A single reform

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子曰:「齊一變,至於魯;魯一變,至於道。」
Confucius said: “With a single reform, the state of Qi could reach the level of the state of Lu; with a single reform, the state of Lu could reach the Way.”

What a shame! Just as Confucius’s musings on wisdom and goodness were gaining steam, he (or to be more accurate, the chroniclers who actually put together the Analects) moves from the rarified air of philosophy to the more mundane world of politics and statecraft – producing in the process possibly the first ever country ranking table in world history.

Qi was the richest and powerful of the four states that dominated China during Confucius’s life time (551–479 BC), which coincided with the end of the Spring and Autumn Period (771BC – 476BC). Although not as wealthy as Qi, Confucius’s home state of Lu was the home of traditional Zhou culture and thus allegedly had a more advanced intellectual environment and more sophisticated institutions.

In his totally unbiased opinion, therefore, Lu was just one major reform away from reaching the golden age of good government achieved by Confucius’s hero, the fabled Duke of Zhou, during the tenth century BC, while the arriviste Qi was still two steps away from attaining this exalted state.

Unfortunately, Confucius doesn’t even attempt to define the nature of the reform that the two states need to carry out in order to move further up the league table. However, he does provide a useful framework for assessing the stages of a country’s development that is still as relevant now as it was during his lifetime: economic growth > institution building and cultural development > social  and ethical harmony.

Confucius’s home state of Lu never achieved the Way; I suspect the sage would say the same of all the countries in the present-day world. It would be fascinating to see how he would rank them.

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