Let lords be lords

Duke Jing of Qi asked Confucius about governance. Confucius replied: “Let lords be lords; ministers be ministers; fathers be fathers; and sons be sons.” The Duke said: “Excellent! If lords are not lords, ministers are not ministers, fathers are not fathers, and sons are not sons, would I be able to eat even if I had food?”

This famous passage is of course open to wildly different interpretations depending on what side of the political spectrum you are looking at it from. When Confucius says “let lords be lords” he means that they should act in an ethical and responsible manner towards the people they rule – one based on mutual respect and understanding so that social harmony is achieved.

Others of a more dictatorial disposition, on the other hand, could of course take the view that lords need to enforce strict laws to ensure that social order is maintained, while feudalists would argue that lords are lords by right of birth and that that the people should obey them as part of the natural order no matter how their masters treated them.

Confucius explores this issue of definition more deeply in Chapter III of Book 13 when he tells Zilu that his first priority in government would be to “rectify the names” (必也正名乎) because “when the names are not correct, the language is not in accordance with the truth of things” (名不正,則言不順).

George Orwell issued similar warnings in 1984 over 2,000 years later. What a shame that nobody has really listened to them…..

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