the highest level of moral uprightness (Zuo 16). Consequently, the people with the least power politically would have the highest level of moral impropriety.

As an outcome, people possessing great power would be more advantaged than the ones with the lesser or least power. Apparently, this may be one of the reasons encouraging Mo Zi to indicate that the war is unjustified if it fails to improve the conditions of the people living in poverty and increase the region's population. Additionally, it is unjustified if it fails to restore societal order, avoid danger and promote security.

In his work, which is indicated as Book 2, Mo Zi writes:

When the whole world knows the beautiful as the beautiful, ugliness is created.

When the whole world knows the good as the good, evil is created.

Being and Non-Being produce each other,

Difficult and easy complete each other,

Long and short give form to each other,

High and low fill up each other,

Tone and voice harmonize each other. (Zuo 18, Book 2 Chapter 2)

The above chapter attempts to encourage the society members to learn how to live harmoniously. However, it does not mean that people have to agree with each other as two different things complete each other. The chapter begins by allowing the reader to understand that one aspect of life is recognizable because the other one exists. For example, people recognize beauty because there is ugliness. Consequently, some situations are inevitable. As a result, one should not resolve the conflict by war and violence but find ways not to shed blood or cause pain.

The attitude portrayed by Mo Zi was the opposite of the one conveyed by the rulers and governments at the time. In fact, governments felt that evil had to be fought by evil. Thus, failing to go to war when provoked was seen as cowardice. It is clearly portrayed by the two armies of Chu and Jin in the battle in question. Even though the leadership of both states (Xun Linfu and King Zhuang) was in favor of refraining from fighting at some point before the actual commencement of the war, they still became involved and battled because it would have been perceived as being cowardly. In other scenarios, it is used as a revenge tool, which is also evident in this situation.

Violence is evidently seen as a tool of making a political or egoistic statement and not a resolving the issues the society faces. It, therefore, does not improve the lives of people suffering from poverty, facilitate population growth, avoid danger and promote security, thereby becoming unjustified.

Mencius defended Confucius school of thought. Amongst other Confucius teachings, he defined and developed ren/jen concept, which relates to humaneness. According to Mencius, a ruler's focus on improving the lives of the people would entice them into his side as opposed to warring them (Zuo 21). However, he was not a supporter of absolute pacifism as advocated by Mo Zi. In the era of Warring States, he felt that rulers would achieve more than they did if they concentrated on encouraging agriculture.

At some point, Mencius became an advisor to the King of Qi (Zuo 21). In his counsel, he advised the king that while a large state needed hegemony, humane kings did not need the same. In fact, kings were supposed to act like parents. They should take care of the people the same as parents care for their children. As an outcome, they will gain eternal loyalty of their subjects. Overall, he believed in human nature's goodness, thereby grounding his principles with regard to the guidance of Confucius's work on the same.

Although Mencius and Mo Zi identified that war was not a solution to challenges humanity faced, the former introduced another concept, with the guidance of Confucius's work. Since he was not a democrat, Mencius identified the difference between gentlemen and ordinary people. Differentiating the two would allow one to be practical when applying this ideology. For example, gentlemen are in a position to maintain a constant development of mind, regardless of the means of constant livelihood. However, ordinary people easily succumb to problems if they lose constant livelihood. Thus, this distinction that Mo Zi fails to see makes it impractical.

During the era of Warring States and in the recent and contemporary past, some conflicts were caused by the decisions of the rulers. Sometimes, personal reasons other than political reasons forced states to war. As indicate earlier, warring states fought battles in order to make statements rather than solve the targeted issue. In other cases, they declared war in order to expand their boundaries. Practically, a state cannot simply give citizens or a region to another state without starting a fight. When Mencius refers to livelihood, he mainly bears in mind the physical livelihood that pertains to having the basic and luxurious things if one can afford. He fails to understand that the egoistic nature and the need for the unattainable objects while increasing what is already acquired supersede the daily livelihood.

Although it is clear that these two philosophers do not support war, they seem to agree that some wars can be allowed to take place. If the unjustified war comprises some actions, then the justifiable war is composed of the opposite set of actions. Actions of unjustified war include improving the lives of people suffering from poverty, facilitating population increase, avoiding danger and promoting security. Therefore, justified wars, if they are to occur, must increase the population, insure that the lives of people are improved, restore societal order, avoid danger and promote security. Moreover, according to Mencius, ordinary people will still resolve their issues through other avenues if the desired wealth is not achieved.

It is relevant to understand that although a philosopher like Mencius believes that a state's direction is in the ruler's power, this is not practical. It is indicated that a humane ruler transforms the citizens into humane people. Nevertheless, the presence of gentlemen who have sober minds may cause rebellion. For example, Xian Hu who was not the ruler but Xun Linfu's adjutant violated the king's instructions and crossed the Yellow river to fight the Shu army (Zuo 13). Even though the king had thought of refraining from the war, Xian Hu independently continued the war. Apparently, this means that some circumstances will still bring war.

Conclusion

The governments in the Autumn and Spring Period and the philosophers of the Warring States believed in different ideologies. While the governments declared war in order to solve their problems, philosophers such as Mo Zi and Mencius felt that refraining from war was the solution to humanity challenges. According to these philosophers, wars only brought more problems than resolved any. Additionally, if the outcomes failed to present certain attributes as indicated by Mo Zi, then the war was unjustified. If the wars failed to increase the population, insure improved lives, restore societal order, avoid danger and promote security, they were unjustified. Therefore, a war can be allowed if it meets the above-mentioned criteria, as implied by these philosophers.